When I chose to downshift work life, it was 2014. I was newly married, finally a brand director at a cool tech company recently graduated from the Business School at Stanford, and Lean In was the rallying cry.
A year later, somewhere in the sleeplessness and fog of new motherhood, contrary to the cultural story about power residing only in the workplace, I found more peace, purpose and my power in raising my child and growing alongside.
When my first son was five months old, I chose to go back to a consulting gig for two days a week. Let me say now, I’m very grateful for the privilege of having a choice. Eventually, I reallocated those two days toward building my own digital platform in Mother Untitled. After my second child, I paused work entirely once again, while keeping the MU community humming alongside during nursing, naps, and nights.
For anyone newly in what I call the Untitled Chapter – the grey area that is shifting work identities to make room for family – here’s what has kept me feeling calm and confident in a culture that often leads with the question, “what do you do?”:
1. First, I own my answer to that question and practice it.
This isn’t about appearances to other people as much as feeling clear on my “why” and getting confident sharing it. For a template, try, “Right now, I’m with my kids and … [insert any of the following] taking an online course in writing / consulting / helping my partner with his/her business / renovating our home / doing volunteer work / figuring out what comes next / (or) enjoying this time.”
2. I revisit my choices.
No career choice is permanent and all are ripe for re-evaluation at any time. I find journaling helps. I ask myself what is of genuine priority and what choices and trade-offs I’m willing to accept to enjoy my current focus, fully. I do believe contentment comes from the acceptance that you can have it all, as long as you’re the one defining your unique “all”. And then redefining it over and over.
3. I keep myself, even if only a toe, in the game.
At times, that was two days of writing and networking a week. Later, it was writing for Mother Untitled after bedtime. Now, I’m back to carving out days to invest in community building again. But finding an outlet, be it volunteering, creating, or learning, kept me feeling connected to other women, other opportunities, but mostly staying connected to myself.
4. I keep tabs on my growth.
The pause or shift makes room not only for family life but also for subtle personal change. For example, there is no more significant motivation to tackling your patience than long days with a two-year-old. For me, I finally started to understand that meditation and movement weren’t clichés. In my pause, I had a reason to take care of myself and address growth areas because I wanted my kids to get the best version of me.
5. I redefine my personal success metrics regularly.
The biggest lesson in this chapter has been redefining success beyond money and titles. If you let yourself go down the LinkedIn rabbit hole, you will get caught up in how far “ahead” someone you hired five years ago is. Instead, actively write down your unique version of success. For example, a few years ago mine was learning, creativity and calm. This year, my metrics are community, impact, and presence for family.
6. I find (and founded) communities of like-minded women.
7. I ask for help.
There was a period when I felt like I was supposed to be doing it on my own because that’s what I signed up for. Let me tell you: that is a flawed narrative holding women back. I am a better mother, wife, and human when I ask for help. The impact in the home, while not measurable in dollars, warrants help. I’ve gone through phases of no help, family help, part-time babysitters and a close to full-time mother’s helper. I needed things at different times, and I keep re-evaluating what works for our family.
8. I work on my ability to handle judgment.
Whether you choose to work or pause or something in between, you may feel judged at one point or another. I’ve come to realize that when people judge other people’s choices, it’s more of a reflection of their own discomfort in their own. That one truth has let me sidestep that icky feeling of being judged over and over again.
9. I explore alongside my kids.
Creativity doesn’t have to mean crafting. I happen to enjoy art so it’s something I’ve actively planned and baked into my days with my kids. I have friends who love design and so take their kids to galleries or others who rediscovered hobbies in cooking and involve their kids in the kitchen. While some days can feel dull, whether you’re at work outside or inside the home, I promise there is inspiration in the ordinary days.
10. I know it's all too temporary. Your career and life are a long game.
Trust the process and your timing. This period will serve your story, even if it only all makes sense on the other side. Dots tend to make sense only when you connect them backward. My second daughter will start school this fall. I will have two children at school 5 days a week, and my heart will break a bit, but I will embrace the space for my creativity and career, all over again.
Neha Ruch lives in the Upper West Side of New York with her husband and two kids. After 10 years in brand strategy, with an MBA from Stanford, Neha paused her career trajectory to focus on family. One year into raising Bodie, she launched Mother Untitled, a site to empower ambitious women pausing or shifting their work to make space for motherhood. Join the conversation @motheruntitled.