When Andrea and her husband were ready to have children, they made the conscious decision that she would stay home to raise the kids. Her husband had strong earning power and Andrea was eager to start a family, so she was happy to make motherhood her focus for a time. While she’d recently started a budding counseling practice, she was willing to keep it low-key for the time being.
Over the following years, the couple had two boys, and Andrea enjoyed her time at home with them. She served as ‘Household CEO’, while honing her cooking skills, handling budgets and logistics, and doing a major home renovation project. This way her husband was able to focus on his career in research at a nearby university.
She also maintained a few clients in her counseling practice in a professional office that she sublet downtown.
Then one day, after a decade immersed in home life, she put her youngest child on the school bus. She was taken aback when a neighbor turned to her and asked, “What are you going to do with all your free time now?” The neighbor’s question may have been innocent enough, but Andrea sensed judgement – or possibly envy – from this working mom. She could understand that someone might envy her ability to stay home, since she enjoyed being in choice herself.
However, as one of the few moms in her children’s age group who remained at home, Andrea began to wonder how friends might be perceiving her. She was flooded with thoughts of self-doubt and guilt about her lack of interest in returning to a corporate job, especially given the investment she’d made in her education.
So now instead of enjoying some well-earned personal time in her first days without the kids at home, she continued to feel twinges of guilt for not having prepared to jump straight back into the workforce when the boys went off to school.
To offset these feelings, over the next several months she immersed herself in her family even more than ever. She cooked more elaborate dinners, tackled new home projects she’d been been putting off, and began volunteering at the children’s school. She also continued to maintain her few therapy clients, while trying to figure out her next step.
In sum, she kept so busy that it seemed even more impossible to consider a job outside of the home.
More time slipped by and she found herself continuing to field questions from friends and neighbors about what she did with all her ‘free’ time. These questions struck a nerve and made her even more anxious about her choices and her contributions. In addition, she had a growing sense that her husband wanted her to find paid work so that he could have more career flexibility.
A year later Andrea was at a breaking point. In our session she shared her thoughts with me:
“For ten years, my energy was dedicated to my family and our home. As the boys went off to school I’ve considered my career options. I know I could build my counseling practice but I find myself dragging my feet and feeling too busy to try. I’ve kept up my credentials, and even retained a few long-term clients, but the truth is, counseling doesn’t really appeal to me anymore. And with the huge employment gap on my resume, I wonder what other job could I get that would make it financially worthwhile? A second income would help the family a little but it isn’t essential – and when you factor in child care costs it hardly seems worth my time. Still, it’s as if people think I’m lounging by the pool all day while they go off to do ‘real’ work – when the reality is I’m working long hours, running the household, doing renovation projects, and taking care of the children after school, too.”
After a little more discussion, it was clear that Andrea’s pressure to find a job outside the home came largely from external sources. She took these pressures to heart because she had a very strong work ethic. She also felt that she might be wasting her Master’s degree in counseling, which added to her stress. Yet she didn’t feel motivated to rush out and build her practice either.
Andrea realized at this point that she was lacking clarity about how to invest her time in a way that aligned with her values. With her work ethic, she intended to continue contributing in a meaningful way – but with the children at school she new she wanted to re-evaluate whether her time would be best spent in work outside the home or at home.
And comments from others about how she might be ‘lounging by her new pool all day’ were good in the sense that they fueled her commitment to gaining clarity about her choices and options today.
In this article we’ll take you through two parts of her process. In Part One, we’ll share how Andrea resolved her conflicted feelings, and in Part Two, we’ll discuss the steps she takes in career exploration, as well as the decision she made.
Part One –
Andrea Resolves Her Conflicted Feelings
In order to get really clear on Andrea’s priorities we asked her to list her top 3 priorities. Here’s what she shared:
- Financial Contribution to Family: Andrea shared that it is key to her that she feels she is contributing to the household and family — whether she brings income in, or where she supports the family and budget indirectly.
- Quality of Life Contribution to family: She wants to continue nurturing her family with healthy home-cooked meals, managing the home and its projects, helping the kids with homework, and supporting her husband.
- Happiness and Life Balance: While more money is always helpful, a sense of happiness and life balance are more important than making money at the expense of these values.
