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Career Flexibility Key to Help Daughter with Dyslexia

Examine your ultimate tradeoffs in the compensation mix

By Maria Kieslich

Three years ago I was laid off my full-time position in management at a small software and Internet company. Luckily my husband and I were in a position where I could decide to stay home for a bit - which was a good thing because I was burnt out (actually, I have “relaunched” or had home/work transitions four times in my career. But this is the first one where I purposely stayed home for a while). My husband had been traveling 25% of the time for years, I had been traveling regularly for work, and our nine-year-old daughter had been battling health and academic challenges. I wasn’t going all “Donna Reed,” but I thought I would move a bit in that direction and see what happened.Fast-forward 18 months: The house is very organized, there is a good dinner on the table every night, and my daughter’s health problems have abated.

But I was going crazy and was ready to go back to work. I updated my resume and built a LinkedIn profile. I started to network with my local friends in Lexington (MA) and have lunch with former employers and colleagues. Professionally, I had stayed active during my “hiatus.” I had been on Lexington’s Communication Advisory Committee for years, dealing with oversight of the local cable channel and other technology and management issues. I kept up my work in this, spearheading the renewal and review process for our local cable access provider. I also joined the Lexington Center Committee to dabble in budget and infrastructure concerns. I pursued the Project Management Professional certificate, leveraging courses I had taken while employed.

And then it was October and blamo! My daughter was not adjusting well to middle school. In fact, her academic issues were mounting and it was clear something was up. She was diagnosed with dyslexia in early 2011. I spent the next few months getting her the support she needed from the school, taking her to tutors, and working with her daily.

Still, I needed to go back to work. Being home all the time, having my schedule revolve around the next tutoring session or when the fresh fish was delivered to the store, was starting to eat me alive. But most of the pressures that led to my “juggle fatique” had not gone away. So this time, I would be going back part time to keep us all sane. It would make the job search harder, but I had done this before, after my daughter was born. I knew my most likely targets were small and start-up companies. They often need seasoned managers and offer flexible positions.

As the first move, I attended the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference in May of 2011. At the Conference I met the TeenLife sponsors. After the Conference, TeenLife sent out a message to iRelaunch attendees looking for potential executive interns. I started in September of 2011 in the operations area. They kept me on as a contractor, which turned into a permanent position. I have now been working there a year and recently was promoted to head up the operations group. This is a part-time position, and I work three days in the office and one day from home. My colleagues are mostly working mothers. The best part is that they understand when a teacher conference means you need to come in later. And it doesn’t mean that you aren’t dedicated to, and capable of, your job.

There are two big things I have learned from this relaunch that I would like to share. First: stay true to your values. To me, compensation from a job has five parts: salary, benefits, vacation, rewarding work, and time/place flexibility. It is key to know your ultimate tradeoffs in this compensation mix. Let that guide you in narrowing your search and how you frame yourself. This way, you can take a job that feels good and sustainable. For me this time around, a part-time schedule was paramount and the rest was negotiable. If I went full time, I knew I simply would be stealing from Peter to pay Paul all the time. Until my daughter is further along in her dyslexia training, this will be the case. This was hard for me to admit. Sometimes I am really bummed I don’t have the career I envisioned when I got my MBA. On my worst days I am angry about it. But it is turning out all right.

The second lesson is to have a bit of faith. I’m really bad at this. I have a tendency to think if I make a big enough list or masterful plan, I can make things happen. But the truth is that I do not have that type of control of the universe (darn it). As “Back on the Career Track” advises, stay active professionally as much as possible during your “hiatus.” If you just stay in it – get out to conferences and lunches, stay informed, maybe take a class – eventually, things happen. If you have a good story to tell about how you have grown and contributed while being out of the paid workforce, you are meeting the universe halfway to getting what you want.