From Career to Motherhood and Back Again

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Today for the Sunday Story Share I’m joined by Helen Hanison and we are talking about Helens journey from career to motherhood and back again

Hello, all. I've been invited to come on today and tell you a little bit about my story in the hopes that it will resonate with some of you, and there'll be something in there that you can take inspiration from when you apply it to yourselves. I think you'll find this is pretty common. There are people out there who will recognise the from career to motherhood and back again sort of theme that I often say my story is.

For me, it kind of went in four different stages. The career-building phase where everything pales other than pursuing what you think it is that you want in career terms. It just changed overnight. It's all so clichéd, I realise, but I honestly thought I was the person who was going to go without missing a step from dropping the baby, pelting straight back to my job as director at the time of one of the world's largest PR companies. Couldn't have been more wrong. Even as I stepped through the stages of noticing that, I sort of stayed in denial somehow. So I went back to work and delayed that, and then went down one day a week. Then said, "Well, actually I think I need a day working at home on top of that four-day week." Ultimately, it really didn't work out.

I thought I was being smart. I'm still in there. I'm still persevering with this career route I was hellbent on. I thought defined me actually. Until I went to a smaller firm, I was extremely clear about where the lines were. So I went to a smaller firm.

So, here I am at a smaller firm, very intentionally explaining that my priority was at home and he was called Max. You know, it really ... That he was happy for them to benefit from my extra years so long as they were happy to honour a shorter week and respect where those boundaries were. I thought I had it absolutely sorted. This was living the new dream, and I was happy with that sort of rebalancing, if you like. Until I had a light bulb moment.

My new boss said to me once they had sort of courted me, actually, to go from consultant to permanent. As I look back on it that was very significant. They actually said out loud to us, I always stammer and struggle to say this. This boss said to me, "You know, at your level we've bought you. Mind, body and soul. You leave us wanting more because we know there's more." I call it my light bulb moment. But honestly it was like time stopped and a spotlight flicked on. Everything was on pause around me. Even just talking about it takes me back to that moment because it was such a visceral reaction. I remember saying in response, "Well, you've bought my hours and absolutely a share of my mind on these days. But really my soul, I came in being honest, belongs elsewhere. I'm not compromising on that bit." So, you know, I probably don't need to explain what happened next. I was made redundant from that wonderful corporate home as I called it at the time. Pretty soon after, coincidentally.

So it started a whole ricochet of attempts, so I still felt that what I did to earn my money somehow was necessary to me thriving. So still, even though I'm defending my position, couldn't quite accept what I was telling myself, actually, about what was most important to me. Where the conflict thought was, which one was interfering with which.

So, I did all kinds of things. I tried to write a book with a friend. I helped another with a project, obviously coming from a marketing background all kinds of people have a need for help in that area. With an investment angel that I knew, helping him. All things that I could do. They were competencies, for sure. What I wasn't hitting was what was most central to me. What made sense for me. What mattered most. What were my values. Had no idea, and it's very interesting as I talk to clients now about what are their values to try and sort of speed up this point where you get directional because you have a compost to use to help you sector that past from A to B. It's a conversation stopper almost every time. So, it's very interesting.

Now, ultimately my breakthrough came because I got ill. It was as I had boomeranged back to a very old boss of mine from about 13 years before it felt like going in a time machine. It was another one of those moments where you walk in and the world goes wavy like it does in movies. Because it was that surreal to be back. Different cast of characters other than my old boss. But, the same old pressures. It really just collided with all kinds of things going on with my family, my son. Some things that needed attention, nothing life or death but, again, competing priorities and conflicting ones for me.

So, as I said, I got ill. It was at the moment that I was standing in front of an x-ray machine having my lungs checked and talk of lung capacity tests because the antibiotics haven't worked and there were suspicions that therefore there was something much more sinister going on. But it really made sense to me that actually what I'd done since that first light bulb moment was try and navigate, try and problem solve rather than accept what the neon sign that had been flashing was telling me. Or trying to. That was the time that I actually understood that it was a completely different route that I needed to take.

I still didn't know what it was. So it took ... You know, it sounds quite sequential as I say it now. But it was anything but linear in real life. It took probably another year from there of sort of consulting, if you like, the small PR businesses in Sussex, I had moved by then. But my husband said to me, "You know, this isn't ... You're doing it, it's not making you happy. Why don't you just do something different? What about that psychology degree you always talked about?" It's interesting because he was only reflecting back to me things I had said at various points over the years. Now I realise, actually, that's the power of coaching too. But it was like permission. It was like he flicked a green light on and it was a go.

