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  • Writer's pictureSIEW

3 things to know before you quit your corporate job: The reality of managing work and family

Work-Life-Balance. The holy grail that many (especially working mothers) wish to seek but are unsure of how to.

I started my own search some 17 years ago, when I realized that I was spending a disproportionately more time with my bosses and colleagues than with my children. That was a time when the concept of work-life balance was foreign.  Work was 9-6pm (more if you count the commute time), 5.5 days a week.  Life (family) was a miserable 1 hour or so in the evening and the Sundays.

Everyday became more and more of a struggle as I felt so torn between giving my best to my career and being there for my two young children.  Guilt snowballed into a deep sense of misery, robbing me of the joy of motherhood.

In hindsight, I was burnt out and totally unaware.  What I knew then was that I had to find my own version of work-life balance.  That was when I decided to quit my corporate job.

Reflecting on this journey, there are 3 lessons I learnt about managing, work and family.

Lesson 1: Work Life Balance Is A Myth

The belief that we can balance work and life perfectly is a myth.  

It is really about prioritizing our values and aligning our decisions accordingly.  

I chose to leave my corporate job because to me, family is a more important value than career and I choose to honour it.  To have more time flexibility so I can tend to my children, I pivoted to become an educator setting up my own enrichment centre.  

For many years after, I had the luxury of being there to greet them upon their dismissal from school and being involved in their school life helping out as a parent volunteer on their field trips.  I connected with them, gaining insights to their thoughts and views about others and themselves which gave me an opportunity to inculcate values in them.  Memories with me in their life were created for them to keep.

Of course, when a segment of your pie gets bigger, the others have to shrink.  There were things I had to forgo.  

Trading a stable corporate pay for a variable (and lesser) income means I have to be financially prudent, especially in the initial years of the business. For a few years, the family had to give up on enjoyments like going for family vacations overseas and expensive meals in restaurants.  I also had to miss out on social life as my work schedules on weekday nights and Saturdays are often in conflict with friends who are mostly working the “normal” hours.  

There were times when I had my doubts if I had made the right decision, but the joy of my children when they see them at home keeps me going. It was my perfect work-life balance during that season of my life.

Yours will look different, of course, as the definition of “balance” is uniquely yours. If you are in search of your perfect work-life balance, start by identifying your ‘anchor' priority.  Is it finance, health, family, career, growth, or something else? Once you have identified it, ask yourself which of the other priorities are you prepared to put it on the back burner for now.

Remember, it is your life so whatever choice you make is the right choice for you!  

Lesson 2: Courage is Overrated

“I wish I had your courage!” – that was the No.1 response I received when people learnt that I had quit corporate to become a mum-solopreneur.  I often laugh inwardly when I hear people telling me this. Because here’s what happened…

There was no courage.  

There was only a strong desire – to be present in my children’s growing up years and to live a life that is meaningful to me.  I didn’t quit my corporate job because I was courageous or I knew that I could make things work.  Not at all.  

All I wanted was to be able to fetch my children from school, have meals with them and listen to their stories about school and friends. I hoped to be part of my children’s memories when they think of their childhood days.  That held more meaning for me than anything else.

Did I have fears and insecurities about my decision?  Absolutely!  

Was I certain that it would work out?  Of course not!  

But there was a voice in me that repeatedly tells me: this (staying in a 9-5 job) is no longer what I want. 

This voice started as a mere whisper, creating a sense of dullness and a feeling of direction-less. 

Over time, it raises its decibels.  It warned me that if I stay status quo, I will burn myself out mentally and physically.   It pushed me to question my purpose in life and discover what is important to me. It provided me with a vision of how life can be happier and better.

If you too have a voice in you that grows louder and louder each day, take a pause and listen carefully to what it has to say.  That inner voice will give you the courage that you need to live a life you want.

Lesson 3: Imposter Syndrome Never Left

This is how my resume reads: 12 years in corporate across different job functions, 15 years as an educator cum business owner, ICF-accredited Coach.  It speaks of a wealth of experience and knowledge.  

Yet, imposter syndrome never left me.  In her book “Imposter No More”, Dr Stoddard Jill A said that “Imposterism is common among high-achieving individuals and may even be correlated with success”.  This is reinforced by my own experience with my coachees who are all amazingly successful women in their field.

Women I coached, regardless of their age and job titles, always feel deep in them that they are not good enough, that they are “imposters” faking it.  I feel them, because – me too!  I would often question myself if I have what it takes to coach, to educate, to write, to be of value to others.  Too many times, I put myself into that dark deep hole with thoughts of “I won’t be able to handle this; I am not capable enough; I don’t have what it takes.” Comparing myself with other women compounds these self-negating thoughts.  I would marvel at their success and think to myself: they are so much more capable than me!”.   

As a result, I was unable to move forward (or anywhere in fact).

I would have continued to stay in hiding if not for mentors and friends who support and encourage me.  They stuck around to show me what is possible outside that dark hole, and cheered me on at every little step I took.  

While people often say it takes a village to raise a child, I believe it also takes a community to support a mother. Looking back at my journey, I would not have achieved what I have without  a network of support and care providing me with resources, encouragement and connection.

Hence, I encourage you to go and seek your village. Like-minded women who understand your motherhood ups and downs, friends who love you for who you are, mentors who show you what they have learnt, coaches who hold up a mirror for you to see your inner self, people who work on a cause you care about…

No one needs to do motherhood alone.

"The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams. But remember, every dream has a price, and you must be willing to pay it." ~ Oprah Winfrey

Burnt out occurs when we try to “have it all” based on others’ standards and bull-doze our way through.  Take a pause and ask yourself: what is most important to me right now?    

I believe that there are different seasons in our life.  When a new season comes, you have to decide which of your priorities take centre stage.  Know and accept too, that when we say yes to something, we are saying no to another.  But have faith that it won’t be forever, because seasons come and go.  We are simply rotating our priorities and focus, and one day, we will achieve fulfillment in all that truly matters to us.  

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