The Working Mother’s Career Continuum: FOCUS. FLOW. FLEX
Let me start with the wishes. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to you and your mother and all the mothers who made a difference in your life! Mothers are indeed the reason you and I exist, and most often the reason why we are what we are today and possibly / probably the BEST thing that happened in our lives (If you don’t believe me, ask your mother / someone who lost their mother!)! Take a moment to say THANK YOU for the fact that you have your MOTHER in your life.
Ever since I became a mother, I have a new found respect and admiration for any / every working mother.
No matter where she works
No matter what her work entails
No matter where she lives
No matter what her circumstance is
She is a STAR!
Not for a day.
Not for Mother’s day.
But for every single day!
Let me start with the facts | It is TOUGH… Really TOUGH to be a working mother. It tests you at every level in very many ways almost every single day, and you have to find a way to pass. You can fail for a day or two, but then you will to get up, move forward and find a way to pass. No grace marks really! First, there is sheer physical exhaustion in getting through each day at work and at home. Then there is mental stress (again both at work and at home). Following closely are the the emotional pangs (of guilt, fears, anxieties, worries, concerns about your role as a mother and your children). Next are the expectations of the family, spouse, work, the education system (both from the children and from the parents) and last but not least, is the collective impact of the society we live in (in terms of continuous judgment, expectations, day-to-day operational issues / constraints / dependencies, etc.). Every single day is a tight-rope balancing act. You fumble a little, lose focus, lose balance and the entire equilibrium is disturbed. And yet, as working mothers you have to find a way to make it all fall-in-line.
Now first is the much-debated decision of “To Work or Not” after you become a mother. There is no right or wrong. It is a personal choice and depends on your personal context / situation and circumstance. Some mothers find that full-time-motherhood is their calling and give up everything else. Some are forced to become full-time-mothers by family pressures. Some mothers have to quit for lack of any alternative / support systems. Some mothers have to work due to financial commitments and liabilities / to put food on the table / marital discord. Some mothers find alternate career choices (not corporate careers) and make it work because they passionate about something / because full-time-motherhood is not their cup of tea. And some mothers find their place in the corporate world. There really no-one-size that fits all and yet, it has to fit RIGHT for YOU!
A lot of times I am asked for my views on what it takes to be a working mother. In this post, I’m sharing my opinion based on my personal experiences in a corporate career, and what I’ve seen in other working mothers.
As a working mother, if you are serious about your career and want a fair share at success, your career continuum should have 3 foundational pillars
As a mother, to have a career, you have to be focused
As a mother, to have a fair chance at career success, you have to be super-focused
The one MUST HAVE mantra for any / every working mother is FOCUS. Without focus, you will really not be able to survive or thrive at work.
Following are the things which you should be focused about:
(i) Your work tasks for the day – Know what you should get done for the day, Plan for it and Just do it.
(ii) Your career objectives for the year – Ensure you define / know them and work towards achieving them. You will only go so far without knowledge / clarity on your career objectives
(iii) Your career goals for the long-term (say 3/ 5 / 10 years) – Be clear (somewhat) on where you are headed in the long term. If you have a view on the end, chances are you will reach there. If you don’t, chances are you will spend enough time in the journey without reaching anywhere. And if that is what you want, it is fine too. But make sure you acknowledge this to yourself.
As a mother, to have a career, you have to flow today
As a mother, to have a long-term-career, you have to keep flowing today and tomorrow
By flow, what I really mean is “career continuity”. I cannot emphasize how critical it is to be in touch with your work and to keep going no matter what. Sometimes you may be compelled to take a break / brake. Sometimes, you may have to choose “not-so-great” options / career paths / alternatives, but in the long run being in the “flow” makes all the difference.
Why? One, you earn (whatever little, it does wonders to your own self-confidence and independence). Two, you learn. Three, the “gaps” in your resume will not really go against you. Four, you stay in touch and enhance you knowledge, skills. Five, you are at the table, so more visible than when you are within the confines of your home. Six, you have more opportunities to network and build professional relationships.
As a working mother, there will be times in your life when you have to take career breaks / put a brake on your career. The issue for most mothers becomes that they don’t really decide on the duration of this and plan around it. Consequently, it gets harder to get back to active work. First, it is your own inertia to get back to work which is a huge impediment. Then there is the lack of ‘relevant’ knowledge and skills due to the time away from work. Lastly, there is the issue of lack of a commensurate compensation in lieu of the career breaks.
Following are the things which you should know about “Flow”:
(i) It is better to be in a state of flow than being stagnant for too long – especially if you have a corporate career / harbor entrepreneurial ambitions. If you flow, chances are better for you to move ahead, right?
