Life is complicated, and sometimes a crisis pulls us out of our careers for a time. Coming back from a crisis is HARD but it’s not impossible. I’ve been there. It took time (years!) and a lot of patience. Below are tips on how to get your career back after the worst happens, and how these tips worked for me.
Just a little background…my late husband and I were vice presidents in the same tech company in Tel Aviv when he was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. We loved working together. We drove to work together each day and even shared an office. We had three small kids under six and a wonderful nanny. Partners at home and the office, we were living our dream. And then it was a nightmare.
Within 10 days of his diagnosis, he entered the hospital for surgery. He was only supposed to miss a week of work. There were complications and he ended up staying a month. Neither of us went back to our jobs.
1. Take your time
Often with a crisis comes money concerns. How much time away can you afford financially and emotionally? How much time do you need? The latter is not a question you can answer in advance, but you should know your rights and maximize your entitlements. Check with your company’s HR and your insurance agent.
2. Stay in the game
It took several months, but once the right treatment protocol was chosen, we fell into a routine and I found freelance gigs in my field – more junior than I had been in years – that gave me the flexibility I needed to take him to treatments and other appointments while giving me something to focus on a few hours a day besides my family’s troubles. It also kept me in the game.
How did I find the gigs? I kept an eye on my online professional forums and applied for projects as well as jobs that were not necessarily freelance or part-time. Once in a meeting, I convinced them to take a chance on me for a small project to start, with no commitment for more. And then there was usually more.
I found that by earning a lot less, I fell into a lower tax bracket so the cut in take-home income was not extreme.
Of course, part-time or freelance isn’t always an option. In that case, try to stay in touch with online professional communities and even attend the occasional meetup in your field. The idea is not to disappear completely.
3. Know your limits
After my husband died, I worried about my little family’s future, but we were too broken for me to go back to work full time. That was an important realization, as I battled with my ego over being under-employed. I continued freelancing to make ends meet while I struggled to make sense of my new reality.
It took about two years before I started applying for full-time jobs, and I applied for director-level instead of VP-level positions. I was given and accepted the advice to take something less challenging professionally because I had so many challenges at home.
4. Keep setbacks in proportion
Accept that there will be setbacks and you can overcome them. After all, the worst has already happened. Gigs drying up and insurance complications are small in comparison.
5. Write yourself a script
In every job interview, I was asked why I left my VP job. The first few times I found myself close to tears. So I developed go-to answers for common questions that protected my feelings and privacy. For example, for that question I would answer truthfully, “I had to handle a family crisis, which has since been resolved.” It sounds cold, but that was the point. No one ever asked for more details.
6. Forgive yourself
About 18 months into the director-level job and five years after my husband’s initial diagnosis, a client from one of my freelance gigs became the CEO at another company and asked me to join as a VP. I was back. I was back…but I was not the same person as before.
It was not an easy transition, so my last tip is this: Forgive yourself for wanting your career back. Forgive yourself for stumbling if and when you do. Forgive yourself if it takes more time than you anticipated. You have been through enough, so please, be kind to yourself.