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At 28-years-old, I had it all. The handsome blue-eyed husband with a cleft in his chin. The two-story brick colonial with granite and stainless in the kitchen. A shiny black Volvo parked in the driveway that is just the right blend of slick and sensible. And a job as a Style editor for a city magazine, complete with the occasional appearance on local TV morning shows to talk about “Which Celebs Rocked the Red Carpet.” Then, last spring, the clock suddenly started ticking.
No, not that clock.
Not the one that tells you it’s time to have babies and give true meaning to your life before your womb dries up and your skin loses elasticity. This is the clock that ticks down the remaining years when you can really “give it all” to your job and make some serious headway in your career before people start assuming you’re just a pregnancy time bomb.
Sure, society has made some strides in making things better for women and mothers in the workplace, but just try and tell me that you don’t look at a 28-year-old career woman who already has a marriage, a mortgage, and a Volvo and think, “Yeah, she’ll probably be pregnant within the year or so.”
And maybe I will be. Maybe I won’t. I honestly don’t know. But what I do know is that I have a very important, very limited window of time in the next 1-4 years when I need to make some serious damage on my career goals.
What are those goals, you ask? They boil down to this: 1) Find a job I love. 2) Achieve as much as I can within that job.
Number two on that list posed a serious problem, because the magazine gig didn’t have a very big ladder to climb (something about the decline of an unsustainable industry?), and the rungs above mine weren’t even something I aspired to. Why? Because I hadn’t achieved goal number one. I didn’t love my job. And I was tired of pretending that I did or apologizing that I didn’t. So I quietly started looking.
Unfortunately, I really didn’t know what I was looking for.
Typing “Something kind of like journalism but with more career development potential,” into the LinkedIn job search engine didn’t return any results. Then, quite suddenly, a job found me.
A friend from college sent me an opening at the company he works for and said they were hoping to find someone with a “creative” background. I applied, did a phone interview and within days I was being brought in for round two -- by airplane.
Here's the catch: The job was in another city. Six hours away from the brick colonial and the black Volvo and the blue-eyed husband. Even worse, it was perfect for me.
It allowed me to write and edit even more than my old job, but this time I’d be doing it from the 22nd floor of a building overlooking the Potomac for a salary almost twice my old one.
I was sucked in by the corporate polish of it all -- professional development courses, performance bonuses, 401-K matching -- the little Type-A teen inside me who color-coded her notes in high school and prided herself on perfect grades was jumping up and down with glee. Organization! Structure! Performance Review Cycles! Formal agendas at every meeting! I was in heaven. But I was also in another city.
Job offer in hand, I had a tricky conversation with my husband ahead of me. I wanted him to understand why I needed to do this, but also to understand that it had nothing to do with not wanting to be with him. I needed him to see that this would actually make me a better wife and eventually a better mother to his children because I’ll know I did everything I could to achieve a fully actualized life for myself.
Above all, I needed him to know that if we did this, I wouldn’t ask him to come with me. I’d want him to, of course, but I wouldn’t ask.
He already has a job he loves and he’s already achieving great things year after year. I wouldn’t want to give that up if it were me, and I didn’t want him to.
He said yes (because he’s amazing and understood all of those things), and he has remained steadfastly and vocally supportive of our decision even as our friends and (especially) our family question it at every turn.
He has never once complained about being the sole party responsible for taking our cats to the vet, our cars to the shop or taking care of chores around the house. In return, I have done the one thing I can do: work as hard as possible to get absolutely everything I can out of everyday at this job.
And you know what? It’s working. In fact, I finally know what people mean when they say they are, “Excited to get out of bed and go to work in the morning.” I used to just think those people were smug and probably lying.
Of course, I don’t feel that psyched every day. Forking over a large portion of my pay check for rent when I own a perfectly lovely house is a huge bummer. Driving nine hours through a snow storm just to be at work on Monday was the most soul crushing experience of my life. Worst of all, saying, “Good night, I love you,” over Skype feels cheap and hollow when I think about how I could be curling up next to my husband with a small heap of sleeping cats snuggled by my feet instead.
There have been days when the reckless insanity of my decision turns me into a sleepless, sobbing mess who says things like, “But I want you to want to read my tweets!” But more often than not, I go to bed confident that I made the right decision and wake up the next morning ready to do what I came here to do: dominate at my job.
Long-distance marriage does have its perks -- the spontaneous emails we send each other during the day and the way he says, “Hey sweet baby” when I call him on my walk home from work make me feel the way I did back when we were first dating. Back then, I didn’t see him every day and every night -- even though that’s what I wanted more than anything.
Feeling that kind of “want” again is something most couples don’t get to experience. When I do get to be with him, the things that used to just be innocuous parts of our comfortable routine -- cooking, dishes, errands, laundry -- now feel like luxuries because we get to do them together. It’s not half bad, really.
When my other clock does start eventually start ticking, I’ll be ready for it. And that kid will have a mom who didn’t just get to 28 and decide to have a kid because she didn’t love her job anymore. And he or she will also have parents who know there is nothing they can’t handle, together.