I hope my story reminds people, and especially other women, that we really can have it all. When someone tells you your plate is too full, remind them that it’s not, and they just aren’t as hungry as you.
A few short years ago, Katie Richards and her husband, Nate, were used to walking the tightrope of work-life balance. Parents of twin daughters Hannah and Maddie, they were also navigating full-time careers in business and human resources. In 2018, they decided to pursue their MBA degrees.
“Many people told me that I was completely crazy for wanting to get my MBA,” Katie recalled. “But, when I first found out I was pregnant with twins in 2011, and told people I planned to return to my growing, full-time career, the response from many was that I’d have to give something up. I’ve always just refused to accept that I couldn’t have it all. I knew there had to be a way.”
Katie said Nate was steadfast in his encouragement that she would prove the doubters wrong.
They were well into their studies when the pandemic struck in 2020. “I said, ‘I’m so far in, I can’t turn back now.’ So we did what Nate and I do best: we strategized and made a crazy plan.”
The plan included getting up at 5:30 a.m., working in shifts to balance homeschooling their then-6-year-old daughters with conference calls, professional obligations, and schoolwork.
Katie would start, getting her daughters ready for school, then counting, singing preschool songs, learning to read, use scissors, and color worksheets. At 10 a.m. she and Nate would switch, and she would manage employee relations for more than 750 hospitals during the healthcare crisis.
Some things were non-negotiable, including family dinner time and putting the kids to bed.
With their daughters in bed by 8 p.m., it was Katie and Nate’s turn to hit the books. “We were so grateful that Fitchburg State gave us flexibility with scheduling,” she said. “We found a very real staff of professors that ‘got it.’ They just met the moment they were in, with tons of empathy and respect for each individual’s position. It taught me that leadership is about leaning in, and meeting the moment.”
It wasn’t easy. “There were a lot of moments of sheer vulnerability,” said Katie, recalling one night where she typed papers while her sick daughter slept on top of her. “My mom later told me, ‘Someday your story will be part of someone’s survival guide. Maybe it’ll be your own girls.’”
With that faculty and family support, she said, it was achievable. The coursework also paid off in her career, as Katie described putting lessons from her education into practice. “I’ve been in many important rooms since then, for some vital discussions, and I was able to leverage my knowledge from Fitchburg State to participate at a higher level,” she said.
The couple finished their MBA degrees in 2020. Absent a traditional commencement ceremony, they made their way to campus the following fall, when the university hosted a Falcon Walk for graduates who hadn’t gotten the chance to cross a stage. Katie had small caps and gowns for their twin daughters, whose support had been integral to their parents’ success.
“It was their moment just as much as it was ours,” Katie said.
“I hope my story reminds people, and especially other women, that we really can have it all,” Katie said. “Having educational and professional goals isn’t selfish, and relying on a support system will only propel you towards the finish line. There are two words when I think of that season of my life: grit and grace. I had to approach completing my MBA with a sense of perseverance, passion and hustle, but I also had to give myself grace because perfection went out the window, and that’s OK. I just hope when my girls look back, they are proud, and know that mom didn’t quit because they were watching. When someone tells you your plate is too full, remind them that it’s not, and they just aren’t as hungry as you.”
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of Contact magazine.