Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Finding My Own Pathway

(This was originally published in the Beacon News, April 22, 2005.)

There comes a time when you have to make a decision. How far are you willing to go to stand up for your principles? How quickly will you bend, just to keep everybody happy?

As a lifelong individualist, I’ve practiced the balancing act almost to perfection. With the outward appearance of conforming, I still made some unusual choices. When my friends all wanted to take dance lessons, I went ice skating. When all the girls signed up for softball, my mother dutifully signed me up for Little League. And in high school, when all the girl athletes were playing field hockey … there I was on the soccer field. The crowd I hung out with was always a bit small, and somewhat unusual.

Most of the time, to outward appearances, I follow the straight and narrow line of what’s expected of me. I went to college (picked one nobody heard of , six hours away) and finished in the prescribed four years, with a major I created myself. Any radical ideas that may have been picked up along the way were assimilated into my mild-mannered conservative demeanor. Never dressed too outlandishly, never too trendy, never attracted too much attention.

Soon after graduation, as everyone expected, I married my high school sweetheart and settled down to a life of work (at an art museum), staying close to home and family, keeping all the same old friends, going to the same church, hoping to eventually start my own family. Ever the non-conformist, that spirit that is usually kept so well-hidden broke out of the mold and moved me from the Northeast to the Midwest, a thousand miles from home and family and all those old friends.

Away from my comfort zone, but still with my faithful companion by my side, I stuck by some of the old rules … back to another full-time job. Or rather, a series of them. A relatively brief series. And finally to starting my own family. And that’s where the armor started falling off.

Motherhood gave me a power and a conviction in my choices that wasn’t there before. Being given ultimate responsibility for a helpless babe turned on a switch. Having to stand up for my children, for what I believe to be in their best interests, has given me the confidence to stand up for myself when necessary. Well, as long as it’s not at their expense, anyway.

Like many mothers, I went back to work after my first was born, thinking that was best for the family, still bowing to that all-important paycheck. Yet, I no longer fit into the work world; I couldn’t switch easily from my role as new mother back to loyal employee devoting all my energies to the company bottom line. I couldn’t look my boss in the eye and tell him his priorities were my priorities, at least not with a straight face. And the Christmas gift watch with my name printed on the face, Mommy, probably sealed my fate, as it soon became my job title as well.

As much as I love being a full-time mom, the lure of the paycheck beckons. Yet there are always compromises that come with employment. How far am I willing to go to stand up for my principles, when I know those closest to me will not agree? Maybe principles aren’t all that important when facing a pile of bills and rising gas prices.

And maybe those principles are strong enough to stand on their own, without any backing from my wishy-washy self. After all, the children are watching, and learning, from what I do as well as what I say. So the time has come to stop following the lemmings toward the security of a weekly paycheck, and to follow my heart down the path of the freelancer.

Whether it leads to poverty or riches doesn’t even matter. Life is too short to follow someone else’s path while my own lies out there still.

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