For the first time in my adult life, I’m not employed. I don’t have a career. A little over a year ago, I decided to take a ‘sabbatical’ of sorts after leaving the State Department – partly of my own choosing after a particularly brutal last year in Washington and partly out of the reality that I wouldn’t arrive in the UK with a job offer in hand.
Back when I was burning the midnight oil, I felt like my time at the office constantly interfered with the things I wanted to do in my personal time. I didn’t have a work-life balance, which I realised was crucial for me because work wasn’t my life. My husband and I were increasingly living in separate countries – he in the United Kingdom, and me wherever the State Department sent me.
It was ok for a while. We had full lives and a happy time when we were together. But the time came when we wanted a family, and we couldn’t see how that would be possible if we were both working in separate countries, one of which has the most abysmal maternity leave policies (or lack thereof) in the developed world.
We had choices, I guess. I suppose I could have been a geographically single-mother when my husband was away working. I could have found a daycare for $2000 a month to put the baby in when he was 8 weeks old (because that’s about as much time as I would have been able to take off) and tried to leave work before 7pm so I could care for him myself. My husband could have become a full-time stay at home person, following me around the world and looking after our kids (sounds glamorous but Diplomatic life can be pretty unforgiving). Or I could leave my job and move back to the UK with my husband.
All things considered, and we did consider all our options for months, we decided we would both be happier if I were to leave my job and move back to the UK. I had lived in the UK before and had a fulfilling job when I lived here, and I had no doubt I could find such fulfillment and success again. I wasn’t yet pregnant, but our decision to move back only felt more ‘right’ when we learned we were having a baby (for another post).
Getting pregnant was a welcome surprise, but it threw off my plans to restart my career over in the UK. I applied and interviewed for jobs whilst pregnant, but nothing panned out. I don’t work in a field where salaries are very high – the work is impactful on a global level but the financial reward is low. I did the sums – monthly transportation into London, nursery, mortgage, groceries – and they didn’t add up. It would actually cost us money for me to work. And I don’t think my interviewers were too keen to hire someone who would be going on maternity leave in a matter of months.
So I took a big personal risk and I decided I would take a break from my career, and look after the baby full-time.
The time off from working whilst I was pregnant was very healing. I had a chance to focus on myself and my family. I rested, I pursued creative interests, I learned to cook. Most importantly, I learned that my value as a woman or person in this world isn’t defined by what’s on my CV. Yes, it’s been a bit bruising at times when I see the incredible things my friends are doing all over the world and in their careers, and I’d be sitting at home watching the Barefoot Contessa or re-runs of The Real Housewives of Wherever. Or when I go to social gatherings and people aren’t that interestd in talking to me anymore. Yes, that happens.
But the way I see it, I have 30+ years of a career ahead of me if I so wish to pursue that. And I think I do. But there is something to be said for taking a break once in a while, if you can.