"I feel like there is so much pressure on women to be a great mum while also smashing it at work that choosing to opt out of that can feel like a radical act."
From broadcast journalism in BBC radio, media relations within the charity sector and now a career break, Rachel's story touches on the balancing act that comes from being passionate about both a career and raising a family. What I love is that she reminds us that we don't have to do everything at once, and actually, by accepting and appreciating the phase of life that we're in, we can experience more joy and be far more present - which in my mind is all there is; the right here, right now. Plus, it sounds like with time to reflect on who she is and what she wants next, the next chapter of Rachel's career, when she decides to embark on it, will be purposeful, intentional and therefore very rewarding. I'm excited to see what's in store for her (Rachel is a good friend of mine!), but I'm also inspired by her story, to be present and enjoy where I am right now. I honestly think presence is the key to everything, I'll forever be working on being it more, and I'll take all the reminders I can!
Tell us a little about yourself – who are you besides the job you do?
I’m a highly sensitive and creative person which can be both a blessing and a curse depending on the day of the week. Food is my great love and I spend a lot of time cooking, eating or planning what I’m going to eat later. I’m also passionate about social justice and have an overdeveloped sense of fairness.
What do you do now?
I’m currently looking after my three children full-time. I have never found a label I’m happy with to describe this. ‘Housewife’ makes me want to vomit, ‘full-time mum’ is offensive to working mums, ‘stay at home mum’ makes it sounds like I’m in some kind of hostage situation and don’t even get me started on ‘SAHM’.
I see it as a career break rather than a permanent decision. When I first left work to be with the children full-time, I felt uneasy about it and fretted constantly about what my next job would be and where my career was going. But then I realised that the worrying was stopping me from really savouring this period of my life, which is actually pretty magical.
I made the conscious decision to embrace the now and have faith that when the time is right, I’ll be able to pick my career back up again. I don’t want to look back when I’m old and feel like I was too busy worrying about the future to really enjoy this precious time with my children.
What do you love about it?
I get to be my own boss! Seriously, even though the needs of the kids put some restrictions on my day, I feel like the boss of my own small business. I get to decide on the office culture, the snacks, the soundtrack, what the priorities are and I don’t have any annoying work colleagues (apart from my kids some days, haha!)
If I’m feeling energetic I can plan a big day outdoors and if I’m not on top form I can have more of a home day. Having spent years in an office, I love being liberated from sitting at a desk.
Even though sometimes I can be grumpy about going to the park in the drizzle, deep down I love the fact that I’m outside a lot. I love how physical it is, which means I’m tired in a very satisfying way at the end of the day.
What did you do before and how did you end up there?
I originally trained and worked as a broadcast journalist - reporting, writing and newsreading for commercial and BBC Radio. Then in my late twenties I decided to pivot my career more toward social justice and went into the charity sector. There I was able to use my journalism experience to move into media relations, campaigning for change in areas such as prison reform and the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
Why did you decide to change?
I have always been ambitious and never imagined myself having a career break for motherhood, but sometimes life takes you by surprise. After my first baby I took a year of maternity leave and went back to work. But soon I was pregnant again and while I was on maternity leave with baby two, I got pregnant with baby number three.
As you can imagine, having three babies in the space of three years was pretty intense and having them so close together meant the cost of childcare would have swallowed most of my salary. We also had a bad experience with nursery with our first child and I just didn’t feel comfortable with it after that.
They were the push factors, but there were also pulls. I have always wanted to be a mum and I’m very aware they will only be little for such a short time. Put simply, I want to spend as much time with them as I can before they start school.
I’m passionate about my career but I’m confident that I can go back to it when the time is right. I know I’m extremely lucky, I’m very aware that not everyone has the privilege of making these choices.
How did you actually make the change? (training, finances, learning etc)
Obviously, we’ve taken a big hit to our finances but it’s actually not been as hard as I expected to re-adjust. The only way we’ve been able to afford to live on one income is by micro-managing our money and keeping on top of every penny. It’s actually been a really valuable learning curve and I feel like we’re so much better at budgeting now, because we have to be! We’ve had to make sacrifices, but for me it’s absolutely been worth it.
What were /are the biggest challenges? (internal and external!)
For me, the hardest struggle is other people’s assumptions. I find some people, men in particular, seem unable to compute the fact that I’m both a stay at home mum and someone who is ambitious and interested and engaged with the wider world. I find they mostly never talk to me about work or politics or ask about my career. To them I’m just a mum. People like to put you in a box, but humans are complex and we all have multiple identities.
Some women make me feel like I’m letting the side down by ‘giving up’ paid work. I’m an enthusiastic feminist and to me, feminism is all about women having autonomy over their own lives and making their own choices, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I feel like there is so much pressure on women to be a great mum while also smashing it at work that choosing to opt out of that can feel like a radical act.
I try my best to tune out other people’s opinions and just focus on creating a life that feels good to me, rather than worrying about how it might look on the outside. The older I get, the easier that becomes.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy all that sleep while you can babe.
How has life changed?
My life now could not be any more different to what it was before children. I’ve gone from a high pressure job in central London to living in a little cottage in the countryside raising three small children. I love the fact that I’ve lived such extremes in my life so far (I’ve never been one for half measures) and I’m excited to see where life will take me next.
What do you miss anything about your previous line of work?
I definitely miss that feeling you get from being part of a team and achieving something great together. I was lucky enough to work on campaigns that made the front pages and triggered real change. It was amazing to be part of it and I do miss those highs, but I hope to find them again. Right now for me it’s about trusting that over time I will achieve all my goals, I just can’t do it all at the same time.
What hopes do you have for your future?
I hope that as the children get older I will be able to build my career back up again, but this time with a greater understanding of myself and what I really want. Having a break has given me the chance to reflect on what I want out of the next phase of my career.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to find and pursue a career/job they love?
Stop worrying about what your life looks like to other people, focus on how it feels to you.
I know people with glamorous job titles, who appear to have it all figured out, but who are desperately unhappy. I find they tend to be the people who measure success based on external factors such as money and status. It’s very liberating to free yourself from that and see where it takes you.
I love sharing resources! Are there any resources such as books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc that you'd recommend for people figuring out what they want to do for work and/or getting started?
I love the podcast Letters from a hopeful creative by Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington. It’s supposed to be aimed at business owners, but there is so much helpful advice in there that applies to work and life in general.
Emma Gannon’s podcast Ctrl, alt delete podcast is also brilliant and she often talks about defining success on your own terms.
Where can people find / follow you? (if appropriate)
I can be found spamming Instagram with cakes at @rachel_hobnobs