So many people have asked me how I am doing since leaving my full-time job. They ask about how I am feeling about not working full-time, how I am enjoying this moment. How I got to this moment. Below is a bit about my journey and relationship with working full-time, motherhood, ambition, and sustainability.
I am a mom to two fierce, spunky, and spirited little girls — Kaiya (5) and Samiya (1.5). They are my greatest accomplishment and greatest love. They are also the best teachers I’ve ever had.
After Kaiya was born, naturally and unsurprisingly, I started to experience many of the complexities full-time working mothers face. Looking back, that first year with Kaiya felt like an awakening, though I am not sure I knew it back then. I felt insane, juggling work, motherhood, being a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a neighbor, and everything in between. I would give myself a solid C- (at best) in all of those roles in that first year.
In the midst of constant work travel, pumping at airports under jackets, fretting about whether my husband would be able to get off on time for pickup, I started to reject the “busyness is a badge of honor” culture. I started to reject the hustle and bustle culture, the “modern mother can have it all” notion. I hated myself every time I said “I am good, just busy” when someone asked how I was doing. As soon as I started to explore what belonging and self-care looked like — and felt like — for mothers, I knew something needed to change.
And then Trump was elected president. The pandemic happened. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. #MeToo. Amid all the social reckoning, Samiya was born, and the world turned upside down. She refocused and recrystallized the idea of work for me. I finally came to understand that time is limited, time is finite. Only I could choose how to spend my time and on what. And there are no redos here.
Samiya forced me to doing away with the fear and guilt of saying ‘no’, of letting people down. She taught me that I don’t have to show up for everyone every time, that first and foremost, I need to show up for myself. If I can’t show up for myself, I can’t show up for others. Rather, she taught me that how well I show up for myself is how well I can show up for others.
The combined force of Kaiya and Samiya changed my view on ambition, climbing the ladder, and getting promotions. They helped me to see that sustainability, self-care, mental health are more valuable to me than ambition. If I wanted to be there for them, if I wanted to be the best mom I could be, the mom they deserved, then my priorities needed to shift. I had to choose space, flexibility, mental health, wellness, and sustainability over ambition, pay, interesting projects, and promotions. Work was what I did, not who I was. Work was not my identity, but my family, my girls, are deeply intrenched into every part of my life and identity.
15 months after Samiya was born, I quit my job and started independent consulting/contracting. I now had more time to just exist, to just be. Leaving my job was scary and hard, but also so right. I recognize the immense privilege I have to be able to do this. I have enjoyed not needing to maximize every moment of every day. I have not been thinking about dinner plans while folding laundry on a work call that I was listening in on. It’s been a freeing experience.
The part that has been freeing is the ability to intentionally and deliberately choose how I spend my time; the ability to focus on the activities that bring joy; the ability to read books with Kaiya and Samiya on the kitchen floor in the morning while eating breakfast instead of rushing out the door. While starting my own business brings with it a set of financial worries, I feel much more at peace knowing that I am the driver of my time — I decided what to spend it on.
I feel more sustainable. For the first time in five years, I feel like I will not fall apart if one thing goes wrong. There is elasticity in my life and time to absorb the messy contours of life — snow days, sick kids (which is always these days), doctor’s appointments, last minute cancellations, the list goes on and on. Sustainability looks like more space and time, more yoga, more reading, more writing, more laughing with the girls. It looks like being present and enjoying the slowness of life, instead of rushing off to the next thing.
Sustainability is saying ‘no.’ I have gotten better at it, I have gotten better at not feeling guilty about saying ‘no.’ I am very much so okay now saying ‘no’ simply because I don’t want to — I don’t need a logical, reasonable reason to say no. I have gotten better at protecting myself and my time. And it continues to be a learning curve.
But the one thing I know for sure is that I don’t want it all, I don’t want the perfect work-life balance. If it even exists.