Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Life Mission

They call the first month of unemployement the toughest.  You feel demoralized, undervalued, disliked, helpless, and lost.  Lucky for me, kids offer tons of distraction.  But, I've still been plagued with recycling thoughts and philosophies around my life direction.

Is it really ok that I'm not pursuing a career?  Is it really alright that my identity revolves around my children and home?

I always come to the same conclusion: yes it is, chill the f*** out and get a job when you need/want/feel like it!  I've bounced these thoughts off various friends.

The most encouraging folks have been my (ex) colleagues at work.  The team of three of us who got laid off together set up a recurrent weekly meeting to support each other for this first month.  They've been my most fervid cheerleaders of stay at home parenting.  Steve's wife left her career as a chemical engineer 18 years ago and never looked back.  He choked up on the phone recounting the profound impact of her decision, "Our kids are so great, we've never had a problem.  I know I owe this to her being there.  She can sense if something is wrong and talk to them about it.  She teaches them and guides them though discovering as they grow."

Kate also stayed home with her children, supplemented income by providing in-home daycare, and only went back to work after her children left for college.  "I can't stress enough how important I feel it is to be at home with your children.  Actually, when I went back to work my son started having trouble in school and I didn't hear about it for a month.  Then I decided to cut back on working and focus on volunteering at the school.  My son needed more attention than my daughter and if I wasn't around then I don't think he would have turned out as well."

But I was still harboring these incessant thoughts of 'what to do with my life.'  Feeling like my parents had worked so hard to give me choices and opportunity and I'd be dishonoring their investment in my education to throw my career away.  Yes, that's what consciously deciding to not get a job feels like: tossing my vested experience to the birds.

I never particularly desired a career in IT and I frequently daydreamed about transitioning into health sciences.  I studied psychology in undergrad and enjoyed participating in the research community.  Last week I checked out a local Master's of Acupuncture program and then began investigating whether I would qualify for low cost daycare through Virginia Social Services.  I just kept feeling the need to do something.  But knowing that would add another layer of complication to our family life.

My mind took off in-flight chasing jets planes of hypothetical life scenerios, shooting each one down, and always landing at the same conclusion: "chill the f*** out, enjoy the kids, you can pick up a profession later in life."

Then, peace at last.  During our last call Kate asked if I had any short term goals for my time with the little ones.

No.  I didn't.  I dodged the question by asking if it was crazy for me to wait until the kids go to school to get a job. To which she went into a long response about how not-crazy that is.

This weekend I sat down and drafted a mission statement, themes, and short and long term goals for my life. Writing these thoughts down brought me such peace!  Freeing the obsessive repetitive thoughts, placing them on paper, looking at them, analyzing them, finding comfort and security in them...  I feel so much better.  Somehow seeing my plan on paper, in crayon, grounded me.

Now here's the giveaway that I come from corporate America; I aligned each goal with themes from my life mission.  A funny thing happened when I brainstormed the themes: I realized achievement is important to me.

Not to say that raising kids isn't an achievement!  But, frankly, I'd like to go on to do something GREAT eventually.  Like, earn-a-page-about-me in Wikipedia kind of GREAT.  What's funny is that I hope my kids grow up to be happy and generally successful.  Why do I hold myself to a higher standard?  I don't know.  I'm not humble I guess. I'd really like to accomplish something significant for society.

So I realized I definitely want a professional identity outside of the home - and that can be a part of my long term goal.  I can see how focusing on my kids and family now fits into my life mission.  This stage doesn't need to feel like a step back, or a PAUSE button, but really another stage in my development.  It feels secure and smart to focus on certain elements of my mission now and take on longer term elements as the appropriate time arises.

I also realize that going back to work in IT could be a part of my future if I need the income to maintain the Mission Theme of "Comfort."  Seeing how working in IT could fit into my life mission helped me make peace with the possibility that I may need to go back to work.  So if it happens, I'm not allowed to whine about selling out my soul anymore.

Would you like to see?  Here it is anyway.  Work in progress.  I left space to add more goals.  Written in crayon (no spell checker - ugh - embarrassing), taped to the wall in our room, subject to change and evolution.

If you're interested in doing a mission statement exercise, I'll share my process.  Google search reveals lots of websites with instructions much more intensive than mine.
1. Brainstorm words that capture your particular values
2. Group the words and identify the key themes and how they relate
3. Form sentences that join the words coherently and logically
4. Keep it short and sweet
5. Then draft some goals, start with some really easy and simple ones.  See how they align to your mission themes.
6. Make a goal (long or short term for each of the themes)
7. Enjoy the feeling of creating a path for your personal nirvana

Let me know how it goes

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