I used to be all about my career. It was the most important thing in my life. It was even the primary focus when I got married in my late 20s. As far as I was concerned, I went to college and grad school to accomplish something, not to be a wife and mother. But as I've grown older, I realize how foolish that laser focus can be. I'm not alone. In a recent interview, Gabrielle Union, now 41, says that she won't sacrifice her relationship for her career. While a lot of women will poo-poo that stance, here's why those who put their personal lives first may be destined for a happier ending.
It has less to do with just "having a man" than having something in your life other than work and prioritizing it. I didn't always appreciate that. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, he was in his last semester of law school. At one point, he was considering a job offer in Washington, DC. It was a great offer and he wanted to take it. There was just one problem, I was based in New York with a plum job at a top entertainment magazine. I wasn't willing to give that up. I said he could take the job, but we would have to have a commuter marriage. Thankfully, he got an even better opportunity in Manhattan and a long distance marriage was averted.
As the years went on, I spent just about all my time at the office, trying to clamor up that next rung in the ladder. That drive didn't begin to wane until I was expecting. I had a very problematic pregnancy and was on bed rest from the second trimester until I delivered. Then, I took an extended, 8-month maternity leave. My son was a preemie and I just wanted to be there for him. However, I had always intended on going back to work, jumping in with both feet again. My old position was no longer available but I was quickly offered another job at a competing magazine, so I headed back to the grind. And what a grind it was. Crazy-late hours, a tense office environment. I was so happy that I had something else outside of work. I was grateful I had a family life that provided me a sense of comfort, joy, love, and appreciation.
Having a career is important and fulfilling to a large degree. But I began to ask myself, "if this job wasn't here, what would sustain me? What would make me happy? What would I be proud of?" For me, the answer was having a wonderful, loving husband and a happy child. Because fact of the matter is, if you left your job, that company would replace you without skipping a beat. With that in mind, toiling away just wasn't worth it to me.
So, I decided to leave a position a million writers would "die for" in order to focus on what had become really important to me. It's not that I didn't want a career at all. I just wanted a job that would allow me to focus on my personal life too. I was fortunate enough to find that. I may not be a titan of industry, but I really do feel like I have it all.
That's not to say that a husband and child has to be the particular personal construct that makes you happy. It could be a group of close girlfriends, family members, pets, etc. Again, it's about who and what sustains you outside of your job. So regardless what form that relationship takes, it has to be nourished in some way.
This may not be the right decision for everyone. And I respect that. As an entertainment journalist, I wasn't exactly saving lives or working toward world peace. However, I have encountered too many single professionals who are miserable or miserable and mean. I only wonder if that would be the case if they had a fulfilling personal life to turn to after the work day was done.
Have you made changes in your career to spend more time with your family?
Image via Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis