My foot is propped up on the sill of the floor-to-ceiling window and I look out into the expanse of green that is our front lawn. The green, it stretches out to the end of the driveway, across the road, and reaches up into the sky—our neighbors’ tree line. It’s beautiful out here in the spring.
“So, I know you said you are pretty content in your role right now, but what do you think is next for you? I mean, after the kids are a bit older and in school, what do you want to be doing then?”
It’s a logical question. I mean, I’m in the middle of a phone interview with an old colleague of mine—an old colleague turned potential new boss. Based on his title these days and the resume-building list he just rattled off of his career journey, it’s obvious he has done well for himself. Good for him, I can tell he has worked hard; he’s earned this.
Years ago, when we lived in Milwaukee, I used to take the bus to work. I loved riding it because it gave me time to study for the CPA on my commute, and it always got me into the office at least a half hour before any of the other analysts. I worked my butt off in those years, and it paid off: two months before our wedding, my boss called to tell me I’d received a promotion, and with it came the title of AVP. I was 25 at the time, thinking about starting to work on my Master’s or maybe another title, CFA? In my office that afternoon, I set a personal goal: become a Vice President of the company by the age of 30.
But in January of 2009, at the age of 29, I sat on my couch, a sleepy newborn Keaton on my chest (he wasn’t due until the end of January but made a surprise appearance a month early). I was on maternity leave with our firstborn when my boss asked me to call her; she had planned on telling me this before I left, but that happened quicker than any of us has thought. The news? You’ve received a promotion; you’re now a VP – congratulations! This was what I’d been waiting for; I had done it! Basking in the glory only lasted a minute, though, before my mind started churning with what I wanted to achieve next…
I stare down at the legal pad in front of me where I’ve been taking notes and realize I’m tapping my pen. Crap. How long have I been doing that? I’m in the middle of a job interview, for heaven’s sake, and this nervous habit is taking over…
…But, wait. Nervous habit? Am I really nervous? I’ve known the person who’s interviewing me for years. He and I have worked together on other projects. We respect one another. I don’t have to impress him. And this is really just a formality, anyway. I know that if I want this position, it’s mine. They’ve already told me I’m their first choice to come in and lead the internationalization/localization efforts for the systems engineering team. I am flattered…I think.
Our discussion moves forward with talk of my would-be job responsibilities (hoo boy, that’s a long list!), long-term goals for the management position itself and the larger global organization, and process improvement efforts across product categories to improve this particular aspect of product quality (in which we’re lagging behind other companies). I’m in my element here. I can talk this talk. I can do this job.
“Yes, I’m interested in the position,” I answer when he finally gets down to the nitty-gritty.
After all, why wouldn’t I be?
I still haven’t answered his question:
“….what do you think is next for you? ….what do you want to be doing then?”
I close my eyes and demand my brain to think…come on brain, think, think of something! I’m pretty certain “milking goats” is not the answer he’s looking for.
“Ummm, well, you know, I guess what I’d like to do next is manage a credit department.”
“Ahhh, yes, that seems like a good next move…” he replies.
Phew! It sounded legit.
Two pairs of bright blue eyes flood my vision. Tears are running down the cheeks of the most beautiful little girls I’ve ever seen, and I hear their cries of “Mommy, don’t go! I don’t want you to go to work!” as I give them each one last hug and kiss, then try to extricate myself from their grasp to minimize the remnants of the breakfast crumbs that will undoubtedly affix themselves to my already-full-of-dog-hair pencil skirt. A tear slides down my own cheek now at the thought of that morning’s scene—quickly and most unwelcome during a meeting with several other managers, I might add—and I hurriedly brush it away before anyone notices.
I sigh, audibly, and hope nobody notices. Something needs to change. I need to soul search. I’ve been in this new job for a few weeks, but I miss my daughters terribly—more than I ever have before while working full-time. Every day feels like a struggle, both internally and externally, and to top it off, I’m not effecting the type of change I’d hoped to in this leadership position. I hate to be cynical, and I know these things take time, but it feels like the same old problems applied to a new situation. Upper management gives me all the responsibility and “authority” to do what I think is right, but none of the monetary support, tools, and resources to make it happen. I don’t know if I have the energy and passion to fight this fight—to come in and undertake “heroic” efforts to wrangle the unwieldy localization process (and people who are a part of it) into submission. It just doesn’t seem worth it.
So why am I doing this, when it feels like a losing battle on all fronts?
I guess it was May of 2013 when everything started to change. The stirring, I suppose, began before that—thinking back, it has been there as long as I can remember, but the real vocalization of it began in May.
I was seeing a therapist to help deal with the post-fire emotions: guilt, depression, anger, guilt, guilt—there was a lot of guilt for all the help we’d received, but the majority of our sessions seemed to center around parenting and our family life. It was during one of these sessions, when she asked what I dreamt of—for our family, for our life—that the words came spilling out like a body of water bursting through a weakened dam: I don’t want a career; I want to be home with my kids, on a farm, living a simple life with fewer distractions and possessions. Most of all, I want our family to be a cohesive unit, bound by love for each other and generosity toward others.
