In March of 2016, I had my daughter and, after plenty of soul-searching ultimately decided to leave my job in Education (for at least one year) and become a stay-at-home-mom. You can read about my struggle to reach that decision here. It has been an entire contract-year since I made that decision and I can happily report that I have ZERO regrets. In fact, I would argue that my year off of work to focus on nurturing my daughter and building my family was one of the largest investments in myself that I’ve ever made.
To my surprise, I experienced profound professional growth in my year at home. I didn’t realize how run down I had become; how much the stress of my career had actually clouded my thinking. I knew I was exhausted, but I didn’t recognize how depleted I actually was until I had physically and emotionally removed myself from my work.
After the newborn phase relaxed and we settled into a routine, I started experiencing this prolonged period of reflection. During naps, I found my mind going back to work. Thinking about areas in which I flourished, but also recognizing my weaknesses. It seemed like every day my husband would come home from work, I’d have some new revelation to share with him. Removing myself from the day-to-day of my job actually cleared my head and surfaced my strengths and, perhaps more importantly, ways in which I could improve. I found myself replaying scenarios in my head, identifying where things may have gone wrong, and thinking through how I could have done it differently. Not only did I find myself facing my weaknesses head on, but I was proactively working to address them on my own (isn’t that every employer’s dream?).
Before my self-imposed parental leave took place, I was feeling insecure, unproductive, questioning my impact, and ultimately my worth. Now that I’ve had time away from it all – I’ve discovered so much more about who I am and what I bring to the table. I can identify my strengths, I have set goals for refinement, and I have clarity around where I want to go from here. I have more energy, focus, and drive. That kind of deep reflection wasn’t going to come in a summer; it came because I finally had an opportunity to focus on my personal needs in order to better focus on my professional ones.
I don’t think I had entirely realized how little confidence I had in myself or how I had placed so much of my self worth in other people’s hands. When you relinquish all control of your happiness to outside factors, you slowly begin to lose pieces of yourself. I spent way too much time crying about things beyond my circle of influence, placing way too much importance on things that largely didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and eventually I hardened myself to the very things that make me who I am.
In just a year’s time, it seems I have rediscovered myself. Perhaps even reinvented. Aspects of my personality reappeared that I hadn’t even realized were missing. Slowly, over time, I broke down the exterior I had spent the previous years building up and found myself in the beautiful mess that remained. At my annual check up, my doctor even commented on how much happier I looked. Isn’t that crazy? I cry again. Which I realize sounds like a sad thing, but it’s the opposite. One of the things that makes me who I am is the fact that I cry ridiculous, blubbering, happy tears for complete and total strangers. I cry when I’m retelling a story about someone I’ve never even met. I cry when I’m watching commercials that tug at my heartstrings. I cry when I pass by a race and see how hard people are working to achieve their goals. I cry, and it’s who I am, and I finally have that back. I laugh and I dance and I sing and I play silly games with my daughter and (this one is huge for me) I don’t fixate on what other people think of me anymore. And it’s complete and total freedom.
I have found myself in motherhood. I had drained my personal gas tank, I was essentially running on empty, and my year off finally gave me time to fill up. Now, I’m overflowing.