It’s Okay To Reinvent Yourself As You Navigate Your Career Jungle-Gym

For many women, motherhood or other familial responsibilities make the 'original' career unviable. Guess? It is okay and possible to reinvent yourself.

For many women, motherhood or other familial responsibilities make the ‘original’ career unviable. Guess? It is okay and possible to reinvent yourself.

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new – Albert Einstein.

I graduated in 2003 and moved to Toronto with my parents and decided, on a lark, that I would wait tables for 6 months and see where it took me. Being the middle-class, Catholically-moral Indian parents that they were, mine were horrified. “We pulled out our life savings to send you to a really great school, to get a really great degree (I majored in Women’s Studies and Creative Writing, by the way), and you want to do what??!!” Oh, and I moved out of their apartment to a miniscule 9-by-15 feet studio flat…in the Gay Village.

So I wrote them a letter about how I was going to find myself and make it work and they would see.

And I did.

And they did.

In 1999, I went to college to study writing because writing was what made me happy ever since I could remember. I wanted to be a world-news journalist because that is what I was told I should be by my family at the tender, know-nothing age of seventeen. And then I took my first Women’s Studies class and was introduced to the earth-shattering world of feminist thought. And then I discovered classes like African-American History, African-American Feminism, Philosophy, Modern Dance…and I did this while I was on the organizing committee for four cultural clubs and a member of six others, which taught me fundraising, event management and sales & marketing.

Oh, and I held down four part-time jobs to earn enough money to fly back home every break, while maintaining a 3.6 GPA. At graduation I had written a (multiple) award-winning short-story, and had been introduced to a legendary newsman from ABC News as one of the most promising students of my graduating class.

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But, I wasn’t ready to write as a career yet. I felt too young, neon-green, lacking any experience of real life, and I wanted to go out into the world and find it. So, from waiting tables at a tiny Italian restaurant by night, to researching and sourcing rare and antique books for a bookstore by day, to moving to India to run a supper-club/whisky-bar in Bangalore, to moving back to Toronto and (re)starting from scratch (bartending, secretarial work, sales and then a dream job in marketing and fundraising for the classical performing arts across North America), to returning to India, getting married, working in real-estate and coffee-planter events, and having a child… The world can be the best ride at the carnival, if you let it.

Would I change any of this? Never.

What I do now, today, is what I would have, should have, could have done all those years ago after graduation. I write about women-empowerment to bring women in India back to the workforce after they take a break in their careers for reasons like marriage/motherhood/elderly-care. (If you’re looking for new and exciting roles to showcase the skills you’ve gained along your professional and personal journey, you can find them at, a portal specifically for women who want to restart their careers.)

But I could not do it in the way I do it now, if I had not experienced everything else I did before. There is weft and warp to my craft now, a weight, depth; it has become multidimensional in its robust framework of experience. And I am working with a company that is truly making a difference in the lives of women, one by one, in a way that is countable and visible. This was meant to happen now.

There is weft and warp to my craft now, a weight, depth; it has become multidimensional in its robust framework of experience.

When the career dream doesn’t pan out

My story may be unique, but it is by no means the only one like it. People across the world find themselves on different rides at the same carnival. Some stay on their rides, doing the same thing, watching the same scenery pass them by, believing in the antiquated creed of the corporate ladder that will elevate them to the upper echelons of management/partnership/ownership of the company that they work for, some day in the fluffy-clouded future. That’s a nice dream, but it doesn’t always pan out. In fact, more and more, it very rarely pans out.

In our hypersonic world, growing laterally is as important as growing vertically, because it means that you are adaptable, versatile and tenacious. The corporate world has become a jungle-gym, webbing us together in ways unimaginable across the globe. Opportunities present themselves to all of us at several points in our lives – opportunities to change, to grow, to reinvent, to find a new, a different rung on that jungle-gym.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s glass-hammering book Lean In, she persuades women to navigate their careers as one would a jungle-gym in the playground, exploring new opportunities and roles, and learning how to reinvent ourselves for stretch-assignments, in ways that most men do not hesitate to do.

“…ladders are limiting – people can move up or down, on or off. Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The jungle gym model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or re-entering the workforce after taking time off. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfilment. Plus, a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top. On a ladder, most climbers are stuck staring at the butt of the person above.”

We would advise this strategy for women in India returning to the workforce after a long break in their careers. What did you want to do when you graduated? Before the responsibilities of adulthood, marriage and motherhood came knocking? What do you think you could be successful in doing now?

Reshaping your career is possible!

If you were a business consultant with a large firm before your break, you could try your hand at human-resources with a start-up company now. If you were in a high-stress sales position before, how about fundraising part-time for a non-profit organization now? There are a plethora of content/copy-writing jobs in the market today that require no other tools or skills than a laptop and a flair with words, which can be done from the comfort of your home or stepping out of the house for a few, part-time hours a day. There are even several sales jobs that require only great communication skills and a great attitude, and can pay you bountifully through commissions or fixed pay.

You could reshape your career to be more family-friendly– something that allows you flex-hours, with time for both your workplace skills and your at-home responsibilities. You could finally focus on who you want to be, instead of what you “should” do. And who knows, you may return to that high-powered type of job that you had before your break, one day, eventually, when your responsibilities at home aren’t as time-consuming as they may be now. But in the meanwhile, it’s ok to explore other things along the way.

…who knows, you may return to that high-powered type of job that you had before your break, one day, eventually, when your responsibilities at home aren’t as time-consuming as they may be now. But in the meanwhile, it’s ok to explore other things along the way.

Maria Shriver, a renowned activist, journalist, TV-show producer and author says, “During the course of my journey I’ve been a secretary, supervisor, middle manager, senior executive, executive producer, California state commissioner and an author of a soon-to-be published novel… You’d be surprised how cooking, literature, writing, marketing, public speaking, dancing, gardening or Spanish might lead to a new position. You never know whom you’ll meet or what you’ll learn. It might spark something you never dreamed.”

Other women who have spoken to us about their career-breaks often cited the long working hours of their previous careers as a huge reason that they burned out and/or decided that it was time to shift their priorities from career to home or family. At every age your objectives change, they evolve; they incorporate new reasons for being. And the good news is that in the wonderfully virtual world of today, opportunities abound in the types of roles available to women who want it all. There are so many, many new jobs created almost every day, which would have been unimaginable 5-10 years ago. From social media management to event-planning to public-relations to energy consulting to yoga training to travel guide – the oyster is rich with pearls for the picking.

The art of reinvention is a creative, fun and immensely rewarding process, one that operates at your luxury when you choose to restart your career after a break. And as always, there are others who have done it before, strewing the pebbles and stones that show the way. This 8-step guide is a great place to start. As well, there are numerous online courses on YouTube where you can brush up on your skills, for free.

The most important thing to remember is that you are capable of anything that you put your mind to – you really can be anything that you want to be if you want it badly enough. The first step is thinking about it.

So go ahead – imagine everything.


Mother and daughter image via Shutterstock

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About the Author

Schonali Rebello

Currently the Content Developer at JobsForHer, Schonali Rebello is a full-time mom to a spirited almost-2-year-old, and has worked in a smorgasbord of jobs - from executive-assistant to a tech-CEO read more...

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