Your work matters…

…wherever you do it.

This week a friend loaned me How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson. It’s the sequel to her book I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother (movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Greg Kinnear, and Pierce Brosnan). Both books take a pointed and hilarious look into what it’s like to return to work after taking time off to care for your family. In How Hard Can It Be, Kate is turning 50. Bet you guessed this is a hot topic for my clients and me.

This happened

I’m in the bed reading on Saturday morning when I see this: “The insurance company paid…after a ten-year legal battle, and now that they can afford 24/7 care for John [husband of Andrea], Andrea can relinquish some of her responsibilities. ‘Started to think it might be nice to use my brain again,’ [Andrea] said….”

And I yelled out loud, “WTF” – plus a lot stronger language. It was too much to see in print the exact same thoughts my clients express to me day after day.

Andrea’s story is that for the 10+ years she’s been (1) caring for her husband who has traumatic brain injuries and is paralyzed, (2) caring for their children, and (3) waging a 10 year battle against an insurance company – she hasn’t been using her brain. Seriously, this is so, so wrong. Sadly, it is also how many of us talk about our experience of staying at home to care for our families. And, even worse, it’s how the know-nothings who run many companies these days think, too.

No, just no.

People. This is tragically wrong-headed. Here’s an example IRL (in real life). I have a client, Stan, who stepped back a level at work so he could care for his aging parents. After a year, they’re maintaining (this is a technical term I appropriated after caring for successive generations of aging grandparents and in-laws – it’s a cross between they’re stable and you’re holding your breath).

So Stan is ready to ramp back up at work. He’s in retail, and get this, his boss told him he’s too young in his role (btw, he held this role for several years before at the same company) so he won’t push for Stan to return to his prior role – which he held for 4 years. What? Talk about short-sighted – this is at a company that can hire enough people.

When things like this happen to us, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking our work doesn’t matter – that we weren’t using our brains.

It is rocket science!

Let me ask you a question. Any of you out there ever run a family? Have you ever fed people 3 meals a day, gotten kids to school, scheduled doctor’s appointments, soccer practice, carpool, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Sunday School, and, in your spare time, volunteered at school and at church? Oh, I forgot, have you also received advanced on the job training in raising up baby terrorists also known as 2 and 3 year olds, recalcitrant teenagers, and 18-year-olds who are launching into independence?

I thought so. There is no work on the planet earth – including running a country – that is as hard as taking care of a family. And, no, I will not take this into a discussion of why caregivers (women) are uniquely suited to running large countries. That’s for another day.

Listen up, hiring managers!

Here’s what I want to say to those managers. The people who understand best how to run a project, learn new skills on the fly (sometimes in life or death situations), acquire massive amounts of new information and deploy it immediately, manage people, recognize talent, develop talent, and deliver work on time and under budget are the ones who have spent time responsible for the care and upkeep of others.

Oh, and let’s not forget that most of these caregivers also possess these critical skills: negotiating, patience, listening, questioning, bravery, grit, resilience, curiosity, and kindness.

Read the two lists please. Recognize yourself in them? I hope so. So here’s a quick research exercise (this is what I call homework for adults – research), write down each of those phrases and nouns and then list how you’ve exemplified them. Please, please, do not discount your experience. That time you didn’t give up on teaching your toddler not to hit people – that’s called negotiating and talent development.

It matters

When you tie your experience to the words people use to describe work outside the house, you’ll begin to understand how to talk about the work you’ve been doing for the last 5, 10, 15, 20, or even 30 years in ways that help you figure out the possibilities that lay ahead for you.

Many companies are just beginning to understand and respect the value of the work that is done in the home. Don’t give up. Don’t buy into the idea that the time you’ve spent caring for others doesn’t matter. That it was brainless and worthless. It wasn’t.

All the work you do matters. What doesn’t matter is the location where you do the work. So, please, respect yourself and your experience. Say it loud and proud: My. Work. Matters. My. Work. Has. Value.

Because it does.