Not so long ago, I was working on the executive team for a financial services startup, where I had been for two years. My husband was an executive for a defense contractor, and had just told me that his responsibilities would be growing to include more significant overseas travel. We had four kids in four different schools, one of whom was making the significant transition from preschool to kindergarten.
For over a decade I had pushed myself to excel professionally. I had worked for a nationally-recognized restaurant chain, managing a multi-million dollar litigation budget in my mid-twenties. I had spent a number of years in a regional law firm, one of the nation’s largest and most recognized in my specialty. And I had successfully run my own firm.
To top it off, I had a wonderful, supportive, and successful husband. Beautiful, healthy children. A close extended family, and a network of friends that supported me. We lived in a beautiful home in a wonderful town. Most people would have said my life was a success.
But, inside I was a wreck. I was exhausted. Not just physically, but mentally. The grind had worn me down, and when people asked me where I found joy in my life, I mumbled an obligatory response about my children that never touched my heart. I felt like I was letting everyone down. At home, I worried obsessively about my career. At work, I was exhausted and guilt-ridden about my inability to be the woman, wife, and mother I wanted to be.
I tried everything I knew to do. I got up early. I stayed up late. I read. I listened to podcasts. I wrote to-do lists. I set hard boundaries around my working hours, leaving the emails and laptop behind. But, family dinners, trips to the zoo, and even kissing my kids good night were often clouded by my fretting about the office. I tried to pour it on at work, sealing my personal life away in a box and pushing myself to be more and more productive. But, the guilt I felt was crippling. Like a cement block I carried around my neck every day.
I knew there had to be a better way to live. I made a list of what I considered to be the best things in my life – fun with my family, faith, challenging work that made a difference in the world, laughter, good music, quiet, the outdoors – and I vowed that I would find a way to have more of those things. More of the best in my life.
I spent a long time learning how to make more room in my life for those things. How to take real personal responsibility for my life – my feelings, my actions, and the things I was creating. I learned how to make choices to get me where I really wanted to go. And, I learned to figure out what really mattered to me.
Although I was still working hard at building the life I really wanted, I felt like I could tackle any problem that came my way. Few of the things I once thought were the problem had changed. Both my husband and I were involved in significant acquisitions at work that meant heavy demands on our time and mental resources. I hadn’t found time to take up serious exercise or spend significant time meditating. I hadn’t even tried to cut sugar or caffeine from my diet. But, I did have a new set of tools that I could use whenever I started to feel the exhaustion, or guilt, or stress creep back in.
Then, I started noticing that the women around me, my friends and colleagues, were talking about the same problems I had. These were fabulous women – smart, driven, beautiful people. But, when I listened carefully, I could hear it. Weariness. Distraction. Stress. A feeling like they were being pulled apart at the seams. I had thought all along that I was alone in feeling those things, but the truth was I had been too consumed to see how many people were in the boat with me.
About that same time, I had some tough choices to make. My husband and I had agreed we would push through the end of the school year, and then reevaluate whether our lives, particularly the pace of how we were living, was what we wanted. By that time, I knew we could do it. But I also knew I didn’t want it anymore. I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
Now, I spend my days helping women who are where I was. Stressed out, distracted, and drowning in guilt. Secretly terrified people will find out their success is a fraud. Covertly sending emails during the school play because they feel like they’re letting their coworkers down by not being in the office. Staring at their sleeping children and feeling like they are missing out on something they will never get back.
Do I have it all figured out? No way. Stress and guilt and distraction still show up in my life. But, I know there are ways to effectively deal with them. Ways to reduce the impact they have on my life. I know there is a path to really enjoy life again, and I’m passionate about sharing that with other women.
If you are struggling today, I want you to know two things. First, it’s not just you. It may feel that way, but you aren’t alone. Second, there is a better way. You can have the great things you want in your life. It takes practice and work, but it is possible.
If that sounds good to you, I’d love to help you get there.