One of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made during my 14 working years is the decision to take a career break. A break that I’m currently almost half way through.
Now I’ve done it for a very specific reason, in a very protected way and thankfully, with a very supportive employer. My little girl with CF has started playschool and I want to be there to support her through the health implications that mixing with other kids for the first time brings. So I’m on a type of leave known as Carer’s Leave, which allows me to take a break while protecting my position in the workplace.
But call the leave what you like, you still have to say these words out loud: ‘I want to take a break.’ That is a scary sentence to verbalise in front of the people that pay your salary. You worry that the second you say it, the working world will write you off as weak, uncommitted and unambitious. Even if they wouldn’t dare say so out loud.
In a time where women still earn less than men, where women still take charge of the bulk of domestic affairs, where women still feel that no matter how much they do it is never enough, it is terrifying to speak up and press that pause button. Because what if that pause button actually ends up rewinding your career?
But do you know what’s even more terrifying? Doing what you’re doing to please other people or because you’re afraid of what others will say, do or think of you as a result. Don’t ever let your pride get in the way of doing what’s right for you and your family. EVER. The bravest thing you can do is what’s right for yourself. And if anyone thinks less of you for that, it’s that person that deserves to be thought less of.
Now you may be reading this as another CF parent or you may just be reading it as a parent who is considering their options. Either way, the question of whether you find yourself or lose yourself on a career break is equally valid.
I’d love to say there was a straightforward answer to this, but of course (like everything else in life), it’s complicated. I would, however, like to offer you my experience on this journey of lost and found…
Things I’ve found:
- My smile: I had myself under such pressure trying not to let anyone down, that I was letting myself down. By being honest and admitting I needed a time out, I found that my mouth could actually curve in a different direction. Who knew!
- My yoga mat: Time to attend a class! This one hour for me is psychologically transformative. My body may be an inflexible mess but my mental health feels quite bendy.
- Time for friends: I can’t quite believe how busy it still is when not holding down the day job, but I love that I have a little more time and energy to meet up with friends.
- Time to write: Sure, I write for a living. But when you do it for a living, it can actually be incredibly hard to also do it for personal reasons. I have missed writing for myself more than I could ever express.
- Domestic peace: Truthfully, I was worried about how I would cope spending so much time at home. I worried I would be less patient with the kids, rather than more so. But we’ve found our groove and while I’m far from a perfect parent, we’re all perfectly happy living in each other’s pockets. (We’ve even been known to find sunshine in them.)
Things I’ve lost:
- Any tendency to over-react: Because I’m with my daughter every day, I’m better able to monitor and assess her coughing and health status. I also know that I can bring her to the GP or hospital at any time without a domino effect on work commitments. This allows me to be a lot more level-headed in my reading of her when I feel she’s not 100%.
- A few wrinkles: Managing Cystic Fibrosis is a full time, grey-hair inducing job, no matter how much or little else is going on. But temporarily doing it without as much multi-tasking has smoothed out some forehead wrinkles (marginally, but still). I’m hoping the laughter lines will have caught up with the worry lines before my leave is up.
- A little bit of myself: So with all the positives I’ve been experiencing, there are of course some negatives. I miss the feeling of accomplishment when we crack a business problem with a cracking idea. I miss the satisfaction that comes from a happy client reaction after you’ve presented a new campaign that nails it. I miss the camaraderie of the gang in the office (I might even miss the arguments a little! But I’ve always been a bit weird).
- My bank balance!
So while my assessment comes to the woolly conclusion that a career break has left me both lost AND found, there are a few things that are for definite –
I will never regret hitting the pause button.
I will never regret putting my family first.
And after a few months of much-needed healing, I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt before.
Regrets? Je ne regrette rien.