I write a lot about finding your purpose and figuring out the work you’re meant to do.
I blame it on my childhood.
We’re asked at a very young age what we want to be when we grow up. We usually reply based on what we’ve seen, either in our neighborhoods or on TV. There’s probably a disproportionate number of people out there who wanted to be things like teachers, doctors, and policeman.
When my son was in kindergarten, he wanted to be a garbage man (his words, not mine).
At the time, we thought it was funny and cute.
Hanging off the back of a truck, wind whipping through your hair…what could be better?
He’s 15 now, and his new dream job is one he calls “fragrance mogul.” I don’t think he’s seen many of those around, but he likes girls, and I guess he’s started caring about whether or not he smells good when he is around them.
There’s a bunch of kids going off to college, and they are stressed to the max. Everyone is asking them where they are going to school and what’s their major. Students like my daughter, with ambiguous majors like Leadership Integrated Studies, get asked a follow-up question, which is typically a variation of “What do think you want to do with that someday?”
How could she possibly know the answer to that question?
Our first jobs rarely determine our final destination.
Case in point: I used to work in a hardware store, and my first job out of college was as a trainer in a gym.
Don’t get me wrong. Work is necessary. Work is good. My daughter’s been working since she was sixteen. All the jobs we have in life prepare us for the work we’re meant to do.
Humans were created to work. But there are so many different kinds of work and ways in which we can work and possibilities for the future that I would never want to lock my 19 year old daughter into just one way of thinking. She’s young and smart. I’ve never told her to choose a major based solely on the fact that she needs something concrete, something “she can fall back on.” I have faith that she can figure out work because she’s figured out so many other parts of her life.
And she’s got time.
So many of the jobs that sound interesting to me now did not even exist when I was her age. I never could have imagined the work I’m doing now. But (and this is the big thing), I knew what kind of life I wanted, and therefore everything I was learning would not be wasted, no matter what the future held.
Choices and Consequences
But the point is that we often don’t think about the consequences of our choices.
Twenty years ago I made a choice.
I made a choice to leave full time paid work in order to stay home and do full time UNPAID work. It was a choice I made, and the consequences were many. I have no regrets because this unpaid work has been fulfilling in other ways
If my son had thought through the consequences of being a sanitation worker, a valiant occupation to be sure, and something we can’t do without ( Does anyone remember New York’s great garbage strike of 1968?), he may have chosen a different path—even as a kindergartener. However, he didn’t think about the fact that it’s pretty stinky riding behind the garbage all day, that HE would be pretty stinky, too, by the end of it, and that lifting garbage bags hour after hour is some kind of back-breaking labor. In hot weather, on cold days, and even when it’s raining, sanitation workers are on duty.
The garbage never stops.
But just because we get older doesn’t mean we think about the consequences of our work. Maybe you have found yourself on the business end of a poorly executed choice. For example, I once thought it would be fun to run a company, which would probably mean time away from family, travel, late nights, stressful working conditions, and possibly even more education.
Is that what I really wanted?
We make the choices we can live with.
And all choices are not created equal.
As I’ve watched my children get older and my friends, stay-at-home moms mostly, go back into the workforce, I’ve noticed that even now we forget what our choices mean.
We want so-called REAL work because it means that the years we spent at home raising our children, volunteering at school, and keeping house were not wasted. We can add value. And if we can, we should…Right? And let’s be honest—kids don’t get less expensive as they get older. We trade diapers and preschool for drivers ed and tutoring. They need and want more than we can possibly give them.
Going back to work is the next logical step.
So we go back to work and discover that we are still needed at home, that children still get sick, that teachers still have conferences, that the laundry and cooking do not cease simply because we are not there to do it. We can enlist the help of our spouse and kids, but everyone is busy. So, so busy.
And we realize that what we really want is not necessarily more money, but more time. The kids are getting older. They will leave us soon. We only have four more summer vacations. Three. Two. One. And then suddenly they are off to college. And family vacations are a thing of the past. At least the way they used to be.
Where did the time go?
I want you to know that the work you’re doing now IS real work. It’s important, and it matters. In a LinkedIn article I was reading just last week, 91% of employers say that soft skills are more important than hard skills when looking to hire a new employee. These skills are becoming increasingly important, not just in the workplace but everywhere. Those are certainly the skills I can practice, teach my kids, and cultivate in a variety of non-traditional unpaid ways.
Just because I was (and still am) what some would call a stay-at-home mother, I don’t necessarily do a lot of staying home.
According to the LinkedIn report, these are the soft skills companies need, but have a hard time finding:
5) Time Management
Where better to practice these skills than in the context of motherhood and volunteerism and community service?
Think about what you’re doing right now. If you’re not doing REAL work, can you think of anything that’s preparing you to lead with the soft skills necessary for the future?
It’s so easy to think that time spent at home and time spent not earning real money, is wasted time. And this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Your soft skills are getting stronger every day.
It is possible to chase your dream without running away from your life.
You are not stuck.
You are not stigmatized.
You are not a doormat.
You are not a slave.
You are smart, and special, and someday (but maybe not now), your dreams will actually be closer than you think.
You will not always have children at home.
You will not always need to be the one who does the cooking and cleaning.
You will find, if you’re willing to share now, that which you have, that when the timing is right, you will receive exactly what you hoped for.