Many mums struggle to resume their careers after taking time off work on maternity leave. A freelance writer shares her own experience (and advice) with us.
To help you kick start your career again, journalist Samantha Downes shares her own experience as a working mum – and her five rules to help you get your own career mojo back again.
I’ve always loved my job
Since the age of 14, I can only remember wanting one thing – to be a journalist.
For me it wasn’t really a question of choosing what I would do to earn money (if I had been chasing money I would have chosen a very different career indeed) my career chose me.
All summer holidays from the age of 16 were spent writing for whoever would let me. It sounds geeky and boring but while my fellow students were chasing boyfriends/girlfriends, getting drunk, experimenting with drugs or watching Neighbours I’d be covering everything from prize cabbages to council meetings.
I assumed my career would just carry on
So when I got pregnant at the age of 37 I had every expectation I would continue as a successful freelance journalist.
I’d left a staff job at the Financial Times in 2005 to go freelance and had for the next four years built up enough clients to keeping me working 24 hours, 7 days a week; if I’d so wanted.
I’d reached the top of my game, so I figured. Having spent years pitching, selling and writing articles (not to mention having to interview all sorts), I could then sit back, take some maternity leave enjoy the baby and happily resume my career six to eight months after she was born.
Things didn’t go according to plan
But by the time Imogen arrived into the world in 2009 so had something else – a full-blown recession in the print industry.
For someone who had her work published most weeks in either a national newspaper, online, in well-respected trade magazines, women’s magazines (I also had a column in New Woman and was the money writer for Glamour) to have no work and no emails asking me to work was a horrible shock.
By the end of 2009 I felt as if I’d been chewed up and spat out. I was on the scrapheap at just 38.
How I rediscovered my own mojo
Somehow, being a mum gave me new impetus. When Immy was 15 months old I dusted my pessimism off and looked for work, starting with the company I left to go freelance, the Financial Times.
I was lucky enough to get a maternity cover contract, but at a senior level. Which meant not only was I back in the workplace, I was back in a management role with some training and new skills to boot.
Since then I’ve been headhunted for three jobs and even offered a regular column when my youngest daughter was just eight weeks old.
I also start a new career in September, which fits in with the freelance journalism I still do.
My five rules for getting your career mojo back
Of course some of you reading this may be ‘lucky enough’ to have a job with paid maternity leave. I may have had more comebacks than Madonna but the rules of getting your career mojo back are the same whatever you do.
1) Enjoy your maternity leave
Work will always be there. You will never get those early precious days back with the baby. I ended up staying at home with Imogen for 15 months and it was one of the best times of my life even though we had no money. Work will always wait if you are determined enough.
2) But stay sane…
My new mummy ennui set in around 6-7 months after Immy was born. This is a dangerous time for a lot of new mums who may be tempted to go back to work. Stop! All you need is some time out and it has to be pram free. If you can put baby in a crèche for a couple of hours you can have some ‘me first time, without feeling guilty.
3) Keep connected
I would use my crèche time to connect with friends and contacts using Facebook and LinkedIn as well as looking at job vacancies and brainstorm for feature ideas. It was also a great time to email and text friends. It helped keep me in the loop and helped me feel like a separate entity – then I could go back to being a mummy and enjoy it.
4) Remind yourself – you are great and you are talented – end of
Being self employed means having to give yourself regular pep talks. While I was having a dreadful day, on 2 hours sleep, I forced myself to look back at a website I’d been made redundant from (it had gone bust but been bought), that and the women’s mag who dispensed with my services.
Turns out all my ideas were being used, even the ones I’d thought were rubbish. I knew then I had plenty more to offer the world.
5) Keep making friends, and remember there’s nothing wrong with being nice
I’ve been chewed up and spat out more times than I can remember, as have most journalists (particularly ghostwriters but that’s another story). But I’ve also met some really fantastic people who’ve helped pick me up and dust me down.
Thanks to them I’ve learnt to do the same to others. My Facebook support group also is full of fantastic and talented women (a lot of them mums too) and we are all able to offer each other a shoulder to cry on and virtual cup of tea (or even glass of wine) to chat over.
Samantha Downes is a financial journalist and the author of several finance guides and books. She also has her own blogzine Ella Mag.Samantha Downes