Are you nervous about reentering the workforce after what might feel like a lifetime away?
Do you feel like you’ve lost touch with your former professional self and are reentering the work world as an entirely empty slate?
Do you view your time away as a time capsule of sorts, a period in which you have been completely closed off from any growth that could possibly be relevant and benefit you in a work context?
It is understandable if these anxious thoughts are crowding your frontal lobe as you entertain the notion or actively begin the process of reentering the workforce. But, I have some good news for you: These are just your thoughts. They’re not your reality.
You have not been in a time warp since you left the formal work world. You did not stop evolving in ways that will benefit you as a professional. On the contrary, you have more to offer than ever before. Regardless of why you left and what you have been doing since that time, there is no question that you have grown and developed new perspectives, attitudes, behaviors, and life skills that will make you an even stronger professional.
You just need to allow yourself some time and anxiety-free head space, and to be willing to turn to others (family, friends, an executive coach) to help you gain clarity on what you have learned and how you have grown during your time away. Then, it’s a matter of figuring out how these new (or further honed) skills can best be applied in a work context—and the best ways to share and promote them.
To help you get started, below is just a handful of the many ways in which I (your new and hopefully not too presumptuous writer “friend”) expect that you have evolved since you left your last job. All are essential traits of a high performing professional.
1. You are More of a Risk Taker and Have Greater Experience Facing Ambiguity
Whether it was a long-planned change or a quick decision, leaving your job was a departure from a way of life to which you were accustomed. Even if you spent innumerable hours in the planning phase, you ultimately took action, one that included a leap of faith and a high level of ambiguity associated with the change.
2. You Have Strengthened Your Communication Skills, Particularly When it Comes to Sharing Sensitive Information
Whether your leave was compelled by something wonderful or not so wonderful, it is likely you felt a mix of emotions and anxiety about what to say when sharing your decision and plans with people. The cold hard truth is that there are people who just don’t understand, and in turn think poorly of, people who are willing to put anything in their lives above their professional success in a traditional work environment. Even if you didn’t encounter anyone who falls into this category, you still had to figure out your “script” and find a place of comfort in sharing your reasons and plans with friends, extended family, and others.
3. You are More of a Learner
To succeed professionally, it is as essential to be a willing, comfortable learner as it is to be a leader. Whether you left your previous job to stay at home with your children, to care for another loved one, to devote all of your time to a volunteer position, to pursue a non-paying professional passion, or for any other reason, there was a lot of learning involved. You learned new skills and developed a new base of knowledge. You learned more about yourself and how you operate in different contexts and with different types of people. And the list goes on.
4. You Are More Adept at Establishing New Relationships
The parents and others you became friends with as a result of having more time to attend your children’s school and extracurricular activities. The new professional relationships you established through your volunteer work. The networking and relationship building you had to do to pursue an alternative career passion or to address a personal problem. Any of the relationships you established or strengthened during your time away from the formal work world strengthened your relationship skills and increased your experience interacting with diverse groups of people.
5. You Have Strengthened Your Capacity for Resilience
Simply by stepping away from the traditional work world, you figured out how to adjust to a major change in the lifestyle you have maintained for many years, if not decades. This shows resilience. Did you also encounter and have to generate solutions to any emotional, physical, or situational problems while you were away from the traditional work world? That’s resilience. Did you hit any roadblocks in your plan for how you’d spend your time that required you to shift course at any point? That’s resilience. Did you experience any personal failures that were completely new to you? This is yet another sign of your increased capacity for resilience.
You have every reason to be proud of these—and all the other—ways in which you have grown and become more self-actualized during your time away. You also have every reason to highlight these and any other areas you honed while on leave during your job interviews, and to capitalize on them once you re-enter the work world.