Preludes to two
One week before Noah’s second birthday, I walked into the office of a very important and busy associate dean at the school of medicine where I was enrolled as a first year student, and informed him I was peacing out of medical school.
It was one of the first times in my adult life when I wasn’t sure whether what I was choosing to do was actually the right choice. Previous Big Decisions included: College? (This one’ll do!) This guy for my husband? (Duh.) Career? (DR. RACHEL TO THE RESCUE!) But quitting med school? That was a choice that was not about what I wanted, but rather what I didn’t.
It was an abandonment of a solid plan. A jump off a commendable cliff whose summit I had spent months upon years climbing. Leaving meant shutting (or let’s face it, slamming, ’cause ain’t no going back to an MD after you say goodbye to that track) a door with nary an open window in sight.
There were several factors that had been shoving me toward that precipice—at one point I was spending more hours of the day with dead bodies than with my very much alive kid, for one—but at the root of it all was an unwavering and irrepressible longing to be present in my life in a different and better way. (Remember that, it’s a theme here.)
Medical school wasn’t the ultimate goal, I knew that. But I couldn’t continue to slog away at the ultimate goal beyond that without sacrificing some very real and important parts of my life in the present, and part-time effort towards either was not an option.
So I changed course.
After leaving med school, I floundered. I worked at a coffee shop, slinging espresso beans part time for a meager salary and tips. A few months later, when steadier work was necessary, (and with a tuition discount for a 2-year old as incentive), I came on staff at a mother’s morning out program, caring for the wee babes in the nursery.
A year after that, Rosie was born, and I lugged her along with me as I wiped other kids’ noses and changed diaper after diaper, growing more and more dissatisfied by the day.
I felt aimless, like everything I was doing was a default. I was with my kids more, sure, but the me that was with them wasn’t a very good me. The Work/Life pendulum had swung sharply back from Work, whizzing right by that mythical center “balance,” and was sitting like an elephant on the Life side, too weighty a load to bear.
So once again, I jumped off a cliff. Said goodbye to the preschool gig (with nothing lined up to take its place) and began the job hunt. It was a different transition—more exciting, to be sure—but still full of risk and unknowns. What did I want to do with my life? I had no idea.
All I felt qualified for was a hill of (espresso) beans. I couldn’t even figure out the best approach to take when marketing myself: “Hi, I’m Rachel, and my skill set includes cadaver dissection, sub 30-second diaper changes and quitting things.” Predictably, those descriptors didn’t seem to be steering me toward any specific categories on the job posting sites.
Except, along the way, this place had begun to develop. Yestertime was born right after the coffee had cooled on my barista career and baby-watching had become my game. I’m not sure why, but from the very first post I decided I would write something every single day, including Saturday and Sunday—a discipline I’m convinced now that ultimately led to the work—and now, career—I enjoy. Silly daily words with no real purpose led to daily words (and photos) more deliberately crafted, which led to words printed in a magazine, which led to a job at a magazine.
I started three weeks before Rosie’s second birthday.
So much about that job was it. I fit into the culture and the work like a hand in a glove. Something inside me hummed with recognition every day as I walked through the door and took my seat at my desk. I realized this wasn’t just a job—there was a career taking shape.
Two years passed. I was commuting an hour each day to the office, belly expanding with baby number three, and then after maternity leave, with my breast pump hooked up to the car’s power outlet, collecting for the bottles that would feed the kid who was spending up to 10 hours in daycare each day.
A niggling dissatisfaction was worming its way back in to my everyday thoughts.
It was hard walking away from a job that was fulfilling both creatively and interpersonally, but my sanity was suffering from the hours and miles I was spending away from the heart of my life. When I heard about a job less than five miles from my house—a dependable, respectable, solid job—it seemed like a no-brainer. I applied, interviewed, and was hired.
I should have heeded the small flag that went up in my head when I asked during my initial interview whether or not the position could eventually move to a 30-hour a week schedule. (Not immediately, but maybe someday, was the answer.) I knew that was where I needed to be—less work, more life—but this opportunity was ripe for the taking. It seemed like the obvious move.
But the dissatisfaction didn’t go away. In fact, it intensified—the work was not as creatively fulfilling as what I had been doing at my previous job, and I was gone almost as many hours as I had been before. Driving less was a perk, but I left every day feeling drained. The kids were in two different places for pickup, and after school activities were at an all time high. The job started feeling like one of those puzzle pieces you think you’ve fit into the right spot, but upon closer inspection you realize: the picture on top isn’t quite lining up.
You can probably guess what happened next. As of two weeks ago, I am no longer a 9-to-5er. I’ve launched into the (somewhat unknown) world of freelance writing. Here we go again. Geronimo.
What this means: I’ll be home more, able to pick up Noah and Rosie from school, start dinner before bedtime, take care of sick kids on a week day (now with less guilt!), solve the national deficit problem … the list goes on. And of course, there are risks to accompany these rewards. (One does not simply make a decision like this while married to L without talking about the risks.)
But you know what I’ve decided? All this leaping I’ve been doing since medical school, it hasn’t been off cliffs. It’s been from one rock in a stream to another. Some rocks have been wobbly (so I hopped off quick). Some were firm and sure, and leaving them took courage. But they’ve all been in the same direction downstream.
I have no delusions of a perfectly still pendulum, resting on the centered middle between work and life. But I do think this will slow down the swing to more of a sway. And that’s pretty darn good.
I’m not sure what will become of Yestertime. I intend to continue writing about my life (slash start writing about my life again), but it may look different. It may live somewhere different. Or not. I’m still thinking it through. Either way, I plan to be around somewhere, tapping the keys, writing the words.
In the meantime, I’ve got a second birthday to plan.