These past few weeks have been the kind that leave a mark. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, although a week ago when I was still “in” it, I would have argued that it would leave a mark that would haunt me for years to come.
You see, in the past several years, I’ve been through a lot. Dealt with a lot. And I haven’t been proud of all of my actions. There are things I regret, primarily professionally, that for years I’ve felt like I needed to make right.
When I met my husband I was successful and quickly catapulting myself into even more success. When I became an instant mom and we started to face challenge after heartbreaking challenge, I remained strong in our personal life, but I watched as my professional life suffered considerably. I didn’t know where to put the frustration and misery with which we were dealing so I placed it firmly on my job and my colleagues at the time. I found it difficult to make it through the day much less continue my trailblazing and I watched the success I’d worked so hard to achieve disintegrate into a job I resented just for the sake of having to resent something.
I left that organization and from almost the moment I walked out the door I wished I hadn’t. I wished I had seen things for what they really were. I felt ashamed. I felt I had thrown years of work down the drain. I resolved to someday go back and make things right. To find that success again.
Several weeks ago I was given that opportunity. I was offered a role that was practically made for me. It involved so many things that I love, plus a lot of travel to cities I enjoy, plus so much potential for success, plus the ability to finally put that old shame to rest, plus an organization that I could work for the rest of my career. It was exciting and I felt so proud that they wanted me back to fill this important new role. They wanted me.
Then my husband got news that changed how his schedule would look for at least the next year. We discussed it and realized his schedule for the next four years could be incredibly tricky. And I thought about the little girls and what they need from us, and from me. What would happen if I were in Chicago and my husband had class or meetings? Who would do homework with the little girls? Who would make sure they got their reading minutes done? Who would keep track of when they last had baths, or if they had snacks in their backpacks when they left for school? Who would call to tell them it was time to get ready for the bus and then again ten minutes later when it was time to leave? Because the truth is that I want to be that person.
I labored over it. I have always, since I was a kid, equated success with professional achievement. I always knew I’d have children at some point, and a lovely husband, and a home. I always knew the money would come. I always knew travel would be a part of my life. But success, real success, would come from my working hard and successfully doing a job that would make a difference. If I turned down this job, one that was such a good fit for me, would I be turning down my opportunity to have the success I’d always planned on? Would that be it? End of story? Game over?
Because the truth is, the little girls will always need things that I want to be the one to provide. At least until they go off to college in eight and nine years. Since the very beginning I’ve had this need to provide stability and safety at our house, it’s been one of the most important things to me, and my being here is a big part of that.
In my despair, because let me assure you there was despair, I thought about my dreams. Ideally, if I could be anything I wanted with no regard to money, I would be signing my own books on the porch of my newly built house with kids coming and going. And yet, for years when I’ve thought about what I needed to do in order to be “successful,” it always had to do with returning to that organization and proving myself. How can it be that these two things don’t match up? Shouldn’t one’s dreams be one in the same with what one views as true success?
I’ve spent more time reflecting, talking ad nauseum, and taking stock over the past few weeks than I have maybe ever in my lifetime. During that time my 38th birthday came and went without much fanfare (and you know how important my birthday is to me). I made myself sick with worry about doing the wrong thing. I had restless nights with very little sleep.
And then this week happened.
On Sunday night, the little girls and I realized that their St. Patrick’s Day outfits were okay at best. Typically we walk in the big St. Patrick’s Day parade with a banner boasting our last name. We dress up, we take the day off of work and school, and we make a day of it. It’s our tradition. This year, however, the extended family decided not to walk, and we didn’t make alternate plans in time. Sunday night, as we were wrapping up our weekend activities, I realized something had to be done. The little girls and I rushed to Target to improve our outfits. We thought we had it figured out when, at 8:30pm, we realized the littlest little girl didn’t have leggings at our house. Leggings, being an important piece of the outfit, were necessary. This meant that Monday morning would need to be fast and furious and would include yet another trip to Target. I ended up dropping the little girls off at school just as the bell was ringing…and subsequently getting to work an hour late.
Tuesday morning, as I noticed one of my girlfriends posting on Facebook about her early flight to Detroit (one I likely would have taken frequently with the job), I was heading out the door to bring my littlest little girl to the doctor for yet another strep test. I worked from home while she lounged on the couch, watching movies with her, and making sure she got enough fluids and Tylenol to keep her fever down.
If making sure your daughters have fabulous St. Patrick’s Day outfits and sitting home with them when they’re sick isn’t a perfect picture of success, I don’t know what is. I feel like I’ve entered a new phase. I’ve always firmly believed in these very prescribed paths to success. Whether law school, or professional success at a particular organization, or even being a perfect volunteer. I suddenly feel this strange freedom to define my own kind of success. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet but I think I can figure it out if I can stop scolding myself for letting go of my old definition of success.
I feel free, and relaxed, and simply happy to be exactly where I am right this second. Crazy, right?
Today: What if a years old definition of success no longer applies?