Want to leave the workforce to spend time with Junior, but think you may want to rejoin the paid workforce some day? Here are a few mistakes that I have seen made that will most definitely make any exit and re-entry harder than it has to be. And who wants that?
Thinking in “Career Chunks”
Sandy was a marketing professional who upon the birth of her third child, decided to stay home with the kids until the youngest was in first grade. At that moment, the six years to get to that place seemed like a lifetime. Think beyond that? No time. Sandy threw herself into her new “fulltime job” just as she had thrown herself into her marketing career years earlier. She disengaged from her former profession, made new friends in similar situations, and rocked it as a very involved mom. Imagine her surprise when six years later, her interest in returning to the workforce was not met with glad shouts and open embraces. Not only had her former professional contacts surrounded themselves with new professional “BFF’s”, but the whole world of marketing had moved on, embracing technology, social media and new ways of thinking that Sandy was now unprepared for. Sandy was taken aback, yet she really shouldn’t have been.
When we think about taking time to stay home with the kids, we make a mistake by shedding our entire former identity, thinking that it will be easy to reassume. It is most decidedly not. What can you do to at least stay up to date on trends, tools, and new ideas?
- Subscribe to newsletters, read blogs, join online groups that help you stay relevant
- Select 2-3 of your best, most well connected professional contacts and commit to a quarterly coffee or lunch, or even just a phone call to stay up to date and connected. Believe me, when the time comes to go back to work, you will be so glad you did.
- Keep a career notebook or file during your time away. When you hear about an organization or a concept or person in your field that intrigues you, write it down or print it out and throw it into a file. It is very difficult to start a job search from Ground Zero. This practice will give you fuel.
Living the “Just a Mom” Identity
I met Sally at an event. I asked her about herself and she said that she used to be an attorney but right now, she was just a mom. Yikes. As far as I know, the Bar Association doesn’t make you give up your attorney title when you give birth and stay home for a while. Wouldn’t it have been more powerful to state “I’m an attorney, and right now I am home with my youngest until he starts first grade next year”? Notice the use of “and” in the last sentence, vs. the use of “but” in the first one.
- Embrace that you are a series of “ands”. A mom and a wife/partner and an accountant and a darn good organizer of fundraisers”. Practice saying that until it feels comfortable.
- Tell yourself that when you decided to stay home, you did not become a different person, instead that you brought all of your skills, talents, abilities and interests with you and will now use them in different ways. And do it.
Indulging the Green-Eyed Monster aka Jealousy or Judgy-ness
Melinda has five kids, a fulltime job in Financial Services, and a husband that also works fulltime. She always looks great and always has a smile on her face. Before you decide that you hate her, consider that we all have similarly full plates, but differently full. Who knows? Melinda’s house may be a mess, her husband may be ready to walk out, and three of her kids may be struggling in school. We don’t see those parts. Let’s quit worrying about what everyone else is doing. Embrace what you are good at, and admit what you are not. I will never be a great cook or housekeeper and my now grown and very healthy sons undoubtedly ate more junk than they should have. So what? And no one’s judging or disapproving eyes or comments will ever shake my “okayness” with that.
- Surround yourself with positive people who support you and help you embrace your awesomeness. Stay in touch with people who know that you rock and remind you that you do rock when it comes to your profession as well.
- Cultivate a healthy network of friends from all of the parts of who you are. Don’t ever let one person or group set your standards for what you should be or do.
It is rarely easy to create the lives we want, with all of our pieces remaining intact and healthy. Consider every step you take a part of your own “career lifecycle.” It will include ups and downs, successes and missteps, joy and drama, just like parenting, and well, like life in general.