Having a career breakdown is an issue endemic among working mothers, but a new online career-coaching course, by the founders of the Step Up Club, will help you find success. We asked the founders why this crisis strikes so many women and to share their own (sometimes emotional) mid-career crises...
How do you feel about work? Stagnant? Frustrated? Are you torn between juggling your family and a career? Do you secretly wonder that if you “had” to stay at home with the children and no longer work, life would be easier?
It sounds like you are suffering from a mid-career crisis. And you are not alone.
Research has shown most women reach a crux point in their jobs in their mid-30s – and having children can be a major catalyst. We live in a society where a two-income family is the norm, but a dual-career marriage means continual compromise (which is often uneven). The result? Resentment all-round.
“When we become mothers, it’s inevitable that we look at life through a different lens,” says Step Up Club co-founder Alice Olins (she started it with her friend Phanella Mayall Fine). “For some, the natural pause around pregnancy and early childhood is a clear window to activate some kind of change. For others, there is a discovery that they are striving towards a certain definition of success only to find it isn’t really where their heart lies. This is a confusing and often confidence-draining realisation, especially if you are dependent on your salary and feel locked into a certain career path.”
So why do so many women reach this career crossroads? “There are myriad reasons – some external, many from within,” says Alice. “What’s most interesting though, and worrying too, is that many women become paralysed by their fears and confusions, and continue working in a job that is fundamentally at odds with who they are as people. We see this in so many of the women we work with. Not least because this internal struggle is usually compounded by other life pressures and gender inequalities in the workplace.”
What also holds women back is the negative beliefs and the critical voice inside their heads, says Olins. “Sometimes it is harder for women to make progress, and starting a business can be fraught with far more pressures and closed doors than those founded by men,” she adds. “It’s tough out there, but when we stay true to who we are, and believe that we can, amazing things will happen.”
To help women make that first step to define their own success and their true purpose in work and life, the duo have now created an online career-coaching package called the Step Up School (click here to find out more). It follows on from their book Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in Ten Minutes A Day, which led to their popular coaching events around the UK. The pair have taken the content delivered in their in-person course and adapted it for a digital audience. And like the friends, it is approachable, engaging, glossy – and works.
“Our definitions of success are all different, and that’s ok,” says Alice. “It’s just as valid to aspire to be the next FTSE 100 CEO as it is to own a small, kitchen-table business with a modest turnover. The point is, when we stay true to our own values and goals, it not only allows us to follow a type of success that will suit our life and personality, it also means that we can stop comparing ourselves to other women. Like the negative voice inside our heads, this is another killer to happy, fulfilled careers.”
The Grace Tales readers can enjoy an exclusive 15 per cent off the Step Up School E-Course using the code SUSGRACETALES.
OUR MID-CAREER CRISES
We asked the co-founders to share their own mid-career crises and how they overcame them. Here are their stories:
My career crisis happened for reasons pretty much beyond my control. I was a happy, fulfilled fashion journalist with a slew of top-level bylines, working in an industry that was sloshing around with money. Then, a personal tragedy struck, I lost my first son at birth, and my life was immediately and understandably turned upside down. Overnight I suddenly inhabited a very different world and work was at the bottom of my list of priorities. After the births of my two daughters, I didn’t put career pressure on myself, although I was still freelancing and enjoying the mental stimulation.
The problem was that when I was ready to return to an office-based fashion journalist job, I realised the industry had dramatically shifted towards digital media. Suddenly everyone was a blogger or content creator, and there was less work going around, budgets were cut and I could only secure a two-day-a-week gig. It wasn’t enough for me. I was lucky that it was around this time that Phanella and I happened to bump into each other a few times.
We were already peripheral friends, and over several glasses of white wine, we realised that despite divergent careers to date and our opposing skill sets we shared a vision for something new focused around women and work. That was the start of the Step Up Club, and the rest is history. We are still evolving as people, but what we feel strongly, especially with the launch of the Step Up School, is that we’ve learnt clearly what success means to us – both individually, and as partners. We’ve also been able to build a business that allows us to flex our time and be present as mothers too. A value that we both share, and which, in part, shapes how our business evolves.
What I learned during this both personal and career crisis is that cultivating your inner-strength is key to all types of future happiness and successes. Resilience is absolutely fundamental, especially in our modern world, where changes are forced upon us so often and we live in such busy and all-consuming times.
My career story is far from linear. I started out as a city lawyer but quickly realised that the law couldn’t give me the pace or balance I craved. So I moved into fund management, which, at first, I loved: it was challenging and fun. Having already changed from the brutal hours of corporate law, it was bliss.
But then an unexpected pregnancy aged 27 changed everything. I was terrified to tell my team: there weren’t many pregnant role models on the trading floor. I reassured them, and myself, I’d be back to full time in a matter of months. But then my son was born. After the foggy early days, I fell totally and utterly in love. I know lots of mums who go back full time and they and their children thrive. But for me, the idea of leaving home in the dark before Noah woke up and getting home long after his bedtime, the idea of only seeing him at weekend, suddenly seemed heartbreaking.
The transition from higher earner in a prestigious job to a stay-at-home mother was hard. I needed something for me but also wanted to see my son. My confidence ebbed away and I felt completely stuck. I was genuinely at crisis point. Then, I came across coaching, and with the support and insight of a wonderful maternity coach, I once again felt inspired by a career.
It didn’t happen overnight – there was a part-time Masters, two more children and plenty of hard slog and self-doubt in there too. Gradually Alice, an old friend, and I started to compare notes. Both equally passionate about women and work, we had an epiphany: the knowledge we had gained from our own career crises combined with my professional knowledge was powerful. We could help other women to overcome the issues we had experienced and find career happiness again.
Running the Step Up Club is a dream: I combine my passion for women and work with a growing business that fits around my family. Plus I get to work with a brilliant friend by my side.
My career journey has taught me that there is huge power in the right advice and support. When I was at my lowest ebb, I genuinely didn’t believe I would ever find the confidence to work again, let alone feel successful. Every day we meet women who feel just like I did. Then, through Step Up School, we get to take them to new career heights. It is such a privilege.
Words: Claire Brayford