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Out of Comfort Zone, Back to Work

If you are in life stage: Itching to Work Again Posted November 19th, 2012
By Kathryn Sollmann

When most women think about returning to work after a long hiatus, they’re hoping for a short commute and perhaps a part-time job that ends in time to meet the school bus.  Sandra Bornstein attempted the typical return to work route in her field of teaching, and then had a more unusual opportunity to teach abroad.

Few women have the courage to step far out of their comfort zones and embark on a solo work-life adventure.  For a semester, Sandra lived miles away from her husband and adult children in a 300 square foot dorm room at an international boarding school in Bangalore, India.  The experience gave Sandra great insights to perseverance, travel, education, faith and family and ultimately enhanced her resiliency, confidence and passion for life.   (That’s Sandra below when she took her students on a trip to the jungle and joined them in climbing the ropes.)

You can read Sandra’s memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, and also see her wisdom (in the following words) for women who need a boost of “Vitamin C”—or confidence—to take the plunge back to work that is near or far.  –Kathryn Sollmann

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Not every woman raised in the aftermath of the feminist revolution of the 1960s adhered to Gloria Steinem’s belief that it was possible to “have it all.” Some women remained uncertain that it was possible to effectively balance their family life with professional aspirations. The more family oriented women of this subgroup opted to forsake a career path whereas those who were more intent on pursuing an occupation oftentimes put childbearing on the backburner.

There is no way to determine which scenario created the greatest satisfaction and the least number of regrets. Nevertheless, most will agree that the ability to “have it all” is more challenging than the first wave of feminists ever imagined.

Contemporary American society permits women to make more choices than previous generations. Thus, a woman is free to alter her path and reinvent herself at any stage of her life.  This is a lesson I learned in my late thirties, after more than decade at home raising four children.

After graduating from college I worked for a few years as a real estate legal assistant, and then I happily chose to be a stay home mother. In 1980, I had my first son and in subsequent years had three additional children.

In order to fuel my desire to have responsibilities outside my home, I took on leadership roles in the volunteer sector and also pursued two consecutive graduate level degrees. All of this gave me intellectual stimulation but did not detract from my family obligations.

After acquiring updated teaching skills, technology skills, and content knowledge, I attempted to reenter the education market. I never anticipated that my “middle aged” status would be frowned upon, or that I had chosen a career that had limited openings.

I quickly learned that perky college graduates would be favored for their youth (despite minimal life experience) over a more mature person who commanded a higher salary due to two advanced degrees. It did not help that the recession and state budget cuts caused most public schools to be prudent on staff selections.

After struggling to find full-time employment as an elementary school teacher, I deviated slightly from my career path and became an adjunct instructor at a local community college. I enjoyed the challenge of teaching college age students, but I realized that my future career path was limited. Most of the faculty members were part-time instructors with no tenure.

Three years ago, I had a unique opportunity to teach abroad. It was a once in a lifetime chance to use my multicultural teaching expertise at a highly touted international boarding school in India. Even though it was a dream job, I had many reservations and concerns.

Could I step out of my safe and secure suburban existence and travel halfway around the world to a Third World country? After so many years of putting motherhood first, was I equipped to handle such an unusual adventure? Despite all of my fears and reservations, I chose to step outside of my comfort zone. I wanted the opportunity to use my training and expertise to make a difference in a foreign country.

After returning to the US, I decided to pursue my passion to write—and I wrote a memoir about my experience. I know that most women will not have the option to pick up and leave their existing life for a new job, but I believe that all women returning to work need to bolster their confidence and step out of their comfort zones.

Returning to work also takes careful thought and planning—often years before you actually write a resume. My volunteer work and additional education all laid the groundwork for my return to work without sacrificing my motherhood role.

If you are considering returning to work after a substantial hiatus, I suggest these guidelines:

Map out a time frame

  • Do you need additional education in order to fulfill the requirements for positions of interest to you?
  • When will you attend school?
  • What will you do for child care?
  • Is it possible to get work experience while attending school?

Decide if you’ll enter the job market on a part-time or full-time basis

  • Research your desired profession
  • Determine if there is healthy job growth or a decline in your area
  • See if your local economy or geographical location affect the availability of jobs
  • Find out the average retirement age for your profession
  • Analyze if waiting a few more years limit your marketability

Update and maintain your computer and technology skills

  • Match your current skill set to all of the requirements for the proposed job
  • Update any necessary skills, knowledge, or experience

Network with people in your chosen field using social media

  • Communicate with individuals or groups on LinkedIn?
  • Share information on Google+, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest
  • Author a blog or comment on other blogs
  • Connect with key influencers.

Some of these steps may not be relevant to all career paths—but the need for confidence is universal. Without confidence, it is impossible to move forward because doubts and inhibitions will always cloud one’s judgment.

From my experience, I believe that finding the courage to step outside of your comfort zone requires four key ingredients:

  • Evaluating your strengths and weaknesses in relation to your desired endeavour
  • Facing your uncertainties as well as real and imaginary fears
  • Being open to new ideas, experiences, and/or places
  • Making decisions that come to terms with the first three ingredients.

If you’d like to learn more about how I coped with living outside my comfort zone, I encourage you to read my memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life.



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