Everyone always talks about the importance of having “balance” in one’s life. I am just now, approaching my mid-30s, figuring out what this means. Now, for some context, if I may:
I come from a very academic and successful place – Manhattan, NYC. I went to private school, more specifically, the college preparatory type. I remember having copious amounts of homeworking starting around age 10. I pulled all-nighters before high school even began. I similarly slept very little in high school because I was always doing homework. My husband speaks of his youth as this magical time of riding bikes and climbing trees. Granted, I did go to summer camp, but my general experience during the school year was vastly different from his.
If I dig down deep, I’m frankly not sure if my work/fun imbalance from ages three to eighteen was due to an over-pressurized academic situation, or rather due to my natural brain chemistry and family upbringing (my nature/nurture, if you will). I am the offspring of absolutely wonderful parents (hi, mom and dad!). As they would admit themselves, they can be described in the following ways, in no particular order: workaholic, overachieving, perfectionist, type-A, organized, nervous, and/or particular. You catch my drift. As such, I am all of these things wrapped up into a neat little ball.
So, there I am, my overachieving self, doing what a good little overachiever does: study, get good grades, go to a good college, study, get good grades, go to graduate school, study get good grades, go to work, work too much, get married, continue to work too much, get pregnant, work until two days before first baby pops out, give birth, and then…become a stay-at-home parent. Weren’t expecting that, were you? Yeah, well I wasn’t particularly prepared either.
When I had my first child, about 3.5 years ago, I was excited to take a step back from a very academic life that I was, quite frankly, worn out from. I was lucky to have a situation that secured a work-at-home position after I settled into my new role as a mother. So I thankfully didn’t have the pressure of having to return to work before I was ready and finding childcare (kudos to you parents who do this, really and truly).
My first baby was very easy, despite being a terrible napper. So I was somehow able to work a little during her first year of life, between family help and my working while she sat on a play mat near my feet. Just after she turned one, I got pregnant again (a different story altogether). Enter terrible pregnancy coupled with a toddler to chase around. Not much work was happening as the months passed in this pregnancy. Then my second child was born, and he was much harder than my first. Kick in some postpartum depression, and work was just not happening. At this point, I started to get what I can best describe as stir-crazy. Except here’s the thing: I didn’t really want to work at my career. I wanted something else in my life – something that wasn’t my husband, my kids, or my career.
So what exactly do you do when you feel as if your life isn’t fulfilling anymore? In my case, you cry and feel a lot of guilt. I talked a lot with my husband about how I felt I had wasted my entire life with my head in a text book. I hadn’t bothered to look, really look, inside of myself to figure out what I actually wanted out of life. I just followed the path that made the most sense. In my life, you did what you were good at, not what you loved. But there I was, past age 30, and I had it all wrong. If I didn’t want to raise my kids full-time, and I didn’t want to devote myself to my career, then what in the world was I doing with myself? Was I doomed to live a life I didn’t really want?
So one day, less than a year ago, my daughter said something funny at the kitchen table and I decided to draw a cartoon. I dug my art stuff out of our basement and drew something up quickly. It was the most fun I had had in a long time. My husband thought it was hilarious. So I posted it on Facebook, and all of my friends and family thought it was funny too. And right before my eyes, even though I didn’t know it yet, I had found the solution to my life crisis.
I had always loved art, since I was very little. I lost touch with this part of myself somewhere along the way. It’s easy to do that when you’re laser-focused on other things, like school, house, job, family. Those things actually matter, right? Sure, making money mattered; paying my mortgage mattered, feeding and bathing my children mattered. But did I matter? No, not really. My impression is that a lot of mothers feel this way.
Enough was enough. I stayed up later after my kids went to bed to draw. I started an Instagram page and a blog. I bought new art supplies and an iPad Pro. I was following what felt right. And then everything else started to fall into place with it. I actually wanted to do my “real” work. My seemingly endless days of parenting didn’t seem quite as monotonous anymore. My daughter looked forward to seeing my drawings every day. Life was…better. Granted, I still had (and have) bad days. But before I started this, I would have argued that every day was a bad day.
So what’s my point here? We all have days when we feel like we’re drowning. You may feel like you’ve taken a wrong turn, wandered down the wrong path, and ended up in a pile of quicksand. But, there’s an answer out there somewhere. You can find it. You might just happen upon it when you least expect it. You matter. Don’t put yourself behind your partner, your kids, your work. If you put yourself first, you’re really putting them first. I couldn’t count how many times people told me this over the past few years. I thought it was hogwash. How could I ever put myself before my husband, my kids, and my career? That’s selfish! But I wasn’t doing anyone any favors running on empty every day. Sure, I have less free time now. I’d say a good two hours of every day is now devoted to drawing/blogging/brainstorming my future endeavors in art/humor. But those other hours in my day are filled more thoughtfully and therefore are more fulfilling. I’m still working about 10 to 15 hours a week on top of full-time parenting my two kids. But it’s okay. Because at the end of the day, I have something all my own that makes me burst with joy. And that, my friends, makes for a full life.
So go find that thing, whatever it may be. You might just stumble upon some magic.