It was interesting. I think sometimes you don't know how much you want something until it feels that possible, and that immediate. So, I filled out a UPASS form online as you do and became what must be the world’s most mature, mature student doing a second degree. I did psychology at the University of Sussex, which is very well respected for its subject and made it my mission to just put everything in. Because I kind of had, and I'm sure lots of this happen on our first careers. It's more about the life stage and the socialising, et cetera. I did okay. But this was more about assessing who I really was going to become. It was very interesting watching that sort of ambition that, frankly, hadn't actually been there for years by this point wake up and significantly for something that was about me, for me, took me away from my mothering role. But in a way that was compatible. It had synergy for the first time. I was touching a passion point in a way that actually worked.

I'm very glad to say, as much as it pushed me out of all sorts of comfort zones and made me do statistics and all kinds of neuroscience that I hated it allowed me to do the bits that ... I can't, just can't tell you. I just feel so passionate about today. I'm so glad I accrued that knowledge because that has become my very clear compass for what I've done ever since. I'm glad to say it rewarded me with a first-class honours degree, which is something I certainly hadn't achieved the first time. I think I really proved something to myself. Certainly its become probably more significant than actually the jumping off point that I needed and wanted so desperately. It gave me shape and definition to that.

So, now what I do is coach other people who are going through some kind of career transition. It could be the redundancy point, it could be the sort of confusion, if you like, that I think high achieving, successful career mothers come to once they have another priority with their own child, with their mothering. How to make that work in a way that is better than work life balance. But I've become slightly allergic to that term, work life synergy where you're actually doing something for your work that you feel aligns with what is most important to you at your core, and in a way that works. You're living the life that you're excited to live because it's aligned.

I couldn't be happier with that career comeback. It makes complete sense to me of all the things I feel so passionately about having accrued the experience, not just the skill set, that I had from career one. Now it's sort of quite uniquely blended whether people are coming to me because they have quite secret ambitions to leave their corporate landscape and start up an enterprise that has been a passion project in secret for too long for them. Those commercial edges come out and we talk about how to Segway to the entrepreneurial mindset, how to cross the start line, how to amplify their actions in sort of PR terms, really, going back to the old school. So it's fantastic and I want that for other people, because it's possible if we just reflect and probably have the powerful questions intruding at the right moments.

So, what I've done for my own audience is put together a story framework. Because I find it really helps people focus on the moment that has triggered a change of heart about what they do and crucially help people sketch out what they wish would happen in the next chapter of their career story. Storytelling is an exercise that's long since been recognised as creating some very useful distance. You allow yourself to dream, really, and it's the innermost thoughts and aspirations that come out more easily when they're not burdened with the reality of, "Oh, gosh, how am I going to do that?" So, later you get to translate those dreams into goals so your reality can catch up. But for now there's four steps to create your own story framework. I'll rattle through them now and see if you can sort of find some inspiration from this shape. Because we're all meant to be the star of our own stories after all.

So, step one, if you think about my telling you my story was the light bulb moment. That's kind of your career cliff-hanger. The point in the story here is where you have to navigate really sticky stuff and finally decide to make a change. So in my story that was when I was told someone owned me mind, body and soul. Then again at the x-ray machine.

Step two is the search. So, at this point in your story you're probably talking about all the things you've tried. But, that haven't worked. The more specific and vulnerable you can be about your fails, because this is to yourself you're not actually publishing this, but it's really important to be honest. Because the more clarity will develop around what really matters to you at your core. That is what starts to help you look back and shape what you really want to be doing next. So, for example, after I hurtled at a series of trying things my stomach lurch walking into that old firm from 13 years before. That sort of instinctive horror was worth listening to.

Step three is the breakthrough. Here's where you want to write about what you did, or what will make a difference. Now, if you're at the career crossroads and the point is you don't know yet, you wish you did, do some imagining. Look back, or in fact look forward and then talk about looking back as if it's already happened. So again, you're not burdened by realities here. This is your story. So, it can be counterintuitive discovery, or specific action, or maybe a new relationship in your life. So for me it was signing up for that psychology degree and all those uncomfortable feelings. But, that made me feel alive for the first time in years.

Finally, step four, is the career comeback. Because at this point you can talk about the path from where you are now to where you actually want to go. And write about why. What does that give you? Why are you so passionate about this next chapter? What's most important to you here? So in my story I talk about how I passionately believe we can only fill fulfilled if we align work we love with who we really are, and the life we're excited to lead. How I feel compelled played into that experience as I coach others to achieve that for themselves. So, your why is sort of your life purpose. It doesn't really matter what label you give it. But, the feelings that come up for you there are really key.

Then, once you've done that, sketched out a few sentences, just put the story down. Come back to it again sometime soon. Because, as with any good read you will have a new perspective as you re-read it. That second time you'll more easily be able to spot the small steps you can take so that you're hoped for future gets to become your reality. Because that cliché is true. Goals are the dreams we act on.

I hope that resonates for you, and leads some inspired next steps.

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