From childcare to life-balance to aging parents, career women today face an ever increasing number of issues that they need to factor into decisions about career change. To gain some advice on how to effectively navigate career transitions, I spoke with Sandy Anderson, Ph.D., author of a new book, Women in Career and Life Transitions (JIST Publishing).
Q. Are there transition issues that you feel are unique to women?
A. Yes. Many typical circumstances dramatically impact the work/life choices women make. For instance, what does a woman do when she’s invested 20 years in her career, and at age 40 her first baby is on the way? What is her purpose when her children leave home and she’s invested 20 full-time years into raising them to become responsible, well-rounded adults? We all know that women physically have babies. Career-committed women are more likely to forgo or postpone childbirth, which triggers a continual reexamination of values and priorities. At the other end of the spectrum are women who forgo or postpone their careers (and income-earning potential) to stay home and care for their children, spouse and/or aging parents.
Women also invest four hours into household responsibilities to every one hour that their partners invest. Single and divorced women with children must somehow care for their children and home, and earn a living in a world where women earn 75 percent of what men earn and hold less than five percent of the top executive positions. These realities influence the choices women make.
Q. Do you feel women benefit from taking an integrated approach to life and work?
A. Yes. In order to make suitable career choices, it is imperative that our life circumstances be taken into account. In the world of work it has long been established that men tend to mentally and physically separate their work and personal lives. For the most part, women have had to conform to this approach, or put their careers at risk in an effort to handle personal commitments (e.g. mommy track), with little or no support.
Research reveals that most women have an automatic tendency to integrate their work and personal lives, and that those who do, have less stress and are more content with all areas of their lives. It is because of this that I have realized a dire need for a career book that integrates our work and personal lives as women naturally do.
Q. You encourage women to journal while working through a transition. What tips do you have for women who haven’t written in a journal before to get them started?
A. Start gradually with a paragraph or two each morning or before you go to bed. Don’t put pressure on yourself to perform, just journal whatever comes to mind. This is a great opportunity to think about your accomplishments for the day, your challenges, your highs and lows. Then you can work your way into venting emotional ups and downs, discussing what you’re feeling on paper. If you engage in a lot of negative self-talk, use your journal as a way to convert those recurring negative thoughts into positive affirmations. Continually fill your mind with positives and you’ll experience positive results.
Q. You define a portfolio career as a career that consists of two or more income-earning pursuits. Do you see portfolio careers as a growing trend?
A. Definitely. Portfolio careers offer a great way to diversify your talents, add variety to your work, and keep a steady stream of income coming in. Much like a financial portfolio, a portfolio career consists of two or more income-earning pursuits.
The beauty of this arrangement is the ability to diversify. When you put all your energies into one career pursuit, you’re in trouble when that pursuit hits a financial low point or disappears altogether. With multiple income sources you’re better able to combat the high and low cycles characteristic of working on your own.
Q. How can women better master change?
A. By embracing the possibilities that change offers. By being flexible and able to roll with the punches. By building solid support systems that are there to pick us up on down days and cheer us on through our good days. Our personal lives are constantly changing and so is the world around us. By simply realizing that change is a constant and inevitable part of life, we can grow and flourish.
Q. No matter how unsatisfying a woman’s current situation is, the prospect of change can be frightening. What coping techniques would you recommend to women contemplating career or life transitions?
A. Foster solid networks of support. Consider going back to school, taking a class for fun or joining a support group. Communicate with the people you care about— ask for their support and let them know how they can help. Eliminate stress by taking care of yourself. Get adequate rest, exercise and try to stay healthy. Seek help from a counselor if needed. Carve out some time— even 15 minutes a day— when you can be alone to introspect and journal about what is happening inside of you, what is happening in the moment. Learn to live in the moment and take things one day at a time.
Q. What final piece of advice would you like to give to women considering life transitions?
A. Take some alone time and sit down with your journal and create a plan. I teach you how to do this in my book by taking you through the steps that are necessary to making a major change— everything from doing a self-evaluation (personal, emotional, financial), defining your obstacles to change and how you can overcome them, building self-belief and confidence, developing support systems, exploring your options, and finally, offering strategies to help you successfully manage and master change.