Over the last decade, we have supported a large number of women considering returning to work after a long break. Many of the same worries & doubts loom large:
- What if … I can’t find a good flexible job / affordable childcare? My brain’s gone to mush
- I’m just being selfish. I feel guilty about wanting to work …
However much we want to get back to work, these fears and doubts can stop us in our tracks. And we find ourselves in the same stuck place a year later wondering why we haven’t made any progress.
Recognise your Negativity Bias & Inner Critic
We’re smart women – we’re used to thinking our way out of a difficult situation. But in this case your mind may be your biggest problem rather than your problem-solver. Understanding a bit about our mental make-up explains why.
1. We have a ‘negativity bias’. As the neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says,our minds are like Velcro for the negative & Teflon for the positive. Negative thoughts stick in our brains while the positive ones just roll off.
There is a reason for this. Our brains evolved to keep us safe in the time of woolly mammoths. They’re primed to scan the environment for danger and to shout out all the risks. Better err on the side of caution than be someone’s lunch.
So when you’re thinking about making a major change like going back to work after a long break & maybe changing career direction, your mind left to its own devices may well tell you DON’T DO IT! Your thoughts will naturally focus on all the reasons why not and all the downsides.
2. Alongside the negativity, your ‘inner critic’ fires up as the self-critical soundtrack inside your head judges you harshly …
- I’m being selfish for wanting to work
- My children will suffer if I leave them
- I won’t be good-enough if I can’t give 100%
The subtext of all of these – I’m a Bad Mother if I go back to work.
As we tend to believe our minds, we see these thoughts as facts and make our decisions as if they were the truth. So we stay put and don’t make a change. And we feel reassured for a while because the fears go away. But we’re still not happy and fulfilled …
Balance the negativity
The good news is that we can balance the negativity. Don’t try to get rid of your negative thoughts & Always Think Positive- you’ll be fighting a losing battle. Aim instead to create a more balanced view:
- Listen to your negative thoughts and inner critical voices. Write them down to get them out of your head & weigh them up
- Consider what evidence you have to support them and challenge yourself to find evidence against them
- Tune down the negative ‘Radio doom & gloom’ in your head by not paying it so much attention
- Create more helpful messages & tune these up by reminding yourself of them frequently
- I’ve lost all my work skills => I still have my old skills, they just need sharpening up
I’m being selfish => my family will benefit if I’m happier and have more energy for them
- Remind yourself of your strengths and achievements. Write them down
- For every job option you consider write down why it could work as well as why not
Reduce your fears by taking steps forward
Fears are normal in any change. You really do have to Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway! (a great book by the way). Stop over-thinking & start taking action. Get practical and emotional support: even strong women need help to change!
Focus less on the speed of the change and more on keeping moving forward.
Feeling ready to take action? Check out posts on Mum & Career on ‘Why return to work?‘ , ‘Find your Passion‘ and ‘Find Flexible Jobs‘ with job-agencies and head-hunters specialising in women returners.
Author: From the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.