Navigating the intersection of a tech career, marriage and family
Today, I am 50 years old. I wasn’t sure how I would feel at 50. When I was 40, I thought 50 was so far away and old. Now that I’m here, I don’t feel old – instead, more confident, accomplished and wiser.
For the past 20 years, I’ve delivered many speeches and mentored many people, especially women. They always ask me, ”How do you do it?” “How do you travel around the world, as a global Vice President, a wife, mother and daughter?”
While on the surface it appeared easy, as most things usually do, underneath my accomplishments laid years of experiences filled with trials, tribulations and divine interventions. They got me to where I am today.
At 50, I’ve grown wiser because of all of those rich experiences, and it made me pause to think about what I would tell my younger self. If I had to start all over again, what would I change? I’ve thought about this periodically through the years, and if I had to do it all over again, even though there are things I wish I had handled differently, I wouldn’t change it because of how it has broadened my experience and added depth to my life.
For the next 12 months, in honor of my 50 years of this God giving life, I’m going to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned and how they’ve helped me become who I am today in my personal and professional life.
I’m going to start focusing on the personal because I’ve learned that if things aren’t humming in my personal life, it can affect my professional life. Getting this right has been the foundation for my success in the workplace.
Lesson #1: Choose Your Partner Wisely
Pick a spouse or life partner with no ego and who will support your career aspirations. Boy did I get lucky. When I met my husband, Chris, we connected instantly. I just knew in my soul he was the one. In fact, after seriously dating for three months, we got engaged on a romantic trip to Jamaica, and we married within one year. The first year was the toughest of our marriage. I was 28 years old and he was 32. We were both independent, and we had to learn how to exist under one roof, as one. We sought counseling to work through our issues: It was the best investment of time in our marriage. Sometimes couples are afraid to seek counseling or admit they’re going because they think of it as a negative, but we saw it as a positive. We were two different people, committed to making things work and saw the value in leveraging an objective party to help us. It was worth investing the time.
I admire so many things about Chris, but I appreciate most of all his ability to support me as a successful, African American woman – some men are uncomfortable with a woman who challenges the status quo. Five years ago, I had the opportunity to do an international assignment, which required working and living in Beijing, China with my family. One of the reasons I appreciate working for Lenovo is because of the opportunities the company gives employees to grow and learn at all different levels. This opportunity would increase my business acumen and leadership skills at a global level by stepping out of my comfort zone living in another country. I recall the conversation with my husband. I wasn’t sure how he would respond as this would require him to put his career on hold for me. He reacted with genuine excitement for me and immediately explored taking a leave of absence with his job. Long story short, he took a leave of absence for the first year and then resigned to support my career. We spent three years total in China. During that time, I fell in love with him all over again. I saw a man who managed our household and our two young sons with style and grace, while I worked crazy hours and traveled the globe. He adapted in a country with almost 30 million people speaking Mandarin Chinese as the primary language. When we returned to the US, he went back to work.
At the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t know he would be so open to my demanding schedule and global travel, and I didn’t know my career would take me to Beijing. But I sensed early on a committed man, willing to do whatever it takes to make our family successful and to make me happy. I didn’t realize at the time how important this would be. We communicate constantly and collaborate on the things that are important to us and our family. We have mutual respect for each other and share responsibilities so we flex and check in a lot to stay on track. We’re both keenly aware of the balance of power and responsibility: My role doesn’t eclipse his role, even though on the surface, I may have the bigger more visible role. But underneath one would discover that he holds other critical pieces of our puzzle that are based on our commitment and values.
Having a supportive spouse with no ego let me balance my desire to have a career and advance in the executive ranks, while being a wife and a mother. He understood the multifaceted nature of my life, and that has made all the difference. So, younger self, definitely follow your instincts when meeting a partner. We often know when it’s right or not. Don’t settle. And, please be sure to look for signs that ego stays set aside.