As research for my book, No Regrets: A Reality Check on Work, Motherhood and Long-Term Financial Security, I’ve connected with so many interesting women across the country. They’ve given me great insights in the form of “What I’m Glad I Did” or “What I Wish I Had Done”—citing work+life decisions they made and the impact of those decisions on their long-term financial security.
In their words there is evidence that it’s wise to always “find the work that fits your life”—even small part-time jobs—as a cushion against all of life’s you never knows. Few women sail along in a picture perfect existence…we all face and work through challenges at different ages and stages. As you’ll see in these brief stories, overcoming–and moving far beyond–a challenge is often eased by a woman’s independence, confidence and ability to support herself and her family.
Pass this great wisdom along to young women in your life to help them choose careers that can be flexible when they later want to balance work and family—and to women who have one foot on the off ramp, thinking they’ll leave the workforce for “a couple of years” (which turns into an average of 12 years) while their children are young.
Women in their 40s, 50s and 60s who wish they had made different work+life decisions at some point in their lives can also find inspiration in some of the stories. It’s indeed never too late to reinvent, pursue many different kinds of work (beyond the traditional, corporate more-than-full-time job), and make a big difference in long-term financial security.
Here are some thought-provoking snippets:
“When I left the full-time workforce I was an editor at a big New York City publishing house. My mother told me to make sure I could always support myself, so I’m glad I took on occasional freelance editing jobs while I was raising children. When my husband died suddenly at age 48, I was able to ramp up my freelancing—and eventually land a full-time editing job at a newspaper close to home…”
“I wish I asserted myself long ago, rather than hanging back expecting my bosses to see how great I am! If I had been more outspoken, I would be farther along in my career and more financially secure…”
“I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to advise my daughters to always stay in the workforce. I didn’t—and I paid the price when my husband lost his job and never found another one. I had to scramble for a job—rather than building a skill set that became more valuable over time. My daughters can learn from my example—and I’ve read that daughters who have mothers who work fare better economically…”
“Although I practiced as an attorney for a few years, I’m glad I didn’t make myself stay in that box. When I decided law was not the profession for me, I dabbled in many areas—taking on part-time roles in TV, book publishing, real estate, retail sales, substitute teaching and more. When I was blindsided by divorce and alimony did not cover all my expenses, I could build on many different experiences to find work…”
“I’m glad that even during years my family lived abroad, I always found ways to keep my hand in the game. I’ve been a writer, researcher, PR specialist and photographer sometimes for 4 hours and other times for 40 hours a week. If I could have predicted my divorce, I would have returned to consistent full-time work much earlier—but the transition was easier because I never fully left the workforce…”
“I’m glad I was ‘selfish’ about investing time in one personal passion while my children were young. Having the proverbial ‘ten thousand hours’ in a specific field leads to surprising opportunities. My photography paved the transition from stay-at-home mother to part-time and then full-time work…”
“I wish I had continued working in some way throughout my marriage. In the early years, when my husband and I were both working, we had more of a partnership and we shared responsibility for our finances. When I stopped making money, I let my husband manage all the finances. Not only did this leave me clueless when we divorced, I also discovered that my husband mismanaged—and lost—most of our money and even stopped paying for life insurance…”
“I’m glad I was always willing to take a chance, to see where something might lead, to put experience before prestige, to make a little less money than I hoped—and to see that work is not only a traditional, black-and-white, full-time job. This flexibility has always given me the ability to earn a paycheck—in the years when it was a nice extra and in the years when it paid the rent…”
“I’m glad that I didn’t think that my return to work required a long “Eat Pray Love” analysis and transformation. You can find your career and life paths through the actual doing, not just thinking. Don’t delay the process–keep jumping in. And know when to jump out. It’s like sailing race: knowing when to change tacks is just as important as rounding the mark. You don’t have to make a lifelong commitment—but you do have to keep moving toward the next reasonable step…”
“I never wanted a big career, but I now realize that if I had worked it might have saved my marriage. I think women need to do some form of work to have a say and a voice—and keep a relationship balanced…”
“I’m glad I held out for the right part-time opportunity with a company that was ok with me working from home a day or two. This has made a huge difference for me and my family. My employer’s flexibility makes the commute (three days a week) manageable. I’m willing to compromise on my “ideal” situation (total work from home) because I have the chance to redefine myself professionally…”
“I’m glad that when I was not offered a job I really wanted after a long workforce hiatus, I did not give up. I wrote to the CEO suggesting some specific areas where I could add value on a project basis. The CEO had a pressing need, so she hired me to work on a project basis for two months. It got me in the door and now I’ve been with the company four years…”
“I’m glad I put my ego aside with my first back to work job and took a salary that was a lot less than the one I left behind. It has been such a great chance to redefine myself professionally in a cutting-edge sector. I’m bringing home a paycheck and also finding great value in the fact that my flexible office allows me balance in my personal life…”
“I’m glad that when I knew I wanted to return to work, I stopped all my volunteer work. Sometimes you have to clear the decks to give yourself the space to make a good next step decision. This space gave me the confidence to try something really different. I knew if it was not right, I could move on to the next. The wonderful thing about our humanness is our capacity for reinvention…”
“During all the years I was volunteering I wish I had taken on jobs that would have required me to keep up to date with technology. Fourteen years out of the work force left me way behind on the technology curve. That’s been a huge area of catch-up for me as I’ve returned to work…”
“When I was feeling unfulfilled in the unstable financial services industry and worried about finding a job that would be steady source of income until retirement, I’m glad I gave myself the opportunity in my 50s to explore my early interests in medicine and take biology and statistics courses at night. Now I’m in the more stable nursing field with more financial security and the chance to make a difference in people’s lives…”
“I’m glad that in my 30s I went back to school to pursue an Occupational Therapy degree. A wise friend told me “do it now” because time slips away. It was really hard–lots of sleepless nights studying, so much commuting time and lots of crying as I felt overwhelmed. Now I’m done and can’t tell you how good it feels knowing I completed this as a mother of two. If you want to, you can make it work…”
“I’m glad I stayed in the workforce while growing a family. I took it back a notch for those first few years and worked part time, but my ability to earn and be independent is stronger for having stuck it out…”
“I’m glad I went to school part time and worked part time when the kids were young so that I could obtain my MBA by the time I was 40. It has opened the doors to job opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise…”
“I’m glad I took a “leap of faith” and quit my job in retail to pursue a career in my field. I had been a stay-at-home mom with no recent marketable skills and an unused degree. I took free computer classes at the library to get myself up to speed and applied to any and all environmental companies. I landed a wonderful job and have been here for 8.5 years…”
What are you glad you did in terms of work+life decisions? What do you wish you had done differently? Contact me to share your perspective with young women facing similar decisions—and women in their 40s, 50s and 60s who need the confidence to know that there is never a time when your work+life ship has sailed. At every age and stage all women have the power to increase their long-term financial security. (All responses remain confidential and anonymous in print.)
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