I sat across from Paul at the dining room table, the remains of kale and pork loin lingering on our plates. I’m listening to him talk about work and feel this pang of realization pierce me: I missed success. Big time.
Being a stay-at-home-mom has revealed a great deal to me about my pride. Namely, I have more of it than I thought. I was proud of my work as a teacher, and when I wasn’t, I worked tirelessly so that I could be proud. Being at home is so much messier. Each day I can see what I haven’t done. What I shouldn’t have said. What is still dirty. Since the average age of my kids is about 2, much of what I do with them goes completely unseen. Thomas looks me in the eyes once a week and tells me I am so pretty (his praise for me reading to him), and for that I am grateful. Also for the excessive smiles from these two small ones, something akin to pay for my work.
Even though I’ve had immense joy being at home with the kids, I’ve been jealous of my husband and others for having that component of success, striving for and reaching it, in the workplace. I missed those benchmarks of fulfillment: praise from others, visibility, evaluations, a raise (no matter how small).
And so Paul heard my disappointment right there and challenged me to make it happen, to make my own terms of success. I heard his words, but all I could see was the food on the floor. I don’t have space in my life for success. There’s food on the floor….again….just like 3 hours ago…..and 3 hours before that…. How can I find success in a role where my job is to discipline, cultivate virtues, and do the chores that leave no evidence of my work once the 24 or 48 hours have passed?
I fought it last year. I knew I was building new mommy muscles, new stay at home habits and routines and just figured that stepping away from the workplace meant giving up that sense of success. I told myself over and over again that I just needed to be stronger, that if I was patient or wise or calm or confident enough, the measured success wouldn’t matter, that this desire would wash away. Just give it time.
But I’ve given it a great deal of time, and that desire didn’t wash away at all. And so I’m working with it rather than fighting it this year. I picked three areas in my life to work on this year: finances, fitness, and my writing. I made two clearly measurable goals for each area as well as ways to track them on Mint, Run Keeper, my Withings app, Goodreads, my paper thermometer (for debt), and an Excel spreadsheet. I’m giving myself the gift this year of measured success and allowing myself to feel just fine working toward success even if much of what I do outside of these 3 areas doesn’t get a final stamp of approval or even a sense of ever being done (I mean, that laundry room).
In fact, I see now that those of us who are in charge of our own schedules very much need to have in our arsenal: excellent goal setting and executing skills. It doesn't have to be in all things, but even in one thing makes the messy work of being your own boss feel good.
In reading The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, I’ve been challenged to consider my desires. I’m taking pause with each one as I remember them or face them, turning them over and about to get a closer look. Instead of writing them off as selfish or wrong, I’m reconsidering each of them. Can I use this for good? Specifically, how I can I use this desire for good?
In accepting that my heart longs for a sense of accomplishment but also feels at home with perpetually messy kids (I love you, boys), I’ve taken a step in the direction I needed. I’m looking forward to a bit better balance in my life this year in both working toward accomplishment and growing toward being okay with the unseen, unglorified work all of us do every day.
Even these guys.