This article was written for Good Magazine, UAE and published on the Mums@work website http://mumsatwork.ae/ask-experts/zeta-yarwood/confidence-going-back-to-work
Deciding to take break from their career to raise a family is not the simplest of decisions for any mum. Making the decision to return to work after the break can be even harder. The range of thoughts and emotions that arise from even just considering it can be hugely diverse, not to mention confusing – and for some overwhelming.
Many women feel unconfident, believing they no longer possess, or in some cases ever possessed, the skills required to be taken seriously by employers. Some worry about being so out of practice they will struggle to get past the interview let alone settle back into the working environment. Some are anxious that the break will have damaged their career and they won’t be able to compete with women already in full-time employment. Some are paralysed by mother’s guilt, while others feel excited about the prospect of having adult interaction and the opportunity to get that grey matter firing again. I predict though that most women will experience all of these emotions at varying levels at some point throughout the process.
The key emotion that stands most in the way is fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of failure. Fear of not being liked or respected. Fear of missing out on magic moments with the kids. Fear of being judged as a neglectful mother or being selfish. Fear of not being able to cope with balancing the demands of both work and home.
While fear doesn’t feel good, it’s important to recognise that its intention is positive. Fear’s role is to protect you. Protect you from the unknown. Because the unknown is unpredictable, making it potentially unsafe. The issue with facing the unknown is that we start to imagine all sorts of scary and crazy scenarios in our minds of what could happen. The key here is to appreciate that anything you are scared of is simply a figment of your imagination. I mean, unless you’ve somehow managed to develop the ability to see into the future, you have absolutely no idea what will happen. The scenarios you are conjuring up in your head are not real. They are simply made-up stories.
Once you realise that fear is simply your internal, protective big brother, it’s easier to manage. So instead of allowing your fear to paralyse you, appreciate it is simply trying to protect you from the unknown and learn to make friends with your fear instead.
Here are some simple, yet effective, ways to help you overcome your fear of going back to work:
1) Recognise your value
Know that regardless of your skills, talents and experience you are of equal value to everyone else on this planet. Just because you’ve not been working, it doesn’t mean you are ‘less than’ someone who has. Appreciate that others will have certain gifts that you might not have and you will absolutely have gifts that they won’t. Let go of comparing yourself to others, develop your own self-worth and notice your confidence soar!
2) Make a list of your skills
Quite often this seems quite a tricky exercise for mums who have been out of the workplace for a while. “What career skills have I picked up over the last 7 years?! I’ve been a mum!”. Don’t sell yourself short ladies. There are so many skills you will have learnt or developed that are absolutely valuable in the workplace today. The key is to be able to translate them into business language. Running a busy household could be translated into demonstrating strong leadership, diary management and time optimization skills. Organising birthday parties involves solid organisation skills as well as vendor/supplier sourcing and procurement skills. Discussing the day’s itinerary with your kids and spouse requires good negotiation, mediation and communication skills. And choosing what’s best for your family involves some of the best decision-making skills known to man.
Seeing all of your skills written down can help you really appreciate what you have you to offer.
3) Throw your negative thoughts in the trash
Sally Gunnell recently gave a talk in London about having a winning mind-set. She informed the audience she only started winning when she visualised the perfect race 10 times a day and stopped worrying about everyone else on the track. She stated one of the most powerful techniques she did would literally screw up any negative thoughts and throw them in the bin before the thought could finish.
4) Make friends with your fear
Give your fear a name. You know, that little voice in your head that says, “What if?”, “You can’t..”, “You shouldn’t…” and “Are you crazy?!”. Mine is called Bob. Bob normally pops in for a cup of tea just when I’m about to do something I’ve never done before. I used to think Bob was an evil, inconsiderate jerk who was just trying to keep me awake at night because he had nothing better to do. But now, having made friends with Bob, I realise he has my best intentions at heart and is only simply trying to protect me from the unknown. So now I say, “Thank you for trying to protect me Bob. It’s good to know somebody’s looking out for me. I think I’ll be OK this time. Thanks Bob.”
5) Write down exactly what you are afraid of
Generally we fear 3 things:
- What we might lose (e.g. time with kids, autonomy, freedom)
- The pain of the process (e.g. job-searching, writing a CV, interviews)
- The outcome (e.g. being rejected or working extra-long hours)
Write down all of the scary thoughts that go through your head when you consider going back to work. This will help you make sense of your fear and gives you a concrete list of what to work on, instead of just some abstract feeling.
Once you’ve done this, take a look at your list and ask yourself:
- How likely is that to happen? Am I being realistic or is Bob blowing things out of proportion?
- What could you do or put in place to lower the risk of that happening? (e.g. go for interview coaching, hire a professional CV writer, get some career coaching or life coaching)
- If the worst did happen, what could you do to minimize the impact? (e.g. learn how to re-frame and change your perception of the experience or have a plan B ready)
- What information, skills, experience, knowledge, tools could you gather that would make this less risky?
6) Be more afraid of not being brave
If fear is holding you back – ask yourself: what will my life look like if I don’t learn to overcome my fears? What will it look like in a year’s time? 5 years’ time? 10 years’ time? What am I teaching my children if I let my fears rule me? By shifting the fear from getting a job to staying where you are, you can use fear to move you instead of paralyze you.
7) Focus on what you will gain
Instead of focusing on what you might lose, ask yourself, “What will I gain if I go back to work? What positive impact will that have on your self-esteem? Your growth? Your mindset? Your finances? And how will this in turn positively impact your relationships and health? Create such an exciting vision of what going back to work will do for you and you will stop at nothing to achieve it.
8) There is no such thing as failure – only feedback
Every single successful person in this world has experienced failure at some point. But instead of taking the failure as a reflection of their aptitude, they took is an opportunity to learn. To learn what worked, what didn’t work, and what they could do differently next time in order to succeed. What skills do they need to learn or develop further to reach their goal? How can they use the resources already at their fingertips in a more efficient way? Adopt that attitude and the world is your oyster!
9) Break it down
Sometimes our goal seems so big it becomes overwhelming. Break it down into smaller steps you can start to take today that will help build your confidence and move you closer to your goal. Drawing a spider diagram of everything you need is a good way to get you started.
>> Article written by Zeta Yarwood from the Mums@Work ‘Ask the Experts’ panel. Zeta is recognised as one of the UAE’s leading Career and NLP Life Coaches, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives.