This morning I feel the weight of all my choices rushing in to sit on my shoulders. It is a gray wet morning, leaves scuttling across the yard and my life suddenly reflected in the balance of good and bad choices made in my career and what they cost me.
What I Chose
Work. Sounds so simple, so easy, but that choice cost me years and years of my life.
I was a “good” employee. Work on the weekend? Sure. Fly to Florida and work there for 5 weeks without a day off? Sure. Spend a week out in Yosemite National Park every month for a year? Why not? Live in Los Alamos for 2 months while installing a new system? Will do.
For almost 10 years of my life I literally penciled in visits to my husband, our daughter, my sisters and brothers. I was never home on holidays. They were ideal opportunities to install hardware and software in the many locations across the country where I managed up to 100 people on the team at Marine Midland, Newark Airport, Kennedy Space Center and on and on and on.
I was an executive with an expense account, a secretary and all the gold cards you could possibly want. First class travel, five star hotels, I had it all. But one day, something changed.
I started thinking about what all the gold in my wallet and my bank account were costing me. I stood still long enough to do the calculations. Working 7 days a week, averaging between 90 and 120 hours – reduced my six figure salary to an hourly rate of about $10.00 an hour – what the UPS driver was making except he went home every night and had weekends off.
Then I made the mistake of thinking about what my choices cost me.
What I Lost
My mother lived west of Roanoke on 163 acres owned by my brother Mike. If I saw her 5 times in 10 years, it was a miracle. Usually, I used my frequent flyer miles to fly her here, to our home, for the one weekend out of 52 that I might be in town.
My mom died of a cerebral hemorrhage while I was in Chicago for yet another meeting. There was so much I forgot to ask her. So much she could have shared with me. But I never stopped long enough to ask. Now I can’t.
I was married, had a beautiful home on 2.5 acres in horse country in Pennsylvania. A gourmet kitchen I didn’t use, a suite off the master bedroom complete with jacuzzi that gathered dust between the maid’s visits and years of sunny summer afternoons on the deck that I never saw. When someone asked me what my house was like, my answer was swift and sharp, “How would I know? I don’t live there; I just pay for it.”
I clearly remember the night that I knew I was making the wrong choices.
It was Sunday night on Labor Day weekend. Our daughter was in labor at Bryn Mawr Hospital. She was ill but it was a holiday. The Pathology Lab was closed and the doctors didn’t know what was making her sick. Only after our second grandchild was born with strep did they figure it out. Whisked from the delivery room to the NICU, the baby’s prospects were poor.
But I had a flight to catch. I was needed back in Florida. Heading for the airport, fidgeting in the back of the limousine, I could not get a handle on what was wrong with me. I needed to go; I didn’t want to. Suddenly my work ethic and my instincts were facing off and it felt like all the easy answers were off the table until I asked myself two questions:
- If I got on the plane and the baby died, how would our daughter be able to face his death? How would I feel about my actions? About myself?
- If I didn’t get on the plane, if I went back to the hospital to hold our daughter’s hand and be held by my husband, would the meeting be cancelled? Would the business I worked for fail?
When boarding for First Class was called, I actually walked onto the plane, put my laptop in the overhead, sat down and ordered a drink before I knew I just could not do it. I could not go. Leaping up, grabbing my laptop, I raced back up the ramp and into the airport. Dialing my cell phone, I called my limo back to the airport and ran to the arrival area to meet my driver.
That was the turning point, the moment when I knew that somehow I had sold out all my old values for money and merchandise. Did I quit the next morning? No. It took 2 more years and the death of my boss’s husband to make me wake up. He died alone, in his garage, in his car, with the motor running. All I could think was it could have been me who got the phone call, my husband who died.
I woke up. I realized I was committing suicide – long, slow, deliberate – but suicide nonetheless.
I made a different choice. I traded in the gold and came home. My salary went from 6 figures to $28,000 a year. I came home very night, to spend weekends and holidays with my family and to enjoy time, the only thing we cannot buy.
What choices are you making? And what do they really cost?