(ii) Ensure that you are focused on “being in flow” with respect to your work / career. This will be the most crucial with respect to career longevity and growth
(iii) While flow without focus (i.e. a definite end goal) is good in some career phases to give you career continuity and longevity, make sure you “time-box” these phases.
(iv) While flow is important, once in a way make sure you pause – for career reflection, introspection, insights and course corrections. Being in a state of perpetual flow does not help either
As a mother, to have a career, you have to make flex work for you today
As a mother, to have a chance at success in your career, you have to make flex work for you almost every day
No working mother ever managed without a little or a lot of flexibility. It is the only realistic way to manage the elusive work-life balance.
Following are the things which you should know about “Flex”:
(i) “Flex” is great if you have “Focus” and are in the ”Flow”
(ii) There is no universal definition / agreement on what “flex” working is. Make sure you know and understand what it means to you and to the people / organization you are working for / with. The lesser the gap and mismatch of expectations, the better your chance at success
(iii) DO NOT abuse / misuse the “flex” work option. It does more harm than good if you are caught on the wrong foot – Both for your own career and the larger cause of “work flex” options for other working women / mothers.
As I sign-off, my mantra for working mothers
Ensure you flow
Make “flex” work for you
What are your views of the career continuum of working mothers? Leave a comment to let me know
So the first ever Forbes India 30 Under 30 list is out. It is there everywhere I go. On Facebook, Twitter, on the magazine and in the news. If you’ve not read it, click here.
When I first saw the title, I was super-excited to read the list. One, I love lists. Two, this was by Forbes. Three, it was about young achievers in India. So reading this list was bound to be a treasure and a pleasure.
As I went on to read the list, I was truly impressed by what these achievers have done. As the post says, ”Showcasing an enterprising new generation that dreams big and refuses to say die“. As I read further, these words from the article caught my attention “This isn’t just a celebration of capitalism and profit; it is also in recognition of social value. Do-gooders, geeks, greens, musicians, sportspersons, creative-types and biz kids: The net was thrown wide to catch the best and the brightest.“
As I scrolled through the list, the sheer diversity impressed me! In terms of age (from 18 years to 29 years), in terms of the categories and in terms of their achievements itself. After I read the post, I also spent significant time in reading more about each of them and their achievements, and I was bowled over. Where did my 20s go? – I wondered!
Well endowed talent, passion, confidence, the genius of their ideas, focus, discipline, the will to succeed, the spirit to go the full mile in spite / despite everything and most importantly their supporting ecosystem (in terms of parents, friends, family, institutes, organizations, technology and capital) have all played a role in their names featuring on this list. For that, my deepest respect, a big bow and a Tiara crown to all of them. I don’t know any of them personally, but I was proud to see such a list recognizing young talent in India.
As I mulled over the list, one thought continued to linger on. Why were there so few women? Among the list of 30, only 6 women featured. 80% were boys and 20% were girls.
For full reading, click here
Being a working mother is no easy task… Every day comes with its share of endless round-the- clock expectations, ups and downs, challenges, surprises, joys and sorrows, good bad and ugly, unanticipated / unexpected events / activities, challenges, exhaustion, moments of self-doubt, wonder, awe, guilt, etc. etc. etc.
Simply because every working mother has to deal with several “mini-projects” as I call it on a daily basis
Project 1 : Kids (A to Z)
Project 2 : Work / Career
Project 3 : Food and Cooking
Project 4 : Husband (Yes! A full time project)
Project 5 : Friends
Project 6 : Home Maintenance
Project 7 : Family
Project 8 : Self
Project 9 : Miscellaneous / Others
Just listing it down exhausted me! Then imagine how exhausting it would be for anyone to manage every single one of them, every single day!
The bottom-line is really this:
- You are primarily accountable and responsible for all / most of the above (In most cases)
- You can plan all that you want. But a lot of things are beyond planning – In fact, beyond your control (For e.g.: Kids not well, You fall sick, A last minute deadline at work, An extremely urgent official “life-and-death” call which the spouse has to take!, A natural calamity, etc etc etc.)
- You can really take it one day at a time in terms of execution! At least till your children are somewhat independent!
And ever since I became a working mother myself, I have often wondered if there was a magic mantra to aid any working mother. Something which
- Gives you that extra energy
- Gives you “Me Time”
- Makes you more productive
- Makes you “clear-headed”; no matter what situation you are in
- Keeps you emotionally balanced
- Gives you those much needed extra-hours
- Makes you look good / younger despite your age / stress-level
And the good news is this – From personal experience, I’ve found one “MAGIC MANTRA” which can truly make a DIFFERENCE for a working mother; at least in addressing all the points listed above..
And that is regular practice of Yoga and Meditation.
