Nine months into a career break to focus on family and I can finally see the wood from the trees.
After 20 years of working in fast paced tech industries, from start-ups to multi-nationals, I found myself in a senior role in marketing, working with and mentoring a team across countries, burning the midnight oil at both ends, 12AM meetings, up again for a 6AM, I enjoyed what I did, I was coping, and then I went and had children.
The extra burden that placed on my relationship with my husband, how I handled my stress, my health, not being able to have the same outlets to balance the workload – which being ‘type a’ means that I felt the need to work extra hours, to keep up the same level of output as when I was child free, and trying to be a good mum…it was all too much. Looking back now, I was the walking, waking example of the living dead, and I am certainly not alone there. But this is not a blog on why some women in these types of roles feel like they need to do it all. In the end I simply didn’t want to, I wasn’t living the best self I could be for my family and most importantly for me.
Now when I told everyone the plan to take a career break and travel for 12 months plus, a lot of colleagues and friends wished they could do the same. But I have to be honest for anyone thinking similarly, the first six months were pretty tough. I wanted to pull the pin, I wanted to kill my hubby most days, the children were driving me nuts, I was certainly not enjoying this family bonding experience, I wanted to run away. I couldn’t see the wood from the trees.
I found myself relegated to a life where I was doing domestic duties, no personal space, no face-to-face friend network, missing the comfort of having a physical home and the routines that went with it. Missing the type of work and using my brain in creative ways to solve complex problems or goals. My identity without a career, and the status and kudos that come with that, well that was hard for me to come to terms with. We made some changes in month five, which I talked about in a previous blog.
But here is what I learned after nine months of being off the hamster wheel:
- Chronic lack of sleep takes a long time to catch up on. Surprisingly in a 19ft caravan, I’ve had the best sleep I’ve had in years, with no stress about work weighing on my mind, and once the kids are in bed there’s not all that much to do once it gets dark, sitting by a campfire has its own magic to lull you into a meditative state, you tend to go to bed pretty early. So after nine months of excellent sleep, the zombie Sharonika has been replaced with the new and improved Sharonika 2.75. My brain is firing, the ‘brain fog’ I felt while working and tending young children has disappeared – almost, I’m nicer to my husband and kids, I’m happier, I can have meaningful discussions with random people, my mind is much more quiet.
- It’s very easy to get caught in a bubble when working in the corporate world, whether it’s in the organisation you work for, or the industry, there’s a lot of ego in it, you matter because you are driving to reach number, a target, you are working with a team to ‘delight customer’s (aka shareholder satisfaction), people hold you in high regard, it’s consuming, it feels good, it gets the dopamine going. And then you stop, and the people you meet along the way, really don’t care who you were, they want to know about you, as a person, have a laugh, share the present moment, learn about your travels so far. You see what’s happening in the real world around you, you learn so much in an immersive way, there’s a much bigger world that you belong to, and its beautiful, amazing, there’s sadness, cruelty too but also an endearing spirit of the human condition and the natural world that I’m only just starting to appreciate.
- My kids have blossomed before my eyes. If I was still doing what I was doing before, I would be doing the usual routine, wake up, get kids ready, drop off to daycare and prep, start work, eat, finish work, pick up kids, dinner and bedtime routine, talk to hubby for a bit, go back to follow-up on pressing items for work. I’m an automaton, a robot just hanging out for 7pm when I can have a brief reprieve and not 100% present with the kids. I would have missed the magic of seeing and being with these amazing little human beings. They would become teenagers and adults in a blink of an eye. But I didn’t appreciate any of this when we took off, even though I quoted that as a reason for doing this.
- My husband and I like each other again. When you are a zombie like automaton, its hard to feel and share the love with your partner especially, that goes both ways. Things can get a bit stale and stifled, you argue or worse, don’t until it all bubbles to the surface, you’re not intimate. But after catching up on sleep, coming to terms with who I am now not what position I held, being happy again, everything has changed. It’s not a pre-kids way of being, but something more mature, more enriching, and it’s getting better everyday. We are best buddies again. And he’s much nicer these days too.
To cut what is becoming a long story short (if you are still reading, sorry I’ll wrap this up), we have a certain amount of time in this world to spend with loved ones, earn a living, experience life. But for me the balance was awry.
Now, I can truly delight in what my kids are learning every day, the type of characters they are becoming and being a part of their transformation. Did you know they recently learnt to spell their first word…‘poo’ as we play silly spelling games in the car. I would have totally missed that if they were at school! Also what they are teaching me, seeing things through the eyes of children really makes me feel younger (and sillier) too. I can delight in having a great relationship with my hubby that’s evolving too as we spend all this time together. I’m much more patient and relaxed, I’m so amazed by them all and how lucky I am. While we wont remember everything about this trip, I certainly hope my kids will take with them a foundation of love of learning, exploring the world and of what it means to be a family. When my six year old says to us as we are sitting together one evening “we are a family”, with pure unadulterated love in his eyes, that for me if what this is all about.
This trip is not infinite, at some stage I will need to think about earning that living again, but I know much more about myself now, and what is important. Hopefully I can take that into a new dynamic and not lose ‘me’ again. I’m so looking forward to the future – but I’m definitely enjoying my present, it’s only taken nine months… 😉
If’s there’s anyone out there thinking of doing the same, DO IT, and give it time.