This post is intended to: 1) give a little personal context on my experience and perspective 2) perhaps give people who’ve taken some personal blows that things can and will get better 3) offer some advice on thinking about what you want and 4) talk about the intersection of life and career.
Sometimes it helps to get hit really hard to stop and think. About 18 months ago I started this blog with high hopes. It’s been my goal to write on career and business topics for awhile, but our life was hectic and there were always a few more emails to deal with at work or a kid’s bath or story to read. But, finally I had sat down and begun writing and got over the “just start” hurdle that’s so often debilitating.
Then my Mom got sick. And my next post followed 18 months later.
It turned out to be late stage pancreatic/liver cancer and she only held out a few more months. I’m an only child and live far from my home town. I had tremendous support from my immediate and extended family, but was travelling home to Connecticut every weekend to see Mom and do what I could. My daughter (Abigail “Abby”) was born 4 weeks before Mom died and I had recently been given a new position and team at 3M. In the prior year, our family had moved back and forth to China and my father had died of cancer as well. In addition our boys were 2 and 4. Put it all together and it was a lot.
Soooo, I felt stress levels I had never experienced in my life. I am unbelievably fortunate to have a warm and supportive family. There really is no value you can put on that. Everyone in my family and at work was wonderful. But, in the end it’s you alone on the couch in the basement at 3am looking at pictures unable to let it go, unable to sleep and wishing for just a little more time with your loved one (and for me at least crying a lot). It’s not an exaggeration to say that I slept more than 5 hours maybe 10 nights all year.
As all this was unfolding in my personal life, work continued. I still had customers, a boss, staff, collaborators etc. And everyone is sympathetic, but there’s still business to be conducted. I think I did a good job of not having things affect my work in any noticeable way (although I’m sure it did). My year end evaluation bore that out, we had a good year in tough conditions. But it sure took a lot to get myself motivated to go into work every day. Brief aside – a dear friend of mine was going through a similar loss and we shared a lot during this time. He referred to what we were doing as “playing hurt”. As in,” the team needs me, so I have to play hurt.” So we both did.
What the entire experience crystallized for me in the end was that I was doing well at work, but wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. In my “Dreams” post last year I commented on the need to reflect and pursue your heart to the extent that circumstances allow. So I did. An opportunity arose to return to teaching and I made the move in January. (Details on my “who am I?” page). I enjoy every day and wake up excited to go to work, see my clients and students. I think my parents would be both happy and proud. I don’t know if I would have made the changes if we hadn’t gone through the personal travails we did. Maybe we would have. Who really knows? But either way, though I’m still sad I am a lot more content in my day to day existence.
You could say the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t another train, but bright daylight.
– All of our choices and decisions are informed by our experiences
– Things really do get better if you keep moving forward
– Sometimes positive change can come out of tragedy (think rebirth after forest fire)
– You can’t separate your personal and professional life. They are inextricably tied. You only have one brain and it’s living the entire experience.