Erica Sniad Morgenstern is the chief marketing officer at Virgin Pulse and mother of three. With a proven track record of executing effective and creative communications to increase awareness and stimulate action she is accountable for overall marketing initiatives and operations.
By the time the third speaker left the stage at a women’s conference several years ago, I had learned one thing: to be a successful executive, my husband had to be a stay-at-home dad. As a result, I was incredibly unsettled as I turned to other attendees at the break and asked, “Is that really the only way?” But, it wasn’t the first time I’d received bad career advice. Or, at least, advice that was bad for me.
I’ve found that some of the questionable advice I received over the years as a working mom may have worked for others but didn’t feel like a fit for me. Instead of taking the advice to ensure my partner prioritizes my career over theirs, I wanted one who fully supports my pursuits and is willing to make compromises when we need to – as a team.
When confronted with bad parenting advice, or any advice, my key reflection question is: what parts of this advice can I adopt to build the life I want? Even if the advice isn’t useful, you may hear something that elicits a response that may help you focus better on what you DO want or need.
Shortly after being chosen to participate in CSweetner, a mentorship program for women in the healthcare industry, I sought advice from a mentor. I had two children under the age of four and a husband that traveled 50% of the time for a demanding job. (The stay-at-home-dad option wasn’t a fit for us.) As we sat down for coffee, I told my mentor that what I really wanted to learn was how she managed it all. Her advice was to “staff up” and outsource as much as possible in my personal life.
While I am grateful that my family can afford routine house cleaners, I’m not motivated by the thought of working to pay someone else to TaskRabbit my life. I realized my mentor’s advice intended to focus on where I could have the most significant impact, so that’s where I put my energy. After reflection, I chose not to hire someone to take my eldest daughter to dance class and instead do it myself, as it affords us rare one-on-one time.
By the time I was pregnant with my third child, the unsolicited advice had turned to speculation about whether I would return after parental leave and if I could continue to perform at a high level. While these assumptions hit me as demoralizing, they also motivated me. Was I 100% confident I’d be able to balance it all? Unfortunately, no. But, I surprised myself with my stellar time management and prioritization at home, which extended to work and propelled my career further.
When faced with inappropriate questions or speculation about my career or approach to work-life balance, take a deep breath before responding (and avoid reacting) and remind the other person that everyone is different.
I received the most antiquated advice about parenting before I even had kids. The suggestion was to keep my personal life personal and not talk about it at work. Luckily, society has overruled this mentality over the past couple of years.
When we bring our whole selves to work, we are more authentic in everything we do. Ideas and experiences outside work can also be applied in our roles, aiding our interactions with others. While some professional boundaries are appropriate to keep in play, hiding who you are and who or what fulfills your time outside of work is no longer warranted.
We are likely to receive more bad advice throughout our lifetimes. So use what serves you and trash what doesn’t – how’s that for unsolicited advice?