As originally published on Medium’s publication The Ascent.
It’s 4:52 pm. If I don’t leave the office right now, I won’t be able to pick up the kids on time from after-school care. I rush to my car, dial into my 5:00 pm meeting via speakerphone, and tune in for 45 minutes while I sit in stop and go traffic and pray that there are no accidents on the road today. I wrap up the call at 5:50 pm, park the car and race to sign my kids out of their after school program. With any luck, we’re in the car by 6:00 pm and home by 6:20 pm. My husband comes home by 6:30 pm. We have exactly two hours to get dinner on the table, eat, chat a little as a family, make sure that homework is done, and everyone is bathed and in bed — fully tucked in for the night.
Then, the next set of work starts. First, my husband and I straighten up the kitchen, wash our dishes, and empty lunch boxes. Get everything set up for the morning rush to school (pack lunches, snacks, and lay out clothes) and try to throw a load of laundry into the washing machine, so we can move it to the dryer before we go to bed. Finally, we hop back onto our laptops to finish up whatever is pressing that we hadn’t finished up that day at work. Inevitably, we both look at each other and say,
“I can’t believe this is our life. This is not what I thought our life would be.”
I know we’re not alone. When I describe our life to friends and colleagues, they nod their heads knowingly. The lives of Silicon Valley working couples with children all follow a similar pattern of monotony, exhaustion, disbelief, and eventual disillusionment that it will never change. It will change — it has to as the family’s needs change, but the pressure to perform in the high paying roles that sustain life in the Bay Area likely will not. And that pressure to perform isn’t limited to just jobs, but every aspect of our lives.
The desire to achieve at any cost has made us forget what we want our lives to be, and even more sadly, how to get there.
I’ve spent the last ten years working in the Bay Area, and eight of those years in Silicon Valley. After too many nights where my husband and I rushed our children to bed only to find ourselves clacking away side by side at our dining table, I realized something had to change. I wanted to be more deliberate with my choices at work and home so that I can craft the life I want, but first I had to think about what it was that I wanted so I could figure out how to get there.
Figuring out what I wanted was the most challenging part. It was difficult not because I didn’t know what I wanted, but because what I wanted it was antithetical to the way I had been living my life up until now. I had pursued a life of achievement, relentlessly chasing goal after goal: degrees, jobs, a family life, money, or anything else. While this approach made me look great on paper, the reality of it was a rushed life with little downtime and a lack of gratitude for the things I had. To get myself to the better place (a place I defined as putting the things that mattered most to me first — i.e., family, marriage, health), I’d have to make a drastic life change — one that I’m still working on reconciling with myself. However, I know this change is necessary, or I’ll risk losing things that are very important to me.
My change isn’t complete, and unlike many people who may be forced to make a change for circumstance like job loss or a health issue, I’m making a change by choice. That doesn’t make it any easier to change the way I’ve always looked at myself or how I’ve measured my success. I’m double guessing myself all the time, and it feels like a strong suggestion from a well meaning friend could force me to rejoin the current when I intend to break away from it altogether.
Making a huge life change is hard, and it may be harder when it isn’t thrust upon you.
The path to change never ends and I’m still walking on my journey to change my life for the better. I’ve had several realizations along the way that have helped me learn to be deliberate about my life choices so I can craft the life I want.
I had to stop looking for confirmation bias.
By nature, I’m incredibly risk-averse. When deciding to make a significant change in my life, it’s easy for me to assume that I will fail. So, I start brooding over any shred of evidence that indicates that may be the case. This is not only counterproductive, but it also magnifies the level of risk beyond what is real.
I had to stop comparing myself to everyone else.
This was hard. I grew up in a very competitive environment at school and had ingrained acceptance of competition and the need to keep up with my peer set as a core part of myself. By choosing to do something different, it meant that I couldn’t keep up. In fact, it means I can’t even compare very well anymore.
I had to let go of FOMO.
My family life and career progression are now part of the world’s collective memory, thanks to social media. And so is everyone else’s. To get the life I want, I had to let go of what I thought was missing out on based on what I saw in social media. It meant picking the thing I wanted and letting go of the things I didn’t want, even if they were perceived as the most popular or enviable option.
I had to accept that things would not be perfect.
It’s easy to think that making a hard change in your life means that you will get to where you want to go. I genuinely believe I will get there, but the road may not be straight, and not everything will be as perfect as I imagined it to be when I decided to set out down this path. Once I’m there I may not like it, or I may like it for a while, and things will change again.
I had to change the way I measured success.
Until now, I’ve measured success by my Instagram and LinkedIn profiles. I laugh out loud when I read that. It seems ridiculous that two things that didn’t even exist when I graduated from college were now defining a large part of how I decided if my life was successful. It completely discounted the real relationships I had, the experiences I lived, and my personal growth — which were all the things that gave me more insight into the life I wanted to build.
I had to see myself making this work.
I started seeing myself happy in the new life I was crafting for myself. Whenever doubts would come to my head, or I thought it was easier to back out and go back to my old ways, I took a moment to see myself content in my new life. It was a strong motivation not to stop the change.
I had to get past the fear of change.
Change is uncertainty. Even if my life was awful, I knew exactly what it was. I didn’t know what the life I thought I wanted would be like. But as I shared in a previous piece, getting past the fear of failure is necessary to reach something better. I had to lean into the fear by using it to be discerning and make smart choices, but not letting it push me to back out of my decision to change.
I had to let myself find happiness.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein
I had tried the same situation for eight years. Thinking it would miraculously turn around if I continued the slog made no sense anymore. I had to permit myself to try something different, something that may fail. But if I didn’t let myself try, I knew I would never find the happiness I deserved.
I had to make gratitude a part of my life.
Perhaps the most important thing, I realized how much gratitude has been missing from my life. Even on the most challenging days, I have so much and taking a moment to remember that and be thankful for it reframes my mindset to find happiness at whatever stage I’m at.
I had to keep reminding myself why I made the change in the first place.
If you don’t keep bringing yourself back to the core reason why you’ve decided to make a change, it’s easy to get sidetracked or distracted by everything. There is a reason you set down this path. Give it time to sort itself out and don’t walk away from all your effort towards making a change until you’ve done that. You deserve a chance to show you can make it work.