Everyday practice of yoga and meditation for 30 – 40 minutes has enormous benefits from all dimensions – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.
Here’s what I realized as the key benefits of the practice of yoga and meditation:
- You get that extra energy simply because of the improved blood flow and oxygen circulation in your body
- You get a few minutes of “Me Time” ; just for yourself and to yourself – Time of calm, peace and quiet
- You end up being more productive. Personally, I’ve found that my productivity almost doubles on days I practice yoga / meditate ; and hence you can actually “gain time”
- Your head is a lot clearer; and you can handle high-stress / pressure situations at home and work; and make decisions better. After all, stressful / pressure situations are a routine part of everyday parenting!
- You are more in control of your own emotions; and this is extremely important for a working mother. Else you can go on an emotional roller-coaster ride every single day!
- Last but not least, you get a wonderful body tone, agility and glow on your face / skin – which every women / mother truly loves
If you’re interested in learning more on how yoga can make a difference in your life, hop over to my post on 12 Most Promising Outcomes of the regular practice of yoga
In conclusion.. Looking back at my own life – Ever since I became a mother myself, I have a new found respect and admiration for all working mothers.
No matter what you do
No matter where you live
No matter what else you do
If you’re a working mother
Hats off to you
What is the magic mantra that has worked for you? Would love to hear your views… Leave a comment to let me know
Originally published here
Today (8 March) is International Women’s Day. A day dedicated and celebrated in honor of women. On this occasion, I wanted a write a special post on my blog, and was wondering what I should focus on. As I looked at women all around me, I couldn’t help but observe the striking issues of “Working MOTHERS” – After all, being a mother is an important identity for many women. And working MOTHERS are a reality in the modern economy!
They manage their home, their kids, their careers, their husband [Yes! Needs special mention ;) ], their friends / families / other relationships, themselves and a zillion other things. For all that they do, my DEEPEST APPRECIATION and RESPECT!
But more importantly, what is the “REAL Dilemma” that Working Mothers face. As I reflect more on this, here’s my response:
(1) Getting the PRIORITIES Right
The challenge for most women is getting the priorities right – First in their head, and then in day-to-day action. If you are confused about your priority list, you will have challenges almost every single day. And this becomes all the more complicated because of the intricate nature of the dependencies and inter-dependencies based on your actions.
Take-Away : You should be able to identify the Top 5 priorities for the day, for the week, for the month, etc. And align your actions in line with these priorities.
(2) Managing EXPECTATIONS
Simply put, a working mother plays so many different roles – That of a mother, working professional, wife, daughter, sister, extended family, friend, home manager, cook, employer (in case you leverage support services within the 4 walls, etc.). And with each of these roles are several responsibilities – Both implicit and explicit! And expectations. The reality is that there are 24 hours in a day, and the world expects output worth 50 hours a day from a working mother. Somehow the math does not add up!
Take-Away : Setting and Managing expectations can alleviate a great majority of everyday challenges which most working mothers deal with. And clear communication is the key!
(3) Bridging the DICHOTOMY between the “Corporate World” and the “Other World”
The “Corporate World” expects results – Be it from a “man” or a “woman”. And to achieve results, one needs to be focused, objective, goal-oriented and to go for the kill. On the other hand, the “Other World” expects women to be flexible, accommodating, giving, sacrificing, soft-spoken, caring, nurturing. There is a “real dichotomy” between these two worlds. And it is really tough for most working mothers to transition between these two worlds on a daily basis – between morning to night!
Take-Away: I don’t know if there is any realistic solution for it, but just be aware and acknowledge that these are two different worlds and each expect different things from you
(4) Dealing with personal EMOTIONS
As a working mother, one goes through highs and lows of emotions frequently – Emotions of guilt, satisfaction, sadness, joy, self-rationalization, self-interrogation, etc. etc. At the end of the day, every women has to make personal choices. And with each choice, there are trade-offs. There is no RIGHT or WRONG! Just that every choice has a consequence which will impact your life. So once you make a choice, take responsibility for it! Emotions are a part of life. And they are integral in your personal journey.
Take-Away: Acknowledge and Accept your emotions. And find ways to deal with them!
(5) Finding it hard to say “NO”
Most of us find it hard to say “NO” to things which come our way. However the fact is that as a working mother, TIME is your most valuable resources. So you should value it and treasure it. And be judicious in how you invest it. No point in doing things which are not aligned with your priorities. If something comes you way that does not fit into your scheme of things, learn to say a loud and re-sounding “NO”
Take-Away: Start Saying “NO” to things which are not on your priority list. It is truly liberating!
(6) Aiming to make EVERYONE HAPPY ALL THE TIME
Take-Away: Accept it! You CANNOT make EVERYONE happy all the time. And that’s OK