Returning to work after a career break

International Women's Day 2018

In a week encompassing International Women’s Day and Mothering Sunday, I’ve been thinking about women’s careers in the context of gender inequality – glass ceilings, the gender pay gap, harassment, societal expectations and conditioned expectations of self. I don’t want to get too political today though, so maybe gender inequality is a topic for some other time. What I did want to write about was my perspective on the impact that motherhood has on your career, particularly with your first child or when you’ve taken an extended career break to raise your family (still a disproportionately female endeavour, but yes, politics…).

In the course of my coaching career, as well as in previous management roles, I’ve worked a great deal with women who have taken time out of the office for family reasons. One thing is clear, whether you’ve had nine months of maternity leave with your first child, or a fifteen-year career break to raise three children, returning to the world of work can be hugely daunting, both in the prospect of return and in the actual transition.   

The challenges vary from person to person, of course, but I think there is nonetheless a great deal of commonality in the experience. If you’re returning from maternity leave, fatigue and overload are often front and centre – quite apart from horrific sleep deprivation (and the concomitant caffeine dependency) if you’ve been battling with a child who clearly hasn’t read the sleep manuals, you might still be coming to terms with a new physical and psychological identity in which the person you once knew has gone AWOL, replaced by someone who’s mostly forgotten how to have a proper adult conversation and whose life for most of the past year has mainly consisted of attempting to get out of the house before you’re due back home and trying to drink a cup of tea that hasn’t been microwaved at least twice (although you do now have new skills that include being able to switch off lights with your toes and work a variety of household gadgets with your elbow).

And when you return, everything is simultaneously familiar and foreign (all the more  so if, like me, you decided to get a new job while you were on leave – you know, because you are slightly masochistic). Your sleep deprivation is magnified from the exhaustion of being back in the work environment and absorbing new information in addition to re-learning all the things you forgot while you were away. Plus you’ve still got all your responsibilities at home, juggling kids’ schedules alongside keeping the household ticking over and in a vaguely clean, fed and organised state, and bearing the mental load of remembering everything on that burgeoning task list. You think you’re failing at everything because you still expect yourself to be able to perform the way you did before life changed and now you are neither a good employee (because you can no longer work all hours) nor a good mother (having left the baby wailing at nursery), or indeed a good wife/partner (because you are almost exclusively a mother and have somewhat forgotten how to be yourself). And then when you’re finally up to speed at work again – maybe, just maybe, you find yourself fretting about no longer having the focus or ambition you once had.

If you’ve been out of the workforce for a matter of years rather than months, lack of confidence and the issue of identity can feel like even more of an insurmountable barrier. The gap in your work history can feel like an ending, and your professional self a distant memory. Because you’re firmly rooted in a different world, going back is about something larger than a ‘return’ – it necessitates a re-invention. Perhaps you don’t want to go back to your previous sector or industry, or discover you’re going to need further education and retraining to get anywhere. Then the big questions start. Who are you now? Who do you want to be? What are you interested in (that will pay you)? What do you actually want out of a career? Where do you start? How do you get from now to where you want to be? Are you even going to be able to get a job? Do you have any currently marketable skills? Are you going to fall flat on your face?

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away for; the time will have changed you. Your priorities, values, interests and skillsets are likely to have shifted, and with them possibly also what you might want from your career. Sometimes a career change isn’t what you want, but is nonetheless going to be enforced due to childcare issues or the lack of a sufficiently supportive or flexible work environment. More often than not, however, many women come to a realisation that they themselves want to make a change that will fit their new circumstances or desires more closely. But this doesn’t mean that your career has no future. Take note: your career doesn’t have to stop because you’re now a parent and might want to move to part-time or flexible hours, or to a job that fits more easily around family.  

Where do you go from here? There are a few things worth reflecting on, I think.

