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My Reimagined Life: One Woman's Struggle with Work/Life Balance (Part 1)

Why is it that the lessons most important to learn are often the most elusive? I find myself revisiting the same issues over and over when you’d think I would have put them to bed years ago. It seems to take a literal lifetime to learn what I need to know.

I’ve had two long and productive careers, both lasting eighteen years. Other people, I’ve heard, have the seven year itch, but apparently, mine is slow to develop. I loved both of these careers and it was so easy to become totally immersed in them, almost to the point that I got lost in the waters.

Now that I recently stepped away from the second one to take one more new opportunity, I find myself reflecting on both careers again. How much of myself did I give to those careers and what did it mean to me when I left them?

My first long career was with the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services in Kansas. I took the job shortly after college and I received four promotions during the years that followed. I was not always fully prepared for the promotions that I took; but if someone believed in me and thought I could do the job, I signed up for it. Then, I threw myself into the job, working double-time to learn what I needed to know. 

When I left the job in Kansas, I had many months of unused sick leave and vacation time.  How had that happened?  I needed to take more time for myself and for my family.  I vowed that I would never work that hard again.

Most recently, I left my position at Heart of West Michigan United Way, where I’d spent my second eighteen-year-long career. When I started, I was supposedly a thirty-hour a week employee, but -- as I’m sure many of you can relate -- I worked well beyond that number.  I’d dove right in head-first, once again, and just like in Kansas, I became fully immersed in the work and the needs of our community.  Jane and the Volunteer Center became one.  Many times I was less “Jane” than I was “Volunteer Center Director”.

And quess what? When I left that second eighteen-year career, I once again had the maximum amount of unused sick leave that could be banked, and considerable unused vacation days. 

When I announced of my impending departure from United Way, I received an email from an upset corporate client who said, “What am I going to do without your relentless work ethic?”  To add to that theme, during my final conversation with the interim CEO at United Way he said, “You all work too hard!”  

It’s hard not to work hard and relentlessly when there’s so much important work to be done. But, what had happened to my vow eighteen years ago to never work that hard again? How did all of those years pass without any real adjustment in work/life balance?

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