“Amanda, you can do this,” Amanda Nickerson said to herself, wiping the sweat off her brow as she entered the building for her first interview in a very long time. She had met this contact on LinkedIn, which she had joined only a week before. It was all happening so quickly—maybe too quickly, but Amanda knew it was time. Her kids could take care of themselves. In fact, her oldest was applying to colleges! If he could take that step in his life, this was something Amanda could do as well.
Amanda never thought she’d be out of the job force for ten years, but, in her words, it “basically just kind of happened.” All along, the plan had been to go right into the workforce following her PhD in economics, which, in her case, meant going into a tenure-track job in academics, teaching courses, advising students, and publishing papers. But, as often happens, life intervened. Amanda had her first child, Liam, in graduate school, and then soon after grad school, she had Lilly. There was no way at that time she was going to go the full professional route, especially with two children under two. Amanda wanted to be with the kids. Her husband supported the decision. And that was that: Only a few years removed from getting a PhD Amanda was a mom—full-time—and the idea of a full-time teaching and research career had become a pretty distant memory.
And for a while at least, it felt right. The kids were young and they needed her. But as time marched on and the kids got older and more independent, Amanda felt less and less necessary. And when her oldest started applying to colleges and working on his résumé, Amanda decided, “This is ridiculous,” thinking, My kid has a résumé and I don’t? This just doesn’t seem right
But the problem was that Amanda had been out of the game for so long that even the thought of putting herself out there was terrifying. For starters, Amanda was embarrassed about her résumé. The education section looked pretty good, but there was this massive gap in her work experience, and she wasn’t sure she could actually put down “full-time mom” on her list of accomplishments, despite the fact that the job was pretty demanding, and, as her husband always said, much harder than anything he ever had to do at work.
And then there was the networking, and small talk, and self-promotion. Amanda was an introvert: She didn’t love chatting up strangers, and certainly didn’t like trying to convince them of all her wonderful capabilities. And even beyond that, she also was someone who absolutely hated imposing on other people. In fact, that more than anything else was what kept her up at night and stopped her from pushing “send” on emails she had carefully composed to potential contacts. She hated feeling like she was begging people for their time. And this felt especially uncomfortable because she didn’t feel so comfortable about what she was “selling” in the first place. What could she contribute? What did she have to add?
But despite all the discomfort, Amanda was determined to give it a go. She didn’t want to live her life regretting never having gone back to work, when part of her clearly wanted to try. And, frankly, her family could also use the income. That piece actually became very clear to her when, one day, she received a call from someone at her husband’s workplace saying he had collapsed on the floor and was being rushed to the hospital. Thoughts flooded Amanda’s mind—about her husband, the family, their well-being—and also whether the family could actually survive financially, if, God forbid, something awful actually did happen. In the end, he was okay (it was just dehydration), but that experience was the tipping point for her: She had to get back to work. It was time.
As predicted, the first few professional conversations were awkward—actually quite awkward—but once she got into the swing of things and was feeling a bit more comfortable, Amanda made what was, for her, a startling discovery: People were far more generous than she could ever have predicted. Prior to taking the leap, Amanda had this awful image in her mind of what it would be like for her—a “relative nothing”—to walk into a busy important person’s office asking for help. But the reality, as she discovered from actually taking the leap and going for it, was 100 percent different from her expectations: People were nice; they were generous; they were encouraging; and they didn’t seem to mind talking with her at all. And to Amanda’s complete surprise, she also started to enjoy the process. She liked meeting people, making connections, and, eventually, even talking about job possibilities. And for Amanda, this was the biggest aha of the entire episode. What she had feared all along had become something she enjoyed.
Copyright © 2017 by Andy Molinsky. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.