Like most warm-blooded Americans, I’ve had my share of day jobs that served up a side of stress. Office politics, bureaucracy, mean bosses, lazy colleagues, that person who ate your sandwich in the communal fridge—all those moments were there to ruin my day. When I didn’t get that raise I expected or a callous executive killed the project I spent weeks developing, it was enough to send me straight to happy hour. I’d down glass after glass of wine, or vodka tonics, and one too many chicken wings, then spend the balance of the evening bitching to my friends about my annoying job.
Water cooler talk at work was another cathartic way to swap war stories about that awful meeting that wasted everyone’s time or download the latest gossip about why so-and-so got canned. Those moments of collective griping provided a little serotonin rush that helped me get through otherwise monotonous Mondays. Then I’d go home and spill all the minutiae to my wife over the dinner table. She was really good at listening while pretending to care.
But having a baby changed my entire approach and mindset around work.
It was a subtle shift, one that I didn’t notice when I first learned that I was pregnant. I went about my business as usual, carrying out my work assignments and trying not to let morning sickness create any mortifying moments during a business meetings.
Then a tiny bomb landed in my inbox.
An executive, notorious for being difficult, leveled a project I was the lead on and called out all of the things that were wrong with it. To add insult to injury, there were others copied on the email, including several who outranked me and who I was continuously trying to impress. Normally, I’d take to instant messaging or texting with close colleagues to complain. Or I’d make someone go to lunch with me so I could vent my frustrations. Sometimes I’d even bottle it all up and channel my upset over some pinot grigio and karaoke after working hours.
Instead, my reaction shocked me. I calmly reread the note. I composed a diplomatic response acknowledging the concerns, and offered to set up a time for all stakeholders to discuss the best path forward. Then I went back to working on an open project and didn’t break a sweat.
What the hell happened? My unexpected poise and tact stopped me in my tracks.
It was the first of many occasions to follow over the coming months and then years through child-rearing that my foundational thinking shifted. I no longer cared as much about my day job because my main job was to keep my baby alive (and ideally happy and healthy too). My day job was merely the vehicle to making that happen.
I know it’s stigmatized to admit that work isn’t important. Yes, of course work is important— my job is ultimately what allows me to provide for my family. I could even argue that having a child made me care more about my job in many ways because the stakes are higher if I screw up.
But having a child shifted my perspective so tremendously that I no longer get irked about the day-to-day stresses at work. It’s a beautiful thing that my baby helped me sort out my priorities. I can now see things without the shroud of ego or pettiness attached to it. Caring less about work has made me a better and happier employee. I can weed through all the big personalities while silencing the extra noise. In doing so, I get to the crux of the issue at hand and simply get my job done.
I watch colleagues complain about workplace injustice or the microaggression someone lobbed their way in the cafeteria line, and I chuckle to myself. It’s not that their grievances aren’t valid, or they shouldn’t air them—I just don’t play in that sandbox anymore. Whether due to the mommy hormones, greater perspective or sheer exhaustion, I just don’t care about little moments of discomfort that would previously derail me. I am able to maintain a healthy distance and perspective from the minutiae at work because toddler politics matter more to me now than office politics. And I need my energy and focus reserved for the most important appointments of my life—such as finger painting, bedtime stories and lots of snuggles!