9 things I wish I knew earlier as a mum returning to work.
After 10 amazing years, I left my permanent role as Senior Director, Digital Media at Viacom in October 2015. Our second baby was due that November and it was a perfect time for me to step away and create space for new opportunities in my life and career, obviously including being a mum to our two little boys Charlie and Cooper.
I’ve been a career-focused woman since my late teenage years and spent the last 20 years predominantly working for ‘the boss’. As soon as I was deemed ‘unemployed’ last October, it made me feel uneasy and yet liberated at the same time. This experience was entirely new to me. I wanted to savour the newborn experience again and focus on being a mum to our boys. But there was always the hovering internal question “ what the hell am I going to do now?” and “omg! I have no idea what I really want to do!”. At the time, I was exhausted from having our delicious baby Cooper, and I won’t lie, the thought of job seeking and opportunity knocking made me a little anxious, as I didn’t exactly have a plan. I also didn’t expect to feel a rush of lack of confidence in myself and my own abilities. Sound familiar? This is such a common issue I hear amidst women returning to work.
I am still a super focused career driven woman. This has not changed. However, my end goal parameters and priorities have. When Cooper was 5 months old, I took on a freelance TV production role working from home. This was an excellent catalyst to kick start my search for the next level role or opportunity. I also had an a surge of motivation to start my own business helping busy women, and mum’s like me, gain their confidence and strength back. But my business will take time to build and in the meantime I was eager to get my head back in the game and build upon my network. I dusted off my brain, CV, work clothes, lipstick and got started. After 6 months of actively exploring, I discovered a few things I wish I had known earlier as a ‘mum returning to work’. Shifting the mindset to be ‘always on’, positive and confident has been a rollercoaster journey to adjust my paradigm while working on my physical strength.
Here are my top 9 things that might help other mums returning to work:
I had oddly put this point last. But I’ve moved it to the top, not that these points are in any way ranked in order but more to stress how important this is. I really don’t think I would have coped if I hadn't had my health and wellbeing in check. A tired stressed mum ( aka me! ) equals foggy brain and many empty wine bottles. To cope with the endurance of ‘job seeking’ or ‘opportunity creating’ ( which by the way can be super stressful whilst managing a family ) I needed to create a strong foundation and habit of regular exercise, stick to a mostly clean diet, keep a lid on escaping down the neck of wine bottles AND create space to simply ‘create’, in other words, visualise what I really wanted. For me, it was only 10mins a day practicing mindfulness and just being present. And if there was ever a time to update my supplements to help prevent illness, this is the time to do it. I kick started my journey with a nutritional cleansing program and have never looked back. This gave me the clarity and energy to throw everything I had into this.
Many of us returning to work after having kids are already exhausted from sleep deprivation. Quality of sleep is key, but easier said than done right? The aim is to be asleep before 10pm, those last 2 hours before midnight are critical to our overall quality of sleep. And if, like me, you have kids that love to wake in the night, then I worked hard to install a routine that promoted better sleep in the long run. I followed Gina Ford. (Gina is the bestselling author of childcare books in the United Kingdom and a former maternity nurse who has cared for over 300 babies during her career. But her methods are not for everyone ) and I took from it what worked for me and the kids, and it hasn’t failed me yet. But find something that works for you. Or if things are really challenging, you and the kids don’t have to suffer sleepless nights, there is help out there. For example, I know the Sleep Fairy has had huge success in rescuing parents!
