Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The end of mat leave, the beginning of a new chapter

Before I started my one year contract as a full time mommy, I worked as the Volunteer Coordinator at a local community agency, and I loved my job. Managing volunteers, working with other community agencies, talking about important issues of social justice, poverty reduction and community engagement every day filled me with energy and optimism and connected me to my city in a way that I am nothing but grateful for. When I left my job for maternity leave, a week before Oliver was born, I was sure that I'd miss my it so much that I'd want to be back before the baby was even delivered. And although that didn't turn out to be the case, I did think I'd be heading back to the office once my year at home was up.

But having a baby can work on your brain in surprising ways. Although I value and believe that I had been doing very important work in my employment, I began to have my doubts about whether doing that work is the right thing for my family, right now.

While work in the non-profit sector has so many wonderful perks, from the amazing coworkers, the stimulating experiences and ideas, and the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that you're really engaging with your community, it has a few down sides as well. The warm fuzzies that you get from doing good work can sometimes be the largest part of your salary, and the stimulation of new ideas and experiences sometimes takes the place of financial reward or reasonable expectations. Securing core funding for neighbourhood agencies like mine is a constant challenge and so the reality of my job was that it was a part time position, with full time expectations.

Being away from Oliver for 30 hours a week, for what would amount to just enough to cover the cost of having someone else care for him, even if my work was stimulating and challenging just didn't seem right.

For years, I've provided freelance technical writing services to a very small handful of clients, and have found that work a nice comfortable and flexible sideline. Although I can't say that all of the details of a business continuity plan thrill me, the chance to take on editing a book or two, helping to create client websites that are readable and engaging, and getting into the meat and bones of technology and resources that make a company work is a thrill. I love sitting down at my computer to work, and getting a job done with just my keyboard and my little brain. And yeah, the money's pretty good too.

When my Dad offered me the opportunity to work as a subcontractor for his technology company, while also taking on new clients and working from home, it didn't take me long to realize that self-employment was the future for me. In just a few weeks I've been handed enough work to make my "to do" list a little overwhelming, in a good way, and to make me feel like I might just be able to grow my little business into a legitimate operation.

So yesterday afternoon I walked the six city blocks to my old office, sat down in front of my boss, and managed to hold in the tears as I told her that as much as I loved working with her, I wouldn't be coming back.

My stomach had been in knots for weeks about this conversation but I should have known that all of the angst was unnecessary. One of the other amazing perks of working for a human services agency is that most of the people engaged in that work have a personal mandate to support everyone around them.

So while some bosses might react with irritation, frustration, or just plain disappointment that they are losing an employee they've waited a year for, my wonderful (former) boss said "I'm sad, for myself, because I love working with you, but I just want you to feel supported as a mother in making the choices that are right for your family, so I'm happy for you". When I got home, after departing with a few hugs and a lot of pats on the back, she had sent an email asking when I'd be free for a drink.

I am really going to miss working at my little (but great) neighbourhood centre... and I'm not bowing out completely - I have already talked to my mat. leave replacement about getting myself into a volunteer role a.s.a.p., and I hope that in the future I can be a part of the good work that they do in another capacity.  For now though, I'm excited to be able to be home watching my son grow as I try and grow a business. 

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