When I first started my day job in 2010, my manager at the time pulled me aside and told me that when a project manager asked me to do something that was technically impossible to complete in a certain amount of time, to say yes anyway and figure out how to complete it after they’d left.
It didn’t matter if I was swamped beyond reason, I was to say yes. So for a long time, that’s what I did. I felt like Joe, who works at the button factory, but I got it done. When I was twenty-one, newly graduated, and living on my own, it was easy. Work was cyclical and my busy seasons were predictable. When I was busy, I would come in early, or I would stay late, and almost certainly by the end of the week I would be caught up and get to leave early. I never worked for more than 44 hours in one week.
In 2011, I started pre-marital counseling with my soon-to-be husband. The man who performed our first session started by asking us about ourselves. Flash forward ten months, and he remembered that I was an editor and liked my job. He asked me if I wanted to try my hand at editing a dissertation for the university he worked at. It sounded fun. I said yes.
By the middle of 2012, I was a recommended editor for the university and one of the admin staff asked me if I would be interested in being in charge of all dissertation formatting. I would spend an hour on each dissertation, making sure they followed the guidelines. It would be no more than 30 or so hours of work spread out over a month twice a year. My husband and I were saving for a house. It sounded fun. I said yes.
In 2013, I started taking my writing seriously again. I wrote and completed a novel. I found a forum for people looking to agent their work and after a few months I got an email from a member saying I sounded like a good fit for a critique partner, and would I be interested in exchanging manuscripts. It sounded fun. I said yes.
In January of 2014, I worked my usual 40-ish hours a week at my day job, which was getting busier month by month. My less busy seasons were becoming shorter. I was still in charge of editing dissertations, and completed five of them. I would have several more to QA in March and April. Also, I was 20 weeks pregnant.
In January of 2015, I worked my usual 40-ish hours a week at my day job. There hadn’t been a slow period since I returned to work from maternity leave in September. I was incapable of working much overtime because of daycare arrangements, so I got further and further behind. It was all I could do to keep my head above water. Then I would go home and work on the nine dissertations I was in charge of editing, because I said yes to every single person who asked me.
From November 2014 through January 17, 2015, I worked on something outside my day job every single day except Christmas. I was either writing my own work, editing novels, or editing dissertations. Every single day for almost a quarter of a year. On January 16, 2015, I had a breakdown. I sat bawling in front of my computer, yelling in the general direction of my husband because he was there, staring at the very first piece I’d been given to edit that I would not be able to complete.
This was me:
I took a good long look at my life that weekend. I thought about my goals for the year. I thought about how I saw my daughter for less than ninety minutes a day on weekdays, and spent all of January praying she took long naps on the weekend so I could keep working. I spent two hours of every day commuting to work, then to daycare and home again. I considered myself a slacker if I worked for less than 11 hours on weekdays and 6 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Which basically means I was expecting 67-hour workweeks out of myself for five or six weeks straight. In addition to raising a child and running a household. Not to mention 10 hours of commuting every Monday through Friday.
Work stayed busy even after it should have slowed down. I started doing a mediocre job at everything I was supposed to be doing: day job, freelance work, cleaning, being a wife and mother. Something had to give.
So on January 19th, I did the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. I gave notice at my day job.
I was becoming the kind of person I didn’t even like much. I was always stressed, running with all cylinders firing at once. I didn’t know how to relax anymore, and I was constantly guilty. I felt guilty at work because my mother sees my daughter more than I do. I felt guilty playing with my daughter, because I was behind at work. I felt guilty when I worked from home, because I shouldn’t spend my precious free time with my baby girl playing with toys beside my computer so I could keep working. I felt guilty when I took nights off to spend time with my husband.
I’m tired of feeling guilty.
When I started telling people that I was quitting my job so I could freelance full time, I braced myself for criticism. It was not, and is not, financially responsible for me to quit my job. I’m technically not sure how we’ll make ends meet this summer. I didn’t get a single note of criticism. Not from my husband, whom it affects the most. Not from my pragmatic mother. Not from my boss. So even though it’s scary, I have faith that I’m doing the right thing. I will continue to send Alexis to daycare two or three days a week, and I will do my best to find work on those days.
BUT, on the days she’s with me, and on the weekends, I will be present with her. I’ll do my best to not feel guilty about work I could be finding, and I will be a parent. I’m scared to death. I’m not sure what we’ll be doing for food this summer, but I know it’s the right decision. After all, when you say yes to everything, nothing gets your full attention. That needs to change.