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Parenting vs Career Change

How the discourse around changing careers is aimed at the childless

Ever since I decided to change my career nearly 3 years ago — a process that is still ongoing — I have been exposed to a whole new world: different people, different mindsets, different language, a whole new subculture. It’s not surprising really as the conversation surrounding the 21st century career features much more than re-hashed ideas about good interview technique or how to write a winning cv — perhaps not coincidentally they are both aspects of job hunting that are becoming increasingly irrelevant. I’ve absorbed a plethora of advice about the how, what and why of career change and I’ve begun to notice some re-occurring topics that seem to dominate my conversations and online reading about it.

Some examples: what I should be thinking about, what I should be doing (and not doing), habit forming, lifestyle choices, self-reliance, wellness (still a word I have a nagging doubt about), mental health, travel and adventure, learning new skills, letting go of old ways, transforming myself mentally, spiritually, emotionally. And there are any number of people and organisations offering to help me along the way.

The problem is that the subculture appears to be skewed towards a particular demographic — the millennial/Generation Y, educated, urban dwelling professional. It’s not a deliberate ploy as this group are the most likely to be seeking alternatives to the school, university, corporate treadmill that many find themselves on and so they are also more likely to be talking and writing about it as well as going through the process themselves.

The issue I have with this situation is that I am not one of those people, and it frustrates me that many of the opportunities out there are denied to me for the simple reason that I am a parent, and to a lesser extent because I don’t live in the big city (London in my case).

Let me explain. It’s not because I think the subculture intentionally discriminates against me, more that the system that has sprung up to support all of us as we seek fulfilling work is not a great fit for my circumstances. And the reason that it’s not a great fit can be boiled down to a single word: time. Or more accurately, a lack of available time to pursue my curiosities when I wish to do so.

A little context here. I appreciate my domestic arrangements are particular to me but hopefully if you’re a parent you’ll see some similarities. I have a daughter a little over two years old and her birth neatly coincided with the start of my career transition. As all parents of babies or small children know, above everything else they are exhausting in a way nothing can prepare you for — I used to be in the military and so no stranger to sleep deprivation — and they constantly demand your attention. This is particularly the case if they don’t sleep through the night as my little girl steadfastly still refuses to do. Summoning the energy to work on projects is challenging when you’re short of sleep.

I have the luxury of not working because my partner does so for three days a week. Those days coincide with our daughter attending a local nursery, with me doing the drop off and pick up. Grandparents help out occasionally, but from Saturday to Tuesday she’s ours to look after. Domestically it’s about the right balance but for me that invariably means I can only devote time to projects 3 days a week.

Domestic bliss is but one aspect of life though and I’d like to be able to build a career while this is all going on; fuel the intellectual and creative parts of me into doing something else worthwhile too. Given my circumstances how applicable to me is all the advice and suggestions I alluded to earlier? Well, not very. Roughly grouping the examples from earlier let me show you what I mean…

  1. Drop everything and have an adventure! Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Within the narrative of career change there are seemingly countless tales about how travelling to some far-flung island paradise, cycling across continents, helping communities in developing countries, remote working…and so on and so on…is the way to regenerate yourself after leaving that career you didn’t like. There are even programmes designed just for you should you wish to book a one way ticket without a plan. New experiences and cultures are all good for the soul and the entrepreneur alike. That may be true, but my first thought whenever I read or hear about anyone who has done this sort of thing is ‘well you obviously don’t have children’. Disappearing even for a weekend is just not option unless agreed a long way in advance, which blunts any spontaneity a little!
  2. Develop productive habits. All of us could probably more productive and there is no shortage of advice about hints, tips, and tricks to achieve this loosely based around habit forming. Unfortunately — if you believe most of this advice — the best time to be doing this habit forming activity seems to be first thing in the morning. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, writing, prioritising tasks, exercise, or getting creative it’s all supposed to happen before the first espresso of the day goes down. I would love to be able to do some of these, but unfortunately my day usually starts with a crying child waking me up and as she can’t yet dress or feed herself the first couple of hours of the morning are devoted to doing that instead.
  3. Networking and events. I believe there is an assumption that most people who want to change careers, are making that transition or have begun something new, are generally busy during the day working so all the interesting stuff happens in the evenings. Meet-ups, talks, drinks, networking all seem to take place after 6pm. Which for a parent is somewhere around dinner, bath and bedtime for our bundles of joy. It’s probably this aspect that’s the most frustrating for me. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been notified of something happening that’s of interest or relevance to me and what I’m working on, and I think: “yes, I’ll go to that. When/where is it? Oh, central London at 6.30. Never mind.” That’s not to say I never go to anything, it just requires some forward planning and negotiation. And sometimes some guilt management too — after all, I’m not the one who left the house at 6.30am to do a full day’s work only to come home to a tired, grumpy 2 year old, just so someone else can do some networking…

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to come across as ungrateful for the fact that I’m a parent which appears to be interfering with my career. It was my lifestyle choice after all, and I’m lucky to have an understanding partner. On the plus side — and it’s a huge plus — I get to spend more time with my daughter than many parents (especially fathers) manage. And, of course, she’s the apple of my eye so when she’s grown up I’m sure I’ll look back and treasure this period we have together. There are ways round all of the issues I’ve raised here and I know I’ve generalised a little to make a point. I’m sure I could identify slots in my week to write or exercise, and I’m definitely more discerning about what events I show up to. I know that there are plenty of successful entrepreneurs and self-starters who did so as parents and that people are starting to identify that there is a market for people like me too. Here’s one example.

Also, given that I’m in a minority demographic as far as career changers are concerned why would the organic system be set up to suit me? Although the move to find fulfilling, nourishing work is becoming more mainstream these days and the breadth of activities this engenders will always require those with experience, parents are becoming older too so it will probably remain that way for now. Being a father is the ultimate responsibility and one that can’t be ‘escaped’ from so I guess I’ll have to accept that my career transition will take place a little more slowly. And with that, it’s time to go and collect a little person…

text here.

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