As the kids sat and played on the family room floor last night, I sat with my laptop on the couch making our vacation plans, looking to see which beaches are closest to Orlando and also good for families. It reminded me of a time when T and I seriously considered moving to Florida, and that led me to thinking about all of the big forks in the road in my life.
When we were contemplating the possible Florida move ("the weather's great, we love to vacation there, why not move?!" we said), I applied for a pile of jobs, and flew down when I landed a job interview. It went well, and T had passed the time sitting in a thatched-roof beach bar in a marina where you could live aboard your boat. He was all for the move. But we hadn't talked about salary during the interview, and this was before so much was available via internet, so I had no real sense of the possible salary range. When they called me to offer me the job, the salary they offered was so jaw-droopingly low that I would have been unable to pay my student loans. In the end, despite T's dream of living on a boat next to a thatched roof beach bar ("but you can walk to work!" he argued), we decided it was too much of a financial gamble, and I declined the job. The rental sheet from the marina was posted on our refrigerator for well over a year. I think it was particularly hard for T to give up on that dream. I would have loved the job (it was public sector and serving a low income population), but I also think it would have been very difficult financially, and I never regretted declining the job.
At around the same time, I interviewed for another job in western Massachusetts. It was also a public sector job serving a low income population. I would have loved it. It was the perfect job for an idealistic kid right out of grad school, which is exactly what I was at the time. It was work that I could both be passionate about, and which I could be proud of and feel good about. But again, the money held me back. The starting salary was abysmal. It would have been less of a gamble, because we were living in Boston at the time, and it wouldn't have been as big of a move. They so badly wanted me to accept the job that they called me back a second time after I declined it, hoping to persuade me to take it. I have always regretted that I didn't take the job.
I ended up looking for a job for months. It was miserable being out of work, watching all of my grad school friends bond over their new jobs and new experiences, while I was sitting home and mailing out resumes all day (MAILING! How very 1990's!). Ultimately, after many months of nothing, I was offered a job that paid about $15,000 more than those other jobs I had turned down. It was a miserable job and I hated going to work every day. Professionally, it was probably good experience, as I got to do a lot of different things, and it gave me time to figure out what I liked, what I didn't, and what I was good at, so in that sense I am grateful that I had that experience. We lived in a gorgeous apartment during that time period, a converted factory with soaring ceilings and giant windows and exposed brick. I would lay in bed in the morning and stare up at our beautiful wooden ceilings and think that I didn't even want to put my feet on the floor.
I lasted two years in that terrible job, and then I lucked into a job that I LOVED and worked at for almost a decade. THAT job defined my adult life in many ways. So much of my sense of self comes from that job, which I worked at from my late 20's to my late 30's. It's where I grew up. It was 80 hour weeks, extreme highs, extreme lows, but a mission I cared about deeply and work that I am still immensely proud of.
And then there is what I am doing now. I am not passionate about all of it. I am passionate about pieces of it. I like it well enough, and it pays well enough, and it has been good for us for the last few years. I can see the potential to be doing work all of the time that I am really passionate about, which is why I think I am still doing it. I'm basically putting my time in and working toward that point, because I recognize that everyone has to pay their dues.
But as I was perusing job listings recently, ostensibly for T, I ran across some listing for jobs that were similar to my last job, the one I worked at for 9 years, and I felt a longing to do that kind of work again. I miss the highs, the thrill of being really good at something, the passion I felt for the work. I was so burned out that I needed to leave the field, but I confess that it increasingly beckons.
The challenge, I suppose, is balancing the passion and 80 hour workweeks with raising a family. I know that I don't know how to do that. I am not sure I can be anything but all-in at home AND at work. I can't see how I could manage my old job and my family. But looking back, the only regrets I've felt were over taking jobs that I didn't love, and right now, I am only lukewarm on what I am doing.
Which is not at all where I meant to end up. I meant to say that I like to think that no matter which choice I'd made when the fork appeared with any of these jobs, that I would have ended up in this same place, with these children playing at my feet. Happy, content. But as I was writing, a whole other thing came up. And this is why I love blogging.