Work Hard

I have decided I hate the phrase “work hard”.  Every success article I read talks about the importance of working hard.  And yes, I get it, we can’t just sit back and wait for success to fall in our laps, we have to be willing to stand up and go get it.  What I hate about the phrase is that it is meaningless.  What the heck does “work hard” look like?  How hard?  To what extent.  What if I work hard but maybe a little less hard than someone else will I not succeed?  Or why does it feel like I am sometimes working so much harder than other people who are more successful than me.

What the heck does “work hard” mean?  Thus far in my career it seems to be a phrase designed to pour judgment down on my head.  Successful people work hard. I am not successful. Therefore, I do not work hard.  Are we all following the logic equation here?

I give myself the “work hard” pep talk all the time but find myself constantly asking myself how hard? Since I am not where I want to be I must need to work harder. But then one must ask, harder than what?  Harder than whom?  Does working hard mean I need to put in more hours?  If I spend the evening with my family, if I take a day off on the weekend, if I say no to a request for extra hours or extra work because I just can’t do 7 days a week, does that mean I am not working hard enough?  And therefore I won’t have success?

It is easy to see on the other side of success that you worked hard, you made sacrifices, you stuck it out, you did what needed to be done and you are enjoying the fruit of your labor.  But on this side, what the heck does “work hard” look like?

Going forward I reject this totally unhelpful piece of advice.  Unfortunately since I have literally never read an encouraging business or success article that did not include the phrase I am forced to read around it.  Here is something from an article I read this morning that I think will help me get around my frustration with constantly wondering, “Am I working hard?”

Successful people, on the other hand, know that success only looks predictable in hindsight, and no one is predetermined to fail.

“Success is never inevitable. It’s easy to look back on an entrepreneurial path to greatness and assume that every vision was clear, every plan was perfect, every step was executed flawlessly, and tremendous success was a foregone conclusion,” says Shah. “Success is never predestined. If you’re willing to work hard and persevere, who you are is sufficient–because when you work hard and persevere, who you become is definitely more than enough to do something significant.”

While I am rejecting the “work hard” phrase I do like the word persevere.  I do like the reminder that while it is easy to look back after you have achieved success and see how worked hard and did all the right things but in the midst of it…who knows?  So I just keep working and persevering and believing that what I am doing will pay off, that I do have a plan, I am going somewhere and in the end God will provide.

Getting Ready to Return to Work

In just over a month I will celebrate 3 full years of return to work.  I don’t know that I would have used the word “celebrate” 3 years ago to define my working years but after a long adjustment period I really feel like I have settled into this new routine and am happy.  I don’t know that I am quite at the place of using the word “love” to describe my feelings toward working, although occasionally that word slips out, but I definitely am in “like”.  I am no longer using words like dread, hate, suffering, survival, etc.

I have a friend who is looking at a possible return to work in the fall.  She has been home full time as many years as I was and is experiencing some familiar sounding freak outs as she prepares.  It got me thinking about how I would do it differently, how I would prepare if I could go back and return to work again.  What would smooth the transition?

Find the Right Job

When I was returning to work I made the top mistake homemakers make when returning to work.  I under valued myself.  I had been “just” a homemaker for 17 years, nobody is going to want me, I have nothing to offer.  So I set my sights low and took the first job I was offered.  Within 3 months I had mastered the task, caught up to the industry standards I had missed learning during my time away and was bored, bored, bored and feeling woefully under paid and under utilized.

Take some time before you start job hunting to think about what you want to do, what your goals are for returning to work, what your skills are, what your interests are, etc.  Is this a return to full time work that means pursuing a career until retirement or is this a smaller return to augment your income while still prioritizing your family first?  What do you like to do?  How much time can you give to a job?  Can you work from home or would you rather separate the two?

Once you figure out what you want to do take some time to talk with people about how to prepare a resume, practice interviewing with friends and maybe even go get some necessary training.  I have one particularly long term planning oriented friend who identified the job she wanted to return to when her kids were out of school and spent 8 years working on her Master’s Degree in Counseling while her children were in school. She has finished and as her children enter high school is slowly beginning to build her new career.

Share the Load

Whether you return to work 10 hours a week or 50 you will need to enlist the help of others to avoid feeling overwhelmed.  Since we can’t add hours to our day when we return to work, we must make adjustments to our existing schedule to fit it all in.

I suggest starting before you return to work by enlisting the help of your family.  If you are like me then you probably do more than your fair share of the picking up of other people’s belongings throughout your house, putting away dishes, laundry, dusting, shopping, cooking, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, helping with homework, etc.

Have a serious discussion with your husband and children about what their new roles will be in your return to work.  Everyone will be affected by your return to work.  Getting them all on board and excited about it will help with the transition.

