Article reposted with permission from Designing Your Life.
When Jacqueline Kennedy attended the Designing Your Life for Women Workshop, she was two months into a one-year sabbatical-style career break she had taken to focus on her daughter who was in her last year of high school. Having made this momentous decision, she came to DYL for Women with questions to answer. How could this year be most valuable to her and her daughter? What would the future look like after the break?
The External Narrative for Women Can Be Helpful or Dysfunctional
The first workshop discussion on the social narrative for women, cultural beliefs and “shoulds” women face was eye opening. “All my life I’ve done what I was expected to do,” said Jacqueline. Growing up with parents who valued education, she was driven to earn multiple advanced degrees and achieved a great deal over 23 years in a highly distinguished career in the education and non-profit sectors. Her daughter’s expectations of her as a “working mother” set up another narrative that challenged the viability of a one-year break and becoming a “stay home mom.”
Balancing Care for Others and Self – Jacqueline’s “AHA!”
Initially, Jacqueline focused her career break on her daughter, and it was easy. She told herself that she was doing what every mom does for her child. Then she did the balance and energy assessments in the workshop and had an AHA moment. “I remember thinking, ‘This is it!’ Knowing what gives me energy and drains me, and how work, health, love and play all fit together is a significant contributor to my happiness and success. It was a defining moment – one that causes you to make a shift in your thinking. I realized I would never, ever have quit my job for myself, no matter how tired or exhausted or worn out I was. Honestly, I was only able to do it in service to my daughter. That’s how trapped I was in the limiting belief about women putting others first while working hard to improve the lives of others as a leader. I welled up. With all the right intentions, I had become accustomed to sacrificing my mental and physical health. I now saw that this career break could also be for me! Bells were ringing!”
Designing Three Potential Futures Unlocks New Insights
With a new focus on her own needs, Jacqueline created 3 Odyssey Plans with three very different paths forward.
Odyssey Plan 1 – Return to the Workplace
“I could return to work in a great leadership position, but with new awareness, expectations, and boundaries. I would not be returning back the same person. I could even become more of a mentor to other women leaders to build resilience in times of change and uncertainty.”
Odyssey Plan 2 – Launch a Coaching Business
“I could explore coaching as a practice, drawing on my experience in coaching and mentoring, and in talent, leadership and organization development.”
Odyssey Plan 3 – Teach & Coach in a University
“I might like to be a professor if money was not a constraint, and I could incorporate coaching as part of the work in higher education.”
Prototyping Sets You Free
As Jacqueline shared her plans with others, she noticed that each plan included coaching. Upon returning home, she chose to prototype coaching as a practice, leveraging her knowledge of performance improvement in business. “I don’t usually try things on for size. At times I started thinking ‘What am I doing, shouldn’t I just be focused on Odyssey Plan 1, getting back to work as an executive?’ But the idea of prototyping gave me permission to just do stuff and try it out. I did the prototype experience and tried out life coach training (something really new since all of my previous training was in leadership and performance coaching), interviewed successful coaches, sat in on an ICF-accredited training coaching course as a refresher to restart my certification process, started offering one-on-one coaching, designed and branded a new website, and started writing again to launch a blog with my site. And I kept returning to the balance assessment and the gauges at the bottom of my Odyssey Plan for inspiration.”
Coherence as Compass
“That AHA around coherence keeps me going. In 23 years of a career, 3 degrees, and working multiple jobs simultaneously, I had never thought much about my values, authentic self, and lifeview needing to be aligned with my work. I knew when they were out of alignment and could feel when something wasn’t right, but I never put them together until I decided to leave my job. I am realizing I want my actions to demonstrate what I believe. The pride in knowing integrity connects what you believe and who you are to what you do is something I am inspired by now. The AHA was making the intentional decision to find coherence – and know what it means to me so I could start working towards it.”
As she prototypes into her future, Jacqueline is reflective about her journey. “Abundance looks so much different now as I focus on well-being, new learning, social connections, and personal growth. And success for me will now always be defined in terms of my own coherence.”