Five years ago, I took one of the boldest actions of my life. I traveled halfway across the world to Ubud, Indonesia alone. In June 2008, I was 27 years old and had never left United States soil despite a constant longing to. A combination of fear and comfort held me hostage in familiarity—until, however, I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling novel, Eat. Pray. Love. It chronicled the author’s adventures through Italy, India and Indonesia as she sought to “find herself” after a divorce.
The book’s vivid descriptions of Indonesia’s rich culture and lush countryside converged with my imagination of ornate wood-carvings, colorful temples and sprawling rice paddies. It was this convergence that left no question about where my first trip abroad would be to once I mustered up enough courage to go. And whenever I decided to go, I wanted go alone—just like Elizabeth Gilbert.
Being a freelance consultant and full-time mom, I’m always interested in how parents (men and women) juggle their professional and personal lives. Not surprisingly, I’ve been following Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and her recent book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. More fascinating than the book itself is the reaction it has garnered in the media: from very positive reviews praising her stance on balancing work and life issues to very negative reviews that bash millionaire Sandberg for not understanding a more modest woman’s struggles.
All the arguments seem to boil down to one simple question for working parents: Can they “have it all” – the rewarding challenge of a full-time career and the joy of raising a child in such a way that you can be there for all the “little moments?” And therein lies the problem. By framing the question “Can you have it all?” I believe a person is setting themselves up for disappointment. Here’s why:
I don’t feel good today. I have lived with depression for many years now and today is not a good day. What I want to do is go back to bed, curl up in a ball, and read something riveting like The Hunger Games.
Anything to take my mind off of how I feel and what that mind is telling me. (I just realized how funny that is: I want to take my mind off of my mind!) The worst part of depression for me is often what goes on in my head. My inner voice comes up with some doozies:
My life has been a series of events of beginnings and endings. It’s funny that whenever I experienced a major life change, it coincided with a physical move. I didn’t mean it to happen that way, it just did. So here’s my story.
I sat in my bedroom crying my eyes out on the phone. My dear friend finally told me, “Sarah, I think you are suffering from a broken heart.” I was in a serious relationship with someone I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. All of a sudden, this person told me they needed a break. I guess I should have known. I would constantly try to show affection and tell him I loved him, but he would pull away. I’d be upset over a family problem and there was no attempt to comfort me.
I took a moment. I could feel my chest. My heart was racing. What’s wrong with me? It didn’t make sense. I was 27 years old, healthy, had a good job, loving parents, great friends, involved in the community, and the list keeps going.
Yet, as I lay on my bed at 2am, overwhelmed by my life, I knew something was wrong. It was as if, the world had been handed to me, and I had no soul. From a logical standpoint my life was great, but my heart showed otherwise. Why can’t I appreciate? Why do I feel this? Why do I hate my life?
I didn’t know what I was doing when, as a child, I begged my parents for a dog. Yet I found myself, 12 years old, with a puppy. I had to get up every morning at a time I’d never before heard of to clean up its mess. I had to go out in the wind and rain and winter-chill to take it for a walk, day after day after day.
Today, I own another dog, and I still don’t exactly know what I’m doing. Sometimes she sits when I ask her to. Sometimes she gives me a look, “so you think you can tell me what to do, huh?” and wanders off to sniff the flowers.