We often read articles outlining the outrageous cost of childcare and the role it plays in mothers’ decisions to leave their full-time jobs.
Making what appear to be financially smart short-term moves can prove damaging in the long run. Instead, imagine that your future, both personal and professional, is one very important game of chess.
Think like a chess master
A chess master doesn’t resign from the game simply because she is in a tricky situation. She thinks strategically, planning three or four moves ahead. She has an eye on the end game.
Your decision to give up a full-time job might make sense today, not just financially but emotionally too. But will that decision enable you to play the role you want, living a life you love, in the long term?
Having young children is a temporary condition. As one working mother put it, “Seeing my daughter start senior school made me really think about what I was going to do with the next twenty years of my working life, something I had given zero thought to when she was 6 and I
resigned from a great job.”
Your children will not be young forever. Have a long-term plan.
Adapt your tactics as the game progresses
Chess, much like your career, is a long game with a beginning, middle and end.
The first phase of chess is busy. There are lots of pieces on the board and you need to get moving to position yourself tactically for the future. It’s the same when you start work. Along with your peers, you dig in, work long hours, establish yourself and build your network.
As the game progresses, things change. Children come along who need and deserve attention. It is during this middle phase that a grand chess master stands out from the crowd because of her ability to devise cunning strategies; to take risks and to be creative.
Mothers who need flexibility have to be able to negotiate it without their careers paying a heavy price. Too often, “part-time” becomes synonymous with “unambitious” and precludes women from taking on more responsibility.
Be creative about defining your role and contribution, take risks, be prepared to be measured on output and not hours worked. The benefits to your long-term career will be immense.
Your goal from the beginning? Plan, adapt, position. Stay in the game. Play to win.
Be prepared to sacrifice some pieces, but always plan a few moves ahead
As the grand master of your own life, it is inevitable that you will need to make sacrifices. Think carefully about what pieces you are willing and able to put aside along the way to manoeuvre yourself into a winning end-game position.
That might mean taking a different role or perhaps going part-time. It could entail a sacrifice, passing up a promotion maybe. If so, make sure you are not written off for promotions and choice assignments over the long term.
Seek out a mentor or a sponsor who will look out for you in the future. Position yourself to make your next big move a winning one by maintaining and growing your networks.
Remember, the queen is not the only piece on the board
Yes, she’s important, powerful and a great multitasker but there is probably a king as well, on the same side of the board as you, wearing the same colours. You need to have a shared view of what “winning” looks like and you need to work together.
Be a player
Women are creating lives as working mothers that suit them, now and in the future. To be sure, they have to be focused and tenacious. They must take it on themselves to negotiate the role they want. If they cannot work five days a week, they make up for it with their quality and delivery. They have the confidence that comes from knowing their value as professionals, and from continuing to develop that value, even when they are at home.
Many women still see their career as a series of reactive moves, responding to circumstances as best they can. But if you think like a chess master, that begins to change.
There’s a bigger game to be played than work-life balance. It’s the game of creating your life, one move at a time, designed to set up all the people and organisations in your life – your partner, children, clients, employers, and network – to give you the opportunities, support, and guidance that you need to succeed each step of the way.