2017 – how did you get here so quickly? Time continues to fly by, and although my bank account is looking healthier than it did a few years ago, I am still the same old person. 2017 already looks a bit shaky given our political climate (how on earth did Trump get elected president? So #unpresidented). Anyway, 2017, here are some things I want to accomplish in you — which sounds awkward but you are a year and therefore I’m not doing anything obscene by entering your cavernous orifices via January 1. Continue reading
In five days, I will be turning 33 years old. I was just reminiscing the time of my life when I thought 33 was quite old, and I realized I still think it’s substantially ancient. Sure, I have a lot of years ahead of me, but 33 is no longer my “early 30s” which could pass off as an accidental overage of my 20s. Thirty-three is serious adult business.
I honestly never pictured myself at 33 because I couldn’t imagine it. I’m not sure how many people see themselves as working professionals or mothers or whatever else it is 33 is supposed to be when they’re younger, but I didn’t have any sort of vision of who I’d be at this age. If a six-figure salary and wedding ring on my finger = success then I guess I’ve made it. But I feel ridiculously behind and lost, which is much scarier at this age than it was my 20s. Continue reading
One of my longtime readers Taylor Lee left a comment that said what most people in my life tell me over and over again —
Not to be harsh, but I feel like you cycle through the same issues over and over again regarding work, depression, family anxiety, etc.
My advice is to break the cycle by choosing the path you haven’t taken before:
(1) Get a job at a bigger company. I think this will help solve a LOT of the problems you’ve been having with start-up life. Preferably some place near to where you live so your awful commute gets shortened.
(2) Figure out what triggers your anxiety/depression and what you can do to mitigate it. Whether it’s diet, exercise, more sleep, medication, therapy (I think you might benefit from CBT), your #1 goal should be getting your mental health on track.
I want to address both of these suggestions as they are good ones, but also aren’t necessarily solutions to the problem.
- Get a job at a bigger company. Is startup life the problem? Maybe. In my 10 or so years in the workforce, only six months were spent in a company larger than 100 employees. In the six months I spent in that larger company I witnessed so much inefficiency and bad middle management getting away with practically murder, I promised myself I would never go back to a large company. In between then and now I have applied for roles at larger companies – knowing that one poorly run large company does not make them all bad – but my experience in startups means my job prospects in larger companies are moot. Larger companies tend to look for someone with very specific experience in one area, whereas startups value that I’m a bit of a jill of all trades.
I just honestly haven’t had any luck with even getting interviews at larger companies – whereas startups see me as the perfect fit (at least on paper.) I did get one job offer from a 300 person startup – which maybe would have been better – but in this case I did not feel I had the experience needed to lead the team I was going to be given and the stress would have been even worse. I also received a job offer for a poor-performing smaller public company that made business software which reminded me why I disliked larger companies in the first place – people pretended to be passionate about their products but you could tell they were just completely burnt out because they didn’t care. I checked a few months later and most of the people I interviewed had left the company (given its poor performing stock it may not have been by choice.)
This would likely be different at a consumer-focused public company, but I’m far too unqualified for these roles to land so much as an interview. Believe me, I’ve tried. I can keep trying and maybe eventually something will stick. It isn’t even the money anymore (big companies would pay significantly less since I’d be in lower level roles with less responsibility) – it’s just the reality that no one will hire me at a larger company – at least one I’d actually want to work at.
- Figure out what triggers my anxiety/depression. Well, I’ve figured this out, and there’s a lot of things…
- Doing a job where I’m supposed to know what I’m doing on day one and there is no room to be developed or to get better at what I’m doing before I’m judged and thrown to the curb (ok, this is a startup thing.)
- Being responsible for too many things at once without clear definitions of what those things are (i.e. unlimited number of things I can do, and not knowing whether to focus on the few things I know how to do well, or spend time on the things that I know will add a lot of value that I don’t know how to do well, so I spend too much time on them and get extremely anxious over them versus being product)
- Having to be social on a daily basis with the same people. This pretty much will be an issue in any office environment. As I’ve noted before I’m an ENFP with massive social anxiety, so over time a “work from home” job would also be draining… I need human contact. But having to be the person who makes that contact on a regular is anxiety causing. I often think it would be much better to be an engineer because it’s a given that you’ll be socially awkward and that makes it easier.
