Job vs. Career

Job vs. Career

This past week I have been reflecting on the path my career has taken.  In my twenties I was career oriented, taking on tasks and responsibilities, sometimes, probably too often, managing an overwhelming workload.  After working for six years in a high-pressure job with an often dysfunctional company, I had a baby.  Fast forward five years, one additional baby, and two international moves, and I now have a job not a career.

By this I mean that I work with the full expectation that when it is time to move on, my job will not be going with me and most likely it will not be something I do again in the future.  It is not a bad thing, but very different than having a career that needs to be cultivated over years.  It is likely that if I ever decided to go back to my previous career I would have a hard time finding a job, having been out of the business for a number of years.

At first I had a difficult time, often taking frustrations out on my husband.  I felt adrift.  It was a hard adjustment from focusing on my career to focusing on family first, but at the same time I had never felt as much pride and joy as in watching my babies grow and actually being there with them.  A large part of what drove us to become expats was my need to stay home with my kids.  My home country, the U.S., has abysmal laws regarding maternity leave.  Essentially, you are guaranteed your same, or a similar position, for four months after giving birth.  There is no requirement for paid maternity leave.  Some employers have insurance coverage that will cover 60% of your salary for up to six weeks after giving birth.  So it is not uncommon for new moms to have six weeks with their new baby, if they are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, and then return to full-time work while their newborn is looked after by a relative, a day care, a nanny.  It is depressing and heartbreaking.  Giving up my career and moving overseas allowed me to have time with my new baby.

It was a hard reality when so much of my earlier effort was put into building my career, a career that I may never go back to.  That said, it is liberating in some ways as well.  Now that I am working again, I go to work and I do my job.  I go home at the end of the day and I leave my work at work.  No pressure to prove myself or force advancement by taking on extra tasks.  Having kids has changed my perspective, in a very good way.  My time at home is precious.  I do my job, and I do it to the best of my ability, but I am aware that when we move on, which is inevitable given my husband’s work, I will leave my job behind.

Stepping away from my career has allowed me to see that I am qualified for so many things that I had never considered before.  It has enabled me to see that my skills and experience, both professional and personal, are applicable in other professional areas that I would never have considered.  For example, creative writing had always been something I enjoyed, and professional writing had been a small part of my career.  Now professional writing is a large part of my job and I am enjoying opportunities, like writing for the Women’s Skills Bureau newsletter, to explore writing as a hobby.

Stepping away from my career has also allowed me to evaluate what topics I am interested in.  My previous career was in international development, specifically supporting educational and environmental projects around the world.  Since stepping away from that career focus I have discovered I am interested in a number of other topics, including early childhood development, entrepreneurship, history, and women’s issues.  Will any of these interested help with my professional development?  Maybe.  But they are topics that I most likely would not have explored when I was so myopically focused on my previous career.

The thing I found the most difficult was letting go of the security of a career track to jump into the unknown of following my husband into an expat life.  The most important thing I have learned over the past five years is that I should trust in my abilities.  I know I will take all of my experiences and new skills that I gain from my job with me.  Maybe one day I will use some of those experiences to regain my career, or start a completely different one.  In the mean time I have found empowerment in letting go of the security of a set career and am learning to embrace the unexpected experiences of working jobs.

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