Hearing myself tell my boss that I wasn’t interested in further career growth was a little bit surreal.
It was also a huge relief. Despite the fact that I’d spent the last twenty-four months trying to convince myself otherwise, I knew pausing my professional growth was what I needed to do in order to put myself first.
I’d recently spent two years of my life in pursuit of a path of career growth that was something I’d never wanted for myself. I truly can’t remember a time in my life where I hoped I could dedicate myself to developing a high-level, successful career in corporate America. It was however, something I thought I was supposed to want. As a well-educated, self-motivated, and dedicated employee, I enjoy jobs that require thought, and present problems to solve and challenges to overcome. Which, to employers, makes you look enthusiastic and poised for professional development.
But as someone who doesn’t “do what I love” for a living, my job had become a physical and emotional drain. I didn’t feel a high from my professional wins. I just felt worn down and exhausted. Too exhausted to pursue my true passions when I wasn’t at work.
Let’s rewind a little bit.
I’d spent the previous summer working nearly seven days a week, and logging in at night as soon as I got home to squeeze a few more hours in. I was doing one thing, and one thing only. Working. All of this professional dedication was to the detriment of my family, my health, and my personal goals, none of which were tied to climbing the ladder of corporate America.
I realized that the balance between my personal life and professional life was way out of alignment, and if I was waiting for work to ease up, that was never going to happen. The work would never stop coming, that’s the nature of a successful business. (And I was fortunate enough to work for one.)
Some of this pressure was self-imposed. I’m a Type A for sure, and the more I took on, the harder and harder it became for me to walk away from my work at night. My mind would cycle through all of the things that needed to be done. I’d send myself text messages at one in the morning about items that I wanted to make sure didn’t fall through the cracks. This behavior would be fine if being a #BossLady was my goal.
But it wasn’t.
Why was it so easy to dedicate so much to a company, but so hard to grant that same level of dedication to myself? I wasn’t pursuing my passion at work, so what exactly was I doing spending sixty hours a week there? If time is the ultimate currency, which I believe it is, why was I spending so much of it this way?
It was time to take a long hard look at my professional potential versus my professional desire. I never had any issue dedicating myself to a job. It’s the nature of work. But when it came to personal growth, I’d always “put a pin in it” to revisit at a later date. Personal goals were always reserved for “someday” in the future.
I felt a huge hole in my life caused by neglecting the things that fulfilled me personally.
In order to really assess my situation and evaluate the present, I started practicing mindfulness meditation. This practice eased my anxiety, and allowed me to reflect and make some decisions that I once would have never allowed myself to make.
With thoughtful reflection, these seemingly ulcer-inducing decisions weren’t nearly as complicated as I’d expected them to be.
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I asked myself, what do I really want out of life?
Do I want to be a CEO? No.
Do I want to master fingerstyle guitar and vertical farming? Yes.
Do I want to check my work email at 10pm? No.
Do I want to be editing my latest novel at 10pm? Yes.
Do I want to miss out on time with my family because I’m constantly working or thinking about work? No.
Am I satisfied with my job and where I am at in my career? Yes.
You get the idea. Once I laid it all out there, my goals were pretty obvious. I was at a place in my career where I felt comfortable. I wasn’t looking for more responsibility, and having more responsibility would take away from the time I spend filling my life with the pastimes that bring me joy.
In America, we often measure success in job titles. “What do you do?” is literally one of the first questions people ask when they meet someone new. Not, what are your hobbies, or what kind of music do you like. We ask people “what do you do?” It’s as if we use that not only to define a person’s worth, but also to define who they are. Sometimes this applies. I have several friends who are aerospace engineers who LOVE aerospace engineering.
But oftentimes, a person has a job that they’ve just sort of fallen into, and it has very little to do with who they are as a person at all. What they do is support themselves, or provide for their family. Sure, my librarian friends love books, but I don’t know that my receptionist friends love multi-line phone systems. And love, like, or hate your job there is so much more to you than what’s on your business card.
So when my boss asked me what I envisioned for potential growth, I told her point blank that I was happy where I was at. I didn’t want added responsibility. I don’t have a burning desire to climb to the top of the corporate American ladder. I had reached professional contentment.
What I do want is to master growing squash on a trellis, to learn James Taylor songs on the guitar, and figure out how the hell to pull this incredible complex YA novel idea that’s been swimming around in my head for decades into a cohesive story. I want more time to edit my romance novel, and format the poetry chapbook I’ve been working on. I want to do puzzles with my daughter and watch documentaries and skate videos with my husband. And I want to go to sleep thinking about something other than everything I have to get done at work tomorrow.
Accepting what I want — not what society expected me to want — and having a heart-to-heart conversation with myself is one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done.
If you’re struggling with balancing your professional and personal life, consider the following:
- No one will prioritize your personal goals except for you.
- When you are working, you aren’t just trading your skills for money, you are trading your time for money. Time is an irreplaceable and finite currency, value it as such.
- When you’re at work, BE AT WORK. If you’re new to disconnecting after hours, you’ll feel better about your day knowing you were dialed-in while you were there.
- Don’t compare yourself to your friends or coworkers who may have different goals or objectives. Your unit of measure for happiness is unique to you.
- Define your own balance. For some this may mean climbing the corporate ladder and if that’s you, awesome! Your personal and professional goals overlap, and you should go for it! (But don’t feel bad if it’s not.)
It took me a long time to realize that not everyone has to summit Everest to be successful. I’m happy hanging out at basecamp. What I’m sacrificing in professional growth, I’m making up for in personal growth. And that’s a wealth that can’t be measured.