The story that I’ve chosen to tell is about the tension between courage and confidence in my entrepreneurial journey. It involves sharing a deeply intimate personal experience.
For me the personal and professional are inextricably linked. Nothing has impacted my professional choices more than my personal relationships and experiences. And it’s pregnancy that has had the most impact on my journey growing a business. I forged these two new identities – mom and founder – at the same time and they continue to intertwine.
I decided to leave my last full time job, being the breadwinner and very newly pregnant, to launch into independent consulting. Looking back on it, this was a pretty bold move. I don’t remember being afraid of taking this risk then. I’d definitely made other risky moves in my professional life, hopping around, trying to find the right fit.
But it’s actually the experience of trying to have a second child that has impacted my professional outlook more than anything else.
When my consulting practice was a few years old, my son was almost two, and I was almost 40, I became pregnant with my second child. This was exciting on several fronts - that it happened fairly easily at my age; and that symbolically I would get to realize my life-long, only-child-of divorced-parents dream of being a family of four.
The pregnancy progressed fairly uneventfully. I made it through the first trimester, made it through the first set of tests with normal results, and got to the halfway point right before the holidays. I went in for my 5 month appointment, excited to learn the gender, and excited I’d get to share that with family at Christmas.
Those pregnancy exams were extremely anxiety making for me. Waiting to see your baby come to life on the sonogram machine, waiting to hear the heartbeat…. I still get a tight chest thinking about it.
This appointment was no different. I got the gel on, my doctor had the stethoscope on my belly, we waited and watched. She played with the machine. We waited and watched some more. More playing with the machine, more prodding my belly….
Nothing came to life on the screen. No sound. No motion. And then my doctor spoke my greatest fear. I can’t find the heartbeat.
There was absolute stillness on the screen - my fully formed baby girl, with her elbow bent over her head, frozen that way in my mind for all time.
What happened next is a blur. A blitz of hospital activity and cancelling things and sharing the news. During it all, I held on fiercely to my doctor’s comfort that something was wrong and this was nature doing what it is supposed to, ending life when it isn’t viable.
So I started the new year, newly 40, with the goal of healing and getting pregnant again immediately before I or my son got too much older. As many of us know full well, of all things to be rushed – the body healing and the body conceiving are not those things.
I channeled the heartache and loss into this frenzied focus on getting pregnant.
Having a second child and being a family of four was not just a long held dream, it felt like it would make my narrative, my life story the right one. Somehow making it more worthy because it was more comparable to everyone else’s. I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted anything as badly.
What I also didn’t share is that I have struggled with confidence most of my professional life. Paradoxically, this struggle didn’t lessen as I became more accomplished or experienced. Instead I had created this narrative about myself that my path, my experiences, my choices weren’t good enough. I was always comparing my journey to everyone else’s, to what I thought it should have been or could be. Even doing some pretty risky things, like getting a new business off the ground while newly pregnant, didn’t shift this perspective. I was courageous but I still lacked confidence.
I had convinced myself that having a second child would make me legitimate. And after this long winter of healing and trying, I got pregnant again in April.
At the end of May there was no heartbeat.
So what did I do? I took my getting-pregnant frenzy to new heights, thinking I would take matters into my own hands. I decided to pursue the most comprehensive IVF regimen possible. By summer I had my first appointment. By late fall I was injecting hormones in my gluts.
The first round didn’t work. Of all our samples, only two survived long enough to be tested and none of those tested normal. I was not prepared for this result. I thought our IVF plan of action was full throttle and therefore airtight.
So relentless in my determination, I stretched the bounds of what was reasonable for us, especially financially, and went all in, for a second round. I knew this round was the end of the road. I also knew that the chances of it working were highly unlikely. I knew too that I had to find a way to be okay with this. I had to let go of this idealized vision of what my family was supposed to look like.
And sure enough, the second round yielded the exact same results, only two samples even made it to be tested. When they were sent out for testing, I already knew the outcome.
A few weeks later, I got a very surprising voicemail from Columbia… we had one healthy embryo.
My daughter turned two last month and I am enormously grateful to have this happy ending to my IVF story. But this is not the story. This is not a lesson in never giving up… in getting pregnant or in anything else for that matter. Fertility especially is not something we have much control of and I know many women for whom things go very differently.
I shared this very personal story because it taught me an essential lesson about confidence, especially as I lean into leading a business. We must let go. Let go of how you think it’s supposed to go or look or be. There is no right path. There’s not even an ideal path. There is only your own path; and it’s just as legitimate as anyone else’s. It is not to be compared to or modeled after anyone else’s. It is to have its own unique quality and character and unpredictable timeline. Confidence comes when you can let go of what you think is supposed to be.
I’m now in my 7th year in business, steadily building an executive search and talent strategy practice, with two employees, a crew of consultants, and a budget that’s grown to seven figures, doubling each year.
Watching my business grow couldn’t heal me, and neither did having Olivia. Becoming truly confident is ongoing work. But this idea helps: I don’t have to walk any other path but my own. I don’t have to look like, speak like, act like or lead like anyone else. I get to be confident, not because of something I’ve accomplished, but simply because I am being myself and nothing else. And you get to do the same.