We have all heard the phrase, “life is a journey,” and it is so true. Most of us have a plan of some sort, but what if it changes or gets derailed? What if we think we have a plan, and somehow aren’t satisfied or fulfilled by it? Who do we answer to? Do we give ourselves the flexibility to change directions, and follow our hearts and passions? I am thirty-five years old, and these are the questions that I have struggled to answer.
I couldn’t wait to graduate college, and feel like my life was really beginning. I attended the George Washington University in Washington D.C, and it was memorable for many reasons. Who doesn’t appreciate walking to class in the nation’s capital, taking a jog around the monuments, and bar hopping in Georgetown? I made the best friend of my life there, an honorary sister in my heart, and many other wonderful friends as well. I dated some great guys, as well as some lunatics, and learned a ton about myself….mostly that I still had a lot to learn.
College was also stressful for me though. I was putting myself through school, which if you didn’t have to, consider yourself very lucky. It is HARD. While most kids were fully absorbed with maintaining a descent grade point average, and what to wear to the next date party, I was trying to balance all those normal college worries with paying my rent. I lived with three other girls in an apartment, but cordoned off the tiny dining area with a shower curtain in order to pay the least amount. Visualizing that now, I can’t believe I lived like that! I didn’t get to go on spring break with my friends, and I couldn’t drink too much on Saturday nights because I usually had a Sunday morning waitressing shift. It wasn’t all bad; it just wasn’t the carefree college experience others reminisce about.
Most people dread graduating and going to work. I, on the other hand, was counting down the months until I could graduate and work full time. Enough with working part time and scraping by, I wanted to work Monday through Friday and actually enjoy my weekends. No more clearing tables for the privileged, (do you know how many college students in D.C. are royalty of far off lands?) I wanted to sleep in for once!
I knew I was ready to leave the East coast, but I was hesitant to move somewhere without any family whatsoever. My mom’s sister lives in Houston, so Houston it was. I came to interview for jobs over the winter holiday, and fell in love with Enron. I was a marketing major in college, but really had no idea what I wanted to do. Enron was a hip, fast paced company, and the perfect place for an over-achieving twenty-two year old. No matter what I did in life, I wanted to be the best. Whether it was folding t-shirts that were perfectly aligned in retail, recommending the ideal sandwich at the café, or having the longest running babysitting job in history, I was accustomed to working hard and being great at whatever job I did. This was no exception at Enron.
My mother was a party planner, so I was ecstatic to follow in her footsteps when my first assignment was to the Community Relations department. Not only was this the perfect department for an extrovert, it allowed me to learn the city, and be exposed to many interesting people and experiences. t also allowed me to plan MAJOR parties. I worked on events for the executives in the company that people in the event business dream of planning. I typically had no budget, and travelled to conferences to find the most innovative entertainment around. I once hired ice carvers that performed to a laser light show during band breaks at a party so the crowd wouldn’t get bored. I covered the pool at an exec’s house and tented and air conditioned it, so that a drop of sweat would not bead on a guest even in 100 degree heat. The list goes on, but the money dried up at Enron (about six months before the collapse) just as my stress level was giving out. Planning these parties was exciting, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity, but I couldn’t sleep for weeks before each event and decided that I needed a change of pace. In addition to the event planning portion of my job, I also worked with many charities in Houston and loved that aspect of my job as well. When I told my boyfriend at the time that I wanted to leave Enron, he thought I was crazy, but my timing ended up to be perfect. It turns out that many people used the collapse of Enron to completely alter their career paths. Even though I was ahead of the collapse, I had the same feelings….I had no idea what I wanted to do, but knew I needed a change and I wanted to touch peoples’ lives. I wanted to try to make a difference somehow.
I was completely in love with my boyfriend at the time, and knew we would get married soon. In my heart I couldn’t wait to have children with Mark and I knew I would be a wonderful mom. This was still a ways off though, and I did need to work in the meantime. I took a job in development at a private day school to bridge my event experience and love of kids. I toyed around with the idea of teaching, and thought working in a school would be an ideal way to find out if such a major career change was the right decision for me. During my two year tenure in development I figured out two things:
I hate asking people for money. This is not good if you are a Development Director.
I wanted to become a teacher.
After getting married to the most wonderfully supportive husband in the world, I decided I would get my teaching certificate. This was going to be my third career, but something that I could have forever. It also seemed like the perfect thing to have under my belt for after I had children.
I pursued the Alternative Certification Program in Houston that allows one to teach while simultaneously attending classes to become a teacher. I was totally unprepared for the 24 children in my Kindergarten class, but I was going succeed if it killed me. Determination fueled me to teach them to read and write, give them a hopefully never-ending love of learning, and somehow kept them from killing each other. The fact that I was allowed to be alone with this many kids at once for 40 hours a week speaks volumes about the problems in our education system. Actually, kidding aside, I did ok. Mark was a huge support emotionally. I cried a lot that year. He also helped me cut gingerbread men, Christmas trees and Valentine’s hearts until our fingers cramped. Somehow I got through the year and even began teaching a second year.
Then I got pregnant. Finally, the job that I always knew I wanted was here. No more buying time with other things. I relished in pregnancy. ust like my three previous careers, I wanted to be the best pregnant person out there. I ate right, went to pilates three times a week, decorated a beautiful nursery and tracked my baby’s growth week by week. I didn’t feel like I was killing time until I could be a mother, it was happening, and I was ready.
