I Have to Ask: Difficult Career Decision

Posted on May 31, 2020

Sarah Henricks

In this series, ELGL Co-Founder Kent Wyatt poses three questions to the guest columnist, and the guest columnist selects one to reflect on. This week, Sarah (Manning) Henricks, Special Projects Services Consultant, Los Altos Hills County Fire District, writes a recent career decision.

I’ve made two career decisions that I found particularly difficult. The first was going back to school to pursue an MPA and then leaving behind a decade-long career in biotech, which I previously wrote about here. The second leaving my full-time job to stay at home with my new baby. 

As I may have mentioned in my posts about Navigating Family Leave, parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, I recently had a baby and was struggling with returning to work after taking family leave. I also mentioned that, ummm, I’m not really into kids and babies…like, there are very few who I like and I probably only like them because I love their parents. So, no one was more surprised than me when I started feeling I would be happier at home than at work. 

Full disclosure: I wasn’t totally happy with my position before I left for family leave. I loved, loved, loved, (still love) the people who I worked with. However, I found it difficult to tackle the bigger picture policy questions and program development that had attracted me to the position, because I was just trying to keep up with the daily tasks and “urgent” issues that came up. (Ya’ll…can I just say, if everything is urgent, nothing is urgent.) I get it, priorities shift on the daily, that’s part of local government, and it’s one of the things I love about it because it keeps things interesting. But, by not making a choice or choosing a direction…you are making a choice.

Anyway, I digress. Before beginning family leave, I had conversations with a former colleague about the benefits of working part-time when you have a baby. She mentioned the possibility of contract work and that she may have a position available if I was interested. I brushed it off, thinking I would be ecstatic to go back to work and “have some time to myself.” However, when I came back from leave, the things that slightly annoyed me before I left were exacerbated by the fact that I was emotional about leaving my girl behind. She was changing so quickly and I wanted to be there to see it all, instead of dealing with things that came up at work.

But, was I really going to quit my job to stay at home? I had a hard time grappling with the idea that I spent two and half grueling years working a full-time job while getting my MPA and had taken a scary financial step in leaving a semi-lucrative career to pursue one in which I had no experience and would be starting at the bottom. I was just starting to feel like those were the right decisions and the risks had been worth it. I had a few years of experience under my belt; I was moving up the ranks from an entry-level position; I felt like my opinions were valued; and now I was going to give it all up to stay home with a baby? No way!

I reached out to my colleague and asked if she was still looking for someone part-time. As luck would have it, she was. We worked out the details and once I signed the contract, I submitted my resignation to the City. I hated to leave my South City team behind because I enjoyed working with them, but this new track was the best of both worlds. I was going to get to spend more time with my girl and keep working on my own terms. 

I started the new role at the beginning of March, just as COVID-19 started taking over. This COVID-19 world we’re living in is horrible and really hard. But, honestly, it couldn’t have come at a better time for me professionally. My new position is contract-based, part-time, and remote. I work when I want, as much as I want (up to 20 hrs/week), from wherever I want (uh…home). Great benefits when you’re forced to work from home and childcare is basically canceled.

There are challenges. My husband is working from home and we are sharing a home office. We’ve made some changes to accommodate both our work responsibilities. It’s not ideal, but it’s more manageable than if I were working in my full-time role. We are fortunate. I don’t know how we would be managing if we were both working full-time and taking care of a baby. I can guarantee she’d be appearing in a lot more of his work meetings. I love that this position gives me the opportunity to choose the work I want to do, when I want to do it. I am serving a community, but I get to do it (mostly) on my own terms. And, I get to watch my baby change and grow right before my eyes in this incredibly fast-paced stage of her development!

Making big, difficult career decisions can be really difficult. The fear of the unknown is incredibly unsettling. I’ve been fortunate that my big choices have paid off. I make sure not to take that for granted because I know how easily things can go astray. What big career decisions have you made? Did they work out? If they didn’t work out as you hoped, would you have done things differently? How did you bounce back?

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