I was sitting at the kitchen table on a sunny late-summer afternoon, feeding my son lunch, when I was overcome with an amazing feeling of contentment. As Sebastian peeled the turkey and cheese off his sandwich and shoved them into his mouth, dropping some turkey onto the floor in the process, he looked up at me and grinned. And I realized that this, right here, is exactly where I want to be. It’s really all I need in life. A loving partner, an adventurous kid, a goofy dog, a cozy home, and some fun experiences are what truly make me happy.
Thinking about now, I’m not as surprised as I would have been a few years ago.
Growing up in the working class, getting a good job was emphasized daily. In college, I was prepping for a career but I never really had a dream job or set career path so I just went through the motions. I thought I had a dream. I wanted to become a doctor so I could help people, but the reality was that I never felt super passionate about it. Plus, I could never quite wrap my head around those chemistry equations, even after two separate attempts. With a degree in psychology, I wandered down the path to see where life would take me, without ever finding a real calling. I was still a little clueless after graduate school. My passion truly does lie in the area of health, and sexual health in particular, but I have no idea what I want to do with it. Regardless, when I was in my 20s, my mind was set: I was going to focus on creating a great career and making lots of money, and my life would be complete with just Nick and our dogs.
And then I turned 30 and that biological clock started ticking. I’ve written before about how much I love being a mom, and how unexpected that was, but the truth is I’ve always cared deeply about my family. One of the reasons I’ve lived in North Carolina my whole life is to stay close to the people I love most.
It wasn’t until a recent therapy session that I was even able to articulate that I didn’t actually have a dream job. It had been this elusive idea in my head for so long, this requirement for a fulfilling career, that I never really stopped to think about what it really meant for me. There are a few jobs I probably would have liked to have had at some point in my journey, but nothing that really grabbed me and held on. And then I struggled with finding fulfilling jobs in general because I was either over- or under-qualified. Realizing that I had been putting too much emphasis on my career and then being able to let go of the career-as-my-identity mindset has helped me realize that I don’t need a certain career to be happy or to be a somebody. In fact, my value as a human being was never really wrapped up in my job. All I really need career-wise is something I enjoy doing that will make a difference.
So, now that I have a kid, and now that I’ve realized that I love being a mom, and now that I’ve let go of the notion that I have to have a certain career, I can start to be truly happy. I love viewing the world and new experiences through my son’s eyes, so I’m really not that surprised that I would find my calling, my true happiness, with my family. I’m lucky that I have a job that I enjoy and allows me to make a difference in my community, but I don’t let it define me as I once would have. And that is so freeing! I believe this is what they mean when they talk about “having it all.”
It’s taken me a while to get to this point, to be able to evaluate my life in a way that takes into account what matters to me, and not what I think should matter or what other people say should matter.
And all because of a huge toddler grin and some leftover turkey bits on the floor.