I don't write that much about my decision to leave my law firm job anymore, for a couple of reasons: 1) I don't want to be a broken record - I've written about it A LOT; and 2) I don't think about it that much anymore. Truly. This whole blog started as a way for me to vent and find connections and, in all honesty, seek some kind of validation about the whole thing. But in the years that have passed, I have stopped thinking about it all that much. I have found new connections, new outlets, and I no longer feel like I need validation. I am at a place of peace about the whole thing, and in fact, I sometimes look back at old posts of mine and cringe.
Lately, however, I have been inundated with emails from women asking me for my advice about their own career path. Some ask if I think they should leave their current jobs. Some have recently left their current jobs and ask me what I suggest they do to maintain a network. Others have recently found out they are pregnant and are in a state of panic as to how they will balance their career with a family. I am, in many ways, honored that people are seeking my advice, but in some ways I don't feel I am necessarily the best person to give it. After all, who am I? I am just your average girl that happens to write a blog and also happens to have left a career to stay at home. But I try my best to put myself in their position, and give honest, sincere advice.
To really understand where these women are coming from, I have to put myself back in time. I have to remember the struggles I faced, what it was like when I left, and all the insecurities I felt. I have to remember that I felt so alone and unsure and, in many ways, like some kind of failure for even considering leaving my job. I have to remember the main reason I started this blog - for some kind of validation about my ultimate decision.
Back when I left my job, there wasn't really anyone out there to tell me it was okay. I yearned for my professional peers to validate my decision and tell me that I wasn't making a drastic mistake. Why my professional peers? Because at the time, that was who I was surrounded by. That's who I compared myself with, and that's who, in a sense, judged me the most. The irony is that people who are in the workforce, and have never left, are the least likely to provide that validation. It's not that they are hostile, it's just that it isn't a choice they are all too familiar with either.
Two significant things have happened over the years: First, I stopped caring about validation. I now laugh at what was once my biggest fear - being at a cocktail party and having someone ask me what my occupation is and having to say "stay at home mom." There was a time where I cared SO much about that. Now I embrace it. In fact, just yesterday I was filling out a form for the sibling hospital tour at the hospital I will be delivering my baby, and the form asked for my occupation (not quite sure why, but whatever). A few years ago, I might have been creative in my response - freelancer; writer; part time professor... But yesterday I wrote, quite simply and proudly, "stay at home mom." Perhaps because it was more complicated to list the other things, or perhaps because, at this point, it's the position I'm most proud of.
The other thing that has happened is I have actually received validation. Way back when, when I left my job, I was looking for validation in all the wrong places. Sure, my family supported me, but what I lacked was the camaraderie of other women who had taken a similar path. Now, I am seeping in it. In the past couple of years I have met so many women whose journeys have inspired me - women who have gone in and out of the workforce, women who have stayed out of the workforce and have forged their own path, and women who spend their time fighting for women's rights in the workforce (for some major inspiration, check out my friend Valerie's blog - http://wiw.motherscenter.org/). And I've realized that I'm really not all that unique. Most of my stay at home mom friends have some kind of advanced degree, and have had an experience similar to mine. In short, I have realized that, contrary to what I initially thought, I am not at all alone. Far from it.
I think a lot of these women have been reaching out to me because they have no one else to reach out to. When you are working, you are surrounded by other people who work. You feel that your consideration of leaving that club in and of itself is a betrayal. That you will be judged, shunned, and shamed. It isn't until you leave, and until you get comfortable in your own skin, that you realize it was all a farce. Not an intentional one, but a farce nonetheless. I've learned in the past few years that there are other ways of thinking - not right or wrong ways, just other ways.
I now believe that being a stay at home mom is a job in and of itself. I may not get paid for it, but it is a job nonetheless. If I didn't do it, I would hire someone else to do it. It's a job.
I also believe that a person is not defined by their job or their status. The prestige I felt from my legal career reflected a fake kind of confidence. It's embarrassing to admit now, but I felt an immense sense of pride from my job title alone. But why? Someone's job status doesn't in and of itself make someone interesting. Saying I'm a lawyer at a cocktail party doesn't mean anything. What means something is who I am as a person, and what I have to say. Perhaps what I have to say happens to be about my career, and that's great. But surprisingly, I've learned that I still have plenty to say, notwithstanding my employment status.
I also believe that we women need to fight for each other. Our corporate world is a man's world with men's expectations, and those expectations don't necessarily mesh with or work with a woman's needs. With so many women in higher education, and in the workplace generally, we need to fight for policies that encourage women to stay in the workplace, or at least encourage them to rejoin it when they are ready. Whether we are in or out of the workforce, we all benefit when we support each other, and validate each other's decisions, no matter what those decisions are.
I also believe leaving one's job to stay at home is not an end game to a career. My life will (hopefully) be long, and my career is far from over. When I left my job I felt there was this sense of finality to it. Why? I am 34 years old, for God's sake. I'm no spring chicken, but I've got a lot of spark in me left. Who knows where I will be in 5 years? 10 years? I won't be nursing a baby, that's for sure. I believe, firmly, that the world is still my oyster.
Coming from where I was, to where I am, has taken a lot of time. But getting here as been a direct result of the women I have encountered along the way. If I can serve as a source of validation, inspiration, or even just company for other women taking my same path, then all the better.
Keep the emails coming!