A professional vision can smooth the transition back into the workplace after parental leave, and help you to achieve your personal and career goals, writes Grace Papers Coach & Facilitator, Amanda Meehan.
A professional vision is kind of like your career navigation system.
Anchoring you to your values, whilst enabling you to stay true to the dream of what your career could look like, if there were no limitations. It’s an expression of your career ambition and independence, that also reflects your family priorities.
Knowing your ‘why’ for work helps you to define and ultimately negotiate the flexibility you desire without having to compromise on the quality of the work you perform. It can also provide a thoughtful response to those unhelpful people who ask you why you work, or why you don’t. And it actually makes your manager’s job a whole lot easier when you know what YOU want!
Growing up, I remember other children coming to play and when my Dad would ask them a question – would you like vegemite or honey in your sandwich, for example – they’d reply “I don’t mind,” to which my Dad would reply “I don’t either, but you’ve got to eat it, so you choose.”
We know the amount of effort it takes to organise childcare and get back to work, but if you’re committed to going to all that effort anyway, why not ensure that it is doing something that reflects your talent, experience and passion, and that is also a productivity gain not drain for your employer.
For many women, the decision to return to work after having a child centres around how many days they’d like to work rather than what they actually want their role to entail.
When this happens, and women don’t communicate their professional vision and ambitions, and assumptions will likely be made on their behalf which can limit the opportunities open to them on their return and in the future.
The conversations you have with your manager transitioning to parental leave, and when you return to work after parental leave are pivotal in establishing whether, as a working mother, you want a job or a career.
What is a professional vision?
A professional vision is a grown up way of answering the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up and why?’ It’s a bit like a career navigation system, anchoring you to your values and your family’s priorities, while still enabling you to stay true to the dream of what your career could look like.
Since having my first baby, I’ve used my professional vision to stay focused on my long term goals and perform work that energises me. It reminds me of the reasons why I work, and has helped me to negotiate the flexibility me and my family needs without compromising on the sort of work I do.
It takes a lot of effort to be a working mother, so why not ensure you’re spending your time doing something that reflects your talent, experience and passion?
How to set a professional vision
There is a technique to setting a professional vision – here are some tips to get you started.
- Give yourself the space and time to reflect on your career to date.
- Imagine what you want for your career, for your family and for yourself. It can be a pretty daunting task so don’t be afraid to look for help! The Grace Papers platform can, for example, guide you right through this process.
- Then, map this against your key life values.
- Work with a coach to refine and create a vision that is practical, actionable and authentic.
For many women, the decision to return to work after having a child is focused far more on how many days they want to work, than what they actually want to do, leading them to make decisions about their career without ever stopping to ask themselves what it is they really want to do.
“If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want and all that is left is a compromise.” — Robert Fritz
There are of course many “push” factors that make women feel they need to position the number of days they work as the non-negotiable – unaffordable childcare, inhospitable cultures that value face time over output, lack of flexibility and of course discriminatory attitudes. But when women fail to communicate their career vision and ambition as part of their return to work conversation, and similarly during pregnancy, assumptions are made on their behalf and employers are more likely to give them the “leftovers” which may suit some, but most certainly disengages many and often hampers career.
The real question this raises, is whether working mothers want a job or a career. Whether they want to just slide through working life with what is presented to them, or decide for themselves the path they will trek.
A recent study published in the Sydney Morning Herald found that maternal self-employment “is an option of last resort for many women that carries serious long-term economic consequences”. Undoubtedly the same applies to women who return to a role that either requires them to cram 5 days in 3 or insults their intellect and experience with work capable of being performed by someone significantly more junior to them – and so women leave.
The missed opportunity is that pregnancy is perhaps one of the most important times for women to invest time in thinking about exactly what they do want, rather than compromising themselves, their livelihood and often their career aspirations, by prioritising only what seems possible from the abyss of maternity leave. It seems somewhat ironic that in the work we do, we find that women who invest time in creating a professional vision and share it with influential stakeholders are not only more likely to be promoted, but have far greater flexibility to prioritise their family.
Amanda Meehan is the Grace Papers Coach & Facilitator. The Grace Papers is more than just an online program, it’s for women thinking about having children to dads wanting to find more balance between their career and family life. Find out more here.