- Work hours. I am not a morning person. My ideal situation would be working 11am to 7pm. Well, now I work about 8am to 7pm. If I work for a bigger company it’s unlikely my hours would get any better – right now I theoretically take an 8:30 train and get in at 10. If I worked at a big company job closer to home I likely would have to be in at 9, so the commute would be shorter but the time to wake up would be the same. I might get home earlier, which would be nice, but doesn’t help matters as I want to be able to sleep in and work later if possible. I guess if I get to leave at 5 everyday, if that exists in big companies, then maybe getting to work at 9 would be fine. But even bigger companies require long hours.
- Work location. If I could work two days from home that would be hugely helpful. That way I could get a few days of social interaction but also have time to just focus on getting my work done. I think this would be the ideal situation.
- Money. Whether I’m paid too much or too little when working for a business I’m always anxious about money. I’m anxious about it for many reasons. One, it’s ridiculously expensive to live where I live and my soon-to-be husband does not make enough to cover what we need to live a comfortable life here. I estimate that to afford a comfortable family life in the Bay Area you need to make at least $300k as a couple and even that is tight. So if I make $200k and he makes somewhere close to $100k, we might be ok. He’s at more like $60k right now and I’m a bit under $200, but we’re getting closer. I’ve saved a lot right now which is great but I’m now at the age where I’m about to have kids (if my body allows me to) and the numbers don’t add up if I take a lower paying job. Can we live on less money? Of course we can. A two bedroom apartment here will set us back $36k a year. Beyond that we can cut costs on food and clothes and entertainment. Lots of people survive on less. But I don’t want to. I want to have a comfortable middle class life. I want to buy a house or at least have an apartment in a safe area that feels like a home and not a temporary residence. I could go and make $140k and that’s still a great salary — and maybe that’s fine. Together we’d make $200k and we should be able to live on that. But will a $140k job really be that much less stressful than a $200k job? It might be. But then if I want to actually get back to $200k+ salary I’ll just have to move into more stressful positions and I’ll end up back where I started, only at that point I’ll be so deeply handcuffed to the lifestyle and supporting a family that I won’t be able to just pick up and leave or check myself into a mental institution.
- Lack of completion. I really like jobs which are projects that have a beginning, middle and end to them. Without a sense of completion, I am extremely stressed out. And those projects must be substantial enough that my boss and peers see that there was significant effort put forth to do this thing and it was done and we all agree it was done well. I need that in my life to feel ok.
- Not being trusted/respected to do what I was hired to do. I guess this is a double-edged sword… either the person who hires me doesn’t trust me and then I am constantly feeling judged or the person trusts me a lot and then I eventually cannot do the things they trust me to do and then they get very upset at me… but they were delusional in the first place to think I’d be able to solve all of these problems. But not being trusted is worse. But then I don’t exactly earn trust given that I tend to over commit to things and deserve that lack of trust. It’s just when I start out not being trusted, it’s a deep hole to dig out of… and so much of the trust stems from the ability to pretend like you have your shit together and everything is fine. And I’m the exact opposite of that where I am just too honest and will tell you when something is an issue and explain why. And this is going to be a problem in bigger companies even more than it is in smaller ones. In bigger companies it’s less about 1:1 relationships and more about politics, which is a game I can’t and don’t play.
What can I do to improve my mental health? Sleep? Diet? Exercise? Therapy?
All of the above.
I know when I sleep I feel better and less depressed/anxious. But I don’t sleep enough. I go to sleep at 1am and wake up at 6am and still end up late for work because I’m too anxious to move despite doing work in bed.
Eating healthy helps a lot. As does exercise. But when I exercise at 6am I lose out on sleep so I think it kind of offsets its productivity.
Therapy… I have a love-hate relationship with therapy. I’ve been to so many therapists I know that it’s a huge time and money suck with no successful outcome. It’s sanity maintenance which has value in and of itself, but not for how much it costs. Yes, I make a lot of money and yes, I can afford to spend it on therapy ($700-$1000 a month for 4 sessions) but then I end up anxious over the value of those sessions. It’s so expensive and this year I decided to put my money into personal training ($600/month) – my physical vs my mental health – because I’ve spent so much on therapy to date and where has it gotten me?
