|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.
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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:
I loved this... so hopeful and encouraging. I started staying home and writing when my kids were little, and I too can honestly answer "yes" to the question "is this what you really want?" (so glad things got better for you, Jeannine!)
What an awesome life changing moment and good for you for realizing it - I could so relate to the "stay at home mom" question.
I too left a career of 20+ years to stay at home to pursue my passion for writing and to be here for our five crumb snatchers. Although our children are all teenagers/young adults, their needs were nonetheless demanding. They needed support at sports events, help with college applications, advice on more demanding homework. It's been a challenge and we've made some sacrifices but to quote my daughter when I once told her I had a life too, "I AM your life." Great job!
I did that too! 20 years working and then stay at home mom. I felt powerless and like a nobody. It has taken me years to again feel like somebody and writing has helped facilitate that. I sympathize! The transition is so hard.
What an inspiring story. I have a 3 month old and I love playing with her every day. Those are the best moments of my day, even when I have a huge load of chores and assignments to do. I'm happy for you, that you found the kind of life you truly wanted :)
This is one of my favs so far :) I want to come over and play rain football!
(my creative writing blog)
Thank you for reading, and most of all, for sharing. I think this is an issue we all struggle with. "Should" is a very loud word that can drown the sound of one's own voice. That voice is unique to each of us, and we all have our own right answer. And Sarah - rain football is awesome. Learning non-conformity was a hard, but very fun lesson. Toddlers make really great teachers.
Loved your posts. It took me back twenty five years, when my first child was born and I cried everyday for a month in the car on my way to work. My husband got laid off, became a stay at home dad for six months, and that was a blessing. After the second child I asked to go part-time, my colleagues said it was career suicide, but I did it anyway. Career delay maybe but not suicide. Thanks for sharing.
Well I can certainly relate to the corporate world story. Somehow we seem to swallow "it's all important" and the 24/7 access mode. But when finally we stop swimming, at least for me, there is a nagging question, what was that all about? And the realization that it really wasn't that important.
I don't have any children, but I can still relate to the weird looks to my answer to what do I do. And like you it doesn't help that all my friends were from work, who now, can not really relate to me, nor are even interested in me since I can't help them in the "work world". Sad but true.
Good for you, thanks for sharing your story. And Robert, thanks for hosting the story.
I left my job after 16 years as an Environmental Planner to spend time with my family. My girls were in grade school. While I was working, I would come home and attempt to get a million things done at once. When I was with my girls, I felt like I was too busy juggling multiple demands to really listen to them. People asked me why I had "quit" my job. I never quit; I made a choice to leave. It was a jump into the abyss, but it had to be done.
I get bored easily so as soon as I had caught up with my life, I started a crafting business. I developed ideas and invented things. I volunteered in the art room at the elementary school and used my photography skills to help at the high school.
Somehow, it all worked out. My girls are amazing. One is in college, one is in Graduate School. All of our lives are so much better because I had the time to devote to them when they needed it.
Now, I have time to write, to create, and to further my own life. I am so fortunate!
As creative people, we need the time to hear the thoughts in our minds. Ah, a quiet house, knowing that everyone in the family is flourishing in their own life. (pleasant sigh . . .)
Really nice, J.B. ;-)
Jeannine, what a great story movingly told! I think you asked an important questions: "Is this what you really want?" It's a questions I've started incorporating in my own daily life. Am I doing things that make me happy? The answer hasn't always been yes, but lately, they've been stacking up, which is a good thing! Here's hoping you find your way!
Thanks for sharing your personal story. It's very inspiring. Made me reflect on my own situations. Thank you.
Hi Jeannine, loved your writing and the message, and perhaps the highest compliment - you made me stop and think. Thanks and look forward to reading your book! Lori T
I truly enjoyed reading that, and feel that I've come to know you a bit better through it. Thanks for that opportunity.
It's so hard to give up what we are good at. How brave of you to see what you truly needed for a meaningful, joyous life defined on YOUR terms.
Thank you for sharing this gift to yourself. We (all moms/wives) know that it is also a gift to your family. Now, it is also a gift to your new writing family.
Awww! I love this! I love how you took a risk to make your happiness a reality. Too many people play it safe and end up miserable, with things they didn't really want in the first place. Plus, you wrote it beautifully! Thanks for sharing such a lovely story!
Finding what you really want, your real place in the world, is like diamond mining. You come up with a lot of grungy chunks of carbon before finding the piece that all that pressure made into a diamond.
I am happy for you!
Oh, bless you, I could relate completely to that! I gave up a high-powered management consultancy job when my baby son didn't recognise me after one of my trips abroad. Now I have two (school-age) am trying self-employment as a consultant but with countless moves abroad, it's not easy. I often feel angry, frustrated, resentful, but I hope I don't take it out on the children. The hardest thing is not having enough money of my own (or not a regular source of income). I know that what I really want is to write, but it is really hard to stand up for that when the rest of the family keeps saying: 'Isn't that a waste of all your education and career?'
Marina, Your comment broke my heart. I remember crying after the nanny could make my son laugh in a way that I'd never heard. Ironically, when I went to business school, my parents said, "don't you want to get married and have children?" I was even engaged at the time. I wish your family was more supportive. I am so grateful--my husband and son are a gift. I have been touched by the support of the MNINB community, and I'm definitely cheering you on.
Thank you to everyone for your personal stories and comments. They are gifts as well, and I've enjoyed unwrapping each one.
For those who are interested, I've posted a follow up to this piece on my blog Mobyjoe Cafe. http://bit.ly/IoxGw1
In response to the last statement: "I don't know if I have it"... You definitely have it, and then some!!
I came home after my second daughter was born, and though it's tough financially, there are indeed many other rewards!
I can so relate to this, you've made some awesome decisions, best wishes!
Wow! that piece gave me goosebumps. Especially about remembering your connection to the violin and that you always wanted to write books.
Jeannine,that was so moving. My life totally changed when I had kids too (well, married, adopted my oldest, and left the military), and I spent years trying to find myself. It's finally happening.
Congratulations on coming off your meds too! What an amazing step!
Jeannine! Fantastic presentation of your path. I shared the link on Google+. I think your story is a perfect example of chasing your dreams by finding a way to make it work.
Congrats on no longer being a Shark!!
Lovely encouraging post! Home and writing again, and the kids are grown. (I never quite mastered writing things down while they were small enough to "help" me.)
You're amazing. Very few people have the courage to walk away from a job that is destroying their lives. It's much easier to ask for a new medication. Very few people can remember snuggling when postpartum depression is making them sick. Very few people can enjoy playing football in the rain. Your son is a lucky boy, and it will show as he grows up into a young man.
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