What I Learned from Downsizing My Career And Upsizing My Happiness
Recently, I had a conversation with a new parent that reminded me about how hard parenting can be. I have two sons now, one in his teens and one almost there, and so those early days of crying babies, picky eaters and real, outright blinding fear that I was doing something wrong, are behind me.
With each year I’ve gained more confidence in my gut feelings and followed them (rightly or wrongly) to do what I thought best for my family.
Those decisions aren’t always popular. There are times I defy convention and worry while I do it. There are times I buy into a way of doing things dictated by social norms. Either way, and every time, it’s a decision that I wrestle with even after it has been made and executed.
One of the toughest decisions I ever made was leaving my career as an attorney to pursue my writing passion.
If becoming a lawyer is held in high esteem by society at large, you’d have to triple it and then triple it again, to understand what it means to an immigrant family. I was the first person in my family – and I mean ever – to become a lawyer. In my first year as an intern associate at a very large firm, I earned enough money to almost completely pay off my student loans and it only grew from there.
I watched colleagues and senior partners live a lifestyle that suddenly was within reach; one filled with fancy cars and big houses and privately-schooled children.
But I saw the other side too. Parents who were consistently missing milestone moments, families that were being deemed less important than client demands, and physical manifestations of psychological pain.
I wanted the financial freedom that the career was offering, but was finding my passions lay elsewhere.
There is no doubt in my mind that if I had been single when I began to realize that my heart wasn’t in the profession, I’d have left a lot earlier than I did.
But I had kids.
Wasn’t it my duty to suffer through? What kind of parent would I be if – with these financial benefits in my grasp – I followed my heart instead.
And so I stayed.
The effect was depression. It was deep. My marriage suffered. My friendships suffered. My health suffered. I began to shut out the world and as a result the very people I thought I was suffering for.
It made no sense.
What was the point of a full bank account if I wouldn’t be around to enjoy it with them?
And so I downsized my career and upsized my happiness. I followed my passions and though there was an immediate hit financially, the life I’ve been able to craft with my family has more than made up for it. The happier I became, the more I earned.
The secret to happiness doesn’t have to lie in quitting your job. You can find it, if you’re able, in the art of moderation.
It’s in recognizing that not every promotion is a good thing. More money but less time with your family won’t bring you closer.
My advice to parents stressed by demanding careers and growing families? Before you leap further along a career path that you’re already unhappy on, take the time to ask yourself if that’s really what you want.
What I’ve discovered is that despite what your boss, or your family, or your well-meaning friends will tell you, you need to be greedy about your time. It’s finite and you only get to spend it once.
Heather Greenwood Davis is a lawyer turned multiple award-winning journalist, travel columnist, and blogger at Globetrotting Mama. Called to the Bar in Ontario in 2001 after completing both Journalism and Law degrees, Heather practiced law for several years before returning to her primary passions: writing and travel. Most recently, Heather has found herself on the other side of the camera. Her life became the subject of much media attention when she and her husband dropped everything, pulled their two sons under the age of 10 out of school and traveled the world for a year. The family visited 29 countries on six continents from June 2011 – June 2012, sharing the inspiring journey via social media and traditional media channels and inspiring people around the world. Heather recently shared her story at the 2015 Upside of Downtime Forum.