Happy Belated International Women’s Day! On March 8th, I had the honor of attending the “Embrace Ambition Summit” in New York hosted by the Tory Burch Foundation, which is a non-profit organization founded by the world-renowned fashion designer Tory Burch to empower women entrepreneurs. The Summit featured talks on topics including empowering women, unconscious bias, using your voice for change, and entrepreneurship. It was a spectacular experience to ring in the Women’s Day in the circle of powerful women who were kind enough to share their success stories with the attendees. I listened, I networked, I digested not only the inspirational speeches but also the delicious hors d’oeuvres and refreshing cocktails… Then, I got to thinking: What is the secret to embracing ambition as a woman in today’s world? Then, I decided that there would be no better way to dwell on this than to write a blog post about it.
As a woman, I have taken up many roles in life: mother, wife, daughter, sister, professor, homemaker, blogger, business owner, educational policy change activist, etc… My career was like a roller coaster ride: never dull; always eventful… with ups and downs… lots of them… not because I was any different from any other women who have found success in their careers, but because I was a mother – of two beautiful girls. My first and foremost responsibility was to raise them to be their best selves and to be powerful girls. I paused my career several times to enjoy them and to be with them every step of the way. I was the chauffeur driving my older Tuvana and her friends to gymnastics, cheerleading practice, and birthday parties because I wanted to make sure she arrived safely at the destination. I was the Head Class Mom throughout my younger daughter Lara’s elementary school years because I did not want to miss a single beat of her cheerful heart. To this day, I am grateful for both of my daughters for allowing me to be a part of their adventures on the way to being a young adult, and I would not have done anything differently. I still live for the days when Tuvana, now 20 years old, comes back home from college or when Lara, who is 12 years old, wants to binge-watch Degrassi with me. I could have lived like this happily ever after until reality struck me hard.
It was the June of 2016. Tuvana had just graduated from high school. All the hard work and countless hours she put into her college applications had come to an end. It was over… She had committed to Emerson College in Boston, which meant that she was leaving home in a couple of months to start writing the next chapter of her life. It was bittersweet… I was thrilled for her because I knew that Emerson would be the best fit for her. On the other hand, something was stuck in my throat, I was constantly crying, and I felt like I was suffocating – a feeling of anxiety I had not felt since high school. I felt like I was losing 50% of my job description; it felt like being cut down on my work hours, or even worse, my monthly paycheck. I could not help but wonder: Was motherhood the only identity I came to associate myself with throughout the years? When did I start sounding so pathetic? How did I end up here?
The one thing I will never allow anyone to do is to pity me. Ironically, I found myself pitying myself – EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Right then and there, I knew I had to do something about it. Yes, I still had Lara, who was ten years old at the time, to concentrate on, but I knew from experience that she was going to leave the nest in the blink of an eye – a lot sooner than I thought. That is when I started soul searching. I was still the full-time mom of Lara, and I was still a part of her day-to-day activities, but I was also looking for something more… something that I could lean on when it was time for her to be off to college. A very dear and wise family friend of ours once told me, “You need to start preparing for retirement way in advance. When I say ‘prepare’, I mean not only financially but also emotionally. You need to have a back-up plan; you need to find something to occupy yourself with. Sitting around all day doing nothing is not what would make women like us happy. We need to feel validated.” Yes, yes, yes! That was it! That was the reason behind my constant soul search. I was so scared to imagine life without playing the role of a mother that I started to look for a replacement job. I had to start preparing for my empty-nester years way in advance. Boy, did it save my life!
Funny thing, that same wise friend also once told me that the best way to find out what you want to do in life is to start out by eliminating all the things that you do not want to do. That is exactly what I did. My “do not want to do” list was rather long. Wow! I had no idea that I disliked so many things! It was enlightening, though. Along the process, I really got to know myself. Well, come on, as moms, when do we ever stop to think what it is that WE want to do in life? Or what we do not want to do? Motherhood comes with a pretty well-set job description, right? We embrace it with love and just do it without questioning any part of it… until we start feeling that we are less and less needed…
Here I am today… as the President of my own Educational Consulting Firm. A lot has changed along the way to this position. Today, my daughters see me as a more powerful role model, someone who they look up to. I am not the nagging mom looking miserable in her pajamas all day long. Now, they see a well-intentioned woman who makes business calls, meets with her clients, and writes her own blog. I can tell that they have some new-found respect for me – not that they did not respect me in the past, but it just feels different. All those years, I tried to instill “girl power” in my girls just by telling, not by showing. Looking back, I now realize my actions do speak louder than my words. Both Tuvana and Lara are getting out of their comfort zones more and more now, and I believe it has a lot to do with the good example I can finally set for them. To think that I was caught up in my motherhood duties and did not get the big picture! Shaking my head…
Being a mother is not what I do anymore. It is who I am… What I do, on the other hand, is help high school students navigate the college admissions process. This way, I am enjoying being a mom again and cherishing every minute of motherhood. I may not be able to spend as much time with my girls as I used to, but when I do, I can assure you that it is quality time. I am all in… without any distractions… fully present… all thanks to my satisfaction and sense of fulfillment in my chosen path… my intended course of life… I highly recommend that you try it, too! You will feel great!
Some things will never change, though. I still get emotional (very) and miss my Tuvana dearly. I know that the feeling of “emptiness” will be even worse when Lara leaves for college, but I also know that I will be better prepared when it is time. I was lucky enough to realize that I can still practice my intense love for nurturing in other ways. For one, I will forever be the loving mom of my two beloved daughters. I will always be there for them no matter what. Nothing will ever break the strong bond I have with my babies. Along the way, I have found more purpose in life – helping the next generation embark on their college journey. I now feel like I will be needed by an army of young people for many more years to come… That, my ladies, is how I embrace ambition!
To all the moms out there, y’all are my role models. Be well-intentioned. Have a purpose. Always remember this: There is life after kids… You just need to look for it. Trust me, you will know when you find it. Life will not let you down. I promise… Just like my interior design guru Joanna Gaines says, “The world needs who you were made to be.”
Burcak Deniz Cakir, M.A., M.B.A.
Founder and President | EdMission Possible