Have you ever read the same book a friend was reading? The anticipation of finding out where each other is at in the book and what parts of the story are being discovered is fun. It's also fun to gather as a group and discuss the different interpretations of the story or the characters that people may have. If your friend isn't quite as far along you have to be careful not to give away details further along in the story because you'll spoil the ending.
Isn't life similar? Everyone is playing a leading role in their own story book. In recent years I've struggled with my own story. What chapter am I on? Can't I skip this part and read the end? Do I make it out alive?
I'm used to working. Working a lot. I guess growing up on a farm does that to you. For most of my adult life I've worked two or more jobs. Most of the time it is to make sure all the bills are paid but there also have been times when I've picked up a side job because it just sounded like fun. Since we had children I have had to learn how to adjust. It is no longer mentally or physically possible to work 80-plus hours per week at multiple jobs and still take proper care of my kids and myself.
I struggled with this new reality for a couple of years. I love, love, love being a mom. But I also feel a great sense of fulfillment from working and for a number of years I fought between the two roles. It was difficult for me to find a happy medium. Less work meant less money. But more work means less time with my kids.
Then I had a conversation with a stranger that put everything into perspective. She said, "Mary Beth, this is the chapter of your life that you're in." She explained that each new segment of life is like a new chapter in a book. I am currently in the chapter where my children are the main characters. And being a working mom means that I don't need to feel guilty for working because I am also modeling the positive characteristics of responsibility for them and adding value to my community.
I know I am very fortunate to be able to work in a career that I absolutely love. I know some don't have this opportunity. I also know that I am fortunate to be a parent. But, as a young mom I've talked to many peers who struggle with this same chapter. I learned that it is OK.
We all have many roles in life: mother, wife, daughter, son, father, husband, employee, business owner, friend, and even friendly stranger passing by. It's OK to feel overwhelmed with all the different roles. It's also OK to pick a handful of roles and make them your priority for this current chapter of your life.
What chapter are you in? I'm in the chapter where my kids give me the greatest joy and also the greatest challenges. There are days when I'm surprised we make it out of the house in one piece. It's balanced out by days where they make me laugh hysterically.
This is also the chapter where I've accepted that I will sacrifice money in order to have a career that is whole-heartedly fulfilling and offers flexibility to take care of my kids when I need to. There are still weeks when I work 80-plus hours but I am blessed with employers who allow me to balance it out at home on a laptop so I can still help search for the lost stuffed animal or favorite pink crayon.
I want to be home with my kids at night to tuck them in and dance with them in the kitchen on the weekends while breakfast is cooking. I don't want to miss too many of these moments because they are fleeting and can't be redeemed later when I feel like I have more time. There is no need to feel guilty for not making more money or not climbing some corporate ladder. The time for my kids is now.
What will happen in the next chapter? How will my story end? I don't know but I am certain that I don't want to skip this chapter or rush through to the end. When I find myself getting overwhelmed by life I remind myself of what chapter I'm in and that I guide the direction of the chapter. If I don't like how it's going I can adjust my attitude or make different decisions to improve the outcome. What happens during this chapter creates a foundation for the next chapter.
Everyone's life is a story. What chapter are you in?
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.