My struggle with a career break. How COVID changed my thoughts on work and family

We talk about how COVID has changed the way we do businesses. We are constantly redefining the new normal but for me this change was not just work but personal as well.

I am a first generation Australian with most of my family overseas, and the last two years of the pandemic have been hard for us. I felt helpless when my family and friends were in the thick of things in India. Sourcing meds, securing hospital beds, awaiting test results, any untimely phone call was answered with a shivering voice. And like many we lost some family members.

But in those times of need I saw the extended families coming together and supporting each other. The wider community embraced us (in a COVID safe way) held each other and mourned together. And this completely altered my thinking.

We were always ‘one and done’ parents, the focus of the next few years was raising our only child, travel to meet the family and do better at our individual careers. It was all about the next organic career move. But I could not help and think – what happens to our son after we are gone? He would never get the love and support my family had back in India. Being just us here in Australia meant he would never have those close bonds with the wider family. And no matter how hard we try; it would take us and potentially our next generation to have the sense of community here.

So, we decided to expand our family and have another child.

But with this thought came many decisions I had to navigate. The decisions of taking a break from career and focusing on my family, managing the fear of losing the momentum built so far, missing out on the next few months with work and roles and everything corporate.

January this year as I was a few months away from my parental leave I knew I had to deal with it. Working at KPMG made it much easier. I am surrounded and supported by a brilliant network of people. My firm has been a front runner in advocating for better childcare subsidies, constantly working to have diverse leadership and keeping us accountable with those ambitions with a very public impact report. We were the first firm to make 26 weeks paid parental leave available to our people.

But still taking a break in the later stages of one’s career is always harder. A few months before you are preparing for that next gig or promotion and now you need to deal with the FOMO, out of sight out of mind thoughts, the pause in the career, and coming back and doing this all over again.

So, here are my 5 steps, to manage these conflicting thoughts and make this is much more palatable time.

  1. Find yourself a coach/mentor – there are many who have walked these paths before. They have taken a break and have managed brilliant careers. Find those role models around you, be upfront and request their time. I am grateful to the network of mentors I have around me. They checked on me, had frank conversations and listened without judgement. All this while helping me find a path which works for me.
  2. Shift your perspective – if taking a break is a bit too daunting for you, change your perspective. Spend some time and think about, what does a good parental leave look like for you? Some of us have never taken this kind of break, weather it is 3, 6 or 12 months or even more, make a list of things you would like to do. Keep them simple, doable and something which should motivate you rather than become daunting. Whether it is spending time with family, your mental health, or exercise put it all in there. Put that on your vision board and let it be something you are looking forward to or simply to inspire you.
  3. Find yourself a buddy, someone you would want to be in touch with, while on your leaves. I would suggest someone who can be empathetic with your schedule, flexible to make this work and will be your way to be still connected with everything while you manage some bigger life challenges. Mutually decide the frequency and the how you would like to be connected. Once a month or once in two months, over teams or a coffee walk, for 45 mins for 1 hr. So many things to decide on.
  4. While taking a break is daunting coming back into workforce can be equally scary, think about what is it that you want to come back to. Design the role you would love to come back to, what does it look like? Work with your manager/PDM and design the role with them. It’s a good way to pause and reset. Things might not be the same by when you come back. Hence this gives you an opportunity to pitch your skills and expertise to solve that problem you never had time for. Go through the logistics about the days you would start work once can always ease back into work and at a pace which works with them and their family.
  5. Be flexible – while you can plan for everything and be prepared for it to pan out a certain way. Life has a way of flipping it all on its head. Now you have idea how the life after this new human will be and what kind of parent you will be. So, give yourself the permission to change course. There is no right way, whatever works for you is right. Have these plan but be ready to scrap them and make new ones with the changed circumstances.

This week it all begins. I am well prepared and looking forward to my new baby. And, I’ll be back with thoughts on how my plan helped both my family and career.

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6 thoughts on “My struggle with a career break. How COVID changed my thoughts on work and family

  1. Congratulations Nish. Great authentic reflections and advice on navigating this significant career challenge 🙂

  2. Congratulations on your gorgeous family, Nisha. We had a surprise bubba (who is an absolute delight) last year, after having two primary school aged kids already and thinking our family was ‘complete’. I’m not sure whether experience made it easier or not! Regardless, I wouldn’t change a thing. Enjoy watching your little ones bond as they grow together, and thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  3. Thank you Nisha for sharing your insights and advice. All the best to you and your family, your children are very fortunate to have such a strong role model.

  4. All the best for your new adventure Nisha! Coming back in January from a year of maternity leave with my second daughter, I can say from my experience that the time goes so quickly and my colleagues and KPMG have embraced my return. Whilst having a second child is not always easy, I’m so grateful that we were able to. To be part of a generation of employees who have access to flexibility and strong financial support is something that is never lost on me, and we need to keep advocating for progress so that family and career blending is a given, not a privilege

  5. Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your story and good luck with your journey on being a mum of two and having a thriving career. 🙂

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