Defining your terms, activating your network and updating your skills will give you a strategy for reentering the workforce.

However, there are numerous places to get stuck along this journey to finding purposeful work in the right environment. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

1)    “I’m not sure what I want to do.”

Many mothers have spent so much of their time serving others that they do not know what they really want anymore.

If you are unclear about what your purposeful work is, think about what inspires you. Feel free to dream outside the lines here. What did you like to do as a child? How do you love to show up for people?

Focus on what is important to you and activities that ignite your passion. Often times a career comes from the simplest of ideas such as, “I love to write” (writer) or “I like listening to other people” (therapist, counselor, etc.).

2)    “I don’t know what I’m really good at.”

This can be a tough one at first, but it is actually pretty easy to solve.

Ironically, it can help to begin by making a list of what you are NOT good at, what you do not like to do, what is going wrong in your life right now.

Once you start to list the things that you don’t like/aren’t good at the things you like and are good at will begin to appear. It is also easy to ask your friends and family. They have seen you in a variety of situations and can point out where you shine.

Finally, you can take a test. There are a number of great personality and skills tests offered online and you can work with a life or career coach to help you interpret your results.  Some that I would suggest are the Clifton Strengths Finders 2.0, the DISC assessment and the classic Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Also check out my guide on how to return to work with meaning.

3)    What I like to do doesn’t fit into the current job market.”

In order to be successful with your work, you will need a structure that fits your lifestyle.

If you look outward for this structure and try to fit your needs into it, you will not succeed. You must instead create a structure that supports your work while being honest about your needs.

For example, if family time is important, tell your employer that you need flexibility to work from home. If you would like to be able to show up for school events, choose a short commute or flexible hours. If you work for yourself or on contract and crave the stimulation of the office environment, look into working in a co-working space a few days a week. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself and help you think this through.

4)    “I can do it all by myself.”

As modern women, the notion that we can do it all is very tempting. We can have our careers, travel and enjoy cultural opportunities, and raise healthy, confident and socially responsible children.

However, doing all of this without the support of an extended family or community is a recipe for burnout. Chasing the delusion that we have to do it on our own may be creating widespread unhappiness among mothers in the workforce.

The Atlantic magazine article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” by Anne- Marie Slaughter shares that women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, self-employed or well off.  Slaughter chronicles her own struggles to balance her family life while working in a high profile job at the State Department.

Ultimately, she left her job to return to her family after realizing her own limitations. This article has created waves of debate and touched on many issues that I grapple with. How can we create a strong family, ensure good health and have purposeful work in our current economy?

As Slaughter suggests, we may not be able to have it all at once, but I feel that with clear priorities and the right resources we can achieve great things. Knowing what you value and having a clear strategy to achieve your goals is paramount to reentering the workforce on you terms. Having a great partner or community is another necessary part of creating balance for a working mother.

I hope that reading this article fuels your passion and reminds you to check in with yourself often.  And as it is often said, when you work for your fulfillment, the money will follow.


Après is a career resource for women returning to work after a break or transitioning within the workforce. Reconnect with your professional self — search jobs, get inspired, find resources, and refresh your skills. Join our community of women helping women.

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