(First published on The Contented Calf website on Monday 17th June 2013. My youngest was approaching 15 months and 3YO was soon becoming a 4YO and heading to primary school. And so I was starting to think more about work again.)
It’s funny how in life sometimes things come together at the same time isn’t it? For me this has come in the form of reading Sheryl Sandberg’s excellent book, Lean In, and attending the first ever Mumsnet Workfest this weekend.
Although I’d heard her name, I first took more notice of Sheryl Sandberg when I heard her on Woman’s Hour in April this year (listen to a quick clip here). And after putting her book top of my birthday wish list, my wish was granted, and I started reading Lean In a couple of weeks ago.
It was a complete page-turner. Since having children, I rarely actually finish reading books as tiredness sheer exhaustion will override any desire to read at bedtime, and the option of five/ten minutes more sleep will win hands down every time. But for the first time in a long time, I just couldn’t put the book down. Even if I could only manage four pages, I read every night – and whenever else I could.
The chapters that I got me nodding the most (and saying ‘yes, yes’ out loud – a little strange on busy trains….) were the middle ones: ‘Don’t Leave Before You Leave’, ‘Make Your Partner a Real Partner’ & ‘The Myth of Doing It All’.
Why don’t we aim as high as we can in our jobs, but instead plan our exit strategy often before we even start because at some point we may want to go on maternity leave?
Why don’t we let our partners be real partners and share home-life responsibilities? We need to learn to relinquish some control. (Granted, incredibly hard to do. I find this particularly hard, with my OCD tendencies.) But it needs to be done.
Linked to this, we need to accept that no-one ‘has it all’. Having it all really means doing it all. And that’s just not possible. Or should it be desirable – we’ll just burn out.
There’s so much more to this book. And although Sandberg comes from and works in the high-tech corporate world, and her key question is how to get more women in leadership roles, I really think this book is relevant to everyone, regardless of what level you work at or what kind of work you do. If all women and all men read this book, I think it would make every workplace a much easier place for women, especially working mothers. (I LOVE this book. Can you tell?)
Cue: Mumsnet Workfest.
I’d seen this advertised back in March and thought that it would be both interesting and useful. I bought my ticket, sent Hubby an Outlook invitation for him to look after the kids while I was there, and pinned the ticket to the noticeboard.
Before I knew it, the day of the event was here. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that as it was billed as “Advice and inspiration on going back to work, changing career and starting your own business”, it was going to be good. I wasn’t wrong.
During Justine Roberts’ (CEO of Mumsnet) enthusiastic and friendly welcome, she reminded us that we as women have an advantage over men. As we are the ones who physically give birth to our children and do need some amount of time off work after the birth, we get the opportunity to take a step back from our jobs and assess how we want to work going forward.
Having never really thought of it like that and making me see work and motherhood in a different light, I knew that this day was going to be all that it promised.
After that, the day got stuck straight in to a great keynote panel discussion on “How do you do it all?”
The panel was made up of Lorraine Candy (Editor in Chief of Elle Magazine), Sarah Brinkley (Head Teacher of John O’Guant School), Karen Lynch (CEO of Belu Water), Amanda Mackenzie (Chief Marketing & Communications Officer), plus Justine Roberts. Chairing the discussion was Gaby Hinsliff (journalist & author).
It was inspiring to see such successful women talking with passion about their jobs and careers. And at the same time it was so refreshing to hear them talk openly and candidly about their children, their home life, juggling everything, planning everything. And to quote one blogger (Domestic Bubble) that also attended Workfest:
“There was no need to conceal our families, in fact it was de rigour to mention them. The collective relief was palpable.”
I would add to that and say there was also no need to conceal the fact that we were working and/or wanted to work.
I started working again when each of my daughters were seven months old – only two days a week to start with, then three when 3YO was one and 1(+)YO is about to go up to three days too.
I did not, however, have a ‘big, evil boss/company’ demanding that I head back to my desk – I didn’t have a job to go back to. Instead I put my daughters in nursery to develop, launch and grow Contented Calf. As we all know, in the early years fledgling companies cost money, rather than make it. My decision was definitely not financially driven (though obviously I’m aiming for the company to be success financially in the medium to long term!). My need to work is personal, emotional, because that’s (part of) who I am.
To have that taken as read when speaking to fellow attendees, and not have to justify why I was working for no money instead of being at home with my girls all the time, was truly wonderful. I felt about two stone lighter and fully energised.
There were useful hints and tips throughout the rest of the day in the breakout sessions, such as Heather MacGregors tips on how to make your ‘Interests’ section on your CV actually interesting. Geoff Ramm’s marketing session on how to creat ‘OMG’ moments was captivating and energetic. I came away from both the ‘Build your confidence’ and ‘Thrive Online’ sessions with suggestions I can action straight away.
Listening to Thomasina Miers’ story to success was inspring in a different way. Her journey took her through many jobs in all different directions, with no clear pathway or plan. She struggled with depression and lack of money, until she finally stumbled into what she was passionate about – cooking. From there, her drive, determination and self-belief have brought her to where she is today.
Feeling motivated, driven and uplifted from such a great day, I walked into 3YO’s bedroom just as my husband had just finished reading bedtime stories (and no I didn’t hang out at the pub with a cheeky glass of vino to ensure I missed the hard part – honest!).
Both girls squealed with delight and came running (well, 1YO bum-shuffled) over and gave me the biggest hugs. It was simply the best. I could have hugged them and breathed them in all night. I didn’t. I switched into mummy-mode, read them an ‘extra’ bedtime story, got 3YO to do ‘last wees’, sung them songs and tucked them into bed.
Downstairs, reflecting on the day and talking it through with Hubby, I realised although it’s bloody hard to do, I need to do this juggle. I need to both work and mummy. I’ve always known this. But I’ve always thought that it was that as well as being a mum, I needed to work.
However, surprisingly, one of the key realisations that I came away with from attending the Mumsnet Workfest and reading Lean In, is that it’s also the other way round: as well as needing to work, I also NEED to ‘mummy’. While being hugged tight by my two little ones, I thought “I LOVE being a mum”.
Of course I’ve always loved my girls – they make my heart burst with love every single day.
But against the drudgery of managing the house, and the shopping, and cooking, and cleaning, and tidying, and parenting, work has at times seemed the more glamorous, desirable option.
Hearing and reading the stories of successful mums though, has really brought to the fore the fact that however difficult it is, I wouldn’t want to be doing what I’m doing without my girls. I want and need to partly be at home with them too, especially while they are so very young. Not only has my enthusiasm for work been invigorated, but the same has happened to my being a mum.
Before I end this post, I have to just say that I count myself as truly lucky to have such an amazing and supportive husband. As I said in The Contented Calf Cookbook acknowlegements, he is my number one fan and supports me 100% in everything I do. Without him, my life would look very different to how it looks now. It’s thanks to him that I can continue this crazy juggling act, all the time Leaning In.
As always, with love from our family to yours,