It was an unusually warm day in March, and I was holding my second child in my arms while talking to my parents on the phone. My mom had learned about a website that lists salaries for people earning over $100,000. She was trying to figure out how much money my boss earned; an interesting question that I really didn’t know the answer to. She couldn’t find my boss in the system, so asked me to name other people who I thought should be on that list. I named a few, some of which she was able to find.
Then, I named my counterpart: a colleague at work who had virtually the same job as me.
I was astounded to learn that my colleague was paid 47 percent more money than I was. Forty-seven percent more. That’s a lot more money! That moment will forever be a turning point in my life. My typically positive, go-getter attitude could not overcome this huge discrepancy. It left me feeling angry. It left me feeling devalued. Really devalued.
Over the next few months, I did what I do best: I researched. I read everything I could find about women and money and pay gaps. That research evolved into larger questions about women and leadership, which turned into an exploration of the concept of success. Figuring out how to define success lead me to ask myself huge questions about compensation, benefits and work-life balance.
I am a mother of two incredible young boys. When this happened they were 4-and-a-half, and not yet a year old. I love motherhood, and I try hard to cherish the moments with my kids. But I also know that I do not want to be a stay-at-home mom. I love my career. I worked really hard for it. I went to school for a very long time, and eventually got a PhD. I worked as a consultant helping healthcare organizations implement evidence and improve the care they provide with the goal of improve people’s lives.
Money had never been my primary driver. If it was, I probably wouldn’t have a PhD, and I definitely wouldn’t have a career in the “helping field." Although money was not my primary motivation, I wanted to be paid what I was worth. That’s why this information was so overwhelming. It tapped into a core question about my value in the world, which ultimately led me to interesting and essential questions about what I value.
In the process, someone shared this life-changing statement: “Don’t define success by the job you have or how much money you earn, define success by describing every detail of what your life looks like on a random Tuesday morning when you feel joy, happiness and success.”
This was mind-blowing for me. It helped me to see the things I love and care about most, and the things I value. I thrive on intellectually stimulating thoughts and conversations, and I want the pursuit of them to drive my days. I enjoy working alone, so while I like having meetings, I want the majority of my time to be me by myself. While I learned so much from managing a team of 20 staff members, being a manager was not my greatest strength in the world, and is not the most valuable use of my time. It is not what drives me to want to wake up in the morning and be excited for the day.
With this new knowledge, I took a huge leap and did the most courageous thing I have ever done: I quit my job and I started my own consulting company. The process to get there involved a lot of soul-searching, a lot of discussions, and more tears than I would like to admit. In the end, I didn’t make the decision because of money. I made the decision to because of work-life balance. Do I hope to get paid closer to what I am worth in the marketplace? Yes. But I am learning so much more about how I want to create a work-life balance that allows me and my family to thrive.
So many of us are trapped in this world of getting paid less than we are worth, because we want a little flexibility to pick up our kids, or stay home when they’re sick. We also feel pressure to be “intensive parents,” signing our kids up for all of the best educational activities, spending quality one-on-one time with them – all of the time. It’s just too much! It’s a system that sets us up to fail. We talk about this huge problem of the mental load we carry around, but it feels as though the only people who understand what that means are other working mothers. It is isolating, and frustrating, but it doesn’t need to be like that.
Once we know what we value in the world and what our value is to the world, we can work to reconcile the two and create the work life balance that allows us to thrive and make what we deserve. We, as working mothers, deserve that.
Julia Egan has a PhD from Penn State in human development and is the founder of Balancing Bravely, a resource for working moms striving to create a work-life balance that allows them to thrive. Sign up for free tips and resources and to read her latest posts on advancing your career, achieving financial freedom, balancing work and family, and finding a little time for yourself. Are you struggling the balance it all? Grab her Work-Life Balance guide to get you on the path to success.