How working for myself *is really* going...
Nobody asks me how it’s going anymore.
No one wants to hear that things are good on the “other side” of corporate life. And I get that. I remember how I felt as former colleagues left the building. Some to start a new venture, some for babies, and others to teach SoulCycle. Once the initial shock wore off, I forgot all about those people until LinkedIn prompted me to congratulate them on coming back to corporate life years later, to which I admittedly felt a sense of relief. It wasn’t much better out there after all…
Now that I’m the colleague who’s gone rogue, who’s left my respectable job (the one that my family— and myself in weaker moments— still use to describe my career), I try not to imagine being forgotten, or worse, dismissed because I’m not relatable.
I imagine what would happen if I arrived at my desk, opened up my laptop and just started working. Would I look familiar, others barely noticing I wasn’t supposed to be there anymore? Would someone call security? Were the team meetings more or less the same without me there? I recall quieting my impulse to contribute in meetings towards the end, consciously detaching and giving more space to others…
It’s weird, looking back. It’s impossible to believe it’s only been a handful of weeks and I have a radically different life now. More different than I could have anticipated, even.
When I decided to leave my 9-5, I was motivated in part by the expectation that life would feel less stressful. My evenings after work had become deplorable and I didn’t see another way out.
The Way Things Were
I used to leave the office by 3:30 pm, to make daycare pick-up at 5:30. Barring any fatalities along my commute, I’d make it home by 5:15 and use the spare 15 mins to pick up the house, get dinner started, throw a load of clothes in the washing machine, and run the dog around the block. I’d race to get the kids on time, arriving sweaty albeit accomplished, race to feed them relatively healthful food, bathe their tiny bodies that ached to be held, and crammed them into bed as soon as they’d let me. I had emails on my mind. Slides on my mind. Meetings to schedule. Comments to resolve. Chat. Chat. Chat. So much left undone at the office (but mostly just guilt from leaving early) that I had to get back online ASAP in order to finally relax. Once I felt “caught up” on work, I could breathe. What a shame the kids were now asleep and I was left alone. I’d sit alone, inventing more work until my husband got home, then went to bed, ready to leave the house by 6 am the next morning, while the kids were still too glassy-eyed to realize I was leaving.
If I didn’t actually like my job or my coworkers, I would have quit long ago. There was a pull. There was purpose. I felt driven, energized, and happy at work. But it came at a cost and I knew I couldn’t justify it any longer. I. just. couldn’t.
The Other Side
We enjoy long mornings together. All of us. We negotiate getting dressed, finishing breakfast, and getting out the door. Although I’m no longer racing, I still have work to do and routines to keep. The kids and I walk Mike to the train station, and I drop them off at their respective daycare and preschool on my way home. I’ve been running when I have time, mapping out my day and listening to podcasts, and then I return home. I do my calls, I do my writing. I take breaks for stretching, grocery shopping, more coffee. I meet friends for lunch. I take the dog on a quick hillside hike before returning home for another bout of writing and research. I get the kids as early as I can, and we ease into the second phase of our day together.
Same boxes to check as before— dinner, bath, bedtime, but sometimes we’re having so much fun we miss bedtime. Sometimes dinner is a picnic or a trip to the food truck fair downtown. More often than not, Mike is home before bedtime now, and we play tent with the kids, he and I each hold up a side of the comforter on our bed while the kids crawl into the cavernous folds laughing hysterically as they “hide” from each other. Sometimes there’s no bath, because they’re not that dirty and it doesn’t really matter. The dishes sit in the sink as we read or watch Netflix.
Before I quit my day job, before I quit the commute… I assumed things would get less stressful because I’d simply have more time to do the things that stressed me out: the laundry would all get done, the floors would be clean…
But that wasn’t it at all. Now that I have more time to tend to my chores, I don’t spend any more time doing them. I simply care less if they get done.
You see, I was in a pressure cooker before. When I had just 15 minutes to “get my family life in order” each day, I felt every nanosecond. My eyes twitched with guilt. At home, I was a bag of microwave popcorn artificially expanding to fill the small space I had in order to be ravenously picked at moments later. It was my duty. And sometimes — usually – I’d burn. There were often pieces of me no one wanted… least of all myself.
I thought I was a bad mom. A bad wife. A bad boss and employee. A perfectionist who couldn’t chill. I told myself I had no patience, no tolerance for noise, for rule bending. None of that is true. I had no idea until now, and everything is different.
If I never made a dollar in my consulting business, the decision to take this time back for myself and my family would have made it all worthwhile. If I strolled back into the office tomorrow and hopped back into the daily grind, I’d at least know that at my core I was good.
I know some of you will read this and think: you were always good! You were always a good mom! And a great boss! And a lovely wife! And you’d be right, but only now can I see that. I thought being a working mother had fundamentally changed me (for the worse), but I’m still here. I’m so glad.
I’m worried that by telling you any of this, you’ll hold my “before” up to your life and see yours, too. That you’ll think I’m placing judgment on you rushing through bedtime routines, or short-fusing at the sight of dirty dishes. The last thing I want is for anyone else to read this and feel poorly or judged. While the things we do may sound similar, all that matters is how those things make you feel. I’ve always been an empath — felt everybody’s feels more than I should. Felt my feels more than is reasonable. Not everyone is like this, and many of you have protective mechanisms and partnerships, and tolerable commutes that make our situations quite different.
I feel compelled to write this today not out of freedom, but fear.
I remember wanting to quickly forget those who’d left the office. I didn’t want to know what life was like elsewhere. I didn’t want my vulnerabilities rubbed raw by hearing that money and stability were only a part of being happy and successful.
I do fear being forgotten or becoming irrelevant among corporate peers and friends. No one asks how I’m doing anymore and I refuse to exchange only wounds and complaints for acceptance. Life is great right now. Not because I don’t have a 9-5, but because I have realized I’m not actually the hardened perfectionist I thought I was. If reading this irks or pains you, I understand. If you want to poke or prod or explore the limits of your current situation, I’m here for that.
There are a million alterations I could have made to my life short of quitting my job. You don’t have to do what I’ve done to find more balance. In fact, I’m working to reverse engineer this state of work/life balance I’m in and hope to share more of that with you in the future. If finding more balance in your corporate life is something you’re interested in, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I promise to share the “map” with you when it's ready.
Until next time,