I was having a late lunch with a good friend, a girl I’ve known for half my life now. We were talking about this and that when she suddenly said to me,
“I’ve never asked you this before – what made you decide to quit your job?”
When I didn’t respond immediately, she continued to say, “It’s just that you are such an ambitious person! I remember you in school, and when you started your job, no one doubted you will just keep rising.”
The question stumped me. Yes, what was my thought process 5 years ago when I decided not to pursue my career?
So let’s do a lil throwback – my life was structured like that of a railway track. I was the train. Having been put on this track, I had scheduled stops at various stations : sekolah rendah, high school, university and a job which would turn into a career. Now the career part of the railway track was long – very long. It was built to last for roughly 75% of my adult life. The track was still built very straight though, no bumps or sudden winding turns are in it, because the earlier track built for me had good foundations from the very beginning so no obstacles were expected. And I chugged along this track, never meandering away from it, ambitious, a go-getter, a robot but a good one that does any job well! The last station is obviously death, as it is for everyone. But in between Career Station and Death, there was nothing planned for me except going upwards and onwards on the corporate ladder, being a responsible tax payer and a law abiding citizen. And after all that productivity, I die. The end. Marriage? Pffft who needs it?
When I reached the Job Station, I worked really hard, roaring along the tracks and after 3 years, I could see the Career Station’s flag waving in front of me. If I keep up this pace, perhaps another 2 years to go and I’ll reach Career Station! I need to get there! Oh but wait, who’s this charming train talking to me?
I fell in love. And the love took me away to America for a year because he received an offer to do his masters at MIT. At that point, my career took a backseat but it was a mere pause. I did not even resign but instead was granted a sabbatical. Once we return home, my job will be waiting for me and I’ll still get to Career Station. My love graduated in the beginning of a beautiful summer. By the end of summer, I was pregnant.
We went home and my love started on his career again. He had a demanding job, out the door at 9am and back home by 9pm if it’s a good day. Somedays the job came home with him and I’ll be listening in to conference calls that I can’t make any sense of. When he needs to travel, a head’s up of 48 hours is generous. When baby R was born, I had my love for a full 3 days before he started the 9am-9pm shift again. And that’s when I realized that I could not go back to my old career track again…
Life has a few quadrants – label them what you like but the usuals are self development, family, career & spirituality/health. If you spend a lot of time in one or two quadrants, you’ll tend to neglect the other quadrants. Because time is a limited resource and you already spend 6-8 hours asleep every day. So something’s got to give. I thought to myself, if both my husband and I are neck deep in our careers, who will be with my kids for the bulk of their days? And I had this thought when my daughter was a few hours old (nasib baik mak tak meroyan lol). Now R is almost 5 and baby J is 1 and already my days are filled with so many of their activities that going back to a full time job would be unthinkable.
Oh here’s a thought for all you going-to-be-married people out there : HAVE THIS CONVERSATION BEFORE SAYING I DO! Do you both want kids? Do you both want to work? Is it possible to have domestic help in the house? On this last point, I had help around the house all my life. So I grew up thinking that this would be the norm. So when I got pregnant and casually told my love that we should start looking for a helper or a nanny, he looked at me like I just suggested he jump into the Charles River in winter, stark naked. He grew up without help and he is a highly reserved man, so the thought of having a stranger in his house, doing his laundry and folding his undies, caring for his children and always being there in his house was full on scary for him. I was like WHO THE HECK DOESN’T WANT A HOUSE HELPER? But yeah, life’s stranger than fiction. And I respect my love’s point of view. It’s not something he can live with.
I was brought up by a full time nanny who was with me all the time while my parents worked. And guess who I had more affection for growing up and well into my teens? It wasn’t my parents. It’s not like I disliked my parents, I just didn’t feel attached to them. Disagreements were the norm because even though we lived in the same household, I had a different value system than my parents because I was literally raised by someone else. It’s not right or wrong, but just different. My nanny is still alive and well and I still care for her and will continue to do so till the day she dies because she raised me.
Again, as I said in my earlier post The Grass Is Greener, the choice between working full time and gaining traction in your career VS being a stay at home parent is never an easy one. For one thing, I am totally dependent on someone else for my livelihood. Yes I do a few side jobs whenever I can and I get some money when my works are published but I’m no J. K. Rowling. And whatever I get I try to squirrel away. If my love wakes up tomorrow and says “I don’t have money for the house, food and car” – I’m screwed. Lol. After being put on an independent track and then having to depend on someone for all the big things in life – it’s hella hard!!!!!! So when deciding to live on a single income, think of future opportunity costs and drum it into your head that you have to live WELL WITHIN your means (which is always good financial advice, but I’m talking about WELL WITHIN here).
So bottom line was :
- I wanted to raise my kids according to the values and beliefs that both I and my husband share – not anyone else’s
- I wanted to be the person that my children sees or talks to the most in their day
can’tdon’t have domestic help
My friend looked at me intently for a long time while I talked. And then she said something no one has ever said to me before :
“You didn’t decide to quit your job. It was a sacrifice.“
I have never thought of it that way.