I’ve now been unemployed for four and a half months. Crazy! During this time, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and I’ve been working with a career coach. In today’s episode, we talk about how our priorities shift as we get older, and for some, when we start our families. So if you’ve started to notice a shift in your motivation or a need to re-prioritize, then this one’s for you! Let’s dive in.
First of all, it feels good to be back! I realize I took a couple week hiatus, and apologies for that folks – but it’s been a bit crazy around these parts at the same time I’m really starting to feel my third trimester. We’ve been busy going to prenatal classes and prepping for baby, as well as having more social outings as we try to maximize the end of summer and our childless lives a little longer. I’ll get into all of that next week, but plan on more consistency between now and the time the baby arrives. So let’s talk about the career pivot.
Found my way through the clouds
As I’ve spent time away from work, I have realized how burnt out I actually was and how much I needed this time. Looking back, I don’t know why I’m surprised. Never taking time off between roles didn’t help. And the signs I was burnt out were glaring back at me in the mirror. From the shorter temper in and out of the office as well as the just plain crying after a day of work on a regular basis…yeah, I would say I was past the point of burnt out.
While it was really hard to give up a paycheck and get over the uncomfortable feeling of having free-time for the first time in my life since I was fifteen years old, I now know more than ever how much this is exactly what I needed. It also isn’t lost on me that when I was at my highest level of burn out I suffered from a chemical pregnancy and the one month off I took between roles was the month I became pregnant. Whether you believe in God or not, to me, that was someone or something higher telling me that I needed a break.
I think about how if I wasn’t laid off, I wouldn’t have taken this time. I would have considered a month enough time. It was a month more than I had ever taken for myself after all. But I also noticed in my new role that my triggers were still there. I loved my new job but when one of my triggers was turned on, I was quick to react. Of course, I guess that’s the benefit of a work from home situation when you’re burnt out – you can react without anyone seeing you. Or at least minimize the impact of your reaction. Being reactive is a sign you didn’t take enough time. It’s like if you end a personal relationship and enter into a new one too fast. Your new partner does something that reminds you of your ex and you immediately feel triggered. Same rules apply. If you start a new role, no matter how much you’re excited about it, and you are still easily triggered – then you didn’t take enough time in between.
If I’m really honest with myself, if I wasn’t pregnant at the time of layoffs, I wouldn’t have taken the time off. I would have just gotten another job and jumped right back into the grind. It kind of makes me sad that statement is true, but also hopeful. It gives me hope that I now have the self-awareness to recognize that while in most of my life I’m really good at stepping out of my comfort zone, when it comes to my career and job security, that was an area that I was less comfortable with being uncomfortable.
My pregnancy made me pause and ask myself if it was the best time to jump into my next role or not. This little girl inside of me forced me to take a moment, and make the decision to take this time for myself. She hasn’t even taken her first breath yet and she’s given me a gift I didn’t even realize I needed and I couldn’t be more thankful for that time because I’ve never been more at peace with where I’m at in life.
The gift of peace of mind
I feel like until this point, my whole life has been made up of taking steps forward and figuring it out as I go. From learning to take my first steps, to starting school and working my way through elementary school, high school and college. I was always in some sort of rush to “start my life” which I considered being an adult. I couldn’t wait for the next step. Part of me wonders if this was because I had so many rules and limitations as I entered into my teenage and young adult years. Was my rush to “grow up” more just my yearning for freedom to make my own decisions and do things my way?
After college, I joined the workforce and I was trying to work hard and climb the ladder as quickly as possible so I can “enjoy my success”. At the same time I was dating with purpose for the first time in my life. I wanted to find someone to spend my life with, my partner. Every set back, whether in the workplace regarding a promotion I wanted and didn’t get or in my personal life when a relationship failed, I looked at it as a sharp turn in the racetrack I was speeding along. It didn’t throw me off track, but it slowed me down a little bit and I fought like hell to get back to full speed.
When I started dating my now husband, I look back on how much time and mental energy I wasted worrying about if it was going to get more serious and if it was going to “end in marriage”. Now, I know a lot of this had to do with the pressure that was put on me for being in my 30’s, in a committed relationship that wasn’t moving forward from the typical milestone perspective that was ingrained in me from my family and society for my entire life. I was taught success in relationships meant marriage. And the longer it took for us to get to that point, the more I was worried I would never be successful.
Only one year into my marriage and I can honestly say how f-ed up that way of thinking is. First of all, getting married isn’t the end point to strive for. It’s just the beginning of the next stage. Real success comes from sustaining the relationship, day in and day out. That is when the real work begins, not ends. It’s also insane that I put so much pressure on myself and our relationship to be within a certain timeframe and that I let others make that determination for me! I’m now at a place where I want to be present in the times we have together instead of worrying about what comes next. Enjoy the journey you may say rather than the destination.
I would say I’m finally at this stage in my career as well.
