Careers, Success, and Perfection

November 4, 2010

There is a lot in my brain, scrambled, as I try to put it all into words that make sense for this blog post. I hope it comes out okay.

My whole life I was told I was going to be successful. And I believed it.

“You’re so smart.” “You’re going to be something great.” “You’re going places.” I was a good student. Papers and exams and classes were, for the most part, easy for me. I was career-minded. I wanted to go to college and do something BIG with my life, even though my ideas changed about what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” From veterinarian to teacher to writer.

I graduated college with a degree in English after changing my major for the umpteen millionth time. And then I began the job hunt. I took a temporary secretarial position for the summer. When that ended, I lucked out and found a job that I loved as a teacher assistant, and helped struggling readers in an elementary school. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get by on 8 hours a week. So I had to jump when I was offered a receptionist position (full-time with bennies)  that left me feeling like I was at the bottom of the totem pole every day.

I knew I wanted more with my life. I had worked so hard to put myself through college, and I felt like I deserved better. I wanted to use my brain, use my degree, and not just spend my days fetching coffee for people and filing papers while my to-do list got longer (not shorter) every day.

I quit my job. I began freelancing from home. And, less than a month later, I found out I was pregnant.

Fast-forward to the present. I am a full-time stay at home mom (SAHM). It’s a job I never imagined myself with. And yet, I love it. I am a good mother and my son is happy and healthy. He’s my life and I couldn’t be more proud.

And yet, it’s a struggle. I see my career-minded friends doing great things. In many ways, I envy them. I definitely admire them. Sometimes I feel like I put myself into great debt to get an education that I don’t use. I feel like I should be doing more than “just” being a SAHM.

Except… no. While this job already feels like the least appreciated job out there (even moreso than that receptionist position), it’s also incredible. I got to see my son roll over for the first time. I got to see his first real smile. He looks at me differently than he looks at anyone else in the entire world. And I know that HE appreciates what I do.

So this is my career. I am still fine-tuning it. I’m still trying to find a good balance. I do need to write, still. That’s my biggest struggle right now. I give so much to my son, as I should, but it leaves me very little downtime. My husband is incredibly busy so I get very few breaks. When I get a break, do I feel like writing articles? Not really. I feel like having a glass of wine and reading blogs and taking a shower.

I struggle with perfection. I want to be the mom that can do it all. Happy, smiling child. Clean house. A career (even if it’s part-time, from home). Happy husband. I want to appear more pulled-together than I feel most days. And I want to do it all without bags under my eyes. Ha, right.

Yesterday I got my hair cut and colored. It made me feel a million times less frumpy than I have been feeling lately. I woke up today and put on some jeans, rather than my sweats, and ran a brush through my hair. And then I picked up the house, and did two loads of laundry, and tended to a fussy baby (please don’t let him be getting sick!). I tried not to worry about how I’m paying my bills this month, since I haven’t been writing. I ignored the fact that I smell like spit-up and that I ate Count Chocula for breakfast and that these rugs could use a vacuuming and that my husband has been stressed and crabby lately.

So here I am. Trying to do it all. Trying to be at peace with not being “successful.” Because you know something? I am successful. Perhaps not in the traditional, textbook definition of the word. But hey, it could use some redefining. Success has taken on a new meaning for me. This beautiful, happy, healthy, smiley baby makes me a success.

Yes, some days I think about that lost career. But then–THEN–I look at this:

And it all makes sense. I have no regrets. I will just work harder at my career. I will get better. I will find ways to do it all and find ways to drop the perfectionism and find ways to get all my work done… my childcare, my housework, my writing.

Before I know it, my son will be in school. Some day I will no longer be needed as a SAHM. I can re-enter the “real” workforce. I know then that I will look back at these days and be very happy with this choice. Be so glad that I was lucky enough to stay home with him and make memories every day with him. Because it’s such a short time in my life, in his life, and in the grand scheme of things.

Until then, I will try my best to find a balance. To redefine my career and the meaning of success. To look past my flaws and focus on what I’m doing right.

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3 Responses to “Careers, Success, and Perfection”

  1. mamalooma said

    Oh my goodness. This is so true, and I think one of the largest issues as a SAHM. I wrote about it on mamalooma a while ago, and I feel like every 4th post I want to write about it! I want to say much more about this, but I’m sitting on our futon with Greta asleep in the ergo on my back, surrounded by a bunch of junk finn dumped on the floor, watching vintage sesame street. i’m using dan’s new netbook which i can hardly see becuase it is so tiny, and every other word i mistype on these tiny keys!

    every time i feel conflicted or like a “not real” member of society, or feel like the ugly stepsister to “working moms” with pretty clothes and careers, I remember that EVERY SINGLE THING my son says has context to me. There is nothing about him that is a mystery to me. Sure, there are things that he does that are frustrating, but I really, really know him in a way i just wouldn’t if we were separated several days a week. Now that I have greta, i know how quickly the early momths so I enjoyed them so much more. I’m glad I didn’t choose to share those precious minutes with a paid stranger.

    there is time to make money later. i can never get these years back. never.

    as i typed this, finn came over and crawled on my lap, then kicked his legs, then tried to type, and now greta woke up. now i am frustrated because i really just want to be succint and well-worded, but this is reality, and I’m glad I’m in this reality, as frustrating and “but i can’t do what i want when I want!!” as it can be sometimes. it’s not an easy job AT ALL, but I’m glad it’s mine.

    • “i can never get these years back. never.”

      EXACTLY. And I’m glad it’s my job, too. In 20 years we’re going to look back on these years and think, “Where did the time go?” We won’t be thinking that about a job.

      My husband was saying yesterday how he didn’t want to miss G’s first laugh. It made me a little sad. He missed his first smile and the first time he rolled over, because he was working. BUT… I’m sure he doesn’t want us to BOTH miss those moments.

      Nothing against working moms, of course. I know for some it is a necessity and for others it’s what they want. But I know it’s still gotta be hard.

      My old supervisor really struggled with it. One day, another coworker was talking to someone who had worked there before but quit to stay home with her children. The coworker said to her, “That’s good. You don’t want someone else raising your kids.” And wow, the look on my supervisor’s face was awful, because her kids were in daycare at that very moment and you could tell she struggled with balancing work with being a mom.

  2. mamalooma said

    Ha! You can tell I’m typing with kids crawling on me – so erratic.

    Yes, there is always a line to walk when talking about “the mommy wars”/”staying home”/”working”. I’ve had people say, “I could never stay home – I just don’t want to do that with my life. It’d be a waste of my education.” That kind of thing I can shake off because this is what I’ve always wanted to do with my life, so whatever. Yet if I were to say something like your coworker said — ouch! Dang! It can be a hard thing to talk about, because there are so many feelings involved and people get defensive about choices, just like everything else in the parenting world!

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