After a seven-year break, is returning to employment an adventure into a foreign land, or does it feel like coming home?
When I packed up and left my last role in the UK before heading to start a new life in Chicago, USA, I’d been working on a project to convince leadership that they really should have a better LinkedIn presence, they should run training for partners on how to best use it, and that Facebook could be a useful tool for building the firm’s brand for graduate recruitment.
Fast forward nearly seven years, two children, and a longer than intended break waiting for the boys to both reach school age (have you seen the cost of childcare in the US?), and it was time to return to employment outside the home—I was most definitely ‘working’ for the intervening period. During that time things had, well, changed, and I was feeling more than a little trepidation about going back to work. Would I have the skills needed to fit back into a world dominated by social media? Would I be able to balance parenthood and work? And, perhaps most concerningly, what would I wear?
I returned in stages, signing up with an agency that specialised in short-term communications roles, on the basis that I could take on work during term time, and take it a bit easier during school vacations (‘activities’ for two kids seemed to cost the equivalent of a second mortgage!). As I moved from one office to another for a few weeks at a time, the biggest issue I faced was getting access to office WiFi, and not getting lost trying to find the coffee machine. While communication channels had definitely moved on, and file-sharing systems seemed infinitely more complicated than anything I’d used before, the key elements to telling a good story—in whatever format—had remained the same.
Of course, I have had to get to grips with new ways of communicating and the explosion is social media, but I now write a mean explainer-video script, pithy social media posts, and blogs and op-eds on everything from retail centre design to the latest management principles for multi-national organisations. Having started out my career working in law firm communications, being able to translate sometimes dry and complicated information into engaging content, with just the right level of detail for its audience, is still my superpower.
Three years on, with multiple contracts under my belt, and I’m back in the UK with my own little agency, working for a few regular clients and loving the independence of self-employment. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to keep working through the pandemic—my workflow has remained steady, and I’ve been able to provide some semblance of homeschooling while fitting work into some strange hours.
Whether my kids are at school or not, as for every working parent, achieving balance is definitely a challenge. During normal times they’re at afterschool club a few times a week, and (outside of our new ‘stay at home’ normal), getting to clients’ offices in central London takes the planning of logistics expert to ensure everyone gets to and from school and extra-curricular classes on time.
But it works. In our little family, everyone’s life is a bit richer from my return to work. When I’m working with clients it feels great to put my skills to work and enjoy the professional achievement of seeing my work out in the big-wide world. And, I also enjoy the odd conversation that isn’t about Star Wars, Harry Potter, or the Premier League! Life is definitely busy, and multi-tasking skills attain new heights every day. But deadlines are met, homework is done, and I haven’t forgotten to collect anyone from cricket training—yet!
I’m glad I took the plunge and came back to work. While on the outside working methods look a bit different, the core skills needed have remained the same. So, whether you’re considering a return after a career break, or wondering whether you’ll still be relevant if you do take a break for a few years to focus on something else, my advice would be to go for it. And for the all-important question of what to wear? Anything that doesn’t have sticky fingerprints on is a win!
Sarah Robertson is a communications specialist contrator in the professional services sector