Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Workbar at Staples. Thank you for supporting the brands that partner with Red Shutters.
When I was a teenager, I worked for one summer in an ice cream shop. I scooped ice cream into cones, perfected the soft serve twist, and mopped floors. Despite the perk of unlimited ice cream, the job was dull and I found myself counting the minutes until the end of each shift. However, I learned an important lesson at that job, one that my children today, decades later, find endlessly fascinating.
One of my coworkers, a teenage girl who was a bit older, drew scores of friends into the store to hang out while she waited on customers. To show off or perhaps because she thought she could get away with it, she gave free ice cream to her friends, from cones to gooey sundaes. One day, she unknowingly gave away ice cream in front of the owner’s mother. She was fired the next day, leaving her apron, crusted with chocolate syrup, hanging in the back room. The owner saw her as exploiting the unlimited ice cream for employees rule, and the shop quickly became empty on afternoons when her friends typically came by. I never saw her again, but I knew her dismissal wasn’t unexpected: even then, I understood that there are some workplace rules that are unbreakable.
In the years since that summer job, I have seen the rules of the workplace change in ways I hadn’t ever imagined. The workplace—including when, where, and how—is being redefined by those who prioritize their personal lives and demand work environments that see them as whole people with needs and responsibilities beyond their careers.
I’ve been one of those people who has been defined, in a way, by the work-life juggle. For almost ten years, I’ve been a professional and a parent, running from day care drop off to the office, from PTA meetings to staff meetings. It’s been exhausting. Exhilarating, too. Having a career while becoming a parent was surprisingly grounding. On days when I felt like I couldn’t do anything right as a parent—we all have those days, I think—being successful at work reminded me not to wallow in my mom mistakes. It worked in the inverse, too: when I had stressful or unproductive days at the office, going home to my family gave me strength and purpose.
In my view, both career and family are necessary parts of a life, both provide something the other lacks, both offer different ways to contribute and be a part of a larger goal. I’ve appreciated both and sacrificed, as we all do, to make sure that both my career and family had as much attention from me as possible.
But now, that I’ve been a working professional for more than 25 years, what should my work be? When I think back to that ice cream store gig, it seems so clear cut: scoop and twist, twist and scoop. And, having worked in all types of environments, I wonder where I should go next. One of the things I learned while going through breast cancer treatment is that life, already too short, should be spent focused on what makes you happy, inspired, fulfilled, or just good.
For some time now, I’ve been yearning for something else from my career but uncertain what that something else could or should be. Trying to figure that out while working and having a life has been challenging—there are too many distractions and diversions—so I’m breaking one of those seemingly ironclad career rules. Recently, without another position lined up, I resigned from a great job, one at an organization with a meaningful mission and where I had terrific coworkers and a flexible schedule. I’m taking a sabbatical—a few months away from full-time work—to reflect upon what comes next. It’s a risk to take such a break, but the questions I have about how career fits into my life only seem to increase. Do I stay in the same field? Do I try something I’ve always wanted to do, even if it sounds scary? Can I find a career that offers flexibility and family-friendly policies? Is there way for me to be my own boss? How can I find fulfillment, while also being a provider for my family? Is there a way I can work from home, from a flexible workspace, like the new Workbar at Staples I’ve told you about here on Red Shutters, or from wherever my laptop can find a plug?
Everyone I’ve mentioned this (unpaid) sabbatical to—friends, colleagues, a woman I chatted with while waiting for a doctor’s appointment last week—expressed enthusiasm for my plan. Some were even flat out jealous. Taking time off is a luxury—and a privilege—and I have promised myself I won’t squander it—no matter how many good TV shows there are on Netflix this winter.
I couldn’t have told you, back when I was making ice cream sundaes, that life would unfold itself in such a way that I’d get to a place where I would need to pause and look around, to think about the path ahead. I doubt I would have understood the need to reflect, though I’m sure I would have been happy to know I was breaking some rules along the way.
Learn more about Workbar at Staples, collaborative working spaces now open in Massachusetts, here.