Today I welcome Shannon Frankel, a lawyer, blogger, and stay at home mom. She offers an interesting take on work life balance as one evolves in a career and life. Frankel lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband, two boys, and dog, Couscous. You can contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Revolving Door
I have found that the term “work life balance” has different meanings depending on my stage of life. At my first job at a research firm in London in 2001, it meant a 40 hour work week for a minuscule salary. Then I went to law school and spent my second summer at a large New York firm. Work and life blurred, my days were spent at work and my nights at lavish work events.
By the time I had graduated from law school in 2005 and moved to New York, I was engaged. I wasn’t jet setting across Europe, and I had less and less interest in cocktails at the Zagat top 10. Work life balance took on a new meaning. Time became my priority.
When I entered the world of large law firms, I was naïve. I accepted an offer at a firm that was described in a law publication as a “honeymoon canceller.” While I laughed about this when I accepted, by the time I was working full time and simultaneously planning my own honeymoon, I didn’t find it so funny. As my biological clock began to tick, I realized that prestige was not all that mattered.Though I was highly ambitious and making a six figure salary, I began planning an exit strategy.
After about a year and a half, I got out. My husband and I left New York for the more family-friendly suburbs of DC. I got a job at a smaller, but still high paying law firm, with much more manageable hours. I had my first son soon thereafter, and the firm was very flexible in allowing me to return to work on a part time basis but my ambition got the best of me. I took on assignments that brought me to a near full time level, and soon the status quo was set.
After having my second child, I was burning myself out at work and losing my battle with balance, despite the fact that I had a flexible employer, part-time schedule, and high paying salary. The fact was, I didn’t want a part-time schedule. I wanted to be home with my kids, all the time.
So here I am, a stay at home mom. This career break wasn’t in my original plan, and my professional status and bank account have taken a huge hit, but I am rolling with it. I do plan to return to the workforce someday. Until then, I am spending my days with my kids and trying my best to stay involved and connected. I have joined a “Women Lawyers at Home” group that meets monthly. I plan on trying to do some pro bono clinics. I still have lunch with my former supervisor from work. And I’ve even started a blog (http://butidohavealawdegree.blogspot.com).
Regardless of these small endeavors, I am painfully aware that I am creating a large gap on my resume which may have repercussions for my future career and job prospects. I have to believe that for better or worse, billable hours will always be somewhere, waiting for the taking.
If I have any advice to offer others from my experience, it would be this:
- Think ahead. When you start a career, or enter a new industry, think about how flexible it will be in the long term. Is it conducive to part time or flexible work arrangements? What about maternity and paternity leave policies? Or sabbaticals?
- Look around. What do the people in the workplace look like? Are they happy? Are they married? Do they have kids? Is there anyone you can look to as a role model? Is there anyone who will be your advocate?
- Be honest with your employer. If your needs in life change, or you go on a part time schedule, have an open and honest conversation about your expectations and theirs. And then stick to it.
- Be honest with yourself. If you feel the need to take a break, it’s okay. The working versus stay at home debate assumes such an all or nothing dichotomy. But maybe there is something in the middle – a revolving door – in a more temporal sense. As needs in life ebb and flow, one can throw themselves into work, into children, or into whatever else life may deal. Because life evolves, needs evolve, and over time, things will balance out.