Women Breadwinners & Career Change: Climb, Transition or Quit? (Read Time: 5 min.)

 woman 2Woman breadwinner… Who gave you that role?  Who keeps you in that role?  What could easily erase that role?

One answer: Your job.  

Maybe it’s your career.  More than likely, it is your profession.  Is it your calling?  Your vision?  Your grandest purpose for your life?  Probably not… And, yet, you do it.  You do it because it pays the bills.  You do it because it feeds, clothes, and provides a roof for your family.  You do it because it’s what you know how to do well and it’s what keeps you in the current lifestyle you’re accustomed to.

But what happens when the job you do is killing the dreams you have?

How do you make a decision about changing, altering, or erasing a part of your identity that is the requirement for your family’s survival?

The answer most women breadwinners stuck in a career rut choose is this: You don’t.  You stay in the job.  You do what it takes to pay the bills.  You put your big girl panties on and keep it moving.

That might last until your youngest child graduates from high school but, at some point, when you’ve done status quo until it annihilates your soul, what you discover is that you hit a breaking point where you can no longer do what you do, be who you are, and still truly exist.

Your career unhappiness affects EVERYONE around you.  

It hampers every relationship.  It slowly chips away at every dream.  At some point, if your joy is going to be a mainstay in your life, you’re going to have to make a few major decisions about your career (even when you love your career) and, usually, those decisions revolve around one of three options:

Climb? Transition? Quit?

Livelihood, salary, and compensation are critical factors in the life of a woman breadwinner.  If you’re a software engineer earning $250,000 a year and you absolutely hate it, going into work tomorrow and quitting may not be an option.  On the flip side, if you’re a teacher who adores her fifth grade class but your business analyst husband lost his job six months ago and your teacher salary can no longer carry you, your husband and three children, something about your income earning potential has got to shift.  No matter what the situation, women breadwinners are far better off making PROACTIVE career decisions than reactive ones.

If you’re at a crossroads in your career, here are three key questions to ask yourself before you choose either of the three alternatives:

ALTERNATIVE 1: Climb (move up within the company)

1) What career paths are available to me at the company I work for currently?

2) What steps would I have to take in order to move up the corporate ladder?  Would the time and energy investment I’d have to make into these steps be worth the outcome?

3) How can I reality-test my fit for a different position?  In other words, can you shadow a person who currently has the role you’d like to take on?  Can you get a mentor who’s already climbed the corporate ladder and meet with him/her thirty minutes every other week?  Is there an additional role within the company you can take on to “try out” the position you’d be moving towards?

4) How financially stable is my firm?  If I were to move up in the company and get laid off at a later date, would the experiences I gained in this new role make me more viable to companies outside of my current organization?

ALTERNATIVE 2: Transition (change careers/fields)

1) How much exposure have I had to the field/profession I’m looking to go into?  How can I reality test my fit for this position?  If you’re  moving from being a police officer to a doctor, have you interned or volunteered at a hospital?  What experiences can you take on before making a massive commitment to completely change gears in your career?

2) What will be required to fully make this career shift?  Will you need to get an additional degree or certification?  If so, how much will that cost?  How much will you have to pay?  How much time will you have to put in to get those things done?

3) What will it take to get you to the same or a higher salary in this new field?  If you’re a neurosurgeon deciding to become a writer, what’s your plan for making up for the salary lost in the process?  How will you downsize your lifestyle or add additional streams of income to compensate for any lost wages as you make the shift?

4) How willing are you to start over?  When you jump from one career to a completely different one, it often requires starting from scratch which includes working in an entry level position for entry level pay.  Given your family dynamics and your monthly budget, is this something you can afford to do?

ALTERNATIVE 3: Quit (quit a job you hate, one that is sucking the life out of you)

1) What has your current job cost you?  Be specific about the tangible costs of staying in your current position.  Have you gotten carpel tunnel syndrome?  Adrenal fatigue? Depression? Anxiety? Has your eye sight gotten worse?  Did you gain 80 pounds?  Be clear on the what this job is costing you.

2) How much longer do you feel you can stay at your current position?  At all costs, you don’t want to get so fed up that you wake up one morning and quit.  Having an exit strategy is always the best way to go.

3) What is your ideal exit date?  What kind of exit strategies can you start using to make sure you’re out of the company by this day and time?

4) If you had to stay at this company, what could you do to improve your experience of it?

5) If you had a choice between staying on your current job or working for a company that paid much less but had a better working environment, what would you do?

At the end of the day, the best decision you can make about your career will come from four steps (what Dan and Chip Heath call the WRAP Process in a book they wrote called “Decisive”):

1) Widening your options

2) Reality testing your assumptions

3) Attaining distance (i.e. giving yourself time to reflect and consider)

4) Preparing to be wrong (knowing that no decision is permanent and that you can choose a different path at any point you choose)

Be sure that you complete each of the four above-mentioned steps and then (no analysis paralysis) DECIDE AND DO… It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.

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2 thoughts on “Women Breadwinners & Career Change: Climb, Transition or Quit? (Read Time: 5 min.)

  1. This article must have been written for me. After reading the article and looking at each alternative, #1- There is no where else for me to advance and #3 is not an option, however; #2 is exactly what I am in the midst of doing now and I do realize there are things that I need to do in order for this to happen. Going back to school to get my degree is one of them.

    1. Hi Christy,

      Congrats on taking action to make the shift. Having been a professor of undergrad and MBA students for over 10 years, one of the things you’ll want to do is research the jobs available in the area where you live. Go on career builder, monster, and other job sites, look for jobs as if you were looking post-graduation, and keep a log of 5-10 jobs that are a solid fit for the kind of role you’d want to move into once you had your degree. Keep a running list of all the skills, knowledge, and experience each job description requires. Oftentimes, individuals will go back to school and think the degree is enough to land them the job they want. Definitely not the case in this economy. As you complete your degree, you want to build the experience and skills (certifications, licensing, working in a particular field, doing extra projects) that will give you the experiences you need so once you graduate with the degree, you’re ready for that position and will get it (and the salary that comes along with it) with ease. Degree + skills + the required experience is the way to go and you’ll want to attain all three at the same time (step by step) so you’re ready once you have the degree. Thanks for commenting!

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