Growing up, we all dreamed of becoming some sort of princess. My princess was going to live in a Technicolor world. . .Not as a damsel in distress. Not laden with a weighty crown. Or twisted up in a superhero cape. Nope. My princess plan was to be a sharp-witted, tough-willed, respected, and beloved ruler of a 3-D castle on the hill. I would be adored by fine children and a dashing husband. My princess was going to have her name in lights for curing real things and brokering real peace. Dragons would meet their match. And, of course, I would have great hair.
And then, there was a honk.
It was 2:55 p.m. My dusty Toyota hybrid was silently waiting in the carpool pickup lane behind several minivans. That day I had proudly completed the crossword puzzle, but couldn’t claim any other significant accomplishment since dropping off my third grader at school seven hours earlier.
The irony was not lost on me that the first question I would ask my sweet, sweaty-faced child was:
“Hey, Hon! So what did you do today?”
Oh how I hoped nobody would ask me that very same question.
Once, I could so casually brag about my workday. It was filled with stimulating meetings, bustling ideas, and designer-ish suits. I was comfortable speed-dialing top agents and talent. I was for my producing skills, and invited inside the room where things happened. Then, that snapshot of sassy careerist took a scenic turn and that castle atop the hilltop moved far far away. My clothes, my confidence, my vantage point had changed, and all I could see outside my car window were moats and gatekeepers.
I was still the same Deb: energetic, bossy, and likable, but somehow in the mulch of skating schedules and separated socks, I was cheering on the sidelines, doling out perfect orange wedges, and fostering someone else to write their perfect signature. I probably hit my low point one routine sunny morning while renewing the family’s passport form and was asked for my “occupation.” There was no box for “Mother”…and I was stumped.
That very day I went foraging for a guidebook to help me reignite my professional mojo. And yet, bookshelf after bookshelf, I found nothing that would steer me out of the carpool pickup lane and back into my happy job on the hill.
So I started writing Moms For Hire, the very guidebook I had hoped to march into a bookstore and buy for myself…for my sister…my ex-colleague…and every frustrated career-mom I knew. I plowed onward, reading every self-help book and resource material about the current job market, interviewing scores of working & non-working mothers and embarked on a chic recipe book for all women in search of a rewarding career.
My Bootstrapping Adventure
By many benchmarks, I had had a successful career. Then something shifted. Life moved forward, and I found myself looking out at new scenery. I was a 50-plus-year-old mother of four who had hurdled through the working world for nearly 40 years. My first job was Pizza and Cotton Candy Chef at Nathan’s Famous in the then-new Livingston, New Jersey, mall. Even as a teenager, I proudly loved the work, the camaraderie, and the paycheck.
Since then, I’ve risen through several corporate jobs in New York and LA, and had equal career successes at ad hoc kitchen-table spaces, corner offices, and on back road sets in far-off locations. I’ve navigated a role in a family business and felt valued in the entertainment industry. I’ve quit and I’ve been fired. I’ve been very well compensated and also paid to be included in certain projects. I’ve bowed to many bosses, and been the boss myself. Some freelance jobs have only lasted a few months, and one lasted thirteen years Through eleven different jobs and paycheck, and decades of listening and a curious expert on how we ‘figure it out.”
In my late twenties, I hit the jackpot and became a creative executive for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. For thirteen years, I scouted, developed, and ultimately produced a few projects. My job description varied from project to project, but I was always in the mix. From Goonies to Jurassic Park; Land Before Time to E.R; Indy Jones to Back to the Future; Little Rascals to Schindler’s List. It was a plum job, and I appreciated every moment.
Within those years, I married an aspiring producer and had three children. After each child, I recovered at home for a few weeks, found good childcare, then swung right back into the sixty-hour-a-week work zone. I never wanted to give up my satisfying job. My children were well cared for. My energy was plentiful. And even as I battled foot cancer, I kept working and parenting. I fiercely believed—and it was mostly true—that as long as I was happy, my family would be happy, too. Although I was too busy and too self-conscious to name it, for a solid ten years stretch, it would of appeared that I had hit that all-illusive having it all mark. In retrospect, a fleeting and dangerous quest.
