Two years out: thoughts on work

A little over two years ago, I became a Xoogler. My friends threw me a party to celebrate the momentous occasion of quitting my first job. Obviously I’m not the only person in the world who has opted to leave Uncle G, but unlike other Xooglers I didn’t have a gig lined up at an oddly-named-but-edgy-sounding startup in San Francisco. In fact, my cushy six-figure salary dropped to a single figure: $0. Over the next few months, I fielded a wide range of responses, such as:

“You’re so brave!”

“You’re throwing away the resources and blessings you’ve been given.”

“But you just got promoted?? I don’t understand.”

“It’s cute that you want to do more ‘meaningful’ work, but you’ll soon grow out of it.”

I felt guilt. A lot of guilt. I struggled with my sense of ‘indebtedness’ to Karl for making him the main breadwinner, and we struggled to navigate roles and identities within our newly-minted marriage relationship.

But today — two years out — I am grateful and confident that I could and did make the choice that felt right for me.

I have the utmost respect for software engineers. Truly. Three out of six of my bridesmaids were (and still are) kickass female engineers. And I’ve learned how to say: that’s so wonderful for them, and it doesn’t have to be for me. I’m not a bad person for quitting, or for feeling like it was too hard, or that I was a square peg in a round hole.

However, I’ve noticed some of the old guilt resurfacing lately. For the past year, I’ve been a full-time student and also working part-time, mostly in childcare-related settings. Now that classes are on hold for the summer, I’ve been struggling with and being ashamed of the fact that I ‘only’ work two or three days a week. Am I productive enough to be a person? All my friends are working normal jobs. I’m not running a side business, I’m not a mom; I doubt that I’ve earned the right to work only three days a week. Am I a slacker? Am I just coasting?

I fully acknowledge that having the option to work part-time is to be in a position of immense privilege. But I think I’m also learning that having a door open due to privilege (rather than being ‘earned’ — whatever that means) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it.

If I’m honest, I really enjoy working part-time. In fact, I don’t think I would be healthy for me to be working my current job five days a week. I’m completely spent after a full day of pouring all my energy, attention, and (tough) love out to dozens of small people. My heart is full, but my head hurts, my feet ache, I wasn’t able to fuel myself adequately, I didn’t have time to poop. On my off days, I love that I have time to take things slow, handle all our mail/travel plans/life logistics, go to the gym, read, write, bake banana bread, go to the dentist, listen to podcasts, take long walks, poop twice (sorry).

It’s fairly socially acceptable for us to talk vaguely about the importance of self-care, but what if self-care — for me in this specific season — means saying no to a 40-hour work week? That’s still difficult for me to accept.

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