From the outside, it seemed crazy. Why would I sell a successful small business that allowed me to be my own boss, working with people I adored, while providing a real service to the community and enroll in Startup Institute? Why would I make such a crazy career change after becoming a working mother to boot?It was because of my daughter that I took the leap. She’s fearless—testing her limits on the playground, stopping wide-eyed to say she’s scared. Still, she turns back to the mini rock wall and climbs. Triumphantly reaching the top, exclaiming ‘I did it!’ with unbridled joy. She’s curious, asking “why” a million times a day. And she sees everything. She saddles up next to me as I return emails and begins typing into the air telling me that she’s going to work too. Her curiosity, tenacity and imagination inspire me to push my limits and to step outside of my comfort zone. I can feel her eyes on me and know that the decisions I make today shape who she will become tomorrow.[bctt tweet="I know the decisions I make today shape who my daughter will be tomorrow—@reneecf"]
But Startup Institute isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a constant sprint and marathon rolled into one, and doing it as a parent can sometimes feel like you’re running in quicksand. It’s more than the time in the classroom—it’s morning coffee chats, it’s evening networking events, it’s research and homework, it’s an internship, it’s being open to the unknown and erratic schedules. It’s the closest thing to being thrown into the deep end of a startup without actually working at a startup. That’s the point.
I don’t know that I could have done it without my amazing wife. After being accepted, but before signing the dotted line, we had to have a really frank discussion. Was she willing to essentially single parent for two months? We set clear guidelines; no more than two networking events each week, help with the morning drop-off, no phone or computer at the dinner table, two bedtimes each week and Sundays were for family. On the nights when I’d be jamming with my team to meet a deadline, I’d sneak away and Facetime goodnight kisses to my little one. I once found myself walking down Milk Street, singing ‘Let It Go’ to her, eliciting inquisitive, and frightened, glances from passers-by. These were the hardest moments, when I’d find myself tearing up. My cohort mates saw this and gave me permission to share, to ‘let it go.’ Embracing my own vulnerability and accepting their support was a huge lesson for me and, without it, I don’t think I would have made it through the program.[bctt tweet="Embracing my vulnerability was a huge part of my #careerchange, says @reneecf"]
Juggling this new Startup Institute family with my actual family pushed me to prioritize very quickly. It is impossible to take advantage of every opportunity awarded to you by Startup Institute and it’s easy to feel like you might be missing out on something. Choosing to go to a happy hour event meant missing having dinner with my family, which pushed me to evaluate what really mattered. Was it really a company or topic that interested me? Yes—then I’m there. Was I unsure? Unsure wasn’t good enough. Spend the night with my kiddo.
As I became more immersed in the startup and tech world, I felt myself worrying that the pace of Startup Institute would never end. That led me to really put the culture of an organization first in my job search. A company that prided itself on late nights playing foosball and drinking beer was not going to be a good fit for either of us. I found myself asking—are the founders or executives parents? How flexible are they with their working from home policies? Are they open to unorthodox hours? Luckily, this is the tech industry and many companies don’t care where the work gets done—they just care that it gets done.[bctt tweet="As a parent, I learned to prioritize company culture in my #jobsearch, says @reneecf"]
I never hid the fact that I had a family in my interviews. At one of my interviews, I was interrupted by two of the executive's daughters who were making a movie in a conference room because daycare was closed. The interviewer apologized to me and I just smiled and said that it was a selling point for their company. This moment allowed me to share my experience as a working mother and helped us form an instant connection. He knew I got it.
And yet, I still couldn’t shake the working mom guilt; feeling like the hours I spent in the classroom or at a networking event were selfish, when I could have been on the playground with my daughter. I felt this until Diane Hessan, CEO of Startup Institute, grabbed my shoulders and looked me square in the eyes and said “your daughter deserves a happy mother.”[bctt tweet="Your daughter deserves a happy mother, says @DianeHessan @reneecf #workingmom"]
My daughter deserves a happy mother. This simple sentence has become a touchstone for me. When evaluating job offers, I asked myself, will this make me happy? Is this work worth the hours away from my family? When I found myself answering with a resounding “yes,” I knew I found my place. In my role as Innovation Catalyst and design thinking facilitator at Constant Contact, I am constantly approaching my work with my daughter’s inquisitive eye. Her eyes see a mother who takes risks, who creates her own opportunities, who gives voice to her fears and conquers them. These days, I may even ask “why" more than she does. And I couldn’t be happier.[bctt tweet="My daughter sees a mother who takes risks, creates opportunities, and conquers fear, says @reneecf"]
To hear more from Renee about her career transition as a parent, check out her interviews in our video: The Startup Institute Journey (not pictured in the still).