This article was submitted by a former co-worker of mine named Caroline. I feel it can be good sometimes to step back and consider the joy that can be found from a fulfilling career! -Heather
Creating a Career and Life you Love
“Look for the joy!” That was always my mom’s advice when I faced the hard parts of growing up.
Even in her storytelling, my Mom reminded us of what it meant to look for the joy. As a child, she often spent twelve-hour days bailing hay. There’s not a lot of joy to be found running behind a hay bailer, sometimes stumbling on hidden snakes and usually eating mushy PB&J’s three meals in a row. But when she told us the stories, Mom made it sound like ice cream at the end of the day made up for all her hard work.
In college, she studied both pre-med and agricultural engineering and still managed to graduate with honors. I’m pretty sure she didn’t sleep at all, but most of what we heard about was cookie breaks and joyful summers as a camp lifeguard. She spent the first years of her marriage living apart from my army-enlisted dad but she rarely talked about how hard that was. She told me about having her girlfriends sleep over and about the terrible but hilarious meals she tried to cook when my dad was home. My mom really knew how to look for the joy in the every-day.
Just after college, she took a job with Reynolds tobacco, helping to create the company’s first smoke-less cigarette. Finished with that project and expecting my younger brother, she decided to move closer to her in-laws. She found a demanding role at a nuclear storage facility where she worked for the next 10 years. With 6am meetings every day, I can still remember waking up at 4am for her to braid my hair before work. Even on just a few hours sleep, my mom pursued joy with full force, running home at the end of the day to play hide and seek with my brother and I.
My mom didn’t know how not to lean in. She looked for joy in any work situation, and her work ethic yielded continually bigger and better assignments. She was giving work and motherhood her all, but things just weren’t quite adding up. She had to miss days with us to work overtime and often needed to change plans to deal with work emergencies.
One time, we bought an entire school year’s worth of clothes in a single shopping trip because she didn’t know when she’d have time to go to a store again. After a lot of wrestling with the decision, she eventually stepped down from her leadership role and went back to school to become a high school teacher. She was willing to make less than half of her salary, all so that she could put my brother and I first.
When a woman makes a choice like that, most people will assume that she’s writing off her career in favor of family. It’s true, she is putting her children first, but at least in my mom’s case, writing off her career couldn’t have been further from the truth. She was choosing to lean in in an entirely new way.
Over the past 15 years, my mom has continued to lean in, becoming one of the most successful AP statistics teachers in the state. She spent the first half of her career managing engineers and the second half managing high schoolers. Her employees wanted engaging work and opportunities for promotion and her students want engaging work and opportunities to shine. It’s really not so different.
My mom chose to lean in by simply paying attention to the opportunities to choose joy. Even more than choosing joy for her self, she chose it for her family and she constantly looks for ways to bring it to others.
Whether my career or my children are my focus, my mom will always be my role model. Here’s what she’s taught me: Be intentional about choosing joy and bringing it to others. That’s the surest path to a career that matters!
What an inspirational story! Caroline offers some great advice on how to look for the joy. We’d love to know what you think! Feel free to leave us a comment in the section below.