I’m not on any antidepressants and maybe I should be, but I know that sleep and diet and exercise all can help me be a lot less stressed and sad all the time. Drugs don’t change my work situation.
So… do I need to address these issues and make a significant change to my life soon? Yes. How? I don’t know. I’m spending all my money on my wedding right now – which is stupid but it is what it is – and then I’ll have time to figure out what to do with my life.
An old boss of mine from my journalism days offered to review a freelance pitch from me if I had any ideas – so I just sent one off and I haven’t felt this engaged and motivated about a potential paid project in a long time. I have no idea if they’ll accept my pitch but I’d love to get back into non-business journalism where I’m writing about issues that actually help people and represent those who do not have a loud enough voice to be heard. But I can’t make a living doing that, so it’s only a fun side project for now – but pitching the story this morning was rewarding in and of itself.
This week, I’ve been reading a slew of posts about how women make less money than men, and why. Mostly, the argument against this being an issue goes, that women tend to work less than men one they have kids, and they also and generally less competitive so of course they don’t make as much money. In every single job negotiation I feel the weight of this on my shoulder, and try my best to negotiate. I have no idea what a man would do in the same situation with my experience, but since my first couple of jobs when I took the starting salary with no negotiation at all, I’ve tried to ask for a little more, and I’ve gotten more ballsy over time. It helps now that I now have competition offers, and I seem to be fairly good at interviewing these days.
On paper, I sound qualified for a very particular type of role and particular type of company. I’m not sure at all how life has sculpted itself to this specific career path, but it has, and I’m locked and loaded into it, full speed ahead until retirement to gain more responsibility, earn more wages, and look back on a very successful professional career. It hit me this week that I’m nearly making $200k (which, even for one of the highest cost of living areas, is one of those numbers that I thought would never be possible — ten years ago I was making $20k.)
Yet as I look ahead to potentially having children / starting a family, I realize that if I have an opportunity to leave this profession and move into something that is more flexible and personally fulfilling, I would. As much as I like money, and as much as I’ve been driven by this random “$500k in networth before I have kids” goal for the entirety of my 20s and early 30s, I just can’t see myself, 10 years from now, in this same type of role. I don’t want to be a vice president or C-level executive. Even though the pay would be great, I have no desire to be that person. I could potentially figure out how to fake who I am enough to get there… given my success getting this far, I have to believe that someone out there would want to offer me such an opportunity one day. And I feel very guilty, that as a woman — as a woman who has an actual chance of getting to the top – I don’t want it.
As I sprint full speed ahead towards my mid 30s and the next phase of my life, I wonder what to do about it. I’m so busy these days with just trying to do my job and do it well and planning my wedding that I don’t have a ton of time to ponder what’s next (which is probably a good thing.) But, as my rent has increased this year by $2040 for the year, and the cost of living in this area shows no signs of refraining its hockey-stick growth, I know that at some point soon, I either need to commit to this career or come up with an exit strategy. I’m leaning towards the exit.
I don’t want to “not work.” I LOVE working. I love collaborating with a team to create new products. I wish I could be a ux designer or product lead. I’ve said that now for 12 years. I’ve failed to make any progress in that direction. I tried to study for the GRE and even booked a test slot and then didn’t go because I hadn’t studied enough. I couldn’t focus. I gave up. I got a better job. I made more money. It became less fiscally responsible to go back to school anyway. I got older. I passed that age when people go to grad school into the age when some people do but they’re much older their classmates. I entered the age where you take online classes or executive programs but only in rare cases do you go back to school for an entirely new career. Sure, people do it, and I may eventually as well, but I’m really getting older now — not old, per se, but old in the sense of I have a career. I have a good career. I manage a department, small as it is, I’m still in a high-level role, and there is so much good in my life that I kick myself every time I want to start over.
At this point, I’m committed to another year or two in my current job. If I do get pregnant then that will certainly be an opportunity to think through what’s next. Of course, if I get pregnant, it will be even harder to change careers. If I opt to apply to grad school for 2017 I’ll be 33 when I start, and I may want to put having kids on hold, which means I likely won’t have kids, which is, at this point, out of the question unless nature says I can’t (also a possibility.) In any case, there has to be some major changes in the next 2-3 years of my life, which will likely include moving to another state, or at the least, finding another career path and opting for lower pay and a lower quality of life here. I know this isn’t something I can maintain. It will be hard to say goodbye to the near-$200k salary, but I know if I figure out how to do something I’m really passionate about, maybe I can get back there over time. Or maybe I can just make less money and live somewhere more affordable. Either way, there are options, and I’ll always feel guilty as a woman for throwing away a successful career, but I have to. I have to rethink my entire life, my goals, and the directed outcomes. I do finally feel ready for a change.
