Flexible working and the power of self-belief


Warning: this is a rather a long one!

Various readers have been in touch since my last blog ‘A room without a roof?’ and it’s been great to hear from you. Today, I received a message from a friend, in which she said:

I am interested in the part where you mention how many part time/flexible opportunities there are: “I couldn’t believe how much my confidence had grown in my first year and how many opportunities there are for mums to work flexibly if you know the right people to talk to”. I must not have been talking to the right people!?!?”.

This made me question whether or not I had been misleading.

My background is as a banking and finance lawyer working in large City and international law firms but until last year, I had not practiced for 8 years and I had been at home for 6 years. Imagine my surprise then when I was offered employment in a boutique law firm as a practising solicitor on a part time, flexible basis when I could still do school pick up. Too good to be true? No, but then yes.

Through this role my confidence did increase – once I learned to trust my instincts, I came to realise that my technical knowledge was still there (if a bit rusty), I still had the ability to build meaningful client relationships, I could get the job done and a transaction completed and surprisingly, my name in the local legal market still had currency. Ultimately, however, it was still a law firm and I had wanted to escape that. I also found that after 6 years at home I really didn’t want to be an employee.

What I found amazing was the number of people and in particular, returning mums who work on a self-employed consultancy basis, where the freedoms are greater. Sure the work still needs doing and you may still need to work as many part time days, but once you are self-employed, it is a different mindset.

But how could I possibly be so brazen to think that after so long at home and such a short space of time back at work, I could go it alone?

For me, it has not been completely alone – I have joined a fabulous business consultancy where the inspiring female founder is passionate about supporting women back in to work and in this consultancy I can build my own business unit. I have also joined a ground-breaking law firm – again every lawyer is self-employed. In both these organisations consultants/lawyers can access wider support functions, enjoy the benefits of cross working with colleagues but ultimately you are remunerated on a profit share and there is an expectation you will build your own client base.

That said, I have also had opportunities outside of these organisations to work on a consultancy basis and a new opening was presented to me in my personal capacity just today.

Clearly, I am not currently in the position to make the most of these business opportunities just yet – as I said in my earlier blogs, I am still wrestling with my ties at home (the many self-help books I started reading in my 39th year might call this hitting my upper limit, self-limiting behaviour or even self-sabotage – more in another blog!). Nor do I declare to have the answers – I am most definitely finding my way.

However, the key change for me was belief.

For all of my self-doubt, I now believe that I still have ‘it’! I didn’t lose my intelligence nappy change by nappy change; I didn’t lose my personality whilst reading “We’re going on a bear hunt” 150 nights in a row and I certainly didn’t lose my ability to get things done as I marshal 3 children with 3 years and 3 months between them from activity to activity sometimes with a bonkers dog in tow, all the time yelling “ move it move it!”.

I used to cringe when people use to talk about the transferable skills of being a mum – and actually I still do. “But if you can negotiate with a 3 year old you can negotiate with anyone” – really?! That’s just desperately trying to plug the very large hole in my CV? “If you can organise an autumn fayre for your PTA then you have excellent project management skills” – really?! We all know we panicked, just about pulled it together the week before and everyone thinks my ‘management style’ is self-satisfied and bossy! But actually, I have to concede there is some truth in the value of parenting skills in the work place. If nothing else, I think it just gives you a new perspective. If there is a typo in my loan agreement, no-one is going to die. If there is an unexpected hurdle, that’s ok too – there is always a way.

The next step is acknowledging your own offering: I had always thought to be self-employed, I needed to have my farm-house kitchen idea or needed to have some practical, creative skill or needed to open a tea room or similar. So many of my wonderful friends are doing just that and are flying. But try as I may, I just don’t have the inspiration.

But guess what? I have some skills and I can be self-employed and people are willing to pay for them. OK it may not mirror my misty-eyed Country Living inspired dreams and it may not be the same kind of transactions I worked on in my previous life but then I would never see the kids. And by working locally and with smaller businesses, it feels different – there is more to be involved in and it lights a different spark.

I was very lucky to be introduced to the founder of my business consultancy by a friend and neighbour. The lady who I now call my mentor then introduced me to the boutique law firm after I did some support work for her. After that, it has all been about being brave. Brave enough to pick up the phone or to send an email asking people about what they are doing and how they are doing it. Genuinely, if you ask, you will get…. Talk to your friends, talk to your friends of friends, drop a line to old colleagues – even if they are from 8 years ago.

Then seek and out and connect with people who inspire you and who are on the same journey as you – some of them a few miles ahead of you.

I recently wrote a summary of the spring budget and in so doing discovered that the number of people classed as self-employed has risen 20% since 2008 and that the self-employed sector now accounts for 15% of the work force. All of these small businesses need your skills…..then when you are ready, you can target some of the bigger players.

But most of all believe in yourself. Believe, believe, believe. And if at first you don’t succeed, so what? Try again and again and again. Are your children safe? Are they happy? So if you got a “no” from your first few phone calls does it really matter? If that first piece of work you did wasn’t covered in gold leaf like it was in your previous life, was the client still pleased?

A memory popped up on my facebook page last week, where I shared a life lesson from our then 5 year old. She was participating in a gymnastics trial and to get through to the next stage she needed to be able to do pull ups. She was miles away. In the trial she did 5 in a row perfectly. Her response: “ I just had to believe harder Mummy”. Wow.

On Monday, we took our 3 year old out on a pedal bike after much pestering. There was no way she was ready. Guess what? She is now pedalling on a bike without stabilisers. She told us she could do it and we watched as she set her little mouth in firm determination, looked straight ahead and pushed and pushed. She wanted it so badly and so she went out and did it.

I know it’s a cliché that our children teach us so much, rather than the other way round, but imagine if we all could recapture that unassailable determination that we can do whatever we dare to?

Having written the above, I thought long and hard about whether or not to publish it. Is it a bit rich from someone whose own plans to grow her business are on pause? Is it too premature from someone starting out? But I have decided to share on the basis that I genuinely have met so many great people (men and women) finding their own way and creating their own ideal way of working to reflect their desires to spend time with their families or spend time doing things they are passionate about.

So whilst I am not currently a shining example (in fact you could say the opposite), I wanted to let you know what I have learnt. I have not yet created my own perfect work/home balance but I believe I can and I see so many who have.

I also believe in the power of honesty, openness and courage. So here goes. Please forgive the length of this post: I hope you don’t feel patronised and I hope you find it helpful. Please feel free to share.

Kerry x

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