|Jeannine Bergers Everett, mother, writer, musician and Red Sox fan|
Why don’t sharks attack management consultants? Professional courtesy. I first heard this joke from a fellow consultant, which probably tells you everything you really need to know about the business.
At the time I was the Market Research Director for a prominent consulting firm. I didn’t feel like a shark—no fin, no razor-sharp teeth, no taste for carnage. On the other hand, I was at the top of my game in an industry that demanded 24/7 availability and total commitment. I was ambitious, always looking for the next big step. Like a shark, I never stopped moving. So, maybe the shoe did fit.
Every Fish in the Ocean
Then I had my son, and along with the cuddling, the late night feedings and the dirty diapers came a crushing case of post-partum depression. My doctor put me on medication and the fog began to lift, but it did nothing about the ever-increasing demands of my job.
I began to have nightly panic attacks which led to insomnia, so I’d just stand over my son’s crib and watch him sleep. The days weren’t much better. Every time the phone rang I fought back the urge to answer “now what.” I felt like a shark whose first to-do list item was to eat every fish in the ocean. I like sushi, but every fish? Right now?
I thought about finding a new job, but I was making great money and the benefits were amazing. Plus, I’d been in the industry almost twenty years. What else would I do at this point? If I went someplace else would it be any different, or would I just be devouring fish in a different ocean?
So I asked my doctor to increase my meds, and kept moving.
'Is This Really What You Want'
I lived for the moment each day when I’d pick up my son. He’d run across the playground and fling himself into my arms. I soaked him in like sunshine. Then, in second grade he started having problems at school. He was behind in reading, and he wasn’t picking up math.
Under the stress of navigating the school system’s maze of educational resources, I was unraveling fast. I went to my doctor, hoping that another uptick in meds would get me through once again. This time, though, she said no. I was already taking a larger dosage than she felt was safe. My only options were medications with significant side effects—those usually reserved for seriously ill patients.
She asked me, “Is this really what you want?”
She was talking about the meds, but all I could think about was my life.
Stop Swimming, Start Sinking
Quitting my job was not an easy decision. We had a mortgage to pay, and a lifestyle built around two careers. We’d have to make some changes, but I knew we could make it work, because I built a spreadsheet. It said so.
So I quit. And just like a shark, I began to sink the second I stopped swimming.
I had very few friends outside of work. I had always been too busy to chat with the other moms, or volunteer in the classroom. While I’d been working, they’d been developing their relationships. It felt like I was trying to gain admittance to the Mommy Mafia.
I hated answering the question “What do you do?” When I’d say I was a stay-at-home-mom, I’d get the “how nice” smile and the person on the other end of it would find someone else to talk to.
Most of all, I had no idea how to be. Every day I faced a blank planner. I didn’t know where to begin. With nothing else scheduled, I spent the next week pulling crabgrass from the lawn.
Slowly, little by little, I built a life.
Building a Life
I moved on from the crabgrass to mastering the lawnmower, getting to the point where I could start it on one pull. I learned I really loved gardens, but I hated gardening.
I cleaned out the attic. We’d moved three times in seven years, and there were boxes we hadn’t even opened. The Goodwill guys got to know me by name.
My son and I snuggled on the couch reading Harry Potter and Captain Underpants. We invented games to learn how words go together and to memorize times tables. We pitched a tent in his bedroom where we sat with glow lights and debated who had better pizza, Presti, or Reggiano’s. We built snow forts and broke the rules by playing football outside in the pouring rain.
I took my violin out of storage and found a piece of my soul I hadn’t realized I was missing. I explored tranquility through yoga, and shed some anger through kickboxing. I tried African Dance and French cooking, and watched the Red Sox win a world series.
And I wrote. First journal after journal, then bad overly emotive poems, and snarky haiku. I started a blog that nobody read, wrote some flash fiction that a few people did, and finally, began a novel. And I remembered that when I was little, I thought I’d write books when I grew up. Throughout this process, the medication levels came down, until I was at the lowest dose of meds doctors prescribe.
Last Chance to Be a Shark
One day, out of the blue, a former colleague called, asking for help on a consulting project. I needed to know if that part of my life was really over, so I did the project as an independent contractor, hopelessly complicating our tax returns. The work that had seemed so urgent before just didn’t feel relevant anymore. I still had it, but I didn’t want it.
Now, I’m a writer, which in its own way is just as stressful. And I don’t know that I have it. But at least this time the answer to the question “Is this really what you want?” is yes.
If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.
Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Plus, sign up for free e-mail updates from this blog in the top right-hand corner of the page.
Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series: