I detailed some of my thoughts about my return to work over a year ago and, my, how time has flown. When Lifebulb asked me to write the sequel, it seemed like a useful exercise in taking stock. I’m pleased to report that the tone of the rest of this post is positive and, I hope, reassuring to those starting the journey back into their former career or a new one after a break to look after children. It has been, overall, a good working year.
When I started back after my second maternity leave in 2014, my contract was part time. Having two days a week with the children (the eldest hasn’t yet started school) was fantastic, and I will always treasure that time. However, professionally speaking, it was tricky. It meant having to say ‘sorry, can’t make it’ to important meetings and ‘no capacity’ to intriguing projects. I’m quite disheartened by the reaction one still gets to ‘admitting’ to being part time. We’re a long way from it not being seen as an inconvenience by many, I fear; this is strange given that there still aren’t enough full time jobs to meet demand, according to trades unions. Being part time also meant I relearned the ruthless efficiency I had after my first return to work and made sure that any projects I embarked on were achievable, worthwhile, and targeted. This will tell you that I have a large amount of autonomy in my role, which is, for me, invaluable. That also equates to having to dig deep for motivation, gritting my teeth and getting on with things because nobody else is going to push me. It sounds a lot like giving birth, doesn’t it?
One thing I decided was that, even when I felt like hiding away and quietly doing good but unremarkable work, I should make sure I was noticed. For too long, I realised, I had been invisible in the workplace, and invisibility meant I was undervalued. There were all sorts of reasons for this, but I would do my best to change things. When I achieved something great, I told the right people. I blew my own trumpet. It doesn’t come naturally, but I adopted the persona of someone more confident and unembarrassed. I sent those emails to people at the top of the organisation and got recognition and praise in return. This can also make you the ‘go to’ person for particular issues or more work, but I was up for that.
By Christmas, I felt that I was really getting back into my role. I trawled the job sites less frequently. I thought I knew what I was doing once more and that I didn’t need to feel apologetic for having this job (oh, the ridiculous ideas we can talk ourselves into!). On the horizon was an international conference in the spring. I was really nervous about it: several days away from home, travel by myself, networking, making the expense to my employer worthwhile (seriously, guilt levels set to maximum).
I’m going to blow my own trumpet again: I aced it. It helped that the conference was in America, so I could adopt the confidence of transatlantic colleagues and march up to people to say ‘hi, I’m Claire; I’d love to talk more with you about…’ I made useful contacts, I showcased the work of my organisation, and I had fun. I came away with great ideas and some discernible outcomes. One evening, I walked down the street to my hotel and thought: ‘I’m BACK’.
I’ve pushed hard and persuaded those with some sway in the organisation, so now I’m back to full time hours and have responsibilities I relish and to which I respond really well. There’s even talk of promotion. My job often feels like a bit of a hustle, but a few opportunities have come my way in the last couple of months that were down to reputation rather than hustling, which feels like validation for the things I’ve done well. This has all taken a year. It was a year of feeling quite miserable at the start, sanguine as time went on, determined beyond that, and now excited about the career I feel is actually going somewhere. I’ve performed confidence and power so regularly that I’m starting to believe in the performance. I don’t doubt that luck, privilege, and being in the right place at the right time have played a big part. Others who work as hard as me, who are as good if not better at the job as me, who devise similar tactics and operate strategically, are still struggling to get their careers where they want them, or to get work at all. I do my best to talk up colleagues, to share opportunities, and pass on useful information I’ve gleaned. While I have this job, I’m going to make sure I do it to the best of my ability, ensure I (and others) have the environment to do that, and make it as satisfying as possible.
The coming year may well be my most challenging yet as I get to grips with a rather different role and we make some adjustments domestically, but I’m in a state of mind where I think I can swim rather than sink. See you in 2016?