No one else described me as brave, either, until I resigned from my secure government job as a lawyer to become a freelance writer. Suddenly, I was labelled brave.
I’d moved into the government job 12 years earlier, after a few frenetic years in private practice. I’d had enough of the wear and tear of litigation and the government role offered more of the things I enjoyed, like writing and analysis.
Of course, a government role also meant paid parental leave, flexible work options and strong anti-discrimination policies. The work turned out to be a great fit and when I reached the baby stage – 6 years in – I had it made. Or so I thought.
The post-baby career picture is, of course, a little bleak. Statistics confirm the pervasive discrimination, structural barriers and stereotypes working parents face.
But, hey, I’d dodged the statistics. I had it all. I returned to work part-time and even worked from home some days. As I enjoyed watching my daughter hit milestones, I also enjoyed the healthy and secure (pro rata) income I’d worked for years to secure.
But as the years passed, and another baby arrived, I became increasingly aware of my lack of progress. I’d always received glowing work reviews and advanced steadily through the ranks but now I was working harder and going nowhere.
I realised that “having it all” meant attracting a few other things, too, like frequent “jokes” about my part-time status, presumptions about my intentions and a feeling, perhaps self-imposed, that I needed to constantly prove my worth.
“You have 2 great kids and a part-time job, something many would love,” I told myself. But, career-wise, I wasn’t content. I was treading water in my lovely office with Sydney Harbour views, and I was starting to feel like I was drowning.
Looking around for other part-time jobs involved just that, looking. Checking the part-time option when job hunting made search results disappear fast, from hundreds to a single digit. The remaining jobs were generally well outside my specialty or involved a dramatic pay cut.
The flexibility I’d enjoyed for many years had lured me in, making life a lot easier for a while, but now had me trapped.
I became depressed about the situation, and frustrated, and angry. I promised myself that however stuck I felt, I would find a way out. So, I set what seemed like an ambitious goal: I wanted a career that was more satisfying than my pre-baby career. A career that rewarded me for my efforts rather than one that penalised me for not fitting the full-time norm. A career with true flexibility. I didn’t know how I’d get there, but that was my goal.
I flailed about for a while before deciding I was tired of being grateful for my employer’s version of flexibility. Instead of hoping for another employer to grant me my part-time wish, I wanted a more level playing field. It was a turning point that helped me completely re-think my working life and gave me freedom to imagine my dream career.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I’ve somehow managed to merge my dream with reality. I’m a freelancer, creating website copy and other digital content for a mix of lovely clients. I have the usual anxieties about being self-employed but work the hours I want, when I want. My hunger for learning is sated and I’m excited about what opportunities will arrive in my inbox each week.
How did I find the courage to switch careers? I worked hard and listened to those who appeared at the right time with the right words. I made mistakes but kept going. And I was lucky. My freelance feature writing “hobby”, combined with years of disciplined writing as a lawyer, gave me a leg up to jump on board with the content marketing boom and rising gig economy.
I guess I was brave, too, for that tiny moment in time as I paused before tendering my resignation. It would’ve been so easy to cling to career stability and familiarity. But, fuelled by disappointments and doggedness, I turned my back on the career I studied for, the only career I’d ever known. I decided I deserved better.
I haven’t turned my back on the idea of flexibility, though. Next year, I’ll wave my youngest daughter off to school. I’d love to find a flexible role that complements my new freelance career and delivers true flexibility.
Libby Hakim is a Sydney-based copywriter and feature writer, former lawyer and mum to two girls.
Her career transition from lawyer to writer started when she was on parental leave and decided to write features for parenting websites as a hobby. The hobby evolved quite quickly, and she soon found herself writing for leading newspapers and magazines, including The Sydney Morning Herald, body+soul and Sunday Life, mostly on health, career and parenting topics.
Today, as a copywriter, she helps clients in the legal, professional services, technology and B2B spaces cut though the complexity of their work and use clear, concise and creative language to attract new business and engage with existing clients. Libby also writes content for agencies and big brands – and continues to make sense of the ins and outs and ups and downs of parenting by writing about it!https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/supporting-working-parents-pregnancy-and-return-work-national-review-report/executive