Working with the career coach was important for me. When I started with the coach, I thought I wanted to work with her to help me figure out what kind of roles I wanted. But now going through the process, I don’t think that was the reason. Where we netted out was no shock to me. The roles weren’t anything I hadn’t thought of in the past. There were no crazy revelations that surprised me.
Instead, what I think I really needed from the coach was two fold. First to understand my strengths better and how they translate into potential new roles. This would help me filter out roles or companies that didn’t enable me to leverage my strengths.
For example, we looked at my natural abilities and strengths to determine the types of work-style I should be in. The one surprising ability that was revealed was my connection to music and my auditory memory. I had super high marks compared to others that had taken the same evaluation on my tonal and rhythm memory and my pitch discrimination. This means that not only do I have an innate ability to learn musical instruments and foreign languages, but in the workplace, these skills are translatable for diplomacy, mediation and I need to be able to move around and not sit at a desk all day.
Some of my other key strengths are my ability to identify and plan against 3-5 year goals while also diving into details. Or my ability to communicate with generalists and specialists and develop one, holistic, seamless story in that everyone can align. I’m also good at remembering numbers which can translate to remember random facts and figures needed for day to day work.
This reminds me of a client I had one time. I was working on a large CPG company and my head client would bring his tablet and spit off random numbers during your presentation. I’m not going to speculate on his reasons for doing this, but I quickly learned that if I was going to gain his respect, I needed to also have this ability. So one day he brought up a specific ROI numbers for Facebook and I actually corrected him with the correct number. From there on, he didn’t test me as much and I was able to get through more of my presentation without interruption. It’s crazy what you remember sometimes huh?
The evaluation confirmed I am better working in a team environment vs. solo and I am able to come up with a high volume of ideas and thrive in a brainstorm, collaborative environment. Looking back, the roles I was most successful in enabled me to utilize these natural abilities which gave me confidence in the evaluation itself.
The other benefit of working with the coach was to put into words my priorities for how my next role fit into my new set of priorities. As we get older, our priorities may shift. And let’s face it, having kids is a very real and valid reason for shifting your priorities. This makes sense. You are now responsible for another human life. For all new parents, your new priorities may look different and that’s ok – but it’s important to know what they are and to be able to put them into words.
For me, bringing this human into the world doesn’t diminish my career aspirations. But it does make me think about how this role fits into the new life I want to create. When I was younger, work was numero uno in my life. I didn’t care how much time I spent at the office as long as it was helping me move up and get ahead. Now that I’ve experienced burnout, and am about to take on motherhood, the realist in me says if I want to not just be happy in my new role, but perform my best, some boundaries need to exist.
This is an important differentiation I think. I don’t believe there is any role that will make you happy in and of itself. And this is because our work, no matter how passionate we are about it, is not what makes up 100% of our life. You can love your job but then feel like a failure in other parts of your life. You can love your life but hate your job.
I believe that the real key to happiness is how the different priorities in your life fit together to allow you to show up as your best self across all of them. Does this seem impossible? Yeah, at times it does as at times it seems like our priorities are competing for our attention. But that is why taking time to really think about our priorities, and also how to prioritize between them, is a critical step. And what makes it even harder is the answer can and will shift over time. And your priorities may be different than your partner’s.
For me, as I look ahead, I see four top priorities. First and foremost is myself. I truly believe that if I don’t take time for me, then everything else falls apart. So what does that look like? That means making time for what feeds me physically, mentally and spiritually. I need to have time to workout at least five times a week. I also need time for things that bring me happiness like my weekend tennis and brunch with a friend. I also need to travel both with Christian as well as without.
Sound selfish? You know what? I don’t care. I have found that if I don’t do these things, I struggle to be my best self elsewhere. And maybe they’ll look different with a kid, but they don’t have to go away. Christian and I have already started talking about how we’ll both work our schedules so we can watch the baby when the other wants to workout. And tennis and brunch? I’ve already started to discuss options for childcare during tennis, and then would love to bring her to brunch with me! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Second priority is my relationship with Christian. We both come from divorced parents and we know the toll that can take on not only the divorcees but also their children. If we want to avoid that outcome, we have to put the work into our partnership. What does that mean?
That means regular date nights and at least a yearly trip for just the two of us. That means talking about non-child related things and enjoying a social life and our hobbies together. All of this is doable with a plan. Mostly a childcare plan, but both Christian and I are dedicated to ensuring we invest in childcare so that we have our time without the child as well. I hear parents speak about how they haven’t had a night alone in months, or years! Or they’ve never done anything to celebrate their wedding anniversary! This makes me so sad! How do you expect to have a lasting marriage if you don’t have time to yourselves? Sooner or later you know that kid is going to move out right? If you make your relationship 100% about the children, when they move on, what do you have left?
Third is our little girl. I know, as parents we’re supposed to day our children are our number one priority so this may sound strange. But hear me out – overall she’s number three, but in a way, she’s still number one. I put myself first and our marriage second because I was thinking about the impact on her. Unfortunately, we’ve all experienced the mom that wasn’t taking care of herself. Or the parents that were in an unhappy marriage. These two scenarios impact everything around them, and especially their children.
