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— By Amy Salamon

Just a few months ago, I was nearing hopelessness trying to break back into the workforce after over four years as a stay-at-home mom, sending out one informational interview request after another, only to hear crickets. Trying to rework my resume without putting a spotlight on the glaring four-year work gap (AKA the kiss of death) that sat smack dab at the top. It felt as though I naively exited the workforce-train thinking I could easily hop back on when I was ready. Boy, was I wrong.

But, by the grace of all that is good, a dash of kismet, and the wonderful people at Stoltz, I was offered an amazing opportunity as returner. If you haven’t heard about returnships, listen up (they’re amazing). Stoltz’ Returnship program is similar to an internship, except it is specifically designed for people who have either left or been displaced from the workforce for 3+ years– in my case to raise two babies. Its goal, among so many other things, is to help returners dust off the cobwebs, brush up on skills that had to take a backseat, and arm them with the tools and confidence to re-enter the workforce. Like I said, uh-mazing.
I can’t stress enough how much this opportunity has meant to me. It’s tough out there, and to add insult to injury, not only did I have a four-year work gap, but I also had zero provable skills in the creative industry. Let’s put it this way: I wasn’t rising to the top of any hiring pools. And I was starting to lose hope. Limiting thoughts started creeping back into my head: you missed your chance, you’re too old, you’re just a mom now

So when I heard about the Returnship, not only did I have a renewed sense of hope because I finally felt seen for the first time in a long time. I felt like this was my chance to show that I still had some fight—and something to say.

The day I was offered the position of returner was one of those “cemented in time” moments. I knew then, before it even started, that this was going to change everything. I knew without a doubt that this was an opportunity of a lifetime—and you best believe I was going to give it my all.

Game. Changer.

The first couple of weeks, I walked around in a daze. So excited, not just to be let out of the house and hang out with adults, but also to have the opportunity to share the same air with so many amazingly talented people. Sure, at first–at least 85% of the time–I had no idea what anyone was talking about, but I was just happy to be there. 

But then things started to change. At around the one-month mark, I started to feel the weight of the work-life balance–or imbalance, I should say–settling in. In the beginning, I dove in head first and wanted to work as much as I could on as many projects as I could get my hands on. But in that process, my well-managed home life started to fall to the wayside. The tidiness I preferred was gone, my regular exercise routine out the window, and meal planning turned into regular dinners consisting of chicken nuggets, spaghetti and meatballs or take-out. It started to wear on me. The internal battle began: Can I do it all? And do I even want to?

Let me stress that I’m a firm believer that being a stay-at-home mom is just as difficult as being a “working mom” (because, face it, all moms are working moms). It’s just different. Where, before, I would be mentally taxed by the onslaught of tasks, demands, and negotiating that comes with raising small children, but able to keep up with managing the home in small pockets of stolen time, now I was mentally taxed by the lack of time to do all the menial yet necessary things involved in keeping groceries in the fridge, clean clothes in the closet and bills paid, while also trying to complete work tasks to the best of my ability, and on time. I was out of my element and struggling to cope.

It all came to a head halfway through my returnship, at a staff-wide off-site, where I found myself crying publicly (cool cool cool). Now, I’m a pretty sensitive person, but even this was out of character for me. It was time to face the music and figure out what was really going on.

Here’s what I figured out. Since I can remember, I’ve been good at everything. OK, let me clarify…I’ve been good at everything I’ve attempted because I’ve only very carefully attempted things I’m 99% sure I’d be good at. Aha! Yes, now we’re getting somewhere. My new role at Stoltz doing things I’ve never done before, in an industry I’ve never worked in, all while trying to be a mom, wife, and managing the home was a different beast. I struggled with imposter syndrome—hard. And, I didn’t much care for it. I missed the nice, warm bed called “things I’m comfortable with” and didn’t realize how much it was affecting me. So, after a couple of conversations with coworkers (communication is something Stoltz is really great at btw), I allowed myself some grace and decided that one thing is for sure: I need to allow myself to fail, and fail hard. I need to try things I never would have attempted before, and I need to believe that I can do hard things. And, even if I fail, that’s OK. 

I still don’t know the answer for maintaining work-life balance, but from that moment on, I could feel the painful resistance to change shapeshift into new growth. I realized that the shocking change to my identity when I first became a new mom still lived within me. I had forgotten who I was and what my dreams were. Don’t misunderstand, I love being a mom, and my life is beautiful and holds inexplicable meaning because of my children, but I had put my goals and ambitions on the shelf, only to collect dust. Now, finally, at the ripe old age of 36, I finally feel confident to go forth courageously—and I have Stoltz to thank for that.

And, of course, I learned lots of things about production, strategy, accounts, design, and more. But what I really take away from this experience has been the opportunity to meet myself again. And for the first time in a really long time, I’m really excited to see what I can do.