I’ll admit it, 2015 was rough. With my long commute to and from work, my sanity and health sank to perhaps an all-time low. Although I achieved networth growth over the year, it wasn’t nearly as much as I had targeted. In fact, in the year when I made significantly more than I had ever made before, I ended up saving less than I had in the past (including interest.) I closed out the year with $344k in total assets with the exception of my car (I don’t count that in my networth calculations, though, I guess I suppose I should.) I wanted to be at $400k in networth, but between some bad investments, general stock market blahs, and being unemployed for a brief while, I just didn’t get anywhere near that.
What I try to remind myself is that $344k at 32 is not too shabby. If I don’t touch that, don’t add anything else, and it manages to grow at 5% YoY that’s $1.3M by the time I’m 60. Ok, so I want to get to $4M by 60 (which requires about a 10% YoY annual return with my current principal and no annual additions), but even if I get to $1.3M by 60 I think I could remain working and manage to grow that another 5 years, which gets me to $1.7M and that isn’t counting any savings from future Mr. HECC.
The plan was to hit $500k net worth, have a kid and save for a house while living in an apartment with young kid, and then over the next five years save enough for a 20% downpayment ($300k) on top of the $500k plus annual interest that I wouldn’t touch. That goal is looking rather unlikely right now, and I’m actually ok with that. I’ve gotten to this point where I’ve accepted that the life I am going to lead as an adult is going to be at a lower class level than the one I was used to as a child. While I grew up in an upper-middle class household, my family will be squarely in the middle class (for my region of the country), and we’ll be fine. We’ll still be doing much better than the majority of households in the country, even if we can’t afford a house for a long time, if ever.
Right now, my focus must be 100% on excelling in my job. With my current salary and responsibilities, I have the opportunity to set myself up for a very successful next 20 years of my career. I also am very seriously confronting the reality that if this doesn’t work out for any reason, if this is a failure, then it means a significant shift my career trajectory and networth projections. I very well might return to school – which I’ve been talking bout for a while but haven’t seriously pursued – to study to become a psychologist or design researcher with a psychological focus. But I don’t want to think about that right now, I’m heads down, fully in the game, trying to relax and thrive despite the many challenges at hand. In other words, I refuse to mess this up.
Beyond work, this year is just a huge year of major life changes. I get married in a few months (tax bill goes up next year, woohoo), and I also likely start trying to have kids, confronting the soon-to-be-proven fact that conceiving doesn’t come so naturally to me (thanks PCOS.) I’m hyper-focused on losing weight, eating healthy and exercise right now. My weight fluctuates significantly — in 2012 I was at 180lbs (my highest ever, which is very heavy for a woman who is 5’3), to 155lbs a year later, to 176lbs a year later than that, dropping and holding steady at 170 through 2014 and most of 2015, ending 2015 at 160lbs. I hired a personal trainer 3x a week ($50 a session which is a really good deal for this area) so we’re working on getting my weight down to about 130 in the next couple of months (5 pounds a month is my goal to lose, which is a good, achievable goal.) It’s mostly so I can feel happy with how I look in my wedding pictures, but it’s also just something I need to do in order to save myself from premature aging. Plus, I just feel mentally more clear and balanced when I’m eating healthy and exercising. It’s good to have such short-term goal so I am focused the entire way through, no matter how hard it gets.
This year, my goals are going to be a little less intense on the networth side. I’d like to get to $400k in networth, including $23.5k in new retirement savings (401k & IRA). That leaves $31.5k to make up for in interest and other savings, or about $2.6k per month. I’m planning to try to save an additional $2k per month on average, and hopefully the rest (~$7200) will come from interest on, say, $250k of invested, interest-earning assets, which is about a 3% gain on those investments. I’d prefer to go well over this, but trying to be realistic with the goals, especially with the wedding spending. I don’t think this is going to be a hugely profitable year but I could be wrong.
