So here’s the thing, dear reader: grown-up decisions are hard. They are so hard that this week, I actually consulted a Magic 8 Ball for career advice. And I listened to it! I have put my family’s financial security and my own happiness in the hands of a Magic 8 Ball.
I have a background in journalism and social work. By twists of fate and connections to wonderful mentors, I ended up working for many years in government – both as a public servant, and as a political advisor. I’ve always been lucky to have interesting work, and opportunities to do things that, I believed, would improve people’s lives.
What I never had, though, was a career. I never started out at Point A, with a view to moving to Point B, and then retiring. I started out at Point A, ran away from it, had an anxiety attack and skipped over Point B, ended up bewildered at Point C, ran away from it, fell into Points D&E, got distracted by shiny Point F, came to a dead end, and tried to reinvent myself into Point G. Which is where I am today, although it’s actually more like Point OMG. Like, “OMG, what the hell am I actually doing?”
Throughout my work experience, I’ve had short-term contracts and term positions. No security. I never worried much about it. Something else would always come along. It was the work itself that was important to me, not the title or where I would end up. I wanted to do interesting things, to write, and to help others.
For the past two years, I’ve been out on my own. When my last contract with the government wasn’t renewed, I left the world of pensions and benefits and steady paycheques, and first worked with a fabulous mentor as a health policy consultant, and then took on a contract as executive director of a small non-profit about whose mission I am passionate. In many ways, it’s my dream job: using my social work and community building skills to create better mental health supports in Nova Scotia.
However, it hasn’t been easy. The funding isn’t there, and it’s a struggle to keep the work going. It’s become mostly part-time. Some months, I don’t get paid, just so we can stay afloat. With two kids and a mortgage, sometimes I question my choices. But I love the work. Plus, I work from home, so I can be around my cats and dog. I have the flexibility to go for a walk, and proximity to the ice cream in the kitchen. And to be honest, since I’ve spent so much of the past year picking up Puck at school when he is sent home early (pretty much every day for five months) and taking him to appointments, I would probably have been fired from any 9-5 office job by now, anyway. I need the flexibility to be there for him, and to get my work done when I can — which is generally not during traditional office hours.
This is one of the months when money is tight, and I look at spreadsheets and bite my lip, wondering how many months we can keep things going with our meagre resources. And then, while in budget hell, I got a phone call — an invitation to a job interview with the government. A well-paying, secure job. A job with a pension. A job very much like the one I left two years ago.
I’d applied for this job months ago, in a panic over where my next paycheque was coming from. Now, faced with the possibility of actually leaving the work I’m doing and going back to a morning commute, pantyhose, and office job, I felt a lump forming in my belly. Anxiety. Sometimes, it’s hard to know where the anxiety is coming from. Is it normal, healthy anxiety that comes from facing a challenge like a job interview? Is it helpful anxiety, trying to steer me away from a path I shouldn’t take? Or is it the all-consuming, soul-nibbling anxiety that creeps into my brain like a black mist and undermines my ability to think and trust my decisions?
I struggled all week with whether I should go through with the interview. On the one hand, it’s security. It’s a steady paycheque, which I haven’t had in a while and my family needs. On the other hand, it’s not what I want to be doing. It doesn’t make my soul sing. It feels like something I should do, as opposed to something I want to do. I’m not even sure it’s possible for me take a job that has me working in an office, given Puck’s needs, But is my anxiety actually clouding my judgement on this? Am I being irresponsible by wanting to stay in the position I’m in, even though it’s uncertain?
I talked it over with a wise friend. She pointed out that while money and security are important, so is my happiness, and that of my family’s. We talked through the pros and cons. I made a helpful Venn diagram.
I like Venn diagrams. I like lists. They are comforting. They provide facts. Facts are good. My husband, Banker Boy, really likes facts. He likes science. He likes spreadsheets. I do, too. However, I also secretly like tarot cards. I like to look for signs from the universe. When feeling really confused, I like my Magic 8 Ball.
I asked the Magic 8 Ball. “Should I go for this job?” I asked. It said:
I don’t know how to interpret this, though. My outlook NOW is not so good? Or the outlook is not good for the interview? I’m reading too much into an 8 ball.
Three other things ultimately influenced my decision.
1. My kids
When I mentioned the job interview to Puck and Daisy, they were shocked. “Why would you ever leave this job?”, they demanded to know. They often come to meetings and events with me. They understand what I do, and are proud of me for doing it.
Their strong reaction to the idea of me leaving this job helped me reframe the situation. What would I be teaching them, by choosing security over social justice, paycheques over passion? I want them to be successful in life, but I want them to define for themselves what success means. Success isn’t always a six figure income. Success can be making sacrifices in order to help make the world a better place.
I know I’m in a position of privilege, because mine is not the only income in the house. We do have some small security. And I know I’m lucky to be doing something I love, even when it’s a struggle.
Around the time I got the call for the interview, I started to get sick. It started as a sore throat, then moved into my ears and sinuses. After a flight to a meeting in Toronto, my ears popped and I couldn’t hear a thing. I felt exhausted and fuzzy-headed. I went to the doctor, who diagnosed a sinus infection, and prescribed antibiotics.
I sometimes get colds, but I rarely get illnesses that require medication. That’s why I didn’t know that I am allergic to these particular antibiotics. I took the first one before bed, and woke up in the morning – the day before the interview – swollen, red, and covered in painful hives. Obviously, I wasn’t going to go to an interview like that.
This was the only day set aside for interviews, so there was no second chance. The universe and antibiotics had decided my fate.
I felt relieved, but panicky at the same time. I am in my late 40s. How many more opportunities for good jobs do I really think are going to come my way? Why on earth am I walking away from security? Security is a good thing. The rest of it – Puck, time for my writing, time to take care of my own anxiety – I could figure that out, somehow, even with an office job. Isn’t it time I grow up, settle down, and be sensible?
And then, scrolling through an Instagram feed, I found this Bene Brown quote, which seemed to be speaking to me:
”I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.
Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”
~ Brené Brown
The decision is made, but the anxiety hasn’t gone away. It’s true that Puck’s situation might mean I’m just not able to work outside of my home right now. I need flexibility, and the trade off seems to be insecurity. While I love the work I’m doing, worrying about money doesn’t help my anxiety. And maybe I wouldn’t have gotten that job, anyway, if I’d gone to the interview (especially if I’d gone with my lumpy, itchy hives).
Maybe the universe will be kind and my non-profit will get a sudden influx of donors, and this month-to-month uncertainty will be gone. In the meantime, I will hustle and try to find other pieces of work I can do. Maybe I will have to get a part-time job in retail.
I will make it work, somehow. I will live and love with my whole heart.