Yesterday I had this moment where I had a glimpse of a path I lost. I got an email from a colleague I worked with a few years ago. At the time, we were at the same level in the company and now he’s quite a few levels above me. Just seeing his name and title triggered a whole slew of emotions.
I thought about how I chose to slow down my career and work from home and how I changed job groups to be able to achieve that. And, not just that, but how I gave up potential promotions, raises, power, etc, etc. along the process. The name was a reminder of life I never got to live. The career success I walked away from.
When I drive to school to pickup Nathaniel from school, I have a similar flash of another unlived life. I see all the moms who aren’t working at all and can spend all their time with their kids. I see them take their kids to fun classes or play dates after school. I see them meet each other and socialize. I see the life of a truly stay-at-home mom and yearn for that life I didn’t get to have.
And the same happens when I am around my coaching classmates who are starting their businesses. Or artists who sell their art and pursue it fulltime. People who teach.
I think of all the paths I didn’t walk down. All the lives I didn’t get to live. The direct reminder of the choices I made (or didn’t make) that caused me to be here and not there.
This isn’t about regret. I don’t regret the paths I took. I know that I spent time thinking about my steps and the directions I chose. But when I saw his name, it was just a tangible reminder of what I walked away from. If I had stayed at work, I might not have been able to stay home and hug my kids but I could provide so much more for them. I would be more powerful and maybe they’d be proud of that. I just found my mind wondering and aching a bit. Where the path I didn’t take felt like a loss.
Instead of chastising myself or even reminding myself that there was a reason I made the choice I made, I let myself mourn. I gave myself permission to be sad and really let that soak in. And then I imagined having taken that path. Let’s say I was this powerful, recognized employee now. How did that feel (I tried to imagine since I can’t really know for sure.) and then I remembered the last time I was close to that feeling and how it wasn’t anything special. How it didn’t really fulfill me. Others respected and looked up to me maybe. But I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel special. I didn’t feel fulfilled.
Which was the reason I chose this path to begin with.
I just needed the reminder. There’s a reason I am not working the full career path anymore. There’s also a reason I am not fully at home. Or a full-time coach or artist or anything else. I am very purposeful about what I do and don’t do. I work hard at living my life by design.
But even with that, sometimes it’s ok to mourn the lives I didn’t get to live. It’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to doubt. It’s ok to imagine trying it on and making sure it still feels like the path I chose not to take. We change over time and it’s valuable to make sure the decisions we made are still consistent with our goals now.
So I let myself soak it all in and then I felt a huge rush of gratitude for where I am. For all I get to have. For all I get to do. Maybe I don’t have the ultimate version of any of those lives but I get to have a bit of all and I get to experience the joy of each.
And, for now, that’ll do.
That’ll do just fine.