Friday, March 30, 2012

the path (xi) (the drastically modified version)

Since at least my college years, my modus operandi has been full throttle.

I tend to go after certain things with a passion that I sometimes recognize as unhealthy, but often have an impossible time controlling. When I see a hill, I usually pick up the pace.

Note: This definitely doesn't pertain to running speeds.

Heaven knows that in every foot race I've ever participated, I'm usually less than two paces ahead of the ambulance picking up stragglers from the course.

My track record certainly makes me feel invincible. But what I've come to realize is that I'm not invincible. While I do have perseverance and a strong work ethic that is in my blood, when there is absolutely no opportunity for recovery and you are always "full throttle", eventually you break down.

It's important to add that within the first month of my current job, my boss told me that it was his career aspiration to be an executive within our company and anything less would be considered a personal failure. Now, considering I work for one of the wealthiest companies in the world, that's no easy feat and is achieved by less than 1% of the work force.

Suffice it to say, my daily work routine is intense.

(Did I call it, or what? I knew it would be!)

For the past 20+ months, or ever since I've been in my current job, I've been full throttle and there has been very little time for recovery. I get through one project, and am hit head-on with another, sometimes multiple projects, simultaneously. Each project is new and different and the learning curve is steep. The experience that I've gained has been incredible, but the effort to understand and get to the top of a hill, especially in good form, has been all consuming.  Hence the reason I've updated my blog so infrequently and have yet to send out our annual greetings. And have resigned from leading the Girl Scout troop next year. And have turned in to a hermit who treasures QUIET time like nothing else. And have eaten 10 boxes of Thin Mints in the past month.

(Actually, that has more to do with the awesomeness of Thin Mints and my inability to control myself around chocolate. We'll be shipping cookies out tomorrow, so if you ordered some from us and are wondering where they are, I promise they're on the way!)

Last May, when I had a cold that continued to get worse in to June, I requested to work from home. But I was told that if I was well enough to work from home, I was well enough to work in the office. Moreover, if I'm home sick, I shouldn't be working at all. But I knew that if I didn't work, I'd be missing critical deadlines, that would have had a domino effect on a billion (with a B) dollar project which I was tasked to lead. And because I didn't want to take the full blow for being late on that project, or be subjected to work even harder once I got back in to the office, I skipped in with a box of Kleenex and Mucinex tucked under my arm. Less than 12 hours later, I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital.

After that hospitalization, with what turned out to be a severe case of pneumonia, and a subsequent three month disability (and many, many, many tests), I was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome. It's a cheerful-sounding (pronounced: show grins) autoimmune disease that was made famous last year by Venus Williams when she took an extended hiatus from professional tennis. It honestly makes me feel so much better that even someone as physically fit as Venus was totally leveled by the disease.

While I, thankfully, don't have all of the symptoms, I do have the fatigue and body aches, Raynaud's, and periperhal neuropathy. I also have developed an acute case of TMJ that was diagnosed last month when I chomped clear through my polycarbonate night guard. (I just keep thinking how it's a darn good thing I'm not a horse or I would've been turned in to a bottle of glue by now.)

I've concluded that because I was a relatively healthy (and creative) person when I arrived here, and my health (and creativity) has been on a steady decline ever since, these seemingly constant challenges are a result of my environment.  
Or rather, my inability to adapt to this particular work environment.

For as long as I can remember, I've heard the argument that companies will use you until there's nothing left. They will work you right in to the ground. But I've rallied against that claim because I know that a company is as good as it's management. My former manager, for example, encouraged all of his employees to form triathlon teams and find a healthy-work life balance. He inspired and was a role model, both personally and professionally, for everyone around him. I don't recall work ever being too difficult for me, before? I had an amazingly relaxed manager that allowed me incredible freedom in my schedule. I worked from the house and had unsurpassed flexibility. Best of all, the children weren't in school, so my family was welcome to come with me on almost every business trip.

My current work situation couldn't be any MORE different and it's been very difficult because I haven't been in a position to make any changes. I've always been a deep thinker about this kind of stuff, but my deep thinking has reached a whole new level as I wonder, nearly every single day, "What the hell am I doing?" and "How do I get out?"

I've written before about the "curse" on the woman who works hard to pursue a college education and then, advanced degree, excels in her career, surpasses her husband's earnings, has children ... and instantly feels conflicted.

