It started with a eulogy, as things never start. I listened as my husband spoke about his stepdad. I listened as his daughter spoke about her father. I remember the words that came to me and filled the pages as I wrote about my father-in-law. The same theme resonated: our greatest admiration and adoration of him was his commitment to his family. He gave love to his family, to his friends, to his community with the greatest generosity. It was about his loyalty. It was about his steady support and “I’ll be there for you no matter what” way of living. It was that he would offer you a roof over your head if you needed one, better yet, he would build one for you. And as I wept alone and wept publically at this great man we have lost, I also came to an eye-opening conclusion.
When we honor one another at the biggest events of our lives–weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, baby showers, and yes, even funerals, we honor the person. We honor their character, their connection to us, how they love us, how they fill our lives, whether they make us laugh, whether they challenge us, whether they support us, whether they take care of us. We honor them through our memories that have brought us closer and how they make us feel. We may touch on their accomplishments, their accolades; we may be impressed by what they have done in their lifetime, but this is not why we love them. This is not what they mean to us. To us, they are not a walking resume of achievements, but the soul that beats and fills our lives in whichever unique way that might be.
This has opened my eyes. So much of my life has been about striving. Striving to achieve. To get good grades. To reach my career goals. To always be in the top percentiles. It has always been about the climb, the achievements. I have sought the tangible accolades of degrees, position titles, awards, to prove myself and my worth.
Somewhere along this climb, I stopped myself. I thought about where I was going in this lifetime and why. I made a vow to myself that once I got to my goal of where I wanted to be with my career, it was time to change the course of how I dedicated my time and energy. It would be time to devote myself to maintaining my career goals, and shift my efforts towards what was truly my greatest aspiration and passion. And that is to be a mom, wife, and the greatest center force of my family. A close second to this is to be a loyal and present friend in the lives of those I love like family.
This was no easy shift. Why couldn’t I do it all? All those years in college and medical school, I had been told, “You can do it all. You can have it all. You can have success in your career and you can have success in your family.” I believed it. I believed every word. But as reality has shown me, when you dive into something such as a demanding career, you better give it your all to be the best. And when you give your all to one thing, where is the rest of you to give to “doing it all”? You may have a family, but you also have the support that becomes more and more essential to “having it all.” A supportive husband, supportive parents, a supportive care provider by your side, partnering in this raising of a family. These extensions of you become more dominant, they become a greater and greater force in those aspects of your life that need supporting, until you become the supporting role behind the real presence. And is that okay? Of course it is okay. Every family is a blended family of different pillars, different roles; that is how we have successful, dominating career oriented females and males in our society that we so greatly admire.
For me, this just couldn’t be the story of my life. I had to take a step back. I had to think about the repercussions of saying yes to this committee, to the added honor of accepting a promotion, writing a book chapter for a medical textbook, or a position of more responsibility. When you say yes to something, you are taking away from something. There is not an infinite amount of you to give.
This was tough for me at first, and if I am being honest, it is still something I struggle with to this day. Being entrenched in an environment that encourages you to strive for more, to reach higher, to produce greater things, to ultimately be better in your career and dedicate yourself to the pursuit of excelling, this is what I defined as success. Career success was life success. Life success was the sum of all your achievements. As I watched friends continue down that path, I felt pangs of envy, of resentment towards myself. Why aren’t you doing what they are doing? You could do that too you know. Are you lazy? Are you not good enough? Why are you giving up?
These questions haunted me heavily for years, and at times, still float to the surface and taunt me. But somewhere along the line, I acknowledged what I have known is the core of who I am. What matters to me above all else is not my career, but my family. My husband. My kids. They are my everything. My friends. Devoting my life to being present for them is a very conscious and very active decision I have made. By not “having it all”, I have intentionally created space and time to let my family know that they are what matters. Whether it be by making home-cooked meals, being home to pick the kids up from school and hear about their day, deciding to set up for a surprise, spontaneous fort-making extravaganza after school, baking zucchini bread for lazy weekend morning brunches, bringing homemade cupcakes to my husband’s office, or bringing a home-cooked meal to a friend’s family at her time of need, these are the things that matter.
This is my success story and I define success as prioritizing the people that matter most to me. Being involved in two PTO’s, managing my kids’ hockey team, these are the commitments that I invest in, because by investing in these things, I am showing my kids that they matter. That they matter to me more than any hospital committee or council I could be on.
This is not to say that I believe the opposite is true. If your path is to to pursue that high-powered career, this certainly does not mean you are any less dedicated to your kids and certainly means nothing about how much you love your kids. You make the ends meet the way it works for your family, showing them the importance of work ethic and showing them the tremendous value of commitment to your career and your life passions.
I do recognize that when I actively say yes to one activity, I passively agree to take time away from another. I therefore choose my career-oriented responsibilities with greater scrutiny. And the things I can most easily take away from are the ones with the smallest voices, that may not even realize their needs, and those are from my children and even from my husband. They are the ones that won’t provide me with another title to add to my resume, but it is these intangibles that I find my greatest responsibilities.
I won’t lie, some days still get me down and are hard. Surrounded by the high-functioning overachievers that define success that very way I had for so many years when I was achieving right along side them, I can see it in their eyes–they know they are leaving me in the dust. That my success story is a fading one. I have come to realize, this is far from the case. My success story is a blazing one.
My worth is defined by my intentional presence in the life and lives that matters to me most. This may sound morbid, but when those that love me sit down to write my eulogy, I want it to be about my fierce dedication to loving them, about my love and pride for the family my husband and I raised, and how devoted I was to always being present and there for them.
I have sought to re-define life success. Career success is not synonymous with life success. Career success is only a small fraction of what truly matters. My priorities are in order, and I can proudly say, my husband, my kids, my family and friends, will always be my greatest definition of success.