My Successful Career has Stalled
And I think I am happy about that — is that wrong?
I spent the last 2 years of high school working my butt off to get the scores I needed to get into law school. Five years later came articles of clerkship with additional part-time study in a city across the country from where I grew up.
I kind of hated it from the get-go. That is what happens when you choose a career based on earning potential, rather than passion.
But what do you do when you are 23? You have invested all that time, blood, sweat, and tears into something you thought you wanted and so to turn your back on it is just too big an ask. Plus my parents would have killed me.
So I plodded on, enjoying parts of the work (more so detailed research into complex matters rather than the cut and thrust of being a lawyer like you see on TV), but never being comfortable with the self-promotion necessary to advance in a big law firm. Plus it was the late 1980’s and it was still very much a boys’ club.
But I was diligent, a quick learner and learned how to play office politics and so I crept up the career ladder. And it is amazing where a bit of flirting can get you which is absolutely appalling to admit in this #MeToo age, but it is simply the way it was then.
What eluded me though was passion. A lot of my colleagues just loved the law. LOVED IT! It saddened me that I didn’t as I knew that they were enjoying their lives and their work much more than I was, but I still couldn’t tear myself away to do something else.
Money becomes a trap
Then the trouble became that as my earnings rose quite rapidly, so did the expenditure level I got used— nice clothes, nice restaurants, a new car, fancy holidays and ultimately, a mortgage and 3 kids.
A trap of my own making.
When I married my children's’ father, he was quite keen to start a family. He was 36 and although I was only just 30, had only been working for 7 years and was quite senior, I was all in. Yay, a way out! I embraced pregnancy with gusto, had 12 months of maternity leave and when it was time to go back I quit. When it was time to think about maybe going back part-time, I got pregnant again — and again. An expensive (but lovely) avoidance strategy.
My marriage break down eventually led me back to work, part-time at first but in a slightly different direction. Still doing the corporate work that was my specialty, but in-house for a group of 3 small stock exchange-listed mining companies.
Having to learn mining law and dealing with shareholders, as well as being inside the “client’s” operations rather than being on the periphery was a revelation. I actually really enjoyed it.
Going back to private practice was never on the radar after that — it had become the job of last resort.
As I progressed to full-time as a single mother I gained immense pride in supporting my family by myself and that over-shadowed my career doubts.
After a few years of being able to tuck away some healthy savings and then meeting and marrying my second husband and having that support, I was able to wind back my workload.
At first, it was due to circumstances. One of the companies I was working for had a project failure and so that job ended. And then another one bit the dust, so to speak.
I still had some income coming in and was managing OK so while my first instinct was to start the hunt for some extra work, it has been about a year now and my folder of possible employer targets still sits on my desktop gathering virtual dust.
I have occasionally had an attack of the “shoulds/coulds” — I “should” try and earn some more money to tuck away for retirement while I can, I “could” work some more and have the money for a new car, or some house renos or just for spoiling myself.
I simply can’t be bothered.
Letting down the sisterhood?
Should I care that I am not ambitious about my career anymore? I’m not sure. I do worry that I am letting down the sisterhood and being a bad role model for my teenage daughter, but at the same time at 53 I do feel that I have done my bit in progressing the role of women in a traditionally male-dominated field, and in the mining industry.
Also at 17, my only daughter (my youngest) has seen me working for a large part of her life; she is old enough to get the connection between hard work and comfortable life and was proud of her Mum to be asked to speak at careers mornings at her all-girls school.
So I am confident she “gets it” and having hit the realisation that my life is more than halfway over and that there are so many other things I could explore both to earn an income (hello Medium!) and purely for enjoyment, I now truly believe that it is OK to take my foot off the pedal and take some time to breathe.
I recently read an amazing series of interviews with 50+ yo women who had ditched their careers for something diametrically opposed — the dentist becomes a baker, the doctor becomes a librarian etc and they all spoke of the renewed zest they had for life as a result. Their message — “just do it”. Life is too short to slide into an unsatisfying career twilight.
And being currently in a situation that has led me to ponder my own mortality has left me even more convinced that this is what I need to do — let my career die its own death, be proud of what I did achieve (ditching any “could of been” regrets that if I had applied myself I could have been a high flyer) and simply seize the day. Find joy, find balance, find soul fulfillment.
I can’t wait!!