2016 Goal Summary
1) $400k networth – including $23.5k in retirement savings, $24k in taxable investments, and about $7k in interest.
2) Be 130lbs by summer
3) Thrive at my job (and be gainfully employed and loved by my colleagues when Jan 1, 2017 rolls around)
4) Get pregnant before I’m 33!?!
Well, here’s to kicking off what is sure to be a crazy year. Fingers crossed it’s a good one. I think it will be. I hope it will be. Oh god, it better be. 🙂
Well, I’ve made it. Another year around the sun. Another 365 days of ups and downs, laughter and tears, deep depressions and manic outpouring of not-so-situationaly-appropriate glee. It has been a year of growth and change, saying goodbye to one job and another, embarking on a shaky yet exciting advancement in my career; moving in – finally – with my boyfriend of 8 years; losing my grandfather and attending my first funeral; and — starting — to accept that aging is going to happen, and is happening, to my own flesh despite still wanting to believe that I’m forever-young invincible.
So I have 1/32 of a grey hair now, a few more wrinkles in my forehead due to my chronic state of worry, and a couple of more breaths between freak outs to remind myself I’ve been in those unpleasant shoes before and managed to survive to see another happy day. I’ve taken steps to seek the right kind of help — hired an ADHD coach — focusing on treating the symptoms vs the root cause of my psyche which, no matter how well I psychoanalyze and understand, is never going to dramatically change. I guess you can say at 31 I’ve accepted that I have a chronic condition known as “me.”
Am I 100% satisfied with myself? God no. I have a lot of work to do. I’m always pushing myself to improve all while pondering how that may be possible given my constant state of neurosis. I’m longing to become a mother despite being terrified of how that fits in with this life I’ve managed to create for myself as a business executive and otherwise responsibility-free adult, all things considered – no mortgage, no car payments, no kids, no debts – just save, save, save, and push through the lows so I can try my best to enjoy the highs. It’s the best I’ve been able do so far, but I still have a lot to give and still have a lot of getting my shit together to do.
10 years ago I had this crazy goal to save $250,000 by age 30. I didn’t really think far past that, other than a seemingly impossible objective to save $500k before I have my first child. At the time I had $10k in the bank and didn’t even have a boyfriend so it was all a crapshoot of dreams. Today I have my guy and I’m nearing a solid $300k in networth as I say hello to 31. I’m in a good spot to achieve my $500k before my first kid goal. On paper my life is pretty damn spiffy. But every day is still a struggle with all the highs and lows.
In my 30s, now that I’m actually “in” my 30s vs just starting them, I want to achieve some kind of stability. Perhaps this means medication is a requirement vs a nice to have, but I need to find consistency in my routines and slow down enough to find serenity in the everyday. Perhaps I can do that. As opposed to my 20s and before when I longed for a bit of a crazy, uncertain, constantly changing life, now I yearn for consistency, routine, and regularity. I know I’ve always hungered for the later but a fear of not picking the right route of settling down kept me bouncing from one path to the next. I was terribly lost and only the rush of impractical choice would make me feel momentarily alive and free – but the lack of stability punched me in the gut day after day after day. In my 30s I’ll admit open heartedly that I’m tired of trying to be different and letting a fear of being “just like everyone else” run my life. Maybe being just like everyone else… (even though that’s not really possible anyway) is not that bad.
What’s throwing me off most tonight is that I graduated college in 2005 when I was 21. It was easy to accept 10 years removed since high school graduation — high school was the end of my childhood — but college… that doesn’t seem that far in the past in many respects. In others it seems like a lifetime ago. Still, it was actually 10 years ago. 10 years ago at this time I was in my senior year, falling into a very dark depression that I’d spring out of only after moving to the west coast and pushing through a year of one failure after another, picking my pieces up again every time I fell apart. Senior year of college is a blur – I was lonely, confused, unsure of where I was headed, and just trying to give myself some framework to follow, some sign to guide the way. I had just returned from my first trip abroad, a summer in eastern europe studying and traveling, and continued a relationship with my boyfriend at the time who had moved to a city on the east coast for the year, and who I visited fairly frequently as a treat to escape my life and throw myself squarely into his which I never did fit. It took a move to the west coast and a serious heart-to-heart shortly following the move that we mutually agreed we weren’t right for each other. And there I was, completely alone, with no framework or guide or must-do for life’s next steps. All I knew was that I couldn’t fail – permanently. I had to get up and keep going. And so I did.
