Recently, I was chatting with a friend about her next possible career moves, and she said something that put words to a struggle I’ve had since our first child was born. “Before I got pregnant, every move in our life was about the next step up – and now, it’s a totally different equation.” As moms, we already struggle with our choices. Adding in a drastic career change throws another level of complication on top of these choices. The parenting and career equation is certainly one that I haven’t solved.
I moved to DC right after college with a plan to work hard and be somebody. I had made it through the challenging classes and done the internships and was fortunate to have a great opportunity waiting once I graduated. In the blink of an eye, I found myself working 60+ hour weeks (and weekends) on an upward career trajectory.
Real-life priorities like dentist appointments, vacations, and even our wedding and honeymoon were dictated by what would fit best with my office schedule. My entire world and identity revolved around work. This wasn’t just me being crazy; my friends and colleagues operated the same way. None of us stopped to question if this was truly necessary (or healthy); it was what we had signed up for, and it was just how things went.
We often joke that in DC, the follow-up question to “Nice to meet you” is “What do you do?” Except that it’s not a joke – and it’s certainly not limited to DC.
I don’t know if it’s cultural, generational, or both, but jobs have become a central pillar of who we are and how we live.
For years, my husband and I daydreamed about getting out of DC to find a slower pace. We talked about that distant possibility when we’d had a rough week or went on vacation (I can’t tell you how many times we threatened to pack it all up and move to Key West). In reality, though, leaving felt next to impossible. We both had great jobs and career prospects in DC; why in the world would we give all of that up?
The moment I heard our son’s first cry, my world turned on a dime. We suddenly had a new guiding force and urgency for our decisions.
I went back to work after maternity leave, determined to spend more time away from the office with this precious, crazy little person. We made it a year trying to balance work with time for our new family before taking the plunge and moving back to Pensacola.
I was fortunate to be able to keep my job remotely, and it felt like I was getting to have my cake and eat it too. Eventually, I realized I had slipped back into old habits. My priority was still my work, and I was only partially living a slower-paced life. After a couple of years of feeling like I was missing our life and family time here, I knew it was time to move on. I walked away from a career I had spent over a decade building.
I felt a physical weight come off my shoulders, but almost as quickly, I felt completely cut adrift. Who was I, if not a political fundraiser/campaign consultant? Indeed, my most important identifiers were mom and wife and member of this great community, weren’t they? Yet leaving a career that I had put my everything into had created a massive hole. I found myself paralyzed about what to do next. When I had been on a career path, the next steps were easy to figure out.
Now there was no road map, and I didn’t even know how to explain my existence without a job identity backing me up.
My husband, per usual, has been my greatest cheerleader and supporter. He has told me twenty times or more that we can figure anything out – whatever I want to do, we’ll make it work. Or, if *gasp* I want to take a break from work, that is ok too. He also gently but consistently reminds me that our life is so much bigger than our jobs. We have two amazing kids, friends and family, and love being here in Pensacola.
I love our kids more than anything, but I still want to work hard and be somebody. Now, however, I know that “somebody” has to be more than just a career.
As I’ve written this, it has occurred to me that many of the people I admire have made their mark on our community and me completely outside of their offices. A fog lifted and I realized that I know many people who have found themselves in similar situations. For example, my “second Dad” recently retired from 40+ years in medicine, a girlfriend left one of the biggest ad-buying agencies in DC to start a barre studio, and my godfather started a whole new career from scratch after leaving the Army.
Change in careers and identities comes in all forms: choosing to stay at home with kids, needing to take care of a sick family member, moving for a spouse’s job, retiring, or taking the leap of faith to change fields. Not only have I seen friends and colleagues make it in their career 2.0 (and in their choice to stay home), but I have watched so many thrive in their second chapters that I never gave a thought to the first path on which they started.
I put all of this out there not as a “here’s how to figure out your dream career,” but as a “how do we take a breath and move forward from being primarily a doctor/chef/lawyer/accountant/political person?”
My path has been a bit bumpy and filled with self-doubt at times, but I know it will lead to a great new chapter. I have been lucky to start a couple truly fulfilling projects, and I’m taking some time to take care of those real-life priorities (Dentist, I’m coming for you!).
Eventually, I know we’ll all figure out what our new equations look like.