A little over a year ago, while the country was discussing the impending debt ceiling crisis, I began writing my novel The Reverse Commute while perched on my own fiscal cliff. I had been working in an entry-level accounting job in a corporate cubicle for three years and I felt my life unraveling. Well-aware of the fact that women couldn't have it all, I was still stunned and depressed over the fact that I had so little. Little time with my teenage daughters who were navigating the treacherous waters of high school while I was at work 45 minutes from home, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. Little money to pay the ever-mounting bills of life in suburban America -- a mortgage, car insurance, oil heat during the long New Hampshire winters and gas for the 45 minute commute to the job that barely helped make ends meet. The list when on and on. How did I get here?
Well, the answer to that question is much the same as it is for everyone. I got here due to a combination of my own personal choices and circumstances beyond my control. The next question was inevitably, What do I do next? My youngest daughter had graduated from high school and was leaving for college in September. My older daughter was on her own path, making her own choices and trying to figure out where she wanted to go.
My husband and I were at a fork in the road. This was a time in our lives when we were presented the opportunity to change our circumstances before we got any further into debt. We have both always been risk takers. We are open to change and new experiences. Our personalities and our tolerance for risk presented us with an opportunity to possibly better our work-life balance.
Some of our choices over the years had been good ones. We had taken our responsibilities seriously and had lived a modest lifestyle. We paid our bills, kept our credit rating up and didn't borrow excessively against our house.
Some of our choices weren't as wise. We owned an old home that required more work than we had time or money for. For several years, we were both self-employed, paying our own health insurance and self-employment taxes. As medical costs skyrocketed, I made one of those life choices we are all sometimes faced with. I made the responsible choice of taking an accounting job in a corporate cubicle. It was work I was not suited for, but it helped us pay the bills and provided benefits. Although I missed out on crucial time with my daughters during their very important teenage years, it was a choice I had to make.
By the summer after my daughter's high school graduation, I had completed The Reverse Commute. I now had a work of my own, something I had created. It was time for a reassessment. We put the house on the market in July and had an offer by November. The book was self-published on November 1st and I left my job in the cubicle shortly before Christmas. I wanted time to work on promoting the book and have one last Christmas in the house with my family.
I attended local book clubs throughout New England that friends and family hosted for me. I blogged and began to build a strong community around my work. My local bookstore hosted a "Meet the Author" night. It has been only three months since the book was published and I am feeling very optimistic about my future.
I'm writing this from my friend's guest bedroom in Florida overlooking her pool. My husband and I have currently gone off the grid. We are taking some time to figure out what the next step will be. I am very much enjoying these circumstances. I am confident the book will do well but if it doesn't, I know I will find some kind of work despite the circumstances beyond my control. Over the years I have worked many jobs and amassed a variety of skills. I am proficient with several different accounting software packages, I have worked in retail and I have the managerial skills of a self-employed entrepreneur. I was also a working mother which, as we all know, is equivalent to running a small business. I am hopeful, intelligent and will not be defeated by the forces around me.
My advice to my daughters and to all young women out there is this: no one can "have it all" unless they are willing to change. The days of staying in the same job until retirement are over. We will all have to reinvent ourselves at various stages throughout our lives.
Sometimes, you will need to get off the grid. Other times you may remain static, stuck somewhere you didn't think you would ever be. Adjust to your circumstances. Learn as many skills as you can. You never know when you may need them as you embark on a new adventure. But most of all, follow your dreams and make sure they are your dreams, not someone else's.
There is a scene in The Reverse Commute when the main character, Sophie, is at a farmer's market in her hometown. She meets a woman who left a career as a microbiologist to run a farm and make goat cheese. Sophie strikes up a conversation with the woman who tells her, "Life is short, dear."
Sophie replies, "I know that. I lost my best friend to breast cancer four years ago. Life is very short."
"It's never too late to find yourself. Follow your dream. Would you like some advice?"
"I would love some advice," Sophie was hanging on her every word.
Good advice indeed. I have one more piece of advice. Marry for love. The road ahead will be winding and bumpy. It helps to have a co-pilot you love.