As a nurse practitioner I initially assumed that my career path was pretty well laid out for me and that there wasn’t much room for advancement or therefore novel career advice. But, then I read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. The book discusses setbacks and mistakes Sandberg often sees women make in their careers from her own high-powered viewpoint and unexpectedly struck a chord with me. 

While I wouldn’t describe myself as a corporate ladder climber, or really with aspirations to work in the traditional corporate world at all, I did relate to and learn from Lean In. I often find myself reflecting on some of the anecdotes Sandberg shares so I decided to give the book another once-over as a bit of a career refresher now that I’m a mother. 

As I cracked open Lean In, I was reminded of many conversations I have with younger or less experienced nurse practitioners. Some of my own experiences or tendencies also resonated with those that Sandberg outlines in her book. So, based on these experiences and my perspective now as a mother, thought I would shed light on some of the top mistakes working moms make in their nurse practitioner careers.

Mistake #1: “Leaving before you leave”

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The other day I spoke with a nurse practitioner who is frustrated in her practice. She expressed a desire to one day open her own clinic. When I mentioned that her current career dissatisfaction might signal it’s a good time to go ahead and go for it, she declined. “My husband and I want to have kids in the next couple of years or so – I want to wait to go out on my own until our children are older”. I hear these kinds of comments often and am frustrated by the illusion that you cannot be successful at work and also a good mother. In fact, if you get started on advancing your career now, you’ll arguably be in a better position financially and with a more flexible schedule once your future children do arrive making this work-life balance equation more feasible. Sandberg advises “Don’t leave before you leave” by making a series of career-sacrificing decisions before you’re even a mom. You can always take a step back later if needed. 

Mistake #2: Risk aversion

In Lean In, Sandberg shares a number of stats indicating that women are overall afraid to step up. We’re less likely than men to apply for jobs or take on responsibilities at work that we aren’t 100% qualified for. As a mother, I too find myself with a greater degree of career-limiting risk aversion. I’m more vulnerable. Without taking risks, however, we won’t advance our careers. As a nurse practitioner, you must challenge yourself to avoid becoming stagnant. Maintain the dreams you have as an NP whether they be caring for a certain population or being a knowledgable specialist – or, having a satisfying job with a meaningful financial contribution to your family. Whatever you’re looking to get from your career, avoid stagnation by stepping up and learning rather than having an “I’m not ready to do that” attitude. 

Mistake #3: Not making your partner…a partner 

If you have kids and your partner’s also employed you have a busy household – there’s no way around it. Balancing the responsibilities of a working mother isn’t easy. Fortunately, you didn’t become a mother on your own, you’ve got a partner in the picture as well (at least for most mothers). So, involve your spouse in childcare and other household responsibilities. Sure, you may prioritize around the house differently, be better positioned to help out with certain tasks, or have varying degrees of ability, but that’s no excuse. Sit down and have a delegating session. Divvying up household and childcare responsibilities is a must for attaining balance. 

Mistake #4: Making decisions based on where your career is now 

Childcare is expensive. As I sit here writing this article, I’m paying someone else to watch my son and the hours add up! I talk with a number of women who hesitate to work or advance their careers because of the cost of childcare which is very understandable. However, you must take your future rather than current salary into account in this equation. If you’re a nurse thinking of becoming a nurse practitioner, for example, in most cases you’ll get a substantial salary hike with your new title. So, while the numbers may not crunch favorably looking at your current RN salary and the cost of childcare, look to the future. Weigh the cost of childcare against what you expect your salary to be five years from now. 

Mistake #5: Trying to do it all 

In Lean In, Sandberg shares a story that resonates with me. Essentially the anecdote boils down to the fact that her child wasn’t wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day and other mothers condescendingly took note. Sandberg says that as a working mother you “can’t do it all”. You’re going to need to be comfortable with letting some of life’s smaller details like St. Paddy’s Day slide. I can relate. My 11-month-old’s clothes aren’t always well coordinated. He had dirt under his fingernails yesterday. Laundry lay in piles, unfolded when I left for work this morning. But, my child is loved and happy. I am personally fulfilled by my work. So, we’ll let the details go for now

How do you strike balance as a nurse practitioner and mother? Do you find it difficult to balance a career + kids? What mistakes have you made in trying to do so?


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