This is somewhat embarrassing to admit but I have the feeling that I have it all.
I just typed that really quickly because although I have been feeling like this for a while now, it seems like a rude or inappropriate thing to say. I don’t mean to be a show-off.
The more I read and hear about women and workplaces and motherhood and childcare choices, the more I recede to the back of the room, waiting to hear a version that will make me raise my hand and say, “Yes, that’s my story too.”
But nothing fits. I toyed with the idea that either I don’t understand what everyone else is saying or maybe I don’t understand myself yet.
So let me put it out there. First, my glorious relationship with my full-time job. Not my work, my job. We were together for 13 years and it was really a love affair for me. The young urban woman and her workplace. It was a buffer from family, a runaway joint from the roller coaster of one’s 20s and 30s and most importantly, it was the scaffolding that held me together as I constructed a sense of who I was.
When I first joined the office, I had given myself a year there. I did some elementary calculations that one year’s savings would leave me free to do what I wanted for the next year. After the first year, I gave myself another year. Then another. And another. It was love all right. We were growing together. When fatigue began to set in, I took a six-month sabbatical. When I needed more time to finish the outside project I had started, I sent a heartfelt note to my employers.
“My office is my playground,” I wrote. In another industry, it might have been a horrifyingly unprofessional confession, but in our office, at that time, it was a compliment. I got extra leave to finish the teaching project I had started outside.
I changed roles within the same workplace. I retrained and switched departments. Like many others, I quickly rose within the ranks.
Then, as soon as I began to peak as a professional, I quit. I resigned, came home, took a break and after I had finished crying and moping around, I began to create a new me.
“Ah, you quit work because of the children,” people would nod with a look of obvious understanding.
“No, because of me,” I would say. “I didn’t quit work, I quit my full-time job. I’m still working…” But no one was listening any more.
I was the mother of two little children. We had excellent, self-managed childcare facilities at the workplace. My role allowed me to work from home when I needed to. My appraisals, promotions and benefits had been soaring higher than ever before. I loved my smartphone.
“I want to stop because I have never stopped and I am exhausted. And I am fulfilled as well,” I wrote in an email to a friend. I was standing on a street corner in Manhattan tapping these words with a stylus into my phone. A pocket of sun, the distance from home and the solitude of a free morning on a work trip suddenly brought some things into perspective for me. “Other Natashas, the ones who write, nap in the daytime, cycle to the gym, cook a meal, I want to let those Natashas out.”
I had wanted to stop working completely for a while. To lie fallow and do only self-nurturing things. I wanted to be available to everybody I had been unavailable to: my children, my parents, my husband, my home. Myself.
Sure, my decision to quit my beloved job was related to the fact that our daughters were five and three years old. The children enabled me. Because they were there, I was able to come home. It was time to remove the scaffolding of my job and inaugurate me.
I mourned the loss of my job. I wrote a poetic email to my bosses as I watched the sun set over the sea on a holiday. My husband was embarrassed on my behalf. Why are you doing this, he asked.
I was sure I wanted to do it. I was letting go of a love and I wanted to express that. I was expressing my deep admiration for people I had grown up with.
One way to have it all is to not want everything together at all times. Something will spill, and we will look around to find someone to blame. Besides, having it all is a feeling, not a comparative analysis.
I was ready to do something new. I didn’t know what that was. But I knew what I didn’t want to keep on doing. I gave myself permission to enter uncharted territory. The way would reveal itself.
Was it easy? Forget it. It was like having a baby. They tell you it is perfectly natural, but everything feels strange and unnatural about it. There is pain. It takes years for the dust to settle. I’ll tell you about it another day.
[This is first published here:How to have it all – http://bit.ly/14j1478 ]