Growing up, my mother was my role model for combining work, family, and life in general. She was a labor and delivery nurse most of her career, and worked various schedules and shifts in hospitals and clinics throughout my childhood.
During one part of our lives, she was assigned the night shift and slept while my sister and I were at school. Interestingly, what I most recall most from this time period is my father cooking fried eggs for us every morning before mom returned home. (Imagine the grease and cholesterol!) During another point in our lives, my mother worked only on weekends, and yet at another time took on 12-hour shifts over a couple of days.
I did not know then that this was deemed “flexible work” and was instrumental in helping her balance everything in her busy life. All I knew was that she was around for us, had a career, volunteered occasionally, hosted two exchange students from Italy, saw her friends once in a while, and somehow still had time to plan family trips across the country in our supersized 1980s conversion van.
I never thought twice about how my mother managed to “do it all” or that nursing was a more flexible career than some occupations. However, I did assume that one day I would have a similar set up. In fact, one of my best friends and I planned as teenagers to pursue professional careers and then work part-time once we had children (which coincidentally or not, we both have done exactly as we envisioned). I thought, perhaps a bit naively, that workplace flexibility would be readily available when I wanted or needed it, no matter what career path I chose.
Finding Flexible Work for Myself
Fast forward a decade later, in my late 20s I proudly negotiated my first part-time, flexible role so that I could pursue additional training to shift my career focus. I have since been traveling down the winding path of flexible work, seeking and arranging alternative schedules in two different fields, as well as navigating a few jagged potholes in the road.
First, I discovered that it was challenging to even locate flexible jobs and employers (although this is getting somewhat easier thanks to a number of excellent resources including FlexJobs and Mom Corps). In one role I had, management professed that I could not be promoted while working a reduced schedule, even though I was performing at the next level. In another position, I was seen as less committed for taking on part-time hours, and eventually was informed that the role was changing to full-time (which I could either take or leave altogether). I departed from these jobs disappointed, but I did not lose hope. I held my head up and marched on, knowing I would eventually find or create something that would fit my career aspirations and family’s needs.
Today I continue to pursue flexible work, because it has given so much to me over the past 12 years. Due to these arrangements, I have been able to follow my dreams, stay in the workforce, be around more for my children physically and mentally, volunteer for causes I believe in, occasionally dabble in a photography hobby, sustain my relationship with my husband, be there for friends and others, and just generally feel more sane and happy in life.
Work Flexibility for All
I know I’m not alone in these experiences and sentiments. As a Career and Work-Life Coach, I have counseled many individuals who have desired flexible arrangements in order to take care of children, assist elderly parents or an ill relative, pursue a hobby, start a business, focus on artistic endeavors, manage a disability or health issue, observe religious traditions, deal with an extreme commute, pursue a degree, or make a career change.
The reasons for wanting flexibility are endless, and the truth is that in today’s world, we all need it. The increasing struggle for individuals and families to balance work and life is why I remain strongly committed to, believe in, and support flexible work initiatives such as 1 Million for Workplace Flexibility. I look forward to the day when flexibility is inextricably woven into all American workplaces, and I truly believe we will get there.
One day, I imagine my children will be calling me to say, “Mom, you are not going to believe how easy it was to find a flexible opportunity offering exactly the schedule I need!” Then I will know we will have successfully navigated the winding, twisting path to flexibility for all, whether in a conversion van, minivan, or whatever the transportation of the modern day; we will get there.
photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com