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Career contentment and striking a work-life balance is different for every person, says Katie Pinke. (Katie Pinke/Agweek/Forum News Service)

Growing careers 97 miles from a Starbucks

To live where you want or where you've landed due to family or marriage circumstances, you often must get creative in career and job choices. In the past two weeks, three rural women have reached out for career advice, specifically asking about my journey.

I live 97 miles from a Starbucks. I use that phrase to put into perspective our rural location, as there seems to be a coffee shop on every corner in cities and larger towns. In rural America, we make our own coffee before heading to work, which doesn't have the traffic congestion of a city commute.

How do those of us in rural locations grow our careers?

First, ask yourself if you can fill a need for your community. Rural communities need mechanics, welders, plumbers, electricians, nurses, dental hygienists, medical technicians, teachers and various other professionals. Many of these roles require specific education and training, some of which is available online, which increases your opportunities to develop a new career while living in a rural location. Because of the demand, you can make similar money to your counterparts in the city while enjoying a lower cost of living and a quieter, slower pace of life.

The women I talked to all have educations and work experience. They need to provide a second income or health benefits, or they are the sole income provider. Either way, they want the flexibility to be as hands-on as possible while raising children. Do you face a similar struggle? I do. It keeps many of us up at night.

Even if they could give up their income, job or career, these women say they wouldn't. I'm with you, sisters. Pursue your passions. Our careers are a part of who we are. Additionally, all three women indicated they have no desire to be full-time business or farm partners with their spouses or to be full-time stay-at-home parents.

We each make different choices in our careers and parenting roles. I listened and gave realistic assessments based on where I've been in my career, my struggles, my opportunities and my faith. Several mentors and leaders have done the same for me, providing encouragement and giving me a chance in roles I wouldn't have had the confidence to tackle otherwise. In turn, I can be an encourager and mentor to others.

We all make career and family choices based on our circumstances. I have worked while being a single mom, as a married woman, in a corporate environment and in small business. I've worked in a state government role, as an independent contractor, in my own business and as a business partner with my husband. I've cut back on hours to be a more at-home mom and wife. I've worked more than full time to provide additional income when needed.

Here's my career advice, which I first heard from North Dakota's U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp at a women in agriculture event: "You can have it all, but you can't have it all at once."

Do not walk away from your salary or hourly wage with benefits without a plan. Before I left my state government job, I wrote up a business plan for my communications consulting and event speaking business and shared it with my husband. My income projections and goals were 55 to 75 percent lower than past roles in my first year. My first goal was to make enough money for our monthly car and mortgage payments, with a secondary goal of saving for annual family vacations. We would make less and spend less. My husband also had to agree to pay out-of-pocket for our health benefits, which was $17,000 annually. It was a huge risk. We prayed about it and waited for the timing we felt was part of a greater plan.

We have been through this process once with my husband's career and three times for me. Our kids have had all types of childcare arrangements to get us through the different seasons of jobs and careers. Today, I'm back in an unconventional career role, working full time with health benefits, from my home office and on the road as needed.

Career contentment and striking a work-life balance are different for every person. Tenacity and flexibility coupled with the support of those around you will go a long way to growing and evolving a career that suits you and your family for the various seasons of life.

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