Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Diary of a Working Mom: Finding Yourself

With the movie version of Eat, Pray, Love being advertised on billboards everywhere, and my husband's job transition (along with 8 million of his closest friends), finding oneself is a big thing these days. And my father in law recently pointed me to a NY Times article on The Case for Working With Your Hands, which I think was a very insightful look at some of the costs of office life.

I'm way too practical to chuck my life to go off and find myself. I do someday want to backpack my way around the world, but that's not so much to find myself as to do some neat stuff. I'm never been clear on the connection between plane tickets and self-awareness. Except perhaps as a sales pitch for the travel industry.

But I digress.

That said, there is something to knowing who and what you are. I'm an eternal admirer of those who, like my sister, figure out early where they fit, and make their world fit to them. I, on the other hand, sort of fell into my career path, and, finding it to be reasonably lucrative and not too hard - long hours, but not hard, as well as pretty enjoyable, grew in that direction. Over time, my life grew up around my career location - I met my husband at work, we chose a community that provided us both a rural-ish lifestyle and a decent commute, etc. Work - the work I sort of fell into - has been a bit of the centrifuge that my life fell into place around.

I have realized that much of my talk of downshift and exploration of alternate ways of living was my thinking about taking the reins, so to speak. Instead of flowing my life around work, I found in myself a need to choose my path. I still don't exactly, precisely know what this means, but I'm working on it. Because me choosing is something that's become really, really important to me.

Last year I found myself in a new place. I joined a small consulting firm, full of folks that I had worked with at my current client over the years. I liked these guys (and when I say guys, I mean it - I was the first woman in my office in a long while, although now I am one of 3.). I knew they were top notch in their fields, I trusted them, and they had been trying to recruit me for a while. The timing was right, and so I jumped in - probably headfirst, at least holding my nose and stepping off the cliff without really knowing what was beneath. New company, returning to work as a working Mom....I had no idea what I was in for. Clueless is an understatement.

As a consultant, I'd always been an independent. Okay, as an everything, I'd always been an independent, but in consulting, that means that your client is the only set of needs you need to meet, the only demands you have to flex around.

As part of a company, you have to learn the culture, and participate. As well as meeting the client needs. And that of your family. For a long time, I was exhausted by all the demands. I loved parts of it - the mindshare with others, the social factor, being part of a company viewed as the best, but I struggled with other parts. Especially the demands on my time, and the thinking that was sometimes so different from my own - in a small company, the culture matters. I was being forced to see things, and act, very differently than I was used to.

That was hard. I was going through two transitions at once, to working motherhood, and to being part of a team, responsible for delivering to my client, and delivering to my company. I often felt like I was being drawn and quartered. Which isn't pleasant under the best of circumstances.

And I resented the hell out of it.

I was tired, sometimes so tired I wanted to cry when the alarm went off. My project was difficult, and I was working long hours. My daughter didn't start sleeping through the night for 7 months after I returned to work, until she was almost a year old. We have an old, rather demanding house. On weekends, between cooking, cleaning and running errands, I barely got outside to my beloved garden, which grew into a pile of weeds.

The hardest part of it all? I stopped trusting myself. Trusting my judgement, both at work, and with my outside life. I started worrying often that I was doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, and never meeting the right set of needs at the right time. If my daughter was sick, I was frantic because I had some work deliverable. If work was demanding, I was worried my family would stop needing me, or that they would resent me for being otherwise occupied.

But a few things have happened over the last few months that have changed my outlook. I became the sole breadwinner, and while I worry about money, and I know it won't go on forever, I've discovered that it's a role that fits me pretty well. I don't quite know how to describe it, but on a lot of levels, it's led me to make peace with my role as a working parent, and my role in our household. I'm not saying it's all puppies and rainbows, but there it is. A different project made my hours shorter, which is nice too, although I imagine the demands would be easier now, a year in - not because my family demands are less, but because I've figured out how to juggle better. The transition is over - I've adapted.

I've realized my child is happy and well adjusted, my husband is happier than before he left his previous employer, and while it's not bump-free, that's pretty good.

And a few work-related things happened that made me start trusting myself and my input again. Much of my struggle with my new company was with whether I fit in the culture, and where I fit in the organization. I guess I realized that whether I fit the culture was somewhat irrelevant - I was part of the culture because I was part of the company. My client was happy. I was providing value. I may not be developing business on the golf course, but I'm providing intellectual capital my company can use to build a strategy for solving particular problems with those clients. And it's damn good shit. If I do say so myself.

And I do.

In short, I figured out that I wasn't so far off base after all. Is that finding yourself? Oh, I don't know. Maybe a version of it. I can't say it was cheaper than a plane ticket. And I certainly don't have it all figured out. Heck, I don't even know what I'm having for dinner. But I've figured out that I'm good enough at my job, at motherhood, and at my life. And that's not small.

For now, for today, I know where I fit. Now if I could only find my keys...

"Whatever you are, be a good one." - Abraham Lincoln

1 comment:

Modern Money Maven said...

Congratulations on finding yourself and coming to a place of peace as to where you are in your life, work, and as a mommy and wife. I struggle with some of the the things you mention in your post so it's comforting to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.