Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Jan 5, 2010

A Turning Point in a Working Mom's Career

We asked Joyce Maroney from Workforce Institute, to tell us about time when she realized she needed to make a change in how she saw or defined herself or her way of life. How did she prepare herself mentally/emotionally to make such a change, and how does she see that change now as she reflects on it?

Between 1983 and 2006, I worked for five different companies. Each time I left an organization, I did so because I had been recruited by a former manager. The upside of “managing” my career this way was the familiarity of working for people I knew, as well as the flattery inherent in being pursued by people I admired. I never left a job without knowing exactly where I was going next, and my responsibilities and title escalated steadily.

During this same period, I married and had two children. I worked full time, including extensive traveling for many years, throughout my childrens’ childhoods. Having entered the workforce in the late 70s, I didn’t take my status as a working mother for granted, and worked very hard to prevent my motherhood from being perceived as an impediment to my career progress. My children remember that I missed school plays and award ceremonies for work commitments that at the time I thought were critical, although I certainly no longer remember why.

In 2005, when my older child entered her senior year of high school, I realized that I had never been fully present and available to her due to my attitude toward work. As I looked ahead, I realized she’d be off to college in a year, and I’d likely never have that opportunity to demonstrate how important she was to me again. I decided to quit my job, and for the first time in my career, I left my job without having another job to go to. During the next eight months, I was available to participate in school events, go on college visits, and just hang out with my kids without feeling guilty that work would suffer as a consequence.

As far as mental/emotional preparation goes, I felt like I was stepping off a cliff, but I was willing to take the risk in order to be available without restrictions to my daughter.

I also realized that although I enjoyed many aspects of my position as an executive at a mid-sized tech company, I didn’t enjoy much of the content of my job. Throughout eight months of unemployment, I networked with lots of people and explored job options that were very different than what I had been doing. When I did start a new job - two weeks after my daughter started college - it was in a completely different functional area than my prior role. More than three years later, I am happy with my job, but more importantly have managed to maintain a healthier attitude toward work. I work just as hard when I’m on the job, but I don’t treat my family, volunteer and personal time commitments as less important than those required by my work.

In hindsight, it’s possible that I could have achieved better balance in 2006 without quitting my job, but I doubt it. I needed that period of no job to teach me that my worth as a person wasn’t inextricably bound to who I worked for or what my title was, and that the successes I’d achieved on the home front – happy kids, happy husband, good friends – were significant personal achievements. These may seem like obvious lessons, but I needed that respite from full time employment to have that epiphany.

Workforce Institute is a think tank that helps organizations drive performance by addressing human capital management issues that affect both hourly and salaried employees.

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