“To thine own self be true.”
Shakespeare said it best. Of course, he was a dude, and having a penis seems to make it easier to live by this sentiment. (Yep, starting of this post with the “P” word!)
I’ve never met a woman of any age who hasn’t struggled with being true to herself. From the time we are born, we seem to spend our lives living up to others’ expectations and needs. The good news, I’m finding, is that with age, we begin to listen to our needs. Or maybe it’s that our needs have finally gotten so pissed off at being ignored that they no longer are willing to sit quietly on the sidelines.
Of course, the struggle remains and sometimes we need a bit of an epiphany to see the light. I was recently blinded by the realization that I was headed down the wrong path. I confused lack of desire with fear, and I could have ended up in a very unhappy place.
When my husband and I moved from Denver back to the Midwest last year, I quit my full-time job and began freelancing part-time. It made sense for many reasons.
First, I wanted to be available to my daughter during our time of transition. We were uprooting her from the only place she’d ever lived and she was going from a small, loving, in-home school to a large public one. My job flexibility meant she didn’t have to take the bus or go to afterschool care, and I was able to help in her classroom, go on field trips and spend tons of time with her.
Second, I had neither the desire nor the energy to delve into a new job market. My nerves were fried and I was in an overall state of constant anxiety. Freelancing allowed me to slow things down and heal the “stress fractures” I’d inflicted upon myself through years of being an overachieving “yes” girl.
And lastly, working part-time gave me the opportunity to reevaluate my career path. I’d spent two decades doing mostly the same thing. Did I want to spend the next 20 years in the same way or was it time for a change?
The transition was rough and it took months before I fell into a rhythm. Eventually, though, I did, and although I’d never had the desire to own my own business (and had actually been opposed to the idea throughout most of my career), suddenly building a freelance business seemed like the smart thing to do.
I could keep my work-life balance in check! I could work from my home office and cook dinner at the same time! When my daughter needed me, I could be there! If we moved to fulfill my husband’s longstanding dream of living part-time in Europe, I could take my business with me! It all made perfect sense.
Except that anyone who owns a business can tell you, that isn’t how it works. Especially not at the beginning when you’re building a client base. I had one client and as my glorious “mother-daughter summer of fun” came to an end, I began dreading all the networking and business building I would need to do.
I lost my desire to do anything at all. Over and over, I told myself that I had to face my fear of networking. It would all get better if I just pushed through. After all, hadn’t I spent two years pushing myself past my comfort zone and every time didn’t I end up in a better place? This was just another step in the journey of conquering my fears.
After a particularly bad day in which I beat myself to a pulp emotionally for not having the energy to work on my business (this just one week after moving into our new house), I crawled into bed and asked myself if there was something more than fear holding me back.
It was if my heart sighed and said, “It’s about damn time you asked! News flash: You don’t freelancing.”
A freelancing lifestyle offers many benefits that I thought would be ideal for my family. Yet, suddenly I saw clearly that it is horrible for me. I thrive on collaboration and deadlines and being part of the creative process. I love water cool chatter and brainstorming ideas.
Freelancing was a perfect transition step for me, but the thought of doing it permanently left me feeling isolated and alone, and it stripped me of my professional confidence and even dampened my enthusiasm for life.
It wasn’t fear that had been holding back—it was my heart waiting for me to hear it.
Once I finally listened, an enormous weight lifted. For the first time in more than a year, I was excited about my career again. I had been so busy focusing on what my family needed, that I forgot about what I need. And I forgot that the best thing you can do for your family is to be happy.
Job hunting is never easy and I expect it to take some time. I’m OK with that because I’m approaching this search with a very different mindset than I have in the past. I’ve learned that I don’t have to take the first thing that comes my way. Instead I can believe in myself and my skills. I can value who I am, what I believe in and what I have to offer.
I can take the path that allows me to be true to myself—and thankfully I don’t have to grow a penis to do so.