When the children were younger, being home to watch them was a somewhat obvious way that Andrea was contributing to the home – and it was a socially accepted one in her circle. However, she had never attached a dollar value to the work she did. Yet even without a completed financial equation, she realized that she liked her new role of maintaining the home and kids without them there all day. It afforded her the ability to tackle new creative projects, focus on cost savings for the family budget, and to volunteer in the Cub Scout leadership.
Her next task was to articulate the ways in which her work at home satisfied her value of contribution, so that any future judgement from others would roll off, instead of hitting a nerve with her.
Here is Andrea’s list that shows her direct and indirect contributions:
- The chores I do save us $600 per month in cleaning services.
- By caring for the children after school I save us about $800 per month and I believe this gives them better continuity and structure, which is a value my husband and I share.
- Tutoring for the kids would be another $400 per month.
- The house projects I’ve tackled this year on our new home would have cost $15,000 in contractor fees if I hadn’t done all the project management.
- Our family recently downsized our home, which brought in $200,000 in profit. This income gave my husband more flexibility in his job.
- The value of the family eating quality, organic, home-cooked meals is hard to quantify. However, eating nourishing meals and sitting down to a quiet family dinner each night are important aspects to the family life for my husband and me. I also enjoy teaching the boys how to prepare their own lunches and to help with cooking.
Another point to remember is that Andrea’s second core value is to be happy and balanced in the family. And the cost of forging a new career might not be as lucrative as she’d like.
When she saw the contributions in writing, it became clear to Andrea that the might already be on the right path, in that she had been successful at saving the family significant money and even in earning money through the home sale.
Suddenly Andrea felt free from the self-induced pressure to get back to formal job or career track, and her spirits lifted! She was now able to enjoy the process of considering her next steps in life, and was ready to begin some career exploration that would also honor her values around family contribution.
Our first goal was to see if she wanted to build her counseling practice to some measure, to expand her current role with the family, or to discover another path.
Part Two –
Andrea’s Career Exploration and How She Arrived at a Surprising Decision
To help Andrea get started in exploring her career options, I gave her two assignments to work on from the Career Discovery Workbook.
“In My Element” Stories- List 5-10 stories, or moments where you felt in your element– like you were happy, energized, enjoying yourself, and proud of doing a great job at something. Then look at the stories and find common elements. What skills were you using? What do you notice about the environment you were working in? What values show up in your stories?
- Andrea saw the core values she had already identified cropping up again and again. She valued nurturing her family, being productive and contributing to the home, and being happy and balanced as a person – rather than in having a traditional, high-earning career.
- She was surprised to find that she loved managing projects and home vendors, and she was good at it.
- Andrea felt happiest when her work produced tangible results.
- She loved helping the kids with their homework and learning process, especially when it was project-based or hands on. She also liked helping them on creative projects.
- She loved working on home design projects, including interior design, organizational projects, and even a managing landscaping and pool project.
- She was much happier if she could work at home and in her pajamas (or whatever she felt like wearing) – rather than needing to dress up and present herself professionally at work.
- Andrea liked being her own boss. She had long-term sleep challenges, so she felt much healthier when she could work with her own rhythms rather than push through exhaustion of a rigid schedule.
- She was happiest working on her own and having social time in select pockets.
Insights she discovered about her counseling practice as a result of this exercise:
This exercise helped Andrea articulate some aspects of her counseling work that bothered her. Working with people’s emotions is very open-ended and intangible. It also requires that she set a schedule and follow it, that she present herself professionally, and that she be social on a regular basis. Counseling also required a lot of marketing and dealing with insurance, and Andrea did not care for those kinds of tasks. Plus, she was concerned about the liabilities and legal implications that come with a practice, which were causing her to consider leaving the profession.
Ultimately, Andrea recognized that even if she were to build a practice, this would take her energy away from her family focus more than she wanted. Since building this path was not her top choice, she decided to simply continue with the few clients she had, while looking at other possible part-time career options.
Next, we looked at the list of transferable skills that Andrea had developed over the past 10 years.
List all the transferable skills you’ve cultivated being a mom, wife, and CEO of the household.
