Over the last seven years my job has been made redundant twice, I’ve had two beautiful babies and I took a year out to go travelling with my now husband. In some cases, it was simultaneous; I took a year out to travel following redundancy in 2010, and finished up in my role in 2016 at 36 weeks pregnant, three months before the company closed. This means officially I have stepped away from my career twice due to redundancy, and twice due to maternity leave – but three times in total. I have also returned three times, twice following maternity leave and once following a career break.

In each case, I had months to mentally and logistically prepare for the changes ahead, and was financially ok if only on a short-term basis. So with these basic needs satisfied, I was excited about my next steps.

Stepping Away

Having steadily worked in the Hospitality industry from aged 15 – 25 (excluding my earlier door-to-door sales adventures) and then Financial Services from 25 on…I didn’t quite know what to do with myself when I finished working in November 2010, and the few short weeks at home gave me time to reflect on the damaging impact on my sense of self if it had been a long-term situation. The space between being out of work and the beginning of a new chapter is an interesting one, full of impatience and expectation of what lies ahead. In each case, in all my daydreaming and planning I couldn’t possibly have conceived the reality of world travel or motherhood, or being a mother of two under two…

Each of these changes brought joy, pain, sadness, wonder, self-discovery and a transformational shift in my perspective. Entry to motherhood brought a seismic shift – where all sensation and emotion was amplified and intensified, and where my heart relocated and took up permanent, raw and tender residence on the outside of my body.

A Fresh Perspective

With each career break I discovered parts of myself I didn’t know existed, I opened my heart, opened my mind. My understanding, compassion and empathy increased as did my ability to trust myself and my instincts. I discovered what it’s like to have no clue what you’re doing and come out the other side of a dark tunnel, relatively intact. I developed valuable skills such as:

· Organising and planning (travel itineraries; how to get out of the house with a baby)

· Patience (waiting on a train in India; waiting for your baby to finally fall asleep after the millionth head stroke)

· Bravery – pushing outside your comfort zone (trying that skydive; walking into a mother & baby group for the first time)

· Creative problem-solving (stuck in a jungle; soothing an ever-growing/changing baby)

· Perspective (meeting people less fortunate than you; cutting through BS to what will really matter 1/5/10 years from now)

I really could go on, and on here about increased self-awareness, stakeholder management, delegation, time management, networking…

Returning to Work

Returning to my career on all occasions brought a heady mix of excitement, anticipation, fear of the unknown, dread (especially leaving my baby)…and lots of enthusiasm to reengage in my professional life and my career. I brought fresh perspective and energy to workplace challenges, and was super excited about little things like a hot beverage in peace and contributing to professional discussions with other adults.

All positive right?

While a prospective employer learning that you have travelled is likely to see this as a positive thing; learning that you have small children and are returning from a career break…well, that’s usually another story altogether, isn’t it? Even existing employers often don’t see beyond a ‘pause’ in your career.

If we choose to take time out to travel, or perhaps train for a marathon, climb a mountain, or volunteer overseas…all of these things are usually viewed positively, and seen as a sign of being driven, of mental resilience. If we chose to become parents, this is a much bigger challenge, and often with similar skills developed and on a broader scale.

A motivated person returning to their career following a break brings a fresh perspective, and renewed energy, focus and commitment. A motivated woman returning from maternity leave who is trusted, supported and encouraged by her employer brings all this and more, and is a professional force to be reckoned with.

Tips for a successful career break

In reality, any career break will leave a gap in your professional career and possibly a dip in your confidence. So, what can you do tip the scales in your favour? As with most things in life, preparation is key!

Here are my top 5 tips for individuals preparing to temporarily step away from their careers:

1. Take time to look at what is important to you. Knowing your values and what’s driving you will help you stay focused and confident on your chosen path.

2. Update your performance/projects summary or CV prior to going on leave. You will forget the details and it’s such a handy reference to have whether looking for a job or reminding yourself what you’re capable of prior to your return.

3. Stay in contact. If you are taking a break from your current job, agree a communications plan with your line manager. In all cases, keep in contact with your professional connections and stakeholders as and how makes sense for you.

4. If you’re taking an extended career break keep your professional development up through volunteering, reading, attending relevant events and keeping up with industry developments.

5. Know your worth. List all the skills and experience you have gained through your career, and during your time away from work. If you have trouble doing this or feel you are losing your confidence, enlist someone who can help you regain your mojo.

Further reading…

If you are planning your return to work following maternity leave, see more tips here

If you are an employer with individuals returning from maternity leave, see here