You Didn’t Take Too Much Time Off
By Janice Quirt
Photo © ksenia_she/Twenty20
Nov 30, 2020
I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but you didn’t take too much time off.
Maybe it was for raising kids, helping out parents or tending to ill pets. Perhaps it was for your own health: mental, physical or emotional. Time off could have been away from a job, school or maybe even society.
I’m here to say that you didn’t take too much time off.
I know how powerful those words are, because someone said them to me recently and they were exactly what I needed to hear.
Janice Quirt doesn't see her compassion as so-called "virtue signalling." She sees it as modelling good values for her kids. Read that here.
Re-entering the Job Market
I’ve been a self-employed freelance writer and social media manager for the past six years, and the pandemic was — and still is — absolutely disastrous for my livelihood, as it has been for so many others. Budgets dried up overnight and freelancers have zero security, severance or saved up vacation days. In trying to re-enter the full-time job market, I found what thousands of other individuals have discovered — it is a very tough, very competitive job market out there. Scary. Seemingly impenetrable.
In looking for guidance, I reached out to a former co-worker in my same field of communications and asked for her insight, and confided that I was afraid I had completely scuppered my chances of ever working in the field again because of my time away from the corporate world. Even though I had been writing, it looked like there was a big gap in my resume. And the business world changes so quickly, I had been missing those on-the-job training opportunities to keep current the vast number of skills demanded of a communications professional.
I confided to her that I thought I had taken too much time off to be more present for my kids to help them navigate the divorce of their parents, moving away from their home, city, school and friends. I mean, in the span of two years, they lived in eight different houses. I was worried that in being there for them, I would never be able to pick up the reins of my career.
Her answer came back quickly. It was brief, and to the point: You didn’t take too much time off.
I See You
I was amazed at how much better that made me feel.
It didn’t solve my job hunt woes. There was no magic wand for corporate re-entry unlocked with those few words. But to have someone say that my decision wasn’t a mistake, and that it didn’t mean I would never again have a full-time job, was powerful.
Using those words, she was saying: I see you. I see you as a mother, partner, daughter, sister, entrepreneur, consultant, employee and employer. I see the choices, sacrifices, decisions and regret. I see your path, even if you don’t see it yourself. It will be OK.
Those years spent balancing working and parenting were essential on both fronts.
What many people might like to explore right now is therapy. Which is why Janice wanted it for her birthday this year. Read that here.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
I know I’m not alone in analyzing my decisions. Some of us question time spent dedicated to family, at the expense of careers. Others wonder at how many magical childhood memories they missed because they weren’t present. There is no perfect equation for time spent parenting versus time spent working.
We’re all just doing the best we can.
We may doubt our chosen professions, as well. I know that as much as I love writing, editorial and pop culture, it isn’t exactly a lucrative or secure field. Fellow writers and editors have moved on — or returned to — jobs in nursing, real estate or finance because of the need and desire for more security.
Ask any writer about what they’ll spend rare prize or grant money on and they’ll likely tell you that they’ll fix a broken appliance. Or actually replace a 10-year-old winter coat. Most writers and editors aren’t rolling in it.
Diversify and Dream
So yes, diversifying can be the answer to re-entering the job market.
I recently wrote about taking a university class, and how much I enjoyed it. I have now come to realize that I need to be far more discerning in choosing my educational investments. After scouring job ads, it is apparent that a big gap is my lack of French — or rather, the layers of rust on my 10 years of studying the language in elementary and high school.
So, I’m studying French again. My 11-year-old daughter and I are probably at the same level, and maybe she’ll help me study at the kitchen table. Built-in family bonding? I'll take it!
For anyone trying to make their way back into the world of more structured employment, I think the holidays could be a good time to think about what you want to do, and how to achieve it. Perhaps there will be educational or volunteer opportunities you can research to help with your plan. Maybe you’ll use a quiet snowy night to dream about what sparks your interest.
It isn't every day a parent needs to beg their kid to use social media. Read that story here.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Not all of us take a linear path in the work world. Sometimes it’s more like a waltz — a step forward here, a few more steps to the side there.
It’s not a great feeling to face re-entering the work force after time away. But there’s nothing to be gained by doubting those years, or second-guessing decisions made in an attempt to balance it all. They were necessary, valuable and real.
You didn’t take too much time off.
And your family would never say you did, either.
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