Well, so now I’m 31. I have a goal to have my first child by 34 at the latest and the fact that that’s three years away probably scares me the most… especially because 34 isn’t even a “young” age to have a kid and I’d like to have at least two. It’s crazy how fast time flies once you’re in your mid 20s. I guess it’s strange because childhood is this extremely slow moving set of years where you’re growing and learning so quickly that every day can seem like a millennium… and suddenly you’re thrust through a magnetic launcher and boom you’re rapidly accelerating towards the rest of forever and you can’t stop it… you just have to try to breathe and appreciate the sights and sounds and wonder as you rapidly approach the end of your ride. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way at 35 and 40 and 50 and 60 and beyond, and even more so. And miss the days when time was long, the nights where the sun seemed like it would never set, the mornings rushing out the door and chasing after the school bus in excitement because of a certain topic to be discussed in class or an after school activity to be held that day.
My goal for this year is to find some sort of similar excitement in my life again -in a sane, healthy way. I’ve lost a sense of happiness, a sense of wonder, a sense of joy. Life has become a calculator of finances and hours in the day to fill with work and getting stuff done. While these are first world, middle class problems they are my problems nonetheless. I’m looking to establish my own independent sense of adventure and peace with solitude. I know this year will bring about lots of change, perhaps more than the shifts in the last 365 days, and I hope I’m ready for it. I approach my 31st year with wide eyes, an open heart and an open mind. Come on 31, bring it.
One thing I love dearly about my boyfriend is how his values are the antithesis of everything I thought were my own values. Given that happiness was somehow absent from my youth in exchange for too many shopping trips to the mall and my father shoving my mother across the room declaring her worthless, I grew up not knowing what to want out of life. The only experience that I could identify with that came close to happiness was something between accumulating money and chaos. Love, outside of anxiety-ridden over-worrying and over-parenting, also didn’t exist.
So I went away to college with no concept of what I want. Now, many 17 year olds have no idea what they want, but they seem to have some sort of greater purpose. They want to be a doctor. Or they want to be an engineer. Or they want to just make a lot of money. They want to get married. They want a life like the one they grew up in…
What did I want? I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to live a life void of love. But I didn’t know what love was. I wanted to escape worry and anxiety but growing up in an environment like that makes it very challenging to avoid that without many costly years of therapy (…and even then.) I often wondered what it would be like to have a clear vision of some sort of grand goal for life. I just knew I had to figure out how to pay the rent so I wouldn’t have to move back to my home state. I just knew I had to keep running.
My instincts, growing up in a chaotic environment, were to chase after fame. I had, and still do, some vague fantasy about being loved by everyone simply for being me. Not just the me that sits at home and stares at the wall, but somehow adding value as an entertainer. A comedian. An actress. Something big, bright lights worthy.
Maybe that’s what I was “meant” to be, but a mix of a lack of talent, reality, and being too afraid to fail kept me from chasing after that deluded dream. Still, I went to school for theater, not acting, and sat silently jealous of the actors who didn’t know I existed, who exhibited talent of varying degrees, who were so free in their bodies and not afraid to do crazy and sometimes potentially harmful things like sleeping around or snorting coke. Yes, I was jealous of that lifestyle. My excitement was limited to a few drunken nights where I end up crying in a bathtub alone – the most exciting being the night my then-boyfriend walked out on me crying in said tub with my glasses in his pocket, and I spent an hour the next morning crawling around my room blind as a bat wondering where they went.
This isn’t a sob story, it’s just the story of my life. I knew I needed to make money. But I had no ambition. Or, more so, I had no direction. I just couldn’t look back. I was a decent writer, not by academic means, but somehow prose came naturally do me after spending my adolescence blogging away my angst. And that got me a job as an editorial assistant, which turned into a reporting position, which turned into various marketing roles and so on. Somehow, that turned into 30. Unmarried. Living with roommates. Making over $100k. But feeling like I don’t deserve it. And knowing it isn’t enough to afford the life I think I want. 30.