I came bounding home from that appointment full of smiles, finally feeling able to verbalize what I wanted in life without the fear of it being “wrong” because it contained no career achievements or title advancements. It was a huge weight off my shoulders. I found Collin outside watering the lawn, and before we even made pleasantries, I blurted out, “What is your dream?”
Collin will tell you that this was the turning point for him. In his words: “Well, Kate came home one day and asked, ‘What is your dream?’” He didn’t answer that question right away, he continued to water the lawn and think, but within a few hours, he walked into my office and told me, “My dream? My dream is to have an orchard and a greenhouse. I want to carry on the family business, but extend it to other services as well. I’ve always felt like I am being pulled to be involved with a number of small little businesses.’”
Putting our individual dreams together, we realized what we want might not be exactly the same, but they are definitely parallel: We dream of a farm, with animals and a big garden (me), and an orchard and greenhouses (him). We want a house that is inviting to guests, and a safe place for our kids. While I love to make a joke of it, the truth is I might actually want to milk goats; anyone that has known me for any length of time knows I want chickens, and I dream of making pies filled with all of that fruit from those trees and bushes Collin has worked so hard at planting and pruning.
What we’re unsure about is how, exactly, we will get there, what path this journey might take. But, now that we know what it is we are working towards our recent decisions have been made with this end goal in mind and we have faith that if we listen to Him, He will guide us….down The Sunlit Path.
I don’t know that I could pinpoint the exact moment the change occurred—there was no epiphany moment for me like there has been with other decisions in the past. Instead, it felt like there had been a long, slow progression toward this moment…that Drew and I had been inching closer and closer to having the courage and peace of mind to finally say “No” instead of “Yes” in our lives…
“No” to the job with the more impressive title, more responsibility, more money, and more hours and “Yes” to the modest one with less stress and more time with my kids…
“No” to a dual-income situation and more expendable income and “Yes” to one parent being home in favor of more family balance…
“No” to buying a bigger house and “Yes” to a mortgage we can easily manage on one income…
And, so… only two months after I accepted the localization lead job—and after lots of prayer, asking God to show us His will for our family—I resigned.
I should’ve felt guilty and conflicted. Worried about not giving it enough of a chance (the standard “give it a year” advice). Worried about my career path (or lack thereof) after giving up such a “great opportunity.” Worried about money and how we’d make ends meet.
And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel those things…because I did.
But beneath all of the “worldly” concerns of ego and what others think of me (us), mostly, I felt relief…and peace. Peace that even though the decision wouldn’t make sense to most people from the outside, it was the right decision for the health and well-being of our family.
To top off the major life decisions, my husband Drew resigned from his Software Project Manager position at the same company a couple weeks later when a lower stress job with more work/life balance and a smaller salary fell into his lap. The Lord was showing us His will plainly, it seemed, but He didn’t make the decision an easy one. It was a leap of faith for us to not only give up my salary, but also have Drew take a pay cut!
Even though we’ve taken steps to re-prioritize our lives, we’re still whittling away at what our dreams are for this life. The steps we’ve taken so far support what we know we DON’T want out of life anymore—and that’s basically what we’ve been doing the last 13 years—since graduating from college and beginning the slow and steady corporate ladder climb.
We know that we don’t want to work in jobs that demand so much of our time and our thoughts outside of its walls that we can’t “snap out of it” to truly enjoy family time.
We know that we don’t want to be tied down by debt. And so, during the last two years when I was working full-time as an interaction designer on the Mazda3 project, we decided that we’d try to pay off as much of our debt as possible. A month before my long-term contract for the project ended, we had succeeded in eliminating all of our credit card debt, student loans, and car payments…and knew that we could now finally live on one salary, if that’s what we chose.
I think our hope is that by eliminating what we don’t want out of life, bit by bit—whittling away at the block of wood we’re given as a starting point—we’ll uncover what it is that we do want: a life that is uniquely our own, a solid and simple yet beautiful reflection of the work of our hands and the desires of our hearts.
I know that Drew also wants to continue to live near water (we both love being near Lake Michigan and are calmed by the sound of the waves) and would rather not manage projects in corporate America anymore. As mechanically inclined as Drew is, if money were no object for us, I could see him working on cars or building things with his hands. And he’s always had an interest in law enforcement and the military—and especially in flying planes. Who knows what might be in store for him some day as we’re freed up to try some alternative paths?
We both do know that we want fewer stressors in our lives in order to spend the type of quality time with the girls that only comes when we ourselves are in a calmer, less pre-occupied state of mind. We yearned and ached so much for these children back in our dark days of infertility and pregnancy loss, and we’re already learning that the years are gone in a blink…we can’t squander this time.
Despite us not quite knowing exactly where we’re headed or how we’ll make ends meet along the way, we both feel peace at this waypoint in our lives—a sign that He has led us onto The Sunlit Path.