EarlyBird talks to Rework Your Life

Rachel Schofield Interview

We need to ditch that awful expression


(a doctor or lawyer or engineer)

..and realise that we still have the right to call ourselves that.

Rachel is a BBC presenter turned qualified Career Coach who supports women wanting to return to work after motherhood. Have a look at her website and follow her on Instagram.

What made you decide to focus specifically on women after parenthood?

Frustration! I was meeting so many brilliant women – at the school gates and at social events - who were wrestling with who they are and what they want to do with their lives after time out of formal work to raise their kids. There’s a whole tribe of fantastic mums out there who have taken a career break and then come up for air in their late 30s or 40s or even 50s and think “Right, what now?” The challenge is that whilst they sense an exciting chance to re-evaluate who they are and what they want to do, they’re often smacked in the face by self-doubt, wobbly identity and ultimately, a kind of paralysis. Should they dust off their heels and head back to their old industry? Start a business? Retrain? Maybe finally follow an old dream? I’m on a mission to help them get unstuck and realise their untapped potential. 

Do you think attitudes are changing towards women returning to work after a proper gap to have children?

Slowly, yes, but no way near enough! The growth of returnship and supported hiring programmes shows that some employers are starting to recognise the wealth of experience found among women returners. And to see that their company benefits from that diversity of perspective in their workforce. But whilst women still feel they need to apologise for having time “off” or justify the “gap” in their career, we’ll always have a problem. It’s like 6 or 12 months out is fine … once you get into years, it seems there’s a terrible motherhood penalty. There’s still this sense that years out of formal work don’t count – that the skills, creativity and resilience you gain as a parent are somehow invalid from a professional perspective. And that’s so short-sighted and drives me nuts. So there’s a bigger societal change that needs to happen around the value of parenting.

But as women we also need to shift our own mindsets – it’s hard, but we need to fight the urge to divide our lives and therefore ourselves into separate chapters – pre and post-kids. It’s important to own and be proud of our whole, technicolour, multi-skilled selves rather than being defined by a series of competing labels like “mum” or “employee” or “wife”.  We need to ditch that awful expression “I USED TO BE” (a doctor or lawyer or engineer) and realise that we still have the right to call ourselves that. We didn’t throw all our qualifications and experience and brilliance out with the baby. Yes, you might need to update your skills and get familiar with changes, or you might want to pivot into a totally new career, but you bring with you a bank of strengths and knowledge. The key is to reclaim that and work out how to communicate it to other people.   

What’s your advice for someone who’s standing at the deep end trying to find the courage to jump in?

I always say “get curious”. Get up close and personal with what’s stopping you. What are your barriers? What’s the voice in your head telling you that’s holding you back? Our brains do a brilliant job at feeding us beliefs that actually have no basis in fact, and one of the most powerful things you can do is learn to challenge your own inner narrative. Take a common one – “I’m too old”. It’s easy to accept that as a fact, but it’s not a fact, it’s simply a belief you’ve chosen to accept. The only fact there is that you’re 38 or 45 or 51 or whatever. What your brain has done is added an assumption, that your age makes you “too old”. So, learning to push back against your limiting beliefs and treat them as assumptions to be tested is much more helpful.

Another great approach is to talk to yourself as you would to your own child. We’re so great at encouraging our kids to take risks, experiment, be creative and just give it a shot.  The whole growth mindset thing. We talk the talk, but we need to walk the walk! As adults, we get hung up on the idea of failure or being told “no” or people judging us. We want to wait until we’re sure it will all work out. But actually, the best way to build confidence is simply to jump. Realise that all the progress happens once you get into action. You learn fast when you start trying things and most of the time it’s a realisation that it’s not as scary as you thought. But start with small steps – reconnect with old colleagues, take a short course, volunteer, arrange to shadow someone, go to an industry event. Find other women to support and champion you in your career return so you don’t feel you’re on your own. And start to reclaim your voice by talking about what you want, owning your story and not just going round in circles in your own head.   

Have you used any of these techniques in your own career?

I’ve definitely had to fight my inner critic, my “shitty committee” as some people aptly call it! That voice that was telling me no-one would take me seriously as a coach because I’m a journalist, aren’t I? So learning to own and be proud of my personal career story has required some serious mindset work and has been really powerful – seeing that my communication, listening, questioning and analytical skills are common threads throughout my life. That two decades in journalism plus my more recent training give me the right to call myself an expert. I’ve had to get comfortable with promoting myself and being proud of my skills and strengths rather than doubting them. 

Building my own coaching business has certainly taught me to ditch perfectionism, stop overthinking and get some skin in the game. I’ve needed to stop getting distracted by shiny objects, like building a website and printing business cards – the easy, fun stuff that doesn’t carry any risks and keeps you safe from rejection. That danger I warn my clients about of becoming a serial Googler and never actually doing anything real! I’m living that advice daily that you need to get into action to learn and progress. That making mistakes is where the magic happens, that being told “no” sometimes is not the end of the world and that talking to people and building connections is what it’s all about.

How does your ReWork Your Life career coaching work?  

I work with women who are done with going around in circles and ready to finally commit to moving forwards. My coaching programme is based on a tried and tested framework of exercises and offers three clear stages. We start by building your personal career blueprint – to get you clear on your strengths and skills, your values, your interests and passions, what meaningful work will look like for you. Lots of mums haven’t stopped to properly think about their real identity and what they want for years. If you don’t get this clarity on what’s important to you, you risk jumping off in the wrong direction. The second stage is all about exploring your ideas – the obvious ones, the crazy ones, the ones you’ve kept hidden from everyone! It’s really creative – a chance to really dig into the possibilities and which ones actually stack up against the blueprint. Once you’ve narrowed down the best options, we turn the vision into a realistic action plan to finally get you moving and create goals to work towards.

As a coach, I don’t give you magic answers. It’s a partnership approach. You bring courage, curiosity and commitment. My job is to listen to and question you with a depth you won’t get from other relationships. I support and challenge you to think more creatively, increase your self-awareness, build your confidence and help you really drive through the change you’ve been longing for.

You can find out more at Rachel’s website https://www.rachelschofield.co.uk/ where you can kickstart your career return by downloading a free guide called “7 Ways to Explore Your Passions”. You can follow her on Instagram @reworkyourlife

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