Is it Right to Complain about Career Loss when You’re the One Who Left?

Ms. Mary Ann
Oct 19 · 4 min read

Some of the voices (inside my head) say I don’t deserve a job in STEM. But others say that I do.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

So, I have been thinking about using this platform to talk some about my growing indignity at not being able to find a job in STEM as a mature woman who is the proud owner of an engineering degree.

But, the thing is, every time I try to figure out just what little piece of this issue I might want to write about next, one thing keeps holding me back. One thing continues to derail me from expressing my opinions and sharing my views and life experiences.

It’s that little nagging voice in my head that no amount of meditation can seem to quiet (no, I don’t actually meditate, but I did just read a great article about the benefits!).

Sometimes this voice actually shouts that I have no right whatsoever to hem and haw about how unfair the “world of work” is for people like me. Those women (and men) who once-upon-a-time left their promising jobs in a STEM field to focus on their families.

I mean, what right do I have to fuss about my predicament when it was me who chose to give it all up? I am the one who stepped away, the one who gave my notice, all those years ago (admittedly even after receiving a paid maternity leave) to stay home full-time with my newborn child.

Whatever predicament I currently find myself in — this voice tells me — it’s my own doing. I have no right to cast blame elsewhere.

Or do I? This thought nags at me just as much.

The thing is, that first voice, it is not my friend. Maybe it thinks it is, but it’s not. This voice just wants to quiet me from dragging out these painful expressions even one more day. Like an overprotective mother, it wants to guide me to accept the lot in life I have been given, and make the best of things.

Acceptance is alway the first step, right? Just as one heals after any loss, in order to move on, you have to first accept the realities of what has happened. Am I right?

I just need to accept the fact that I left the STEM workplace over 20 years ago (yes I said 20), and because of that choice I made, I will never (ever) be able to re-enter into that world again. Period. Simple cause and effect. My choice. My consequence to deal with. Aim for closure.

But….

Might we also consider the following:

  • The world of STEM has not historically been a flexible one. Not all women who become mothers want to work to 50 or 60 hours a week that their “good” job may require.
  • Many women who leave fairly high-powered STEM jobs do actually try quite hard to dip at least one toe back into this world. What many find, however, is that they must demur and accept the very lowest-paid administrative jobs instead. Ones that do not even require a college degree.
  • A substantial gap in the work history of a scientist or engineer is a death knell. The words “stay at home mom” uttered during an interview for a highly esteemed position sound “cute,” as in “Aww, isn’t that cute, she still thinks she can be an engineer!”

There are a myriad of reasons that many women engineers and scientists choose to leave their professions — inflexible schedules, work culture, lack of respect, and lack of meaningful work — to list a few.

But, just because one left, does that mean that she cannot re-enter? What is the time limit on such things?

Should a mature lady hang her head in shame when daring to ask to be considered for a “real job” when she clearly chose to leave the world of the employed? (I hate to say “mature woman.” This is a loaded term, but why not mean it in a good way, as in “knowledgeable,” “responsible,” or “not flighty” or “capable of making good decisions”. Why does it have to, instead, mean “old” and “useless?”

We all know that it’s common wisdom that you have to keep “one foot in the workplace” to keep a career from dying, but what if that just wasn’t an option?

What if “no one” or rather “no company” ever offered such a relevant part-time job in the lady’s neck of the woods? Would it have helped for her to agree to empty wastebaskets or take phone messages for those who stayed at full time work (in professional and scientific pursuits) over the years?

Perhaps that last question was rhetorical. Of course it wouldn’t have helped. But maybe there was something else that could have been done? (Like sucked it up and worked 50 plus hours a week for all of those years while my kids were growing up, I guess).

So, in the spirit of the old, but cool song, “Should I stay or should I go?” my own brain asks a similar question — Should I continue to try to find a way to use my dusty STEM degree, or should I just find a rocking chair, and settle in to the comforting idea of “that was just something that I used to do!?”

Which one would you choose?

Ms. Mary Ann

Written by

Mary Ann makes her home in the Appalachian Highlands, has a Bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering, and is nearing retirement at stay-at-home motherhood.

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