Girl Scout Alum Sabrina Callahan on Juggling Ambition and Family

Juggling Ambition and Family: A Constant Challenge?

Sabrina Callahan

In early 2017, Sabrina Callahan, now executive director of publicity at New York City-based book publisher Little, Brown and Company, was struggling with the pressures of work and life.

Not only had Callahan just been promoted but she was in charge of author David Sedaris’s 30-city book tour as well as learning how to balance her job and caring for her toddler son … then suddenly her husband's back went out.

It all worked out in the end for this Girl Scout alum and book publishing whiz, who looks back on her time in Girl Scouts fondly and says she’s still friends with many of the girls in her troop. But learning to adjust to motherhood and work was an intense experience she’ll never forget and a true learning experience. Read on for her insights.

1. There’s never the perfect time to do anything.

“Your life will never be calm enough to have a baby, or even a second one. Life doesn’t wait for the right moment. Once you realize this, you can start thinking of the plan you want to make, both professionally and personally.”

2. Seek out the humanity of your boss.

“I had two miscarriages and didn’t tell my boss about them until after the second one. I was on a business trip and a few people I was working with made comments about me being very thin. Those people couldn’t have known how hard those comments were for me … and that’s when I realized that I couldn’t expect people to know what I was going through unless I said something. When I finally told my boss what was going on in my life, her support was so huge and helpful. My experience as a Girl Scout taught me about the importance of friendship and teamwork, and I just had to lean into that as an adult, too.”

3. It’s empowering to show your own humanity.

“It wasn’t until I had children that this hidden world opened up about what women really face at work, whether that’s motherhood, infertility, or illness. It’s been so hard for women to make a place in the corporate world and move forward. We worry that we can’t share things about our personal lives because it will make us look weak. But, ironically, it took me becoming a parent to realize that people are suffering in ways they may not feel safe sharing, which is why I do what I can to be humane, especially in the work environment.”

4. Consider this: It’s okay to feel like you’re replaceable.

“When I was preparing for my first maternity leave, I suddenly realized that everybody is replaceable. And, instead of feeling scared about that, I realized that’s a good thing that I didn’t have to fear the whole company would fall apart while I was away.”

5. Every day offers a new chance to find ways to stay balanced.

“I’m not saying all of this is easy: I don’t have any moment of my day when I’m not worrying about home or work. When my kids are sleeping, I worry about work, and when I’m at work, I think about how they’re doing and if I should be with them more. Everyone says you can have it all … and I believe you can have it all—but all at once. But I’ve learned to be okay with that!”

6. Expect to keep some strange hours.

“My job isn’t nine to five. There are events, business travel, staying constantly connected, and there’s a lot of reading to do outside of work hours. To stay on top of my work, I would stay late on a Friday night at least once a month right after I came back from my first maternity leave. I was lucky that my husband could watch our son while I worked until whatever hour it took to get through my emails and catch up on pitching and developing media relationships.”

7. Think of ways to manage your time that give you peace.

“When I went back to work after maternity leave, I would wake up at 5:00 a.m., an hour before my son got up. That time was devoted to proposals, projects I was working on, and catching up on the news. It was both a way to get ahead and a way to find quiet time, separate from family, that made me feel like my old self. These days I put my phone away from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. so I can focus on picking up my kids from daycare, feeding them dinner, and handling baths and bedtime. That time together is limited and precious—I don’t check emails. They need to know they have my full attention and I’m happy to give it to them.”

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