Work harder before you have kids, work smarter after

All Woman

THERE is no time like the present. Make hay while the sun shines. Put your best foot forward. These sayings are extremely important for young women with both professional and personal ambitions, that is, women who want their hearts to pulse with fulfilment in the home and the office. On one hand, they want partners, children, birthday parties, recitals and PTA meetings; on the other, they want careers, promotions, corporate dinners, board meetings or to start businesses.

For these women, I believe it is critical to make the early days and years count. Women who feel 'called' to have a family and a booming career should spend the time to discern and develop their true God-given talents and ambition as soon as they graduate from college or university. You should prove your worth both to yourself and to others from day one on the project or in the workplace.

Work harder

So arrive earlier, find a mentor, continue studying through short courses and webinars, proactively find solutions to problems, deliver and surpass results, volunteer for projects and good causes, cross-train, build relationships, develop a habit of religiously saving and investing money, have faith, and, of course, enjoy the ride! Don't be a damsel in distress. Don't be looking for someone else on the team to solve problems.

Additionally, don't be afraid to take on projects and tasks for which you have no training — not so that you can make under-30 or under-40 achievement lists and be pressured by society to achieve, but so that when you are looking to start a family in a few years, you would have already garnered solid experience and earned the respect of your team.

You can use that legacy to work smarter. So if you have to work from home because your child is ill and you feel you must be there, the boss already knows that you have a great commitment ethic and will still deliver.

With all the talk of equality and quotas, don't fool yourself — the primary care for your children is going to be on you, at least in the early years. Until some bizarre extraordinary technological development enables the man to be pregnant, you will still be the one to carry your dream kids for nine months each. You are still the one to saunter into the office each day with swollen feet and ankles, experiencing nausea and unable to wear a fitted suit.

Some young women want nothing to do with building a career, but only have a passion for the home, while others can't conceive the idea of mothering a child, but get goosebumps when they think of events, projects and profit margins. And that's OK. But honestly, I think the dynamics may be a little clearer — not easier, just clearer — for those two groups. For the woman who really wants both, however, the juggling of responsibilities tends to be less straightforward.

Work smarter

So what happens after children come into the picture? Do you slack off and hope the boss understands? Not at all!

Working smarter in this phase of our lives doesn't mean that you shouldn't think strategically from the get-go. Think of how a forest is formed. In the beginning, you have to do the hard work of preparing the land, planting the seeds, and watering. That's what working hard is all about. Working smarter involves pruning the trees, continuing to water, and, of course, reaping its fruits.

There is no prescription that perfectly fits every woman or every circumstance, but the point is to develop a game plan early. Your game plan should be informed by your own vision, instincts and spiritual revelation, not by societal pressures or norms. I know one woman who after working hard in her younger years, married, and then went home for seven years after her first child was born. Now she holds a very senior vice-president position in a leading private sector company. It was a spiritual decision designed to support her family at a critical stage. What's your game plan?

Mother of four girls, Shelly-Ann Harris is a corporate professional and author of God's Woman and 40 Agreements on Becoming 40 , among other inspirational titles.

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