Today is the two year anniversary of my leaving my career. I’m not sure celebrating is the right thing to do but I do feel like I need to acknowledge it. It seems strange but somehow important to pause and remember certain watershed moments with this disease. To somehow acknowledge each chapter of my journey with this disease, helps make it a reality and forces an acceptance, otherwise denied.
Today is a bittersweet day for me. Leaving my career because of my disease was not forced on me. It was a very conscious, deliberate decision on my part and at the time, felt like one of the hardest decisions of my life.
I had an incredibly demanding position as the healthcare administrator of a hospice organization. I worked extremely long hours. I was responsible for everything from compliance, to employee retention, to building the business, to selling the service and to me, most importantly, overseeing quality outcomes. I was responsible for a growing patient population and numerous employees working for me. I was on track to one day becoming a regional director of operations. I had targeted goals for myself professionally and I was well on my way to meeting them. I was good, very good at what I did. I am not bragging. I am simply acknowledging what I thought was my calling in life.
So, my decision to leave was not taken lightly. In fact, I felt a bit like I was cutting off a limb to save the rest of my body. Something simply had to give. I no longer had the energy, brain power or physical strength to continue down the stress laden road I had been traveling. I could no longer balance work and family and I was losing my resolvel to maintain it all. I felt incredibly ill at that time. I was not yet stabilized on my medications and I had suffered complications from my open lung surgery, some that I still suffer today.
There seemed to be no end in sight for me regarding my lack of balance. I could no longer juggle all the balls and I was falling short in all areas of my life. I hated it and I hated myself for not being able to fix it because I was the ultimate fixer of all broken things.
But one day, about a year into my journey as I sat on the exam room table, my doctor said to me, “You really MUST exercise. You really MUST put your health first.” In that moment, my mind went first to my husband and how stoically he had put up with my emotional and physical absence. I felt immense gratitude for him. Then, my mind drifted to my career and I suddenly and swiftly realized what I was willing to give up and what I wasn’t. I knew in that singular moment something had to give.
It took another year before I actually made the decision to leave. It was going to have a financial impact on our family and I needed to work through the guilt of no longer “pulling my weight” or what I thought was my “weight” at the time. Then I had to get past my terror of becoming financially dependent on my spouse and more guilt that I was dumping this responsibility entirely on his shoulders. He has never ever balked about it. The only thing he said to me when I told him that I was thinking about leaving work and “retiring” my career at the tender age of 43, was “pull the trigger when you’re ready. I’ve got you.”
Today, I can look back without regret. I have had to learn to redefine myself outside my career and while it has been an emotional journey for me to do this, I know that putting my health first saved my life. I also know that not everyone gets the opportunity to do this so I feel a sense of gratitude every day about that.
I’m no longer defined by what I do but today I know better who I am. In a strange way, despite the challenges of my disease, I am happier than I have ever been. I am more present for my family. I have energy for my friends. I appreciate each moment in an entirely different way now. Things that used to seem so important, don’t anymore. I have lost my need for perfection. I no longer have to worry about the stress of the next deadline or corporate goal. I am a much more relaxed person inside and out.
There are things I miss about my career. There are things I will always miss about it. I enjoyed mentoring new employees. I loved ensuring quality patient care outcomes because it meant we were doing good work for people in need. I miss the challenge of problem solving you only experience at work. But, I am finding new ways to be of value in the world even if they are on a smaller scale. For one, I write my blog which is gaining a slow but steady following, in hopes that it provides encouragement to others in need. But most importantly, I play a new role in my family. I make our house a home and that has been more rewarding than I ever thought possible.
My husband is happier that I am happier and while we always found ways to enjoy our life together, the time spent with one another now is richer and more meaningful. He gets all of me now. He doesn’t have to settle for some small slice of me, sharing me with a cellphone that was constantly stuck in my ear because I was working even when I wasn’t actually at work, all while fighting off endless fatigue and weird aches and pains.
I feel better physically. Yes, I still have my challenges and I’d be foolish not to expect this disease to ebb and flow and flare and smolder. But removing the stress, which I now can look back on as the burden of my career, was without a doubt, the best decision I could have made at the time. And, I think there is something to be said for happiness being the best medicine of all.