The Pitfalls of Behaving

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 mothers’ 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 didn’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 who’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 doesn’t change the outcome – you conformed to expectations and they didn’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 don’t love, that doesn’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 don’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. I’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.

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  1. I love this! so right! so true! well done!

  2. Oh Amber, I can so relate to that phenomenal fear of failure! I remember back in University days, I think I was waiting for exam results one summer, and had some serious stress issues, and the doctor told me that what I really needed was to FAIL something!I think you are a phenomenal success at Crafting your Life, and motherhood, and, and, and……

  3. Yes, taking risks is important and, as you say, has enormous benefits. Being good is another issue. And being conventional is a third. I have to separate all three, although I can see that one could combine them in some way.I don't personally equate "good" with being afraid to take risks or being conventional. And I don't equate conventional with being robotic or a drone. Sometimes having kids and a mortgage requires heart, hard work and commitment. Some may call it conventional. Frankly, it can be used as a kind of a cheap putdown. Who can know why another requires security?To me, being "good" is being true to oneself, following one's conscience, "taking the high road" when it would be easy to take the lower. Good is making a difference in the world. I like the word but it has been muddied, perhaps, by overuse. Sounds like you mean living up to others' expectations over your own.So, semantics aside, I think you're saying that you're really excited (and a little scared) of the freedom and enormous possibilities attached to taking risks, because this is new for you. I'm all for that! And, yes, you write beautifully, even if I make a few quibbles.

  4. sometimes, it’s best to jump first and look later

  5. i had coffee yesterday with an online acquaintance who has also given up corporate life and leapt into the unknown. a lot of what she has experienced is what i’m going thru too ….. and what you’re thinking about as well. there are lots of women out there who are “relaunching” themselves; somehow we keep ourselves hidden and don’t talk about it that much.
    but i think we owe it to ourselves to get out there and chat about what we’re doing. i found my surprise conversation yesterday very uplifting

    … and yes, i think you’ve made a good decision
    .-= pomomama aka ebbandflo´s last post ..I Heart Crafts on Saturday 26th September =-.

  6. once again, it’s like you have read a passage from my own life. My sole goal in life was to find contentment and be “good”. Good, in the sense that I didn’t want to disapoint anyone that I love and chose not to do anything that I would legally or morally regret.

    And you are right, there are rewards for it! People trust you with things and information, relationships are solid and long lasting, (lenders give good rates!).

    I never quite bought into the cubicle career though. Job satisfaction is very high on my list of a “life worth living”. But when the rug was pulled out from under me on a job (more than once in this unstable Island city), it was devistating because I KNEW it wasn’t me. I was GOOD — just like you.

    I am glad you are following your passion and raising your family too. What a gift!
    .-= *pol´s last post ..Bribery in Parenting. =-.

  7. Your post confirmed what’s been in my heart and in my gut… thank you for posting it. I can’t add anything but my heartfelt thanks.
    .-= Michelle Evans´s last post ..Simple Indulgence =-.

  8. I feel that I was sort of lucky (in a brutal sort of way) that Corporate Life never wanted me. I tried. I tried! I can’t tell you how many times I rode the bus to Toronto for a job interview, wearing pressed and conservative clothes hoping that I’d get a job that paid me enough to support myself and that had room for career growth.

    Have I ever shown you the one picture of me in a business suit? Michelle swears to everything she holds holy that it is NOT ME in the picture. Won’t believe it. And yet it is. I tried. I wore heels and nylons.

    It didn’t work for me, though, and that’s been one of the most wonderful things. The amazing thing about not getting the expected, mainstream thing is that it lets you dream about what you really want. I figured, if I’m not getting what I ask for anyway, I might as well dream big. It’s powerful stuff, the dreaming.

  9. I remember the 13 year old Amber who was the perfect student, the perfect young lady actually. You never stepped a toe out of line and you were always so nice and sweet. I really did think you were perfect and happy. I too have felt the fear of stepping a toe out of line. I think this is why I have never smoked anything or stole even a candy bar. It takes alot of bravery to walk off the paved road. You are still someone I see as perfect, or as perfect as any of us can be. I admire you and look up to you in many, many ways…just like when I was 13 too.
    .-= Heather´s last post ..Indigo =-.

