Waiting in line at the grocery store, as mundane and ordinary as that is, I had an epiphany. Sometimes it’s the more ordinary moments which bring to light the most profound thoughts.
The headline was hard to miss. Ellen DeGeneres Chooses Family Over Fame.Good for her, I thought. And then…what does that even mean? Why do I care? It’s not like that was a choice I would need to make in this lifetime.
Then it hit me. I already had.
My name might as well have been in her place, screaming to the world my professinal decisions for the sake of my own family (Maybe us ordinary folk aren’t so different from those superstars as we are made to believe?).
Unlike Ellen, our every move is not documented, photographed and scrutinized for the world to see (you put it that way, why would you choose fame???). But our choices are foundationally the same. How we balance our home lives with our careers, what priority we place making money over our relationships, influences the trajectory of our lives and our happiness within it.
I had been happily going about my career as a labor nurse, taking advantage of the twelve weeks of maternity leave. It was October; the sun was shining, the leaves were changing, and I was grateful beyond belief to have all that I needed to care for my family. I had no plans to climb any professional ladders. I was going to go back to work (albeit reluctantly) to continue on.
Within days of returning, I was faced with an enormous professional decision. My director had stepped down, and I was from day one of my return been courted and elevated to a new level. I was the obvious choice to lead our unit, they said. My experience, personality, professionalism and ability to form lasting relationships was exactly what was needed to repair our broken state. It was up to me to pick up the pieces, holding together the people I had come to love and admire over the previous years.
Wow. I had no idea I had so much power. How humbling it is to be told you posess the gifts that will repair old wounds.
So I did it. To this day I’m not sure if I so much agreed or was guided into it by those above me. The stroking of the ego and the flash of money made it difficult to refuse. That would certainly take care of my family, which really was my top priority. There was no harm in trying right? I mean, what was the worst that could happen?
ENTER STAGE RIGHT: The reality of Corporate America.
It was a whilwind. People trapped in a state of ego. High heels, fancy cars, bigger houses, name brand clothes. Every morning the leaders of the hospital grouped together for a “safety huddle”, reporting safety concerns for their prospective units. This gathering left me with such anxiety and distaste. Yes on the surface it was about safety, but the undercurrent of this gathering was about showing off and showing up one another.
And then there was the expectations. I had told my supervisior in the beginning, I had one very defined boundary. My time with my family was important…no it was imperitive. Conditional even. I had a newborn and two other children at home. I would be there. I would be present for my children. For choir concerts and kindergarten presentations, to put my baby to sleep at night and take the kids to school every morning. I would be there.
Sure. No problem. They said.
Except it was a problem. For months I had to explain myself. Why I wasn’t in the office at 7:00 am like everyone else, why I couldn’t stay until 8:00 pm every night. I did my best to balance. I knew it was important to be present for both shifts, which required some early mornings and late nights. What I couldn’t get accross was why I wouldn’t put in 15 hour days. And when I did, why I wanted to work a 4 hour day later in the week. You have to be here, they said.
So…I did everything I could to be there. Compromising my boundary without even knowing I was doing it. Being pulled into the hypnosis of a rat race I never really signed up for. Money being the proffered pocketwatch pendulum, swinging back and forth, ever convincing of my need to continue. To give in a little more. To make this one other sacrifice.
My body began to show signs of my suffering. I was exausted beyond any measure I had been before. My phone had been possessed by everything work related. I got multiple texts throughout the day AND night. From the staff, from my supervisor, from the automated system updating us to the hospital census. There was no break. Saturday and Sunday rolled into the work week. Even when I was home I was not home. Not present. Not emotionally or mentally there. Even with my physical boundaries I discovered it didn’t matter. The constant e-mails and demands of this job kept me away from my family for an entire year.
It took a mistake for me to see the truth. I sent a text to my friend, my angel really, for she listened to my struggle on a daily basis. Only when I pressed send did I realize the receiver of my message, my complaint about my boss’s negativity and my struggle to remain present and positive, was in fact…my boss. My heart sank to my feet as I realized my folly, sure to get me fired.
Being a Friday event, I left work almost immediately, wanting to escape persecution for what I had done. I had the weekend to think about it all before facing her Monday morning. I spent hours and many tears agonizing over what to do, realizing in the end it was a very simple decision.
Actually, it was suddenly clear the universe had played its hand in making this decision for me.
Sitting accross from her that day, watching the anger eminating from her body, I told her the truth. What I said was not wrong, and how I managed my days was the best I could do. I stood firm in my ground that I would not sacrifice my precious time with my family. She stood firm in her ground that this factor was the expectation of this job. We could not reconcile our personal beliefs with what was necessary for me to continue.
I was released. I was relieved. And best of all, I could go back to being me. I returned to where I started, taking care of patients and shoulder to shoulder with my best friends. With those like me, committed to choosing family over fame. Commited to choosing to honor themselves over what money could bring.
That time among those seeking more, those motivated to acheive in this corporate world, was a time of great struggle and great learning for me. There are those who are made for the fame of it all, who are able to balance and be who they really are in such a cutthroat environment. I applaud them. I am grateful to have leaders willing to put it all on the line and am in awe of those who are able to be themselves and be present. It is a rare bird indeed who can keep their wits about them, not losing their true Selves when their selves are striving for attention and status.
I, for one, am grateful I was able to experience and bear witness to my own ego in the midst of so much evidence of its power. It brought me back to myself, validating my true pupose in this life. My true power, despite a smaller paycheck.
I am a nurse. I am a writer. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am present.
Find out who you are and be that person. That’s what your soul is put on this Earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth, and everything else will come. -Ellen DeGeneres
Well said Ms. DeGeneres. And well done.