Lately, I’ve been feeling the classic working mom pull more than ever. A new job opportunity was pitched to me that would both double my salary and give me more career growth potential. And yet, I’m turning it down. I’m sad about it, but it’s not so simple.
I currently work part-time, and spend half days with my two small children at home. I get to kiss them goodbye in the morning and get some much needed time to myself in the 30-minute commute to work, listening to my favorite podcast or audiobook. I get to have adult interaction and exercise my brain and eat in peace. I love my job – I do. I also love being able to put my kids to bed for naps, pick them up from preschool, be the snack-maker and the craft supervisor and the boo-boo kisser. I could also say I love being able to get laundry done during their afternoon nap-time, but “love” and “laundry” don’t fit in the same sentence for me, and so really I’ll just say it’s convenient.
Pre-children, I threw myself into my career. Every choice in life revolved around my job. Meals were planned on how quickly I could eat them during or after work. I selected my car based on its gas mileage to save on my commute. In my free time, I read books or watched videos on sales methodologies and leadership in business. My social life consisted of my coworkers and my husband, who also happened to work at my company. I didn’t take vacation. I stayed late to help others, put in the extra effort to stand out among my peers, and….ALL of my self-worth was tied up in my successes and failures at work.
Enter child #1.
My daughter was born and the earth swiveled on its axis. Suddenly, my priorities weren’t performance reviews and quotas and living in the office. Diapers and songs and stroller walks were in their place and it was bliss. My eyes had been opened and my perspective was suddenly clearer – yes, I loved my job and the gratification that came with achievement, but I did get over my fair share of tension headaches and I had neglected some important parts of life in favor of work. The weeks went by and my maternal feelings continued to blossom. Life was good and things made sense.
But alas, my maternity leave was coming up, so I cried myself to sleep at night. How had something that had engrossed my every second become something I dreaded? But, the day came. It was as hard as I imagined, but I muscled through my first day back at work and got back into the swing of things. I even was offered a promotion! But with the promotion would have come 70 hour work weeks and the prospect of leaving for work before my daughter woke up and coming home after she was in bed for the night was daunting and unpalatable. I declined. “I’m making the best decision for my family”, I thought. “There will always be another opportunity”.
Three months later, my resolve cracked. While I didn’t over-correct and take the promotion, my full-time job was still very demanding and I felt the strong pull to be at home. I decided enough was enough and made the difficult decision with my husband to go part-time. My high pressure job was not something that could be permissibly done in 20-25 hours/week, so with my new schedule came a new position. Once again, I was the new kid on the block on a new team, where all my hard work and learning seemed to carry no weight. I had to prove myself all over again and felt upside-down. Not only had my confidence been hammered at work, but I was convinced my daughter would forget me while I was there. I figured since I couldn’t put in the long hours in the office that I would never be able to prove myself again. With a clean slate, I was doomed to *shameful* mediocrity. Meanwhile, the peers I used to mentor and compete against were getting promoted, rising to positions I once yearned for. My desire to do everything 110% was crushing my soul.
It’s been a few years now, and while I can’t say exactly if there was a catalyst, I can say with some confidence that I’ve pumped the brakes on the perfectionism. I turned down the hot new high-pressure job. There is laundry in a rather large pile in my bedroom. The sink is full of dishes. And yet, I’m 75% content. 75% is good for me. I hope one day to make it to 100%. See? Not 110%. I’ve changed :).
On the drive to work this morning, I listened “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”, a book by Lori Gottlieb. I’ve always thought I would benefit from therapy, but never could make the call for an appointment. Even so, I like to think that this book is my own shortcut version. On today’s drive, I listened to a chapter where Gottlieb discusses an article by Emily Perl Kingsley, “Welcome to Holland”. While Kingsley wrote the article from the perspective of having a child with Downs Syndrome, I feel that the sentiment can apply to any parts of our lives where we feel our expectations were not met. For me, it resonates with feelings about my career. Read here:
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.
If I’m yearning for Italy, I’m underappreciated, stuck in a dead-end job, and unable to either parent or work with 100% effort.
If I have my Holland glasses on, I am overpaid for the hours I put in. I have an amazing work-life balance. I get lots of time with my kids and have free time in the afternoon to get house things done. I’m living the life.
So here I go, off on a quest to smell and appreciate the tulips of Holland.