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How to restart your career after taking time off

Keita Young surprised everyone — even herself — when she decided to take some time off from work to adjust to being a mom.

Always career-driven, Young poured herself into her work in commercial litigation and employment law upon graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. But after eight years and countless hours on the clock, it was time for a break. Just a short one, she told herself.

Three children and 11 years later, she was ready to get back to being a lawyer. She joined JPMorgan Chase as Assistant General Counsel through the company’s ReEntry Program, which helps employees transition back into the workplace after time away, for whatever reason.

Now, as a vice president and program manager for the bank’s Advancing Black Leaders strategy, she helps foster diversity throughout the company.

Here, she offers a few tips for making the most of any break and getting back to business when you’re ready:

1. Get involved in something outside the home

In 2006, I opened a children’s consignment store with a friend. My friend brought retail experience, while I was able to take care of the legal aspects of the business like setting up the partnership agreement and negotiating the lease. It was a good match and accommodated everyone’s needs — I brought my kids to a play area in the back of the store.

After closing the shop, I worked part-time in resource development for a nonprofit. It was a great opportunity that exposed me to something different and new, which helped me build out my skillset. Don’t underestimate the value of volunteering! Project management, budgets, marketing — it’s all part of the work volunteers like me took on. It kept me active, social and, again, introduced me to new work experiences.

2. Have a story that showcases your value

This one is big for me. You’ve got to have a story about your career path that you and others can grasp onto and get behind, no matter what!

My story was about branching out, trying new things and succeeding. In addition to opening a store, I wrote grants and helped a nonprofit fundraise for its annual symposium — none of which I had ever done before. But I knew I could be an asset and welcomed the challenge of learning something new.

3. Direct your path

When I started my fellowship in JPMorgan Chase’s ReEntry Program, I scheduled weekly meetings with my boss. I quickly learned how to improve my work and meet my manager’s expectations, so there were no surprises when it came time for performance reviews. Those meetings, while not required, allotted me an uninterrupted, scheduled feedback session every week. They also allowed us to develop a better working relationship — and I’m pretty sure they helped me land the position I’m in now.

4. Lean on your support system

Having a network of supportive family and friends is essential. My transition back to work wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my mom, who has taken on responsibilities I can no longer fully manage. She has been invaluable with meal preparations, school and activity pick-ups and drop-offs, and filling in when I am tied up at the office.

5. Find a mentor

My mentor, a female colleague at JPMorgan Chase, is one of my greatest assets. She was initially assigned to me during my fellowship in the company’s ReEntry Program, and quickly became a confidant, friend and vital resource. She helped me navigate the company, answered questions that I was reluctant to ask my manager, and offered an honest opinion about my work product. Even though I’m no longer in the program, she continues to be a great sounding board for me. You’ll recognize a good prospect for a mentor, whether assigned or informally chosen, as someone with whom you connect personally, who is eager to help and who has your best interests in mind.

6. Don’t sweat the small stuff

When I returned to full-time work, I immediately realized that it was almost impossible to be a super-mom, super-employee, super-wife and super-friend, all at once. I had to learn what matters most at a given time, and give up on notions of perfection. It was a chance to develop all parts of myself — the parenting self, the professional self, the spouse self, and the friend self. Now, I recognize that it is not easy, but I embrace my situation and feel blessed and fortunate to have an incredible family and friends, supportive colleagues and the opportunity to return to the workforce at such a great company. Sweating the small stuff is not important.

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