Navigating Career and Family - Can You Have It All?

career development confidence building d&i strategies self care work life harmony working parents Apr 26, 2016

Is this known as “having it all”? Can you even have a career and family without the burden of guilt, overwhelm and fatigue? There isn’t a text book standard response to this. Why? Because everyone’s definition of “having it all” is unique and it’s based on your own exclusive value system and aspirations.

Step 1: Self-awareness

The 1st step therefore when considering how to navigate career and family is to have a very good understanding of what is important to you, as a parent and as a professional.

As a parent – if someone asked your child 10 years from now to describe you as a Mum or Dad over the last 10 years, what do you want them to say? Who inspires you as a role model as a parent and why? What do you want to copy from your own parents? What do you not want to copy from your own parents? If you take time to consider these questions over a short period, coming back to them several times, you will soon have a sound awareness of your values as a parent. Now, take these values and prioritise them, which ones are the most important for you to honour?

As a Professional – what are your short term and long term goals? What are you longing for in your career? Consider skills and strengths you love using – how much do you use them in your role today? What do you want others to be saying about you at work – your peers, your team, your leaders? Again, project forward 10 years from now – what have you achieved? What are you proud of in your career?

Step 2: “What ifs…..”

Best case scenario, when you look at these 2 lists, what does life and work look like if you are honouring your priority values and following your professional aspirations? Take away the “impossible” for this exercise and imagine that it’s all possible, i.e. dare to dream! This will expand your ideas. Ideally brainstorm this with a friend, trusted colleague or your coach.

Step 3: Creating new structures and strategies

When you look at your best case scenario, reflect on these questions:

  • What are you saying no to in the next 12 months, 2 years?
  • What are you saying yes to in the next 12 months, 2 years?
  • What do you need to ask for at work and at home to make this possible?
  • What are you holding back from because of fears &/or assumptions?
  • What do you need to let go of, to make this easier?

Don’t overthink this as the playing field changes every 2-3 years with parenthood!

Accompanying the transition to parenthood requires a change in assumptions, beliefs, behaviours and motivations on the part of the parents concerned. What changes do you need to put in place to ensure that you can enjoy parenthood and work?

Step 4: Strategies to help you

Each of these strategies is a topic in itself but this provides you with an overview of strategies that help us thrive in our roles as parents and professionally.

  • Create an effective ‘transition time’ between leaving work and arriving home – ideas include prioritising tasks for the next day, listening to your favourite music/podcasts, reminding yourself how to do simultaneous equations if you’re on homework duty later, or cycling/running part of the way home.
  • Be strict with yourself at home – when you arrive home to spend time with the family, be fully present and turn off phones/laptops for a period of time so that you can focus on being a Mum/Dad!
  • Remind yourself regularly of the values that are important to you as a parent and professional.
  • Build your reputation and be visible at work – notice this is especially applicable to women as we are less likely to do so!
  • Increase your network at work and articulate your professional aspirations openly, so that people know how important your career is and you stop assumptions others often make about parents, especially Mothers again.
  • Don’t be your own worst enemy and not ask for what you need (at home and at work) – this may mean you need to let go and accept others have their way of doing things…
  • Ask yourself, are you trying to be ‘SuperMum’ or ‘SuperDad’ – if so, it’s time to lower the bar!
  • At the close of each day, choose 2 things that you appreciate about having both family and career – it is very easy to focus on what isn’t working and forget what is meaningful.

Step 5: Repeat every 2-3 years!

It’s worth repeating this cycle every 2-3 years, as your children get older. Your values are likely to be the same but how you honour them will be different. For example, if you have a value around helping your child embrace learning, this will look very different when you have a 4 year old versus a 10 year old! It may be that you then want to adapt your working schedule during a critical period of learning for your child, so that you are home helping your child more – this may mean leaving work on time or earlier and then putting an extra hour in for work later on.  Nothing is for forever so it’s a case of regularly re-evaluating to see what tweaks need to be made, to help you stay on track.

In conclusion, some of you may read this and think “that’s all very well but it’s impossible in my organisation”. Companies today are aspiring to be more supportive of working parents as they know that if they don’t, they will lose a great deal of talent through attrition or sickness; at a great cost to the business. However, if you are not working for one of these forward-thinking organisations, don’t collude with the ‘it’s impossible’. Instead, ask yourself, what can you influence? If you don’t ask, you will never know!

If you are reading this and you hold a position of influence in your organisation, what is your company doing to better support parents so that they can thrive at home and at work? When juggling both roles becomes overwhelming, parents and especially women, are less likely to give up their children – they give up work. As a result, the business is hit with significant costs - recruitment costs are estimated at 3-5 times an individual’s salary, disruption to the business/client relationships and reduced diversity. Diversity fosters creativity which fosters innovation and agility – critical to success in this highly interconnected and rapidly changing world!

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