Excerpt: 'The Comeback'

Because this book is called The Comeback I have often been asked whether the women who are featured in it came back to the exact jobs they left. The answer is no. They have come back to the workforce, and in one case (briefly) to the same employer, but in terms of where they resumed their work, they haven't so much come back as moved on. This is by choice. Would you want to return to the exact job you held several years ago? Aren't you a different person with different needs and interests?

However, let's think about the whole nature of coming back and success. Is it enough to say that you have successfully come back simply because you have managed to get a job? Shouldn't you be doing at least as well as you were before? The answer becomes complicated when mothers decide that they want and need different things from their work experience. If you think of life in terms of a jigsaw puzzle, when you have children suddenly there are many more pieces to fit together. More pieces get added as the family grows older. Different issues crop up once women have settled back into work the second time around. As her children become increasingly independent, a woman's parents become less so. Health problems move around inside a family. Husbands retire, and with time on their hands they look for companionship that might no longer be available. Money is an issue, too, of course. Not only the affluent take advantage of the choice to stay at home. In more than one case in this book, the wife outearned her husband before she quit and after she returned. Those salaries are vital to the financial health of a family. What sacrifices are made in the pursuit of these choices?

You already know how insecure I felt facing my own comeback. Insecurity is an isolating experience?everyone else seems so much more capable of taking on the world than you. But as I found out, there was nothing new or unusual here, either. In 1973 Caroline Bird wrote Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Get Paid What She's Worth, which she updated a few years later in a version called Everything a Woman Needs to Know to Get Paid What She's Worth . . . in the 1980s. In her book she answered questions such as "I want to stop working for a few years until my children are older. What can I do to be sure I can get back in?" "How do you hunt for a job the second time around?" and "Can you ever go back to the job you would have had if you had never stopped working?"2

As she sensibly pointed out, there are many ways to ease back into a career. Some women reeducate themselves into reentry. Others try for part-time jobs. Some get paid work as a logical development of their volunteerism. Bird made a point of mentioning volunteer work, because "Volunteer work builds confidence in itself." She described the industry of consultants, workshops, manuals, and counselors ready to help women identify the value of their non-job experiences to employers. That same industry thrives today, particularly on the Internet, where women are encouraged to sign up with networking organizations that will (for a fee) shape a résumé or post a job opening. Bird felt the same way as I do, which is, if you think you need help of this kind, then go ahead and take it. "The principal value of this advice, as its purveyors are the first to admit, is to build a woman's confidence. If she thinks she needs it. She probably does."

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