  10. You must have a magic ball into my life because I am about to embark a journey similar to yours.

  11. We coulnd’t be more opposite if we tried, could we? I can’t relate to your post at all – I have never been good in my life, I was even kicked out of girl guides, for chrissakes. I’ve done lots of illegal things and I can’t promise that I won’t again. Nonetheless, I agree with you that there are a lot of good things if you stick to the Path of COnventionality. Like, long friendships with people who actually live near you (a lot mine are overseas) roots in a place, shizz like that. Those are things that I envy at times now. And the nice thing is, even as you step off the cliff into the unknown, those connections will still be there for you…you have support.

    You know what’s ironic? I get being good now more than I did then. Being steady, working away, all that stuff. I feel like I’m swinging more towards ‘good’ as I get older, just as you’re swinging towards unconventional. I like it. I like it a lot. Maybe we could give each other tips? ha.

  12. You are an amazing writer. I love reading your posts everyday, even if I am too lazy to come out of Reader to comment.
    You are being brave and going for it. I want to do that too some day. Right now I am still conforming.
    .-= Capital Mom´s last post ..Telepathic Conversations: the 1920s edition =-.

  13. True talent and passion cannot be supressed. It will find a way of filling all the cracks and corners in your life. You are lucky enough to be someone who recognizes this, and instead of being satisfied with dust in the corners, wants to mud up the fancy furniture.

    Pursue happiness.
    .-= highlyirritable´s last post ..Tequila to Tetley =-.

  14. My husband was laid off while I was on mat leave last year. It was scary, but it allowed him to make changes he would otherwise never have made. Now, he is enjoying a great freelance career and all of the flexibility that freelance allows. And I still have my secure, full-time job with benefits, so it’s a good balance.

    Though I will admit that I often wish we could change places.
    .-= kgirl´s last post ..Top Ten Tuesday: I Love PVR =-.

  15. Thank you for sharing your fears, Amber. I really appreciate how you can be analytical also when you are concerned, and self criticism doesn’t come easy. I think nobody is quite ready for the bad things in life, whether we spent a life’s worth investing in good behaviour nor not. The key thing is how we pick ourselves up and go forward after pitfalls. You’re doing very well.
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..Rake rack =-.

  16. Thanks for sharing Amber — you are an amazing writer. Like *pol said, “it’s like you have read a passage from my own life”.

    For so long I’ve been so afraid of failure that I played by the rules too — go to school, get an engineering degree, get a good job at a fancy schmancy big name company, get a steady paycheque, buy a house… the list goes on.

    The more I tried to fit in and do what “everyone else is doing”, the more sad I became. I wasn’t happy making other people’s dreams come true (as an employee) — what about my own dreams — don’t I count? I didn’t enjoy the commuting, sitting in cubicle nation and getting nervous about the annual review wondering if I would or would not get my 2% raise.

    After having H, I decided to take my life into my own hands and do something for myself. Was I terrified? Absolutely. EI had stopped, husband was switched from full time to contract at his company and I always questioned whether now was the time to start pursuing my dreams or should I just go back to being “good” for a few more years. With alot of support from my husband, I bit the bullet and became my own boss.

    Now 10 months later, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Sure, it’s still a struggle – I don’t make what I used to, my work day doesn’t always end at 5pm and I don’t know if I will ever have work/life balance but at least now I only answer to myself (ok and maybe H and my hubby too ;))

    Even with all the financial struggles and work/life balance issues my husband and I don’t want a do-over. We’re thankful that one of us is able to stay at home with little H instead of sending her off to daycare everyday. Family time is priceless.

    You’re a talented and smart woman. I have no doubt that in a few years you will look back and say this was the best decision you’ve ever made 🙂
    .-= Cheryl´s last post ..Fall has arrived… let the holiday crafting begin! =-.

  17. I”m so glad you shared this. I also understand the “being good” bit and how freeing it can be to be more unconventional, even if it is downright scary at times.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..Word of the Day =-.

  18. I love this essay.

    Spread your wings, Mama.

    Sometimes it will suck, a lot, sometimes it won’t.

    I’m pretty sure no one on their deathbed thinks, “I wish I spent less time with my children, less time writing, and more time trying to please faceless corporate entities.”

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