How a shift in focus may reinvigorate your career

By Claire Oehley, Career Consultant and Co-Director of Alpha Career and Educational Services. 

January 2019
There is an increasing number of women changing careers after having children – why is this occurring and how could you make the change?

“It seems to me that when women get to a certain stage in their life – just shortly after they have had kids, they seem to get a second wind and start becoming interested in changing/building their career…”

This was an observation made by a bright and very successful friend of mine. It resonated with me and as I reflected on my own life and those of my closest friends, I could see a pattern emerging.

Many women now see the maternity leave period as a career break and an opportunity to redefine their career. In my workplace alone, three women who were pregnant around the same time as myself all took their careers in completely different directions after starting a family.

Perhaps society’s shifting expectations and the changing world of work is providing more flexibility and opportunities for women to embark on career change or development activities once they have their children.

If so, how does this align with the career theorists’ models of lifespan and career?

The Kaleidoscope Career

A theory called the Kaleidoscope career model may be the answer. To better understand this theory, imagine how a kaleidoscope works. As one-part moves, the other parts also shift, creating new patterns.

This is the metaphor used for the Kaleidoscope career model, as one factor changes (and comes more into focus), other parts move to create a different image or, the case of careers, outcome.

The Kaleidoscope career model proposes that there are three tenets of a career that are important to individuals:

  • Authenticity
  • Balance
  • Challenge

The ABC of careers.

These three parameters exist together and don’t often overlap. At any one stage of an individual’s career, one of these three tenets will be the predominant one.

For example, as a young graduate entering the workforce, challenge (and ultimately, achievement) may well take precedence over authenticity and balance.

However, as life progresses, there may be more of a focus towards meaning and significance in work which would indicate that authenticity would be the prominent parameter.

Not surprisingly, recent studies have shown that the parameter of main focus in mid-career is different for men and women. This has been explained by the different role society expects women to take on in terms of child-rearing. It also reflects the different way men and women think about career.

In general terms, women’s’ decisions tend to be based more on how the outcomes will impact their lives: however men tend to better compartmentalise their lives and focus on one aspect followed by another.

This can be seen in the relative career paths of the two genders. Men’s career paths tend to be more linear whilst women tend to have a more scattered non-linear approach as they adapt to different roles within their personal and professional lives.

Career Change after Children

Many women returning to work after children will have altered their focus away from challenge (although still important) but more likely toward authenticity and balance. This may not fit with their previous career and therefore there is a need to change careers.

A recent study shows that the main reasons women leave their job after children include boredom, unreasonable work hours and expectations, and poor chances of training and development.

This research aligns with other career theorists such as Schein who postulates that an individual’s values – their ideals, talents and motives – must align with those of the workplace. If there is discord, then the individual will be unhappy in the workplace. This unhappiness can generally lead to a less productive and more dissatisfied worker. Therefore, congruence between an individual’s “anchor” and their workplace is critical for workplace happiness and therefore success.

Both the Kaleidoscope model and Schein’s theories complement each other to form a picture of how to establish workplace happiness. It is important to remember that one’s values can and will change after starting a family and these changes will have a significant impact on an individual’s overall happiness.

The idea of career and life being separate in this modern age is dated, similarly, separating our career decisions from other life decisions is no longer practical or possible.

As a society, we are constantly connected which means that work demands more time and energy of us than in previous generations.

This is also advantageous as it provides us with the flexibility to work from home in a more contractual model of work. It allows us to be more autonomous – working as a sole entity rather than for a corporation.

This is reflected in the new trend that is emerging: women becoming entrepreneurs and starting their own businesses or companies that reflect their own values and needs whilst providing them with income, flexibility, autonomy, and challenge.

A Personal Perspective

After having children, whilst my working environment hadn’t changed, I felt a shift in focus and found that suddenly my career as a health professional which had served me so well now felt ill-fitting. This change left me feeling like there was something wrong with me- that the very act of having children had somehow changed the very essence of my professional identity. I really struggled to articulate why this career suddenly didn’t feel right.

Thankfully, I had access to an experienced careers advisor. I sat down and spoke with him and we realized that I had suddenly prioritized different needs and career must-haves – so although there was nothing wrong with my previous career path, it just no longer suited who I wanted to be.

The most important step for me was realizing that this was ok. I wasn’t a failure for wanting to change careers, nor was I a “flake” for doing so.

The prospect of changing careers is daunting – it can feel like an entire facet of one’s own identity is suddenly changed. However, what I have found is that, in my new career, I feel so energized. I am so much happier within myself and this has a profound effect on my family life.

Claire Oehley – January 2019

How to make a change

There are many ways to start the process of career change.

  1. There are many ways to start the process of career change. The most important step though is self-reflection and evaluation. By really focusing on what it is an individual wants out of a career, whether it be freedom and flexibility, social contact, a sense of accomplishment or just a regular paycheck – this is going to be different for each person.
  2. Once the needs and values are established, examine your current skill set. Consider what skills you have and what skills you would like to have imaging using these skills in everyday work – what would that look like for you?
  3. The next step is to explore different career options. is an excellent place to start.
  4. It is really important to meet people in the industry you are interested in entering, talk to them about what challenges they face and what they do on a daily basis. Perhaps even do some job shadowing; this is essential in getting a “warts and all” view of the industry and even more importantly, gives you an opportunity to showcase your talents and skills with potential employers.
  5. Use social networking sites such as LinkedIn to boost your profile and make contacts in the working world. This is a vastly underutilised tool and is an excellent platform to seek out potential employers and career opportunities.

This is an exciting time for women changing or returning to their careers after having children, and it is important that society recognises and normalises this process. With good career guidance, a positive outlook and with reference of models such as the Kaleidoscope theory, there is no reason why a woman can’t change career and find her niche. The opportunities out there are endless.

Claire Oehley

Claire is co-director of Alpha Career and Educational Services and is no stranger to career transition. Having originally gained a Bachelor of Applied Science (Medical Imaging) in Australia, Claire is a recent graduate of NMIT’s Diploma in Career Guidance and is currently undertaking a Master of Professional Practice (Career Development). She now works as a private practice careers advisor for people of all ages. Her background in healthcare and extensive travel experience means that she brings a wealth of knowledge of working conditions within both the public and private healthcare sectors across three different countries. Claire has held Management positions in her working life and now runs her own business. She is passionate about helping individuals realise their full potential and is dedicated to assisting clients make informed career decisions and take real and tangible steps towards their ideal future.