The joy of learning again after a 20 year career in advertising

In a week’s time, I will have completed the six month associate programme in Social Media Marketing through Digital Mums. I happened upon the course while flicking through Campaign magazine at work just before Christmas. Digital Mums were being celebrated for their #workthatworks campaign, and the concept was one that immediately piqued my interest and drove me to find out more.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have spent the last 10 years, since having children, excelling at what I can only describe as ‘doing just enough’ at work. I’m one of the lucky ones — despite working in advertising, a notoriously un-family friendly industry, my company is one of the good ones. They rewarded the loyalty I’d shown them throughout my career by offering me flexibility — three days a week, eventually working one of them from home. They also quietly accepted that I was no longer in the running for the next big promotion — I wouldn’t be the one they should rely on to bring home the next big client, I simply didn’t have the desire or the capacity to give that much of myself to my job when two small children needed me so much more at home.

Now I can almost hear the feminists out there baying for my blood, but hear me out. I am a big believer in working motherhood, in whatever form that takes — let’s face it, motherhood is the hardest work of all, and choosing to combine that with paid work where you have the bonus of being able to drink a cup of tea before it’s cold and converse on topics beyond ‘Peppa Pig’ is a choice that should be available to all of us. But I also believe that as a working mother, you have to be honest with yourself about how you want to divide your responsibilities between work and family — and that is an entirely personal decision. I often wonder whether my choice would have been different had I truly had a vocation - as it is, I’ve had a nice job with nice people for which I’m sufficiently well remunerated to make the juggling act all worthwhile.

The issue is, I underestimated the impact that ‘treading water’ career wise would have on me — my self-worth, my confidence, and my general fulfillment in everyday work. And I suddenly realised that the act of no longer learning was the single-most depressing thing about my situation. It was slowly eroding my confidence with the effect that I felt trapped in my job — desperate to try something new, but too scared to risk giving up the security and certainty of my current role and the flexibility it affords me.

It’s not hard to understand therefore why the message from Digital Mums immediately resonated with me. They recognise the problem faced by mothers wishing to continue their career but needing it to work around their family, and they offer the perfect solution — a 6 month training programme in social media management, that will get you job-ready to hit the freelance market with much needed digital skills. As I only work three days a week, I knew I could do the course alongside my job which helped justify the up-front investment — before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I signed up.

The first few weeks of the course are fairly gentle — you’re introduced to your peer group, your client and given a broad overview of the different social platforms — so far so good. A few weeks in however, the work-load intensifies and I hit the point of information overload —typically, this normally coincided with a big project landing on my desk at work, or one of the kids having a major melt-down week at school. So as I attempted to juggle course-work alongside my ‘paid work’ alongside my parent work, feeling like I was doing a fairly shabby job all round, the doubts would creep in and I’d start to wonder how this could possibly be described as #workthatworks …

But mastering the juggling act is a key element of this training, and a fairly accurate pre-cursor to what I imagine life as a social media manager will be like. You’ll rarely have the luxury of just managing one brand or social channel, so you need to get used to dividing up your time, and turning your attention from one thing to another without it frying your brain. And as the course went on, I started to become a bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable — accepting it as a necessary part of moving forward with my career.

As to where this new skill will take me, I haven’t got all of that figured out yet. But I know that it’s going to lead to work on my terms, to be done whenever, wherever and however it best fits around my life —for me, the very definition of #workthatworks. For the first time in over a decade, I feel like I am back in the driving seat of my career and that I have interesting options ahead of me….