In the early days of my maternity leave, there were times I disliked—close to hated—being home on my own with my son. I adored him of course, but he was born with reflux that kicked in about two hours after I delivered him, as well as a milk allergy that went undiagnosed for a while, so it's fair to say those early days were a struggle.
I found the reality of my leave to be completely different from my original expectations. Don't get me wrong, I didn't think it would be all snuggles and making new mom friends; I had new mom friends who told me it was anything but that.
What surprised me most was how much I missed my job. I couldn't fathom why, when I was being paid to be home with my gorgeous little boy, that I wanted to give that up and head back to work. I couldn't wait to finish my maternity leave.
Three years prior to having my son I had joined a PR agency where I quickly climbed the ranks, and when I left for maternity leave it was with a promise I'd be back within eight months, ready and raring for the corporate lifestyle I had come to relish. In those first months, I longed for my desk, my work bestie and client lunches where I could talk about anything other than the number of times my son had thrown up on me that day. I couldn't believe I had made the decision to have a baby when my career was in its prime.
And then something changed.
As the days somehow got easier (they just do, don't they? No one can explain it, it just happens), and my bond intensified with my little boy, I started to wonder what my career had all been for. I worked extremely long hours for very little remuneration other than a team "Cheers!" at the bar on a Friday after a hard week of slogging for what could often be 15-hour shifts. I saw my rich clients get richer, while my life was no further enriched. And I don't mean in a monetary sense; I mean actual enrichment, where your job enhances your life.
Nevertheless, I clung to the promise I had given and put the question mark in the back of my head down to nerves about putting my son into daycare. Once I'd cleared that hurdle, everything else would fall back into place and the "old me" would come back and once again relish the corporate world and everything about it. Right?
Time ticked on and the question mark turned into a daily debate with myself about what my job was helping me achieve. Yes, we had enough money in the bank for a nice holiday, and I could afford an ASOS order every other week. But other than that, what part of this world I'd been living in had actually made me or anyone I worked with a better person? When had my skills been used to help anyone who was vulnerable or anyone who needed a lucky break in life?
I always thought nothing could take down my desire to be at the top or my passion for overcoming every challenge on the way to the top, head-on. But my son mellowed me; he softened me and transformed my ambitions in a way I could never have predicted.
Rather than money in the bank to buy expensive things, I instead wanted to collect memories. Instead of being able to brag about being a director in a business, I wanted to be able to manage my home and keep everyone within it happy. While I once would've thought anyone saying these things had little to no ambition, I now know it's just a case of our ambitions changing as our life changes.
When I eventually went back to work, I vowed to give it my best shot. But I quickly learned that the environment I was working within would never help me find my worth or show me my true value. Five months in, I handed in my notice.
I'm now self-employed and finding flexibility is the right thing for my family. I'm also working with clients where I am actually making a difference, and that's really important to me.
What I'm here to tell you is that no matter which path your career takes after you've had a child, no one else needs to be happy about it other than you.
Leaving the only industry you've ever known to instead follow a different calling isn't failure, it's bravery.
Jumping off the corporate ladder and taking a pay cut to work in a role that gives you more satisfaction isn't irresponsible, it's self-care.
Taking a step back to assess what it is you actually want to do doesn't mean you've lost your way; it means you're about to find it.