Will quitting your job kill your career?

Weighing the pros and cons of work and family

There isn’t a working mother I know who doesn’t struggle with the desire to stay home with their kids. There isn’t a working mother I know who isn’t stressed out from juggling a family and a job. How do I know? I’m one of them.

I’m one of the many who had to weigh those factors and make a difficult decision. And when you have to balance family needs with your own career, not to mention financial considerations, it is indeed a difficult decision.

For a year, I had been talking about quitting my own job, but fear of the unknown and my financial worries kept me from doing so. I was a VP in advertising at the top of my career, creating TV commercials, radio spots, websites for U.S. and international products.

I had been at my career for nearly 30 years and spent the last 11 commuting over the Tappan Zee Bridge (need I say more). As my work responsibilities kept increasing, so did the need to be with my family.
Finally, in the summer of 2007, I hit the wall. I was burnt out. It was time to quit. This wasn’t a decision I made overnight. We have always been a two-income household so before writing that letter of resignation, there were some key questions I went over and over:

Can we afford it?
My husband has his own business, so giving up my regular paycheck, health benefits and 401K required we think it through. Following the advice of some of the books I’d read, we had put aside monies to help with the transition. Without a doubt, there would be some budget tightening but we could make it work. 

Can I afford not to quit? After reviewing everything, the list of pros far outweighed the cons in the “quality of life” category. I knew if I continued working at the same pace, I would be compromising my health. No job was worth that.

Are there any alternatives?
My employer made it clear that I couldn’t work from home. It was company policy; no telecommuting. My career in advertising could lend itself to consulting, something I had done before. But I was too numb to dive back in so I began writing instead. I took a creative writing class at BOCES, started a writers’ group to keep the momentum going, and within a few months had my first article published. There was life after advertising!

Will your employer work with you?
Nick Illobre of Middletown is with Knapp Consultants, a human resource company in Rock Tavern. He points out that some companies are willing to work with their employees. “I know a couple of situations where the women had no intention of coming back, but they were so good at their job – they were technical managers – the company made accommodations for them,” he said.

If a company feels it has an investment in you, it might offer you flex time or even job sharing. Often it requires a cut in salary or benefits, but the more valuable you are, the more room you may have to negotiate. 

Will your career still work for you after having kids?
Wonnie Aversa of Cornwall quit working once she stared her family. She has a Masters degree in higher education student personnel administration and worked at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

“After 10 1/2 years of being out of work, it’s just so much harder to go back into my field,” she said.
 Wonnie has three children, with the youngest only four. She worries that juggling a 9-to-5 job on a college campus with the school schedules of her young children will be impossible. She recently began substitute teaching instead.

“It’s a different kind of education family because it’s K-12,” she said. “But I’m in my exploratory career phase and trying to see how things will work.” You’re home, now what? Kathy Flandreau decided not to follow her job with Sony when her division relocated to San Diego, and took the company’s separation package with a year’s salary.

“Imagine being on a treadmill for 20 years and somebody turned it off and said ‘It’s OK, it’s OK!’,” she said. “My husband was supportive and the children were excited, and it was frightening at first but it felt good.” Kathy took full advantage of that year and stayed home. She discovered her community, found time for volunteering and could finally attend those 9:30 a.m. PTA meetings. 

But as the time wore on, one small problem arose, a problem that affects many in these situations.
Kathy found she was getting bored with being home. “I wanted to get back into the workplace, start to feel productive again, into my own routine,” Kathy said. “Even my kids would say ‘Go somewhere Mom, do something!’ But I have no regrets for that time home.”

Will you ever be that good at a job again? Donna Miranda left her career in the fashion industry at Wilhelmina Models when she was its Chief Operations Officer and the firm was one of the leading modeling agencies in the world. “I wanted to be one of those people who left at the right time, when I could leave on a high,” she said.

She left with no job prospects, just the need to regroup back home and find a new career that would keep her in the Hudson Valley close to her family. Much to her surprise, “It wasn’t the fashion part that made me marketable, it was the fact that I could do a thousand things at one time.”

That ability helped her to learn a completely new industry and led to her success as regional manager for the three largest hotels in the Hudson Valley. Is it difficult? Sure. Switching careers under any circumstances is sure to be fraught with your own internal conflicts, as well as any outside issues.
But Illobre, who is a VP of Human Resources Outsourcing & Employee Development at Knapp Consultants, says there’s hope.

“There continues to be a shortage of talent in the U.S. work force,” he says. “Even though we are having a downturn, good people are hard to find. Quitting your job can be as scary as it can be exciting. The bottom line is this: never underestimate your abilities. Success in one career can translate to success in another if you want to make it happen.

Jean Campbell Galli is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom living in Orange County.