My Struggle Isn’t Your Struggle…
My struggle isn’t your struggle – this is why some things look easier for me.
I have a friend who I sometimes call my “almost auntie” because she’s only about ten years older than me (sidebar: my oldest friend is 76 and my youngest is 28. I intentionally cultivate a range of relationships because I love people and I want somebody to befriend me when I become the old lady living in the jazzy senior community). Sometimes, I am surprised at our conversations because she talks with me as if I’m truly her friend. If you’ve ever had older people dismiss you simply because of your age, you know how condescending that experience feels.
Recently, we were talking about what motivates us to do the things that we do. In that conversation, she shared how much she admired my drive to live life on my terms and my commitment to growing my businesses. Then, she said, “I just don’t have that in me; but you do it with such ease”. In turn, I said,
“If you had lived my life and experiences, you’d know that I started and continue in business because I was convinced there would never be a safe workplace for me.”
I have never been able to play the office politics game. Further, I’m the kind of the person for whom code-switching doesn’t work. Although I’m educated, I feel like there’s something about me that’s decidedly working class, and I don’t have the energy to try to hide that part of who I am. I’m also southern and can be country at times, which makes me stand out even more living here (NJ). I felt like corporate success would require me to turn into someone else, and I knew I wouldn’t be successful at that. I’d also had several experiences that made it clear to me that I couldn’t bear the emotional weight of putting up with the BS of the game of office politics every single day. It’s why I do what I do: people who run organizations don’t understand how the cultures they allow impact people. What you see is the culmination of choosing risk over what I knew would be certain hell. I felt like I couldn’t endure daily rejection and fear of losing my livelihood. On my terms, I only have to worry about one of those!
On the other hand, my journey is and was different from her because I didn’t and don’t have many of the obligations that she did and does. She had children; when I decided to start my business, I made sure I never missed a birth control pill because I knew I didn’t want to try to do this and be a parent. She had a mortgage; I did, too. She kept her home; I decided that a single woman didn’t need a four bedroom house to herself and cut my monthly expenses. She is very involved with her family; when my sister was going through a thing, I kept her daughter ONLY for the six weeks that I committed to although I’m pretty sure my sister was hoping that I’d commit to longer terms.
As we continued to talk about we’d made the various risks we took and choices we made, she made it clear that gave up certain desires for stability and family obligations. In turn, I said “You chose, not gave up, and I respect those choices”. Frankly, I know other people who had similar obligations and made different choices. Neither is bad. It’s about recognizing that you are always choosing; none of us is as powerless as our circumstances may make us feel. Avoiding risk is similar to avoiding things that you think are hard: no matter what you do everything has some hard/risk in it, so you may as well do the work of what you really want to do.
But you’ll only do that work if your why is compelling: what is compelling you to design the life that you want to live or are you avoiding risk and hard things?