My relaunch story is a little different than normal, as I am writing it almost four years after my actual relaunch. If I had written it four years ago, when I went back to work after ten years at home, my story would have been different.
My story four years ago would have been about juggling family life and relearning an industry that had rapidly transformed in the ten years I had been planning play dates, dinners and grocery lists as a stay at home mom. In hindsight, when I first returned to work I was so grateful to have been offered a job that required an immediate start that I probably spent too little time wrapping up my old life and preparing for the new. When I started, I invested several hours learning the product and the business and how to be an assist to my team. I didn’t allow myself the joy and recognition of achieving such a valued position. I felt I was given this chance and had to prove my self worth to myself and all the other mothers returning to work. I never stopped to assess the stress that I was feeling, because I wasn’t even aware of it. My relaunch story is about finally identifying the stress that ceased to be quiet 3 years after I relaunched. My story is about what I learned during that stormy time and, my realization that to relaunch is to rapidly journey through a growth of self realization that can lead to professional success, but more importantly, self love and personal success, eventually.
My ten-year career in the computer industry came to an end during the 2003 “dot com bust” in the San Francisco Bay Area. My employer filed for bankruptcy, because many of our customers had gone out of business, we were no longer able to sustain ourselves. Pregnant with my second child, it soon became apparent another job would be hard to find. Thus started the ten-year chapter of my life, as a stay at home mom.
Eight years, three kids and a move back to Ireland later, my job search began. I stumbled upon the iRelaunch.com site and bought the book. I read it cover to cover and prepared. I scoured the internet for relaunch resources and focused on confidence building techniques. I even attended a motivational speech called “Feel the Fear and do it anyway”. I ended the evening by walking on the glistening shards of 40 crushed wine bottles. I was ready.
In theory I was infallible. When I actually got an interview, I would do well, but the position would usually go to the the “other” person currently sitting in an office, not the stay at home mom who had taken so much time “off”, I persevered. My husband’s job eventually brought us back to the Bay Area, and that’s where I had work history, and a professional network! Vital tools to relaunching one’s career. Six months after the kids settled in their new school, I started my new job at Oracle Corporation. This seems like a great place to end the story. I got the job, and the responsibilities and pay check I craved. Even though the interview process was rigorous (8 interviews, 2 power point presentations and a written technical white paper), I still consider it the easy part. I was not prepared for the internal head chatter of self doubt, uncertainty, and my self-comparison to others that would follow, gnawing away my self confidence.
Too often we focus only on the outward challenges of relaunching, the children, the partner and the work/life balance. We belittle or dismiss the internal and psychological challenges. For me, my crisis hit 2 years back to work, when I left Oracle Corporation and joined Jive Software in the hopes of advancing my career. Everything looked successful and solid on the outside. Instead of me being proud of my professional accomplishments I was consumed with self doubt. I was engrossed by my 10 years off, that my peers were all younger than me, and colleagues my age were career levels above me, I felt I didn’t fit in. I was so busy playing catch up that I lost sight of the skills that I had and focused only on what I had not. I lost sight of me.
It was Natalie Portman’s Harvard Commencement Speech of 2015 that enlightened me to what I was feeling. I had “Imposter Syndrome”. I had feelings of not being smart enough or good enough, feelings that I had not earned the right to a place at the table with my “smarter” colleagues, feeling that I would be found out. These feelings consumed my day, eroded my confidence and caused me to question any piece of positive feedback I received. This was a dark time and these were feelings I was not prepared for. These feelings held me back, professionally and personally. I listened to several motivational speeches telling me to do something that scared me everyday, put myself out there, that I deserved a place at the table. Intellectually I knew these things, but emotionally I felt paralyzed. My self doubt was crippling. The shame of my feelings prevented me from openly talking about them.
Eventually, it was a comment from my manager that forced me to take action. It was feedback after a typical meeting where I had mostly sat quietly while my work was being reviewed. He pulled me aside and said “I don’t think anyone in that room knows the value that you can bring. I don’t think you do either. I want to see you speak up more in meeting and get in front of your work”. While that comment filled me with complete dread, because I felt my feelings of self doubt were publicly about to be realized, I also knew that deep down, this was exactly what I needed to pull me from my spiral of self doubt.
I started to talk about these feelings. It was not until I shared my story with others that the weight of my feelings started to lighten. “Imposter Syndrome” is so common, it is thought that about 50% of employees in the tech industry have feelings of imposter syndrome at some time in their career. For relaunchers, I’m sure it is a significantly higher percentage. I needed a career coach to help me navigate through the complexities of what I was feeling. My coach helped me shed the load of self doubt and focus on what I could bring to the table. I will never know if my “imposter syndrome” was due to being a relauncher, but I do know we have more reasons to feel like an imposter than our colleagues that did not take a career break.
Relaunching is about so much more than getting that job. It is about thriving in it, feeling good about it and personally blossoming in the process. Almost four years after my relaunch, I finally appreciate that relaunching is a journey, not a destination! This is my story.
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