It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! Today I am sharing an essay I wrote for a contest this summer. It did not win, or even place, which is understandable because I think it wasn’t really the right fit. However, it’s taken me many weeks to even be able to open it again. I’m sharing it today because I like it, and because I want to be honest with you – sometimes you try stuff and it doesn’t work out. You are sad, then you get over it, and it’s all OK.
I have always lived a life of conformity. Staunch, unyielding, relentless conformity. I have done what I was supposed to do for no other reason than I was supposed to do it. It was my highest aspiration in life to be good, and I was very successful at it. I am good at being good.
This is how I ended up where I am today. I am 33-year-old mom of two, one boy, one girl. I am married to my high school boyfriend. We live in a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs. We have a cat and a lovely patio set. I go to church and I volunteer with a mothersâ€™ group in my free time. I worked for 10 years in the same job with the same company, and I never seriously considered changing anything. Of course I occasionally daydreamed, but then I reminded myself of the risks involved in change and returned to my good behaviour.
I have benefited in many ways by conforming. Saying, “I work full-time for this Big Corporation in an Important Job and make a Very Comfortable Salary,” opened a lot of doors for me. I never had to argue with a loans officer because my income was sporadic or unpredictable, or my career unconventional. I never had to struggle to come up with a job title on a form. I conformed to society’s expectations and in turn society rewarded me.
In truth, the real reward of conforming was not having to face failure. I have a phenomenal fear of failure. By working in a regular job with regular hours I created safety. I didn’t have to make calls I didn’t want to make, or sell myself to clients. Someone else did that for me. I wasn’t at risk of falling on my face in front of others. It was all very secure. By not trying I didnâ€™t even allow the possibility of not succeeding.
But as it turns out, there are some serious pitfalls to conformity. Even as you’re doing your part, commuting long distances and working long hours, dropping your kids off at daycare every morning, other forces are at work. People whoâ€™ve never even met you may decide that it makes economic sense to move operations offshore. Fiscal mismanagement or changing technology can bankrupt your company. Projects are cancelled and cutbacks happen. In a large organization you are a unit of production, and that unit of production can be discarded. People will feel sad to see you go. Your co-workers and even the CEO who made the decision will regret it. But it doesnâ€™t change the outcome – you conformed to expectations and they didnâ€™t and now your life is upside down.
This is how I found myself suddenly unemployed one afternoon, crying on the phone to my boss with my baby sleeping on my lap. My neat little world of good behaviour lay shattered in pieces on the ground. I had been so good. How could things have gone so badly?
Eventually I pulled myself together and realized that I face a decision. Do I want to continue to conform? Do I want to do something that I donâ€™t love, that doesnâ€™t excite me, because it is expected of me? Do I want to get back on that treadmill again? No, I don’t. I really, really don’t.
I am tired of being good and living up to expectations. I can see the long, narrow road laid out in front of me and I donâ€™t like it. Spending my days commuting to a job in a cubicle farm, hoping I’m spared when the layoffs come (as they inevitably will). Meeting lots of genuinely good people who are doing the best they can to make ends meet, even as they chafe under yet another corporate initiative. Listening to jargon and writing reports that bore me to tears. I did my time and I’m ready to move on, thank you very much.
Weighing my options and finding many of them lacking forced me to take stock of my life, and examine my strengths, weaknesses and passions. It was only when I felt like a total failure that I was able to discover my dreams. I want to network, and write, and work with other moms. I’m not looking to pen the next great novel, or make millions of dollars. I want to create something of my very own, and I’m OK with it being small or unremarkable to others. I want to set my own schedule and work around my kids. I want to step out on a limb and try, even if it means I fail. Finally, for me, not trying is worse than not succeeding.
I am still scared a lot of the time. Terrified, actually. I have two kids and a mortgage and not a lot of time on my hands. Deciding that I want to leave the corporate life and spend my days pursuing my dreams seems sort of foolish. Maybe even irresponsible. Part of my brain says I should be thankful that I have an engineering degree and a good life and not ask for too much. I’m done listening to that part of my brain, though. Iâ€™ve listened to it my whole life and I’m sort of tired of it.
I was scared to be laid off. I was scared to give birth to my kids. I was scared to sign the mortgage papers for my house. I was scared to get married. Life is scary. The big things always are. But you rarely regret doing them. In retrospect, every risk I’ve taken has been worthwhile. So I’m taking another risk. I’m abandoning my life of good behaviour. And some part of me says that it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Let’s hope that part is right.