For me, work has always been a place where I could combine multiple skills and bring a measure of creativity to create something new – something that informs. I managed projects and teams, interfaced with clients and stakeholders, and made decisions about what to prioritize and how to accomplish our goals. Whether in academia, the nonprofit world or NGOs, my work was a major component of who I was as a person. Even when there were ups and downs, it was like home … a mind-space were I felt strong and safe and alive.
When my mother came to live with me, I needed to change my work schedule and focus so I could be present (physically and emotionally) for Mom. I never dreamed that these changes would so fundamentally affect me. I was being forced out of that familiar energetic mind-space and into something unclear and uncomfortable. It was a little scary. Coupled with the fact that I also was sharing my personal space, I seemed to face changes in all aspects of my life.
About a year ago, I realized that I had been angry and depressed for months. I hated that I had been forced to change my workload – all I saw was loss. Of course, I tried not to let it show … to my mother, my colleagues and my supervisors. Two terrific companies and many terrific and kind people bent over backward to make options work for me – I was very fortunate that they gave me a soft place to fall. Intellectually, I knew this and tried to convey my gratitude, but inside, I ached. I was giving up something for which I had worked long hours, as well as the management and financial advancements I had achieved over more than a decade.
Yet, I also knew that I was not in a position to take on a leadership role. I was overextended on multiple fronts. I wanted responsibility and opportunity, but I could not get myself together enough to figure out what I really wanted and what was really possible. A friend suggested that I just do the work and not worry about what’s next … just take a break from trying to figure out where I go from here. That was great advice. And, after all, I was still doing work that I enjoyed.
I will never be able to adequately express my appreciation to the people who helped me make the changes I needed to make and to the companies that demonstrated such flexibility. A year after starting the “just working” phase, I am stronger and have gotten through the most extreme changes. I am able to relax and to be happy. I am able to think about the future. I’m not exactly contented – that may require a bit more effort and a few more changes – but I feel a desire and willingness to let go of stress and a sense of calm that I haven’t felt in quite some time.