Over 2 million women have already left the workforce in the pandemic. And without childcare, eldercare or the ability to take a paid leave, many more plan to downshift, resign or switch professions altogether.
Before deciding what to do next, you need clarity about what you need. But pivots require strategy. And strategic thinking, requires mental energy. And Covid’s mental load, Zoom-school and housework, have drained most parents dry.
Peggy Foster, an HR Consultant, Executive Coach and Artist, spent more than 2 decades in Human Resources and Organizational Development. She’s an expert in professional transitions and navigated her own exit from corporate life.
It may feel impossible to make the space. But Peggy’s process highlights how self-care and reflection, even in small doses, can lead to big breakthroughs.
Don’t ‘Empty’ Yourself for Others
Peggy explained, “When we take space for ourselves, it feels like we’ve gone against society and how we’ve been trained as women, to put everybody else first. Feed the kids, clean the house, make sure everybody is happy, get that job done at work and the truth is, you can only give out what you’ve taken in.”
She added, “So often we think it’s Christian to totally empty ourselves for everybody else. But there’s a great quote from the Bible that says, ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and it’s equal. It’s not more than yourself, it’s not less than yourself but as yourself.” Amen! Peggy added, “Self-care is good for me and it makes me a better person for others! I don’t want to show up in a way that I have to be sad, mad or go back and apologize for.”
It’s Okay to Break Up with Toxicity
After Peggy’s marriage ended, she gave herself permission to reexamine everything. “So, from there it was a rediscovery of who I was and what I really wanted. Because I had spent years working full-time and taking care of everything at home.” Peggy wanted a healthier and more flexible work dynamic.
She said, “I had been with my organization for many years. And the last few years were very toxic. Being at that organization had been a huge part of my identity, but it was like I had to divorce that too.” Making space for her artwork helped her cope. She said, “Two years before that, I started doing my art to fill myself up before I went to work. Because the environment was so toxic. And through that self-exploration, this whole new area opened up.”
Journal Your Way to Clarity
We’re encouraged to keep spinning and going without breaks. But thoughtful shifts come from pause and reflection. Peggy said, “What changed my life, was starting a consistent practice of doing morning pages.” Julia Cameron’s brilliant but simple process of writing 3 journal pages each morning. “I would go five out of seven days, doing that brain dump. Or writing about what I needed to leave behind or writing about what I’m going to. Or writing about what I was mad at. It is taking that pause and observing all that stuff that’s bopping around your head.” Yes! She added, “Why not get it on paper? Then you can also see the patterns and say, ‘huh, that’s an interesting thing, what am I going to do about it?’”
Don’t Judge Yourself (or Your Process)
Peggy explained, “When you start a writing or a meditation practice, you will have bad meditation and bad writing. You need to allow yourself to get through it being bad because, all of a sudden, it’s juicy.” In our society, imperfection tends to be judged harshly. Which leads us to judge ourselves and others. She said, “We put such judgment into what we create! What if you could just be present and observe?” Difficult but important.
She also explained how self-acceptance, creates that permission for authenticity, in all areas of our lives. She said, “How can you show up, being your weird self but also be a truth teller? Because we waste a lot of time in corporate America and other places by not telling the truth.”
Set Boundaries, Even with Young Kids
You can create that reservoir of resilience you need, even sheltered with family, 24/7. Peggy said, “I’m a big believer in boundaries. So, whether you have teenagers or little kids you can say, ‘Mom is going to set the timer for seven minutes and for seven minutes you need to do X. You know, when you just need time. Even if you go sit and listen to music for 7 minutes.” She said the amount of time can vary, “Create an age-appropriate length of time away but this is your time.” Beautiful.
Incorporate Self-Care into Family Time
Meaningful time ‘away’ isn’t realistic for most of us right now. Peggy said, “When I had young children, we would have reading parties. And we’d all sit on the couch and for 20 minutes, we would set the timer and we’d all read.” This method can work across ages and needs. She suggests, “Take 5 minutes to dance together. What if one night, everybody could pick out one song and everybody had to dance to it? Or ‘hey when it’s 10:00 o’clock, let’s all meet in the kitchen and have a glass of water together.’ You’re creating memories and instilling great habits in them. It could be gluing macaroni on a plate. I would always craft with my daughters. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money but it still can be fun.”
Peggy reminds us setting the boundaries and getting time away are partial solutions. We don’t have to go it alone. She said, “Ask for help. You can look at your kids, like you do with your team at work and do some team building. And say, ‘What do you think we can do? It’s so much nicer when the living room is picked up and it helps me to be less crabby, can we do a 5-minute tidy?’ How can you be creative and fun? Or you can say, ‘Mom needs a walk, can you ride your bike and I’ll walk? Or it’s really cold, can we bundle up and go outside for a little bit?”
Keep a List of Quick Resets!
Small acts can be transformative. Peggy keeps a list of 11 minute mood-boosting activities, inside of the front cover of her notebook. She said, “When you have little kids it’s more like 3 minutes but I have my list right here of things I can do in 11 minutes. Meditate, do 11 yoga stretches, drink 11 glasses of water throughout the day, write down 11 things I am grateful for, write down 11 people you want to bless. Or sing, dance or workout for 11 minutes. Set the timer and do 11 minutes of art or journaling.” Wonderful.
She added, “If you’re in a bad mood, 11 minutes can change your life. So, how are you going to change your life?”
This is your call to action. Give yourself small, intentional bursts of space. And you will begin to get clear and confident about the changes you would like to see in your life.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Peggy Foster!
Peggy Foster is the owner of Foster Learning LLC, a small but mighty HR consulting firm specializing in leadership development, executive coaching, and organizational effectiveness. Foster brings 20 + years of experience as a Human Resources Consultant specializing in the areas of organizational effectiveness, creating inclusive work environments, and mentoring programs. Peggy is a certified Gallup Strengths Coach since 2008 and is passionate about helping others identify and play to their strengths everyday.
She also teaches whole-hearted, whole-self living, as a life and soul coach and artist.