Going slow to go fast: how this dad learned to set boundaries and prioritize mental health while excelling at work
Mike Tabilio-Fogarty thrived in a fast-paced career as a customer success manager at LinkedIn. Zooming around the country and meeting with top business leaders energized him—until a pandemic and fatherhood forced a new pace.
Leading up to his 3-month paternity leave, Mike wasn’t sure how it would feel to take a break from his work rhythm – but he quickly realized he could step away from email and Teams, knowing his team had everything covered.
It wasn’t all easy, though. As someone who was still dependent on work for personal fulfillment, Mike returned to the office with the self-inflicted pressure to run at full capacity. He felt pressured to take calls and work when he wasn’t taking care of his daughter, but then realized something had to give: his full-speed approach was impacting his mental health and relationships at home.
Creating and enforcing boundaries around his time and physical space helped Mike’s family find a new rhythm and protect his mindfulness. They practiced what worked for them, like sharing calendars and utilizing a nearby co-working space.
He didn’t stop there. Mike co-led an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for LinkedIn’s 20,000+ employees, which helped employees feel less alone in their mental health and parenting journeys.
Mike is still making an impact at LinkedIn. Recently leadership selected him to win the annual “North America CSM of the Year” award, which, according to Mike, is a “huge honor to know that you can balance your time and priorities and still be recognized.”
Mike’s story proves you can be a good parent and a high-performing employee. Read his Q&A below to learn what made his paternity leave so successful, how he balances the details at home and how he’s finding joy in his new pace.
What did you do in preparation for parental leave to help set yourself up for longer term career success?
“Trusted in the people around me. Heading into paternity leave, I was co-leading an employee resource group and managing some of our largest accounts on a team of global account partners, which in many ways were two full-time jobs. Working at a company like LinkedIn, it’s the norm for your partners to step up and take on more in your absence, which is exactly what happened for me. That made it easy for me to unplug, but also easy to plug back in because work hadn’t caught on fire.”
What mistakes did you make? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after your parental leave?
“I wish I hadn’t jumped right back into work full-time immediately upon my return. My wife had three months left before she had to return to work and I took that for granted. Looking back on that, particularly given how much we split childcare responsibilities when we both went back to being full-time, I wish I had been more cognizant of my wife needing a break, rather than assuming she’d be okay taking our little one for eight hours straight.”
What was the most challenging part of taking parental leave and how did you address or overcome it?
“I thought it was going to be hard for me to not check emails or Teams, but that was surprisingly easy for me to step away from. Instead, I found it really difficult to build up motivation to do anything productive outside of baby responsibilities, as I began to realize how dependent I was on work for personal fulfillment.”
What worked really well in your re-onboarding experiences? What helped you feel good and up to speed faster?
“I quickly transitioned back into client conversations and leading our ERG (the latter due to my co-lead taking parental leave herself). This might just be a me thing, but I learn best by getting my hands dirty and putting a little pressure on myself to deliver.
However, it can’t be stated enough how supportive the LinkedIn community was in giving me the time and space I needed to reorient myself to the business and get my head on straight. Particularly my partners in our ERG (who all have day jobs, mind you) were absolutely incredible.”
When you look back on your parental leave, how do you think it helped your career?
“It taught me that work doesn’t have to be an endless grind. Past companies have taught me that time off for fathers is two weeks and then you’re expected to perform at full capacity again, and I believed it!
Experiencing how hard it is to be a new parent, and how hard it is to perform when you’re so sleep-deprived, stressed, and just generally thinking about the well-being of your family all day, put a different lens on this for me. That, the sheer amount of paternity leave I was given (three months), and the fact that everything was just fine when I returned, taught me that we don’t have to treat work like this all encompassing aspect of our lives.”
What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent and why?
“Two years after becoming a parent, I won North America CSM of the Year - an annual award that goes to the top CSM (as awarded by leadership) amongst a group of over 100. A huge honor to know that you can balance your time and priorities and still be recognized.”
If you had to name one thing (something you do, something you buy, something you have) that has had the greatest impact on your ability to manage working parenthood, what would it be?
“My calendar. My wife, Marika, is the mastermind behind this, but we set very strict blocks in our calendars to tell us when it’s time for either of us to take morning/evening baby duty, and it helps set clear guardrails in my mind for when a day needs to begin or end. I do everything in my power to stick to the commitments outlined in my calendar, and I couldn’t have routinized my efforts without it.”
Many parents say that once they had children their “bar” became higher. They no longer tolerated wasteful work, unproductive meetings, etc. What else would you say changed as it relates to your career or work style once you had kids?
“I actually made the mistake early on of letting go of boundaries, since I felt pressured to take calls and work when I wasn’t taking care of our daughter. This became even harder when Celia went to daycare and came home with a cold every other week, so I felt the need to flex.
