Thursday, April 12, 2018

Doing the Math - Learning to Value Balance Most of All

Baby Julia, feeding my niece
At 43, I made a life-altering discovery.

Chasing "success" was destroying my harmony.

No joke.

As an educated woman with a pretty solid track record of success in marketing, I have been searching for that next gig that will last until retirement.  I wanted a job I could rise up through and hold onto and make my mark and a bundle of dough over the next 20 years.

Except, I really didn't.

I have a teenage daughter wrapping up her freshman year of high school, struggling to acclimate to the rigors of increased homework and honors classes and handle increasingly complicated social situations as her friend group grows and contracts, romance makes it's way into the dialogue and afterschool jobs become a thing.

I have a husband who's in his 15th year with a Fortune 100 company in a senior level training role that has him away ALOT. He's a superstar in his department.  He rocks at his job.  He's been at it forever and we have shaped our lives around Daddy being gone and keeping the  household running the same way whether or not he's here.  And she's a great kid because we committed to her as priority one, whether it is a we 2 or a we 3 week.

And that's probably the biggest piece of this post.

Like all other couples, we talked about parenting goals before we got pregnant.  We agreed that, although we were both working in the professional world, when the time came to have a baby, parenting would be one parents' main gig.  As progressive folks, we were open to it being either parent, depending on who was in the most promising career trajectory.  The other parent would work  around the needs of the children (we, ultimately, only ever had one).  Work would be secondary because nether of us wanted our kid(s) to be "raised by the nanny".  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I know a LOT of great kids whose primary day-to-day parenting was handled by loving, caring hired help.  It just wasn't for us.

My family in 2018 in front of the Tower of London
When we had Julia, Ryan was already working for his current employer, happy and on the rise in his career. I was working at a university.  It was a great gig, working across the IT department designing online training for professors on everything from Excel to Publisher as well as with the Editor, cultivating press releases about activities and discoveries at the university, even overseeing the creation of hard cover books to be sold in book stores.  I learned how to obtain an ISBN number to get a book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.  AND, I was getting my Master's Degree FOR FREE.

Until I had a meltdown.  Although we had her in a great morning daycare on a horse farm in the woods of New Hampshire and although I worked afternoons at home, writing web copy from my papasan chair in her nursery, I couldn't handle being away from my family.  I'm sure, looking back that I was super post pardum, but hindsight doesn't account for much.

So, we moved home.  It was the right decision.  I found another path, opening a fitness studio and working as a personal chef (ironically, providing meal preparation services for professional couples with nannies who wanted to ensure there was a proper dinner on the table when they did get home from their super lucrative full time jobs).  Julia was cared for by a local family when I worked in homes and with me at the studio (a bean bag was tucked behind a shoji screen with a dvd player so she could nap and watch movies while I worked, often as early as 5:30am).  Ryan traveled and excelled and grew in his company and we worked around it.
The handsome fella looking very corporate

And then I wanted to go back to my "career".  I'm pretty sure that's when my priorities went to shit.

I've been chasing my own tail, some fake idea of success and a bunch of bullshit markers of wealth that have only served to make me unhappy.

And I haven't been willing to give up the nurturing mother piece.  I won't abandon the homemade lunch piece.  I can't reject the helping with homework piece.  I hold tight to the beds made every morning and dinner at the table every night piece.  I won't "hand it over to the nanny".

And this has been the struggle all along.  I wanted the power job because I was convinced I was far too educated NOT to climb.  I wanted the big dough job and responsibilities because I KNOW I can do it well.  I thought that being the head of a department and taking home all of the BULLSHIT stress proved that I was SOMEBODY.  And, hell, if I could keep up the perfect mom and wife stuff, then I was SUPERSOMEBODY.


Scratch fallafel I now have time to make well
But my priorities were ALL FUCKED UP.  I've spent the past nearly 10 years working in very cool jobs, mostly in hospitality and consumer goods, that were made for either young people or people without kids.  I have worked for tyrants. I have worked for great bosses who had lousy bosses. I have worked impossible all-nighters.  I have made magic with no budget.  I've, literally, even, worked through a tornado.
Choosing health over pursuit

Don't get me wrong.  I've had a lot of fun in many ways (running marketing in restaurants and event venues is the bomb.com) but the never-ending work week, the late nights, the all-weekend emails, the middle-of-dinner texts, the lack of boundaries are not a healthy experience for anyone, and definitely were not an exercise in work-life balance for our brood.

Unconventional assortment of ingredients 
Never mind what we were spending to keep it all together.  $100 a month in pet insurance so the dogs could have every immunization possible to go to doggy daycare at $60 a day, twice a week so we could both work.  $90 a week for the housekeeper because who wants to clean after working 80 hours per week? $50 a week in dry cleaning because I had no time to iron. A Weight Watchers membership at $50 a month that I never even had the time to setup online, let alone attending meetings. A virtual NWT gym membership, again, because who the hell can get to the gym??? The $300 yoga card totally unused because, although I need yoga more than ever, I can't ever make a class.  Out of pocket chiropractor expenses BECAUSE I can't get to yoga.  Nevermind missing every fun thing happening in our community and in her school and in general because there was no time off for me and even in time off, I could never be off. Missing every lunch with the girls because my 9 hour onsite workday didn't include a lunch break, ever.  Gel nails, hair every 4 weeks, pedis, and a whole bunch of impulse shopping with our friend Alexa because we could afford it and, although in the past, if I wanted to spruce up a room, I'd make new curtains and recover pillows I had NO TIME, so I'd buy new stuff to satisfy the urge.

And I was MISERABLE. 
Happy new curtains in our pretty new kitchen

So I am done.  I left my last contract gig and am settling into this new me who is taking back the time I've lost.  This month, we are having the first floor redone.  I just made new curtains for the kitchen. I can't wait to get to the living room pillows. I cancelled WW and the gym and have spent every morning in the woods with the dogs.  I polished my own nails and toes while helping my daughter with an English essay.  I had lunch with my mom.  I ironed Ryan's work stuff.  We eat nightly dinner, crammed into the kitchen because the dining room isn't quite done but we didn't answer texts or emails.  Ryan's company doesn't expect him to have work email on his phone.  They are Fortune 100.  They obviously know a thing or two about success. And he's been there a long, long time.  So they obviously know a thing or two about retention.  When he's home, he is off duty.  And now, so am I.
Blissful pups in the woods

And, I am on to new endeavors.  I am shifting gears to do something that  I love that won't eat my life.  I am going back to working my life AROUND our daughter, just like we agreed to in the past. I am learning a new skill set that plays to my strengths and my primary role as a parent. I am soaking in every free minute with my teenager who will, before long, be off to college.  I am planning dinner parties with my husband and our favorite couples in our beautiful new dining room.  I am reupholstering the dining chairs where our guests will sit.  We are binge watching shows on Mondays and Tuesdays without picking up the phone every time it beeps.  I am going to those fun local events that were the very reason we moved back here.  I am hanging out with my people.  I'm posting on my blog.

I am remembering that healthy people work to live, and not the other way around.

I did the math.  The economy of balance is a beautiful thing. Worth it.


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