I’ve heard a lot of people recently speak about the season of their life. People will say they realize their limitations based on the ‘season’ they are in. In other words, you need to understand your limitations based on what is currently happening in your personal life (i.e. starting a family, sending kids off to college, close to retirement). For my husband, he knew that while he was single, he would be working overtime at the office, moving his career ahead. Now that we have a small child at home, he maintains more reasonable hours (he’s also senior enough and in a flexible enough business to be able to do this). Obviously, I am in this same season of raising small children, but I have found the career management aspect a bit more difficult to handle.
When I was pregnant, I went through a rough patch at work, really feeling like my projects were not being given the attention they deserved and that our office was moving in the wrong direction overall. I sought out the counsel of our employee resources group and was given some sage advice. The person I spoke to said I should just wait things out. After all, I only had a few months left in the office, followed by three months of maternity leave. Basically, I should just fight those battles at another time. So, I took his advice.
The problem is, there were still issues and battles there when I returned to the office (aren’t there always?!). Through a variety of events, including a senior colleague retiring and a change in my duties, the issues had become slightly different. And so I have wondered, despite not having a pregnancy to count as my excuse, am I still in the season of my life where I shouldn’t fight those battles on the work front? Or should I be trying harder to make my mark in my professional career by speaking up and plowing ahead?
While this is ultimately a personal decision and some women would likely argue that it is important to maintain one’s ambition and motivation to move forward (or Lean In) in their careers, even as they manage their family life, here is why that might not always be the best idea and what to do instead of leaning in.
- If your job makes unreasonable demands that take away from your personal life, you shouldn’t have to make that sacrifice.
- There have been several times since returning to work that I have been invited to work-related events occurring after hours. Now, I already have an hour and a half commute each way, so attending a happy hour with coworkers is not often a good enough reason to cause me to miss my son’s bedtime. Going back to the days when I was still nursing, staying late wasn’t even a possibility. Could I have missed a work opportunity occurring as a result of the after-hours relaxed environment? Maybe. But it probably was not likely enough to make me go to happy hour in the city. The same can be said for late afternoon/evening meetings. Since having my son, I have rarely stayed late, and to me, that is ok.
- If a possible promotion would pay more but cause me to have to work more hours or be under more stress at the office.
- This one is really difficult for me, as I often look at opportunities as once-in-a-lifetime, but they often really are not. You know whether an opportunity is really one that cannot be passed up (if you are Rachel in Friends then, yes, you take the job in Paris, unless Ross decides you loves you – I digress) or whether it is simply the next step in the career ladder and one that will be there a few years from now. Sometimes it is hard to turn down something, especially when others tell you you are the ‘perfect candidate’ or that you are a ‘shoe-in.’ You really have to think about what this will do to your quality of life or work-life balance. Is it worth it to you to take that raise and/or promotion? If you feel like you really NEED the money, think about what that increase in income means to your day-to-day life. Maybe it is worth it to you to clip coupons a bit longer and wait until a different season to take on the additional responsibilities
- Determine your values.
- I have recently been working with a career coach and we went through an exercise about what my values actually are. It is amazing how much easier it can be to turn down an opportunity when you realize how out of sync it is with your core values. Are you someone who needs to see your projects through to fruition in a relatively short amount of time in order to feel you have achieved anything? Then being a manager in government might not be the best position for you (believe me, things DO NOT move quickly in the government). Do you get a lot of satisfaction out of mentoring others on a one-on-one basis? Then moving into a senior management role where you don’t have time to assist individual employees might frustrate you. Really taking the time to sit down and think about what those deal-breakers are in a job – the values that if missing in your daily life would drive you nuts – will help you know ahead of time if a new opportunity is the right fit.
- Determine if a step down is actually a good move for you.
- Now, some career advisors will totally disagree with me on this one, but there are times when you may decide that a role with less responsibility is what you need at this point in your life. I chose to move into what was a more transactional role (in the HR/training world) when I returned from maternity leave. I knew I wouldn’t be leading any major programs, at least not for a while, and transitioned to the new role anyways. There are times when it is still difficult for me, as I feel I’m not as aware of what is going on in the organization, but ultimately, it has been better for me. I am not pulled into high-level meetings which, for me, can be stressful and demand more of my focus.
While you will certainly need to do some soul-searching whenever a new career opportunity comes up, perhaps this has given you a few things to think about. No matter the season of life, many people take a new position or even change careers completely for all the wrong reasons. Think about whether you are doing what you think you are supposed to be doing, or what you actually want (and need) to do to make you happy, both professionally and personally. You may just find that that great opportunity is really not that great for you.
As a note, I realize not everyone has the flexibility to change their work responsibilities based on what is happening in their life. It may take some sacrifices or creative solutions to work out a way to manage it all. And sometimes you simply can’t. You may have to cut out other things for a while, such as outside commitments to friends or church. It’s really all about figuring out your own priorities. And remember, this season will pass, too (and you’ll probably miss it!).
Do you feel like your current job is the right fit for this ‘season’ of your life? If so, why?
This post is linked up at Treasured Tidbits.