Leaning in – Travel

A great opportunity has come up for me at work. It involves kick-starting a new project, expanding the scope of an engagement and working with a new group of stakeholders, and huge learning on the data analytics side. The assignment is with a marquee client and I cleared four rounds of interviews with them. Yesterday they said they want me on board. Everyone is pleased to hear the news. But I don’t feel a sense of achievement. Instead, I feel terribly guilty for being good at my job because it means I need to travel onsite for a couple of months. I have to leave my family (read son) behind.

In the larger scheme of things, I think it’s ok. The Hero will not be traveling when I’m gone. Even if he is, it will only be for day trips. Chotu will be with his dad and his grandparents who will be staying with us while I’m gone. The other set of grandparents will be visiting frequently. I’m sure the first couple of weeks will be hard but knowing Chotu’s temperament, he will settle in quite quickly. I will probably miss him more than he misses me. This is the rational side of me speaking. This is The Goddess who’s confidently reassuring nosy concerned colleagues and friends that Chotu will be fine in my absence.  The other side of me wants to sob into her pillow.

Now let’s take a moment to think. The knee-jerk reaction to the situation would be to say, “Would a man refuse an assignment that involves travel? Neither should you.” However, is this the right question to be asking? I don’t think so. The question implies that daddy won’t be missed as much as mommy if he travels or that men’s families just have deal with the inconvenience of travel. The question also implies that I need to “think like a man” in order to be successful in my career. Well, both those assumptions are wrong. I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, there’s been a gradual shift in attitudes. One of my male colleagues, for instance, would prefer not to travel because, I quote, “I would miss my boy too much.” The Hero isn’t particularly fond of travel either. Thankfully, his job involves very brief travel rarely extending beyond a week or two. I’ve observed other men who have taken a similar stance.

Secondly, if women end up approaching work/life balance the way men traditionally have, men would have to step up and become homemakers to provide the stability women traditionally have. Or, you’d have to outsource childcare completely to a third party. There’s no way around it. Two people cannot manage between them two careers on high gear and parenting. It’s just too much work.

If we choose not to outsource childcare beyond a point (a very personal choice) and we both want fulfilling careers, there’s only one alternative. We need to take turns to scale back on the career front and take up more responsibility on the home front.

Over the last (close to) four years The Hero and I have worked our butts off to build a family where both careers are equally important and all of our relationships are equally important – Chotu and mom, Chotu and Dad, The Hero’s and my marriage. We’ve worked hard to build a world where both mom and dad have to work and both of our jobs are equally important. We’ve done our best to structure our days such that one of us is spending time hands on with Chotu when he’s not in school.

Sure we’ll grow slower than we would have otherwise. The Hero might publish fewer papers or file fewer patents. I will not land a fast track a promotion. But he will publish. I will eventually get promoted. And we will do good work meanwhile. More importantly, all of us will have our needs met.

Of course it’s going to be rough on all three of us if I travel. We’ll all miss each other and it will be much harder for the boys than me when I’m away. But still, we have to try. We’ve laid the groundwork for it. Now we just have to see how it goes.


6 Replies to “Leaning in – Travel”

  1. Safe travels. You continue to inspire me ( I have been saying no to attending grace hopper for 3 years now,maybe next year the answer will be different)
    What are your thoughts on equally important careers when there is a major inequality in pay?

  2. Thanks Shell! Means a lot. My wordpress app didn’t show an alert for this comment. I think it’s time for another post to answer your question 🙂

  3. Congratulations on your win! I scaled back travel during the early years of momhood too. But, now I do when required. And yes, I’ve seen the men scale back and reluctant about travel too after they have kids. I think one off travel is good and required. Shall I tell you a secret ? 🙂 You will also find that you enjoy some time off from family. At least I did. But yeah, after a week I start missing them 🙂

    1. I agree, a week is about the limit. But family or no, there are times when career needs attention and one needs to do what’s needed.

  4. I gave up my cancer research career after my son was born. Well, it was a personal choice. Now when I hear stories from working moms, it moves me of what tough choices they are put in their lives. All of you deserve a salute for your endurance.

    1. Thanks Nandhini! Like any other moms we have good days and bad days. The difference is, there are twice as many of both because there are career highs and lows and parenting highs and lows. For me the hardest thing to deal with is when a career high coincides with a parenting low – that is, I use up a lot of my energy at office and as a consequence I am not as great a mom. The guilt of that is hard to get through.

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