In July 2022 I started writing about my experience transitioning back into work after having my second daughter. I never did finish it… but it started like this:
“In September 2021 I had my second girl and I’ve kind of been on maternity leave since then. I say kind of, because I used my Keeping in Touch days (KIT) to continue mentoring, I took on bits of short-term freelance work and also worked with Apress, Glaudia and David to put the finishing touches to our book: Mastering Collaboration in a Product Team. Eleanor, who is almost 1 now, was not an easy newborn. It has been a very different experience to Scarlett (my first). There has been a lot of change in my life on top of having a new baby and I have just realised I’m in a bit of a rut. I’ve identified that to get out of the slump I’m currently experiencing, the next step is to write about it to get my thoughts out.”
I didn’t know what I was trying to say, but I knew I needed to share my experience. I was really struggling and I didn’t know how to get any relief as I couldn’t define that struggle. Back then, I didn’t understand the rut I was in!
Since then, I have started to work again but the transition has been a lot slower than after having Scarlett.
It was 2017 when I had Scarlett. I had my 10 months of maternity leave and then passed the baton over to my partner who was able to contribute more time to looking after her. I went back to work as a full time employee, but quit after a month to focus on my work as an independent freelancer and mentor. Being in full time employment for the particular role meant I was not able to spend the time I wanted to with my daughter. I wanted this to change.
Thinking back on that time, I had a lot of people questioning my decision, however, I was comfortable that it was the right thing to do and I never looked back. I had a lot of self-confidence back then!
It was in 2021 when I had Eleanor, my second daughter. I underestimated how much of an impact having her would have on my life. My self-confidence started to plummet as I was feeling overwhelmed and it has been on a downward spiral ever since. I’ve been wondering what to do about it for a while now. I stumbled upon a TED talk while in search of answers to a question that I couldn’t even formulate. The talk is, “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown from 2010. In this talk, Brown highlights the importance of embracing vulnerability in order to be your authentic self, to treat yourself and those that are around you better. By sharing her research, Brown emphasises the necessity of embracing imperfections and developing a mindset that acknowledges vulnerability as strength rather than weakness.
Lots of elements in the talk really hit a nerve with me. The transition back to focus on my career has been rocky. I’ve been successful but it’s not been easy. There has been a constant battle inside my head. I’ve been busy, but I have been in a constant state of questioning myself with thoughts such as, “is this good enough?” or, “I’m not sure I can do this”. For those that know me, this isn’t me at all. I am usually full of confidence and I expect the people that I’m working with now will be surprised that this is how I’ve been feeling.
This takes me back to “The Power of Vulnerability”. What I realised was how numb I was to how I was really feeling while looking after my second daughter. Brown talks about how it is not possible to numb certain emotions in isolation. She says, “You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin…” In my case, it was, “I’m going to play Rush Royale,” the mobile game, “and eat Minstrels.” I stopped exercising and I was making excuses for not looking after myself properly. I realise now that I was trying to numb my emotions and hide my vulnerabilities, which in turn was affecting a lot of other aspects of my life. As life felt more and more challenging, my confidence continued to fall, so I played more Rush Royale and ate more Minstrels purely to escape. I needed to be somewhere else, however the somewhere else did not provide satisfaction for long, creating more of an addiction.
To quote Brown again, she says, “You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”
I’d like to take it further than a cycle; it’s like the gravitational pull of a black hole. A black hole of negative emotions. The change in my life of having my second baby created a force that was not addressed promptly, it intensified and drew more and more uncertainty into the gravitational field of the black hole of negative emotions. The longer I delayed addressing my vulnerability, the stronger this force became, exerting its influence across various aspects of my life, including my career, and relationships with those that surround me.
Today, Eleanor is a lovely, beautiful and well behaved 2 year old girl. She is in nursery part-time, which gives me some time to myself and to work, but am I still pulled towards Rush Royal and Minstrels (or any type of chocolate!). Why do I still feel like I’m not good at my job? Because I haven’t given myself the necessary time to reflect and truly think and let my vulnerabilities be seen. Writing this is my first step to being seen. My first step to unravelling the mysteries of my emotional black hole!
Now this is where the Kübler-Ross Change Curve explains my journey. Throughout my career and as part of the mentoring I do, I discuss the Kübler-Ross Change Curve a lot. At Red Tangerine, we use visualisation a lot to create shared understanding, and the visualisation of how change is experienced as shown in the Kübler-Ross Change Curve really helps to understand change. During my mentorship discussions and beyond I’ve often shared the Kubler-Ross Change Curve to help others understand what they are going through.
Image Source: https://whatfix.com/blog/kubler-ross-change-curve
Elizabeth Kulber-Ross was a psychiatrist and she developed the change curve to understand the grief in individuals facing terminal illness. However, I’ve used it in lots of different contexts, from personal growth, switching careers and organisational change (which is where I was introduced to it). It is important to note that the stages – shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – are not linear and not all people go through all stages.
So why had I not recognised where I was in the change curve? Because I had not been authentic with my struggles. You could say I was in denial for a long time. I am in acceptance now, but this does not mean my journey is over. As Brown says, “when we work from a place … that says, ‘I’m enough’ … then we stop screaming and start listening”. I’m ready to start listening. I’m accepting the change I’ve been through. And I’m ready to see the new opportunities open to me, while improving my habits and my self confidence.
Feature Image by Dids on Pexels