Working Mama: New Beginnings

April 30, 2013 By Alexis Podolny Heald 0 Comments

What does a new beginning mean to you? This month the Workin' Mama reflects on the concept of new beginnings, and realizes that sometimes gaining a new perspective is all it takes for a fresh start.

April is usually the month we start to think of new beginnings. It is the official end of winter and beginning of spring. The green of the daffodils and tulips begins to break up the monotony of the winter gray and brown. In the Judeo-Christian traditions we get holidays that celebrate rebirth and new starts. 

Unfortunately our careers do not follow the seasons (unless you’re a farmer but I imagine the number of expat working mama farmers to be pretty small) and we have to take the effort to reinvent our careers ourselves. Change comes, in my experience, in two ways – push or pull. Either you are pushed into it: moving overseas for love, having a baby (which changes how and how much you want to work), being let go from a job and becoming an entrepreneur. Or you are pulled: an amazing opportunity sends you moving overseas for work, or your spouse gets an offer and you find yourself a SAHM (stay at home mom) in a new land. Rare is the person who leaps into change of their own momentum and that is perfectly normal.

Radical change is not the norm in reality, though it is sadly how we envision that a change and a new beginning should happen. Most of us discount how difficult it is to reinvent ourselves. It's not easy to give up what we know. First of all there is a certain amount of inertia, as if the laws of physics applied to our ambition and, so long as we stay motionless, we tend to remain motionless.

When you have a family as well your appetite for risk suddenly decreases. Few of us really plan our lives out so that we do all our daring deeds before we suddenly find ourselves with little people to support and nurture. When we get to that point in our career where we wish we had more time for the kids or had more passion for what we did, it is difficult to take that leap and give up the security of a sure thing that while may not be ideal, keeps our loved ones fed and taken care of. 

In particular in the Netherlands there are benefits to being employed if you are still having children that are different if you are not employed. For me it is hard to imagine not being employed when I think of all the taxes I pay – I’d like to get some of that back in the form of maternity leave and childcare subsidies.

Finally, there is the great myth of our times which drives so much of us to feel discontented. The story goes like this: there is this one thing out there you will love doing and you should not rest until you discover this passion and make it your life’s dream. From my choice of words you may have already inferred where I stand on this point!

I come from a family of entrepreneurs – but I still work for the man. In fact, I come from a family of consultants who consult entrepreneurs. I’ve seen a lot of small businesses. What I find is that people are never happy always. This is the great myth. The truth is that we change. Something that makes you happy as a hobby you may hate when you try to make a living out of it. Something you do for years with passion may diminish in pleasure over time. Because we change, and our desires change.

Lastly, what gets me the most and I find myself struggling with as well, is the suggestion that what we are doing is not good enough. We deserve better. But this better is unattainable, because it is a perpetual improvement on what we have. I work for an employer and I take a mommy day. It’s something I’d never be able to do in my home country. I am constantly appreciative of the life I am able to lead here (and constantly struggling not to work on my mommy day but that’s another story). My work may not lift my soul but it’s pretty okay and I mostly enjoy what I do. As a woman I appreciate that I was fortunate to be born in a western country with access to excellent health care, education, in a time of mostly peace, and with governments that mostly protect my rights.

When we want something new, we often overlook these things we take for granted. Maybe what we have is pretty good after all, but we have gotten too used to it to notice. Hence the itch – we take for granted how good we have it. Sometimes the exercise of just thinking about leaving the old, starting something new, is enough to breathe new life into that old status quo. I have had a number of opportunities over the past years to leap into something different. When I stood back and took stock of everything I had, I realized it wasn’t the time. Sometimes a new beginning can be found by looking right where you are.

Alexis is the mother of one adorable Munchkin and wife of OH. A working Mama and a new Mama, she writes regularly for us on the challenges of balancing family and work life.

photo credit: Bex Ross via Flickr cc

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