How do you wrap your head around your job when you’re going through a rough divorce? How do you concentrate? How do you schedule meetings with your attorney or mediator, sessions with teachers concerned about distraught kids, or court appearances – all of it interfering with your job?
If your divorce process is fairly straightforward and contained, an understanding boss and co-workers can make a difference. You take time off work when you need it, your employer cuts you some slack when your performance is a little less focused than usual, and ideally, work may even prove to be an escape from the domestic worries you’re dealing with.
In a messier divorce, or a messy aftermath, even the kindest work environment is bound to grow weary of accommodating your needs. More importantly, they may be stretched trying to pick up the slack where your personal situation has left gaps.
You need to get your head in the game.
You need to jump start the job juice – even if you’re hurting.
My Story: Divorce + Layoff = Drama
I am a woman who has always worked for pay – long before I married (in an international career), during my marriage (scaled back, but still full-time corporate work), and since divorce (as an independent consultant and freelance writer).
Backtracking a bit, within a few years of giving birth to two children, I reconfigured my professional life so a significant portion of it was handled from a home office. I was “full-time Mom” to my kids, and also, a full-time employee in a management position. I was always busy, to say the least. And I didn’t sleep much.
I was also lucky. Those opportunities are few and far between.
The end of my marriage came at an unfortunate moment in my career. A corporate restructure axed the department I was part of, and another department head (who appreciated my work) picked me up on an interim basis. I needed to look for a new position, but I was spending days in an attorney’s office, evenings trying to comfort my kids, and weekends – all too often – bleary-eyed and dazed, trying to figure out how to stop the inevitable.
My ability to job search through the ongoing drama?
I was able to perform well for the new department (I knew the work and the people), but there was no permanent position available. And my self-esteem was being shredded throughout the divorcing process, as I felt that everything I had invested to make our family strong was devalued and being undermined.
Eventually, I was cast adrift as my divorce dragged on. Talk about a setback! I was burning credit, had no income, and it was all I could do to get out of bed much less apply for jobs or perform well at an interview. Speaking of interviews, the positions for which I was qualified often required travel. That was another stickler. How could I travel overseas as the sole parent with two little kids who were, themselves, going through a terrible time?
The Upside: Creative Problem-Solving
One of only “upsides” to my long divorce was the unintended “Divorce Diet.” I dropped so much weight (so fast) that I never looked better, ironically. The small boost I got from that – and fitting clothes I couldn’t have touched since having children – was the confidence it gave me if I did indeed make it to an interview.
Ultimately, I received an offer and I grabbed it. Bad call, bad fit, and it didn’t last. But my lawyers said “you have to take it.” (There are times when you need to listen to your gut, not your lawyers.)
It wasn’t long after that I went “independent.” It was, for me, the only way to deal with the crazy schedule resulting from ongoing issues with my ex, and three years of a slow rebuilding process with my children, to stabilize their world.
In the long-run, going independent was another “upside” – for my children. They needed a great deal of patience and attention, and by setting my own schedule (frequently working in the middle of the night), I was able to give it.
Beyond that, I ceased thinking of “jobs” and began reconsidering (and re-conceiving) my skills, my knowledge, my abilities, my initiative. Don’t get me wrong – I longed for a stable salary (and benefits), and I never stopped looking – but I had been laid off from a senior position. Consequently, I was often deemed “overqualified, over-educated” – and at a certain point – age became a factor as well.
Working for yourself? Relying entirely on yourself? Knowing you have mouths to feed and there’s no one galloping in to rescue you?
Reinventing Your Career After Divorce
Whether you’re a seasoned professional or you haven’t worked since before you had children, getting your head back in the game isn’t easy. Job searching or career “reinvention” can be grueling, will involve missteps (that we learn from), and there are never any guarantees.
Going it solo, should you choose that, presents its own set of issues. It isn’t easy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But here are some tips I wish I had 10 years ago:
- Use exercise, meditation, or other healthy means to center yourself
- List generic skills you possess (planning, budgeting, communication) and consider their transferability
- List specific skills you master, and how you might package them differently
- Create a network of knowledgeable people who will provide good feedback on your abilities, ideas, and how you present yourself
- Be realistic about constraints (money, time, kids, location)
- Be realistic in your “entrepreneurial” comfort level
- Connect, connect, connect – and be prepared with your 90-second elevator speech
- Use social media to find helpful communities
- If you are divorced and a woman, do not anticipate that you will remarry a man of means with the money to “save” you!
These are high level “tips” and only a few, but looking back, I wish I would have had them.
Emotions: Anger, Grief, Fear
None of this addresses the emotional turmoil you may be going through during and after divorce. Again, the discipline to walk 20 minutes a day or swim at the local Y can help. Likewise, sharing a cup of tea with a friend twice a week. Perhaps your better angels take over when you hold your six-year-old in your arms at night.
Divorce can leave us shaky – furious, resentful, afraid.
We may be terribly stressed over money, over our children’s well-being, over the future in general.
In my opinion – and certainly in my case – reigning in the emotions was key to revving up my enthusiasm for both job searching and work production. And the more momentum I felt (getting interviews or snagging a new client), the better I felt about myself, my life, my ability to provide for my family.
I still felt the anger, the grief, the fear. But another upside emerged – and still does: Every time I am paid for a job well done, I’m energized for the next and more confident in the future.