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Working Mother's Survival Guide (a.k.a. Winning at Career Roulette)

Wednesday, November 24, 2004
This morning, I had the opportunity to be part of a work-life roundtable discussion sponsored by Work Life Harmony Enterprise, one of Canada's leading work-life consulting firms. The focus of this particular roundtable was "Women, Work-Life, and Well-Being: Personal and Professional Costs and Benefits of Career Choices." It was a totally inspiring session.

I thought I'd pass along my key points in case any of the women of the universe would like to carry on a virtual dialogue on this important topic. Here goes....

  • When I'm trying to decide which career opportunities to pursue at this stage in my life (as a mother with four children ages 7 through 16 and a busy career), I rely heavily on my gut instinct. If I am not inspired by a project, I think it is going to add to my stress level tremendously, or make my family life too chaotic, I generally choose to take a pass. I'm also likely to give a particular project the thumbs down if I don't feel that the people I am working with are as committed to producing a quality product as I am, or if they don't seem to share the same basic values as I do (e.g., integrity, justice, fairness, etc.) Money is not a sufficient motivator to convince me to take on a project that I am lukewarm about or to work with people with whom I am out of synch.

  • Just as I've had to learn to accept the fact that I'm an imperfect parent (see previous posts on this theme), I've also had to accept the fact that I'm an imperfect entrepreneur. The way I see it, making mistakes is part of the entrepreneurial rollercoaster ride. You make fewer mistakes in the world of business if you follow the non-risky route, but you also have a lot less fun, and your return on investment (both financial and emotional) tends to be reduced. Remember that old saying, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained"? I think that could be modified to say, "Little ventured, little gained," and the meaning would still hold true. There's also an added benefit to being an imperfect entrepreneur. When you admit that you've made a few mistakes along the way, you free other entrepreneurs up to talk about their own missteps, and a lot of information-sharing, problem-solving, and brainstorming can occur. The result? Everybody wins.

  • Put your support system in place. I don't know where I'd be without the support of my family, friends, writer-buddies, my mentor, and all the other people who are there for me when I'm going through the not-so-great-days of self-employment. (Well, actually I do know: I'd be lined up to fill up a job application form at the closest fast food joint.) I couldn't survive in the ranks of the self-employed without the support of my nearest and dearest, especially my husband.

  • Know what you want and know what you don't want in your career. Sometimes those painful experiences that we all have to live through can be tremendously valuable because they help you to figure out what's most important to you career-wise, something that allows you to map out the next phase of your career accordingly.

  • Surround yourself with people you genuinely respect. Life is too short to be forced to compromise your integrity, which is what happens if you end up working with people who don't share your key values.

  • Realize that your "balance equation" will change as your personal situation evolves. Now that my youngest child is seven, I have far more physical freedom that I've ever enjoyed in my entire 16 1/2 year motherhood career. On the other hand, the emotional demands of parenting three teens is far more challenging than I had anticipated. And my business seems to be going through a period of wild and unruly growth -- an adolescence of its own, so to speak. I guess that means I have four teenagers right now!

  • Design your life with added capacity and flexibility if you're a mother who works outside the home. You need to build back-up systems into your life and to factor extra time into your schedule. Otherwise, you'll be perpetually in catch-up mode and stressed to the max.

  • Starting your own business is not necessarily the ticket to balance nirvana. You have to be ruthless in defending your right to time off. Self-employment is different than corporate life, but it's not necessarily easier. It comes with its own unique set of joys and challenges.

So that's my take on making career choices, chasing after that elusive thing called balance, and juggling my two loves -- my family and my writing career. Now over to you....

| posted by Ann D @ 5:48 PM