2018 was a wild ride. My priorities and goals were challenged – and changed. My sense of self as a woman, a professional, a feminist, and a mom was flipped on its head. It was a struggle. It was a blessing. It was spent in the weeds trying to find my way. Sometimes it felt like I was underwater trying to find the former pieces of myself in the murky depths of a new world. It was full of opportunities and forming stronger relationships with family and moving across the state and then the country and following my instincts and redefining myself.
On January 1st, 2018, I was setting professional goals around publishing my dissertation, doing yoga, and developing my homestead’s plan of action for the year (it was finally the year we were going to get pigs). In 2017, I had started a new job, had a baby, and got my PhD so I knew 2018 was going to be full of firsts and unknowns – but I had no idea how unknown!
Early 2018 – We assumed life would go on like normal. Parent our gorgeous baby boy. Homestead in Central Ohio. Get really good at the working mom life. Work at my fancy new job.
Spring 2018 – Life got really really hard. Being a working mom is HARD. Like hard in a way you can’t help others understand if you aren’t in the weeds of it. I was sleep-deprived because my son wasn’t even pretend sleeping through the night. I cried on my way to work in traffic feeling literally stuck and just so tired.
Oh, we also started a mobile wood-fired pizza business! Yum!
Summer 2018 – My partner has an amazing job and it became obvious that was less and less financially needed for me to work full-time. Considering becoming a stay-at-home mom wasn’t even on my radar before this and sounded ridiculous at first. I wouldn’t even discuss it for a few weeks. But I was so tired and burnt out. I felt like I was chasing a carrot that was getting further and further away. One of the hardest decisions I’ve made was to step away from my job. I can quite literally say I NEVER considered that I would be a stay-at-home mom. I wouldn’t even use the phrase when I left my job. I told people I worked at home (which was also true). We then moved to a different part of the state to fix up a house that would become a rental in a college town and be closer to my partner’s family.
This summer was truly a time of reflection, struggle, and grappling with my sense of identity. I wasn’t happy working. I wasn’t really happy staying at home full-time (as I was trying to do it then). I truly felt lost. But, interestingly enough, not as a parent. Never as a parent. I try really hard to be the best that I can be for my little guy and I know I’m good at it. While I wasn’t happy just staying at home with my little guy, I also cherished all of the time I had with him to watch him grow and change every day. It was all the other pressures and soul searching that was causing my mental strife.
Somewhere there’s a screenshot of a page of a book that I read (but I don’t know where that screenshot is or what it was from because, well, see above and below) that perfectly defined where I have been at for the summer and fall of 2018. Basically, when your life has been defined by your identity as a professional and then you remove those definitions, where are you left? My decisions, actions, and values were buried deep in my belief that I was a strong, intelligent working woman who was destined to climb corporate ladders and make change in the world. I wrote, presented, pursed a PhD, and interacted with the world from that frame of reference. I made parenting decisions from that lens. I decided that I would eat, what volunteer activities I would pursue, and how I would spend my free time based on that identity.
Picture your identity as the walls to your house. My walls were already shaking and crumbling a bit in early 2018. I wrote about it here…But once I made that decision to leave my professional working identity behind and take on the responsibility of full-time parenting my little guy during the day, I didn’t realize that I had just set a match to those walls. That my sense of self was now floating around without a strong backbone and goals to bounce off of and move forward. By leaving the professional identity I relied so heavily on, I felt lost, helpless, and inconsequential in lack of goals and loss of self.
This all sounds so dramatic. And it is. But I also know I’m not the only person who has lost their sense of identity and then had to rediscover and redefine who they are. It’s almost like meeting yourself all over again. Figuring out who you are without your boss, corporate policy, and norms in your professional field telling you. People who retire face a similar situation.
LP also turned 1. We moved our homestead north (including bees, chickens, and goats!). Helped a bestie with her wedding. Traveled. And made lots of pizza.
To be clear, I don’t regret my decision to leave my job and the full-time working world. It’s been about 6 months and I have come through to the other end of the tunnel to fully embrace this opportunity and privilege. To full-time parent my son. To get to know myself not as a student affairs or health education professional. To explore what makes me curious and truly identify what drives my soul for 2019 (more on that in the next post!).
Let’s also be clear on one more aspect of my life – it is truly a life of privilege. And not privilege like luck or financial comfort. But privilege with a capital P. My economic, racial, and academic status all intersect to make me a “good mom” staying at home to raise my son. My soul-searching problems are nothing like the ones of single moms raising kids and working 1 – 3 jobs. Or couples raising their family and living paycheck-to-paycheck. They are truly #firstworldprobs.
So let’s move on to now…
Fall 2018 – We get the opportunity to move to Florida. We almost say no. But we decided to dive into a new adventure and say yes. And thank goodness for all the work I’ve done on myself this year because it has developed the strength I needed to fully embrace this new life. My anxiety is at an all-time low. My priorities outside of being a mom have shifted, been redefined, and I’ve created an actual plan to track my progress. And I’ve slowed down. Way down. I’m also working real hard to make new friends down here and we all know that feels SO hard as an adult. More on that later as well…
Winter 2018 – We are settling in down in the Sunshine State. I’m working very part-time for an academic coaching and editing firm. I’m writing Realistically Aspirational and a bit of freelance. I also found a part-time daycare so I can have a break once a week and focus on my work and goals. I’m baking. I do yoga. I’m searching for a right fit for a volunteer opportunity. Life is good.
I’ve experienced a couple of truly life-defining hard years in my past. I’ve always had some really hard challenges professionally and personally. I won’t say that this year has been the hardest in terms of life challenges, because, let’s face it, I was able to walk away from a huge stresser in my life (my professional job) at a time I was feeling one traffic jam away from a breakdown, but, this one has been hard in the sense of it’s the first time I’ve truly embraced my emotional journey. I dived into my anxiety, emotions, and struggle and worked through it to find an actual outcome that eases my heart, fulfills my spirit, and makes me brave. I’ve survived those other hard years and challenges by being a rock star with my achievements, fulfilling others’ expectations of me, and focusing on survival. This year, I learned how to thrive. How to sit with my discomfort (even when it makes others uncomfortable which as a people-pleaser is SO HARD).
2018 offered up an opportunity to be bold and brave and to trust myself and the journey. While this post reads more like a journal entry and is vague and filtered, I hope you connect with the message…Trust yourself.
Push yourself to get to know yourself outside of your current parameters. Do something just for you. And be brave for yourself when you need to. Toss off society’s (and your friends’ and your family’s and your professional) expectations of you when you can and run like you are on fire towards your best life at every possible chance. Those may feel limited now but you never know what the future may hold…