If anyone could balance family and a career, it should’ve been me.
I had my dream job doing work I loved at an organization I was extremely passionate about. I felt like my career was on the right track.
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I was starting that journey of balancing work and family, but I felt up to the challenge. I kept working long hours throughout my pregnancy, fighting through the nausea and fatigue, to show my boss, my colleagues and myself that I could do this. One day, I returned to my desk after a meeting and found an article left anonymously on my chair. It said that the rates of women returning to work after maternity leave were quite high, but then drop significantly within 2 years of returning.
I was shocked – who left this for me and what were they trying to say? But even more so, I felt determined that I would not become part of that statistic.
The thing is, I did.
I thought if anyone could do it, it would be me.
My daughter was born healthy and I enjoyed the magical and exhausting journey of becoming a new mother. She didn’t sleep well, had colic in the first few months and allergies later in the year. But my partner and I were fairly aligned on our parenting approach and surrounded by a strong support network. Was it hard? Absolutely. But we both slipped into the ‘Mom and Dad’ role pretty easily and had everything we could’ve asked for during that time (aside from sleep, of course). And thankfully, we had access to parental leave benefits so that I could be fully present for the first year of her life.
During my maternity leave, I kept in touch with work and visited often to show my commitment to the organization and my desire to continue my career. As my return to work neared, I began putting all the supports I could in place to help me achieve that illusive work-life balance. I hired a house cleaning company and arranged meal assembly appointments so we could keep the house running while balancing our demanding work schedules. I also found a dayhome that ticked all the boxes on my child care wish list. I felt ready.
Was I sad to not spend as much time with my daughter anymore? Absolutely. But I wanted to continue working and felt that I would be a better mom by keeping the ‘work’ part of my identity alive. I still had skills to offer and a desire to continue my career. And I believed that I had everything in place so that I could juggle career, home, family, self and friends all at the same time and do an amazing job of all of it.
I returned to work ready to go; eager, a little nervous, very tired, but confident that I could do it.
I lasted a year and half.
I left my dream job less than two years after returning from maternity leave and fell into the exact same statistic that was cited in that article someone ominously left on my desk when I was pregnant.
I felt frustrated and disappointed. I felt like a failure as a working mom.
It should’ve worked for so many reasons.
I had a supportive partner. He was, and continues to be, incredibly involved and supportive. He cooks, cleans, does many repairs and renovations around the house, and is an active parent with our daughter. He never hesitated to stay home so that I could work late or go out with friends.
I loved my job and the organization. I still think about my former job and am amazed that I had such a dream role. I used to say it was the perfect trifecta of responsibilities that included what I already knew, what I was passionate about and what I wanted to learn. The organization did amazing work and I felt so proud to be a part of it.
I had a strong work ethic and was committed to my career. I recall countless times that I would arrive early, sleep deprived after yet another fussy night, work through lunch, and leave with just minutes to spare so that I could race to the dayhome to pick my daughter up on time. My career was important to me and I gave it my all.
So, I left my dream job despite having a supportive partner, a high level of engagement in my role, and a strong desire to work.
The reason why it didn’t work.
My job was already demanding more than full-time hours before I had my daughter. After returning to work, the unsustainable workload continued. The job didn’t change – it continued to be incredibly demanding. In fact, when I resigned, my boss admitted that I was doing the work of three people.
I remember reading articles with tips on how to be more productive, better with email, prioritizing tasks and maximizing time. But my ability to keep up, to get everything done, just wasn’t enough. When I asked for something in my job to change, there was only so much my boss was willing or able to do.
The reality was, I’d changed. When priorities competed, the ones associated with my daughter automatically came first. I tried so hard to make it work, but rapidly reached the point of burnout. I started shutting down. When my family asked me how my day was, I told them I didn’t want to talk about it. I dreaded Mondays. I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water and was inevitably failing at something, whether it was work or family.
If I hadn’t left, I believe I would’ve paid a hefty price in my own health and well-being. I believe my daughter would’ve paid a price too with a mom who was only exhausted at the end of the day, when instead she will always deserve the best of me. I believe my relationship would’ve suffered because I was unhappy and stressed, present but not really there. I know my friends and family were worried about me.
I reached a point where I accepted that continuing on was impossible and I quit. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.
A lot of working parents can relate to my story.
Since I made this decision for my life, I’ve talked to many other working parents about their experiences and found out that my situation wasn’t unique.
I see this happening all around me now: professionals who are experienced, talented, and committed are leaving the workforce. And it’s not because of their lack of dedication, work ethic or desire to have a career.
It’s because the workplace that suited them before having kids doesn’t suit them after.
I know they tried to make it work…they showed up even on the days they were exhausted. They worked late into the night to make up for the time they ‘lost’ because of a sick kid. In fact, even those who don’t have kids are left exhausted after putting in a 50+ hour workweek with little energy for anything else.
The state of the traditional workplace means that many professionals choose to leave the workforce completely, opting instead to stay home. These are most often women who want to work but can’t find work that fits with their lives. Instead, they stay home until the kids are grown, or they take lower-paying, lower-skilled jobs because they’re the only ones that offer the flexibility they need. And we wonder why more women aren’t in leadership positions.
So, if this is the story I’m hearing from so many people, why is this happening over and over again?
How we approach work needs to change
We need to stop pretending that the traditional workplace culture and structure has nothing to do with why workers are leaving. We need to take a much closer look at how our workplaces are structured. They were designed for the ideal worker, the sole breadwinner who had full-time support (a spouse) managing the household and family matters. Today’s workplaces were not built for two working parents in a dual-income household.
When these skilled professionals leave the workforce, they are taking all those skills with them. Organizations can’t afford to lose these talented workers. But they’ll need to do things a little differently if they want to keep them.
That’s why GigifyWork was created: to help organizations and professionals approach work differently and thrive in the gig economy.
I believe that the gig economy is a necessary and positive disruption to the traditional full-time, permanent work arrangement. It has been the most successful solution for me and I’m excited to help others find success in it as well.
I want to share the benefits as well as the challenges of the gig economy. I want to build a community where professionals are supported to make the leap, to thrive, and to scale up their success. I want to help organizations build and leverage an agile workforce so they are ready to seize emerging opportunities and stay ahead of the curve.
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