Sarah Scherzer with newborn son Simon, 5-year-old son Max and husband Rob. Photo credit: Annie Bell Photography
What does having ambition mean when you’re a woman? When you’re a mom? In May 2018, ParentMap is taking an up-close look at how five women think about ambition. Every week, we’ll publish a short Q&A with an ambitious woman. Who’s that exactly? She’s a mom with big dreams — for her family and for herself.
Sarah’s currently on three-month maternity leave from her full-time job as the director of interview operations at Karat, a company that conducts first-round of interviews on behalf of top engineering organizations. She lives in Magnolia with newborn Simon, 5-year-old son Max and husband Rob.
What does "ambition" mean to you?
Ambition to me is a drive or motivation to get something completed; to be successful.
It’s hard for me not to give it a negative spin when focusing solely on: get to it, come on, you gotta succeed! I have a theater background and had decided early on that I was going to be successful in that industry. I fell in love with the business side of theater, and my last job was as company manager at The Seattle Rep. But after that job ended, my son was 3 and my priorities had shifted.
I wanted to make sure he could stay in his quality daycare. I unexpectedly fell into my job in the tech industry after the best interview experience of my life with my two current bosses. Now I like being in the trenches and working hard; I find a lot of value in that.
I’ve let go of the idea of by age 45, I’m going to do one specific thing. I just have ambition to do quality work. At the end of every day, I want to be proud of what I am doing to be a good human. Maybe whatever I am working on didn’t get completed or lead to success, but I worked hard.
What’s a habit you have that helps make it all go?
I find I’m better utilized when I leverage my time more. I’m trying to empower others to work on a problem with me and not just take it all on by myself.
This is true for everything, from a work project to helping my son find his shoes to having my husband put the laundry away. There’s a way to get help by empowering others in a productive, collaborative way.
Why do you do the work that you do?
I actually found my current position through a parenting Facebook group. Before working in tech, I managed artists. Karat needed someone who is an advocate for their group of interviewers. I thought, "Oh, this part-time job will tide me over so Max can stay in daycare three mornings a week." But I was made full-time over two years ago and it’s ended up being the best job I have ever had.
A mom of 6-month-old baby [in the audience] asked, ‘How do you know if you should quit your job to stay home with your children?’ Chang said, ‘Only you can make that choice, but I will say that if you don’t completely love what you do then it’s going to continue to be a painful divide.’
She explained that having three kids and traveling for work is hard. She cried after a recent FaceTime call with her daughter. But she finds value in her work, and she wants her daughters to see that, too.
This reminded me of that Marie Kondo book: If it doesn't spark joy, then it's a struggle to balance both. I took that to heart: I really like what I do. That’s why I continue to do the work I do, especially now that I have two children.
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be and why?
Don’t be such an asshole. Really, I’d say it just like that! 'Hey, stop being so self-involved and open your eyes to everything.'
I was so scared of being seen as dumb or not knowing it all; my pride got in the way. I’d pretend I knew how to do things instead of asking for help. I wish I had said, ‘Hey, amazing person who’s lived longer than I have, can you tell me some stories or perhaps show me how you’d do this differently?’
I’d also say it’s okay to say no to things even if you think they might help forward your career. It’s better to just say yes to experiences that get you out of your comfort zone and offer you something new.
Every single experience contributes to who you are. You don’t have to have your life figured out at age 22.
How has your ambition changed since you’ve had a kid?
When I had my first child, it was really hard to find balance. It was 10 percent here and 20 percent there and oh, wait I have a marriage, too. It’s insane, it drives you mad and you have to let everything go when, say, your kid projectile vomits.
But I’ve found with my new job I’ve been better supported. Co-workers have insisted that I stop working on days when my son would get sick. I also leave every day at 3 p.m. to pick-up my son at school. Some days, we go home because I have to hop back to work. But there are also days when we do something fun like go to the park. I can push him on a swing and still work on my phone. I’m not fully at the park with him, but he’s at the park, enjoying himself.
Someone said to me, ‘Everyone’s on their phones now!’ I understand that, but this is my way of being able to juggle parenthood and working. And I try to be sneaky, like being on my phone behind his back as I push the swing! Otherwise, I’d work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This way, I can be partially with him and I can finish working after I put him to bed. I don’t mind. I feel fortunate to be able to work around the hours of parenthood as much as I do.