Up to now my blog posts have been a little tongue-in-cheek and, I guess, a little self-deprecating. It’s fair to say that I am a ‘work in progress’ where motherhood is concerned. However, so far I haven’t really talked about the work side of things. After lots of hard graft I am now in a senior management position and I love my job. A friend of mine pointed out that I might have some tips for mums who are aspiring to climb the ladder. So, here goes…
STOP FEELING LIKE A FRAUD! You are actually amazing.
I used to convince myself that any successes I’d achieved in my career were down to either plain good fortune or simply being able to throw endless hours of my time at big projects. After achieving a first class degree at university, I put it down to devoting every hour I could to the library (ok, I was a bit of a swat). After securing my first big promotion, I credited my career advancement to working till midnight most nights and meeting every deadline thrown at me. If I was requested to deliver a big work presentation I would plan it for weeks, practice at home and be absolutely word-perfect by the time the big day arrived. My ‘jokes’ were rehearsed to within an inch of their lives.
So, when I became a working mum and had that dawning realisation that I could kiss goodbye to any ‘extra’ time or even much sleep for the next 5-8 years I had no choice but to re-evaluate my working strategy. I found I had two clear choices:
- I could convince myself that I would be ‘found out’ and give myself up immediately or
- I could realise that I was still capable of being a credible, professional woman and stop acting like a pathetic idiot.
And so I chose option 2.
Fairly soon after returning from maternity leave I was asked to lead a workshop, and to kick it off with a presentation. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to prepare as thoroughly as usual, so instead I set myself a challenge. I allowed myself just one hour in the working day to jot down some crib notes to accompany my presentation slides. And guess what? Nobody noticed any difference. In fact, I thought I was pretty good – my ‘jokes’ were less scripted and more natural.
And that’s when I realised something. Being a career woman and a mum gives you a certain je ne sais quoi. It can actually give you an advantage.
Well, first of all, as a mother you are the ultimate time manager. Look at everything you manage to squeeze into every day to try to achieve that work/life balance. Look at everything you do every morning just to get yourself to work in a presentable state (most of the time). And it’s very rare that you will broadcast your morning ordeal to anyone.
You are comfortable with change. Even if, before you had your children, you were a total control freak, I can guarantee that you have had to let that go now. You are able to cope with ambiguity because you have to. Children are not predictable. You know that something as seemingly simple as ‘nipping out to the shops’ can often be a military operation. You know that you may well receive ‘the call’ from nursery whilst at work and have to drop everything. And that sets you apart from many of your work colleagues. You can adapt your plans. You can run with a new situation and most of the time you can even find the positives in pursuing that new path.
You have eyes in the back of your head. Ok, so that’s what we say to frighten our children. But it’s partially true. Mothers have a sixth sense and because of that we are skilled scenario planners. Every time I take my boys to the park I’m conducting an unconscious mental risk assessment of the most dangerous climbing frames and checking out the bigger boys to see if they are a potential threat. And we use those skills in our working environment. Although you can never underestimate the power of real hard evidence, sometimes, you need to switch on your intuition when making management decisions. Mums – you have that in spades. You know from experience that, sometimes, you’ve just got to go with your gut.
You are incredibly creative. You are able to keep Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy in employment due to your extreme imaginative powers. Even if you didn’t have them before, you are undoubtedly much better at it now. Don’t forget to use this at work too. I recently delivered a talk at work about Spiderman and how the theory of superheroes can deliver strategic advantage (I might save that one for another blog post!)
And finally working mums are capable of motivating and negotiating. And you usually know which tactic fits best with any given situation. We’ve all been there with our children. They won’t wear their coat and we have 10 seconds to spare so we either persuade them that coats are the coolest accessory EVER. Or, we bribe them with sweets negotiate with them to reach the desired conclusion.
I had to prove to myself that, as a working mum with little spare time, I didn’t need the luxury of endless hours and sheer good luck to still achieve something amazing. I’ve just completed my Masters qualification. I had far less time to devote to it than I would have liked, but I used my mum skills to develop a strategy to get it done. And I did it (hooray!)
So, the next time you’re faced with a tricky work challenge (or a real career-boosting opportunity) and you think you can’t do it, or you don’t have enough time to do it properly, or that you might just be exposed as a fraud – remember this.
You are a mum who works very hard and you are incredible.
Have faith. Don’t let imposter syndrome take over.
Trust your instincts and go for it x