Dear J & C,
Three weeks ago I had a frank conversation with my manager. After 4 months into a new job that I loved, with people I enjoyed working with and prospects for a bright future I made the difficult decision that the job was a great fit for me and my career aspirations, but it was not the right time in my life.
There were lots of factors that came into my decision – unforeseen circumstances with the job, spouse with extremely long working hours, kids who are 1 and 3 years old…but at the crux of it all was that being in this job (combined with the above) didn’t allow me to prioritize our family time and balance first.
Racing through the day just to get up and do it all over again the next day is a common theme with all families, but the extent I felt I was tolerating my children (harsh, but true) vs. being present with my children didn’t align with my personal goals and made me re-examine my life choices.
While I made changes at the job to improve things, it became clear after the first 90 days that I would either need to invest significantly more time in the job to perform to the level of standards I hold myself to…or I would need to choose a career that allowed me the flexibility to put our family’s priorities first.
This decision was extremely difficult, but I came away with some key realizations. Realizations that took a fair amount of blood, sweat, and tears, and I want to make sure I pass them on to you. Here are a few lessons I learned (or re-learned) through this experience:
1. Stop labelling yourself and creating fake boundaries.
I’m an accountant by trade – and some would say “Hey – you’re an accountant, you should be making xx amount of money…because you can. Why else would you have gotten your designation?”
The answer is – I got my designation to open up doors and give myself options. Options to be an accountant, to be in business, to start my own business…to train myself to have an analytical mind.
I didn’t become an accountant to pigeon-hole myself into certain jobs and to conform within expectations.
If I want to take those experiences & skills and become a plumber (which I would love to study one day), then what’s stopping me? People who think that’s an unconventional career progression?
There is no such thing as a right career progression – the ever-lovable Mr. Rogers’ career journey is proof of that.
J & C – Do not label and define yourself by your education, your family/career roles, and society’s expectations. Instead, reflect on the multitude of gifts you uniquely offer to this world and pursue excellence within your passions.
2. Making a choice to spend time with your family isn’t anti-feminist or setting us back 50 years. It’s making a choice to spend time with your family.
Right now, I’ve made the choice to spend more time with you and to only consider career choices that fit within the priorities I have for our family. It doesn’t mean that my career is less important than daddy’s, it doesn’t mean that I’m weak and “can’t handle being a working mom”, and it doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for the opportunity to earn an education and work – it means I know my priorities and am actively ensuring my life reflects those priorities.
For the record, making the choice for the dad to focus on raising the children while the wife holds the day job is similar. It’s knowing the family’s priorities, each individual’s strengths, and doing what works best for the family.
J & C – You be the people you are and “keep doing you”, and let everyone else be the people they are and “keep doing them”. What works for one person/family is different from what works for another.
3. Change takes courage.
I have a great friend, Patty, who often reminds me that the easy thing to do is stay in a current situation, even if it’s bad, because change is hard and uncertain. It takes courage to step up, say something needs to happen, and actually doing something about it.
J & C – Be brave. Have courage. You don’t know how everything’s going to turn out, but nothing in life is 100% certain – sometimes you just have to take those leaps of faith and know that everything turns out the way it’s supposed to.
4. Most things aren’t permanent or unfixable.
Here are the questions that have gone through my head…how will it look to have a gap on my resume? What will people think when they see I only worked for 4 months at a place? I keep hearing it’s so hard to get back into the workforce after being off for a period of time…am I dooming myself?
Sure the above might get a few people’s attention and get them asking questions or feeling a bit leery to hire me – but I have answers to those questions and it’s my job to proactively anticipate future employers’ worries and problem-solve.
Maybe when I return to the workforce (whether it’s in 6 months or 6 years) it’ll take longer than if I was already employed, but (a) that’s a pretty small trade-off for improving the balance in our family’s life and creating stronger bonds with my children (b) I just need to own that and acknowledge that it’s my responsibility to convince employers of why they should hire me.
J & C – Acknowledge your barriers and figure out how to overcome them. Don’t let barriers dictate your future, make them a part of your success story.
5. Earning six figures sounds great on paper – but 3-4 generations down the road people won’t really know your paper story. What matters is your “now” and the impacts you have on others.
It’s kind of sad but I have no idea what my great-grandparents’ stories are. I don’t know their names, where they lived, whether they were kind & generous, what their occupations are, or what hardships they faced…maybe the storytelling could have happened a bit better, but I think this is somewhat common in families.
Part of what made this current decision so difficult is that I was working for an organization whose mission I believed in, I had built up trust and respect in a relatively short amount of time, and the money provided a more-than-comfortable life for our family. Hard to find all that in one job. And it all looks great on paper.
Instead, I’ve introduced career uncertainty, we’re down to half of our income, and we’re making various adjustments to ensure we’re staying within our means. Less great on paper.
But what are we gaining?
