Moms Can Be Driven, Ambitious Workers Too

Working moms will think this title just states the obvious, but unfortunately not everybody agrees that a woman who’s had a baby and taken time off work can come back and be as valuable and committed a worker as she was before. This is why I was delighted to find out that this year’s US Open winner, Kim Clijsters, is a mother -and one who took two years away from the game while she had her baby. If you can regain your place in elite women tennis after two years of semi-retirement, then surely you can go back to your office job and perform at the same level as your male peers? Apparently, the answer is not straighforward.

2009 US Open Winner Kim Clijsters with Daughter Jada

US Open Winner Kim Clijsters with Daughter Jada

The topic of working women becoming mothers has interested me since I took my first job in corporate America. From the very beginning I realized that here the assumption is that a woman will delay having children for as long as possible, so as to maximize the number of years she can spend fully committed to advancing her career.

Most of my female friends in corporate jobs who dared having a kid in their early 30s complain about having become invisible on their return to work -in some cases less than 10 days after giving birth. They’re understood to have revealed a strong preference for their family life over their job -as if the two things had to be mutually exclusive-, and are no longer considered serious contenders for career advancement.

Worst of all, these assumptions are not only held by men, but also by a majority of women. I’ve heard female colleagues scorn another one who’d had a baby -what had she been doing in this line of work, where full commitment is taken for granted, when all she wanted to do was be a mom?

I’m sad to say that they may have a point in their anger. They fear that the behavior of those who became mothers will reflect badly on them: their bosses could worry that any other woman in the team may be thinking of having a baby soon, and put forward a man -the safe bet- whenever the next promotion comes along.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this state of affairs changing any time soon. We can of course hope for a time when corporations will realize that moms can be devoted workers, and that giving them some flexibility to juggle their job and their children’s needs can benefit everybody involved. But, realistically, from the inside I see no indication that we’re even moving in this direction.

For my part, I’ve given some thought to the possibility of leaving my job and starting my own business once I decide to have kids -for me, delaying motherhood for the sake of my job is out of the question. This is perhaps the easy way out, but I know it’s being considered by an increasing number of women. Many of the mother-entrepreneurs profiled in Secrets of Millionaire Moms mention the flexibility to organize your work-time around your family commitments as one of the reasons why they decided to work for themselves.

Besides, what’s the alternative? Being the last to leave the office and working 60-hour weeks so as to dispel any doubt that you’re as dedicated as the men and the non-mothers? Every time I see a co-worker pathetically reminding everyone that she didn’t turn off her Blackberry during labor, or how easy it was for her to get back to work two days afterwards, I make the same promise to myself: I’ll do everything in my power to never be in their position.

In the press these days:

  • 09/15/2009 @ MoneyCNN.com:
    Have a Baby and a Career Too – Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg urges working women not to pass on the next promotion to start a family.

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  • If you’re a working mom, what was your experience going back to work after having your baby?

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The 4-Hour Workweek:

Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

On the road to $1M rating:

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For a long time, I was a devotee of time-management books. It all started with Getting Things Done, by David Allen, which quickly became my favorite. The book explains in detail how to build a system to organize every single part of your life: work-, personal- and family-related.

I tried many of the ideas in this and other similar books with encouraging results at first, but these tended to diminish with time and would eventually disappear within a couple of weeks. I started to wonder what it was I was doing wrong. I blamed myself for not keeping up with my newly-learnt methods and going back to procrastination.

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  • Have you put to use any tricks from time-management books? Did they work?

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Then along came The 4-Hour Workweek and its novel philosophy: the whole idea behind time-management is wrong. We don’t need systems to help us crowd more things into the working day. Instead, we need to cut up to 90% of our daily tasks while maintaining -or even increasing- our results and income.

To say this was an eye-opener is an understatement. It took time for it to sink in, but when it did I started looking at my life under a completely different light. For a long time I had been suffering from job-related stress and anxiety. I was working 10-hour days, including weekends. I had internalized my parents’, teachers’, and most of society’s definition of success: you must work long hours and make a lot of money.

