At some point, you look back at your life and career, and wonder about the “what ifs.” I had thought about them from time-to-time over the years, but frankly, was too busy with life to really give them too much attention. Besides, they were behind me and I was moving forward. Right before we moved to FL, though, they hit me hard. “The Next Chapter” was here—a time when lifestyle changes would take priority over career moves. No problem—I had made those choices before—opting out, for example. But I had always expected to opt back in—career, to me, was a flow. I would go back and hit it hard—fulfill a lot of expectations that temporarily had been put on hold.
And now, time was up.
The great look back spawned a pretty dark couple of weeks. Was it all really over? Life felt unfinished. There was more to accomplish. Should I have made different choices leading up to this point? Choices that prioritized career? And how would all those decisions affect the options that I would have, going forward? After all, Mike may have been contemplating retirement, but I was still working and would be working for at least a few years.
The look back was consuming and honestly, depressing. What if I had gone to law school? Or hadn’t gotten mad and left that prestigious but hard-driving firm as a 20-something? What if I had taken that job on Wall Street when our daughter was a toddler or the job in Chicago for that big step up? What if…
The truth is, the “what ifs” had come with a lot of “yeah buts”—law school would have come at a time when I had just started working, Mike and I were about to get married, and we both had plenty of student loans from undergraduate school and graduate school. Besides, I was sick of school and really loved working. That hard-driving but prestigious firm required a lot from its employees—and while I still carry some baggage from that one, I know that it eventually would have required more time and attention than I was willing to give. Wall Street and Chicago? The requirements of the Wall Street job became clear in the interview—“we’ll make you a millionaire but for the next 10 years, you’re ours” was a direct answer to my question about life balance at that firm. Hey—it was the 80s and Wall Street—did I really even need to ask? And Chicago? That came at the same time as the Wall Street interview. It was a great opportunity for both Mike and me, but it meant that we would be leaving our extended family just when we were planning on having more children.
The bottom line was, lifestyle had always won out over career when big decisions had come up—so maybe The Next Chapter wasn’t the showstopping crescendo that I had thought it was. One thing was clear though—there was no more “someday,” where I could believe that high-level career accomplishment just needed a little more time.
“A little more time” had become “game over.”
What could I have done differently—worked harder? Put in longer hours?
The Great Review
I looked back at the decades. Life had been very full and on plenty of days, exhausting. I really hadn’t had more to give, so maybe I should’ve given differently? To whom? Work instead of my life and family?
It was a long and painful review, and at the end came the realization that I wouldn’t have changed any of those decisions. My life had been really happy—no, not all the time, and it hadn’t been without stress, but I had really loved all those years. And if given the choice, l would rather look back and feel that something had been left on the table with my career than with our family. My decisions may not have always been the right ones but they were made for the right reasons. At least the right reasons for me.
The other realization—and probably the bottom line—was that the decisions had always been pretty easy, and there was a good reason for that. In fact, with the exception of two jobs that gave me much (but still not all) of what I had been looking for from a career, there hadn’t even been a contest. I would think so often, “was I really here to sell bonds?” “Build email campaigns?” Seriously? This is what I should have devoted more time to?? I had spent a lot of years in a career that gave me a marketable skill set, paid well, was often interesting, and brought me together with some wonderful people. It also facilitated a nice lifestyle. But was I there because I loved what I did? No…not even close. The reasons that I stayed in it were practical, and that made it easier to make the choices that I did. Had my career been one to which I’d been “called,” I may still have made the same decisions, but it would’ve been much harder to do. Net net, my real career turned out to be enriching my personal life, and my work career had really been little more than a way to facilitate a good lifestyle. Huh. Hadn’t seen that one coming.
I had wanted my life to be impactful—and in my mind that was validated by having an impressive title, a spot in the C suite, or making partner. Not that I would’ve turned any of those down:), but I didn’t want them enough to make other sacrifices—at least not in investments.
So, it really isn’t “game over”—there’s always more time for “impactful”—that opportunity comes each day with just plain living life. “Career driven” has been replaced by “purpose driven.” But this time, instead of being focused on “the family team,” it will revolve around something that reflects a personal gift or interest.
Until next time,
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