Updated: Aug 27, 2019
At a very young age I set some pretty lofty goals. My dad was a great man. He was also, however, an addict. He made mistakes. He had regrets, I'm sure. Regardless of those mistakes, he instilled in me a belief that I was somebody. That I was meant for greater. He and my mom worked hard and played harder. They camped, fished, spent time with friends and family and loved to travel. They taught me that even through hard times, life was meant to be enjoyed when the hard work was done. I am one of few, in my family, that graduated high school and the only person in my family with a master's degree, actually two. I say that, not to boast, but instead to help add some context to this post.
My dad always taught me to work hard. He worked with his hands and worked hard. He was a smart man and could fix anything and fix it well. But, I also had a strong woman to emulate. She put up with so much crap from that man! He was lucky she didn't walk...because I probably would have. She babysat to make money to keep us in a house. She is the hardest working woman I've ever met. She taught me to be strong. She taught me to be a fighter. If my dad was an example, she was my model.
I became aware that children of addicts were more likely to become addicts themselves when I was quite young. I've always been a researcher, even back in the card catalog days. I was determined not to be a statistic. I was determined to learn from my dad's mistakes and follow his words of wisdom. I was going to be somebody. Period.
So, I set a goal that I would be earning a 6 figure salary by the time I was 50. I became a teacher, got a master's degree, then another, became a school administrator and then a district level administrator. I know my dad would be proud.
The work hard part I got, for sure. The "live life" part, I struggled with for a while. I've worked since I was 13 years old. Even at 13, I worked 30-35 hours per week or more. We didn't have a lot of money. I was a teen who wanted cool stuff, so I worked to buy it.
But, somewhere along the way, I lost my life. I became this person that worked 60-70 hours per week. I was divorced by then and became this workhorse. And by doing that, I had finally reached the 6 figure goal I had in my head. My salary was $96,000/year add in a little side hustle I had going and I was well over the 100K mark. Success. I had made it. I could now breathe. I could now be happy.
But was I? And, at what cost? I had three defining moments that have stuck with me.
The first moment came in the heat of a busy season. I was glued to my phone from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed. I paid attention to few things outside of work. I would get calls early in the morning and late at night. I was immersed in my work. One night, my son, who is non-verbal and has autism and cerebral palsy, was waiting for me to get his dinner finished. My son enjoys cuddling on a certain big chair, snuggled under a blanket while watching TV. On this particular evening, he was, obviously, needing my attention and was not pleased that my phone was in one hand and a spatula in the other to flip a burger. My non-verbal child, clearly communicated a message. He drug a blanket and the remote from the living room to the kitchen and literally stuck it in my face. Point taken. That moment, his communication, the look on his face of determination is burned into my brain.
The second came one night after a very long day filled with tense meetings and emotional teams. I came home, sat down and my heart began beating so fast that I thought I would pass out. I called for help, made arrangements for my son and zipped off to the emergency room. After running test after test after test, they determined I had just experienced a panic attack. But, they also discovered that my blood pressure was ridiculously high. Medication was prescribed and I was told to change my lifestyle. I did and lost 40 pounds in just over two months. Within 6 months I was off all medication and feeling great. But, I knew that I was playing with fire. I knew my health was in jeopardy.
The third moment came in June of 2016. I'll never forget that morning. I woke up and looked in the mirror and found two bald spots on the side of my head. I immediately broke down in tears. I was devastated. I had no idea what was wrong. I immediately made a doctor appointment, then another and another. The diagnosis was that I had developed an autoimmune disease called Alopecia Areata. An autoimmune disease most often triggered by stress.
I had a decision to make. I believe in listening to my body and my body was speaking, no, it was yelling, loud and clear. I had to change my life. Suddenly, I was faced with the realization that my lifestyle and my drive to be successful was, possibly literally, going to be the death of me. As I look back, I feel like I was not-so-gently being told to prioritize life, but I was ignoring the messages. Until I started to lose my hair, everything was internal. No one else could see. But this, this I couldn't hide. I also couldn't mask it. Every morning when I looked in there mirror, there was this reminder.
Worse thank the physical symptoms, I wasn't happy. I was always tired. I was missing the people I love so much. I wasn't me. I had become someone else. I never read, stopped exercising, avoided social settings. I'd even put the phone on the floor next to the shower in case someone called!
It wasn't so much the hair loss, it was the messages my body were sending. So, I had to decide. What's more important? My long term health and happiness or $120K?
I had to re-examine my definition of success. What defines success? How much money makes a person happy? Could I be happy with less? Could I carve out my future?
Leaving the career I loved, was a tough decision. But to me, it was the only choice I had. I could stay where I was and keep doing what I was doing, but what was the cost?
Each of you needs to define what success is for you. The truth is that life is like a scale that will never be balanced. The best we can do is determine what is important to us, what we want out of life and decide how to make that happen.
I took steps to figure this out. I'll share them with you.
1. I cut costs wherever I could. I had to determine my needs and my wants. I need food, I want to get my nails done. I cut wherever I could and banked any savings I could squeeze out of my salary to build up a little cushion.
2. I visualized what my life would look like when I wasn't at this job. What would my day look like? How would I feel? What would I be doing?
3. When I figured out what I wanted to do, I used my last year at my job to get necessary training and business components completed.
4. I determined how much money I needed to live without luxuries and without dipping into savings. I found 2 side hustles that didn't interfere with my day that supply the NEEDS while I build my business.
The truth is that the work/life balance is a difficult one to achieve, I'm not even convinced it's truly possible. We must set priorities and WE must be at the top of that list. I left my job almost 7 months ago. It was the best decision I've made in a while. I'm still learning and growing, but I feel healthier than I have in years. I urge you to listen to your body and your heart and then put your mind in gear to figure out how to make your life your own.