Ten Terrifying Things About Going Back to Work and Why You Should Not Be Scared

For some time now I have been obsessing about going back to work. I have ruminated on my misgivings about being a stay-at-home mom to anyone who will listen and then spilled my guts on national television. While I have been spouting off, a number of my friends have been listening, sending out resumes and have actually returned to the working world. All were excited, none were without trepidations. They were good enough to share their thoughts with me because they are very kind people, have all been thrilled with the transition back to the workplace and they hope to kick me into action.

Ready to go back to work?  Here is what you need to consider. Grant Central Station, New York City

1. Time

While the demands of a SAHM are many and, at times, overwhelming, there is the opportunity to set some of one’s own priorities and schedule. Back to work and someone else is the boss, your time is in their hands and your schedule is not longer your own. The trade-off between time and money is rarely perfect in our lives and at no time is that clearer than when returning to work. But here is the cold hard truth, nobody juggles better than a mom, so while it may be daunting at first to cede your calendar to your new boss, moms have got the skills to make it work.

2. Bosses

The first time through the workplace we tended to work for bosses who were older and, in truth, male. Going back to work there is good news and bad news. Your boss might well be a woman, but if she is, she is probably 28. Just once allow yourself to think, “Oh my God she is (technically) young enough to be my daughter,” and then banish that thought forever. Young bosses might seem callow, but they have much to teach about the working world, and, in return, we have much to teach them about the real world.

3. Money

There are a great many reasons to go reenter the job market, but back to work experts, iRelaunch,  say that earning money is the number one motivator. The first time through the job market you may have just been supporting yourself and words like “retirement income” and “tuition” were meaningless. This time your budget needs may be far more concrete, or conversely, with a second income in the family, more flexible. Either way, face those money needs and understand that they may be traded for time and job flexibility.

4. Experience

Women are hired back often because of their past accomplishments and the belief that these can be repeated. While employers may admire our skills, one of the first stumbling blocks is a body of knowledge that can be out of date. As one returning friend noted, “The learning curve is so steep. The good news is we have the Internet to get a lot of answers but there isn’t enough time in a day. As moms, we have two jobs and the other one doesn’t quit as we sit at our desks!“

5. Younger Colleagues

And it is not only your boss who could have had play dates with your kids. Colleagues may be from a different generation. One friend returning to the same industry she had left observed that the value of “experienced wisdom” isn’t initially seen by young colleagues. Returners may need to tread carefully to avoid incurring the resentment of new colleagues who may only see someone with less relevant recent experience.

6. Kids

The last time some of my returning friends worked, they had only one job, now they have two. This has been an adjustment for everyone I spoke with. One returning friend in finance said she sometimes has to leave early because her kids get out of school early and, while that has caused her some real anxiety, no one around her seems to care. There are enough real things to worry about in this transition, she noted, without taking on perceived ones.

7. What to wear?

While on the face of it this question may sound superficial, as any woman knows, dressing inappropriately is no laughing matter. Each industry and each company has its dress code and, for women, these can be quite subtle and suggest a great deal about experience, seniority and confidence. Dresses, suits, pants? Sweaters, blazers or suit jackets? Do you wear stockings? Heels, do they suggest confidence or insecurity? How much makeup or jewelry? God, men have it easy!

My returnee friends all found that it took a little time to read the subtext and get it right and that this was one of the concerns that felt big, but quickly faded.

8. Technology

This looms very large for anyone returning to work. Even women who have been gone for only a few years cite this as a concern. Advice from women who have been there? Don’t go it alone. Before you return, find out as much as you can about the technological demands of the job and get some help in honing your skills. Every position has some learn-on-the-job elements, but this is one where homework helps.

