Updated: Jun 21, 2021
Ready to return to work after an employment gap, but stuck on a career choice? Find out why understanding your values is a great first step in deciding which job or business idea will be the right one for you
Written by Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert
Knowing you want to get back to work now your children are older is one thing, but figuring out what that work will look like is another. Your priorities have most likely changed now you’ve had kids, and you might not want or feel you can go back to the same type of job you did before your gap.
Working out how to transition to a different career isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s one of the main challenges my clients come to me with. They know they want to do fulfilling work that gives them a good work-life balance, but they don’t have clarity on what they could – or would love – to do.
What women returning to work do realise is that a whole lot has changed and they often want to make a career transition, rather than go back to what they did before – perhaps to a new sector, a different role or they might want to set up their own business.
When I have a client in this situation, the first step I take them through is how to evaluate their values. Values are what drive you and make you happy. If you are working in congruence with your values you will feel more fulfilled, with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Values are so important to a long-term career strategy, as they are our guiding principles and give us a compass we can use along the decision-making way about what’s right for us.
Read on to find out how to work out what your values are – and how to use them to plan your move forward and get the job or business that’s perfect for you.
“You no longer have to know ‘what you want to do when you grow up'. You just have to know what you want to do now” -- Judith Leary-Joyce, Psychology of Success
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
First, let's take a short interlude and talk about the psychology behind values. In the 1950s, American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow said that people naturally aspire to rise up this pyramid. As their basic physical and safety needs are met (at the foot of the pyramid), such as housing and food, they begin to focus on social needs – feeling a sense of belonging and community. Working relationships can contribute to this or, if they are lacking, prevent fulfilment.
Once we have a sense of belonging, we look to build our esteem, an emotional need that is met when others appreciate our talents. When women are out of the workplace they often feel a loss of identity, which springs from this need not being met. When we are at work we get a sense of accomplishment from being acknowledged as an experienced employee with lots to contribute. Out of the workplace, at home looking after children (who let’s face it, don’t often display gratitude), we can get stuck at this level and lose self-esteem. We can build it by putting ourselves in positions where people once again express appreciation for what we are contributing, like volunteering to fundraise or organising a community event.
Once our self-esteem is high enough, we rise to the next stage, relying on our own perceptions of ourselves to build a sense of self-belief. We no longer have to rely on other peoples’ opinion of us or aspirations for us. Once in this state of mind we can work on ‘self-actualisation’. Freed from the need to impress others and be defined by what kind of person they think we should be, we work in-line with our own values. We understand what will give our lives meaning and that guides our journey.
"Freed from the need to impress others and be defined by what kind of person they think we should be, we work in-line with our values"
Explore Your Values
Now you know how important values are to real fulfilment, you’ll want to find out what yours are. Here are the steps I take my clients through to work this out. Make a note of your answers as you go along. Ask yourself, now, at this time in your life:
What drives you?
What makes you unhappy? What makes you happy?
What upsets you? What type of behaviours and attitudes offend you?
What kind of work-life blend do you want?
What gives you energy?
What are you doing when you are having fun?
What do you want the shape of your life to have been when you look back as an old lady?
What does success look like?
What do you want your accomplishments to be?
What’s the difference you want to make in the world?
What’s important to you?
When you are engrossed, what are you doing?
What legacy do you want to leave?
Look at what you’ve written down. What themes keep coming through? They will be individual to you. They are needs such as:
caring for others
pursuit of happiness
To check you’re not missing anything, imagine you're working in an environment in which your key values are being met. Are you happy? If not, what is missing that needs to be met?
"If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one" -- Dolly Parton
Prioritise Your Values
Now you have a list of values, highlight the five which are most important to you at this time and in the context of returning to work. Are you missing any of these in your life? These are what you need to bring fulfilment back into your working self. Prioritise further so you know out of the top five, which one really is your main driver. Use this awareness to explore what you want, need and enjoy to be happy in your work.
The first step in making a career transition is to understand what your priorities are, what drives you and what will give meaning and purpose to your life. To do this, you will need to understand your values and working through these questions will help raise an awareness of what drives you. When you’re making decisions about the future, you can use these values as a compass, to decide if your choices are the right one.
My next blog post will talk about how you can identify your talents, the next stage in developing career clarity.