We’re gaining more time and energy to (a) focus on our daughters’ growth and emotions (b) live a healthier lifestyle (c) have patience with the everyday struggles, and (d) provide more support to our spouse, family, friends, church and neighborhood communities.
I tried to do all of that before, but it was exhausting and overwhelming, and I wasn’t doing a great job at any of it. Too much of a good thing is too much.
I can’t monetize those gains or provide solid data to chart the impacts…but those are real benefits that are worth more than the cooler trip we could afford or the different car we could drive.
J & C – Ensure you have enough money to meet your needs, but don’t lose sight of the fact that life is about more than earning gobs of money and garnering accolades…it’s about having gratitude and humility and doing what you can to make the world a better place than it was before you arrived.
6. I have the ability to make this choice because I am privileged.
It doesn’t get past me that I am lucky to be able to choose where I spend my time and that our family is not in a situation where dual-incomes are a must to make ends meet.
Even now, we aren’t in a situation where we can’t afford something we truly want or need. Needs we can meet – hands-down. Wants…what are we going without?
Well, for starters we were ambitiously paying down our mortgage and had goals to pay it off in the near future. This decision prolongs the payment period. It’s disappointing to not meet our goal, but a completely different story from being unable to meet minimum payments.
Wants…yesterday I was grocery shopping and wanted to buy a box of steel cut oats for C to try but decided to put it back because we still have packaged oatmeal at home and I was trying to keep the bill under $60 (see what I mean? it’s pretty hum-drum).
Wants…a phone with data capability, but even before this change I refused to pay hundreds of dollars each year for the convenience (and a licence to be stuck to my screen), so it’s kinda a moot point.
These aren’t problems, these are choices. These are some of the most ludicrous first-world choices I’ve heard of…and I’m lucky enough to have them.
J & C – You are more privileged than I can ever explain to you, and it is part of my mission as your mother to expose you to as much perspective as possible to give you a mere glimpse into how fortunate you are.
7. This is what it means to be an adult. To recognize “the perfect life on paper” is superficial and that emotions, priorities, and various pressures require you to make tough decisions.
When I was in university I thought adult-life was going to be such a piece of cake. Get your degree, get married, find an easy, well-paying job; pop out a few babies, spend your evenings watching tv, go on a few trips a year, and call it a day.
Some people are happy with that lifestyle, and that’s great – but I’ve realized that I’m not.
I’ve realized that a well-paying job is great but if it’s too easy I’ll get bored. I need to go into work each day feeling like I’m putting forward my best work and actually contributing something meaningful to the organization and/or society.
I’ve realized that you guys sure are cute, but you also have a number of physical and emotional needs that require astute attention from your parents. Will you turn out okay if we don’t have all the time in the world to observe your emotions? Sure. But I would rather earn less money (or no money) in a year, and have more flexibility and energy to notice my daughters’ stress triggers and discuss coping methods to help them now and into the future.
I’ve realized that I will find more meaning in my life by focusing on others and what I can offer the world, instead of focusing on being comfortable.
J & C – Don’t be afraid to make more of your life. To challenge yourself, and to consistently better yourself. Make those tough decisions that you’ll eventually encounter, don’t sweep them under the rug while taking comfort in complacency. Be proud of the women you become and celebrate your successes, but never think you’re done offering what you have to offer to this world. Your potential is limitless.
8. Everything in life is a choice and every experience offers a learning.
We often get wrapped up in the fear of making choices and wondering “what if I fail?” “what if this doesn’t work out?” “what if it’s not what I expected?”
The answer is – you learn from your experience and you make another choice.
Failure is a label for something that didn’t work as planned…and it focuses on the wrong thing. It focuses on the absence of success. It takes something that is temporary and it makes it feel permanent and overwhelming. Instead – see everything (good or bad) as a learning.
Learning is what you do every single day and it’s the resilient people that say “This didn’t work as planned – let’s understand why it didn’t work out, determine what options I have for next steps, analyze which is the best one to pursue, and get down to business to make it happen.”
Resiliency does not mean ignoring your options and continuing to do something because you’re already doing it.
Be persistent, but be persistent for things that enhance your life, meet your priorities and help you to realize your full potential.
J & C – Be intentional about the choices you make. Be intentional about everything you do in life – from how you spend the hours in your day to the people you allow into your life. Aim to find perspective in every situation you’re in, but also recognize and respect your feelings and don’t be a doormat to others’ expectations and wishes. Whether you’re 1 yr old or 100 yrs old stay open to learning life lessons from anyone and anything.
So there you have it, girls. Tough decision to make, but an incredibly rich learning experience. Take comfort that the hardest things in life will provide invaluable lessons and strength going forward.
Update (June 5th): It’s 2.5 months later…and for the record, everything turned out more than fine. You’re thankful everyday for the decision you made and the impact on your health & relationships. You have been blessed more than you could’ve ever imagined.