A friend of mine posted an article about the new midlife crisis hitting Generation X women. I read quotes from stressed-out moms and career women and thought, “Somebody has to tell them it’s not that bad.”
Then I remembered that for me, it used to be that bad. I’d be running errands and see someone who was enjoying their work—a postal worker, a sales clerk, a ditch digger—and I’d think, They’re happy. Maybe I should try what they're doing.
There were things to like about my job at the time. (I hesitate to call my working life up until then a career. It was pieced together and interrupted by childbirth. I’m not sorry.) My full-time work in public relations gave me a creative outlet, and it paid more than I’d ever made up to that point. I did not worry about how we’d afford my children’s college education.
But it was stressful. I was trying to be a career woman, wife, parent to older children, helper to parents whose needs were changing fast. I wanted time with friends, but when I went to social events I’d find myself struggling just to stay awake, fighting the sleep deprivation that had become my constant companion. I’d stay up late worrying about family, and wake up early worrying about work.
When I gazed up the career ladder, I saw more of the same. So I quit.
It looked more abrupt than it was. My husband and I went through family finances and we were confident we’d get by on one income, at least for a while. We had savings, which would help. As I write this, I’m conscious of the advantages I had: a supportive husband who had a job with benefits. A lot of experience, gained from my years as a stay-at-home mom, of eating well and enjoying leisure time on a budget. A low debt load. Those things helped.
I took the leap and reveled in enormous, euphoric relief. I fueled up at the local convenience store and smiled at the woman who ran it—a neighbor I had known for more than 20 years. “How are you?” she asked.
“I’m good!” I gushed. “Every day is beautiful!” For months, I’d feel gratitude while doing the simplest of things: organizing the laundry room, cleaning the house, wheeling my dad to a neighborhood store for ice cream when he was having a good day. I was there to share it with him, and those little things really did count for something.
It was also scary at first. My confidence in providing for my children’s education was gone. Many of the “extras” I’d come to enjoy might also be gone. I knew that a budget on paper was often very different from real-life expenses. Then there were the intangible stresses, like wondering how I’d explain the change I’d just made in a job interview without sounding irresponsible.
I looked for part-time work, but I learned that most part-time jobs were intended for people half my age. They were typically low-paying and used only part of my skill set.
But I couldn’t forget that on my last day in the office, three different people asked if I’d freelance for them. I signed up for a workshop on entrepreneurship and collected advice from the local SCORE office. A professional website followed, then a few contracts.
As time went on I made sure I gave myself a paycheck whenever money came in, but I also set aside some money for my business. I used it to I spruce up the home office, engage professionals like editors and graphic artists, and buy the computer and software I’d been coveting. As a family, we had enough money to take vacations and enough time to get away.
A year later, I’m still not rich, but it feels like a Cinderella story anyway. I have met the number one goal I made when I quit: More happiness.
If there’s anything I have to say to stressed-out working Gen X moms, it’s this: you have skills. Life has taught you delegation, organization, and how to recognize when people are lying to you. Stop looking at the years you’ve put behind you and seeing only the wrinkles on your face. Stop wondering if the time you’ve spent building a family is wasted.
You’re right: the world may not have a ready-made work space for you and your skill set. Maybe it does and you’ll find it, maybe it doesn’t and you’ll figure out how to make it. But I believe there’s more out there than the traditional, corporate definition of success.
Really, it’s not that bad.