It won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this that many of my client conversations as a career coach eventually turn to the subject of confidence. Many people are surprised by how vulnerable they feel about the idea of going back to work after taking time out to have a family. Even for those who have a very specific end goal about work in mind, they find that when it comes to making it actually happen, they are thwarted by self-doubt, something I can totally relate to. It can often feel like life has somehow been on hold whilst having a family and women often expect that once they decide its time to work again, they will just be able to pick up where they left off.
But let’s face it, for the majority of women who have had a family, the person you are now is not the person you were when it was just you, work, your boyfriend, your mates and a bottle of wine, or two on a Friday night. How you cope with being pregnant, giving birth, sleepless nights and the realisation that a little person is totally reliable on you for their physical and emotional well-being twenty four hours a day can kind of change your outlook about life, work and what is important (understatement!). It can be hard not to feel like you lose part of your own identity when you become so consumed by looking after someone else, when you become “someone’s Mum”, we all know that feeling!
So many people I talk to say they would love to get back to work, maybe doing what they did before, maybe doing something totally different, but they just don’t feel comfortable making it happen. They don’t think anyone will be interested in someone who hasn’t worked for a while with “rusty” skills and a family at home that means they can’t work all the hours of the day and night. In other words, they’ve lost their confidence in their own abilities and what they have to offer and something as seemingly simple as picking up the phone or writing an email to start the process of getting back into work can seem terrifying.
To re-discover your confidence, you need to get to know yourself again and be comfortable with the person you are now, not the person you think you remember being before you had a family
That’s easy to say and seems logical enough, but where do you start?
1. The first thing to get your head round is this: You spend all your time looking after other people now, it is OK to spend time on yourself and what you want, give yourself that permission
2. Take some time to re-discover your strengths and talents and use what you learn as a starter for building your confidence in what makes you uniquely you, and what you have to offer others. Here are a few things to think about that might help you:
- Think about some times when you have felt like everything was going brilliantly for you. What happened? What made them so positive? How did they make you feel? What was your unique contribution to making those times so great? What did you learn from them, either about you at work, you at home or you in relationships?
- Without constraining your thinking to either work life or home life, what things do you do that give you joy and give you energy?
- Finally, what would you say you are brilliant at? This could be anything from negotiating contracts to building websites to organising charity fundraisers to being the peacekeeper during disputes between your girlfriends
3. You may be at home, but you are still working. You will be amazed how many skills you have actually gained since you have been doing what is arguably one of the toughest jobs on the planet! Don’t think of your time at home as a gap in your CV, think of it as another chapter with equal weighting to all your other work and life experience. You have multi-tasking, negotiation and empathy down to a fine art now - don’t be afraid to talk about them as important skills
4. Celebrate the wins, no matter how small, every day. Keep a diary where you write down three things every day that have gone really well, that have made you smile, that have made you feel good about life and your place in it. This is such a simple practice but can really help you go to bed every night feeling good. And if you go to sleep feeling good, the chances are you will wake up feeling good, feeling confident and ready for the win.
5. Find like-minded people who are going through the same thing. This is such a great time to be a woman in the working world and there are lots of women, just like you and me, who are working out how to balance being a successful Mum and a successful working woman. Tap into that, there are so many people out there ready to help and encourage you.
Remember, this will take time. It took me well over two years from when I first decided I wanted to become a full-time career and leadership coach to finding the confidence and courage to actually make it a reality. It took me a long time to come to terms with who I am now as a person, and what I have to offer other people. And, I’ve got to be honest and say I still have weekly dips in confidence whether that’s a client meeting that didn’t go so well, a piece of work I didn’t win, or a disastrous homework session with my son that I feel I could have dealt with better. But, that’s life……
The important thing is that I have confidence in who I am now, what my strengths are and what I uniquely have to offer others, and as long as I keep sight of that, I know that the rest will follow.