As Julianne highlighted last week, when we think about returning to work we can focus too much on family-friendly work rather than work that will be fulfilling. In our effort to find work that will fit with the rest of our lives and commitments, we can miss this fantastic opportunity to identify what we will find sustaining and will give us a sense of purpose for the years ahead. It can be very easy, as a career break mum, to fill the days with voluntary roles, hobbies, seeing friends and caring for others. I know – I’ve done it! These activities can make you feel useful and valued and busy but will they sustain you in the longer term?
The hidden bonus of being on a career break is that it allows the time and opportunity to do some thinking about what gives you meaning and what is really important to you. This is great preparation for your return to work, when you are ready, as it helps you to get a clearer idea on the direction you want to take. If you’re not sure of your future path, and would like to investigate the type of work you find fulfilling and purposeful, this is a process you can follow:
- Take yourself away to a quiet place where you will not be distracted by tasks or people and are able to think for an hour or so.
- Think back over your working life and focus on one or two times when you felt a sense of personal fulfillment. Make a note of what you were doing, who else was around you, your location, your emotions and any other details you remember.
- Think about what it was that gave you a sense of fulfillment. This is about more than simply feeling successful, although that might be a component. To get to what’s underneath feeling successful, ask yourself what you felt successful in and what this meant to you. For example, were you solving an impossible problem, helping others & making a difference, being recognised as an expert, …?
- Think about what you were doing and what was going on around you in these times of fulfillment. For example, were you:
- Working alone or part of a team
- Part of a large organisation or striking out on your own
- Working with data, working with things/products or dealing with people (or a mixture of these)
- Thinking through ideas and theories or carrying out practical actions with concrete results
- Developing/influencing others and/or developing yourself?
You might find it useful to talk this through with a trusted friend to help you to reflect on what was most important to you in these situations. Through asking yourself these questions, you will gain more clarity about what success at work means to you and the nature of the work and the surroundings you need in order to feel most fulfilled. In this way, you will start to form a clearer sense of your own purpose which can guide your search for a new worthwhile role. What better way to spend an hour or so this Summer?