Once the dust has settled after your divorce, (the moving, the changes to your lifestyle, getting your kids adjusted to a new family dynamic, actually getting yourself adjusted to your new life as a single parent – or just being single for the first time in what feels like forever) you have to start chipping away at the things that have been put on the back burner. You’ve been in triage mode long enough, it’s time to take on the big stuff.
For me, that would be the idea of re-entering the workforce after a twenty plus year hiatus.
And yes, I am very aware that I am fortunate (incredibly fortunate) that I didn’t have to hit the ground running with this task as soon as the ink was dry on my divorce agreement.
I have heard too many horror stories, that have filled me with sadness and just pure disgust. Hearing of women who were once educated successful working members of society, before they were married with children, now having to get a job as a barista or as an admin in a small business for $15/hour to keep the lights and heat on, due to a divorce settlement that left her sitting at or around the poverty level while trying to care for her children.
She is left with too few choices, her back up against the wall forcing her to take the first opportunity, because she believes that she has no marketable skills after twenty years at home raising kids.
She has been convinced that she doesn’t have marketable skills, by too many people drilling that idea into her head, the loudest voice most likely being the person she was married to all of those years.
Going back to work after twenty years as a stay at home mom is probably one of the scariest challenges out there, especially when you really do need to work. It’s hard enough to find a new job once you’ve lost your existing job (which is basically what happens in a divorce), or have even taken time off in-between jobs, but try coming back to the workforce after twenty or more years.
Believe it or not, there isn’t a red carpet laid out for you or recruiters ringing your phone off the hook, and there aren’t people fighting to get you through their doors to start a new position.
Even with real skills from your previous life, possibly in a corporate position, you are still twenty years behind – and twenty years older.
You are outdated and technically uneducated, your field has continued to grow and progress with or without you. You are starting from square one in many instances.
Think of it like being a recent college graduate…at the age of 50. Did you throw up in your mouth a little bit? Yeah, me too.
And after twenty years of being a stay at home mom (a SAHM for those of you who love acronyms) it’s hard to quantify or even define my skill set. Sure, I did a lot of “stuff” as a SAHM and full time wife, but is it corporate worthy stuff? Can I repackage it to sell to a prospective employer? How do you make all of those many responsibilities you’ve handled for a lifetime, for multiple people, sound like an actual career position that deserves a salary – with health insurance benefits and paid vacation time?
And how do you ask for a salary based upon your previous pay scale of…ummm, free?
It boils down to the age old idea of how to eat an elephant. One bite at a time.
I’m lucky in that my mind (usually) works that way when it needs to, that I can step back and take a look at the big picture, and make an outline of a process of how to get from A to B…to get to X, Y or Z for that matter. But it is still overwhelming. It is still scary as hell. And that’s for someone who actually has the gift of time to figure it out.
So figure it out I shall.
One step at a time, one book at a time. One meeting at a time, one LinkedIn video at a time. It’s an entirely new education without a syllabus or even a dedicated professor to help you find the answers.
The working world has really changed since I was a working woman, wearing high heels, makeup and nice suits everyday, instead of yoga pants without makeup and my hair in a hair clip.
At one time, I was making lunch appointments, going to community meetings and taking clients out to dinner instead of eating leftovers for lunch, alone at my kitchen island looking at Facebook for 15 minutes, and planning my life around a baseball/soccer/swimming schedule that always manages to run through dinnertime, leading me to worry that we’ve eaten out too often in any given week.
I was planning corporate events, galas and conventions compared to backyard barbecues, birthday parties and family holiday gatherings.
Not to mention the age gap that I am now caught up in. I’m technically not a baby boomer – missed that by about a year if you want to split hairs – and I’m definitely not a millennial, (no need to explain the reason there) so where do I fit in?
Nobody really cares enough to talk about my generation of GenX moms, or to focus on us for more than a hot minute, because we are sandwiched between two generations that have the ear of the media and the marketing world at their feet. And when we do finally get the attention that we so badly need (and deserve) it’s usually to tell us to “reinvent” ourselves (insert cheery, overzealous smile here).
Reinvent? Nobody told me that there would be science involved. Ugh.
On one hand I am too young to just sit on the sidelines and wait for life to deal with me or take whatever life throws my way, while on the other hand, I am too old to begin from the very bottom with the idea of putting in my time to work up the ladder to any status comparable to associates my age – or younger!
I am the middle child of the working world. And that’s not easy for this firstborn to accept.
So I read and I listen and I network the best way I know how, because even that has changed since I was last making my rounds as a sales manager.
And I ask for help. Not an easy thing for me to do, never has been, put that in my “weaknesses” category to use in my interviews.
I’ve met with a career counseling service and it has been the best investment I’ve made in myself in years, if ever. It was really hard to take that first step, and write that first check, to hire someone to help me get hired – it felt like a two steps forward three steps back type of proposition at the time – but now I am so glad that I did it.
At a time when I felt down and unworthy, lost and unwanted, having someone point out my strengths and my skills was a much needed self-esteem builder.
To have a fresh set of eyes look at my accomplishments, my work and life history, and show me that I had actually done some really valuable things as “just a mom and wife” was enlightening.
In fact, if anyone had asked me to name my strengths and skills before I met with these career counselors, I probably would have described what I’d been doing the last half of my life as if it were all uneventful, unimportant or basically unworthy of any attention. No big deal, that’s what we do isn’t it?
Most of it being volunteer work or part of raising a family with a few challenges along the way, I wasn’t really “working” or using any specific type of training, was I?
But to have someone point out that I actually have career worthy skills in any other arena, based upon these seemingly everyday life experiences that I took for granted was just my life, was surprising and empowering.
It was a confidence booster, the right one at the right time.
It’s still only the beginning of this new path to a new marketable version of myself, but I’m not nearly as frightened or overwhelmed about it now. I’m not overly confident, let’s not get carried away, that would be crazy talk! But I do have a sense that I’m not done yet, and the best is yet to come. I will flourish in ways that I never dreamed of or expected in my previous life.
And I will work at it methodically until I find the right fit at the right time. One bite at a time.