I used to be good at my job. I used to work long hours, take work home with me, come into the office on weekends. I used to worry about my job when I wasn’t working. I used to care more, probably, than was healthy. I always, always, always went above and beyond what was asked or expected of me. After living more than my fair share of irresponsibility all throughout my twenties, I felt like I had something to prove – or more accurately, like a had a debt to pay off.
When I got pregnant, my doctor advised me to cut back on my hours and on my stress, which I did, to a certain extent. I started working from home one day a week. I cut my days in the office down to eight hours. I dedicated my weekends more to nesting than to political negotiations and bickering over email. But despite the slimming down of my work schedule to accommodate the fattening up of my belly, professionally I was more effective than ever. Preparing for a baby meant raising the bar for myself, not just at home, but in all areas of my life. Every day I would wake up and think, What sort of an example do I want to set for my daughter?
Though I was working fewer hours, I was committed in a way I hadn’t been before. I didn’t just want to do a good job so I could protect my reputation and my work ethic (and ultimately use this to find a better job), I wanted to do good. I grew to believe in the mission of the university and I grew to value my role in making that mission possible. I spearheaded a university-wide process redesign, oversaw the implementation of new technologies, designed, argued for, and implemented a departmental restructure. I got a raise and I got a promotion. And then I had the baby.
I’ve been travelling the conference circuit on an off this whole year, giving presentations on change management and the process redesign I helped usher in during that pregnant year. Both out on the professional development scene and back in my workplace, I spend a lot of time talking about my successes as though they still apply, spend a lot of time acting as though I am still as committed and hardworking as I once was. But what I’m presenting just isn’t quite true. My priorities now are different.
Every day that my daughter goes to daycare despite a cold, every night that my daughter has a tantrum before bed because I got stuck at the office and got her home too late, every morning my daughter wakes up without me because I’m traveling for work, each and every one of those moments moves one more grain of sand from the commitment side of the scale over to the dissatisfaction side. And little by little the scales are tipping.
But the reality is that having a child was only a part of this change. In all honesty, I’ve always been on the fence about my job. Being a college registrar was far from the dream career I imagined for myself when I was coming out of art school. I toppled drunk and stoned into this line of work because it was stable and it was there, and I happened to be quite good at it (and this is probably only because I am so very much not the registrar type). I’ve worked hard over the years to accept that this is where life landed me and to be grateful for the success that has come so easily, but it is hard to ignore the discontent that nags at me, and lately it’s been harder than ever.
Here’s the thing – that promotion I got landed me an office with gray walls and no window, a new set of broken processes that I have no interest in reengineering, job tasks that bore me half to death more than half of the time, and a new staff with a whole new host of problems to manage. The old me would have seen these challenges as one big opportunity, and I did try to look at it from that perspective for a while. I bought a seasonal affective disorder lamp, started studying federal privacy laws to add more complex thinking to transcript requests, and have worked to build new bonds with staff that generally just want me to leave them alone. I’m still good at my job, and though my boss may be disappointed every time I leave the office after putting in a mere nine hours, I’m still managing day by day to exceed expectations and to maintain my good name on campus. But the passion isn’t there. I’m bored by my job, and I’m frustrated that a boring job is keeping me from my child.
The choice to go back to work after having my daughter (let us pretend for a moment that this was a choice rather than a financial imperative) was motivated in no small part by my ambition and by my desire to contribute something to the world beyond my home life. I also didn’t want my daughter to grow up under the influence of a mom who was wishy washy about the value of a rewarding career. And even now, despite my waning commitment to my job, I still want her to see me as passionate and successful, even if these things aren’t entirely true, and even if it gets harder by the day to keep up the act.
I was away at a conference again earlier this week. My daughter started acting out the minute she saw me take out my own suitcase – crying, kicking, yelling, refusing to sleep, refusing to eat. I spent a sad few days confined to a sad Las Vegas hotel before coming home to much of the same behavior, and despite eliciting ever more ire from my boss, I decided to take a day off to try helping my daughter understand that she was safe, that mommy wasn’t going anywhere. Not going anywhere until Monday morning rolls around again, that is.
Sometimes I’m a great mom, and sometimes I’m a great employee, but too often now it feels like combining the two is keeping me from my greatness as a human being. My boss is still angry with me for not being in the office when she needed me there (both today and every other day, morning or afternoon that I’ve missed in the past two years), and my daughter is still refusing to go to sleep for fear I won’t be there when she wakes up. And I’m still here, balanced on top of fence, trying to decide whether it might be time to just let myself fall down on one side or the other.