Now that you’re moving past your divorce and thinking about going back to work or changing your career, do you feel stuck, uncertain of how to begin, or fearful that you don’t have what it takes? You’re not alone. Life after divorce—and where to begin—can induce a whole new host (or return!) of emotions that may feel paralyzing and insurmountable. Add to that the current coronavirus pandemic we find ourselves living with and its accompanying pressures, and your stress levels might be going through the roof! But whether or not you worked outside the home during your marriage, starting over professionally doesn’t have to be dominated by fear and negativity. Even now. There is a process that can help you figure out your next steps to launching or rebuilding a career, even in the midst of so much uncertainty.
How to stop spinning your wheels
If you’re thinking about returning to the workforce, pivoting careers, securing more flexible work, or starting a new venture, there’s an important first step you can take to jumpstart your reinvention—gaining clarity about who you are now.
Women don’t spend enough time at the beginning of a career transition focusing on what they value and the mindsets, skills, and talents they have that are transferable to new opportunities. And that is the key to discovering a role that is meaningful to you.
In our professional work, we help women in midlife who have come to a crossroads and want to stop “spinning their wheels.” Many of those women are returning to the workforce after a break to care for children or other family members. Others are working and want to pivot careers or turn their “passion project” into a new venture. At the same time, women are often dealing with personal transitions—divorce or other life challenges such as a health crisis or a move.
What we’ve seen is when women gain a better understanding of what they have to offer, their career direction becomes much clearer. If this pandemic has shown us nothing else, it’s the realization that life is incredibly fragile, and we need to rely on ourselves and our inner resources. Self-discovery becomes the most powerful tool you have to boost your next steps.
Silver linings: growth mindset
The beautiful reality is that transition poses an opportunity for growth. For those who have dealt with divorce, studies show that this life challenge, in particular, can actually boost your career if you allow yourself to gain three perspectives: space and time to yourself, a different threshold for risk, and the ability to break old patterns.
If you adopt a growth mindset and believe that you can learn and develop at any age and stage, the road ahead feels optimistic rather than troubled. A growth mindset is important for career success because it pushes you beyond your comfort zone to learn new things. Rather than saying “I’m not good at ___” and ruling it out, a growth mindset encourages you to think about learning as a process and say “I’m not good at it yet.” This shift will change your outlook for what is possible for you professionally.
Self-discovery: put YOU back in focus
Who do you want to be when you grow up? We ask children this question but don’t take time to ponder it as adults. Careers often unwind based on the expectations that others have of us—what our parents, partners, or friends think we should do—rather than what we want for ourselves.
Many women’s career expectations were defined in marriage through the lens of family and children. When the marriage ends, they have to completely redefine what work means for them. That takes time and exploration.
After divorce, women want more from their work lives—more meaning, more fulfillment, and more challenge. An important first step to distill a career vision is to think about the components that will drive you in your next chapter. Dedicate a journal to your professional journey to develop an understanding of your career vision. Take time to respond to these six questions below. Better yet, ask another woman to go through the exercise with you and have a conversation in an interview format by taking turns.
- Draft a list of the values that shape you now and narrow down the shortlist to five that speak to you.
- Think about your past interests—what activities do you love? Which ones come naturally to you?
- What current interests or activities do you lose yourself in—whether for work or in other parts of your life?
- What “superpower” do people in your life look to you for help or advice?
- What are the elements in your life that need to come together in order to fulfill this dream? Think about work-life integration.
- What does success look like for you now?
Say goodbye to version 1.0 of you. Hello to future you!
After you take an assessment of what motivates you, explore the various roles you’ve held. It’s easy to carry around an outdated and limiting view of yourself from a previous position or how your partner saw you in your marriage. Start thinking about how you have exercised your “superpowers” in the past and what you want to bring into the future.
Career reinvention is not a linear process, and it’s helpful to come up with multiple versions of your future.
Here’s an easy way to elevate what’s working for you (or worked in the past) and say goodbye to what no longer serves you as you think about possible 2.0 versions of you:
- Make a list of every job you’ve had (paid and unpaid). In one column, write down “things to keep” and on the other side “thing to let go of.” On the “things to keep side,” think about the things you loved about each role and what skills you gained from the experience (both “hard” and “soft” skills).
- On the other side, write down all the things that you don’t want to carry forward into new opportunities. These could be skills that you don’t want to amplify going forward or attitudes and behaviors, such as the way previous bosses or colleagues treated you.
- Now look at the list and write down five possible versions of who you’d like to become that elevates the best of the “keep” side and downplays the “let go of” side. These don’t have to be specific titles or roles, it could be an area of interest, an organization you’re interested in exploring, or a hobby that you want to turn into a professional opportunity.
Keeping these lists in mind will allow you to be more intentional about your choices. Rather than fixating on one idea of what your next chapter will look like, they’ll encourage you to be open to exploring and experimenting. You can do this through low-risk opportunities, such as project-based or volunteer work.
Gain confidence with connections
In a study with divorced women, Francis Financial found that during the divorce process, women tend to focus more on their loved ones and less on themselves. This may include children, parents, and even friends having difficulty coming to terms with a divorce. As a result, women come out on the other side with their own priorities on the back burner and lower self-esteem. Does this statistic sound like you—38 percent of women did not have enough support going through their divorce. Many women emerge lacking confidence, especially when it comes to money matters. This is when doubt creeps in about starting over in a professional role. Am I good enough? Who would pay me for my skills? Am I too old to reinvent?
You can do this!
Gaining clarity in your career means believing in the skills and talents you already possess! If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. If you’re having trouble recognizing your value, be part of a group of like-minded women who will be the mirror for your talents and skills. An important aspect of boosting your confidence is understanding what you bring to the table—you need other women in order to play this critical role for each other. Studies demonstrate that when women underestimate how others view their contributions, they unintentionally hold themselves back. For example, if a woman underestimates her value, she may be more cautious about applying for a job or promotion, asking for a raise, or starting her own venture. Women need to see their skills and talents mirrored back at them through the eyes of others to be successful in their careers. Who’s in your inner circle now?
Judy Schoenberg and Linda Lautenberg are the Co-Founders of Evolve, where they bring women in midlife together to kickstart their next chapter. Start your career journey with Evolve and find a group of like-minded women invested in your success. Evolve is a “come as you are” community ready to support you. We’re better together! Become an Evolve member here: Evolve Membership.