Mark and I had always discussed the probability of me staying home to raise our kids. I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to do so, and never questioned that decision. I became fluent in the language of “mommy”…music class schedules, organic baby foods, when to potty train and how to redirect a temper tantrum. I was blessed with two wonderful boys, Adam and Dylan, 2 years apart.
Motherhood came so naturally to me in a way that none of my other careers had. I relish every minute and try to appreciate everything about it, big and small. Nothing can beat the first hug of the morning, or reading one more story before bed. I am watching my boys grow into beautiful human beings and I am confident of how I would score on an evaluation. This is not to say there aren’t moments where I want to tear my hair out and scream with frustration. My kids are normal, and so am I. I have wiped more pee off the floor than I thought possible, scrubbed mountains of dishes, and even had my son throw-up into my mouth. Yet even with the trials of motherhood I wouldn’t trade one minute along this path.
For this reason I think I was surprised at the feelings I had as my oldest son approached kindergarten. The first was “gosh, I hope his teacher is better than I was,” and the second was “it is going SO FAST.” Adam would now be in school every day until two or three, and pretty soon Dylan would be too. What was I going to do with myself?
Thankfully I am a person with hobbies. I am passionate about running and reading, and enjoy an occasional manicure and coffee date with friends, but that can only take you so far. There is always grocery shopping to do, and organizing around the house, and volunteer projects at school, but I still had a tad too much time on my hands. I found myself popping into stores out of boredom, and realized I needed something to do. Motherhood is a full time job emotionally, but what about the times of day my kids are otherwise occupied? I dropped off at 7:45 in the morning, and there were days I didn’t pick up again until 2. Yes, 2 to bedtime was a balancing act of sports, activities, playdates, dinners, showers and books, but until they got home I had some down time. I began to feel that after five years out of the workforce that gives actual paychecks (Mommies get paid in hugs), I wanted to contribute in some way to our household expenses. Mark never made me feel guilty about staying home, but I knew it would feel good to help. I did a lot of soul searching about what I wanted to do part-time, and I didn’t come up with much, so I went for easy. Since my last job was teaching, I thought tutoring would be a great option. I attended classes to teach children with dyslexia so that I could tutor during school hours. It was a priority that I finished whatever I was doing by the time the boys needed to be picked up at school, which fairly limited my options.
It is hard to admit, but even though I became attached to the kids I tutored, I was bored and dreaded going. After eight months I decided to take a break. Here I had spent a semester attending classes and was going to change my mind again. Tutoring did fulfill an immediate need to do SOMETHING, but in my heart it wasn’t the right thing. I was starting to feel a little flaky. What was right for me?
At the same time I went back to school for the dyslexia training, I began writing a blog for fun. It is something I shared with family and friends and it was about all the things I was currently obsessed with: recipes, books, beauty products; it ran the gamut. I realized that I loved blogging, and it was a creative outlet for me. What I wasn’t prepared for was the reaction of others. Everyone loved what I was writing about, but I heard things like,”Oh, Ali, what are you doing NOW?” so I began to feel a little self-conscious about my explorations.
I knew that I didn’t need to answer to anyone, but it is hard when you sort of feel like people are laughing at you. I saw myself as adventurous, but did others see me as non-committal?
I don’t have ADD, I just have a lot of enthusiasm and everything is interesting to me. I looked in the mirror one day and told myself, “Who cares what anyone thinks!” I gave myself permission to keep trying new things until I found the one that stuck, and considered myself a better person for starting a novel (even though I didn’t finish), and tried to invent a very useful baby product (way harder than I thought) in the five years I didn’t work.
Motherhood is the most fulfilling job I have ever had, and nothing could make me happier than knowing I will be a mother until the day I die, but I notice that I am not alone in thinking, “what am I going to do now?” Our kids don’t need us every hour of the day, and fulfillment during those times must be found elsewhere. More and more friends are trying to figure out how to spend a portion of their day in an interesting and meaningful way. Part-time is ideal for many, but I also have friends that work full time and say they don’t want to stop because look at me, I am now trying to find ways to fill parts of my day. What I see is opportunity. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to embrace new challenges, be creative and explore. Finding my way has been harder than I anticipated, but I am now allowing myself to enjoy the ride, bumps and all.
I have come to realize that people put undue pressure on themselves. I know I do. In my pursuit to be “the best” I put the cart before the horse. First I needed to figure out what I really wanted to be the best at. But that should be the fun part. I encourage people in my situation, trying to get back into the work force in some way to not to be afraid of what people will think. It is ok to fail. It is part of the learning process. We teach that to our children all the time, and I am finally learning to apply it to my own life. I hope my windy road to personal fulfillment and happiness leads to success…we all do. What I also hope to show my boys from my experience is that courage and faith in yourself will take you far in life. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. mbrace new experiences, even though it is scary and there is always self-doubt at times. Where would we be if inventors were afraid to try? I definitely would not be typing on a laptop, sipping a chai tea misto out of a specially designed microwavable plastic cup. In my heart I finally feel that starting Daughter-in-Law Diaries is “it,” and my fingers are crossed. Which brings me to my other favorite saying, “you don’t know what you want, till you have what you don’t want.” Before I met Mark, this pertained to men, but now I think it fits perfectly with careers too!
Starting Daughter-in-Law Diaries has been the best thing for me. Helping bring families together, and encouraging people to deal with their relationships with their mothers-in-law in a positive way is something I am passionate about, and find immense joy from. I finally feel like I have found my calling…and it is a spin-off of the novel idea…so see, I am NOT flaky!
What personal journeys have you taken?