To prove myself or follow my dreams?

Making career decisions are always a challenge.  Over the years those decision have been made with various priorities being considered.  The factors have included – family, significant other, interests, challenges, personal preference, expectations (mine and others), responsibilities, environment (economic, geographical location, community).  Each has been made from the perspective of a multi-talented woman.

As typical I had odd jobs through high school, college years of cooking, sewing, and campus tour guide.  Initially out of college I was a medical scheduler for anesthesiologists, temp worker for Amoco Oil, cook for a Dude Ranch, and a kitchen designer.  My first “professional” job was a counselor for an all-male maximum security prison.  Then, back to school for a Master’s degree which lead to employment with a private rehabilitation company.   I was with them for ten years in at least five different positions.

While I worked for the private rehab firm, I experienced some of those critical career choices.  I obtained two more degrees, another Master’s and a Doctorate.  I held various field positions and mid-management position.   The time came to make major choice – regional management or family.  My spouse preferred small towns and had SAD (we had moved to Washington State).  The regional position was in Portland, OR.  Did I want to prove myself (or in this case also follow the dream) in a regional management position or as a successful wife and mother (yes I had one son at this time).

My values for family were stronger than the desire for a career.  That is true, but there was also the dynamics of the ‘shoulds’ – a woman should per her family first, a woman should meet her husband’s needs.  Also, the doubt, could I perform up to the expectations – what if they found out I was not as smart/good as they thought I was.  As years went by there was the question – could I have done it; and the regret – how much did I give up career wise.

Did I make the wrong decision?  No, the choice was important at the time and what I believe was ‘right’ for me at that moment was done.  Did I way all the factors objectively?  Of course not, it was my life and I was emotionally invested.  It was the road I traveled at that time on this journey of life.  It was the story I was telling as Stephanie Tolan would say.

Transferred back to sunny Colorado and had another son.  I was still with the private rehab firm.  I continued to make sure the family was taken care of.  The dynamic in my personal relationship with my husband was rocky.  He did not have any confidence in raising children and was minimally involved.  I reached a choice – an opportunity – the private firm did not want a contract and I could take it on my own – so I did.  As contracts go – there is no guarantees.  I had lots of exploration with self-employment.  And I learned some interesting lessons.  I was deeply committed to my two sons (both gifted).  I was active in coaching academic teams, scout leadership, youth bowling league coordinator, etc.  My career choices were consciously made to support my sons.  There was the should, but I was passionate about supporting my sons and youth.  There was not a conflict with my dedication to activities, events and the caring of my sons.  The conflict arose as different career choices were made during this time and the expectations of my spouse.  “I should go to work and get a real job” versus continue with self-employment.  By this time I had changed careers and was practicing wholistic health as an acupressurist and teaching classes.  I continued to do some rehab counseling.

Then came a critical career choice – starting the Academy of Healing Arts with a community group.  I was highly interested in alternative medicine.  I did it for the community and then let it go.  Was that altruistic, smart, selfless, self-doubt, family vs career, proving I could and then off on another tangent of desire?  Yes, it was a mixture of all those aspects.

I was proving leadership abilities vocationally and avocationally.  I was being recognized, but not filling fulfilled or meeting my potential / expectations.  Yes, I was in the midst of the mid-life crisis.  I had not lived the American Corporate Dream – successful upper management by mid-40s.  I had not lived up to the American Family Dream – a divorce, single parent with two teenage boys.  I had made choices of “real jobs” (Director of Social Services at LTC facility, Clinical Director for at risk – Youth Program, contract with Fed agencies, etc) – leadership positions.  I proved I could support myself and do the jobs of mother and “work” successfully and simultaneously.  My dreams were intermingled in all that I did.  But, what was my purpose?  I had not achieved “success” in the career realm in reaching a peak and preparing for ‘retirement’.

With two young men in college and a single parent (yes their father was providing required financial support), I had to make another critical career choice.  I had been in private practice and cash flow was good but not consistent, so back to a “real job”.  {You can probably tell by the tone of my writing that I have the entrepreneur bug and prefer working for myself versus a boss.}  So, I went to work for the state.  The job is a good enough job, but not where my heart lies.  It involves my interests and abilities.  However, the agency environment is confining and frustrating.  A critical career choice – again!  There are a lot of changes taking place within agency.  I have put my hat in the ring for upper management to lose out to the expected winners.   Now another key upper management position is open.  Do not know enough who might be in line for the position.  Most of the players have been assigned key positions (re-organization to make a plateau of high management decreasing the hierarchy in the division).  Do I want to go for the position to make a statement within the agency – no expectations of getting the position, know I can do it and am qualified; now willing to relocate and doubt if the agency is willing to consider a serious telecommute position.  To apply requires time and energy – this is the question do I want to prove myself- is that why I want to do this?  I can do it.  I can make a difference.  I know I will not want the position indefinitely.  I am at a point where the private niche practice, consulting, teaching is beginning to roll.  The future is open for the private dream.  The options of what I can do will continue to vary.  There will be struggle and growth and not guarantees.   Safe choice or dream choice, both are forms of proving myself.  Which is the real dream I have for myself – corporate achievement or personal expression?

What choices have you made?  When have you proven yourself?  When have you gone after your dream?  Are they one and the same or at odds with each other?  Share your story.  Make a comment.

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