I knew I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was 14. That’s when I read “Hang Time” by Bob Greene, a book about his time with Michael Jordan. I wanted to do that, too. I wanted to cover the Chicago Bulls, preferably for The Chicago Tribune (the name sounded more legit to 8th-grade me than the Chicago Sun-Times).
I believed I could do that. I believed the grown-ups who told me I could do anything I wanted, as long as I worked hard enough.
I did work hard. I worked so hard at everything I did. I was desperate to be good at everything I tried. I was desperate for praise. If I worked hard and excelled, grown-ups would praise me. That was the equation: Straight A’s=acceptance and praise. Hurling my body around the volleyball or basketball court=acceptance and praise. Limiting what I ate and exercising to the point of exhaustion the summer I was 15=acceptance and praise. When grown-ups were proud of me, I mattered. I deserved to be here.
This was the world truth I had concocted.
This is not a healthy world truth for someone who lives in a world that does not keep you in the parameters of school and school sports.
I’m 37 years old and totally confused. I’m at a loss really, for words, for action, for what? I have no idea what I’m even at a loss for sometimes.
I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I’ve wanted it since I became a mom 12 years ago. I’m finally living that reality, and I’m happy, so happy, being more present with my babies. But lately, something has started creeping in, blurring my thoughts so I can’t focus. I’m suddenly incapable of making a decision. I can’t make any decision. What we should have for dinner, whether I should I keep coloring my hair at home or start paying money we don’t have to get highlights at a salon again, what we should do for my birthday, whether to take a day trip earlier this week when the kids had a day off from school, when to go to the pumpkin patch, what to wear.
Nothing seems to fit.
I’ve started looking to my son or my husband to validate my decisions, to influence them. “What do you want for dinner, Rye? I was planning to make x, but does that sound good to you?” Or to my husband, “I wanted to go on a day trip, but I needed you to help me. I needed buy-in.” I was whiny when I said that.
Because I don’t know what’s going on.
I no longer have a job I go to where I can work hard and earn praise. Praise=acceptance=self-worth=identity. I don’t have a job in a form I’ve ever known at least. And so I can acknowledge that and meet it and if I’m truly being a yogi embrace it. But I’m not there.
Instead, this feeling, this low feeling I first named several years ago when I called it depression, is back, hanging around, pushing me down, messing with my head.
Rye said the other day, “You seem mad. Yesterday and today.”
“I do?” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m not mad.”
Because I’m not mad. I’m lost.
So I’ve been thinking about my career and my indecision. I feel indecisive now, recently, but I have been for a long time, if I’m honest about it. I’m indecisive about everything since I went to college.
By the time I graduated high school, I was going to be on NBC’s “Dateline.” I wanted to be an anchor like Jane Pauley. So I majored in broadcasting at the University of Nebraska. But I also started writing for the college daily because I was a good writer; it’s what I knew. So I added News-Editorial and for about a year double majored. I dropped broadcasting halfway through my sophomore year because I didn’t care about microphones or cassette tapes or being on the radio. After my sophomore year, I decided to change majors all together. I wanted to be pre-med. I told my mom; she said to go for it, that it wasn’t too late, that I can do anything I want. I checked into what it would take to change majors two years into college; I would have needed to start over, and I decided I couldn’t do that.
When it came time to graduate college, I decided I wanted to teach. I applied to the University of Denver’s masters program in education. I was accepted and planned to go. But my fiance, my first husband, talked me out of it. He said I should use the degree I’d just earned. So I went to work in newspapers. It became my identity. I worked as a reporter and then an editor in newspapers for more than a decade.
And then I changed my mind. It was complicated then, life, but I landed a job in public relations. I loved it, for the most part. Then that job changed and I hated it, for the most part.
So then I made a series of strange, questionable decisions about my career. I left the hateable job for one that cut my salary by $15,000 and slid me into a tiny desk-sized office with no windows, no camaraderie and little direction, inspiration or motivation.
Within a week, I hated that job, too. I asked for my old job back. One of my bosses said, “Sure!” Two didn’t respond. And the third said, “Sorry, you’ve been replaced.”
I left town for vacation in the mountains. On the day my husband drove back home to put our dog to sleep, I emailed my resignation. I’d decided to teach. Desperate to get out of the first job I hated (the one with four bosses), I’d applied for an Alternative Teacher License and every K-6 teaching opening our district had.
No one called, so I assumed no one wanted a former professional journalist turned PR hack who hated her job to teach elementary school.
But then someone did call. He offered me a position teaching third grade at a low-income school across town. I thought about it for about half an hour before accepting the position.
I was ecstatic.
I was terrified.
Last year was all the feels. It was awful and beautiful and hard, hard work. By the time spring came, I’d decided I loved it. Maybe I’d teach again, I thought, something I had decided back in the fall that I would not try again. But even though I loved the kids, I lamented the low salary and the long hours.
So I applied for and accepted another public relations job, this one in the energy industry. It was the most money I would have ever made, by a lot.
A month before I was to begin, I told them I wasn’t coming. I’d decided the work itself did not sound meaningful. I’d also accepted another teaching position, at another school, a charter school that required me to attend training away from home for two weeks every summer for the next three years.
Alright, I can do that.
But I couldn’t. Four days into the training, I quit. I couldn’t stand being away from my family and I also couldn’t stand feeling like I was at church, which is what the training felt like to me.
So now, here we are, with the only question to be asked lingering in the air: What the fuck did I do to my career?
I have this idea that I can be a writer, and I’ve started two books. One is a memoir, the other is young adult fiction, based largely on my high school experience. But I have no confidence that I’ll ever get them published, and I’m scared. I’m scared I’ll write them, putting my family into financial peril perhaps and then nothing will come of them. I will have written them, yes, and that will be amazing, but then what? Then what do I do?
I have three friends here, sometimes four, depending on the season. One of them yesterday said she’d taken a full-time job and she was excited and sad about what it meant- it meant her kids didn’t need her at home like they once had. It also meant she’d be able to help her family financially.
Overall, I think she’s happy.
Overall, I think I am, too.
But it’s scary. The not knowing, the things that lack, the changes.
Is it all just transitions? Life?
Where is the peace? How do we keep it once we’ve found it?
How can I like who I am, all the time?