Published in 2017 and widely promoted last year, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy has a pretty bold title. Heck, any one of those things in the tag line can be singularly daunting – and they think I can do all three?!
But that’s not really the point. The point is, and it’s a good one, that we have fuller, richer and, yes, more joyful lives if we can face our challenges head on and smiling.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
I’ve spent over two decades coaching women in transition, specifically moms returning to work after opting out to care for children. They don’t arrive in my office confident and buoyant, they arrive apprehensive and scared. So many reach for the strategically placed box of Kleenex during our first meeting that I’ve taken to buying in bulk. No matter how accomplished they once were – and even if it wasn’t that long ago – they now have résumé gaps, dated skills, lapsed confidence, and few professional contacts. Adversity is staring down at them and they feel more inclined to run and hide than face it.
Yet, they do.
With help and hard work, they build resilience through self-knowledge, skill recovery and remediation, targeted career planning, personal branding and more. And they (usually) find joy in an exciting new career.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and an honor to have a hand in – especially if the journey was entered into purposefully and voluntarily, meaning the woman, after considerable thought, decided one day: I want more intellectual stimulation or challenge or money (or all three); it’s time to go back to work.
For too many women, however, the decision to return to work is made for them by circumstance, and communicated to them by a divorce attorney. A divorce attorney friend of mine once told me that one of the toughest things he has to tell a new client, still raw from the personal loss of a failed marriage, is: “You need to get a job. Soon.”
What’s makes this so difficult, he explained, is that many of his clients still have young children at home, so they’re going back to work prematurely, years before they had planned to. Others haven’t considered going back at all. They’ve had a defined role as support person, helping promote their spouse’s career, so they’ve given no thought to their own.
There are very few resources for these women – and the time and financial imperatives are great – so the daunting process of returning to work is doubly so for them. Still, they succeed. I’ve seen it time and again.
If Option A (continuing your life as a stay-at-home mom) is no longer possible for you, here are some tips for creating the best Option B (returning to work) for yourself:
1. Assemble a ‘back-to-work’ support system, a “tribe”. This small group should include at least one close friend or sibling who knows you best and will be your cheerleader, and at least one friend or acquaintance who has returned to work after divorce herself, who can show you the way.
2. List out your key priorities (Money? Benefits? Challenge?) and let them determine the direction you go. For example, if you need money right away, you will be better served getting back into work where you have experience. If you don’t need money right away, due to your settlement, you can consider entering a new field and working your way up.
3. Review the unpaid ‘work’ you did during your opt-out years. The leadership roles you’ve had in the community, the volunteer hours you logged creating a website or balancing the books, the help you’ve given friends and family editing their company brochure or HR manual – ALL of these skills have value to an employer. Write them down.
4. Let the internet be your friend. Do Google searches of industries or companies that interest you; search aggregate job sites like Indeed and Careerbuilder to see what jobs are being filled and what skills and experience are being sought. Take notes on what you learn and key words that you notice.
5. Get help updating your résumé. If you can’t hire a professional, online templates can help you with design, but you’ll still need help with content and context. Consult a friend in HR, if you’re lucky enough to have one. If not, ask your attorney if you can consult his/her firm’s HR manager. Your ex might help you in this area, too, since he has a vested interest in you landing the best job.
6. Network! Start easy – in your community, with old work colleagues and clients – and branch out from there. LinkedIn is an essential platform for this, so you’ll need to set up your page. Let your “tribe” help you create the best page using language from your updated résumé and a great headshot (which one of them can take).
7. Tap into the ‘digital natives’ in your home. If they’re old enough (8+) your kids should be your allies on this journey. Let them help you update your technical skills; practice networking and/or interviewing with them; solicit their help with household chores to free up time for your search. This is a great opportunity for them to see mom studying and preparing – like they do – and they will be upbeat and excited for you (even when you’re not).
It’s tough to embrace Option B, when all you wanted was to continue living Option A, but try to look at returning to work as an opportunity, not a burden. You’ll be getting dressed up again, earning your own money, meeting new people, and feeling a sense of accomplishment from (and getting recognized for) work well done.
Virtually all of the women I coach end up happier and more fulfilled once they return to work. Most of them are surprised at how well Option B works out for them. It will work out for you, too.