MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR SLOW CAREER
Articles about slow careers, downshifting, and alternative ways of living started showing up en masse after the 2008 financial meltdown. And for good reason—many women and men who had given up so much of their personal lives so they could be all-in at work were suddenly finding themselves with the proverbial pink slip and a walk to the door.
I’d seen it before. On Monday, October 19, 1987, the stock market crashed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 23 percent in a single day—the largest one-day percentage drop in history. Over the next few days, $1 trillion in total wealth was lost.
At the time, I was working as a product manager at Fidelity Investments while Bill was at business school. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in school loans, my salary and benefits were the only things between us and that financial cliff.
At Fidelity, it was an all-hands-on-deck day. Managers like myself who had never “manned” the customer service phone bank were called in to calm the nerves of terrified retirees, housewives, and primary breadwinning husbands.
I’ll never forget one woman’s anxious call. She begged me to tell her if they should sell everything so they would be assured to save something. “My husband is the only one earning a salary now because I’m home with the kids. If we lose this money, I’ll have to go back to work. That is if I can even get a job!”
A few months later, Fidelity announced major layoffs. We managers were told to sit in our offices while our bosses would individually inform us of our “employment status.” I could hear grown men shouting in disbelief down the hall and I saw one colleague crying as he was escorted out the door. I didn’t lose my job that day, but I came to understand how precarious job security can truly be. I vowed to make sure I would always have a job with a good paycheck. As you know, I didn’t keep that promise to myself, largely because I didn’t foresee what it was like to be a professional and a mother.
The lessons of the financial collapse of 2008 rang differently to the respondents of the Women on the Rise survey. Rather than convince them one should never leave the workforce, the Great Recession convinced many of them that their choice to pause was exactly the right decision.
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As one woman wrote, “If you can lose everything you have worked so hard for in the blink of an eye, you better make sure the sacrifice was worth it.”
Another said, “I knew I had made the right choice when I watched my friends who worked long hours and never saw their children lose so much of their savings. They stayed working non-stop to earn all of that money and then it was gone. Because I had paused my career, we didn’t have as much savings to lose, but I had time, which was much more valuable to me.”
Time and how you feel about what you do with it is at the heart of working, pausing, and thriving. In a 24/7 work world where it’s about getting to the top as fast as you can, choosing to take control of your time by meandering along on your own path can be incredibly difficult. Making peace with a slow career means you have to accept that those who stay all-in, all-of-the-time, are going to reach the top before you. For many women, that can be a huge challenge.
It takes courage to push back and confidence to make peace with the consequences. Venture capitalist Patricia Nakache remembers how hard it was to stay true to her personal goals when she decided pull back and work part-time. She told me, “I felt like the tortoise in the race to be successful. My women friends were moving along and, in my mind, I was doing the same work as my male colleagues even if I was working a reduced schedule. But they were the ones getting promoted. You have to swallow your pride as you watch others succeed around you to keep your goals on track.”
As Patricia, and so many others, have proven, a slow career doesn’t need to be slow forever. When you are ready, you can re-ignite your professional goals, most likely catching up far more quickly than you might have expected. Despite taking a career breaks between two and ten years, it took fewer than twelve months for the vast majority of the Women on the Rise respondents to feel they were “back on track.” In all likelihood, it won’t take long for you either.
Time and how you feel about what you do with it is at the heart of working, pausing, and thriving.