Maybe you’ve had this feeling before. It hits you, right in the middle of registering your youngest child for kindergarten. Or late at night, after everyone is sleeping soundly after having brushed their own teeth and turned out their own light. Suddenly you realize, My kids are growing up. And I have….TIME. Quiet time, “me” time, non-interrupted time. What am I going to do with it?
When I was the mother of a newborn, I used to dream of that moment. I envied my future, well-rested self and her ability to form complete thoughts. But now that I am here, I feel a little terrified. My thoughts keep returning to: Seriously, what I am going to do with this time?
It’s not that I can’t think of anything to do. I can fill it easily–housework, cooking, working out, finally getting to read for more than two minutes at a time–but, I don’t want to fill it. I want to really use it.
Before I was a mom, I was a teacher, and I always thought I would go back to the classroom. But I feel so far away from that twenty-something eager educator, and I don’t think that’s the right fit for me now. So what is the right fit?
Here’s how I’m approaching it. First, I’ve been asking myself this very important question: Is this the time?
Up until now, the answer has been ‘no.’ But while it’s been ‘no,’ I’ve been trying to think about what I can do to lay the groundwork for returning to a career. So for the last couple of years I’ve been:
- Staying connected with colleagues through emails and visits. This isn’t hard because they’re friends!
- Staying connected with the field by reading trade journals or magazines. I’ve been trying to read something about the education field every week.
- Staying connected with my skills by volunteering. I’ve found wherever we moved there was always a place that desperately needed volunteers, like the local library.
- Staying connected with my passions. As I said earlier, I’m not sure teaching is right for me so I’ve used this time to explore what else I like, what else I might be interested in doing. Sometimes I took my kids with me, and sometimes I traded childcare with a friend. I’ve considered this time an investment in my future.
If you’re still in the “this isn’t the time” phase, remember that no action is too small. Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Every little action is putting a foundation under that castle in the air.
But, if you find yourself, like me, on the precipice of ‘yes, now is the time to start returning to a career,’ what do you do now? Here’s what I’ve been doing:
Step 1: Define the goal.
I’ve been trying to define the reason I am returning to the workforce. Is it financial? Is it personal fulfillment? Is it because I want to contribute something to a specific community? For me, it’s all of the above, and defining my goal is helping me shape the next step.
Step 2: Rally the troops.
The first troops I need to rally are my kids and husband. I’m part of the family, and I’m often the member of the family that does the invisible things that help everything run smoothly. It’s time for me to say, ‘All right guys, let’s do this together’ and be very specific about what I need help with. My kids are ready for more housework, and my husband has time to do some of the food shopping. There are a million tasks that we, as mothers, take on the bulk of, and there is just no reason we can’t have help. The family is in this together.
I have a friend whose mother sat her down when she was eleven and said, “I’m going back to school to be a counselor because I want you to know that you can always do whatever you set your mind to.” I like to remember that when I go back to work or school, I’m giving my kids a different kind of gift–the gift of seeing someone work hard to achieve a goal and an example of persistence, grit, and a commitment to lifelong learning and growth. That’s valuable.
Step 3: Take action.
This, for me, feels the scariest, but the only way to get somewhere is to start. Here are some small tasks that I am starting with:
Update your resume (be sure to include your volunteer experience).
Reconnect with old colleagues, and start networking.
Talk to friends about their experience.
Apply for a job, even if you don’t think you’ll get it, just to practice.
Go back to school.
Step 4: Be flexible
Since I’m not exactly sure what I will end up doing in the next five years, I’m trying to be flexible. Returning to the work force is not easy and will likely have many false starts. But I reread these inspiring words I found at brainpickings.com. They’re from Neil Gaimen:
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
So what will I do with this new found time? I plan to fill it with glorious, amazing mistakes. Maybe you will, too.
QUESTION: Are you deciding if now is the time to go back?
CHALLENGE: If the answer is yes, then take the first step and define your goal(s).
Editors: Tanisha DuBransky, Rachel Nielson.
Image from Microsoft Office Clipart/Graphics by Julie Finlayson.