Putting our kids first, above and beyond everything else, means that we have to recognize our own impact we have on them. No one has a bigger impact on our kids than us. So if we put our needs aside, not only will we be trying to water the garden with an empty bucket, but we also will be teaching them to do the same. To put everyone’s needs before their own.
Spoiler alert, you can’t water the garden without water – the plants just die. And if you teach your kids to put everyone’s needs before their own, they’ll struggle to take care of themselves later. As parents, isn’t it our jobs to teach them how to make themselves happy? How to take care of themselves? This goes beyond teaching them how to do their laundry, balance a checkbook and cook people! We also need to help them take care of their own emotional needs so they don’t enter into toxic relationships or allow others to take advantage of them. We need to teach them how to manage their own stress and to be self-aware. How do you teach this if you can’t practice it on yourself?
Lastly, but still very important, is my career. I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into my career. I also get a lot from working. I am challenged in a way I am not elsewhere in my life. This is something I’ve really noticed since I stopped working. It feels like there is a part of my brain that isn’t being utilized. I’m yearning to be challenged in this way. It excites me, it makes me feel more confident, it enables me to be more of a critical thinker and problem solver elsewhere in my life and it gives me balance. My career is very important to me, but what I need now in my career vs. what I was willing to accept earlier in life has changed.
The new meaning of work-life balance
Now that I will be returning to work with a child, I have new expectations, boundaries and needs to consider when seeking a new role. But let’s be clear, I’m not naive either. I love marketing, but I also know marketing is not and will never be a 9-5 job. That’s not realistic. I also have a budget and expenses I need to pay for, so I have to take salary into consideration and can’t really take a pay cut that would have a negative impact on my household.
But there are plenty of ways I can have my cake and eat it too, if cake is my career in this scenario. First, I’m looking for a hybrid role. One that allows me to work from home when I need to, but also go into the office as well. I do prefer some facetime and I have learned over the last couple years that 100% remote work is actually not for me. I like a mix; I prefer the flexibility.
I’m also looking for a role that has no more than 30% travel. I do like a business trip, but realistically, I can’t be traveling all of the time. Christian travels for his work, so if we are both traveling, this will create some scheduling conflicts we’ll need to work through. Also, I don’t always want to be gone. I want to be home with my family too. Traveling too much starts taking too much away from my top three priorities.
I want a role that plays to my strengths so I can thrive. A collaborative environment, an ability to be a part of higher-level conversations, an innovative and fail-fast culture and preferably at a company I can get behind. I’m past the days where I want to work for a company with questionable practices and values or that doesn’t prioritize diversity at all levels.
I am willing to relocate, but it’s highly dependent on where. California? Yes, I’d consider it. Texas? Hells to the no. That’s a big, fat, no for me.
There’s a lot more when it comes to the actual day to day and what makes me happy that is included too – all of which helped me narrow down on the actual roles to go after.
Making a pivot in your life can be scary. A shift in priorities can be daunting. But it’s also necessary as we grow and our lives change. Think about it – would it really make sense to have the same priorities in your 20’s as you do in your 40’s? What a sad life that would be! Considering I’m unemployed for the first time in my adult life, and I’m 36 weeks pregnant, I can’t believe how calm I actually feel right now. I should be freaking out shouldn’t I? I’m starting the search for a new role that is out of my comfort zone and I’m about a month away from becoming a first time parent (or less!). I should feel overwhelmed and anxious at what this next step will look like! But instead, I’m excited and I think the best word to describe it is ready. I feel ready.
As you know through this season, this feeling of readiness didn’t just appear. I didn’t get laid off and then the following week jumped into excitement and readiness. Wow, that would have been lovely wouldn’t it? To just skip to the punch line without feeling overwhelmed, scared, confused and anxious? Well, like everything in life folks – there’s no quick fix for this. There’s no pill you can take and just know what to do next. There’s no influencer video you can watch to make your next move. You have to put in the work. You have to be the one to identify what your new priorities are, to re-evaluate how you are currently spending your time and if it aligns with these priorities and develop a path to make the necessary changes. Maybe that means working with a career coach. Maybe it just means getting out a pen and paper and start sorting through your thoughts. Or maybe you’re a mood board person. It doesn’t really matter how you get there, but what matters is that you take the time to work it out.
During a supporter weekend at Christian’s MBA program, a professor there gave a lecture that stuck with me through this journey. He said, “You have 1,440 minutes in a day. How you choose to spend those minutes is on you.” Once you figure out your priorities, I challenge you to breakup your day this way. Is your time prioritized the same way? Or can it be optimized to align better with your priorities? I’m not saying every single day will workout this way – but are 50% of them? 80% of them? Are you able to make up the time for those that don’t hit the mark? And what changes can you make today to help you better spend your time?
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