I believe I am going to live until at least my late 80s or longer. I don’t know if it’s true but I believe I will. And I will sit in my bright turquoise rocking chair. And even though I will be healthy and will take lots of walks, still hike, ride my bike, probably play bingo with friends while wearing a color coordinated track suit, my favorite thing to do will be to sit in this rocking chair.
That chair is where I will look back on everything and everyone in my life.
In my head, I sit in that chair everyday of my life now. Many people who know me know I make almost all of my decisions based on the view from my old lady rocking chair. I should mention that I do not actually own a rocking chair. Yet.
I seem to be sitting in my rocking chair next to friends who are sitting in their rocking chair lately.
I had lunch with a former co-worker-now-forever-friend this past week. We hadn’t caught up in years so we had a lot to talk about. What we talked about was life changes. Big decisions we both made in the past year to begin living better lives. She took a summer off of work to re-evaluate her career priorities and was able to spend the summer with her kids. Of course, the summer with her kids also helped figure out where she needed to be. Now, the summer of discovery came about from a series of life “stuff”. The place she worked closed. She took this as a sign to make changes beyond finding a replacement for this place. She went to a psychic because, well, why not? The psychic had met her before and knew as soon as she walked in that she wasn’t working at this place anymore. Now, I don’t know if I believe in psychics in the sense of actually being able to see the future or the past, but I do think there is something to be said about reading people and paying attention. I saw the same look in my friend that this psychic probably saw. She looked lighter. Relieved maybe. Happier. Smoother. Anyway, the psychic told her not to worry. She told her to take the summer off and after summer she would have a job. Something like that. So she listened. It’s not that crazy of a thing. I mean, really, a therapist could give the same advice but in a different setting. “Why don’t you take some time to decide what you really want to do? What your priorities are? And spend time with your family while you decide.” It’s the same thing. My friend told me about processing what this all meant. The guilt of taking time off and “doing nothing”. The questioning of what her career meant to her. Fear. I’m sure there were many other thoughts she didn’t share. What this friend said to me that stood out the most was “I’m never going to look back and regret taking a summer off to spend time with my family.” Rocking Chair Moment. Last year, right after that summer ended (well about a month and a half later) she got a new job in a new field. She loves it. She has more time with her family. She is still pursuing passions. She feels balanced. Her face is lighter. She is happy.
A few years ago I met up with another friend who was one really bad relationship away from happiness. We went for a run on a beautiful day. She was struggling with the fear of what would actually happen in the breakup. The anticipation of that tough time was causing her to stay right where she was. I’ve been there. It sounds so crazy to think that way but fear is paralyzing. It doesn’t have to be a fear for your life but it could be a fear of being alone. A fear of what the other person says to you. They know where you are vulnerable and might attack that. No one wants to hurt someone else. No good person, anyway. You want to believe things can change and that the idea of this person is really what you thought. And that makes these things hard to face. That’s a tough spot to be in. It could be any of those things or more that causes someone to stay in a situation that isn’t allowing them to be happy. I asked her if she was happy in the relationship. She said NO. I asked her if she wanted to try to work it out. She said NO. She said she wanted out. She was ready. She knew there was no amount of fixing that could clear her head and allow things to move forward with this person. The damage was done. Continuing would not be fair to either of them. It was time. So we talked. We talked about how exhausting these things can be. How much it hurts even when it is time. We talked about logistics. There are actually things you have to do. We talked about timing. There is no great time. I told her I look forward to meeting with her after she is on the other side. I look forward to hearing how she feels about things then. I told her that I am here for her everyday until then no matter how long it takes but I look forward to seeing her after she is through to the other side. I told her to think about where she pictures her life. What does she want this part of her life to look like? How will she feel about the decisions she makes now? How much time is she comfortable giving to this process? How much time has she given? How will she look back on this when she is an old lady? In her rocking chair. She asked if I minded if she ran ahead on the trail. I knew she needed to just run. And she did. She sprinted. Things are always harder before they get easier. Sometimes much harder. And sometimes you have to fight. She made it through. She isn’t stuck. She took time for herself and didn’t date for quite a while. She wasn’t alone. She was far from missing anything. She knows her worth and will never compromise her happiness. She eventually met someone in one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever heard and a story that might be one she shares publicly someday. Had she never taken that leap or made that change…
My best friends and I talk all of the time about the things we have been through. We meet up for coffee, lunches, walks, amazing dinners and delicious wine and we laugh and talk and we wonder where we will be in the world when we are old ladies sitting in our chairs and looking back at everything.
Last year I made the very difficult decision to quit my job and start a new job that essentially has no income. No paycheck for me.
