“What if you are meant
to feel the world as inhospitable, unfriendly, off-track
in just the particular ways that you do?
The world has a you-shaped hole in it.
It is missing what you see.
It lacks what you know
and so you were called into being.
To see the gap, to feel the pain of it, and to fill it.”
—Tara Mohr, excerpt from You-Shaped Hole
I started my 10-year corporate Human Resources and Organizational Development career job-sharing with a new mother so she could work part-time.
I ended that career in 2018 when I wanted a part-time position after becoming a mother myself. The same company no longer offered such opportunities. My job-sharing arrangement had been an exception 10 years before.
So much for progress.
When, a year later, I would look for my next role, I no longer saw a place for myself in the traditional workforce. All I wanted was a well-paying high quality part-time position. Unfortunately, there were barely any to be found.
Leaving my career without a plan was the biggest financial and professional risk I have ever taken. It was incredibly scary not to have any idea what I would do next. But, I could no longer pretend that I was okay. Nor could I pretend to do it all in a society that does not support mothers. Workplace burnout had taken a toll. I knew I was at risk of further harming my health by returning to a demanding career in a fast-paced environment with an infant. I acknowledge I am privileged to make such choices.
I took a yearlong much-needed career break and began to recover from burnout while adjusting to new motherhood. Once I was ready to work again, a part-time career was non-negotiable to prioritize creating more work-life harmony.
Yet, I discovered what mattered most to finding a job was the ability to work full-time.
I did find some part-time opportunities, but most were entry-level or low paying. However, as a two-income family—my spouse is a social worker—that was not an option.
Though my skills and capabilities hadn’t changed, reducing my work hours meant the death of my corporate career.
This outdated model where work is full-time or nothing does not meet the needs of the whole workforce. Where is the in-between?
There is huge stigma to the idea of working part-time in corporate America. According to Business Insider (June 2022): “The bigger obstacle to part time work is psychological… Employers think less of a worker who wants to work part time.” Working part-time is synonymous with being uncommitted, unambitious and “almost un-American.” Ouch! Why would I want to work within an institution that sees me as less-than? Why would I go where I am not welcomed?
During the time I was looking for a job that didn’t exist in America, I wished I lived in a country with less barriers to working part-time, such as Sweden, where parents could cut their working hours to 75% until their children are eight.
Since the start of the pandemic over two years ago, I have noticed modest improvements in part-time opportunities, specifically within the contingent workforce as well as from platforms that focus on working mothers.
However, there is a long way to go to create the frameworks and willingness in support of part-time work in America. And I couldn’t wait until then to find a job.
As corporate America is currently largely reluctant to the idea of including part-time work offerings, then where did I find one?
I created it. I came to realize that what I was looking for was not out there. It is up to me to bring my dreams forth. I chose to build the life and career that was most important to me.
I became an independent consultant, focusing in HR and Leadership Development program design and development and content writing. I intentionally redesigned my life, putting my wellbeing and family at the center in addition to my career. Early on, I focused on healing my relationship with work, unpacking what led me to get and stay burned out, living my values, and learning to more deeply trust in my inner wisdom. This inner work has allowed me to make more conscious choices going forward.
It has taken diligent effort, networking, a growth mindset, trust, and ultimately putting in the time, to build what I envisioned. I can say with confidence now: it is possible. I found the fluidness of consulting empowering. Importantly, I have clients who welcome me as I am, based on the expertise and skills I bring, without needing to justify or adjust my work-hour requirements. In it, I have the authority to bring my professional vision to life, including: flexibility, autonomy, freedom, meaningful contribution, and improved work-life harmony.
While consulting was clunky, financially unpredictable and an emotional rollercoaster at first, it has been beyond worth it for me. I still have stressful times, especially with added challenges of being a working parent to a toddler during the pandemic. Yet, on the whole, I am thriving more, feeling significantly less burned out.
Now, I enjoy the work I do with clients I love, showing up responsively and present instead of reactively and frazzled. I make time daily for wellbeing practices in my life. I generally have time each week for activities that nourish me. I spend Fridays with my daughter, with her in preschool the other four days of the week.
This ideal state happens when my daughter is healthy, when I haven’t overbooked myself or gotten off-track. During hectic work periods or times she is sick, it is survival mode. Doing the minimum to get by is the priority. What matters is I find my way back towards thriving.
I am not the only one who believes in creating a country in which motherhood, careers, and all aspects of life exist in harmony. I am one person, doing my part, to create and live a meaningful and fulfilling life. The more individuals who stand up for what they need or forge their own way if they don’t find what they are seeking, the more the workplace will shift and evolve.
I have found that the growing gig economy and contingent workforce offers an alternative environment that can better meet the needs for part-time work. Werklabs, a workforce research, insights and advisory service division of The Mom Project, found that: “Contingent work is less likely to interfere with personal priorities,” and less likely to lead to burnout. I’ve discovered the opportunities are varied and vast, much more so than I first realized.
If the traditional workplace doesn’t offer what working mothers like me seek, if it persists in excluding those of us who want to work part-time, then we will continue to leave and won’t come back. The structures we are building on the other side will support creating a true revolution of work where working mothers—and all of us—thrive.