This quickly took a toll on my relationship with my wife as well as my mental health, so I have since worked on course correcting. Outside of setting clear lines as to when my day starts and ends, I also have worked on taking half days on Fridays to get some “me time” or lunch out with my wife, as this is one of the rare times we have free of work and parenting responsibilities.”
As your child has gotten older, how has that changed your perspective on how to balance parenthood with career (if at all)?
“Our daughter growing up has opened up the opportunity for us to spend more time out and about the city, enjoying food and activities together. I have begun prioritizing more intentional activities over dedicated work time. Budgeting more time on that Lego set, or making a puzzle, or running around the playground has been infinitely more rewarding than putting mental energy towards new projects, especially if I can’t enhance my work skills during work hours. Just an entirely different mindset than when I was in my 20s.”
What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?
“Work is kept in my dedicated office space in our basement, whereas kiddo time is in our living room/our daughter’s bedroom. This helps create barriers between the 9-to-5 and family time.
This is by no means bulletproof, as work and family life tend to merge into one since we’re within the same four walls of our Boston condo all day and all night. My wife has combated this by utilizing a working space at her gym after workouts, and I’m likely going back to a co-working space in downtown Boston once a week, which I did for the first year after living in Boston.”
If you could give another parent [in a similar position as you] one piece of advice leading up to their parental leave, what would it be?
“Take all the time your company provides you, and trust in your teammates to pick up the slack while you’re gone. Doing this will ensure you’re completely present for the recovery of your significant other and fully involved with your baby.”
Can you share your perspective on why men should take parental leave and how it impacts gender equality?
“Too often I see companies treating paternity leave like a throwaway vacation. In my opinion, providing two weeks is insulting to the father bonding with his child, and to the mother recovering physically and sustaining human life. This outdated approach assumes the mother is the “housewife” while the man is the sole provider, traditional gender roles we’ve mostly done away with for decades, and just not representative of the shared responsibilities that come with being a father or a mother.
Creating an even playing field for parental leave for mother and father ensures dad learns all the skills necessary to be the best new dad he can be, while allowing mom to put some of her time off towards preparing for her return back to the workforce.”
You often publicly share how LinkedIn is supportive of working parents. Can you share a few highlights of your experience? What do they do well that other companies could learn from?
“In my experience, LinkedIn’s biggest strength is its trust in its people to do their work on their own time, and the same goes for trust in others to do that work while a teammate is on parental leave. I took three months off for my paternity leave, and the only chats I received were congratulations on becoming a father or the occasional check-in to see how I was doing.
Not once did someone try to pressure me to take a client call or guilt me for not being available.
LinkedIn hires incredibly talented people, but they stay at LinkedIn because they feel empowered to do their work on their own time, and take the time they need to manage their health and the health of their families. That translates into tenured talent taking over when someone else is on leave, putting in the work necessary because they know they’ll get the same treatment in return.”
You have been an active participant in LinkedIn’s “EnableIn ERG” and a voice for mental health awareness. Can you share why this is so important to you, especially as a working parent?
“I wasn’t honest with myself about my own struggles with mental health until I had my first full blown panic attack at LinkedIn, just a few months into my time at the company. It was in a quiet conference room, all by myself. It didn’t feel like the “right time” to have a panic attack, but it was my first real lightbulb moment that a panic attack can happen seemingly out of nowhere if you’re unaware of the underlying causes. I was experiencing intense social anxiety, compounded with the stress of a new job.
I decided to take action for myself through therapy, but figured it was important for me to translate my experiences to our company, so I joined EnableIn, LinkedIn’s ERG for mental health and disabilities. I was fortunate enough to co-lead the ERG from 2019 to 2021.
Everyone’s going through their own mental health struggles, and it’s important to provide an outlet for people to get the help they need and talk to people in similar situations. Being a working parent, particularly in an age of remote work, can be incredibly isolating, and the struggles you may face in managing your emotions, mental health, and your relationship can feel like a “you problem.” When you have the opportunity to connect with other working parents, I can guarantee you’ll always leave surprised at how many others are facing or have faced the exact same challenges you are right now.
Leading an ERG was a huge effort, but one that allowed me to help create those connections and drive awareness across our 20,000+ employees. I would highly recommend you join your company’s mental health or family ERG(s), if they have one, and if they don’t, start one! You’ll be impacting so many people.”
What are your top 3 tips on how to balance working parenthood?
"Set clear guard rails for when you start and end your day.
Work with your partner to schedule when one partner is on child care duty before or after work, alternating mornings and evenings throughout the week. This gives the other partner time to catch up on work, manage household chores, or just take some time for themselves.
Exercise! I have not fully appreciated how important exercise is to balance and well-being, but have recently dusted off the rowing machine I bought at the beginning of the pandemic. I listen to a podcast or watch a YouTube video and row for a half hour or more. It helps me clear my head, get off the laptop, and get my body moving."
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