Whether it’s to raise your children, to be the caregiver for aging parents or any host of reasons, hitting the “pause” button on your career may be something you’ve considered. The concept of pausing the trajectory of your career by working a reduced schedule or leaving your career entirely with the plan to return at some later point can come with a lot of questions and concerns.
Depending on the industry and company you work for, you may have been given the idea that it’s impossible to pause without committing career suicide. Although there’s been a shift away from manically prioritizing your work above your life, you still may have gotten the message that pausing your career will send the wrong message to your current employer and to any future employers.
I began my accounting career in 1988 when topics like the advancement of women in a male dominated workplace and breaking the “glass ceiling” were all-the-buzz. Women were climbing up the ladder of corporate America and showing others what was possible.
So when I had my first child and decided that I wanted to pause my career path so I could balance work with family, I had many concerns. The only options that I witnessed based on the women above me in the large firm I worked for was to either continue working full-time and hire a full-time nanny or quit.
Thankfully things have changed over the years for women looking to pause their careers and for those looking to re-enter the workforce after pausing. More women than ever are exploring the fact that their career doesn’t have to be a linear path; that a non-linear path is an option and can actually be optimal.
This week I’m going to discuss the questions and concerns you may have about pausing your career and how to make the decision to pause your career or re-enter after a pause.
Questions and concerns about pausing your career
Along with the topic of money, the decision to possibly pause your career is something that is often taboo for women. Many professional women have felt the need to hide the fact that they have desired to or actually have paused their career at some point, but that conversation is thankfully changing.
In her book “Work Pause Thrive” author Lisen Stromberg chose to do her own research on professional women and how they were navigating work-life issues. Surprisingly many had paused their careers at some point but hadn’t been comfortable being transparent about it; until now.
Some of the concerns these women faced when deciding whether to pause their career were:
- Fear that employer will learn they can do without you
- Being sidelined professionally
- Choosing to work a reduced schedule but actually wind up working full-time on a reduced salary
- Being assigned work that is less challenging and/or less high profile
- Dealing with frustration and envy as those who have not paused get promoted faster
- Facing others’ perceptions of you as not ambitious or career-committed
- Needing re-training if your skills have lapsed
- Dealing with resume gaps
These are just a fraction of the concerns expressed by women who were considering pausing or had paused and were now re-entering the workforce. What the author’s research discovered is that most of the women in her study came up with some innovative solutions for creating a non-linear career that enabled them to work, pause and thrive.
She describes the 3 categories of women who paused their careers as:
- Cruisers – women who stayed in the paid workforce but who pulled back from the fast track by electing to work part-time or on a reduced schedule; they reengaged full-time when their children were older
- Bommerangers – women who left the paid workforce completely and then returned in full force to their previous industry and careers.
- Pivoters – women who stepped back, evaluated their personal goals and priorities, and then transitioned to new careers that were more in line with their skills, abilities and interests.
Each category came with its own list of pros and cons but they key is that they had clarity about what was truly most important to them, they were willing to make trade-offs in the short term to achieve their long-term goals and they knew their value.
In my experience, when I decided to pause my career after having my first child, the only option I believed I had was to quit but the partner in charge of the tax department had a better idea. He knew how valuable I was and offered me a part-time position at a time when that wasn’t a career option that was discussed.
When concerned about your employer’s perceptions, the author shares that when talking about pausing to raise a family, research is now coming out that shows that over the course of your lifetime, the most productive and most effective worker is actually a working mother. The limiting belief that working mothers are a liability is being debunked as employers are experiencing the numerous benefits.
In addition, many women who return to work after a pause are afraid they’ll suffer professionally because they may have to leave at 5 pm for childcare but the truth is that the woman who leaves at 5 pm may have gotten a lot more efficient than her coworkers because of the incentive of her family obligations. This was definitely true in my own experience.
When I started my part-time schedule and had to leave by 5:30 pm to pick up my daughter from the babysitter I would get sarcastic comments from my coworkers like “Oh, working a half a day again”. I went to the partner who gave me the part-time position and said “You do realize I get more done in three-8 hour days a week than everyone else does in 40 or more hours a week right?” He said “Why do you think I created the position for you?”
No matter what path you choose, just know that there are women who have had the same questions and concerns that you have. They made the decision work for them and so can you by asking the right questions and managing your mind through it all.