- Project management (tackling large home renovations)
- Event planning (parties and other social events)
- Budgeting and financial management (she handled all the family bills and finances)
- Real estate and interior design skills (She driven two home improvement projects, including a pool addition and landscape project – plus the profitable sale of their previous home)
- Educating (helping the kids learn and grow)
- Behavior management and emotional coaching (raising the kids, which also utilized her education)
- Team leadership (as “class parent” and Girl Scouts troop leader)
- Travel planning (they loved to take trips and she planned all the logistics)
- General multi-tasking (a crucial soft skill of being a mom)
- Cleaning (she used eco-products)
- Cooking (she made a practice of cooking organic, healthy, vegetarian meals from scratch)
While Andrea had been thinking she would have a complete blank spot on her resume for ten years, she now realized she had developed a number of transferable and marketable skills! When considering that she had also kept up her counseling skills over the past 10 years, the felt much more confident about her potential marketability in the work force. This realization helped Andrea think more creatively and gave her a new level of confidence in looking at her career options.
What Andrea Did
With new enthusiasm to begin exploring the possibilities, Andrea started looking into variations on her counseling skills. She reached out to some people in her network and learned about the option of transitioning to a life coaching practice, becoming a career counselor at a college, or starting up a consulting business for corporate team building retreats. All these options would eliminate having to deal with insurance companies while also drawing on her counseling skills in an arena with more tangible results.
Life coaching from home via Skype had some appeal, so she tried a few sessions. While she loved the idea of it, in practice she preferred meeting with people in person for that type of work. And she also quickly realized how much marketing that practice would take, so ultimately decided against that path. She also nixed the idea of becoming a career counselor at a college, as she prefers more flexibility in her schedule. And she decided that a consulting business had the need for marketing herself, so she crossed that idea off the list.
Andrea also toyed with the idea of doing interior design, becoming a realtor, or flipping houses. These options appealed to her strongest skill sets and felt like they could be fun to her. However, after testing out a few interior design projects, she decided that was more of a passion on a personal level in her own home -rather than working with client needs. She also didn’t want to get into a commission-only base of pay that the Real Estate field offered. She even looked at becoming a space planning consultant in a high-end retail store. However the variable hours didn’t work for the family, and pay was too low, considering child care costs.
While exploring these career options, a new development at home was surfacing. She began to notice that her boys didn’t appear to be thriving in their school. So she began to explore the idea of homeschooling them, to help solve some of the challenges they were facing in public school — without the high cost associated with private school tuition. While teaching was not a career path Andrea had considered, she quickly realized that homeschooling would draw on her own education, and on many of the skills she had cultivated over the past decade.
Over the following six months, her boys continued to show signs of stress in the local school that they attended. While this school was known as an excellent setting, it was more conventional and test-driven than she and her husband preferred.
After researching teaching styles, as well as home school options, she decided to pursue home schooling for a year as a way to test out the concept for the foreseeable future.
Andrea is now in the process of purchasing a home school program for the upcoming fall semester with the boys. She is excited that she will be able to utilize her counseling education in a meaningful way – and will also draw on her skills in child management, multi-tasking, emotional coaching, educating, and organization. Plus she’s enjoying creating a study space for them in her newly decorated home.
She has the support of a professional home school organization, so that the family has the best chance of success. And she knows that she has the option of putting the children back in school, or in another type of school, should homeschooling not work for them.
Meanwhile, Andrea will continue to maintain her counseling clients for the time being. She is also enlisting support from a tutor and a few other ‘after school’ groups, to ensure she has personal and project time that supports life balance for everyone.
Andrea’s decision to homeschool her boys didn’t lead her to a new job or career outside of the home. But it did take her to her next calling in life, which was most important to her in the end.
I’ve noticed that for clients who have been out of the traditional work force, it can be both exciting and stressful. Whether you’ve been out of work to take care of young children or an ailing family member, or you’re recovering from an illness or injury — there is a process involved in deciding what do do as your next step, and in harnessing your skills and experience.
Sometimes all you need is a little clarity around your values and how to best honor those values in your next step. Other times you may need to focus on getting a few core needs met – such as making money or landing a stable job. Andrea was fortunate in that she learned she had more choice about whether to get a job or not. That said, the same steps will apply to you whatever your needs are.
By walking through the exercises like Andrea did you’ll be better able to honor your values and to get your needs met. You’ll also give yourself the peace of mind that comes with the your newfound clarity.
If you would like to schedule a coaching session to discuss your situation, feel free to contact Nahid. We would also love to hear of any success you may have had with your career exploration and life transitions!
Note: This article was written as a collaboration from the Aspyrre career coaching team members – Nahid Cassaza, Heather Rice, and Kathy Shute.