The first is that you probably have more going for you than you might realise even if you’ve been out of the work world for years. Coordinating three children and a household? Administration, organisation and budgeting, not to mention creativity and the ability to pull things out of a hat at the last minute (World Book Day, I’m looking at you). Volunteering with the PTA? Tact, teamwork and negotiation. You get the idea. I don’t say this to be flippant; the important point here is about recognising transferable skills and being able to present them in a way that’s relevant to potential employers.

The second is giving yourself time and permission to ease back in, because it often takes at least 3-6 months to properly get to grips with the big change in your routine and to start feeling like you know what you’re doing. In any job the learning curve can last for a year or more. Don’t expect, after just two weeks on the job, to be back at the level you were. Be kind to yourself.

Thirdly, I think there are always compromises. Can you have it all? Personally, I think that every choice you make about how to spend your time means a choice to not focus on something else. But that also means that you don’t need to feel guilty if you’re not keeping all the balls in the air 100% of the time. Some things will give. And that’s ok.

And the final point? You don’t need to do it alone. If you’re currently planning a return from maternity leave or a long career break and this article has struck a chord with you, get in touch to see how return to work coaching can help you make the transition back into the working world with confidence. Take a look too at the upcoming Career Reinvention Day for a perfect kickstart.

To your success.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Now is the time!

Clocks

NOW is the time. Whatever time zone you’re in (you’re allowed to wake up first if you’re currently asleep 😉). The longer you play the waiting game, the longer you will have NO results. As one of my favourite authors says, you don’t want to be in the waiting place, for people just waiting. Waiting around for a yes or a no, for the fish to bite, for Friday night, a Better Break, for Another Chance. That is NOT for you.

No! You’re going to be the person who this year ditches the New Year Resolutions that are forgotten about after January, and instead makes the choice to get some lasting results this year. With bunting or with no bunting (although I always recommend bunting, because in every day there is a cause for celebration).

I’m really excited about the new career reinvention programme that Quiet Space is going to be launching in the next few weeks! I’ll be looking for people who’re fed up of waiting or making excuses and want to say YES to finally making some deep and lasting changes in their lives and getting a job they love in 2018.

The venue for the workshops has yet to be confirmed but they’ll be held in the Coventry and Warwickshire area. If you want to get an advance preview of some of the programme content before it’s ready for launch, drop me an email at natalie@quietspacecoaching.co.uk and I’ll get in touch!

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Goodbye 2017, hello 2018

A year ago today, I bid goodbye to my year of crisis. In 2016 depression got the better of me and I spent the rest of the year hauling myself back to a better place. I learnt lots of things, including how to take much better care of myself. Like how not to take things personally, leaving work in the office, knowing when to say no, making micro-resolutions, not sweating the small stuff, and embracing lots of new experiences. I started playing rugby and running regularly, joined a choir and dabbled in acro yoga, and attended my first music festivals and live gigs.

2017 has been kind to me, and I’ve been kind to myself. I’ve been altogether more sanguine about life. I completed my postgraduate qualification in career development and coaching, then took the plunge with a year-long work sabbatical. In just two months since leaving the 9-5 in October, I’ve launched Quiet Space, established a website and social media presence, networked, designed and developed programmes, and learnt so much about business development, branding, sales and marketing. None of this has actually felt like work, because I finally feel like I’m doing what I should be. And above all – I’ve been proud to be part of the transformational journey of my amazing clients.

I have lots of plans for 2018, but for now I’m looking back to appreciate all the things I’ve achieved. I’m proud of myself, and enormously thankful for all the love of my family and friends, who’ve gotten me through it all.

Look back on 2017 and see just how far you’ve come. Notice what skills you’ve learnt. The insights you’ve had. The people you’ve helped. The new experiences you’ve embraced. The challenges you’ve faced head-on. The friendships you’ve made. You are amazing. I guarantee it.I wish you all an amazing 2018. Love is louder than all of it.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

New year, new career resolutions

New year, new career resolution

What was 2017 like for your career?

