Kirsty Levin is a psychologist, careers counsellor, mum of two and the co-founder of The Parents Village.
Have you grown to dislike your job? Is the combination of your paid job and newly recruited full-time parenting job sucking your life force? It might be time to consider your options before you reach desperation point.
Before you throw in the towel or start panicking about where to next, take a moment to ask: What do you really want? What do you feel you need? And what is truly achievable?
But how do you break this down and find answers? I’m guessing that for many, this leads to a confused swirl of thoughts going back and forth - ultimately leading to anxiety and procrastination. Well, let me offer some simple exercises to get you out of that rut. These have helped many a new and overwhelmed working parent gain clarity and take a more confident step forward.
Step 1. What’s happening for you now?
How do you feel about your job right now? One of the easiest ways to turn your reactions and thoughts into something more concrete is to lay them all down on a pros and cons list. Seeing it in black and white and even discussing it with friends and family who offer another perspective, can really help to understand the status quo.
Reflect on it from all angles. What is it that you love or hate about your current role? What do you do really well versus what you struggle at? What feeds or drains your energy? What ignites your interest or bores you to tears?
Consider the people, the culture, your role and responsibilities, demands, flexibility, security, pay, logistics, and opportunities for variety or progress. This step alone might be enough to enlighten you as to whether you want to stay or hightail it out of there pronto.
Step 2. What do you want for the future?
Elizabeth Gilbert, life guru and author of Eat Pray Love best defines the key considerations we must make in the exploration of new options. These are especially relevant after kids. Her perspective has heavily influenced my approach to career decision making and it often leads to light bulb moments with my clients. Elizabeth highlights the need to recognize the difference between these four seemingly simple words: Hobby, Job, Career, and Vocation.
Something you do for fun, pleasure, relaxation or distraction in your spare time. This could be painting, photography, or cooking to name just a few. ‘Huh - what spare time?!’ - I hear you cry. It may be done after hours when kids are asleep, or you might carve out some alone time for this on the weekend.
It may or may not earn you a buck but it might fulfill your interests and nurture your soul on the side whilst you hold a job or career.
Needed by almost everyone unless you have a money tree in your back yard. This pays your bills, and keeps you busy. It’s not necessarily a role that defines you or that you emotionally invest yourself in but hopefully it stimulates or satisfies you in some way.
You don’t have to love it, but it’s preferable you don’t hate it – life is too short to hate something you do for the majority of your lifetime. There is nothing wrong with choosing this option at a point in your life when the mental load of juggling family with work is at its peak. Imagine leaving work stress free each day, with some energy left so that you can focus on your family. Win-win right!
A job that you do emotionally invest in. It requires commitment, energy and passion. You are making a conscious choice to develop it and progress over time. Choosing a career means choosing to pay attention to your working relationships, your reputation, and your growing knowledge and skills set.
Know that whilst a career may offer status, recognition, and financial reward, it may also come with sacrifice to your time with family or friends. At the same time being happy and fulfilled in your career may inspire you to be your best self outside of work and spend more quality rather than quantity time with your family. You have to really want a career, and it’s best if you love your career, but it’s not for everyone.
This is ‘your calling’ in life. It feeds your soul, applies your talents, and gives you meaning. Elizabeth says it best when she states “Your career is dependent upon other people, but your vocation belongs only to you.” It has nothing to do with money, career, status, or ambition. Being the best possible parent could be your vocation. Helping the homeless could be your vocation. Writing or Health and Fitness coaching could be your vocation. You can be called to your vocation by what you love (for example I love coaching my clients to find a more satisfying career/job path), or you can be called to your vocation by what you hate (for example: some might dedicate themselves to social justice because of their hatred for inequality.)
Step 3. What is feasible for you right now?
Decide where you stand at this point in time. Given your current responsibilities, resources and limitations, what is feasible right now? Each have distinct demands, opportunities and sacrifices. They can’t be interchanged or confused and you can’t always achieve all of them at once. Be realistic and optimistic at the same time whilst you weigh it all up against your core values.
Know that your decisions don’t have to be forever. This is the beginning of reclaiming ownership over your career path. Most of us are going to be working for a very long time, so all of us need to be on board for lifelong learning and be ready to face change.
The Parents Village is a perinatal support service for new and expectant parents offering Career Coaching services for parents returning to work after kids. If you need to explore your options, renovate your resume or upskill for an interview, contact Kirsty@theparentsvillage.com.au
How to get back your mama mojo before returning to work
Returning to work after kids can feel a bit like entering a parallel universe.
Workplace pregnancy discrimination: what you need to know
How are pregnant women protected?
Casual work and childcare: a conundrum for modern families
How childcare is failing to keep up with the changing workforce.
This 'BBC working mum' parody is the best one yet
She cooks, she cleans, she even defuses a bomb!
Tracey Spicer on work, parenting and being her naked self
She’s a journalist, writer and now an author, with her book, The Good Girl Stripped Bare.
How I manage my anxiety as a working mum
How does host Shevonne Hunt cope with multi-tasking, an anxious brain and running the magical hamster wheel?
"Give us both six weeks" – the sweet open letter every new parent needs to read
Spoiler alert: it's from the point of view of your baby.
To the father of my children, here's what I don’t tell you enough
Kids change things, but you're still my big love.