As many of you know, I’m on a quest to slow down life and that won’t occur in my current career choice. Not that I don’t like my job, I do…but I like doing my own things more. Let me be real frank, I want to be a modern-day housewife. Now save the feminist backlash; I minored in Women’s Studies in college and while some might think my aspirations are a slap in the face of feminism, I argue not. The women’s movement gave future generations, like mine, the choice to decide whether we wanted to climb the corporate ladder OR stay home. That choice is key! To read an excellent blog on this topic, see: http://misswink.blogspot.com/2009/04/put-pride-back-in-housewife.html
I followed societal expectations, got my degree, even got a master’s and had visions of becoming a powerful, highly regarded career woman. It was a boost to my ego, I felt like I was crashing through glass ceilings and I’ve been very successful wherever I’ve landed, thanks to the staunch work ethic my factory-working parents instilled in me and my drive and ambition to be the best at whatever I do. However, along the way, I realized that everything I did came at a cost – as does every decision we make. My first boss out of grad school used to always say “You are what you are at the cost of what you are not.” That saying has haunted me ever since.
And so while I was conquering great achievements at work and putting my career first, I started to realize that my home life was suffering. Since I was always in a management role, I have always been on salary which translates to you working really long hours that actually equate to less than the hourly rate of your subordinates if you divide your salary by your true work hours (and all the things that go into keeping up the role, as in professional clothing, nice car, as well as all the money spent on helping you to multi-tasks and reduce stress etc.).
About 4 years ago, I put myself in a really bad spot – I took a promotion that put me one step below the VP level at a publicly traded company and I was traveling more miles than I do now (I was often waking up in a different time zone every other day). The responsibility was overwhelming, the expectations beyond burdensome and the office politics absolutely crushing. This was a position I worked my way up to, very quickly, for a company I loved. And I was making beaucoup bucks – $30K more than the highest position I had ever been paid before. Sure, we were “rolling” or so I thought, but at the same time, I was doing “retail therapy” like never before. When I was home, we ate out almost every night as I was WAY too tired to cook anything, I bought more clothing to keep up appearances, bought a lot of “junk” on the weekends that I didn’t need because it lifted my spirits just momentarily and numbed me from my unhappiness. During this position, David and I moved into the mountains and I was commuting almost 3 hours a day when I was actually staying in Colorado, I never spent time in our new home and the ultimate cost came when my physical health suffered: I started having chest pains daily, broke out in full body rashes and cried all the time. I was an absolute wreck. And so after 6 months of this, I made a very quick but absolutely necessary decision: I quit my job (but with lots of debt and no plans for the future).
The month that followed David and I determined that it would be best for me to do NOTHING, just decompress.
- I slept in (I, unfortunately, am one of those people that feel best when I’ve slept a full 10 hours a day!)
- I decorated our home since it was still new and pretty barren (big mistake when I had lost an entire source of income and didn’t do the smart thing and save the big salary I was making previously)
- I created new recipes everyday (I love to cook, it feels like creating a piece of art to me)
- I tended to my domestic tasks (I, strangely enough, love to clean – it makes me feel calm when my surroundings are organized and uncluttered)
- I just relished in being home (I am a true home-body)
About a month in, though, came the stark reality that we were living way above our means – I was still spending entirely too much, our savings was depleting at a rapid pace and I was starting to feel my like I failed my former self. My identity, previously, had been so tied up with work. My career ranked up there as my top priority, with my identity as a woman, wife, sister, etc. trailing far behind. The job market was tough, I was not able to find many companies that would even consider me and my self-esteem tanked. I went into panic mode because of our financial situation and with each rejection or lack of response, depression set in. At one point, shortly after Christmas, I was having a particularly dark morning and crying excessively and David said something to me that stopped me dead in my tracks, something I’ll never forget. He said “Why does your happiness and sense of fufillment need to come from your work? Why can’t it come from being with me and the dogs? Isn’t that enough? Work is just work, it’s just something we do. I wish we would be enough to make you happy.” That last line he said to me in his own tears as he walked out the door and it hit me so hard. It really made me take a long, hard look at my life, my ego, and my identity with my career. He was absolutely right. I was trying to find happiness in my work identity and not with the simple things in life that truly matter.
