Thursday, August 25, 2011

To enjoy what you really are.

It was hard for me to leave my job to raise my kids. I always intended to stay at home when I became a mom. I had a good career in product management for social websites, a role and a field I'm pretty indifferent about. But it's a job I'm good at, one that comes easily for me. Apparently it does not come so easily for others since it pays pretty well. I was always surprised when my employers were impressed by what I did as a matter of routine, and downright shocked at how much they were willing to pay for my work. It's nice to feel valued. Even though the job wasn't one I enjoyed much, being highly praised and well compensated made lack of interest less of a problem.

When I became a mom I found it hard to justify leaving my job. Was I really going to walk away from that paycheck, and from the recognition and sense of accomplishment the workplace provided? The answer turned out to be no. Not at first, anyway. When my boss offered me a flexible part-time gig, I took it despite my strong feelings about being at home with my child. It seemed too good to pass up. And it was good, very good, for a while. But as time passed the demands both at work and at home increased, and I had to make a real choice. Go back to work or do what I really wanted and stay at home.

For years before motherhood I had looked at changing careers, but fear held me back. I was really good at product management. Who knows if I'd be good at something new? I certainly wouldn't make as much if I started over. So I stayed doing what I knew I could instead of seeking something that represented me. I made this choice over and over, feeling more stuck with each passing year.

Having a baby was a free pass, a built-in excuse to step away from the easy path I was on and take time to figure out what I really wanted to pursue. And even then I couldn't take that first step. After struggling with the part-time role for a year, I longed to be at home with my son but didn't make a change. I took the cowardly route and waited until I was pregnant with my second child before finally quitting. I didn't have the confidence to choose for myself. I needed the excuse of another baby to do what I really wanted.

I still beat myself up about all this. How could I have left work? Why didn't I have the courage to quit when I wanted to? Am I just lazy for wanting to be at home with the kids? Shouldn't I keep a better house if this is what I m supposed to be doing? No matter what the line of thinking, my inner self can find a way to cast doubt.

In the midst of this doubt-fest, my husband tried to be a supportive as a baffled spouse can be. He kept telling me to do whatever would make me happy. If no one has ever said this to you, let me tell you it's one of the nicest things a body can hear. Of course it wasn't enough to get me to actually take action, because I didn't believe my happiness was worthwhile enough to matter. Still it's wonderful to hear. It's helped me make peace with the choice I've made.

But I won't be at home forever. And unless I can figure out what I'm passionate about and start pursuing it, I'll end up picking up where I left off in my old career. I don't want that. Not for myself or for my children. I want them to charge after their dreams with gusto, and trip along the way and change course and keep on going. Success is not a finish line. It's the joy you have while plugging away every day. I want this for them, and I'm too afraid to go after it myself. They will be too if they don't have a better example.

I was watching the 1990s teen drama “My So-Called Life” and was struck by what the mother character said to her daughter. “That's all I want for you: To enjoy what you really are.” It's what I want for my children. I can give that to them by giving it to myself. First I need to find out who I really am. I need to make that a priority, make time for discovering myself. Then I need to enjoy what I've found. I suspect that's going to be the hard part.  

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