What I Learned From an 11-Year Break to Raise My Kids

What I Learned From an 11-Year Break to Raise My Kids
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Why you should care

Because a break could mean a starting point for a whole new career.

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If you had asked me fresh out of law school if I would take 11 years off from my fast-track career, I know what my answer would have been: an unequivocal no. But life has a way of throwing things at you when it’s time for a reboot.

Before kids, I poured my heart and soul into commercial litigation and employment law and loved every minute of it. But after eight years and countless hours on the clock, I could see the writing on the wall: It was time for a break. Just a tiny one, I promised myself. Just enough to take a breather and then dive right back in. That short break took me through three children and lasted 11 years. It gave me an essential perspective on how to keep my feet firmly planted in the action so I was ready for work after the break. Here’s what I learned:

Showcase your story

When you are ready to jump back in full time, have a plan. Decide what your story is going to be. Mine was about branching out and trying new things, always an asset for companies.

Stay engaged

Doing something outside the home gives you the opportunity to explore passions and develop new skill sets. I opened a children’s consignment store with a friend. Sure, it was outside the realm of what I had done before, but it turned out I could leverage my legal expertise by setting up the partnership agreement and negotiating the lease. The best part? I could bring my kids to the store. Later, I worked part time in resource development for a nonprofit. Volunteering is great — it keeps you active in the community and sharpens your skills in project management, budgets and marketing.

Direct your path

Make conscious choices to control your career direction. When I started my fellowship in JPMorgan Chase’s ReEntry program, I scheduled weekly meetings with my boss. I quickly learned how to improve my work and meet my manager’s expectations, so there were no surprises when it came time for performance reviews. Those meetings, while not required, allotted me an uninterrupted, scheduled feedback session every week. These were invaluable in recalibrating my goals and gave me a more focused path on which to set my career.

Lean on your support system

Building a strong network of friends and family you can call on is an essential element in reentering the workforce. My mom is that person for me, she is an invaluable meal-fixer, appointment-keeper and kids’ chauffeur when I need her. Draw on your other networks as well. Remember that time spent volunteering? The friends you made then can continue to support you in this next chapter.

Recruit a mentor

Through the ReEntry Program I was assigned a formal mentor, and she quickly became my greatest asset. My mentor has been a great sounding board, answering questions I was reluctant to ask my manager and providing honest feedback about what I was doing right — and wrong. Not all mentors need to be assigned though, developing that relationship is all about finding a person you connect with personally and who is willing to advocate for you and your interests.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

You might as well come to terms with it early: You can’t do it all perfectly. I found it almost impossible to be a super-mom, super-employee, super-wife and super-friend all at the same time. Not every crumb needs to be picked up right away, and you don’t need to jump at every volunteer opportunity. Learn what’s important and rein in your expectations. It makes life easier — and a lot more fun.

Keita Young is a vice president and program manager for the Advancing Black Leaders strategy at JPMorgan Chase.