Ultimately, what drove me off the career ladder was a shattering family illness. My beloved, still youthful, brother was losing his battle to melanoma, and as things became dire, I realized I had to be with him during his last earthly months. I had always been a good girl worker bee, but suddenly my priorities took a seismic turn. When faced with real life-or-death suffering, I lost the taste for caring if someone else beat me to the next Jurassic Park.. Obviously, I needed to recalibrate and find a new version of work that could keep me balanced. So I moved to a less-demanding company.
I had never been this close to a death before, and as my brother’s spirit passed, so did my single-minded passion for all things movie business. With a weakened work drive in the very very competitive business, honestly, I became a lesser-than-great employee. A month after my brother died, I was let go from an already downsized job I could have previously done in my sleep.
The magnitude of losing a brother far outweighed my defeat of losing a job. So I went home to weep and figure out a next step. I kept myself plenty busy. One child was struggling with reading and turned out to have dyslexia, another wanted to give up the violin unless I listened more, and the third was always climbing the highest tree in the neighborhood and always in danger of falling without a net. It wasn’t quite at crisis stage, but more child-rearing attention was required.
As my husband’s business was thriving, it made the most sense for me to become a stay-at-home mother, and I began carrying the torch for my family’s well-being. With very little drama, our homefront quickly we fell into the more traditional husband-wife division of labor. The family was treated to a fourth “bonus” child, a daughter we named Billi after my departed brother, and we all became okay with this old-fashioned family status quo.
I have always been grateful for my fortunate lifestyle and never complained about my lost prestige and decreased disposable income; I was grateful to have healthy kids. Yet I was gradually spiraling into a low-grade funk, yearning for some previous version of myself. Looking to regain my inner Exec VP. But, I was stuck, held back by fears of the future and baffled about my next step. Again I went looking for a fun, sisterly guidebook that I could buy and dutifully follow, and then I would regain my stature, salary and pride. Again, I found nothing.
Then, once Monday morning in December, when our children were ages three, twelve, seventeen, and eighteen, my husband suffered a massive heart attack and died on a movie set in Toronto. Overnight, our family’s template changed forever. I had to go back to work. I inherited my husband’s movie production company, which had two films in post-production and awaiting release, and several more in active development that, with a little pushing, could get made.
I had no option; I had to carry on for everyone. I was now in charge of everything: finances, the TV remote, car registration, college applications, and the various torrents of grief that would splash over us all daily. Holding it together became my job. I was powered by the instinctive drive to honor my husband’s legacy, and a fierce resolve to not let my children be diminished or even defined by being fatherless. Instantly, I had to be the mom and the dad . . . and the sole breadwinner. There was no meandering, no ambivalence. I had to rush onto the closest on-ramp available, which was to re-invigorate and carry on the family’s production company.
Life went on. We moved homes. We got a puppy. The kids grew up, some went on to college, and we somehow thrived. My village of friends and family always helped, and we figured it out. However, seven years later, as I revisit my own mom-work path, I’ve discovered there is still no guidebook for the millions of shadowed women who are out there looking for that elusive on-ramp.
Finding-a-new-job is a job itself, and can easily get lost in the minutia of mothering; a child with chicken pox, a new kitchen appliance, a grandparent with a busted car, a wonky Wi-Fi system—can easily fill-up a mom’s day. When other people’s needs grab your priority hours, years can go by without rewarding your own healthy ambition. There are no gimmicks… bootstrapping yourself into a new career chapter is in your own grasp. You may have to do some personal lifting and re-configure your hours. But we bold woman can do and be anything we can want to be…as long as we have a vision and a roadmap.
All life’s big changes are accomplished step-by-step. Every wedding planned, every baby born, every home built, every feast served, and every professional triumph demands a consistent, incremental commitment. My hope is that Moms for Hire will become your favorite bossy girlfriend and will prompt you to rise up, and lean-on these fun and supportive eight steps. Let Moms for Hire become your stepping stones to a much-deserved next chapter.
Congratulations for taking a first step. Grab this day and go after your own Occupational Happiness.
Copyright Deb Jelin Newmyer 2017. Excerpted from Moms For Hire: 8 Steps to Kickstart Your Next Career published by Skyhorse Publishing.