Cathy Brady talks herself through the various issues

This was supposed to be an article on returning to work, but as I write it’s turning into an article on procrastination, confidence-building and first steps.

The feeling I am fighting is that the time I’ve taken to nurture my extended family has depleted me and diminished my skills. Two births – one premature, leading to a mild disability – and one devastating death (my twin), leave me needing to regain my momentum, to accept and promote myself as I am, as well as how I want to be.

Mothering is exhausting, but also a joy: raising children is the longest and most rewarding project I will ever work on, as well as being the most important in my life. But if I want some engagement and appreciation outside the home, I have to let go of the idea of completing Project Children before I can work again.

When I last worked, I felt great: I had a position as an earner, a team player, a connector. And when raising my children, when I run the school auction, read with a child or make costumes, or when I raise money for charities outside school, I feel a glow of recognisable status. But it is dampened by feelings that in the eyes of potential employers I am ‘just a mother’. When I negotiate and persuade someone in the system to do what is needed for my child, I feel powerful and empowered. But nobody will ever see these projects, or what it takes to deliver them. It’s not exactly interview material. Or is it?

Having worked in recruitment, you’d think I’d be ideally placed to get myself back into the workforce; after all, I’m experienced at negotiation and planning, capable of initiating contact with new people and old networks, and ready, in the sense of wanting to do it.

But something keeps stalling me. What does ‘being ready’ mean? To me it means so many things, from having something relatively professional to wear at first meetings, to being brave enough to call my old network and reconnect, looking and sounding like I’m still professionally aware. It’s also about confidence that I still have my old skills, being happy to explain my 11-year career break (longer than I’d intended), and about knowing what I want to do.

In part I feel frozen into indecision by the flexibility trap. How do I get a job that fits with my family? Do I reduce my level of responsibility to get a flexible role? Or do I just jump in, work hard five days a week, and scale down if it doesn’t work! If I go back to recruitment flexibly, can I be a top biller again? Because by the nature of flexible working I would not be there several days in the week. Unless… it were a job share. I met someone who interviewed for a permanent role and ended up sharing it – with her interviewer! I’m not sure how this would work in recruitment, but it would be worth pitching if I found the right company/person.

Timewise Recruitment, formerly Women Like Us, is working to place women returners in flexible roles at all levels. Their Power Part Time Top 50, a list of men and women working at the top of their professions on less than a five day week, “busts the myth that senior roles cannot work on a part time basis”.

And I read with interest a recent article about American ‘Returnships’, rolled out in London at Credit Suisse. This is a really positive move – an attempt to arrest the talent leak by bringing senior level mothers who have had a career break back into big roles for say six months, after which they have proved themselves. The economic situation has meant there aren’t always jobs for these candidates, but I am just happy that it is being done.

For me, an invaluable resource on this journey has been the North London Career Club, on the third Wednesday of each month at 7pm, run by Caroline Humphries, CPCC, founder of Third Dimension Coaching. Taking place at The Literary Cafe on Fortess Road, these group sessions have helped me reconnect with my professional self to work out who I am when I am doing my best work, and how to bring this to the job hunt, working out my networking pitch and talking about the work that I want to do.

Caroline has also been a great support one-to-one, helping me force my way through why I’m stalling at the brink, using an interesting mix of skills to draw me out of this rut and refocus on where I want to be. At the end of the session I felt lighter, brighter, and more determined than ever to move forward – and kinder to myself.

Now I need to gather my thoughts and make the first move. It feels like it will take effort and determination that before children I would never have anticipated. But I know from the experiences gained over the last 11 years of (almost) invisible effort, that when I do go to back to work, it’s going to work!