Lessons from My Own Relaunch
So, I got an MBA, then a fast-track career, then a spouse and family. Then I did what a lot of women do – I left the workforce. When I left, I had no idea if I’d ever collect another paycheck. Then I got scared that even if I wanted to go back to work, no one would hire me. Returning to work created anxiety – Do I remember any industry jargon? What exactly did I want to do? Will I be better at office politics this time? Well somehow, I managed to figure it out and I went back to work. Going back to work was one of the best decisions of my life. And I definitely learned a few things about myself once I returned to a life that included after-action reviews, 1-1’s, and team lunches.
Lesson 1: I LOVED having an identity outside of being a wife and mother.
I started my career break after having two children and a year later moved to a new city. Everyone I knew, I’d met through my husband or my children. I then joined a running club and met people that only knew me – none of my relations, and I loved that. Going back to work was like being in that running club every day. While I never shied away from having a family, it was no longer my headli and I really cherished that.
Lesson 2: Be vulnerable enough to learn at any time.
When I went back to work, the mantra around my new office was “lids and doors." I don’t know the backstory, but somehow my whole team was working in cubicles. About 18 months after I started, everyone had an office. Yes, I appreciated having my own space, but the honest truth is I don’t know what I would have done if I’d had an office from day one. I learned so much listening to my colleagues “over the cubicle walls." Shout out to Eric Johnson – Thanks for not using your inside voice!
Lesson 3: My break was a much bigger deal to me than to anyone else.
I stayed home for five years, longer than some and shorter than others. Yet, when I started working again, I worried my break would define me. I was so concerned that I didn’t even have family pictures on my desk. I don’t recall peers, managers, cross-functional teammates (really anyone) ever saying anything disparaging to me about my time as a SAHM. Actually, as time went on and we had the normal office turnover, most people didn’t even know that I’d taken a career break.
Lesson 4: I liked having some financial independence.
(Actually, I danced the happy dance every payday for like a year!) – Going back to work didn’t catapult my family into a different tax bracket. But my paycheck did provide enough so that I covered groceries, kids’ activities, doctor’s appointments, etc. I felt so good contributing. (That first year – everyone got what they wanted for Christmas!) I felt so good having my own salary. I felt so good tangibly contributing. I don’t know what else to say, except I FELT SO GOOD.
Lesson 5: Returning to work was a challenge.
Despite working in a super family-friendly office, working full time was more of a challenge than I anticipated. My husband’s career allows for flexibility – except when it doesn’t. And that inflexibility was difficult and stressing to manage around. Looking back - I could have done more to figure out how to deal with the inflexibility. I know families that use babysitters, after-school care programs, family friends to manage. I didn’t think about any of these options when I was in the thick of working. I just said – I can’t make this work and I quit my job. Fortunately, my team offered me a role better suited to my personal schedule, so I retracted my resignation. I thought I had figured out my home life before I started working again. But I simply couldn’t have anticipated the full impact until I had indeed returned to work.
Overall, what I’ve learned is that there’s a lot of truth to that saying about the "best laid plans." After all of my education, I didn’t envision taking time off. But I did. When I finally did return, my career looked nothing like the one had before my break. But I loved it. I didn’t expect to discover new strengths and untapped talents. But I had them. I guess my final lesson was that I can handle the sideways directions that life takes you and that careers can go. But that’s all good.
Kendell Brown is a member of the iRelaunch Career Coaching team and our resident expert on resume-writing serivces for relaunchers. Founder of Ascension Careers and a relauncher herself, She works with clients with to ascertain and achieve their career goals via strategic planning, positioning and branding assessments, identifying transferrable skills and providing counsel for working through challenging work situations.