Husband: “What time will you be home tonight?”
Me: “I don’t know yet, but probably by 7p.m.”
H: “It’s 7p.m. and you aren’t home yet, so what time do you think you will be home? Do you think you will be home by bedtime? He wants to stay up until you get home to put him to bed.”
M: “I’ll be home in time for bed, don’t worry.”
H: “Are you on your way? It’s almost bedtime.”
M: “I’m sorry, I’m not going to make it. Can you just put him to bed and tell him I will give him a kiss when I get home tonight?”
That was my life. Every night my husband would call and we would do the dance of when I would be home. I rarely, if ever, got home before 7p.m. and most nights I was in the office until 9p.m. or later. But I felt like I had no choice. There was so much work to be done and I spent most of my days putting out fires – answering emails, phone calls, participating in meetings. The list went on and on.
The culture at my job was one of “extra” – extra effort, extra time, extra availability. The team would fail if everyone didn’t work weekends and holidays as needed if someone wasn’t engaged 24/7. We had been given webmail access to our company email accounts, so it was expected that you would check your mail in the morning before work, in the evening after you got home, and over the weekend. A Fourth of July picnic and fireworks with the family came in a distant second to completing that big project on time. It was a perfect recipe for burnout. That wasn’t how things started, of course. I had accepted this job with high hopes and in anticipation of the contribution I could make at this new position. And I was already doing rewarding work; it just wasn’t providing enough income to support our family at the time.
On my last day before I started this new position I took a very important meeting with my boss – I looked her right in the eye in the bathroom mirror. That’s right, for 3½ years I was a work-at-home mom with a contingent of regular clients I was able to serve on a part-time basis. The decision was difficult, but the new full-time job came with a generous salary and a great benefits package, including lots of Paid Time Off and observed holidays. I was so excited to be part of a team and to have “adult” conversations that at first, I thought I might have waited too long to get back into the “real” working world.
And then the late nights started the long commute, the weekend work, and the 24/7 availability expectations. I hardly saw my family anymore. I had snippets of time in the morning before school and work, but I didn’t get to help with homework, I didn’t get to put my boy to bed at night, I sometimes wasn’t even home if he woke up from a nightmare in the middle of the night.
One day I looked up and I realized that my “baby” had been replaced by a little boy, one who was starting to exhibit interest in things I didn’t understand like Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon, Cartoon Network and making weapons out of everything. He still wanted me to snuggle him but the time I had available to do that was extremely limited.
The power of NO
So I started saying NO.
NO … I can’t stay late tonight, I’m leaving at 5p.m.
NO … I can’t come in early tomorrow, I have to drop my son off at school.
NO … I can’t work this weekend, we are going to the movies, a baseball game, just going to go play.
NO … I won’t be able to answer that text message / phone call / email; my phone and email are off after business hours and on the weekends.
SO … I started to see a change in my opportunities at the office. There were no more invitations to take on new projects or more work, but also no offers for advancement or additional compensation. No more requests to travel, but also less attention paid to my suggestions in meetings.
But what I gained was so much more valuable to me. What I gained was priceless.
When I stopped defining my worth by how important and connected I was at the office, and instead defined it by the way my son looked at me, everything changed.
I made an intentional choice to leave corporate America and go back to serving clients full time and to expand my business. That choice came because I woke up one day to realize that my boy was growing up too fast right before my eyes. I understood that time was the one truly limited commodity I had in this life. Saying “NO” changed my life – because then I could say “YES” to the things that were truly important to me and spend the limited coin of time according to my agenda.