A good friend told me last week that she’s changing jobs – moving from a chilled-out project role back into the mayhem of daily operations.
This is the reverse of what she wanted when going back to work after her second baby was born three years ago – in fact for many working mothers, chilled-out project roles are the holy grail.
No late evenings in the office when you’re supposed to be picking up the kids from creche, no unpredictable late night crisis meetings, no daily deadlines.
But my friend was stagnating in her chilled-out project role.
There was no urgency, no sense of being part of something dynamic. No pressure, no stress – sounds great but can get very boring very fast.
My friend found that she was constantly going to people to look for what she needed to do her job – asking for resources, for meetings, for time that people didn’t have to give. She didn’t feel particularly wanted or needed – she wasn’t feeling the love.
We all need to be needed.
So she is heading back to Operations – busy, messy, unpredictable and sometimes chaotic.
She feels exhilarated.
Now instead of picking up the phone for fake meetings when they see her coming (I’m sure that never happened, just in case she ever reads this), her colleagues seek her out – they look for her advice, they want her opinion, they need her help.
They need her.
I can relate to this – after my second maternity leave, I came back to work to find I wasn’t sure anymore where I fitted in.
The colleagues who had covered my job had done so exceptionally well, which was of course great, but the downside was that I didn’t feel needed. It’s a challenge returning to work after any period of extended leave; it can be difficult to maintain or build up confidence, and much more so if the phone isn’t ringing and the day is ticking by interminably slowly.
I was experiencing sadness and guilt about being away from my children all day, but being separated from them without doing anything meaningful or fulfilling made the sadness and guilt all the more difficult to bear.
I was sitting at my desk watching the clock, while my two little girls were just a five minute walk away in crèche but we couldn’t see each other – it felt all wrong.
There was plenty to do – there always is, but it wasn’t the kind of high-pressure, deadline-driven feeling of being pulled in all directions. It was the same old work I’d been doing for years, but without the urgency that came with being the only person who could do it.
I was no longer uniquely qualified to do my own job, because I had gone on maternity leave. Not anyone’s fault, and a good thing for my employer, but not a comfortable feeling for me. I wanted to feel busy again – that feeling of “good” stress.
Anyone who has uttered the words “I just can’t keep on top of my e-mail!” or “I’ve had meetings all day and haven’t had time for a drink of water!” knows that although this is said in a “Oh goodness, this is crazy!” kind of way, we mostly enjoy that feeling of being busy, being valuable, being the go-to person, being needed.
In fact, being busy is often seen as a symbol of success. Not many people will openly admit to sitting around with little to do – it smacks (often wrongly) of someone who has been set aside, put out to pasture.
Happily for me, things changed, as they so often do – a new project came up, and suddenly I was giving 200% productivity (I know that’s not possible, but it felt like I was) and working every minute of every day, with no time to look at the clock or even think about that glass of water. Honest, I’m not just saying it to sound important.
I was rushing out the door at 5.30 each evening to collect my children feeling tired but in a good way, feeling that buzz you get from a busy, productive day where you feel like you’ve achieved something positive.
Of course I still missed my kids, but there really wasn’t time to think about it consciously during the work-day anymore, so the guilt was eased, and overall I felt better – more confident, more fulfilled, more valuable to my employer.
This in turn affected my mood at home – my self-esteem had increased, so too did my general well-being and as a family we all benefited.
We all needed to be needed – some more than others, but it’s a basic human instinct.
I guess that’s how nature ensures small children are taken care of and why Irish mammies are still doing laundry for their grown-up sons.
Anyway, back to work, I’ve another hundred e-mails to get through. No, really.