Balancing work and personal life felt impossible to so many people before the pandemic made working from home acceptable. For the latest installment of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor, we spoke to a PR executive who left her job at a large, international firm after nearly 10 years to start her own consulting firm. Making the change wasn’t simple, but the allure of continuing to spend time with her young family won out.
This interview has been edited for clarity and flow.
Describe your work-life routine pre-pandemic.
I started at [the company] in November 2011. At the time, I was single and extremely career-oriented. It was career above everything else. I worked [there] for about 10 years and in that decade I got married, had my first child and right before the pandemic, I had my second child.
The PR industry is a hustle. I don’t think people outside of the industry realize that it’s not nine-to-five at all. It’s a lot of early mornings, a lot of late nights. You’re on the same time schedule as the news, which is 24-hours-a-day. It’s also a client-services business, so you’re always on.
We live about 25 miles outside of downtown Chicago, where the office is. I left my house at 7:10 every morning to be in my seat at 8:30. It was the culture pre-pandemic. Everyone had to be at work, sitting at their desks. If you weren’t in the office or at your desk, you weren’t deemed as relevant, productive or a team player. My kids were still sleeping when I left. Not seeing them became normal for me. I did start to leave at 4:50 every afternoon right after I had kids so I can get a little bit of a headstart on the traffic going north to see them before bedtime. It took 90 minutes driving each way.
Was leaving early frowned upon by co-workers?
I was trying to sneak out, to be honest. My office was located in a part of the office so that I was a straight beeline to the door to the elevator.
What was the attitude toward flexibility?
My employer was flexible, but that’s flexible within the context of it being pre-pandemic. I appreciated what my employer did for me. However, I did have to really advocate for myself. Eventually driving downtown every day was just too much. I negotiated a work-from-home day, once a week and then two days. I was nervous to ask for it. I went to HR with my talking points. That was the start of my mindset about working. I kept feeling like something has to give. And I didn’t know what at the time. But the pandemic made me realize exactly what I wanted.
How so? What was the routine like while working from home during the lockdown?
I enjoy working but I loved seeing my kids in the morning and more at night. I kept working as hard as I was pre-pandemic and at a certain point, I was like, ‘Is this worth it?’ And I decided that it wasn’t. I didn’t know what I was working so hard for anymore.
Going from a secure, well-paid job to freelancing and then starting your own company must’ve been daunting. How did you make the transition?
I started picking the minds of my friends who were freelancing. They all said it was the best decision they’ve ever made. I didn’t believe them at the time, but they said I could make the same amount of money freelancing as I do working full-time at the firm. But by going out on my own, I would be in charge of my own schedule, I could see my kids more and take on work that was interesting to me versus just what the bosses gave me.
A friend put me in touch with someone who was in a similar boat as me, but about six months ahead. She started her own firm in January of 2020, had a lot of work and she needed help. She started giving me projects that I would do very early in the morning or on the weekends, just to see how I liked it. I was still working full-time. At a certain point, I knew it was time to pull the trigger. If it wasn’t for her giving me that safety net, showing me I could do this, I’m not sure the story would have played out the same. I was nervous. My parents questioned what I was doing. They kept saying, “you’ve been there almost 10 years, you have a great relationship with them.”
Was quitting hard?
Because of my emotional connection to the firm, which is definitely one-sided because it’s a company, I had a very hard time telling them. When I told them I wanted to leave to start my own company, they asked if I’d freelance and I agreed to it. That wasn’t the intention. I’m winding that down, though, and will be done with the project in August.
Are you happy?
The hustle is still there, but it’s a different type of hustle. It’s the pressure I put on myself. I still wake up very early. I’ll go to the Starbucks up the street from 6 to 7:30 to work. When I come home around 7:45 I get the kids up, get them dressed, get breakfast and I usually walk my daughter across the street to get on the camp bus. Then I take my son to camp. I still have a nanny, but instead of her being a mother to my kids as she was when I was working for [my previous employer], she’s my partner. The whole dynamic has changed in the family. I’m around all the time. It’s been great.