When I was 16, I knew two things about my life: I would not get married before I graduated from college and I wanted to go to college to study journalism. When I was 21, I stood in front of my first “real office,” having impressed my hiring supervisor with the public relations work I’d done as an intern a few months earlier. So, despite a collapsing journalism world that left classmates jobless, I was gainfully employed in my field of choice, doing what I’d dreamt of for a good share of my life. Little did I know that my straightforward career/marriage path was more crooked and twisting than I could have ever prepared for. But looking back, the twists and turns made me who I am – a woman and a mother on the brink of beginning yet another beloved career.
Yes, nearly 30 years on from that day when I mapped out my life, I’m nearly back at the beginning, weighing options and trying to decide when and where and if I should go to school again and whether I will be able to support myself and my children should the need arise. It’s a place I’ve stood at many times, this fork in the career road. And despite its familiarity, there’s always a bit of fear and trepidation. But I know from experience (and especially from the experiences of others) that I cannot allow myself to stand here and indulge my “what if’s?” forever.
I need to take a step on one of the paths before me. I need to choose, and I’ve come to find out that it doesn’t really matter all that much which path I choose – both paths will have ups and downs, challenges and rewards. Wherever the roads lead me, I will find a way to live with the choices I make.
But how to decide?
Sometimes it’s easy: There are external forces which push you one way or another. For me, those forces have included companies going out of business, poor economies, and abusive bosses (including one who was later arrested for embezzling millions of dollars from the charity he ran, and one whose anger under deadline pressure was nearly uncontrollable). Walking away from these kinds of situations takes preparation, though. If you’re prepared, you don’t need to worry so much.
One of the best pieces of career advice I ever got was from a professor at J-school: Always have a “Go to Hell!” fund. Part of journalistic integrity, he reminded us, was that we always needed to be prepared to stand by our values in the face of editorial and public criticism. If we were asked to compromise or to slant a story, we needed to have the funds and guts to stand up for ourselves. This meant saving money, staying out of debt and keeping a résumé ready to go.
After using my GtH funds to get away from my journalism career, I needed to start all over again. But what should I do? I was lucky enough to be able to “come home” again and try my hand at a number of opportunities. I wanted to continue writing and interviewing people; I wanted to make a difference in the world and investigate things; but I also wanted regular hours. No more running when the fire alarm sounds or jumping up from dinner when tires squeal outside. I needed to think outside my box of experience and find a way to make all of this work.
I found myself interviewing for a legal secretary position at a large high-tech-related law firm the same week I got engaged to be married. I don’t know what made me more nervous: The fact that I’d finally be working at a job with awesome benefits or the fact that they might not invest in hiring me because I was about to get married. Lucky for me, they didn’t care about the engagement (which we broke off a few months later anyway) and I got to spend a decade with some of the nicest and most fun attorneys in Silicon Valley. And our clients were awesome too (they kept trying to recruit us away to go work on their start-ups, so the benefits at the law firm improved to keep up with the competition). Between the firm’s approach to giving its employees time for family and the great benefits I enjoyed, I sometimes felt tied with golden handcuffs.
But I loved the work I did, and the folks at that firm got me through a marriage, a divorce, a re-marriage, a miscarriage and a successful pregnancy. Now I was staring down a new set of career options: Stay with this wonderful career family AND raise my own kids, or walk away and devote myself to children at home. It was a very hard decision, to make, but in the end, it came down to this: We could live on my husband’s income if we were frugal, and the thought of being at home and missing work was more palatable than the thought of being at work and missing my baby(ies).
When I decided to stay home, though I knew I would have to find a way to stay engaged with the “grown-up” world: I’d seen too many friends disappear into the world of Poop Chronicles and Playdates, and I knew my need for keeping up with current events would overwhelm my ability to focus solely on keeping up the house and caring for the kids. So I kept my editing and writing skills polished through volunteer work and I kept up adult interactions with a number of hobbies. And then my eldest began school and I could see that very soon I’d have more time and that we would need more money to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of childhood expenses and college savings. When his kindergarten teacher asked me if I had a teaching certificate, she lit up another career opportunity – I’d wanted to teach since I was in elementary school.
And this is where I am now. I work part-time in my son’s school and next year our youngest will join us for part-day kindergarten. The year after that, they will both be at school for six hours a day and I will have enough experience behind me to qualify for tuition support if I decide to earn a teaching certificate.
My questions now are a bit different than they were 30 years – or even 20 or 10 years – ago. Now they deal with things like, If I invest in this education, will I be able to support myself and my children on a teacher’s salary should the need arise? While there’s very little, if any, chance that divorce will loom at my window again, there’s a very good chance that death or injury might. My husband and I are both “older” parents, so when our kids are starting college, we’ll be well into senior citizen age. While being a teacher at my children’s school would be very convenient – and preferable to working at another school or district – is that a real possibility? Should I pay as I go and take longer or should I decrease my tuition and get it all done in one year? Or should I even consider teaching because of the glut of teachers and the poor economy we’ve got around here?
I will weigh all of these questions and consider my options and make a decision and then live with that decision. I will go into my choice with my eyes wide open to possibilities and I will build bridges and relationships to open doors to employment. And I will have a supportive husband at my side encouraging me to pursue my dreams – truly, my life is blessed.
But one thing is for sure: I won’t stand at this crossroad too long, and I won’t worry about how long it will take me to reach my goal, because a very wise woman gave my mother some advice once, and I took it to heart as well: “It may take four years to get there, but those four years will pass anyway.” I can spend four years worrying about it, or I can spend four years making a difference. And I will make a difference.
-Submitted by Laura C.