So the dream of fame has virtually dissipated. I still fantasize, now, about one day writing a novel or memoir that makes my name known for something before I die. That said, I’m mostly over fame. I’m trying to find my motivation. Is it money? Is it love? Is it silence?
My boyfriend grew up in a vary different environment than mine. While my parents were married and probably never should be, his parents never tied the knot. There was still some chaos in his life, in different ways, but he was never held down on a bed and beaten with a belt by a man who seemed more outrageously angry than would be justified for refusal to clean up a room.
Meanwhile, my bf’s chaos fell more to the side of neglect. Where I had nearly everything I wanted from a material point of view, he had nothing. He had clothes from thrift shops and the living room couch as his bedroom. It’s not that his parents couldn’t afford to give him a better life. They just didn’t think it mattered. My parents, on the other hand, thought that buying a nice house in the suburbs and paying for summer camp was the definition of good parenting. Neither of us experiencing a caring, loving childhood. That’s probably why we get along so well.
Ultimately, what we both want is pretty simple. We just want love. We want to escape the chaos that has defined our lives and experience a life of stability and kindness. I’m terribly messed up from my childhood and occasionally dive off the deep end, starting a fight because the calm is unsettling, craving the madness where I’m most at home. But I know that isn’t what I want. And I’m so grateful that he understands that isn’t who I am, it’s just who I sometimes become, when I’m afraid, when I can’t handle the silence.
If I can have the calm at home, and nurture that, then that leaves room to nurture some sort of productive chaos in my professional life. It’s why I’m drawn to startups. I’m motivated by having to fight amidst the impossible. I spent my childhood feeling never good enough as my father, intelligent as he was, would tell me I wasn’t trying hard enough when I struggled with math or failed to focus and do well on my tests. I like not feeling good enough because it gives me motivation to prove everyone wrong. That’s when I do my best work. That’s when I make my magic.
But that isn’t healthy either. And as I look into the future of my 30s, the 3650 minus some-odd days until my 40th birthday, I am terrified by the hypothetical timeline that lies before me. Marriage? Kid? House? Kid..s? Is that all what I want? There are days I fantasize about running away somewhere… getting in my car, driving to New Mexico… Santa Fe… becoming a waitress with another name, never heard from again, staring at rich sunsets quickly changing from purples to pinks, leaving town once people start to know my name. Being an anonymous nomad. Living off little. Not having to worry about falling into a depression and not having enough money to pay the bills for my kids, or the mortgage on a house, or a roof over my head (worst case, I’ll sleep in my car, on my own, if I’m on my own…)
But that’s a silly fantasy of disappearing. That isn’t reality and it’s not what I want either. Maybe what I want is a somewhat nice house. A somewhat nice — will cost me $1.4 million in Silicon Valley — house with a little backyard and change to travel the world at my leisure in two or three star hotels. Kids? Maybe. A husband who doesn’t care if I’m CEO making $500k per year or assistant making $30. Love. That’s what love is. It is about helping each other, others, get through life. Get through it and stop to smell the roses. It’s cuddling when the weather is cold and making dinner for each other and surprises which deliver unexpected smiles. That’s all priceless. That is, it seems, what I want. Not fame, no, that’s what society made me think I want, that’s what 18 years of only being appreciated for doing something “special” made me want. I don’t want to be special anymore. I just want to be me. And more than anything else, I want to love.
I had the rare opportunity recently to spend a few hours one-on-one with a very senior executive at my company. With his perfectly polished demeanor, he had this way of getting information out of me by asking just the right questions. Information about what motivates me, what I want out of a career, and how I think our business is doing. I’m sure I said too much.
He asked me what scares me, and I joked, caught off guard, and said drowning. Then I postured about the business in ways I shouldn’t have, fumbling to find something intelligent to say. Something intelligent that I could say to the big boss which made me sound professional and optimistic while also practical and soundly strategic. I’m sure I accomplished none of the above. I left asking myself that question too – what is it that I’m most afraid of, outside of drowning?
I’m also at the point in my life — God, 19 days until 30 — when I’m done with pretending to be something I’m not, and less afraid of just being myself even when it bites me. So far, the whole being myself thing has worked out pretty well. Then again, am I really being myself these days? That’s the question I walked away from the conversation with, and it’s still been throbbing loudly in my head and heart. Continue reading