Are you taking the reins or just getting through your current career phase?

Do you remember those heady early career days? You could work hard and play hard. You could work the late nights when a project or client commitment required it. You could jump on a plane at a moment’s notice – for work or pleasure. And you still had time to do all of the other fun stuff outside of work. 

If you’re remembering those days with nostalgia, it’s likely that your circumstance has changed. It’s possible that you’re in the more challenging mid-career phase that has been described by some* as the ‘endurance’* or ‘pragmatic’ phase. For many women, this phase means survival or just getting through. The game changes and priorities may be different – whether you have family or not.

If you have a young family, you may be struggling to do everything that you used to do at work and continually ‘prove yourself’ as well as being a mum, wife, daughter, friend and every other role that we play. Women that I know and work with sometimes struggle to reconcile the woman that they were in that ambitious, high achieving, early career phase with the stage that they’re currently at.

On top of that, we need to call out that the dynamic in your career is likely to be changing too. It’s no longer enough to just get the job done well. ‘The Confidence Gap’ (Katty Kay and Claire Shipman) is present for many women in business. We tend to sell ourselves short while some of our male colleagues are more comfortable selling themselves up. And so the confidence gap increases. To maintain that sense of achievement and forward momentum in your career, you need to take the reins and own your career for yourself.

Here are my tips and strategies for surviving and even enjoying this ‘endurance’ or ‘pragmatic’ phase:

Own it

The reality for many is that we’re trying to be many things to many people and it’s important not to lose yourself. Know who you are at this stage of your career and life. Own the choices that you’ve made and are making. If something isn’t working, change it. It’s your life and your career. Find the space to take the control that you need.

Raise your profile

Know that getting that job done is not enough anymore. It’s time to lift your head, look up and raise your profile. As women, we often don’t feel comfortable talking about what we’re doing and the successes that we have. Know that it’s not about bragging. It’s not even really about office politics. But it is about taking responsibility for promoting yourself and raising your own profile.

Know that upward management is now as important if not more important than team management. Many of my clients were continuing to focus on team development, getting the best out of their teams, which is great and important. But many under-estimate the importance of taking responsibility for upward management as well.

Make sure you know and build your personal support community

As our personal situation changes, sometimes our support network needs to evolve as well. Where do you currently get your support? Is it from the same people that supported you early in your career? Or are you expecting support from someone in your organisation or life but don’t always get it? As life evolves, sometimes we can be surprised where support comes from.

Make sure that you surround yourself with the people who encourage you, who help build you and bring that positive energy – at work and in your personal life. This can range from knowing who your mentors are in your career, to starting a LeanIn Circle or Mastermind Group, to a night out with friends, to the parents at the school gate that you can count on for back up and be counted on for back up.

As women, trying to do it all, we’re often slow to ask for help. Personally, I’m conscious of ‘not taking other people’s time’ but am more than happy to be that support for others! This is one that I continue to work on as I move through this phase myself.

Every day, make conscious choices about the things that help you set yourself up to succeed

How are you spending your time – at work and at home? What do you need to say ‘no’ to? What can you delegate? What do you need to focus on? But in the first place, do you know what success means to you? Take a moment to think about this and be clear about what you’re striving to achieve. The next promotion? Feeling satisfied? Happy? A sense of achievement?  Balance? Being more organised? What are the small things that you need to do every day to work towards that vision?

Take care of yourself

‘Self-care is not self-indulgence. Self-care is self-preservation and self-respect’.

We can’t look after anyone else if we don’t look after ourselves. Know what your menu of re-charge activities is and when you need to pull on them. As working mums, we often put ourselves at the bottom of the ‘To Do’ list. It’s your responsibility to pace yourself and look after yourself. If you’ve been putting off signing up for that mindfulness course or getting back to exercise or taking a couple of hours out at the weekend to re-charge, assign it (and you) a higher priority on your list.

Know that it’s ‘just a phase’ and that your career is long

If you’re a mum, you probably hear yourself saying and hoping ‘It’s just a phase’ regularly. Whether it’s sleep-reduced nights, the terrible two’s (or three or four) phase, you know, in your saner moments that it’s just a phase and ‘it too will pass’.  If you’re a professional or working mum and are finding these years challenging, know that this phase too will pass.  

Know that in just a few years, the balancing act will become more manageable, you’ll be even more established in your career or have made changes in your career that fit with your life choices. As we grow older, so too does our confidence. And of course, sleepless nights will be less of a feature – we hope!

Keep an eye on the five year plan as well as surviving this phase

Your career is long. You may be a working mum but by knowing and remembering that this is a phase, it’s so important to have a plan for the next phase. It may be re-skilling or upskilling. It may be having clear and crucial conversations with your employer, it may be keeping a strategic eye on how you’re going to grow and scale the business and your career. It may be considering other options. Whatever it is, know what you’re working towards. For many women, it’s a case of getting through this stage but it’s so important to keep an eye on what’s around the corner.

Clearbird’s suite of Back to Work from Maternity Leave, New Parents and Inclusive Leadership Programmes support diversity and inclusion thinking and strategy.

We help females returning to the workplace to feel empowered, re-focused, confident and energised. We support new dads/parents who are also thinking about what this new phase means for them and enable this important conversation to take place. We support, guide and challenge managers in successfully managing these key life transition points – with an eye on retaining and developing female talent.

If organisationally and societally, we’re serious about Feeding the Female Leadership Pipeline and retaining and growing our female talent, supporting parents in this life transition to manage the mid-career phase is critical to every organisation’s diversity and inclusion agenda.

Our sessions are incredibly effective in bridging the communication gap, bringing a wider perspective and providing practical strategies to enable the important and honest conversations.

Contact us to find out more about our Group Programmes and 1:1 Maternity Coaching Services.

Tags: Diversity and Inclusion, Maternity Leave, Maternity Coaching, Back to Work, Career progression, Career Break, Working Mums, Dual Career Couples, Confidence, Imposter Syndrome