One of the best light bulb moments I’ve had over the years was this one – that I can define my own version of success. I think I realised (and accepted it) after returning to the world of employment after having my first little girl, and now it’s one of the most common topics I talk to loads of people about – not just parents, but it seems to strike the biggest chord with them.
Career success is so frequently defined in promotions, bigger salaries, more benefits, the corner office, bigger teams. Parenting comes with it’s own assumed milestones for what totally smashing it looks like – a child that sleeps through, walks by xx months, potty trained by xx years old and is a living dictionary before they hit pre-school. Both of these (sometimes all consuming) parts of your life carry a narrative that has been designed and reinforced by so many before you that you can easily fall into the trap of comparison, pressure and feeling a bit depleted if you (or your child) aren’t keeping up with everyone around.
When I returned to work* my definition of success had a major overhaul (*to be clear, being at home, or anywhere, with kids is work…HARD WORK but for the purposes of keeping this succinct when I say returning to work I mean employment outside of the home!). For starters I had to focus on each day – making it through the drop off logistics, remembering her comforter, making it into work with minimal unidentified marks on my outfit (almost always toothpaste) and that was all before 9am. Before having kids I had no idea what morning routines were like when you had to be a responsible adult – why would I? I used to be able to have a leisurely bowl of cereal, put what I wanted on the TV while I got ready and be at my desk in plenty of time for my first meeting without breaking a sweat. It was always going to be different with a small human thrown into the mix, sometimes good, sometimes soul destroying but boy did I live and learn (hard) in the early days of colliding employment and family.
I thought I’d share some of my insights and things I wish I’d known when I was in the early stages of the juggle and how defining my own success became the most important part of survival and going back to work.
- What does success look like? It felt really uncomfortable to say out loud that I didn’t define success as moving up the corporate ladder when I first returned. I knew it switched so many people off, that it could cap my earning capacity and create a label for myself of having ‘no ambition’. Of course I wanted to earn what I was worth and I wanted to be included in conversations about new and exciting projects, but I also wanted to be there for my family, to be able to do bath and bedtime and not get the Sunday night dread (you know the one, where you’re worried about what you’re heading into and daren’t open up your email when you get to work). Success became feeling happy, being able to comfortably pay nursery fees, clothe the kid and put anything remaining into holiday funds. Success became reconnecting with my strengths and using them to plug my weaknesses. Success became only having one pile of ironing rather than three. Your success is yours and nobody else’s so why not define it?
- Get to know yourself. Who you were when you left for maternity leave will be different to who you are returning – that doesn’t mean you’re going back with less skills, ability or knowledge but what you’ve been doing during your maternity leave will have impacted you just as much as someone who has been in a business environment at the same time. Start by making your own notes or drawings about what energises you and makes you feel great, then follow it up by figuring out what leaves you feeling drained – physically and mentally. You’re curating your strengths and some notes that can be the foundation for those conversations in the early days of your return where you’re getting to know everybody again.
- Give progress a chance. Perfection is a dangerous concept no matter who you are, where you are or what you do. I’ve spent so much time polishing things, striving for a faultless presentation, willing the kiddos to keep their outfits immaculate and eat what is put in front of them that I dread to think how much unnecessary stress and pressure I’ve put myself under. I’m not a nice person when I’m aiming for perfection and I miss. Progress has unlocked something for me though – a calmness, the ability to learn more and to know I can move forward without life having to be spot on 100% of the time.
- Asking for help is great. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard somebody say they don’t like to ask for help…I’d be retired and typing this from my second home in Mauritius. The moment when I knew I had to ask for help was when I found myself sat staring into space doing nothing, thinking nothing because I had too much to do. It was like I malfunctioned for a few minutes, I had SO many tabs open in my brain that nothing worked. I wasn’t alone but I was isolating myself and I know I’m not good when I’m lonely or when things don’t get done, so it was time to change because my need to be happy was far greater than not wanting to ask for help. I’m selective with where I ask for help because somethings I enjoy doing and I don’t want to lose that – I love being creative, planning, working with new clients, researching facts and figures, pegging out the washing and cooking, so those things will rarely be passed out but there are lots of things that don’t need me specifically to do them that I can ask for support with. Sometimes my village is made up of friends and family, other times it’s strangers on social media and every now and again it’s someone at a utilities company who will make my life easier by sorting the price comparisons for me…the village is diverse and varies in size.
It’s taken me a lot of years, ups, downs, tears and smiles to realise who I am. I know I’ve changed a lot, sometimes that’s been through specific events and sometimes it’s less obvious and just…life. What keeps me going, determined and happy is defining my own success and figuring out how I’ll get there through progress. I don’t nail it everyday but it’s enough and I’m so much happier for it!