I entered the job market in 2008, during a pretty unsteady time in our country’s economy. I graduated college in three years so I could get out at the same time as my now-husband.
That was a move that saved my parent’s an entire year’s worth of tuition and townhouse rent. It meant I could get married sooner and start life in the real world while my old friends and roommates were still turning in papers and celebrating Thirsty Thursdays on the campus strip.
I was a free woman! I could go to work, make a steady income, and come home every night to a spouse! What a world.
I thought it was the first step toward an entirely new opportunity, and in many ways it was. Turns out, however, it was a lot harder than I originally thought.
Sweetly naïve and overly optimistic, I took the very first job offer I received. It was for a government contracting firm back home in my tiny town of Wallburg, NC. I came home for the interview on a Friday morning, met a ton of executives and thought I was pretty big stuff. They called me that very afternoon and offered me the position.
All the while, I’d been hearing about how difficult the current job market was to penetrate. It was also the era of the Housing Bubble and Credit Crisis, where homeowners were losing money right and left. Stability in any form was to be grabbed fiercely and cherished.
So I told the HR representative I’d take it. I was green and fresh and had no idea that the salary they offered me was insultingly low. As a broke college student who’d never held a full-time job before, all I saw was a comma and a dollar sign, and I was sold.
Thus began a really long and stressful seven years. I worked as a proposal manager for the firm and put in so much free overtime I may as well have taken up residence in my office. I saw my co-workers more than I saw my new husband and came home from work in the dark most evenings. Still, if we hadn’t been living in a family home, I doubt we could have sustained our cost of living.
As most unsatisfied and stifled employees do, I dreamed of turning in my resignation. I’d do it politely and professionally, of course, but the thought of drafting a letter and placing it on my boss’ desk then walking away in the afternoon sunlight was an intoxicating and exciting thought. Still, I stayed.
When I became pregnant in 2013, I began to seriously consider my long-term career options. I’ve known since I was a little girl I wanted to stay home with my babies. My own mama did it and it was just a given that I’d follow in her Keds-clad footsteps.
I had June in 2014, then Ford in 2016. I’ve been home ever since and it’s been exactly as rewarding and fulfilling as I dreamed it would be.
That’s not exactly what set me free, however. That moment came when I did work up the courage to leave that very first job.
I sat down with my boss before I had my daughter, my expectant belly bulging over the chair. I sat leaning, because my back was killing me and she was pressing her pretty little head directly into my spine. I asked about working from home, and if that was an option. He looked at me like I’d asked him if growing a tail and joining the circus were an option.
“Um, nope.” He began. “We don’t allow that in any circumstance. We’ll need you in the office eight hours a day if you choose to continue in this position.”
He didn’t give me a chance to respond or press any further. There were conference calls to attend, meetings to conduct, and lunch breaks to take, after all.
So the week after I delivered Junebug, I put in a call to my office and filed a formal resignation letter. I took on a freelance job working with a marketing automation company in nearby Wake Forest, NC. I created advertising slicks and promotional pieces for tech companies all around the globe. It was a different world, and I had a hard time staying up late to complete the assignments, but in the morning when I woke up to my sleepy newborn curled up next to me? I knew it was all worth it.
Having that uncomfortable work meeting with my unyielding boss was worth it.
Sorting through insurance paperwork and wrapping up loose project ends was worth it.
Breaking the uncomfortable news to my co-workers that I wouldn’t be there in the fall after my maternity break was worth it.
At this point, let me say that I absolutely admire mamas who choose to work outside of the home. If I had been in a job I loved before having kids, my reality would likely look very different right now. I would have strongly considered staying in my position and looking for childcare options.
In my case, it ended up working in my favor that I’d worked so long for a job I could easily walk away from without any second thought. I had poured my heart and tons of my time into that job for minimal payout and no gratitude. Go into that same office every day after becoming a mom? I couldn’t fathom it.
Now, if I had been writing for a magazine or publishing agency, like I’d always dreamed about doing, I’d have soaked up every single second of my maternity leave, then stepped back into my career once that was over. My husband and I aren’t entirely sure we’re finished having children, and I’m finally in a writing career I love, so that scenario might end up playing out for me after all.
Regardless, I’m proud of myself for choosing the path I did. I’ve always been a people pleaser by nature, so standing up for what I wanted and what I thought was best for my family wasn’t an easy move to make. My hands shook when I met with my employer one last time to sign termination paperwork, and I stuttered through the entire phone call I made to announce my decision.
But grace prevailed, and I made it through. And day by day, my decision reveals itself to be the right one. That’s all we can hope for as parents, isn’t it? That we’re making the right decisions for ourselves, our family, and our future. I hope I’m teaching my kids that when they come to a crossroads, they can choose the route that everyone thinks they should take.
Or, they can surprise them all and make the radical and freeing decision to switch things up a little. With big changes come bigger rewards, and it’s my life’s joy to reap them.