The key to having the career of your dreams is knowing what success means to you.


And the great thing about becoming a mother, especially a working mother, is that you learn to have thick skin about what others think you “should” do and start to really figure out what you want to do.

Ready to design a career that works for you, your goals and your family? Here’s how. to get started.

1. Know all your options.

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There’s never been a better time to be a working mom. With technology and modern business cultures increasingly supporting women and men who want more flexible work, you have lots of options. Research them carefully, because you have more negotiating power than you may realize.

Some of your options at work:

—Traditional full-time work in-office (check out Fairygodboss)

—Traditional full-time work in-office, but with a flexible schedule

—Contract-based work for a specific duration of time (see Emissaries)

—Part-time work in-office

—Split in-office/work-from-home schedule

—Project-based work you complete on your own schedule

—Full-time remote work from home (see PowerToFly)

—Consultant work for various companies and/or individuals

—Freelancing in your industry, taking smaller projects as they emerge

—Mid-career internships (check out Après)

—Starting your own business

—Volunteer roles that develop professional skills if you stay at home (see The Muse)

2. Think outside the box.

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You might think you know what opportunities exist in your field, but have you really pursued all your options?

Teacher? You can make a full teaching salary from home by working with a virtual K-12 teaching platform like Proximity Learning.

Nurse? Control your schedule (and often make more money in less time) with nurse contracting jobs. (See Nurse Choice.)

Office worker? There are thousands of new companies dedicated to helping talented working moms find meaningful work on their terms. (Check out The Mom Project.)

3. Prototype your future.

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Thinking of making a change to your career, especially if you grow your family? Don’t assume your plan is exactly right. Designing Your Life authors and Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans explain that you need to test your plan before committing to it.

Here’s how The New York Times explained it:

Central to their philosophy is prototyping, a concept borrowed from how product designers work. Let’s say you’re thinking of changing careers. Interview someone who does the job you’re considering. Better yet, ask to shadow them for a day, or work in the field on weekends. If it feels right, take it a step further; if it doesn’t, move on.

So if you’re thinking of asking to work from home, test it for a few days. If you’re thinking of going 100% freelance, take on a side project and see how you like it. You’ll learn so much more by taking small actions than by simply making assumptions of what you think will work.

One more thing to think about when you’re deciding how to integrate your family life with your professional life: Consider going back to your job after maternity leave, even for a short three-month stint. Don’t assume that you will hate working after baby—if you give yourself time to adjust, you might find a new normal that you love. Or you might discover that you’re happiest at home. But you won’t know for sure without giving it a try.

4. Create your own job.

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Can’t find exactly what you’re looking to do out on the job market? Create your own job. It’s not easy to strike out solo, but you’ll have control over your schedule, your earning power and the skills you can focus on honing.

If you begin to grow a small business, you’ll be in good company. Natalie MacNeil reports on Forbes.com that the number of women entrepreneurs starting businesses is at an all-time high:

Women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years and tend to create home-based micro (less than five employees) and small businesses. Women will create over half of the 9.72 million new small business jobs expected to be created by 2018, and more and more are doing this from home offices across the country.

“The glass ceiling that once limited a woman’s career path has paved a new road toward business ownership, where women can utilize their sharp business acumen while building strong family ties,” explains Erica Nicole, who left corporate America to start YFS Magazine. YES to that.

5. Define success for yourself.

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Are you working a particular job because it gives you status in the eyes of others, or because you have an idea that you need to be earning a certain salary to prove your worth? Don’t get us wrong—we love that cash money and those fancy titles. But if you’re in it just to prove something to somebody else, you’ll never be truly successful.

New motherhood is a perfect time to rethink what success really means for you.

“Many Americans think of their careers as a race and feel that if they stop to change a tire in the pit, everyone will pass you by… the virtue of having a pit stop is that you might find you’re in the wrong race,” explains Richard Shell, a professor at the Wharton School.

Want to start defining success for yourself? “It helps to map out a narrative of the decisions that you’ve made in your career so that you can revisit and overcome any limits that you’ve imposed on yourself,” Shell says. By understanding what brought you to this point, you can better understand how to begin defining success for yourself, and how to take steps in that direction.

What does success look like to you? Is it having a greater sense of purpose at work? A leadership position? Bringing home the bacon ? without a traditional 9 to 5?

This is your own wild and marvelous life. Own it.

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