“It’s less about learning new things and more about letting go of old things,” says Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), the lead character for TV Land’s comedy Younger. As a 40-year-old woman looking to reinvent herself in the workplace after a long career absence, Liza’s learning curve is greatly impacted by two things: her years as a former wife and stay-at-home mom and the fact that she’s willing to step outside her comfort zone to grow in her professional field.
This push for reinvention was just one of the many surprising insights Viacom discovered after conducting an online survey of 1700+ people focused on women ages 30+ who’ve gone through ‘second-winds’ like Liza (i.e. returned to the workforce after a long absence). And while some voiced frustration about the obstacles they faced along the way, the majority overwhelmingly agreed they were happier and more confident because of it.
The desire to leave the workforce was often a practical choice, with 35% of those surveyed indicating kids were a key factor. But the desire to return was a much more personal one that hinged on pursuing a passion or a career goal. While 29% accepted a pay decrease to get their foot in the door, another 72% would rather take a more interesting job at a lower level than a boring job at a high level.
Interestingly, a personalized career path is a commonality shared by many women re-entering the workplace. And while Liza’s biggest drama in the office is keeping her age a secret from her colleagues, in real life, second winders have concerns about pursuing their dreams while finding a reasonable work/life balance that takes into account the needs of their families. Mom Corps founder Allison O’Kelly is the perfect example. Having previously worked for Toys “R” Us before giving birth to her first child, the former executive ultimately left her job due to a lack of flexibility in her schedule. Noting the opportunity to build a niche market around women like herself, she launched Mom Corps in 2004 to help place mothers in flextime job roles. O’Kelly now finds working full time on a 24-hour clock is most successful for her. “I might do something with the kids during the day, but I’ll make it up at 5 a.m. or after they go to bed. I have complete flexibility.”
And while O’Kelly is using her experience and connections to bridge the gap, there’s still room for growth. One in three second wind women from the study admitted to feeling out of touch once they did return to the office.
These obvious stumbling blocks are often reflected on Younger with humor (mastering emojis, deciphering texts, walking the millennial divide, etc.), but it’s the resiliency of Liza herself that seems to represent a shared mindset about rising to the challenge and using what you already know to build towards what you don’t.
“One stay-at-home mom told me she loves the show because it’s a female fantasy,” says Dottie Zicklin, an executive producer on Younger. “I assumed she meant the younger boyfriend, but she quickly corrected me, ‘No, the fantasy is to be valued and relevant in an exciting career.’”
Overall, getting back into the workforce may be the main objective for all second wind careerists, but the way in which they do it can often be influenced by a variety of factors, not surprisingly, personal well-being ranking near the top of the list (with 2 in 3 respondents indicating they would rather wait a year for a job they love than wait 3 months for a job they like).
O’Kelly agrees that setting your own second wind career trajectory offers up more benefits than drawbacks and sees more and more opportunities for herself and other women in the years to come. “It’s a constant juggling act, but I feel I have the best of both worlds,” she confirms.