Kate Pollard on what it really feels like to lose your career and identity

Ever wondered why we ask kids what they want to ‘be’ when they grow up — not what they want to ‘do’. Well, for many of us, we define ourselves by our jobs, which can cause a rude shock when we take time away from the workplace for parental leave or caregiving responsibilities without being prepared. Kate Pollard explains how her identity crisis — and helping others avoid one — was the inspiration behind Circle In.

I want to tell you about the time I came to the realization that I’d totally lost myself and my career. It hit me 10 months after returning to work after two kids and two almost consecutive rounds of parental leave, and I’m not sure how it happened, or the true impact of that life-changing moment when I first announced at work that I was expecting.

All my youth I was told that I could have it all and match it with the men. And it felt that way until I experienced parenthood, and then tried to maintain my career at the same time.

If you’re like me, you gain so much personal satisfaction from achieving and growing your career. Mine made me feel important and gave me financial independence. At work, I felt respected and that my opinion was valued. As I merrily headed off on parental leave the first time, I was just happy to have actually made it. Let’s face it, having big ankles and a huge belly can be pretty challenging physically, not to mention the extreme fatigue that comes from waking up every few hours.

I’d done it. I was officially on parental leave. And I was really looking forward to putting my weary feet up for a few weeks before my baby arrived.

What I hadn’t done though, was put any real thought into what my return to work would look like. 

I hadn’t really had any of those important conversations with my mentors or sponsors. I had literally put my career on hold and thought that I’d figure it all out later. I reassured myself that I had no idea how I’d feel about being a parent and whether I would even want to go back to work.

And then my first adorable son was born, and it was incredible and totally mind-blowing that you can create someone who is so perfect. I was finally a parent, and I willingly slipped into the baby bunker for six months. The level of fatigue was off the charts, and my career was the furthest thing from my mind.

The sudden realization that I missed work and I missed my independence really hit me when I’d had about nine months off. The Groundhog Day nature of caring for a baby day in, day out was starting to grind on me, and I began to fantasize about working and having adult conversations! And a coffee by myself! And achieving things that had nothing to do with parenthood!

And so my return to work journey started. I was equally excited and terrified about going back to work. I felt really torn at the thought of leaving my baby in the care of someone else, but I also worked for a pretty cool company that embraced flexibility and was more than happy to support my return.

My manager and I had many conversations about the roles that I could choose from to best support my new working requirements. So I ended up taking a role three days a week slowly working up to four days where I didn’t need to manage a team but had an interesting and manageable remit.

It took me a while to adjust to the constant juggle but I eventually started to feel a bit more settled and much more confident in what I could handle at work and at home. And then I fell pregnant again with my second child and before I knew it, I was back on parental leave. This time though, I’d finished everything that I needed to in my role and it wasn’t being replaced. But I was assured that I would be welcomed back after parental leave and that I’d have a role at the same level again.

It would be fine. There wasn’t anything to worry about. Or was there?

Lots of things happened while I was on leave. My manager left. I had a new manager. We had a restructure. Most of my peers were promoted to the next level. I was then put into a new team without an official role or title, and I was reporting to someone who used to be one of my peers. I had almost zero communication with my workplace during my leave. I was like a fish out of water. I was literally in no man’s land.

When I returned to work, no one knew that I was coming back. My manager was overseas for six months. I still had no role but I had great relationships with people at work — I’d figure it out.

But there I was, 10 months into work again, when I actually realized the full impact of a lost career, and how it knocks your sense of self. Your identity. And I wasn’t quite sure how to get it back.

I don’t want others to make the same mistakes I did. It’s the reason for starting Circle In. To provide the right support and educate parents and caregivers on the importance of their career, and why maintaining it is never more critical than when you are planning to have a baby or taking on a caregiving role.

Written by Kate Pollard, Co-founder of Circle In.

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