Top photo: Jody Mack Photography
I was 29 years old. I’d scheduled the appointment with my doctor, explaining to the receptionist that I had a weird mole that needed to be checked. I’d had the mole since I was a child and sensed it was probably fine, but looking back, I can see that I was looking for a reason to shift the topic of conversation to the real issue: I was stressed out, flip-flopping between feelings of anxiety and depression. I had some occassional good days scattered in there too. So maybe it’s not really that bad, I’d tell myself.
I needed to talk to someone.
I was unhappy in my career—a career I’d thought I’d do forever. Just keep moving on and moving up. In the early days, that was the plan.
After the doctor confirmed that the mole was fine, she looked at me and tilted her head slightly. Like she knew.
“Is there anything else?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, pausing for a moment. And then, I listened to myself tell the story. In the past year, my husband and I had moved across the country and back. And now that I was back, nothing was the same. And, I was in a job that I really wanted to quit.
Just saying the words “I want to quit my job” had created a slight feeling of lightness. The truth was out there now, floating out of my mouth and into the room. It was no longer locked up inside, pressed down by the heavy weight of fear and self-imposed expectations.
The doctor’s face softened, revealing a hint of compassion. What she said next surprised me. “I have my career, and I have my family. And it’s hard. I used to think I could have it all. Now I realize I have to make choices.”
I have to make choices. Those five words opened the door to the life I’m living today. Twelve years, a career change, and three children later, that conversation still influences how I live my life. Here’s why:
First, she offered validation. I’d been caught up in my own head, worried that I was derailing my career and afraid to trust my true feelings. She told me that I wasn’t alone in this struggle.
Second, she reminded me that I had choices. I’d been holding on to an old idea about who I was and what I wanted for my life, without considering how I’d grown and evolved. My circumstances had changed. And I had changed.
And finally, she explained the biggest truth of all. The ability to make choices doesn’t make it easy.
It’s like in Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s book Big Magic when she talks about the shit sandwich. Sounds lovely, right? I know. But she got the idea from writer Mark Manson who says “everything sucks, some of the time.” He goes on to say, “Everything involves sacrifice. Everything includes some sort of cost. Nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all of the time. So the question becomes: what struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate?”
The conversation with my doctor changed my perspective and my own unrealistic expectations about the idea of having it all. Today, I believe the concept of having it all has the ability to suffocate us or set us free. The power lies within the choice. Even in the suckiest of circumstances, there are options.
Here’s my point: There’s no one right way to be a woman. If you’re living as authentically as you can, then you already have it all. We can share this truth with every woman and every young girl we know. We can lift up those who feel trapped in their circumstances. Help them. Fight for them. Empower them. Hug them. Remind them it’s hard, they have choices, and they are not alone.