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June 17, 2019

“I want you to make this your mantra; Inhale courage, exhale fear.’

I sat there, legs crossed, fists clutching balls of disintegrated tissues, listening intently to this wonderful woman.

24 hours prior to this, I gave in. To the guilt. To the worry. To the endless questioning, wondering, and searching.

What do we do, when we are expected to be a small person’s everything, the carer of a household, and a professional employee, when we are falling apart?

We recognise that we are falling.

And then, we ask for help.

And so, there I was, seated in front of a health professional, who rationalised, listened and assured.

Who told me to be brave.

Brave in going against the grain.

Brave in finally seeing that the career path I had clung to for so many years was starting to crumble beneath me.

For weeks I had been hosting an internal war as I tried to navigate life as a working mum. An internal war fuelled by dread. Dread at going to work and doing an ok job, rather than an exceptional job, in which I was so accustomed to. Dread at coming home to mess, both physically in my home, and emotionally in my heart, as I scrambled to keep my head above water.

I wanted to be the best Mum.

I had to be the best employee.

You see, this was never the plan. The plan was to remain at the job I returned to postpartum, and here, I would slowly but surely continue to climb the career ladder. This was my forever.

And yet, there I sat.

Hearing that what I was experiencing was normal did little to lessen the disappointment I felt within me, in knowing that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

My return to work had been like returning to an old childhood neighbourhood, and seeing things for what they really, truly are. And despite this, still trying to squeeze into old gumboots to jump into puddles with the same tenacity as a three-year-old.

My boots were uncomfortably small. The puddles weren’t as fun as I had remembered. And, I was usually too tired to jump anyway.

Every single day I told myself it would get better. That the boots would stretch. The puddles would become more inviting. The guilt would evaporate.

The boots never stretched.

And what had been such a fundamental piece of who I am, who I was, and who I would be, became tarnished. Tarnished with anger. Anger, at making me snap at my husband, jealous at his natural ease in parenting and managing a business. Anger, at suddenly noticing how long my daughter’s hair had grown, and realising you only notice such things when you see less of someone.

Anger, at trying to keep up appearances; ‘hey guys, look at me, I can be a mother and a colleague! Did you notice the shine on my kitchen bench yet?’

Walking away from a career built on a postgraduate university degree, years of trying to prove myself, and finally establishing a name in my workplace, was terrifying.

But in the weirdest way, it was invigorating. For the first time in my life, I felt brave. I did something unexpected. I closed a door that was never supposed to close.

I chose me.

The word work never presented options before becoming a mum. My career path was mapped out in stone, and that was that. But here I was, suddenly, in the driver’s seat.

I began searching for balance. I finally realised how incredibly lucky I am to be able to find this in part-time work. Now, I knew part-time wouldn’t see me climbing the career ladder I was once so obsessed with, nor see me accepting a Noble Prize for splitting the atom. But, at this point in my life, I had to accept that that’s ok.

And when former colleagues ask what I did today, its ok to say, “I took my daughter to the park.” Because that is enough. Raising my daughter, and allowing myself to slow down, is enough.

I, without the career path that once defined me, am enough.

I keep waiting for the regret to kick in. Or for a longing of that busyness to surface.

It never has.

Perhaps if I wasn’t so easily influenced by societal pressures to do it all, or, by the expectations placed on women in the workplace to return as though nothing has changed, I would have been braver, sooner.

But I had to learn it for myself. To see that a plan, is not a binding contract.

And while I may not be earning five figures and writing proposals on how to combat climate change, I am witnessing a change of my own.

A change in me, as my life has taken an unexpected turn.

A change in what is important.

A change in all the possibilities I am suddenly able to see before me.

A change in her.

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