I read a review this week of ‘Not Working’ a debut novel by Lisa Owens. It’s about a twenty something woman who gives up her job in marketing career to find out what she wants to do with her life. Rather than quickly finding her ‘passion’, she procrastinates, faced with too many options and too much time to think, and her morale plummets: “If I can just digest enough TED talks, self-improvement
podcasts, overviews on the Aristotelian sense of purpose and first-hand
accounts of former City workers who set up artisan businesses from their
kitchen tables, then surely the answer will reveal itself?”
own uncertainties when I was trying to work out what to do with my
life after my career break. I wrote this blog post back in 2013 about how I got past
the ‘choice paralysis’ …
When I was on a career break after stepping out of my first career in strategy/marketing, I realised after a while that being a full-time at-home mother was not for me. I knew that I wanted to do something enjoyable and flexible and spent many hours dreaming and chatting with friends about what this might be. One month a friend and I got excited about importing baby equipment from Australia … then a few months later I was inspired to set up a family-focused travel agency … then it was a flexible childcare business … then studying psychology. I was never short of ideas but the interesting thing was that the more options I thought of, and the more I talked about them and researched them on the internet, the more problems I could see and the further I became from actually doing them. Eventually I was reluctant to share my next great idea with my friends as I had stopped believing myself that I was actually going to make any of them happen. Somehow having too many choices was stopping me pursuing any one option more seriously.
- Work out what is most important to you in your future job. Fine to start with 1) flexible 2) pays enough, but then go beyond that. What are you missing about work (is it using your brain, the achievement, the social aspect, …), what are you really interested in, what are you good at and love doing? If you’re wondering where to start with this process, look at some of our other posts on these topics or at Build your Own Rainbow.
- Use this to work out what you want from work, decide what are ‘must-haves’ and where you can compromise. You can then choose a few possibilities that really appeal and seem like they could be a good fit for you. And don’t fall into the trap of looking for the perfect job as all jobs involve trade-offs.
- Critically don’t spend more time thinking – practically reality test your short-list: talk to people in the area, maybe take a short course, go to a conference, work shadow, do an internship … test your ideas and learn along the way.
Some of the women on career break we meet at our workshops or who write to us for advice believe they have little hope of returning to work. They express this in the following ways:
“employers are only looking for young people these days”
“there are no opportunities for [my job function] anymore”
“no employers are interested in people with a CV gap”
“the only jobs are in the cities and I live in the country”
If any of these comments sound familiar, you may think that you’re just stating the truth – that the employment environment is closed to you and that nothing you can do will change this.
However, thinking this way can mean that you give up control – you make yourself powerless. If you believe that there’s no likelihood of success, you have little motivation to even explore how you might get back to work .. so, of course, you’re very unlikely to make it happen.
How to regain control
- Be aware of what you’re telling yourself. Are you are making generalised, ‘black-and-white’ statements about the employment environment (using words like ‘only’ and ‘no’ is a good clue)? If so, you can start to challenge your thinking: e.g. are ALL employers ONLY looking for young people?
- Consider what is within your control. What realistic options do you have open to you for returning to work? This could include investigating work-from-home ideas, looking for local options, exploring relevant returnships and other returner programmes, developing your network, retraining in a new field.
- Start taking action. Through taking action such as talking to former colleagues, re-joining a professional association or attending information events about a possible new field you will gain knowledge, potential contacts and, most importantly, a sense that you are in charge again.
For further reading:
Too few choices: advice on identifying post break options
Are ‘shoulds’ ruling your return to work decisions?
How to make time for your return to work job search
How to return to work after a long career break
Is it possible to return to work at 50+ after a career break?
Posted by Katerina
Over the years I’ve asked many women to tell me their top three strengths. This question typically generates a look of embarrassment, a long pause and then a struggle to get beyond one or two, often prefaced by “Well, I suppose I’m quite good at ..”.
Despite the growing body of research into the importance of knowing and using our strengths, most of us are far more able to give a long list of our weaknesses than to describe where we really excel. And I’ve noticed that the strengths women most readily talk about are those which differentiate them the least. By far the most common responses I hear are two of the most generic – “I work hard” and “I’m good with people”.
Why is this so difficult for us? Unarguably the British culture, together with that of many other nationalities, puts down people who ‘blow their own trumpets’. And from school reports to work performance reviews, we’re encouraged to recognise our ‘development needs’ rather than to identify and build on our strengths. We also tend to undervalue talents which come naturally and easily to us, assuming that “everyone can do this” because we don’t find it hard.
Why are strengths important?
Knowing your strengths is one of the fundamental foundations of managing your career. It will help you to decide what direction you want to take, to build your self-belief as you restart your career, to market yourself effectively in CVs, networking meetings and interviews and, just as importantly, to shape your jobs to best suit you … not to mention making you happier and more productive.
How can you identify your strengths?
- Think about what you’re particularly good at and what energises you. There may be things you do well that leave you drained. These may be your skills, but they’re definitely not your strengths.
- Choose your comparison point as the average person. Don’t compare yourself with the best in the business or you’ll decide you don’t excel at anything!
- Be specific rather than generic. Think about what differentiates you from the next person. Rather than the bland ‘good with people’ focus on your particular people skills (directing, coaching, influencing, collaborating, teaching, etc.) and with what types of people you work best.
- If you’re finding this hard, ask your friends/family what they think you’re good at & to give you some examples. Other people often notice your talents when you don’t and you get the benefit of some positive feedback.
What’s your USC?
Aim to build a long list of strengths, with examples of each (this is a great basis for confidence-building and for interview conversations). Then prioritise, returning to the question “What are your top three strengths?” but this time with a clear, specific and credible response.
Loving a good acronym, I’ve created my own variation on your USP. Think of these three strengths as your USC – Unique Strengths Combination. Recognise how this mix of strengths positively differentiates you from the next person, both during the job search process and when you’re back at work. And make sure “I work hard” isn’t one of them!
See Setting your career compass to read more about the benefits of using your strengths and for more ideas on identifying them.