Here are a couple ideas:

Laundry:  If your kids are old enough teach them to do their own laundry.  If they are younger get some help with the sorting by putting baskets in the laundry room for darks, whites, etc.  Then you can just toss in a load as time permits without having to divide everything up.

Dinner:  I have finally found a system that works for me which I copied from a friends blog post.  What I love most about this system is that putting the menus and grocery lists on a shared document allows my husband to help out with grocery shopping and meal prep without my involvement. I also recommend bonding with the crock pot.  When I have a particularly busy week ahead of me I like to go to a place like Let’s Dish where in 2 hours I can make a weeks worth of meals for my freezer ready to go each night with no effort.  I highly recommend this plan for the first week or 2 after returning to work.  Even if it is only part-time you will be exhausted.

Outside commitments:  Besides your housework what other responsibilities do you have?  As Stay-at-home-mom’s we tend to be super volunteers. What are you doing outside the home that you might need to let go of?  Who can you pass those responsibilities on to?  When I returned to work I was leading the women’s ministry at my church.  I knew there was no way I could work full time and lead this ministry.  Unfortunately no one person stepped up to take over the whole thing but I was able to pass a couple on going aspects of the ministry on to different people.  While I was afraid to leave it without leadership I had to remember that God was the ultimate leader of that ministry not me and if He wanted it to continue He would bring the right person at the right time to keep it going.  And in time that is just what He did.  Whatever you are doing and however indispensable you think you are, God knows what is going on and He will fill the need.  Don’t be afraid to gracefully walk away if necessary.  (Gracefully being the optimal word here.  I am not encouraging you to abandon responsibilities.)

Hire help:  If possible get someone in regularly to help out with cleaning.  Although this hasn’t been possible for us I often felt during that first year if someone would even come once a month to cover the areas I was missing in my day to day it would relieve my burden significantly.  My tolerance for dirty floors can be pretty high if I know eventually someone will be coming to do them.  However, dirty floors get overwhelming when I know they will just  keep getting dirtier until I take action.  Not only does hiring help alleviate your burden, you get to help out another working mom by hiring her.

Planning and Communication:

If you don’t already run your life around a calendar now is the time to start.  With 2 working schedules and kids schedules you will need to keep track of where everyone is, what they are doing and how they will get there or you might risk losing someone!

During the first summer I was working we pieced together a variety of activities and babysitters for our daughter.  I knew the plan for each day but it started to become clear that my daughter did not and it was causing her a lot of stress.  I ended up getting a big wall calendar for her bedroom and filled in the plan for the summer.  She could see that she was going to be taken care of each day and mentally prepare for what the next day would hold.  Her stress and mine were significantly reduced by this little bit of planning and shared communication.

Be careful not to overschedule yourself or your children.  I try to give myself permission to schedule a few nights a week with nothing to do.  Every family’s tolerance level is different but we have learned in our family that we can not go more than a week without a break.  I have become very guarded of our social schedule and only plan for things we really want to do.

Change Your Mindset:

I think the hardest part of transitioning back to work is changing your mind set.  While my family is still my top priority, I have learned to trust my husband to take care of things in my absence, to trust my children to take care of themselves in my absence, and to change my expectations of myself and what I can accomplish at home on any given day.  And I have learned to change the way I see and define myself.

The tension between working moms and stay-at-home moms can at times be very high.  When I returned to work I really had to examine my attitudes and feelings about both sides.  Even though I always felt that it was a choice and didn’t think I was judgmental of working moms, I had to admit that I made my choice because I thought it was the best choice.  Now returning to work I had to ask myself if I was now living in a second best choice or if I believed my children and family really could still thrive and be my priority while I was working. I read a couple great books recently that really helped me to better embrace my new career track.  “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg which has gotten lots of great reviews is changing the way women view themselves in their careers.  A similar themed book called, “Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire” by Mireille Guiliano was also wonderful and thought provoking.  I recommend them both.

Pray, Pray and Pray

This probably should have been my first point.  Walk through this transition with the Lord by your side.  Lean on him for strength, confidence, and help.  Sabrina O’Malone of working mom.com and author of “Prayers for the Working Mom” encourages us to get prayer partners.  Who are those women in your life that will come along side you and lift you up in prayer as you make this transition?  When I went back to work I found it hard to find time for a women’s bible study.  And while I was desperate for some sort of working mom support group I couldn’t even begin to imagine when I or any other working mom would have time for such a thing.  However, taking time to support others in prayer is something I can do without leaving my family yet again to do so.  If you don’t have a someone to pray for you shoot me an email and I would love to pray for you as you make your transition.

Ultimately there is no amount of preparation that can fully prepare you for the transition from full time homemaker to working mom.  And the more years you have been at home, dictating your own scheduling and managing your home life, the harder it is to let it all go and embrace the changes.  But, change can be good and with the support of your husband and family you will successfully make the transition.