Back COVID-19 tales: pregnant, jobless – and successful!
Unemployed, pregnant and about to start a demanding Executive MBA. Had it not been for my mentors and mentees (and my family and friends) the wheels would have totally come off my life.
Mid-2019, I’d decided to leave EE/BT after years of long-distance commuting and insane hours. My immediate boss was great, but I was borderline burnt-out and needed to recharge, and figure out exactly what next.
In rapid succession, I travelled to Portugal, China, and France, was accepted on Warwick University’s prestigious Executive MBA programme starting March 2020…and I dyed my hair pink, then purple, then blue, then teal (you get the drift).
Towards the end of 2019 the job hunt commenced; I was diligently having conversations, talking to my network, and applying for relevant roles but struggling to find an opportunity that ‘spoke’ to me. As we headed into 2020, the employment market was getting more and more challenging; IR35 implementation loomed over the private sector, increasing competition for roles.
Come March 2020, I was unexpectedly 3 months pregnant (planned but still a huge surprise) and I started my MBA with a module on Organisational Behaviour; which confirmed that the MBA was absolutely the right choice for me. I expected to meet some great people, but I could not have anticipated just how awesome my Cohort was or that just from the first module I’d make actual friends.
Then, lockdown after lockdown after lockdown.
Both pregnant and asthmatic, I was classed as vulnerable; both my husband and I were super cautious as we already felt a huge responsibility towards our “Egglet”. The MBA went virtual, I decided to pause for a year with the plan to return after the baby was roughly 6 months old. In my naivety I assumed by this age he would be sleeping through the night.
Cue a lockdown pregnancy with my/our first child, no entitlement to maternity pay, and living off one salary with no clear way forward.
I’m not going to lie when I say whilst excited about the new person growing inside me, I was stressed. A lot. It was a huge strain on my relationship – not only being locked up for months on end with every hospital visit being alone (including the 20 week abnormality scan) and the prospect of little in-person support during/after birth, but also less disposable income than I’d had certainly within the last 10 years, and the pressure on my husband of being the sole earner. There were many times where we felt out of options and incredibly alone.
This has probably been the first time in my life I’ve felt fortunate to have suffered with depression as a teenager as I’m pretty good at recognising the signs my mental health is deteriorating and I have some pretty solid coping strategies to call on.
- I exercised in our little garden, throwing 10kg medicine balls around until well into my 3rd trimester and doing regular Pilates.
- I walked, either on my own or with my NCT group when the regs permitted.
- I quickly worked out from which friends and family I came away from a skype or whatsapp conversations with a smile on my face.
Still, it was hard.
In late September, 2 weeks late, Athos arrived via a rather dramatic emergency caesarean. I could write a whole other post on lockdown with a baby who has tongue tie and reflux, but suffice to say he is now 8 months old and a happy little chap.
When Athos was around 2 months old and I was starting to think about job hunting again, a friend who I’d supported/mentored back in the EE/BT days and stayed in contact with (not least as she’d had a baby not long after me) got in touch. She asked if I’d be interested in joining her Design Services start-up as their COO with my core remit being to enable them to scale at pace.
This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. This was the chance to work for a company doing something cool, a company with values in harmony with mine. A company where the majority of the team have babies under 12 months old, so flexibility and work-life balance are at the heart of how we do business – we all work our socks off but together, as a team, and we look after each other.
I started at The Fearless Group doing 2 days a week spread over 3 days, which made it possible for Athos to go to a fabulous local nursery who entirely assuage my mum-guilt.
I resumed my MBA as planned and am now finishing my Economics assignment – digging into the Economics of the sports car industry from 2006-2020.
I have always struggled with being a bit of a jack-of-all-trades rather than specialising in a particular area, yet I cannot emphasise enough how useful this has been in a start-up environment where it’s all about pitching in to get problems solved, processes set up, hire the right people etc. It’s incredibly satisfying being able to use all my skills.
I’m working 3 days a week, I’ve just made my first hire for my team – an Account Manager (also a referral from a very talented somebody I used to mentor and who has become a friend) and I’m incredibly excited to have her join us.
I spent my first 3 months getting processes and procedures in place: looking forward I’m going to be working with our amazing CEO on our strategy and making sure we get it done; supporting the CCO with new business so we can ensure we’re as efficient as possible; and generally iterating what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis to keep us agile (with a small “a”) and efficient.
What have I learned?
My journey over the past 18 months really proves the value of mentoring both for mentor and mentee, and it’s emphasised the importance of give and take:
- if I hadn’t supported someone (new-in to a huge company) to navigate internal politics and introduce Design Thinking, I wouldn’t be in this awesome job.
- if I hadn’t mentored someone who is literally my polar opposite personality wise on the grad programme, I wouldn’t have been referred to my new team member.
- some of my close friends, those people who made me smile, were initially my mentors. Without their support both as friends but also as people I can talk to about business challenges and bounce ideas off, I would not have had the confidence to throw myself into succeeding as a COO at a start-up.
With the right mentoring mindset, I’ve found that you can stay yourself – but be the best possible version!