Is she a mother or is she a worker?

Is it possible that she can effectively do both?

Most of the women that I know are genetically programmed and even if she loves her career, there tends to be a pang of guilt whenever she leaves her children. I know for a fact, men don't struggle with this sensation nearly the way that women do.

In our case, because of circumstances and choices we made at the time, Charlie stayed home to be the primary caregiver to our children. And while he is the most wonderful husband and father I know, and many a woman have told me that they need a "Charlie", it's a well documented fact that I've always been restless and struggled with our arrangement. I've never been able to fully "embrace it" (aka: suck-up my responsibility) like so many people have encouraged me to do.

But ... but ... it was me that pursued all of the fertility treatments and never gave up trying to have our children. It was me that put on 200 pounds, in two separate pregnancies, and almost lost my own life the first time around bringing our babies in to the world. And yes, I'd do all of it again in a heartbeat because our children are the best thing to have ever happened to either of us. But I'll shamefully admit that I also do get resentful when I feel like I have no option but to work, especially since I do have a good career with an (otherwise) good company and there is stability that is uncommon in today's world.

But to work 70+ hours a week and have to clean the house on a weekend, because for a while there, there was no excess money in the budget for a weekly maid service and even if there was, I'd have to first find one, and Charlie is outside running around and having a grand old time. Sorry, sometimes my hand starts to cramp from squeezing all those juicy lemons in to lemonade. Although, lemon juice is also a wonderful furniture polishing agent. Did you know?

To make a long, long, long, (xiii series) story short, I told my beloved in December that he needed to get his rear in gear and find a job that would offer our family benefits because I could not do it anymore. Yes, he is amazing and I'm truly the luckiest woman alive. But I'm literally dying and he needs to do something to get me off the crazy train.

Also, at the risk of being called a overly dramatic self righteous ego maniac ungrateful for a good job in today's economy anal retentive controlling perfectionist who can't get out of their own way MOTHER that knocks out her preschooler's front teeth: I'm also a little SELFISH and it's MY turn to go out for nice long walks and send Charlie text messages of me sitting in a sunny coffee shop enjoying a muffin with our son while my husband sits in a cubicle, with his ambitious boss staring over his shoulder, and fights off another panic attack because of > insert today's HAIR ON FIRE critical drama ____ here".

I imagine a hockey game where one player who is cut and bruised and bleeding limps off the ice as a fresh and clean looking player, who a moment ago was smiling and laughing, has a look of terror wash over their face, as they slowly ease out of the box and in to the fray of the game.

"Um. You mean it's MY turn? Oh My God. What's gonna happen?"

Of course my husband has been giving me all kinds of grief about this. He believes that I could get a transfer to another role. And I probably could, but I'd still be in an office setting 40+ hours a week. And although he does work hard with the children, he loves this arrangement and would really prefer to continue working on his own. "Oh yeah, now that the kids are in school all day, you want to stay home. I SEE HOW IT IS." So I just tell him, "Come on, Charlie. You know those frozen Thin Mints aren't going to just eat themselves!!"

But all joking aside, my man is THE man. He jumped on that ice and after flailing around for a lap or two, he scored and then he scored again and again and again. He had offers back in California, here in Virginia, and in states we've never even visited. At this very moment, he has a job offer in hand, from the most amazing little company, less than three miles from my mother's house. My husband would be working with an absolutely wonderful man whom I worked for almost 25-years ago. I love the guy not only because he was one of my first bosses and remembers me fondly as someone who always worked hard, always was happy and always was smiling ... but because he always had a stash of peanut M&Ms to share.

Of course, for Charlie to accept the job, I'd say goodbye to my current career and all of the stability that it has (and will) offer. We'd need to sell our wonderful house with it's wonderful potential, in our wonderful neighborhood, and move. Again. We'd be significantly reducing our income, which does factor in to the equation because although money is no good if you die an early death making it, it actually IS necessary when you have four children who like to eat (and eat and eat and eat), outgrow their shoes every six months, and will be going to college at approximately the same time.

The ideal situation is us both working part-time, from home, again, just like what we had, before. But that's not an option. At least not yet. And we really need to make a change.

So what are we going to do?

I have absolutely no idea.

Sound decision making has never been one of my stronger suits.