The Emotional Paycheck
As a woman, an entrepreneur and a former HR manager, money was always presented as the ultimate reward. In graduating from college, career choices were made and options weighed regarding the path I wanted to take and the lure of the ever illusive dollar. The dollar did not always win but in the end, it was the path that made me forever grateful for the career that found me.
After college, with a very useful degree from Occidental College in World Religion, the world seemed daunting; vast, without direction and particularly challenging for women who sought to advance in Corporate America. I chose to forego the money and follow my heart into a non-profit job working for a mismanaged domestic violence shelter the greater Los Angeles Area. As in a lot of the non-profit world, I wore many hats- I was the Executive Assistant to the Director, I was the HR Manager, I obtained my Domestic Violence Education Certificate and began to write grants. I was over worked and under paid. I lived on ramen (the bagged, MSG infested home brewed type, not the delicious options now found all over) and cheap wine. I was emotionally drained from what seemed like an impossible job that left nothing to hope for. Eventually, I had enough and was ready to tackle the Corporate job front.
I was hired at an international corporation as a lowly HR Assistant for more money and way less responsibility. The company was based in Japan but had a division that was running their American assets. The President was a former Coke executive and I was there to climb. I was 24 years old, no children and nothing to hold me back. I began traveling with the President, letting the sexual harassment slide in hopes of learning and promoting and promote I did. I was moved into Operations management within a year. I was meeting with Japanese Executives and was managed by a long time veteran in business. His professionalism was a rarity and he did his best to shelter me from the blatant sexual advances from the CEO in Japan down the Corporate latter. At the time, honestly, it seemed like the price that most women paid to advance their careers.
I spent two years learning the sales pitches, the corporate structure, watching the behind the scenes theft of large amounts of money and the subsequent terminations. I watched how and when women were promoted and in what capacity. I asked to be a part of every meeting, travel to every opening, learn the President's strategy to turn around a failing company. In the end, everyone left, Japan quietly settled a large sexual harassment case with a top ranking woman in management and I walked away feeling more educated and less hopeful than ever before.
An odd job opened as an HR Manager (while the manager took a 3 month maternity leave) and I took the role while I looked for another full time position. I wanted to be in business but did not want to work for men who wanted sex to promote or incompetent leadership teams who could offer neither growth or a livable wage. The first day on the job, I met the man who would shortly become my husband. Maternity leave ended, and career paused, for seven LONG years.
I want to say that being a stay at home mom was a dream come true but it wasn't. I treated it like a job and was on every committee, was the President of the PTO, was the room mom and a Pinterest party extraordinaire. We started our marriage with one 2 year old from my husband's previous marriage and added three more in 4 years. I loved the opportunity to stay home with my kids, to teach them to read, to challenge them to be stronger, braver and more resilient. While we were not eating Top Ramen, we were facing the challenges of a one household income in a two-income society and times were tough. More than the money, I felt like my brain was actively atrophying and I longed for adult conversation and professional challenges.
During my last year as a SAHM, I was a surrogate for a single man in Northern California. I had offered to carry for both a relative and good friend, both of which were not prepared to move forward. I met my Intended Father and it clicked. We grew an organic friendship over time and went through the surrogacy process together. Under a year later, he was blessed with a beautiful daughter and I had a plan.
I would love to say that from Day 1, being an agency owner was easy; that I made all the right decisions and charted the clear path to success. Alas, as in all businesses, it was a curvy road, full of new business owner mistakes and a very difficult transition back into the workplace. It took a toll on my kids and my husband. Long hours learning the business, making professional connections and marketing to clients forced our family to restructure its schedule, its needs and its expectations. The first year was full of ups and downs but in the end, was way more successful than I had ever imagined.
In starting the agency, I told my husband that I would like to manage 4-6 cases in the first year. We ended up doing 19 and I quickly recognized that our business model that combined professional services with personal relationships was one that resonated with a large population within our third party reproductive community. I needed to onboard a partner, someone with professional experience and similar values.
My partner and I were introduced through a good friend who I have known the majority of my life. She was a colleague in the same corporate law firm where they both hated their job and their tyrannical boss. They also both stayed because it paid well and there was very little risk. The transition out of Corporate America and into a new start up was one that took months of cogitating and convincing.
In the end, Roots Surrogacy was born. While the fertility industry as a whole is estimated to be a billion dollar industry, our new start up was one that would require an immense amount of time with very little initial return. We would both be juggling a work life balance that was much less predictable with a far greater risk. In the end, it came down to the paycheck. With Roots Surrogacy, both my partner and I were able to build a business that supported a cause that we were personally invested in and were able to pay ourselves an emotional paycheck that far surpassed any that could be found at any corporate job.
As we come to the end of our first year, we both often reflect on the long days and emotional toll that this path has led to but also the incredible amount of freedom and joy that comes from waking up every morning to a job that you love and an emotional paycheck that feeds our souls. We both are proud of the business we are building, the changes that we are contributing to and ultimately, the women and families who are positively impacted by our leap of faith.