If there’s one thing we can learn from Simone Biles, it’s that taking a break from your career doesn’t have to equal a setback. After stepping away from competition in 2020, the highly decorated Olympic gymnast recently returned to the gymnastics world―and proceeded to win four gold medals at the world championships.
As someone in the middle of a career break myself, I can’t help but feel inspired by her story―and I know I’m not alone. The majority of women will pause their careers at some point, whether it’s for caretaking responsibilities, to tend to personal matters, or to deal with physical or mental health challenges.
My “hiatus” resulted from an international move that’s made it challenging to work full time. And while I’m enjoying the extra time with my family, there are nights when I lie awake with a ticker tape of doubts running through my head: How will I explain the gap in my résumé when I do go back? Will I still have the same skills and knowledge as my peers? Can I even get hired again?
Enter Simone Biles―providing women everywhere with a shining example of how it’s possible to overcome these obstacles and come back stronger than ever. Here are a few key lessons that I’ve personally taken from her success:
Stay connected to your strengths. During her time off, Biles didn’t completely step away from gymnastics;. she stayed involved, attending camps and coaching young gymnasts. In doing so, she was able to stay connected to her passion and expertise, making it easier to slip back into competition mode when she was ready. For women taking a career pause, this can translate to staying connected to old colleagues or industry groups, or identifying any new skills, often valuable soft skills, you may have picked up that are transferable back to your field.
Build a support system. Biles didn’t return to gymnastics alone―she had a team of coaches, trainers, and family members supporting her along the way. Having a strong support system makes all the difference during a “comeback.” Have open conversations with your family about the specific support you’ll need from them in this new chapter. Reach out to former colleagues to let them know you’re returning to work. Connect with other women who’ve successfully reentered your industry. Support can take many forms.
Set realistic expectations. Biles’ return wasn’t about immediately performing at the same level. Instead, she and her coaches set realistic goals and worked toward them over time. The same goes for anyone returning to work after a break. You might need time to readjust your goals and resharpen your skills. Set achievable milestones for yourself―celebrate when you accomplish them―and remember that it’s a process.
Be open to learning. Biles was considered one of the best gymnasts in the world when she stepped away, but this doesn’t mean she came back expecting to be in the same position. Instead, she embraced new techniques and strategies, and this willingness to learn and adapt helped her achieve even greater heights (literally!). So, whether it’s updating your technical skills, earning additional certifications, or seeking out mentorship, remaining open to new experiences can accelerate your transition.
Don’t let fear hold you back. When Biles weighed whether or not to take a break from gymnastics, she could have easily let fear dictate her decision. She could have worried about losing her edge, being forgotten by fans, or failing to live up to expectations, should she return. Instead, she chose to believe in herself and her abilities. In the same vein, it’s natural when returning after a career break to have doubts and uncertainties, but don’t let them hold you back―you’ve got this.
Simone Biles’ successful return to gymnastics is more than just an inspiring comeback story―it’s a blueprint for women everywhere who are exploring a return to work after a career pause. And while for most of us, there may not be any Olympic medals in our futures, there are plenty of successes to be had, if we just take a page out of her playbook.
About the Author
Caitlin Weaver: Experienced HR Leader with expertise in Talent Strategy, Talent Management, Learning & Leadership Development
Caitlin Weaver is a seasoned HR leader with expertise in talent management, employee engagement, and total rewards. She writes about business, health, and parenting. Her articles can be seen at Insider.com, getHppy, and The Every Mom, among others.