9. Ambition

No one goes back to work who doesn’t have ambition, but now, a few years on, does it matter if that ambition is the same white-hot force it was when we were 30? One friend returning to work ponders her new position,

I am not looking to ‘make’ my career. I have already had one. So what does that mean in terms of drive? Will I still try to excel when doing so probably doesn’t mean much in terms of a next job as there isn’t a lot of runway left? I think I will be driven to do well out of personal pride but we have always had the ‘what is next’ goal as a driver. There probably isn’t a ‘next.’

10. Network

My first job out of graduate school was as a management consultant. I walked in the first day with eight other newly-minted MBAs, a social unit unto ourselves. We were all in our 20s and single and were fast friends and a great business network. Next job, the same thing, a trading desk with 11 other twenty-somethings and, through drinks after work and late nights at the office, I learned much. But for those who are out of synch, returning with a demanding family life and with few peers of the same age, this type of networking is far more challenging.



  1. says

    I’ve found the few times I’ve attempted to go back to work were at meaningless jobs where I was underpaid and underutilized and the bosses weren’t nearly as smart as I am. Harsh comment maybe? But that’s how I felt. I’ve owned my own businesses and that makes it even more difficult to work for someone else. I love to be in control.

  2. says

    As the author of “Going Back to Work,” I know this territory well. Going back requires adjustments in terms of expectations and time management. The first six months can be rocky but eventually a routine becomes established.

    The workplace may seem on hyperspeed at times and your commute may become your favorite part of the day. In the end though, the transition is well worth it. The issue then becomes that it’s hard to stop working; ambition returns. More women than men are working into their 60s. That says something about returning moms!

  3. Emily says

    I just subscribed to iRelaunch for posts and news after seeing it mentioned in your post…although I have a lot on my plate personally right now, I am thinking more and more about returning to work. Once you have that itch, I think it’s hard to suppress. Thank you for another informative piece on this topic!

  4. lisa says

    Lisa, Thank you so much for returning to this topic. I have returned to work after many years out and all of these issues are real. It’s comforting to know others have had these experiences. I hope the workplace stays open to women working well into their 60s – I will if I can both for financial reasons and lifestyle. Please keep writing on this and good luck with your back to work journey.

  5. says

    This was interesting – and terrifying – to read. At this point, the thought of returning to the workplace makes me shudder. Not that I wouldn’t want to…but I’ve been working at home, on my own, for so long now, I fear re-entry.

  6. says

    This post actually caused me to hold my breath. Such anxiety for me to consider getting out there again. I want to be successful as a freelancer and the idea I might have to return to the workplace (yes, for financial reasons) scares the bejeezus out of me. Gah!

    That said, I admire those who do and can make it work for them.

  7. Johanna Wise says

    Thank you for highlighting and addressing the main fears of returning to work. After several “harsh” interviews with 20-somethings, I started my own firm, contracting out work to others interested in getting back into the swing, but not finding full-time work. Last year I started hosting return-to-work conferences, which are very well attended. Clearly there is a need to address these issues and to create support groups as well.

  8. says

    Of all these concerns or fears – it’s the 20 somethings that give me the most tremors. I don’t feel old or dated until I’m faced with an interview room full of “them.” I’d rather take my chances with freelance writing.

  9. says

    Like a lot of women here, I too feel conscious of the fact that returning to the workplace would mean facing colleagues who will be at least 15 years younger! I have good days and bad, when I swing between feeling confident about the “wisdom” I would bring and then feeling inadequate and outdated.

    I am not sure how we’ll change this for our daughters..

  10. Amari says

    I had a thriving career I left when I had my second of three children. In my late forties, I went back to school to get a master’s in social work. I am a part time therapist now and in this position, being older helps with my clients. Now and in school, I enjoyed the younget colleagues but it was tough. The second hardest thing I’ve ever done after motherhood.

    In addition to an itch for fulfillment, the anxiety of anticipating the empty nest, and the cognitive drudgery that filled some of my day, I did not want my children to write “home maker” or “comminity volunteer” on college applications for mother’s occupation. Ego talking? Sure.