I never imagined the Third Option was possible, until I did it.
Working a dream job and having a baby were both extremely important to me. I wanted them both. The problem was that they were totally incompatible. Our daughter, Rainey, was born in September 2005. I took the standard three-month maternity leave and went back to my dream job. And suddenly, nothing was simple anymore. I had a career I absolutely loved, but I also had this amazing little baby I had to leave at home. Other people could care for her, of course, but it broke my heart every time I went to work.
That feeling of not wanting to be separated from her took me completely by surprise, because I’d never in my life wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I loved working, and I loved being a professional. Frankly, in the past, whenever I’d thought of staying at home, my instant reaction had been, “That’s great for my friends, and I admire people who make that choice, but I’m not that girl.”
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The kind of work we were doing wasn’t kid-friendly, in the sense that one of us was almost always away. We were both in sales, and both of our jobs involved travel, Bryan’s even more than mine. As we came to find out, it was extremely difficult as new parents to work in sales, let alone to feel like we were doing any of it well. Beyond that, the truth is, I’d had a change of heart from thinking this separation would be easy. I was pulled in two opposite directions: Should I stay home and watch my baby grow, or continue pursuing an exciting professional career?
Perhaps you understand this experience. Maybe you’ve planned to go back to work after having a child, only to find your heart torn in different directions. Or maybe you always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but after six months of having your every movement dictated to you by the needs of your child, you were desperate to rediscover a part of your life that wasn’t centered on childcare. I’m here to tell you that you can do it. The Third Option exists, and it’s probably within your grasp.
Who does the Third Option work for? We’ve partnered with more than a thousand administrative/executive assistants, writers, bookkeepers, and webmasters. Many of the contractors we partner with serve our clients with executive assistant services. There’s a lot of travel coordination, email, calendars, and project management. A lot of front line customer support. A lot of process documentation and back-end office administration for their organizations.
Our bookkeepers serve clients through reconciling bank accounts, paying bills, keeping cash flow up to date, producing financial reports, and helping them manage the transnational side of their finances. Our two most recent offerings are content writing—promoting clients’ businesses through blogs, white papers, marketing materials—and a webmaster business, which does website design, maintenance, and support.
The Third Option encompasses a number of different work options. It comprises virtual work, contracting, working freelance—even traditional jobs that are made untraditional. When I say “virtual work,” what I’m talking about is working from some location other than that of the company. By and large, it means working from home or by the pool or at the beach. And there are a lot of ways to make it efficient: leveraging video technology for meetings or using software platforms that make sense for the job function and that enable sharing projects and doing teamwork.
A lot of jobs that seem like traditional office jobs are, more and more, becoming less so. Recently, I went into Starbucks and saw my attorney there, working. Many jobs are becoming more virtual: it’s a term that can be applied to any job that isn’t tied to a geographical location.
Contractors are individuals who partner with organizations like ours; the easiest way to think about them is that they’ll be filing 1099 tax forms. Contracting allows them to be more flexible and to take on other clients outside of our organization as long as there’s no direct competition.
Freelancers are the people who are completely doing it alone: they find their own opportunities, they send out their own invoices, and they essentially do everything by themselves. And finally, when I talk about traditional jobs made untraditional, I’m talking about taking an existing employee position within a company and adjusting the job description in such a way that it works for both the company and the employee.
I believe there are a lot of jobs that exist today in traditional settings that could be made virtual or part time or both. It’s about exploring options and looking at positions differently. Maybe it means segmenting the work differently. Maybe it means becoming open to technologies that enable communication and teamwork. The question to ask is, can we still do a great job, serve the company and the client, but do it differently? It means making a shift from a culture that assumes everyone comes into the office and works and goes home—but that shift can make a difference in attracting and retaining great talent.