Lynn, a professional woman in Minnesota, read a post on Linked that mentioned the book I have underway, The Flexible Work Fix: A Caring Woman’s Guide to Blending Family, Work & Financial Security. She then posted this comment that shows both the challenges and rewards of going with the flow and trying hard to always find a way to blend work and life:
“Kathryn, I’m looking forward to reading your book. It’s an important topic for women. In my experience, I worked full-time, part-time, took a break, and left my journalism and writing career—and took a telecommunications job at a local college that allowed me to be closer to home. Many years before, while I was getting my degree at night, I had worked at a supercomputer company as a hardware technician. It was never my intention to return to telecommunications, but this opportunity allowed me to keep working and always be near my children. The job I took was actually a good move—it opened new possibilities and turned into the satisfying career I have today. And everything has come full circle: the skills I use in my current job are skills I used as a reporter. As with many things in life, it wasn’t what I had planned. (My life’s ambition to live in New York and work for Gloria Steinem never came to be.) I have learned to go with the flow. It wasn’t always easy. I made mistakes. But I have learned so much along the way.”
After speaking with Lynn offline, I learned more about many of the good decisions she has made:
- Like many women, Lynn took a career break—but her three-year break was far less than the average of 12 years. Women who are out two years or less are still considered “current” professionals by most reasonable employers. After two years, every year out makes it increasingly harder to get back in.
- Lynn’s break was fueled by the cost of daycare for two children that would have eaten up most of the part-time salary she was earning as a writer and editor at a university. I’m not privy to the details of Lynn’s household financial situation at the time, but women should think carefully about leaving the workforce because of the cost of childcare (see my post on experience dollars vs. green dollars when children are young). It can seem to be a “savings” not to pay for childcare and commutation, but in the long run women lose money every year they are out (up to four times their salary each year in lost compensation and benefits).
- On the plus side, during her time out of the workforce, Lynn did her best to keep writing on a freelance basis. She also never stopped thinking about her plan to find another position when her older child reached school age and she would have the expense of daycare for only her baby.
- A profound result of a career break is often a creeping and insidious lack of self-confidence as the years out multiply. This lack of confidence can prevent women from taking necessary career risks.Though Lynn’s first choice would have been to continue her journalism work, she was realistic about the fact that she had lost many connections during her time out of the workforce. She was not afraid to pursue other career paths and took a job in telecommunications.
- That telecommunications position materialized because Lynn was able to speak with confidence and clarity about related industry experience she had as a hardware technician when she was working her way through college. There are always ways to return to a former career field…and this tends to be more possible among smaller, less corporate giant employers.
- Rather than holding fast to the idea that her writing skills could only be used in a typical journalistic setting, Lynn embraced the fact that she had a transferrable skill. Writing skills are needed at companies of every type—and as it turned out, her telecommunications job included quite a bit of writing over time.
- Lynn’s career change (and the three-year break) resulted in a significant pay cut and more junior position than she left behind. She realized that she had to invest in a “ramp up period”—and she was confident that over time she would be able to expand her portfolio of experiences and skills. It was a good investment: she gained seniority and developed a full-blown second career.
Most importantly, Lynn tried not to make assumptions or deal in absolutes. As a career coach I hear a lot of “I can’ts”—but when you go with the flow, possibilities to blend work and life continually unfold. —KAS