From my new perspective, I could see there was an obvious problem with this statement. It did not define clearly when exactly you could be satisfied that you had reached success. No matter how long you worked or how much you earned, there would always be people working harder or earning more than you. You could always do better -and therein lay the entrance to the rat-race.

Soon I came to realize that I didn’t want to be “successful”. I had a supposedly great job that I didn’t enjoy. And the whole reason I had been struggling with stress was because I feared acknowledging this, both to others and to myself. For a long time I had been searching for a plan B, and Tim Ferriss had laid it out in front of me in his book.

In regards to its contents, I found The 4-Hour Workweek somewhat uneven. Some chapters grip you with motivating examples and lots of useful resources to help you attain financial freedom. Others I found less interestig -I skipped through the sections on what to do with the regained free time, or how to travel cheaply around the world.

It doesn’t matter, however, whether you’re interested in every single topic covered in the book. What counts is the idea that transpires from every page: an inspiration to take control of your life, stop behaving according to other people’s standards and start doing what you really want to do.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I encourage you to get a copy as soon as possible, in particular is you’re struggling with an unfulfilling job. Just be warned: you may end up revisiting your life and making changes you can’t even envision today. But as somebody who has been there, I can tell you you won’t regret any single one of them.

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To Quit or Not to Quit

Who hasn’t ever fantasized with quitting the day job to start their own business? I often imagine how wonderful it would be to have the freedom to work on what I want, when I feel like it, while making money in the process.

Unfortunately, the reality isn’t necessarily as rosy as the dream. When you start your own business, you will very rarely do what you enjoy most, and will certainly have very little free time.

If you start on your own, you will be responsible not only for performing your business’s main activity, but also for every other chore, no matter how dull -from bookkeeping to cleaning your home office.

You may hire employees, in which case you will add to your main task that of supervision, and you will be liable, among other things, for paying their wages, providing health insurance, or withholding employment taxes.

If you’ve read up to this point and, despite all the drawbacks, are able to see the appealing side of being your own boss, you will find some books out there that encourage you to take the plunge, such as Ian Sanders’ LEAP! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business & Set Yourself Free

Chances are, however, that you’ll want some insurance before you trade a wage for uncertain profits. Ditching the 9-to-5 routine is tricky, and most of us will be too risk-averse to do it at once. The question, then, becomes whether it has to be a stark transition. Isn’t there a middle way?

Starting your business while you’re still employed seems like the perfect compromise. You can use your wage to finance the start-up phase and delay the crucial jump until you’re sure of the business’s viability.

But there’s a reason why I suspect this idea rarely works: who would have the time to juggle a job and a side business, let alone the rest of life’s responsibilities -shopping, exercising, taking care of the kids, spending quality time with your partner … The list is endless. This route would seem apt only for those with top notch management skills -and hopefully an understanding spouse!

Nevertheless, in the course of reading books about making money and, in the process, finding the freedom to follow your life vision, I’ve come across plenty of examples of people who started in this precise way and ended up not only quitting their job, but exceedingly succeeding at their new ventures.

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In her book Cash Machine for Life, Laurel Langemeir -the creator of the Wealth Cycle, whom you may know from the Dr. Phil show, talks about how she built her company Live Out Loud while working for a large corporation.

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Ewen Chia describes in How I Made My First Million on the Internet and How You Can Too! his own experience working at a large telecommunications company in Singapore while dedicating all his free time to learning the secrets of online money-making. He experimented with different strategies for 5 hours a day during 5 whole years, at the end of which not only had he not made any money, but was actually $50,000 in debt. His breakthrough came with an affiliate marketing site that would provide him with considerable earnings and kick-start his way to riches.

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My much admired Tim Ferriss, of The 4-Hour Workweek fame, reminisces in the book about starting his dietary supplement company while still employed –in his case, it wasn’t long before he got fired.

I imagine that for each successful story there may be several others of people who discovered that self-employment was not for them, who got tired of trying, or never managed to take their business idea off the ground. But I remain hopeful in view of the previous examples. If they teach us anything it’s that, if we have the courage and the determination to follow our dream, we may just manage to pull it through!

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  • Are you running a small business on the side while working full time?

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