“I don’t know where I’m going, but I sure know where I’ve been.” ~White Snake
In November 2017, I was Lay’d off from my corporate job. It was a moment I had been eagerly waiting for. I know how that sounds, but allow me to explain.
Simply put, I was over it.
Over the grind, over the politics, over the mission statements and the core values and the pressure to “lean-in” and “have it all” and “explode through the glass ceiling” and blah, blah, blah.
I’d become disgruntled, dissatisfied, dis-enchanted, disengaged, dismayed….dis-everything. And life is too short to be dis-everything.
It hadn’t always been that way though. When I started my career, I had big goals for myself in corporate America and I sacrificed much of my twenties toward achieving them.
I regularly worked 80 hours a week and for the first five years of my career, I didn’t take a single vacation day, or sick day; time I wasn’t paid out for. In other words, over a five year period, I worked an extra 15 weeks….for free.
Of course, nobody made me do it, but I reasoned that corner offices and fancy titles don’t come cheap….and if I didn’t have both by the time I was in my thirties, well, life probably wasn’t worth living.
I had balls to bust and power suits to purchase and if it meant I had no social life, hobbies, or the time to eat more than twenty cups of coffee in the course of a day, so be it. I’d have a life when I retired….assuming I didn’t stroke out first.
But the universe had other plans for me and it would take a sucker punch to the gut before I realized it.
The lead up included meeting my husband, Clark Griswold, moving to a new state and taking a new job with Dunder Mifflin’s biggest competitor.
Then Clark and I got married and I became a step-mom.
Right before our wedding, I took another new role at a Fortune 500 business captained by a female CEO ranked among the world’s most powerful women.
After a difficult upbringing, during which I’d been voted most likely to end up on an episode of Cops, I’d gotten a college degree (the first in my family), I was happily married with plans to add to our family and I was building a successful career. What more could I want?
Then, in November, 2011, when I was twenty-two weeks pregnant with my son, I was diagnosed with stage 2, primary mediastinal large b-cell lymphoma. A rare and sneaky form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
But it didn’t change all at once. Instead, it was like a slow burn of all the things I’d thought were important to me.
Then, I picked up the pieces of what was left and started to put my life back together.
I realized that when it came to my career, I had been sprinting toward something I had wanted….because I thought it was what I was supposed to want.
So instead, I leaned into my health, my marriage, my faith, my family, my friends and motherhood. I found that when I was doing all of the things that were supposed to leave me feeling trapped, unappreciated and uninspired, I didn’t.
I started saying no when I was supposed to be saying yes. I made time for books and nature and exercise and other abandoned hobbies. I was still.
I stepped off the corporate ladder and watched my peers pass me by. I knew it meant my career was dying, but I also knew that I would never come to regret it.
Because when I was diagnosed, and the possibility that my child and I would not survive the disease was discussed, I didn’t cry for the career goals I might never achieve. I cried for the extended hours I spent in the office when I could have been at home having dinner with my family, or enjoying an uninterrupted vacation.
I cried for the books I hadn’t had a chance to read, hikes I never got a chance to take, places I never got a chance to see.
I cried for the baby I might never get a chance to meet and the little boy and the man he might never get a chance to become.
And I cried for all of the little things I had taken for granted; the millions of simple moments I’d let slip by, always believing there would be more. That someday I would stop and smell the roses. Someday, someday, someday….
It was in the midst of that grief, which was so raw and so painful I thought I might actually break into pieces, that I felt my son move for the first time. It was a tiny flutter of life followed by a feeling of peace and calm that abruptly stopped my sobs.
I knew we would be OK. And I knew that I would never be the same.
Shortly after I completed my cancer treatment, I read an article about a book the New York Times had published called, “Picture Your Life After Cancer.”
The book was a compilation of photos and stories submitted by cancer survivors in response to the question, “How is your life different after cancer?”
A number of inspirational quotes and insights were used in the article, but one in particular resonated most with me:
“Scars may heal, blood counts may normalize, years may pass. But never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated.” – Allison A., Cairo, Egypt
So, very, true.
I don’t love every moment, but I try, every day, to say a prayer of gratitude for all of it.
I am keenly aware, always, of how fortunate I was to survive cancer and to come out the other side with a beautiful and healthy little boy.
I don’t have it all figured out though. When the cloud lifted and there was nothing more to do than carry on, I knew only that I wanted my survival to matter. That I wanted to do my best to live a life that felt good. A life that, when it inevitably ends, I can look back on and say, “I made the most of this one wild and precious life.” (nod to Mary Oliver)