I have been reminiscing a lot lately about what I was doing this time last year. As many of you know, I spent my first four years out of college working for one of the Big Four public accounting firms. This career track was highly encouraged at my university (Gonzaga – GO ZAGS!) and honestly was presented like it was the only reasonable choice if I wanted to make it far in my career. So, naturally, that was the path I decided to take.
The public accounting industry is notorious for burning out its employees. The insanely seasonal hours and intense work environments can really wear a person down. While the big firms are always saying that they are making changes to better their work environment, frankly, I don’t think it will ever change because these firms rely on high turnover to keep up their business model. It’s just the way it is.
This time last year, I had already put in my notice to the partners that I would not be staying past the end of July (long story, it was basically a three month notice and I decided to stay on to avoid negatively impacting my team). I didn’t have another job lined up. After looking and interviewing with a few companies, my husband and I decided that I would stay at home with my daughter and launch my photography business. Truthfully, I was miserable being away from B and I couldn’t imagine having someone else take care of her during the day while only having a few hours with her at night. Yes, I also wanted to become a professional photographer but for me, the decision to leave was primarily so I could stay at home.
When people found out what I was doing, I got a lot of “Good for you” and “That is great” comments. I also had to defend my decision to a few who couldn’t understand why I was leaving it, my CPA experience and the opportunity to make more money elsewhere, all behind. People leave public accounting all the time but rarely do they leave for a career completely outside of accounting altogether, let alone a job that pays nothing except for cuteness, lots of giggles and a fair share of tantrums.
For the first few months after leaving, I dealt with every emotion you could possibly imagine: elation, insecurity, disbelief. The one feeling I did not see coming was the overwhelming sense of failure.
Funny, it is still a little painful to think about even now, nearly one year later.
You see, I went from billing 80 hours a week to zero. I was used to being in a fast-paced environment working with like-minded people. While deep down I knew I wasn’t happy, in a weird way I enjoyed the late-night discussions with my co-workers and looking back after a 16 hour day feeling like I actually accomplished something. Yet, I had made the decision to give that all away because I wanted to be at home with my daughter. My conversations about relevant accounting guidance were replaced with simple conversations with a toddler who was not speaking in full sentences. Early on, there were some days where the only adult I interacted with was my husband.
I felt like a failure because it was explained to me several times that my firm did have options for a flexible work arrangement and other mothers were taking advantage of it. Why couldn’t I make that work?
I felt like a failure because I know that there are countless other moms who have been able to make the transition back to work and thrived. I wondered, did this make me lazy for not wanting to try and do both?
I felt like a failure because I thought that if I was home all the time that the house should be clean, dinners should be prepared, the baby would be happy and I’d be able to balance it all perfectly. (Ha! Right.)
I felt like a failure because I actually was more tired taking care of my daughter than I was when I was working those crazy weeks.
I felt like a failure because even though I no longer had a job to show for it, I had plenty of student loans serving monthly reminders that I spent a lot of money on two degrees I no longer have interest in using.
…I could continue but I won’t. Truth is, I still feel like I failure some days. But something hit me three months into my new ‘job’ as a SAHM and it took me going back part-time for a temporary consulting position to realize it: my heart was infinitely happier when I was at home with my daughter. I know for a fact I am not the perfect mom and I never will be. The house is never going to be super clean, and with my photography business up and running I actually do have a real job outside of taking care of B (I just happen to be my own boss, which is so fabulous). Now that #2 is on her way, I am so grateful that I was able to spend so much alone time with B. If I had been working a 9-5 (or 7-9) job this whole time, I would have missed out on all sorts of great moments and memories.
I do get struck with the “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome every once in a while but I realized something today. If I was on the other side looking at where I am now: one toddler and a baby on the way, a photography business up and running and now a fun blog where I can connect with other amazing people…I would want that life. Just because my idea of the “dream life” may not quite align with what others envision does not make it any less awesome.
The same goes for your dreams, friend. I wholeheartedly believe that it is possible for women to balance being a mom and a full time career if they feel called to it. I also believe it’s okay to listen to your heart song and pursue something totally different than you initially thought you wanted to do. I am finding out, slowly but surely, that if your heart is happy everything seems to fall into place.
I am not a failure. And neither are you.