This post was written by career and leadership coach Sherry Bevan exclusively for Mums Off Duty.
When you become a mother, the first few minutes, hours, days and weeks … some might say months even are given over entirely to another being.
Pre-children, pre-pregnancy, your focus is on you, your career and your partner. Not necessarily in that other. Then the focus changes and shifts to your baby, your sleep, their sleep and nappies. How many of us imagined that one day we’d become so fascinated with the colour and content of a baby’s nappies while at the same time so obsessed with who had the most or least amount of sleep last night.
One day, almost overnight it seems, that sweet milk-drunk baby has grown up into a toddler leaving a trail of sticky handprints and breadstick crumbs. Before you know it, it’s the first day at pre-school then Reception.
If that’s your story too, maybe you’re left wondering, “Now what? Do I go back to work? Or start a family friendly business? Freelance? And how do I even get started?”
The first step is to focus on you
Counterintuitively perhaps, one of the first steps is to bring the focus back to YOU. Yes you. You the one reading this.
The women that I often talk to tell me they have lost their sense of self; their identity; their purpose even. Before you can do anything else about going back to work, first you need to focus on you as a person. As a woman.
For some of us, this is relatively easy. Perhaps you have already been taking regular ‘me’ time; going to the gym or a running club. Or you joined the local Rock Choir or metalwork class.
However many women tell me that they see ‘me’ time as a luxury. But it’s not. It’s essential.
Your ‘me’ time could be an hour of yoga or a long soak in the bath. It could be sitting down with a cup of tea and a magazine. A day at the spa or wandering round an art gallery.
Looking after your own wellness – your mental and physical health – is the easiest thing to drop and yet it’s one of the most important things to do. If you don’t look after you, how are you going to look after others? You know the adage “You can’t pour from an empty cup”? Well, it’s true.
When you take care of your wellness, you will have more energy, make more effective decisions and have more fun!
Wellness is one of the first two elements in The Confident Mother philosophy. But there’s also contribution.
Contribution is about valuing and being valued for what is unique and special about you. Your contribution to the world is unique. Only you can do what you do in the way that you do it.
There might be hundreds of marketing managers but only ONE marketing manager with your unique set of skills, talents and experiences.
As a career and leadership coach, there are hundreds of photographers for me to choose from for my next photoshoot and each one has her own unique style and approach.
Take me for example – how many former IT managers do you know who nearly killed themselves on the race track, have worked in a law firm, speak fluent French, and is also a qualified breastfeeding counsellor? Don’t you think those experiences have shaped my views on life and my approach to work? You bet.
The second step is to focus on you
The second step to focus on is you. What? Yes, I know you’re thinking, “Huh, some kind of mistake. You said that was the first step.”
But guess what, the second step is to focus on you too.
This time it’s not about focusing on you, your contribution and your wellness. This time’s it’s the public you. The one that you present to the world.
When you are thinking about going back to work after a career break, you need to start paying attention to your presentation. And I don’t mean the way you dress (though if you turned up for work in a law firm wearing hot pants and a gold glitter top, you might get a few funny looks).
I mean the way that you are seen online. Technology and social media is absolutely brilliant for keeping you in touch with all your former class mates, your long lost best friend, and your Aunty Joyce in Chelmsford.
But did you know that in today’s recruitment world, 92% of recruiters and employers are using some form of social media to recruit. And every recruiter has access to the internet. So every recruiter can go to Google and type in “Sherry Bevan” to see the results. When was the last time you Googled yourself? If you have an unusual name, you might be surprised to see what comes up in the results.
The point is that you need to check out and clean up your social media footprint. If you want to start applying for jobs, get yourself a clean and professional email address. Saucycrow@gmail.com might have seemed a good joke at the time but it might raise a few eyebrows if you use that email address for jobhunting.
And while social media is now a popular tool for recruitment, employers and recruiters love LinkedIn, head and shoulders above all the other social media platforms. Well that makes sense. After all, LinkedIn is THE business networking site. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile or if you haven’t reviewed it for a while, now is the time to crack on. Even better, sign up to my free 10 Day LinkedIn Challenge and I’ll teach you all the most popular tips and tracks that I share with my one-to-one and Career Confidence clients.
The third step is to focus on you
Yes, you guessed it. The third step is to focus on you too.
This time, it’s all about you and your mindset.
The loss of identity and status that many women feel can knock your confidence. Therefore the third step to going back to work after a career break is all about developing a positive mindset.
What are you worried about? What are you scared of? What’s holding you back? Where do you lack confidence?
And how much of that fear and lack of confidence is based on hard concrete evidence?
Common fears are around how much the technology has changed. Or whether your knowledge remains current. Or if you’re good enough, experienced enough, clever enough, young enough, old enough …
And YET …. you will never ever lose your natural talents and skills. If you are somebody blessed with an eye for detail, you still have it. If you are brilliant at building relationships with customers, you still rock.
Going back to work after a career break is just like changing jobs. It’s a bit like getting back on a bike or a horse if you haven’t ridden one for a while. At first it feels a bit strange, a bit uncomfortable, a bit unfamiliar. Give it time and you will soon get into the flow.
You can bring yourself up to speed on new software. You can refamiliarise yourself with industry knowledge. You can learn new systems and processes.
Sometimes it’s about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
The first steps to go back to work after a career break
It’s simple then. The first step when you want to go back to work after a career break is to focus on YOU. The second step is to focus on YOU. The third step is to focus on YOU.
I’m sure you get the message now. It’s time to focus on you.
I’d love to hear from you. Do leave a comment below and let me know how you will focus on you today, tomorrow and next week.
About Sherry Bevan
An author, coach and speaker, Sherry Bevan is a former Global Head of IT Service for a City law firm. After 25 years in the City, she created The Confident Mother, an independent coaching practice. She works with organisations in the City and with individual women in technology and professional services to develop career and leadership confidence.