Recipe 6 : Stop the train

In a previous article, I talk about the fact that being a mother and having a career aren’t mutually exclusive and that you shouldn’t have to pick.

I’m not going to go back on this, but today, I’d like to talk about priorities. It’s difficult to be happy in your professional life if you’re unhappy in your personal life – and it works the other way around. 

Once in a while, remember to get off the train and spend some time on the platform to see if the life you’re leading is really making you happy.

The way you plan to get off the train doesn’t really matter, but you need to allow yourself to reflect. I’ll let you decide which Tibetan monastery you’re going to pick for your retreat, and I’ll focus on the questions to ask yourself. 

Perhaps, in the first place, you’ll be tempted by the inevitable: am I happy in my life? 

I wish you all the best in answering this off the bat. It’s very likely that your life isn’t manichean like a Hollywood movie and that it would be difficult to answer with a simple yes or no, without putting any thought into it. Thus, let’s break this big problem into a series of “small questions” that are easier to answer.

The other question that is tricky for all parents and comes back often is: “do I spend enough time with my children?” Of course, the answer can only be “no” and will always be no. So the better question to ask yourself is if you spend enough time with your children to create this magical parent-child bond, and if you’re present enough during your child’s milestones in life. It’s important not to confuse the guilt of a working parent (especially the mother) with a real answer to the question of children in relation to their priorities. If needed, re-read the link to the article I posted above. If the conclusion is that you don’t spend enough time with your kids, just make sure that it comes from a genuine desire to play with them or a real need from your child who may be going through a rough time, and that it isn’t society pressuring you.

Do I like my job? It’s important to write down the aspects you like more or less about your job. With time and experience, you have enough comparison points to evaluate if you’d give it more a 1 or an 8 out of 10. However, for those with less experience, give your job an instinctive grade. Ultimately, what matters is the questions you ask yourself and the answers they reveal, rather than the grade itself. If the overall grade is low, it’s important to identify the underlying reason. Can I change anything to improve the score (changing departments, etc?) Is it a transition period between two jobs? Is it a temporary job, and I don’t think I could find anything better, given the circumstances? Am I simply afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone, and would I rather stay in a system that makes me unhappy? But also: does my job have any meaning? Does its impact satisfy me? If it has no purpose, can I compensate with outside work activities? We can also add more about the job: did I pick the job I wanted, was it dictated by others, or did I pick it out of necessity? The reasons that led me to this job, are they the right ones?

Regarding my career: am I ambitious – do I like climbing the ladder because of the genuine interest I have in the job and the added responsibilities that come with it… Or is it only by pride and for the title? It’s important to remember that a big wallet and a social status won’t compensate for the torture that every minute at work can be.

We can also expand to a lot of other questions, such as: am I happy where I live? If I’m in a city, maybe I’d rather be in the countryside (or the other way around)? If it makes me really unhappy, would I be happy to take the plunge? In the example of city vs countryside, apartment vs house, a drastic change in region and job will imply a big life change. It’s possible to sacrifice a nice income for a lifestyle that is more austere and closer to your values. Trading expensive leisure for walks in the woods. A dream? For some, yes. I won’t go into more detail about this, but I will give you one more obvious piece of advice: do your research before embarking on such a drastic life change.

Ultimately, you’ll have to gather all these answers to ask yourself the infamous question of your life/work balance. The answer depends on you and how passionate you are (or not) about your work. 

And now, the killer question: the young woman or man that I was, entering working life…would they be proud of the person I’ve become? Do I live by the values I had set for myself? Did I get lost on the way? 

All in all, the goal of this article isn’t to teach you how to make an assessment of your life, but rather to explain why it’s important to take some time off, stop the train, get your hands off the wheel (whatever expression best defines your daily life) to ask yourself the questions that matter the most. 

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Recipe 9 : get out of your ivory tower

In the last article, we talked about how difficult it can be to settle into a first management position, and how few people are prepared