Posted on September 22, 2016
How not having to work for money helped me build a career at 40
As I have mentioned before, I ran a small business when my kids were quite small. By the time the Sprout was born though, it was too difficult to try and do that and run a business. I threw in the towel and prepared myself for being a full-time stay-at-home-mom.
I will always be grateful for being a SAHM. It was wonderful to be able to be there for my kids when they were younger and plan our days with our energy levels and moods in mind. No rushing out the door at 7am to get to daycare, no long commutes with only seeing the kids before bed. I am so incredibly grateful we could do that, even though it was financially tight for our family for a long time.
One particularly difficult winter saw Mr. Tucker’s work environment become more stressful and there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not he’d lose his employment. Being a type A person, this uncertainty made me incredibly stressed out, and having not worked an office job in awhile, I was concerned about my ability to get back into the workforce.
We all know how this ends: I end up spreading the word that I am looking for any level of office work. Within a couple of weeks I had myself a contract for 4 months.
Back to the grind, now with extra caffeine
Of course, I started at a low salary and to be quite honest, we were only marginally ahead financially after my bus pass and daycare were paid. But I was more concerned about rebuilding my resume than I was about the money. Since Mr. Tucker and I lived off one salary, everything I made was gravy.
The rest is history, as they say. I took the summer off, and then started to look for work at the end of the summer. By October I had a job at one level higher than my previous one. Then a friend who runs a local communications company hired me to do part-time work doing social media. The pay was low, but the experience was crucial and I could work from home. This job made me want to get back into Communications work, so I geared my resume towards that, and reached out to all my friends in Comms, asking them to consider me if they have a contract available. Low-and-behold: the contracts came.
One of my office mates, Palmela (I know, I know, I kill me!)
In the end I have jumped in salary 55% over the past five years by putting out the word, taking the jobs that people offered me, finding out what I wanted to do, and then tailoring my networking to focus on getting those jobs. I also did 5 years of contracts with summers off. Amazing!
But I couldn’t have done it if we were dependent on the money. If our lifestyle had incorporated both salaries and we were budgeted to the hilt, I wouldn’t have been as free to take summers off, or to tailor my job search. Had we needed the money, I would have panicked and made my resume more generic, and taken whatever work was thrown my way. When you are busy surviving, it’s harder to make long-term decisions.
Now I am happily in a dream job in my dream career. I have a pension (and I can buy back those years I worked when I wasn’t in the public service), benefits, a great work environment, and an ability to work from home. I couldn’t have done any of this had I not flipped in-and-out of private and public sector jobs, and definitely couldn’t have done it if we were dependent on the cash. Even today, Mr. Tucker and I are living on one salary for the most part (but spend a lot more on travel!) and this habit is laying the foundation for Mr. Tucker’s early retirement.
Pay it forward
Of course, having lucked out in my career I am more than happy to help others who are also looking to get back into the working world. Since I have put out the word that I am also always looking for work, more people contact me for contracts than I can take. But, since they know I know other people looking for work, they usually shoot me a note, asking if I am available or if I know anyone. Typically, I can connect them to someone who is looking but more than a couple of times, I have had people hem-and-haw about taking obviously lucrative contracts, and they have lost out.
For example, a childhood friend lost her job earlier this year and took to social media asking people to keep an eye out for some work. She had a family, she said, she needed to work as soon as possible. Since I knew she worked in marketing, I told her about this amazing contract at the government that had a chance of becoming permanent. I had been offered the job but I was already working so I couldn’t take it. I thought it was perfect for her! She needed no French (often an issue in Canadian government jobs), and it paid more than $20k a year than she was making at her old job.
I sent her a quick note asking for her resume and told her that she could probably be working within a couple of weeks – what a relief for someone desperate for a job, right?
She emailed me back and told me she was going to send me a resume & that she was really excited for the opportunity. She promised to get her resume to me the next day. I told my contact I had someone perfect for the job they were looking to hire, and that I would send a resume to them the next day! But the next day I heard crickets and no resume came, so I messaged her. She switched gears and told me that she wasn’t going to send me her resume; instead she was going to take time for herself. A mini vacation. Then after that, she planned to take French classes to help her chances of getting a better job in the future. I was gobsmacked. It was a unicorn of a job, and she didn’t want to even explore it.
I was not going to push, people make their own decisions for their own lives. But I will never help her with work again. I don’t have time for people who are unreliable like that and I don’t want to burn any bridges with my contacts. Don’t bother even saying you are looking for work when you really aren’t, especially if you are in no position to be rejecting work (been fired, long time out of the workforce).
Sadly, a couple of months later this friend realized that she couldn’t live off employment insurance and contacted me again, looking for work. I didn’t know of any contracts at that time but even if I had, I wouldn’t have recommended her. Naturally, she was bummed to learn that the person they did end up hiring for that previous contract also had been hired permanently. An amazing job with a pension, benefits, time off, and work-life balance went right through her fingers because she wanted a mini vacation. In the end, she took a job in retail, making no money with no benefits and shift work because she ended up desperate and had to take the first thing that came along.
Here is the thing, if you are behind the 8-ball and have gaps or issues with your work history, it pays to take whatever comes your way. I always took any good office job that came my way, from administration to communications. My logic was that if it was truly horrible, I could always give notice and leave. Nothing is forever! I only fine-tuned my resume when I was certain I had enough recent work experience to be able to do so. Having started out with a few years out of the workforce, my logic was: beggars can’t be choosers. I even went back salary-wise after a nasty experience at one contract, and an opportunity came up to work at a really cool place came up but that paid much less. I didn’t consider it a step back – I considered it a small bump on the road to a better career. It gave me valuable experience and was one of the references that led to my current job.
It’s all about options
Now I am in a position where I have a set of skills that are in pretty good demand. I also work really hard and have great references. I couldn’t have done that unless:
1 – We were living off one salary already. Having money in the bank means you can step back and build a career. I didn’t have to choose cash over other things such as great work experience or a great work environment.
2 – I took everything I could when I first started out after a gap in my resume from being a SAHM.
3 – I didn’t wait until a financial crisis to react. I took a pro-active view of getting back into the workforce.
4 – Because of the above-things, I was able to start working towards positioning myself as a senior person in my field, which led to my current, amazing, job.
The no-brainer here, of course is: MONEY GIVES YOU OPTIONS*. So you should take advantage of a good financial plan combined with frugality to buy yourself options. One of the reasons I went back to work was due to the uncertainty of Mr. Tucker’s employment. Now I stay in because we can save one entire salary. That entire salary will allow Mr. Tucker to retire early (I hope!) as the interest from our savings should cover our basic household expenses. During this time, I hope my career continues to flourish but even if it doesn’t we will still have that money and it will give us some breathing room as we figure out what to do.
At the point of my career I am in now, I enjoy my job and like going in every day. I currently have dreams to progress further in my career, and I hope I do. Still, it may not always be like this. A change in management, of policy, or direction could make me throw in the towel much earlier than planned. By squirreling away our money for a rainy day, it will give me the option to quit if I want to, and that’s worth its weight in gold.
*Caveat: this example is from a family of four who lived off one salary, which at this point is relatively high. I know someone will point out that this is not available for single people or people with less means. That may be true in some cases, but when Mr. Tucker and I had two small babies at home we were also paying child support for my amazing stepson and his salary was $60k at the time. So if you do the math that is not exactly a huge amount of money for 5 people. Conversely, I know people who make minimum wage or less and people who work only seasonally and they manage to work out options for themselves.