I find the lessons outlined in the bestselling book, “Lean In” to be both inspiring and disappointing. They simply don’t address those of us who have “Stepped Out” of the workforce. Women of my age (let’s just say it’s over 40) are unique in that we are probably the first generation of professional and successful women who go back to work after a significant period of time off. The real question is, how do we do it without starting at the bottom?
This opportunity to redefine ourselves can be seen as a blessing. If your previous profession wasn’t to your liking this is your chance to explore a new career, go back to school, or finally write that novel. Yes that is the blessing. The curse is finding the time, money, energy and inspiration to do all of that. The challenge for us is how to jump back into the water without succumbing to hypothermia. Here are a few pointers as to how I was able to start swimming in the deep end of the pool without drowning:
- Sharpen your skill set. Keep up-to-date on your expertise in your previous profession. Read trade publication, keep connected with colleagues and try your best to understand where it’s going. This serves two purposes, the first is you’ll need less time to play “catch up” when you do re-enter the workforce and two, it keeps you a little sane knowing that you have more to talk about than where Dora the Explorer went with her crew last week.
- Look for local opportunities to market those skills. There are always organizations where you can show off your critical thinking and management skills. Volunteering at your children’s school is an excellent way. Between fundraising and organizing cultural events you can easily help run a smoother ship. Other local non-profits are always looking for smart, motivated people to help them out. I became the Education Coordinator at our local Symphony. This allowed me to expand my professional exposure and use my analytic and organizational skills.
- Set boundaries of time and location. Non-profits are usually flexible on the hours and location of where you work. Being able to work from home or in an office for a few hours a week becomes the first step in re-entering the working world. You can still be around for pick up from the bus or to make the rounds for football. Other freelance opportunities came my way and I was able to negotiate the same hours/location boundaries. Make sure you negotiate with what you are comfortable with and can manage with your family’s schedule.
- Acknowledge your abilities. After a few years I found that my “real world” experience as a primary care giver coupled with my previous experience as a marketing and advertising professional was really quite valuable. It provided unique insight that is sometimes not demonstrated in focus groups or on a syndicated marketing report. Knowing that I could combine each stage of my life and use it to improve my client’s business was just the boost I needed to move my second career forward.
- Don’t wait for permission. Freelancing for others worked for a while but I found myself frustrated with the approach we were taking. I outlined innovative approaches to acquire new business but they weren’t met with much enthusiasm from the people who had their name on the door. Then it hit me, why am I waiting for permission to pursue this? It was time for me to branch out and open my own shop. I’ve honed my skills and am confident they will be marketable. It didn’t happen overnight and my business is still in its infancy but I feel really good about it.
So there you have it. If you haven’t chosen the path where you can “Lean In” to get ahead perhaps this plan to “Ease In” will help you achieve your dream job.
About the Author: Jean Carucci is the Founder/Owner of Carucci Consultants, a strategic marketing agency specializing in helping small businesses, start ups and non-profits get their products and services to market.