The Foundation for Your Non-Linear Career
Melanie Wells grew up relatively poor in a small mountain community in North Carolina. Her singular goal was to “bust out of there” and build a career that would ensure she had the financial security she didn’t have as a child. Melanie went to college at UNC Chapel Hill and fell in love with writing and journalism After getting her degree, she built her career working for one high-profile media outlet after the next. Motherhood? Not on her radar.
“I have always been work obsessed,” Melanie told me. “Kids weren’t in my sights. As my colleagues put their careers aside to care for their children, I felt I was in a race and the horses were dropping out. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I didn’t want the same things they seemed to want.”
Then things changed. When Melanie turned forty, she and her husband decided to adopt a baby girl. As the primary breadwinner, Melanie had no desire to slow down, but she did decide she wanted more control of her time. At first, her employer, Forbes, was “very accommodating,” allowing Melanie to work from home as she needed and even giving her a two-month sabbatical one summer when she and her husband moved. Then the industry began to shift as the transition from print to online changed the landscape for journalists. Melanie said she could see the “writing on the wall.”
“I knew long term I would not have the career I wanted if I stayed in journalism so I pivoted and eventually launched my own content consulting company. Today, I’m making more money than I ever have and, most important, I have control of my time and destiny,” said Melanie. “When you boil it down though, it was a professional decision based on a personal goal: I wanted to be more available to my daughter.”
Melanie never “paused” per se, but by making smart decisions early in her career, she was able to create the job and life she wanted. How did she do that? She said, “I always had a plan and was thinking ten steps ahead of where I was at any given moment. It’s impossible to anticipate what life will bring so I believe the single most important thing you can do for your career is think ahead and set yourself up for success.”
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In most of the books and blogs I’ve read about how to have a successful career, few talk about kids. We euphemistically talk about “work-life balance,” but few say anything specifically about how ambitious women can be mothers in the deep and rich way so many of us want to be. It’s like we’re afraid to bring the idea up because we’re afraid talking about it will somehow curtail women’s ambition.
We need to begin talking about this issue so the next generation of women (and men) have the knowledge and tools they need to build the life of their dreams, one that includes a great career AND a great family life. Not doing so is like asking women to follow the path men have been forced to be on for years: work all of the time and have no life outside of work. Who wants that?
Whether you think you might want to pause for parenthood or not, the best thing you can do is prepare yourself for a non-linear career. Not because you will have one, but because you might. The following are strategies gleaned from my interviews and from the responses to the Women on the Rise survey intended to give you options and allow you to take control of your career journey, whether you pause or not.
We euphemistically talk about “work-life balance,” but no one says anything specifically about how ambitious women can be mothers in the deep and rich way so many of us want to be. It’s like we’re afraid to bring the idea up because we’re afraid talking about it will somehow curtail women’s ambition.
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