My decision surprised even me.
I'm about to say something that many people never get to truthfully say in their lifetimes — I love my job!
Well, I did love my job. There was a time I couldn't imagine leaving.
I was a senior editor at a major national magazine, and work never felt like work to me. Fun, creative people, going to press events at bars and restaurants throughout Manhattan surrounded me, swimming in swag, laughing all the time, and living my creative passion every day. I loved the challenge, and the job was stable. I had hit the career jackpot.
Then my husband and I got pregnant.
I didn't know off the bat that I wouldn't return to the office. But perhaps the signs were there.
I remember packing up my stuff about a week before maternity leave. I left no trace of my existence in that office. Maybe I wanted the temp to have a nice clean office to work in. Or maybe, just maybe, deep down I knew I would never step foot in that office again once my baby daughter was born.
The decision to resign didn't come easily. It was agonizing. And the fact that I struggled with the decision so much made me feel very, very guilty.
There's so much talk these days about "having it all" — raising a child while working full-time at a fulfilling job.
But maybe the issue is not so black and white. I certainly wasn't sure what "having it all" meant for me.
When struggling with the decision to go back to work, most moms I talked with considered what would be best for the baby.
But I have to consider what's best for me, too, I thought. I've worked my ass off for years.
Having a newborn was a shock to my system. I went through my fair share of tears and dark days. But I was feeling every emotion to my core, and that felt strangely satisfying. I wanted more time to savor this experience, to feel it to the fullest.
But who gives up a job they adore?
My friends who had babies either got laid off beforehand or were ambivalent about their careers. I didn't know one person who decided to not return to a job they loved. I was so torn. I talked to friends, I talked to family. I interrogated people who stayed home and those who went back to work. I meditated.
Some days, I'd feel so guilty. I should go back to work, I'd chide myself. This was "my thing" — the thing I did so well. It was my normal and a huge part of my identity. Who would I be if not a magazine editor? How would I feel being "just a mom?"
My husband was totally supportive of whatever decision I made (making it even tougher for me to decide).
If I did go back, he and I decided we'd hire a nanny. But I never felt fully comfortable with that. It's not that I'm the type of mom who's reluctant to leave her baby. It's just that it felt weird to put all this time and effort into having a kid only to pass her off to someone else — especially since I didn't have to.
Of course, there was money to consider, too. We could afford it, but hiring a nanny would cost more than half my salary. Did that make sense? I tried to decide intellectually, by looking at it from all angles. But that wasn’t doing the trick.
I was officially obsessing.
Then finally, I did the thing that helped me pull the trigger.
I started examining my gut instincts — those split-second reactions Malcolm Gladwell talks about in one of my favorite books, Blink. One of those reactions happened one day when I ran into my neighbor in the hall, and she told me she decided to quit work and stay home full-time. I realized I felt jealous. She asked if I wanted to hire her nanny when I went back to work.
I took the elevator downstairs and cried behind my sunglasses.
I've been a "worker" much of my life — ever since I split my summers as a camp counselor by day and a waitress by night. I loved making my own money, but I also felt compelled to work. Quitting, I began to realize, felt like quitting. And it felt that way until a friend suggested I stop looking at it as leaving work, and start looking at it as being with my daughter.
Something clicked. I wasn't giving up. I was moving on.
Miraculously, once I finally decided to quit my job, I felt lighter. Instead of agonizing, I'd walk around the city giddy with the thought that I could shape the day any way I wanted — any way we wanted.
The truth is, I won't always have this time to watch her grow up. My decision to not go back to work was essentially to stop the clock a bit. Take a time out, a breather from corporate life. Appreciate simple things, like my daughter and my cat having a staring contest. Have time to actually iron my husband's shirts.
OK, OK. I couldn't totally let go of work.
I decided to freelance as a writer part-time. It's my gray area in the "having it all" debate. Yes, it's sometimes a struggle to find time between diaper changes and feedings, but I feel happy that I'm still connected to my old life in some way, while forging ahead with my new one.
My job is being a mom and a writer.
And I'm about to say something that many people never say in their lifetimes: I love my job. I truly do.