We Need to Talk: What It Feels Like to Go Back to Work at 40

We Need to Talk is a bi-monthly, anonymous series, where contributors share stories about business, life, and the stuff we don't talk about.

We Need to Talk is a bi-monthly, anonymous series, where contributors share stories about business, life, and the stuff we don't talk about.

photo credit: Andrea Posadas 

photo credit: Andrea Posadas 

The decision not to go back to work after having kids is a perilous one for most women. 

There area so many factors to consider. Do you go back to work after six weeks so you don’t lose traction at your job? Do you stay home with your newborn and really soak in the first year of your child’s life? Do you wait longer? The scenarios are endless and there is no playbook; it is a personal choice for each and every working mother. 

And there's no right way to do it. That’s the most important bit to remember. What is right for one woman is not necessarily right for you. What works for your twin sister may not work for you. In fact, it probably won't. 

I decided to stay home. I gave up a career in a newsroom. I hit pause on my career dreams and aspirations because I thought those dreams had shifted— and they did shift, for about ten years. For ten years I focussed on morning routines, nap time, bath time, bed time, and every other moment in between. I considered myself a working mom, but I was working for my children, not a company. For ten years my kids became my career. 

"What is right for one woman is not necessarily right for you."

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And then something happened— I grew increasingly less satisfied. (We're not conditioned to say that or this next bit.) Reading to my kids at night began to feel tedious. I wanted out of this routine and into another— the daily grind of email and brainstorming and late night deadlines that had nothing to do with making sure lunch was packed, that was appealing to me. I wanted a challenge. I wanted my career back. But my career didn’t want me. It had moved on to better and younger things, the women who had worked straight through their thirties and even those in their twenties who were climbing the rungs faster than my legs move at this stage in my life. 

I knew I wanted to return to work, but, like many women who take time off after baby, I had no idea where to start. I felt defeated before I began and I faced the all to common obstacle of a ten year gap in my resume. The entire landscape of my career had changed. Instagram wasn’t a thing when I left work and what on earth did Snapchat have to do with the news? A lot apparently. So does Twitter. It's not like riding a bicycle. It felt like everything had changed in the last decade. 

As I started to do more research I read about The Enternship, a program developed to help women over 40 reenter the workforce. Launched this summer, it is a four-week program aimed to aid women in the 40s, 50s, and 60s learn crucial, modern workplace skills. They chose 8 women, one of whom was a former CNN producer. Others included a stay-at-home mom and a lawyer. I felt relieved to learn that the program received over 600 applications. That meant that there were at least 600 women in the same boat— women not sure which wave was the right one, but they weren’t afraid to start over. And for many women 40 plus starting over after kids is the only option, but that doesn't make it a bad option. I still had the know-how and common sense and practical skill learned during the early parts of a career. I now needed to learn new skills with the humility and hunger of a green employee. In some ways, this was the youngest move I'd ever make. Maybe, starting over would keep me young. 

"For many women 40 plus starting over after kids is the only option, but that doesn't make it a bad option."

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I knew I had a choice to make: approach this next phase of my life with the humility and work ethic that I had in my early twenties, or fight an uphill battle, one I was sure to lose. One where I let my ego and age take center stage. Or one where I accepted that this was the path I chose, willingly, ten years ago. Did I want to have to choose? Not really. But did I? Yes. And now I wanted to go back to work and that, in and of itself, was going to be work. 

It’s not easy to be older than your superiors, nor is it easy to feel like you’ve reversed even as your age has progressed. But instead of using motherhood as the excuse, I used it to my advantage. I knew nothing about being a mom or how to care for an infant during those early years. I had to be humble and ask for help. I had to look to those who had gone before. Sometimes they were older, and sometimes they were younger. 

If I could take this same lesson and apply it to my career, surely, I would be OK. Surely, step by step, I could climb once more because over the course of your life, you're allowed to live more than one. 

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