I loved my job. And then I liked my job until I didn’t anymore. I worked in New York City for a high end fashion company based out of Hudson Yards. I commuted from the Northern suburbs of Philadelphia to NY every day except some Fridays when I had the ability to work from home. I was up at 4am everyday. Occasionally I was up that early to try to squeeze in a tiny workout and other times I was up that early just to get a jump start on my work day. I didn’t get home from work until 8 or 9pm. It wasn’t always like that but it became that. I made money. Great money. I had a solid paycheck that assured me I could always support myself and my family solely with my income if I needed to. I had stock options and RSUs from a previous position with the same company that were pretty substantial. Fantastic health benefits. But I had no time. I would get home from work and have maybe 30 minutes to get through the door, put my stuff down and try to talk to my stepdaughter (4 years old at the time) to hear about her day. She was in power down mode at that time in the evening. She might have been watching TV or coloring. Whatever it was it was not the state of mind someone (especially a 4 year old) needs to be in to deal with a million questions about an entire day. For me, I just wanted to know and try to be a part of her day. For her it was an interrogation. I was pathetically trying to know what her day was like, trying to know her. She was overwhelmed. It got to the point where Derek had to say to me privately that I needed to find a better way to catch up with her. He told me that he told her that I was on my way home one day and her first response was “Do I have to answer all of Erin’s questions?”. To say it hurt to hear that is an understatement. But I needed to know this. I needed to hear it. Derek didn’t tell me to hurt me. He told me to help. He saw what was happening. I was in the wrong. No matter what my intention was it was not going to work to have this schedule and still have the relationship I wanted with her. Or even with Derek. He and I were ok but there was so much we were missing out on as a couple because I just wasn’t there. We are adults and have to work and be responsible so everyone misses out on some things. That is unfortunately just how it is. What is important is what you do with the time you have. I didn’t have enough time. I couldn’t even take care of myself. On the weekends I would spend part of the first day sleeping or just trying to stay away from my computer long enough to make a plan to do something that was not work related. At the time the 50/50 rotating custody schedule was not week to week like it is now so we did not have my stepdaughter on weekends (aside from every other Saturday until 5). At that time the custody agreement was perfect for Derek and my stepdaughter’s mother. It made sense based on their work schedules and her school schedule. It was my responsibility to make the best of it for my relationship with her and I was failing. I was missing out. Not even FOMO. This was reality. And I was failing her as an adult in her life who should be an influence. Someone who is in a relationship with her father. I did not know this at the time but I was someone who would be engaged to her father and married to him the following year. I owed her more.
I was starting to get that feeling. That feeling we all get when we know we need to do something different. Step outside of our comfort zone and take a risk that could get us to a better spot. That feeling of fear. Absolute fear of what that means. Fear of less money. Fear of what it means about who we are as career people. Fear of losing my identity and my goals. But also fear of what if I don’t do something different. What about other things that are important to me? I’m an artist. When was the last time I painted? When could I paint again? What about the volunteer and give back projects we enjoy? Can I actually keep doing those things and be fully present when I am doing them? Tugging fear from both sides that can be paralyzing.
And then there was the weekend volunteering in Lake Placid. I had taken off the Thursday and Friday before the weekend and the Monday after. But I promised my boss I would stay on top of things. He trusted me and knew things would not suffer even if I had actually taken time off. I just didn’t want the crazy inbox volume on Tuesday so I stayed on top of things. I got an email from someone other than my boss telling me that my job was changing and I was now responsible for an additional department/group of people. I also got a message from a coworker telling me she overheard discussions about our department eliminating working from home on Fridays due to the current changes and work load. What they were asking for was not so crazy and not unusual really. Things happen that cause teams to need to change temporarily or permanently to keep things going. But for me, everything fell apart. This was no longer something I could sustain. I was at the actual volunteer event when these emails came through. I went through the motions at the volunteer project but I wasn’t really present.
It took about another month for me to stop going through the motions in life and it was after I sat in my old lady rocking chair that I started making decisions. I had a choice to make. I could either stay in this position, search for another similar position or quit entirely and help Derek with his tech business, his public speaking business and the nonprofit foundation he had created. Things were going well for Derek but he wanted to do more. He wanted to help more people. I knew he could do that if I helped him. And I knew this would make me happy. I knew he would be happy to have me do this. I knew I would probably work harder than I ever have and wouldn’t make any money really. Any money I made would go toward bills and back into the businesses. It wouldn’t be my paycheck. It would be our work. It would be completely different but I would be helping people every single day. My work would make a difference. I would have more time for Derek and my stepdaughter because my time would be flexible. I could start taking care of myself again.
It seems like a no-brainer. It wasn’t.
There was so much brain! So much of my damn overthinking brain. And so much struggle in that brain and holding stubbornly onto this idea of what this means for who I am as an independent person. Even as a member of this amazing family I still considered myself independent. What does it really mean to be independent?
So I sat in that rocking chair and really thought about it. Someday I will look back at this moment. What path will make me feel proud? What path will leave no regret? I do not think I will ever look back and think, “I’m really glad I stayed at that job because I was scared to take a risk and pursue my passions.” I won’t ever say that. But I think I will say “I’m so glad I left that job and pursued what was important to me.” It was that simple. What did it all really mean? I can always go back to a 9-5 working for someone else if I ever need to. I’m not going to let things fall apart. Derek will never let things fall apart. So I quit! I quit my job in NYC. And I didn’t have a paying job lined up! I felt a little insane. Like a really happy crazy person. I was excited! I had lots of work to do and had a job but there was so much unknown. And so much excitement. And it was the best decision I have ever made in my life.
I’m almost at the year anniversary of this decision. My stepdaughter and I are really close now. She is excited to see me and tell me about her day. She just started kindergarten and we have had so much to share and talk about. Derek and I are married now and are closer than ever. Everything we do is with the intention of helping others and being better versions of ourselves. Things are still scary as hell. I still don’t know if this is what I will do forever. I believe it will be. I am doing the work as if it will be. I hope it will be. But I don’t know. And it is ok. That stress is still better than missing out on life. Don’t get me wrong. I still have to miss out on things. That happens. That is life. But it is a lot easier to swallow those things when you can be proud of everything you do every day. I am still the same independent Erin. That hasn’t changed at all. If anything, I feel stronger. More confident. I feel like I have even more tools and experience to tackle pretty much anything. And if I ever have to work that 9-5 for someone else one day…I can make that a great place too. I can do that job well and use my time off to spend time with my family, take care of myself and give back. Now that I know this feeling I won’t lose it again. For now, I am going to keep kicking ass at work and be thankful everyday for what I have.
I know that I can comfortably sit in my turquoise rocking chair with Derek and my friends and family next to me and talk about our lives and how much we have been through and feel good about everything we did. All of those decisions we made. We can laugh and talk without regret or wonder. We can feel really proud of the life we have created so far.