I’ve spent almost my entire life believing that there is only one way to achieve happiness and success. The ingredients are simple; go to school, follow on with TAFE/University, achieve a higher education or trade and secure a career in the field you have studied or trained in. Work hard and save hard and you will be rewarded. There are no shortcuts, you must simply put your head down for half a century and when you come out the other side, hopefully you have built yourself and your family some kind of legacy to live by or pass down through the generations. This may take shape in the form of a financial nest egg, a property portfolio, stocks or other tangible means to measure your success.
As a child, I never questioned my parents intention for me. I would go to school, achieve the right grades to be accepted into university and leave four or five years later with a degree in my hand, and the whole world at my feet. I followed this exact path. I finished my degree at the University of Western Australia and in the year that followed, I secured a role within a government department as a graduate. Almost 15 years later, with three rounds of maternity leave and two lots of long service leave, I am still there. I have moved around the department, worked across a number of roles, seen changes of government, department amalgamations and changes in the executive and leadership roles. When I first commenced in my role as a fresh faced graduate, I was the youngest member of the staff. I loved every moment of my role and learnt new things every day. I eventually moved across to other areas where I worked closely with community organisations and not for profit organisations, I was passionate about supporting marginalised members of the community to engage in local activities. I never even looked at other employment, I was happy where I was.
The struggle of working whilst having young children was my first insight that things might not be able to continue as smoothly as pre-children (no kidding – pardon the pun!). Still, I was lucky to be supported with a reasonably flexible working environment and part-time hours. So I persisted. It was during my third round of maternity leave, after baby number three, that I got really sick. You might like to read my other blogs sharing about my journey with my autoimmune condition Why I am Grateful for my Autoimmune Flare Up and More Sacrifices to Serve Me. Still, I rationalised that I had done this twice before, and I was going back to a manageable workload (half time) within a small and dynamic team with an extremely supportive manager (also a mum and friend). It was the best possible scenario for me to succeed at this mum-of-three/career woman fine balance.
It wasn’t meant to be. I headed back to work in July after starting on some pretty heavy duty medication, but it was a short lived return. Only a month or so after returning, I started to experience more health issues, some directly related to the autoimmune condition, some related to the heavy immune suppressant medication I was on. Add to that the children; colds and flus, gastro, overtired and emotionally exhausted just added to the days of leave I had to take. The guilt was immense and was really taking its toll on me. I hated picking up the phone to text my Manager yet again that I wasn’t able to come in. Everyone was so supportive, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t right, the universe was intervening and sending me a rather loud message – something needed to give.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came after I’d had to take three weeks of personal leave because of a persisting infection that would not clear with antibiotics, and worsening symptoms. I was balancing a new specialist, multiple visits to hospital, a variety of tests and no clear answers and I was virtually at breaking point again. After much deliberation and tears, I decided that I needed to give up my role. I walked into my Manager’s office feeling so nervous and vulnerable; I had sat on these chairs so many times before but never felt the swirl of emotions I was feeling that day. She chatted for a while, trying to ease the tension. Eventually, I had to just speak up – I had something to say. I burst into tears as I struggled to get the words out. I didn’t know what else to do, but I knew that I wasn’t doing the right thing by my workplace and I wasn’t doing the right thing for me. She was so supportive and empathetic, I was so terrified to say the words but as soon as they were out of my mouth, the relief was instant. I knew I was doing the right thing. In the end, I was able to take some extended leave instead of resigning, which has given me the time away to focus on my health, family and priorities. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.
So, for now I am stepping away from the very thing that I worked so hard to achieve and have held so highly as part of my identity. In this role, I am someone important, I bring value and I am worthy. Without this role, who am I? The thing is, I am so looking forward to finding out. I have spent so long on the path well worn that it is time to get out into the wilderness and see what emerges. I am learning to listen to my heart and follow it, which means breaking down old structures and re-defining what makes me ‘me’. I can’t wait to find out!
Have you stepped away from something you identified with and made you ‘you’? Have you made a massive shift in your life that left everyone around you wondering what on earth you were thinking? Are you continuing to force a situation that no longer serves you? I’d love to hear about your experiences getting off the path.
Live, Love and Laugh Tash xx