I didn’t realize how different of a person I’ve become until I had coffee with a former People coworker who is now a media executive at a different company. I opted out of corporate nearly 4 years ago when I moved to Singapore and started a family. Meanwhile, my former peer, who I’ll call Lillian, is a working mom and continued her career. When I put a date on the calendar, I was aware Lillian was more of a work friend, but we had an easy professional relationship so I didn’t go into the meeting with much of an agenda. At the breakfast, she was as gracious and open as I remembered but the stark contrast in her ability to carry a conversation in business terms with confidence compared to my knowledge of singing the ABCs like Alpha Pig on Super Why had me feeling embarrassed. I simply showed up as SAHM me, and I felt like she really showed up and was prepared for LIFE.
I told Lillian about the crossroads I’m at with more time and desire to work now that Fei Fei is in school. She asked questions about what I wanted, and I honestly didn’t have solid answers. I heard my own rambling responses and wanted to pull my head inside my body like a turtle. Before our meeting, I did not map out what I wanted my next chapter to look like nor how I’d get there. Lillian listened to my stream-of-consciousness word vomit with attentive nods in between eating dainty spoonfuls of oatmeal; I felt like I was failing a job interview. I nervous-talked myself into feeling like a kid wearing a dunce hat instead of asking her smart questions. I should have asked her about how she navigated herself to a position that she enjoys and is well-suited to do. Instead I spoke without purpose to fill the gaps of who I was when I knew her (a hard working, creative digital media professional) to who I am now (a stay-at-home mom who is financially dependent on my husband).
When I finally paused, Lillian automatically wanted to help me sort through my murkiness. She was kind and thoughtful and suggested practical action items like charting my passions and skills (both my hard and soft skills!) to see the intersections. She recommended a book by Brian Fethersonhaugh The Long View: Career Strategies to Start Strong, Reach High and Go Far that her mentor gave her when she had her “mid-life crisis” more than a year ago. She spoke about jobs in the landscape that did not exist four years ago like Branded Content Editor and Product Copywriter that would suit my skill set. She never made me feel judged – I did that to myself – and showed great empathy toward a fellow human looking to reinvent herself.
It’s been a few weeks since that meeting, and I applied and interviewed for non-profit jobs that I did not get. It’s probably for the best that I didn’t get those jobs. While I like the idea of working for a mission-driven organization, I haven’t done the passion/skill chart or read that book or figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I’d be jumping into work without a goal of what I want to learn and ultimately do.
A few years ago, I attended a first birthday party where the theme of the party was “Dream Big. Goals Matter.” The moms had that message embroidered on plush soccer balls as gifts to all the party goers and included a letter thanking their guests for their support during their first year as parents. I’m still struck by their message and mindfulness, and when I feel lost and directionless, I remind myself to dream big and that my goals matter.
My childhood dreams were leaving Peoria and living in New York or Los Angeles or somewhere abroad. I wanted a good job so I never had to be poor again. I wanted to fall in “Meg Ryan rom-com-style love” with a handsome, tall, smart man and have a family. I also wanted to be witch and perform magic. Those were my big dreams.
At 39, I lived in both LA and NYC. I worked in corporate media, earned six figures and had an office on the 29th floor. I met my husband (who is 6’2″ and hot and brilliant) at a bar in SoHo, got engaged in Paris and gave birth to our daughter in Singapore. I’ve been blessed with the big life that I dreamed of as a young girl from a working class family, who loved stories, fairy tales and fantasy books, ate free hot lunch and wore second-hand clothes, and worked at a movie theater to save up for college.
It’s a glorious thing to have your dreams come true. I wished on stars as a child and believed in fairies. I got lost in otherworldly stories to escape my own limited world, but I also studied and knew education would change my circumstances. I saved money from my high school jobs to help pay for my university education and took out loans betting that I could pay them back one day. I was a hard worker and a dreamer; though I am not a witch (yet), I performed my own special magic of making my dreams real. So it’s time again to dream and imagine the next life that I want. Goals matter.