“I’m unhappy but I don’t know how to change things.”
“I feel like I’m in a career rut.”
“I want to look for a new job but I don’t know where to start.”
“I’m applying for jobs but I’m not getting any interviews!”
“How do I get a job like the one she has?”

Does any of that resonate with you? Do you want some answers? I can help. Get in touch if you want to:

1) Find out what your career identity is and what your career options are.

2) Discover what you value in a career and what motivates and drives you.

3) Build confidence through gaining greater awareness of your key strengths and skills as well as your self-limiting beliefs and assumptions.

4) Work out your career goals in the short, medium and longer term and whip up an action plan.

5) Get networking tips, polish your CV, learn about the hidden job market and land your dream job in 2018!

Even better, get 20% off till the end of December! http://www.quietspacecoaching/services/career-health-check. Email me for a no-obligation chat.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Kintsukuroi

Example of Kintsugi

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
– Leonard Cohen, Anthem

This photograph is an example of Kintsukuroi (also known as Kintsugi). It’s a Japanese tradition and art form whereby broken pottery is repaired using lacquer that’s been mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. The philosophy of Kintsukuroi is that breakage and repair is part of the the history of an object that should be recognised and valued, rather than being something to disguise.

It may well be a cliché but our mistakes, pain and setbacks are all part of the experiences that make us who we are. We have a choice to fold and give up, or learn from the experience and keep going. Breaking can make us better, given the right care, time and someone to help us see the way.

Image credit: Found via a Google search – original photographer unknown.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Coaching for confidence, focus and resilience

Piano played by the Beatles
Earlier this year I had the wonderful opportunity to play the iconic piano used by the Beatles in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios.

Negotiating with my 9 year-old recently about his piano practice I was reminded of this photograph – well-worn keys reflecting a lifetime of dedication.

I’m finding that it can be difficult to help children to learn that things worth having are worth working hard for, and how to bounce back from disappointment or failure when things don’t go your way.

Grit and resilience is something we need to work on as adults, too. Perhaps you’re struggling with confidence or motivation, or life has just become too overwhelming. Coaching can give you a greater awareness and appreciation of all that you are capable of; a renewed focus, structure and purpose; and the tools and support to reach your goals.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Pilgrimage

Hands clasped together
In May this year, my 9 year-old son and I walked the Sarria to Santiago stretch of the Camino de Santiago. It was about a year after I’d had to take time off after having had a mental health crisis and going on pilgrimage was a decision made as part of a new direction and a resolution to embrace new experiences.

This photo was taken just before our final day’s walk into Santiago de Compostela – pilgrims nearing the end of this stage of their journey, hand in hand and stronger for it.

I think life is a pilgrimage. We rise each morning, fulfil what we need to fulfil, and take rest so that we can rise again the next day. Part of the beauty of life on the Camino is its simplicity. It’s a lesson for us all in this ever-more-complicated and cluttered normality – we need much less than we burden ourselves with. You don’t need to go on a physical pilgrimage to commence the same journey of discovery.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd

Crisis, discovery and reinvention

rugby
2016 was a year of reinvention, sparked by a crisis that I’d been building up to since 2013. Hitting rock bottom can be the making of you, given time and space to heal, a little bit of determination, and someone to hold your hand.

One of the key things in my recovery was seeking out new experiences. We don’t figure out ways forward by sitting down and figuring things out. For me, some of those new experiences were joining a choir, going on pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, and starting to play rugby. I’ve just embarked on a year-long sabbatical to focus on what I have learnt brings me genuine fulfilment: helping people to reach their full potential through awareness, understanding, openness to learning, and action.

I like this photo because for me it epitomises doing things that you’d never normally expect of yourself. I’m often the smallest on the pitch, I’m far from being a good player, and I have loads to learn. But I’m going to get out there anyway, pushing the comfort zone (notably when it comes to tackles!), and remembering that you are often your biggest obstacle. You don’t need to be.

– Written by Natalie Snodgrass Tan, Quiet Space Ltd