About a month later, I found a quote that to this day I have hanging on my fridge:
Judge your success by the degree that you’re enjoying peace, health and love. – Rule #304, Life’s Little Instruction Book
From that point on, I had a major shift in my thinking. I won’t say that I completely dumped my initiative and desire to be successful; that’s a difficult switch for someone like me to turn off. But I have changed my thinking so that I realize now that family, friends, and taking care of yourself comes first…work is something that pays the bills, but should be somewhat engaging so your skills aren’t being wasted.
For the past year, however, I’ve been dreaming about leaving the workforce altogether. I’ve been drumming up my business plan and working on the things that I truly enjoy and that can bring a small source of income while utilizing my skills. I’m tired of being away from home or having to commute almost an hour to get to any job if I’m local, I miss the domestic tasks that grounded me, I miss having a game of chess with my husband. Life is just getting too busy. So I’ve decided I’m going to step off the “merry-go-round-on-meth” way of life that we’ve all become so accustomed to and live life on my own terms. I know this decision isn’t for everyone, but it is for me, for us. And this time we’ve done our homework, we’ve done financial planning and we’ve lived off of one income for the last year so we could take mine to pay off debts, build our retirement accounts and start saving again. We’ve made a LOT of adjustments to our spending habits; have reduced cable and cell phone bills by more than half, have stopped “shopping” for things we don’t need, stuck with both of our 100,000+ mile vehicles (even though it’s awfully tempting to buy new cars) and have donated more (some call it karmic cash, we like to think of it as attracting good things while helping others; see: Law of Attraction).
By not complicating our lives with material things, we’ve found more ways to enjoy the simple things: reading a book, listening to soul-enriching music, watching the stars, playing in the dirt (read: gardening). These are the things that make me so truly happy. But right now I only get that on the weekends due to my ridiculous travel schedule as of late. Some could argue, like my well-meaning mother, that I should just leave this job and find another full-time position. Once again, I’d still get stuck in that rat race and I want to start doing things on my own time, on my own terms. Lucky for me, I do have a spouse that absolutely supports my decision (he’s no dummy, he knows that me being home means that he won’t have to deal with all the household tasks that he hates and has been left with because I’m never here; and frankly, who wouldn’t want to have a homemade meal waiting for them everyday)?
In preparing my parents for this transition, they’ve been a bit leery, my mother more so than my father. My dad knows that I’ve always been the non-traditional one in the bunch, that I was always chasing after my own dream and not anyone else’s – though clearly I did get caught up in the societal expectations for a while until I matured and realized that it’s not about keeping up with the Jones’, but it’s about what makes me and my family happy and healthy. I think my mom worries that we’ll run out of money; surely we’re going to build our nest egg more as emergency money, but we’re already living on one income quite comfortably and I plan to still bring in sources of income, just in a more non-traditional way.
I know this isn’t the “safe” road, but I’ve always been a risk-taker and while I’ve sometimes I’ve traveled down a path only to quickly put the brakes and happily reverse out, I’ve learned that everything always works out and that there is great reward in taking care of your own needs. As the ubiquitous sayings go, “no guts, no glory” or “no risk, no reward.”
Besides, I don’t think I’ll stop working altogether; I think I’d like to keep a PT gig in a health food store as I love this industry and want to stay current (not to mention the nice discounts on the products and freebies you get!); plus I have all my little ventures I want to explore: selling my goods at farmers markets and online, perhaps some freelance writing/photography, etc.. The beauty of spending less is that you’re not tied to your work, you’re not a slave to your job. I realize that this is not for everyone and I do recognize that I’m very lucky to have a spouse that supports me emotionally and us financially. And so while I’m not ready to jump off said amusement park ride just yet, I’m no longer sitting down but am holding onto the bar with one foot on the ride, one foot and arm swinging out, getting ready to leap. Oh the adventures I’ll be able to tell you about then!