Deciding to pause your career or re-enter afterwards
Are you still on the fence about deciding whether to pause your career? Here’s a statistic that may help – per the author’s research, of the women who had left the paid workforce and then later re-entered, 78% reported they had no regrets AT ALL!
What women who paused discovered is that the real power in taking a pause is the opportunity to have time to decide the course of your life, to choose what brings you joy, to reflect on your values and to decide what it means to have a life well lived. They took the opportunity to define what is important to them yet not abandon ambition.
After pausing my career to work part-time after my first child, I had a second child four years later and decided to take an even bigger step back from my career. Even with my part-time schedule I felt I was missing out on too much with my children and left my career entirely for 2 years. I gave up the nice office, the big paycheck and the parking space because I was willing to reframe my priorities to meet the immediate needs of my family.
If you are concerned about choosing to pause and then how to re-enter the work force, there is assistance:
- Companies like iRelaunch are dedicated to helping men and women re-enter the paid workforce after a career break; by championing the untapped talent of the returner market, the company has helped employers understand the value this segment of the population brings to the workplace; companies are understanding that human capital is the most valuable capital and the scarcest
- Programs like return-to-work internships (aka “returnships”) where mid-career professionals who want to onramp after a career pause are given the opportunity for a short-term internship; these programs are becoming more common because candidates are already talented employees who, with just a little bit of help, can rejoin the workforce eliminating the negative consequences of a resume gap
Whether it’s deciding whether to take the off-ramp for awhile or tackling the on-ramp onto the workforce highway, I can guarantee that managing your mind through the process is going to be of paramount importance. With the help of the Manage Your Mind Model, my clients are able to clearly understand that every thought, feeling and action you choose during the decision making process will directly impact your results (for help with the Manage Your Mind Model get your free copy here of “5 Simple Steps To Reduce Overwhelm Today”).
If you are on the fence about your decision then here are some questions to consider:
- What do you truly want and why? It’s important to get really clear about your thoughts and feelings about pausing your career. You need to get clear about your compelling reason because this will motivate you when your brain wants to create fear and worry about any decision you make.
- What is your inner critic saying? You may be thinking that you will be throwing away your education if you pause (that was the most difficult thought that I had to manage). By getting clear about the thoughts creating feelings of doubt, confusion and overwhelm, you can also get clear about how to choose more empowering thoughts.
- What are those “deathbed regrets” that you don’t want to have? Really envision yourself at the age of retirement, looking back over your entire career and imagine what you would be thinking and feeling. Your lower brain is motivated by instant gratification but your higher brain is capable of understanding the short-term sacrifices necessary for long-term success.
Once you are clear about what your current thoughts are, you may want some help managing your mind to think better feeling thoughts. Here are examples of empowering thoughts from women who made pausing and re-entering part of their career choice:
- I am a valuable employee for any company
- If my current boss doesn’t recognize my value, some other company will
- Pulling back from my career doesn’t have to mean pulling out
- I value time as much as prestige and money and for now, time with my family is the most important thing
- I deserve to have what I want and I am not afraid to ask for it
- Pausing is the best decision for me at this moment
- I can reignite my professional life when the time is right
- The years I focused on raising my children has taught me how to be a better manager and leader, making me even more valuable to an employer
- I will have no regrets when it comes to my career pause
Whether it’s pausing your career to parent your children, take care of an aging parent or write that book that’s been swirling around in your head, disrupting the traditional career paradigm does not have to be a career killer. A pause can actually lead to a higher sense of self-confidence, an opportunity to find innovative ways to integrate work-life balance and provide a great role model for your children.
Remember, once you’ve taken that pause and are looking to get back on the career path, there is more help than ever before. Pausing my career and re-entering when the time was right was the best decision for me and my family. You don’t have to do it alone because I’m here to help you with your decision when you are ready.
- The concept of pausing the trajectory of your career by working a reduced schedule or leaving your career entirely with the plan to return at some later point can come with a lot of questions and concerns.
- More women than ever are exploring the fact that their career doesn’t have to be a linear path; that a non-linear path is an option and can actually be optimal.
- The limiting belief that working mothers are a liability is being debunked as employers are experiencing the numerous benefits.
- Here’s a statistic that may help – per the author’s research, of the women who had left the paid workforce and then later re-entered, 78% reported they had no regrets AT ALL!
- Whether it’s pausing your career to parent your children, take care of an aging parent or write that book that’s been swirling around in your head, disrupting the traditional career paradigm does not have to be a career killer.
If you’d like some help deciding whether to pause your career or re-enter after a pause, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.