This has to be one of the most stressful things to sort out as a mum returning to work and for a variety of reasons. Cost, logistics, guilt and worry are just a few things that come to mind. But whatever the case, childcare was at the top of my list to arrange. Family, nursery, child-minders, nannies and au pairs. Yes there is choice but it can be a minefield to suss out. My advice is plan ahead, cost out scenarios and keep calm! It took some time to nut it out, but we decided on a combination of nursery and a live-in au pair, but the point is, work out what’s best for you, your kids and your lifestyle. Be warned: kids attending nursery WILL pick up all sorts of coughs, colds and other bugs. And given most of us return to work when our kids are teething, their immune systems are already compromised, hence they seem to bring home every virus under the sun! Another good reason to get your own health in order to prevent getting ill yourself. Load the kids up with immune boosting nutrition too. I like to give my kids Baby Plex vitamins and also offer them my Immunity Builder Smuices
Assessing the language I was using to describe ‘myself' internally and externally was, and still is, incredibly important. It took a little time to feel comfortable with talking about myself in a new way. I had to create a ‘sales pitch’ that was true to my passions and skill-set that I could draw on, in a job interview or opportunity discussion. Keeping my language positive, and opportunistic, even when it felt tough, was integral to the success of my focus. So on days when I could feel the stress, negative thoughts and doubts, creep in, I’d recognise it as ‘self sabotage dialogue’. Although very normal, this type of dialogue was not serving me well. I had to create a mantra as part of my mindfulness practice that helped me focus on what I’m damn good at and where I want to be. Back yourself, you are truly awesome and someone will be very lucky to have you.
In my 20 years of working, never have I experienced the scale of competition out there as now. There are so many talented skilled people ( many much younger than me! ) all fighting for the same exposure to win a role. I won’t lie, I’ve found this daunting and tough, especially as I was out of the practice of being interviewed, for about 11 years! But it also forced me to get creative in my approach. My advice is, start your exploration early. Depending on what you are looking for, your level of expertise, skill-set versus the demand + supply of work in your field, be prepared that it could take as long as 6-12 months before landing a new role. This is certainly the reality in my case. But I’ve also used this time to build my own business which has been so incredibly rewarding. I’m so grateful for the time and the learning.
As Richard Branson likes to put it “ Say yes to everything, and then figure out how to do it later”. I love this. Personally, I like seeing opportunity and learning in everything. You never know where that coffee, interview, blog, chance meeting or invitation may lead you. But in saying this, as a busy mum, it’s also about balance and not over committing. I’ve had to listen to my instincts and go with the flow as long as it’s aligned with my overall vision. Agree to do something when it feels right. Don't settle! Enjoy the process, I know easier said than done, but there is so much to learn from this and that can only be a good thing.
It’s who you know.
This is certainly that case in my field. My network has been my biggest and most valuable asset by miles. Initially reaching out can feel a bit daunting but as time ticked by, I found myself becoming more and more assertive. Using my network has helped my CV reach people who may have never seen it otherwise. I’ve found applying for roles via online application completely fruitless. It’s the amount of applications an HR department have to process that can kill chances. However, it certainly helps boost my exposure 1000% to reach out to my contacts that may help with a direct referral. Simply asking my contacts to coffee and seeking their advice on who I should reach out to is also another effective trick which has helped me find roles I wouldn’t have found via the traditional routes. Which brings me to recruiters. Geez. My personal experience has not been great. So my advice is don’t rely on recruiters alone. Cover all bases and do your own search and approach. And don’t be afraid to expand your network and meet new people. I’ve found this to be so rewarding and have made a lot of new lovely friends!
Prepare for rejection.
Rejection sounds so harsh doesn’t it? The word conjures up an emotionally charged feeling which can suggest we might take ‘rejection’ personally. Granted, sometimes it’s hard not to, but prepare yourself mentally ( and physically ) that ‘rejection’ is a natural part of the journey. It certainly helps build character and a thicker skin. Personally, I always ask for feedback. This helps me grow and think about what I could do differently next time. But at times when I’ve felt super disappointed, I’ve also allowed myself to ‘let go’! Cry, scream, have a wine, pick yourself up again and get over it!! It wasn’t meant to be. You are still awesome. Keep going!
One of my biggest lessons was communicating my progress back to my husband. He has been my rock and biggest cheerleader throughout my journey. There were occasions where I had buried my head down and failed to keep him up-to-date, and it caused unnecessary stress between us. What I realised is that, even though this is a journey I have to live and breathe, it also impacts directly with my family. So talking about the ups and downs really helped me keep motivated and feel supported. It also helped him feel like I was moving forward and learning from my mistakes.
I’d love to hear about your journey returning to work? What are your tricks and experiences to share? Please comment below!