I’m forty-four years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. There. I said it. Last October, I left behind a 20-year career at a large corporation to explore new opportunities. I’d had a great run, working my way up the ranks in the technology organization, most recently serving as the Chief Technology Officer of one of the company’s business lines. I even had the opportunity to rotate functions for a few years and serve as a senior leader within Human Resources.
I grew up in that corporation….both professionally and personally. I had many jobs, was lucky enough to get promoted several times, traveled internationally and led some amazingly talented teams. I worked full time, I worked part time, I worked overtime….many times in the evenings and on weekends. For a period of time, I actually slept with my Blackberry. It was intellectually stimulating, challenging and stressful. I learned a lot and yet sometimes, felt like I knew nothing. During that same timeframe, I got married, had a baby, got divorced and got remarried. I took a maternity leave. When my mom died, I took a family leave. Many of my co-workers turned into my good friends. I drove to the same building every day, used the same elevators, bought coffee from the same place and ate at the same cafeteria…only changing my routine when I moved offices. And I loved it all…even the tough times.
On October 1, 2013, for the first time in twenty years, I broke that routine. It was a Tuesday. I didn’t drive to that building. I didn’t eat in that cafeteria. I bought coffee at a different place. I went to the gym for a long workout. I got a massage. I went to my son’s soccer game and didn’t have to check my email while I watched his game. I felt free, but it was an unfamiliar feeling…scary, in a weird sort of way. What would I do with my time? What would I do next? Who was I without work?
About eight years ago, I went through a similar change that helped prepare me to answer those questions. I had just gotten remarried, and my husband and I were in the midst of blending our families together. We both had high stress jobs that required us to travel extensively…it was not a lifestyle we wanted for our new family. After much discussion, I quit my job. Without a plan. It wasn’t because I wanted to stay home full time, I just couldn’t juggle that job with my new family. I’m a planner, so to not have a new job lined up was a big deal. But at the same time, I knew we needed a change and I was ready to take a bold step. Luckily, my boss helped me sort through things and helped me to clearly identify my parameters of balance. He was supportive and we worked together to create a new role for me…part time, with a different title, salary and commitment level.
I got exactly what I wanted…more time at home, no travel, fewer hours, no Blackberry in bed. And yet I felt myself clinging to my old role, my old title. I felt underutilized…like I wasn’t living up to my full potential. I was faced with the realization that my identity was way more wrapped up in my work persona than I had thought. At that time, for the first time, a question emerged…who was I outside of work? Aside from being a wife, a mom, a friend?
For those of you stay at home moms, do you feel that way, too, sometimes? Who are you outside of your role as caregiver, teacher, domestic diva, household CEO? I imagine we all struggle with these kinds of things, but I don’t know the stay at home mom struggles like I know the working mom struggles. I suspect we are more alike than different.
It turns out that the new role created amazing growth opportunities for me. I stretched and grew and learned and changed. But I also pushed myself to stretch and grow, personally. I did something for me. Just me. Not “work me”, not “mom me”, not “wife me”….ME. I began to learn about photography. I bought a camera, I read books, I took classes, I practiced. I started a blog. I felt fulfilled in a way that I hadn’t before and it felt good that it wasn’t work driving that fulfillment.
Now, I’m at a new crossroads, asking myself some new questions. My past experience was a primer to my current situation. But I’m lucky….I have the luxury of time. I don’t need to find a new job right away. I can play. I can explore. I can try new things. I can spend more time with the kids. I can be a stay at home mom for a while. I know I will go back to work, but I don’t know what I will do. Or even what I want to do. This time, I’m struggling with new questions…bigger and broader questions that challenge me at my core:
- What would I do if I had no financial constraints, no limitations?
- What do I enjoy doing? What do I NOT enjoy doing?
- What am I meant to do? Do I need to create my own destiny or will I be led to it?
- What am I good at? What are my strengths? My weaknesses?
- What’s “my number”? How much (or little) money do I need to make to contribute to our family’s financial stability?
It’s been a wonderful five months and I’ll be forever grateful for this time of decompression. I’ve had the privilege of travel and time with my extended family. I’ve made up for the years of carpool duty I’d neglected. I’m home at 2:30 when the kids arrive from school. I’m walking the dog more, exercising more. The holiday season was still busy, but it was a lot more relaxing not having to work full time. I’ve picked up some consulting roles and I’m learning new industries and tackling new types of problems. I’ve been networking and meeting new people. But my learnings from the past have also challenged me to stretch myself personally. I’ve been working on my photography skills and I joined this blog as a way to grow my writing skills and expand my circle of friends. It’s been great, it’s been empowering, it’s been exciting! But it’s also been scary, emotional and at times, downright depressing.
Even though it was hard to leave the comfort of a twenty-year career, I recognize more than ever that it was time for me to leave. It’s time for me to try something different, to move out of my comfort zone, to be pushed out of the nest. It’s my time to explore.
Whether you work or stay at home full time, what do YOU want to be when you grow up? What’s your purpose…your calling? How did you know? What tips do you have for women struggling with their personal journey? We’d love to hear from you!