Case

Alicia Yvonne Anderson & Attaché Services, LLC
The Average Six-Figure Mom

Introduction

She knew how it felt to need balance. She was 33, a mother of three, an MIT-trained MBA, wife of a Harvard trained chemist, and a former general manager in a predominately male operations department of a leading telecommunications company. Her ambitions landed her in a demanding role, wondering if that was really where she wanted to be. With one black high-heeled pump in the office and the other in the kitchen, she was straddling the fence trying to maintain superwoman status in corporate America and at home. She left her six-figure, corporate role in order to dedicate herself full time to her passion. Here’s her story...

Background

Her life was never average. For as long as she could remember, she had unique opportunities and stepped into unique roles. No one ever told her she couldn’t, so she always assumed she could. The sky was the limit and she was trained to push the limits in every area. At her all-girls college preparatory middle and high-school, she was strong in academics and played varsity basketball and volleyball all four years of high-school. Take me out!, she called to her volleyball coach She had just served the ball into the net and missed a ball that came straight to her She couldn’t stand letting the team or herself down, so she insisted, Coach, TAKE ME OUT! Her coach simply looked the other way, as if to say, 'You can do this Alicia’ But Alicia had her doubts. During the year end awards ceremony, Alicia was named Athlete of the Year, to her surprise. She received a full ride to college and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Industrial Engineering. She chose from seven job offers and one year later married her college sweetheart. Everything just seemed to fall into place. She quickly progressed in her profession and after seven years in telecommunications, she decided to return to school to pursue an MBA. The decision to pursue further education came after the onslaught of layoffs. Alicia had never seen anything like this After all, she entered the workforce at its peak. Just a year prior, she had been given a $12K raise because she was grossly underpaid. Now, the bubble had burst and employees were being escorted to the door with their company provided box. Layoffs were a cruel reality check and the first time she gave serious thought to what she really wanted to do with her life. At that point, and after being the only survivor in her group, she had a mindset shift. She began coming into work and imagining herself the CEO. She thought about how she would spend her time, how she would set her priorities, what she would focus on, and what she would abandon, if she was the CEO.

From that moment on, she took control of her career. She was fortunate to be accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. There was just one major difference between Alicia and her classmates- she had two small children. Her circumstances were certainly atypical, but she was pleasantly surprised to discover that MIT welcomed students like her. Her younger son stayed home with her mother-in-law who volunteered to help them with the children while she went to class at MIT and her husband completed post-doctoral research at Harvard. And, as if that wasn’t challenging enough, during her second year of business school, she gave birth to a daughter, Allison. Alicia's classmates and MIT faculty were always very supportive and cheered her on through those two tough but exciting years of graduate school. The admissions office and career services personnel always asked about the kids and even enjoyed their occasional visits. She distinctly remembers a very potentially embarrassing time when she began lactating and ruined a silk blouse minutes before a presentation she was scheduled to deliver in class. Her mother-in-law rushed over with a new blouse and a nursing mother in a nearby administrative office supplied her with another nursing pad.

By far, the help of her mother-in-law was the critical component. She lovingly agreed to accept responsibility for most of the domestic tasks. As a result, Alicia was free to focus on subsets of these tasks. Her primary home responsibilities were those things that were important for her to handle personally, such as medical appointments, school events, and family outings. Alicia could focus on spending quality time with the kids and her husband when she wasn’t studying, as opposed to trying to catch up on all the tasks that needed to be done around the house. "So, what’s the plan?", she asked her husband, referring to what they would do after she graduated. They were so far away from family that both of them knew staying in Cambridge, MA was not a long-term option. "I need to devote one more year to my research. This project has been going on for more than 10 years and we’re close to completing the largest molecule ever synthesized, I don’t want to leave now." That made sense, but what did that mean for Alicia’s career? "Ok, I’ll stay at home for the next year so your mother can have her life back and you can devote yourself fully to your research." She heard the words come out but couldn’t resolve in her mind how that was a good idea. How would she break that news to career services, or her parents, or her mother-in-law, or her friends? A high-powered MBA and all that work to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM)?

The next year was quite an experience for Alicia. She witnessed mommy wars’ firsthand. On one hand, Alicia wanted to pull out her resume and show the other moms on the playground that she was different, but on the other hand, she liked volunteering at the school, getting to bed at a decent hour, and not having to work long hours. But still, she felt like something was missing, like she wasn’t pulling her weight, like she had something to offer the world and was withholding it. She thought back to her key differentiator being a mother of three. In  business school she had laid the foundation for her identity as a pioneer for women who wanted to have it all. The foundation was laid and she had even started building a structure to support women like her. She called it Attach Services because she wanted to create the servant class that other countries have to support families, but do it in an honorable way. She had interviewed her classmates, alumna, and MIT staff to find out what the secret to work-life balance was and what high-powered women really needed. Was it time for her to move into the entrepreneurial arena with this idea?

Professional Issue

One year later, Alicia accepted a corporate position and was relocated by her new employer to Northern Virginia, and started a very enjoyable job. She had returned to a former employer to lead a small team of technical project managers who performed all of her favorite types of tasks- data analysis, process engineering, training and coaching, and applying technology to automate processes. It seemed that everything had fallen into place. Except for one problem- she was suffocating from her lack of work-life balance. Alicia was a star-performer and publically recognized by her director for her leadership. She was influential with her peers and brought out the best in her team. Despite her professional accomplishments, she was the first and only General Manager to volunteer to be separated from the company. When her Fortune 100 employer announced the second round of layoffs in two years, Alicia wondered if this was her chance to leave corporate America to attain her dream of entrepreneurship and balance.

Personal Issue

Some days, Alicia was so frustrated she even wished life would take her out. This was too hard. She felt like she created this monster. She questioned where the ladder she had been climbing all these years was leading to? Was it leaning up against the wrong building? Was she in over her head? Was what she was trying to do even possible? When she looked around, she could not find other women who were doing what she was attempting. No one was trying to do all this with three children. "What makes me think I can do this?", she thought to herself. Several memorable moments stood out as she contemplated leaving her six-figure job. She recalled the morning she couldn't get out of bed, suffering from a stomach virus hours before she was scheduled to board a flight and meet with clients who were making a record-breaking purchase from her company. She shook her head as she remembered the occasions she took calls from work during her son's birthday party and a family outing to the zoo. She desperately wanted balance. She wanted to find the secret to thriving professionally AND personally. Had the time for Attach Services arrived?