Sunday, January 17, 2016


On Friday, I journeyed into the financial district to meet with a contact at one of the Big 3. Back in July I had a phone conversation with this contact, learning about the company she worked for and how her job was structured, but it was time to meet in person in order to put a face with a name.

The conversation we had was a good one. She was incredibly truthful about her daily dealings (cliental, types of projects, etc) and expectations from the firm she worked with. It was then we transitioned to discussing the realities of this career path on one's daily life. The fact that 90 hr work weeks were very common and there was always an expectation that one would drop everything with a second's notice for the client. That the attrition rate was at least 50%, with many moving on to smaller firms, different aspects of business or leaving business altogether after the experience. That those who succeed tend to be the ones who sacrifice everything else for their career.

As we continued to talk about work/life balance, the term "backstop" came up. Specifically in that a successful consultant would need multiple layers of support in place for raising any children they have, with a dedicated backstop to manage. The backstop usually came in three forms: a spouse, extended family or a superb live-in nanny. As we talked, my contact had a controlled expression on her face. She is currently 39 weeks pregnant with her second and though she talked about this necessity, it was becoming clear she was also struggling with conflicting emotions about this arrangement. Hence her truthfulness in a manner that I wasn't likely to get from anyone else.

On the bus ride home, I reflected on our conversation. And the term "backstop" suck with me. A term attached to someone who drops everything for the children in the family. Telling Grey about this part of the conversation resulted in a look of disgust from him. Cursing under this breath, he responded by saying that it's this term that is driving this lack of respect given to those who are raising the next generation, be the daycare providers, teachers, stay at home moms and especially stay at home dads. "We assume these people are expendable. When in truth they are essential."

 The reality is I don't want a career that's going to separate me from my family on this level. I have zero issue working long hours; I've already done so throughout my 20s. But I struggle with doing anything that will ultimately cause my family to break apart. Sure, there are necessary evils. But I don't think this is one of them for me. But the flip is that I want to be what others call the backstop. If the Beats are sick, I want to be able to drop work and be there for them. Granted, it is we need another level of support for those days they can't go to daycare (and if anyone has suggestions on finding temporary nannies or babysitters, I'd love to hear from you), but missing everything because my employer tells me I need to stay in the rat race isn't something I'm interested in.

I learned a lot on Friday. The gut feeling I've been having about consulting as a career fit has pretty much been solidified into a firm "no way" by this meeting. Though y contact is one that I'll continue to keep in touch with. But the other thing is I learned I need to start looking for options that allow me some flexibility. Part of it is coming from my current work, as my research is truly in a niche field. But the other thing is learning that once again I'm going to have to create the next step. And part of that means embracing the term "backstop."

And never apologize for doing so.


  1. Ugh. Yeah, I'd be firmly in the "no" camp on that line of work as well. I left law over 10 years ago well before I had a family, but I can't imagine going to back to those kinds of hours and "drop everything for the client" mentality now that Q is around.

  2. I'm really glad that you were able to get the real picture before you made changes that would have been difficult to reverse. I love what I do as a therapist, but I've felt at different times like I was missing a lot because I work a lot of evenings to see people when they're not at work. To me, that was the worst thing about my son getting on a sleep schedule was that it meant I barely ever saw him awake except on weekends.

  3. I'm so glad you were able to consult (ha!) someone who could and would give you the straight scoop. I had never heard "backstop" but it really expresses something that is needed to, quote, have it all, unquote.

  4. How great that you made the effort to find out what is really involved in that career from a professional. That is so responsible of you.

    I have never heard the term backstop, but it certainly is something you need to think about as a parent. I have mixed feelings about being a working mom. There have been a lot of things this year that have interfered with my momentum at work (not only being a new mom of course, a lot of it was my dad's situation). I understand intellectually why things have been the way they have but it doesn't mean I'm not frustrated and discouraged at times. Making sure your child(ren) is safe and cared for is the front line (we are doing well at that) but there's also the second line of feeling good about the work you are doing and like you are doing it well while you are taking care of life responsibilities (that's where I've been struggling)

  5. After being in a pressure cooker career followed by a more flexible work arrangement, I have come to appreciate work/life balance in a whole new way. My best work and contributions come when all my needs are met...not when I'm held hostage by irrational coworker/client demands. The older I get the more knuckle-headed our 'success' as defined by hours spent formula seems. Society would benefit greatly if we could make flexibility and balance work for all.

  6. Wow, it's amazing how honest your contact was with you. Great that you could make your decision with a real idea of what you would be getting into.

    Work/life balance is a tough one. With everything that happened surrounding the infertility and tricky pregnancy, a major blow was when I effectively lost my job due to my FMLA running out. I then went back on a part-time basis in a different position because it was the only thing that worked with our situation - which kind of made me feel like a failure (I've worked full time since age 22 except for 2 years of school). But reading this makes me realize that right now, we have the work/life balance we need - not perfect, but that's life. Right now, I'm the backstop in so many ways. And I love what you say about not apologizing!

  7. That's fantastic that you were able to get the real story on the job and figure out that it wasn't for you. I absolutely am the backstop for the family with my job- my employer is very family friendly. CP is sometimes the backstop- but can't be it 100% because traveling. After all that we have been through to have our kids, I agree that I don't apologize at all for making sure that I have a good work/life balance. Life is not all about work (although it is necessary to pay the bills!)


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