by Sarah Pearce BSc FCMI
As I prepared to leave a high-paced job in the Ministry of Defence for maternity leave, I fully expected to return 12 months later as a newly-promoted Lieutenant Commander. My supportive husband – also a military officer – was based in Germany at the time, and my son William and I were living in Central London. As I began scrutinizing childcare options on my maternity leave, I realised that perhaps, I should be following a different path.
When I look back at what changed my outlook and made me brave enough to leave a 16-year career (and the stability inherent in that), I realise the pivotal reason was the sudden and tragic death of a friend. I truly appreciated the fragility of life for the first time in my adult life. This realisation made it OK for me to not fulfil everyone’s default professional expectations – including my own. I shifted in focus. The vision of my family most likely living apart for the next 25 years was not the aspiration for my family. I decided it was just fine to lean in a different direction as opposed to ‘Leaning-In*’.
My husband was appointed to an exchange appointment in Canada. I resigned, and we all moved. Done. When you leave a predominantly male-dominated (but generally inclusive in my experience) workplace – with women breaking through stereotypes and succeeding every day – there is an element of internal pressure that you should do it all: be a fabulous military officer; perfect mum; etc. etc. Am I OK to vocalise that I felt as if I was ‘letting the side down’ by looking for a new normal? Perhaps something sustainable? I hope so.
As a newly-defined ‘military spouse’ from previous label ‘military officer’ I tried out the label of ‘SAHM’. It became apparent that I wanted to be a ‘nearly-SAHM’. Not from a financial perspective but from the way I view myself I wanted more- I wanted to continue my career. I was aware that I didn’t want a ‘job’, but sought a career, as mobile as our family but flexible FOR our family. With exploration into online opportunities I became a freelance project manager, communications specialist and executive assistant – capitalising on the experience I had gained during my previous military career. The variety of work was exciting and I have worked with several clients across North America.
Two and a half years later I am still working as a freelancer with one of my original clients. My role has grown, perhaps evolved, supporting the CEO on day-to-day business tasks, communications and project management. The team is diverse, we work ‘virtually’ anywhere from Japan to Canada. The CEO understands and strives for a sustainable work/life balance for herself and allows me to shape my work routine as I require it.
To meet another priority of mine which is people - I am also self-employed as a postnatal fitness specialist. With a background in fitness – I had qualified as a Personal Trainer whilst on maternity leave. (I further specialised as a pre - and postnatal exercise specialist/nutritionist) I am passionate about empowering postnatal women with knowledge and love working for myself in the local community.
I am directing my energy in 2019 on continuing to develop local partnerships with other professionals (in the family, health and wellness community) here in Fredericton and, of course, other mums. I hope that I am helping to build connections, supporting our community with our network, shared knowledge, experiences and professional collaborations. Of course, the postnatal classes and the workshops I design, offer and collaborate on are primarily for fitness and empowering new mums with the knowledge to safely realign, strengthen and be kind (and patient) with their postnatal bodies. But, they are also helpful in supporting us to join a community of shared-understanding, support and, hopefully, to make individual meaningful connections.
I, personally, have met some incredible women and have made some fantastic connections and collaborations both through teaching postnatal fitness and as a Social Connector for the Fredericton-based Happy Hour Club (an energetic, forward-thinking, networking community for women, led by an incredible female entrepreneur). My blog idea is moving forward (albeit slowly) and I am planning more exciting projects for 2019.
Since my career transition I have also seized the opportunity to become a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, finish a long-overdue OU BSc, study more professional postnatal courses, refine my ‘average’ skiing, dig myself out of 3 Canadian winters, oh and grown (!) and welcomed our second son James in to our family.
I thrive on the flexibility of my home life with our family; however, that flexibility comes at a cost. Managing separate work streams, volunteering, associated management of social media etc is almost a job in itself. I am sure every freelancer would agree. With no office or set hours it’s hard to delineate your different ‘personas’ – be that personal or professional. Needless to say, I have an incredibly supportive and patient husband.
It’s hard to be strict with my routine. I try to be mindful and present with my children. The dreaded iPhone ‘urgent-work-email-creep’ sets in– this makes me sad. I try hard to establish and respect boundaries between family time, work time and down time. I have mum-guilt most days. This ‘juggling’ is a consequence of working for myself, the hours I chose to work and currently less-than part-time childcare. This is no different to many parents. This ‘chapter’ is not about being a military spouse, but I do have periods of solo-parenting which add to the ‘hustle’ and it would be unfair to other military spouses dealing with separation, far away from family support, to not acknowledge this additional challenge.
I appreciate that I am lucky to be in a situation where I have choices, many parents are not afforded this luxury. I also have developed amazing skills at being a ‘power-worker’, emailing at the speed of sound, during those ‘rare quiet times’ when perhaps (*cross-fingers*) the little folk are asleep. But, of course, I often work long evenings and (as now) weekends as well. Mindfulness, health, nutrition and wellness are vital to me – as is balance- especially as I try to fill many roles. I am slowly learning that it’s ok if my to-do list is never empty. Exercise is vital. Relaxation is vital. I am learning where I need to ask for help and outsource – I am crafting and designing my new norm, hopefully something that is sustainable and balanced.
It is perhaps all too easy to dismiss women (and men) who have chosen to work from home, or stepped away -willingly- from a successful ‘traditional’ career as having ‘let the side down’.
We need to embrace the opportunity technology provides, as many employers are trying to do, with flexible working. I travel, my laptop travels, my office travels. I have project-managed whilst breastfeeding. The flexibility is amazing, I feel empowered.
I continue to meet and work with some amazingly successful women. I remain central to the choices in our family’s daily life and in my working life. I am with my children every day and for this opportunity I am grateful. Don’t tell, but I also meal plan and bake whilst listening to BBC Woman’s Hour each day. I am lucky.
*Sheryl Sandberg, 2013
A freelance project manager, communications specialist and executive assistant, Sarah Pearce currently works with clients across North America. Sarah started her professional career in the Royal Navy in 2000. After completing initial officer training at the prestigious Britannia Royal Naval College and further qualifying professionally as a Warfare Officer (navigation and operations). Sarah’s military career was spent on military operations worldwide and in a variety of career-broadening roles which included managerial roles within planning and operations, physical training, to HR and recruitment.
Sarah transitioned from the Royal Navy in 2016, leaving the Ministry of Defence (Whitehall) from her appointment as a Military Assistant to one of the UK Defence Chiefs. This role saw her delivering fast-paced Private Secretarial support: engaging and supporting communication at a strategic level with Ministers; International Partners; Other Government Departments and senior MOD management. In recognition of her Service, Sarah was awarded the US Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and Commander in Chief’s Commendation for Meritorious Service.
A graduate of the Open University, she is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and her work and experience has received post-graduate professional recognition in Strategic Leadership and Management.
With a passion for fitness and a background in sports and exercise, Sarah is also a qualified personal trainer and pre and postnatal fitness specialist. A qualified ‘Diastasis Detective’ Sarah is focussed on empowering new mothers with knowledge on postnatal fitness and wellness, alongside working on exciting initiatives with other wellness professionals to better support new and expectant mothers in her local community. A volunteer social connector for the Happy Hour Club Fredericton – people and connections are a priority for Sarah.
A military spouse, Sarah is currently based in Canada. Mum to two energetic and effervescent boys (a 3 year-old and 10 month-old) Sarah currently works from home around her family life and in her limited (!) spare time enjoys trying to improve her average skiing.