Sometimes you have to lean back before you can lean in. After September 11th, I took stock of my life and left a hectic director position with the Red Cross to spend more time with my husband and children. My new position involved coordinating a literacy program at less than half my previous pay. For a time, it was enough.
As a mother employed outside the home, I was like many of my friends – trying to “have it all” – juggling activities, homework, projects, all the while supporting my husband in his efforts to start his own law firm. I didn’t recognize the warning signs that I was losing myself in the shuffle until an email came that smacked me in the face.
“Have you ever wanted to walk across America?” I had never considered this question – but I decided in that moment I was going on that walk! With the support of my husband and children, I applied and was accepted as one of 12 national walkers on a cross-country walk from New York to California to promote the Presidential Fitness Award. I settled on an arrangement with my employer to work remotely and prepared for a three-month journey across the United States. Part of me feared I would no longer have a job upon my return.
I suddenly went from feeling stuck to having a huge dream. The “director” in me took over, and I had to split time between training myself for the walk, and training my family to survive (and thrive) without me. I created lists, phone trees, wrote letters for my children and took extra effort to create positive memories of this prep time for my family. Maybe these efforts were for them - maybe they were for me. I needed to feel that we would all be okay while I was gone. I wanted this adventure to belong to all of us.
I don’t think it would be “normal” to say I didn’t doubt myself; I doubted my decisions every day when the journey started. Being separated from my family was like being separated from a vital part of myself. I felt lost at first. On the road I was not someone’s mother; I was not someone’s wife; I was a woman rediscovering what it felt like to indulge in some “me time”...to play, to dance and to dream.
As I continued on with my journey, my husband and children became my "coaches,” encouraging me to strive harder and set loftier goals. My walk became a family experience, as they travelled to various cities to join me along the road, often walking with me a mile or two.
Taking the last steps onto the boardwalk in Santa Monica, I was hit once again with conflicting thoughts and doubts. After three months away, what would it be like to return home? Would I get stuck in a rut again? Or would I dare to continue this journey? Could my adventure-mode reconcile with my family-mode?
Returning home, our family was even closer than before. Yet there was a difference – an air of independence and confidence that emanated from each family member. On my journey, I had logged many miles of walking and thinking – making decisions and setting goals for my future. Secure in the knowledge that my family was more than self-sufficient, I parlayed my remote work experience and skills into a full-time position with my company and started researching my next goal: graduate school.
Today I have my Master’s degree, a promotion with added pay and my eye on some very big dreams. I am so proud that I have attained these goals and have shown my children that no dream is too big if you work hard enough.