I had just received the job offer of my dreams. I could hardly believe it. An up-and-coming company offered me a position teaching workshops to their staff of more than 1,200 teachers, social workers, and daycare providers. The job paid close to six figures, had great benefits and lots of VIP perks. As a single mom, it represented my key to independence; I’d no longer have to rely on my ex-husband to help make ends meet each month. I would be able to move my sons into a beautiful home in the suburbs and send them to a better school. My car at the time was so old and beat up that I had to carry oil and water in the trunk at all times. My two boys knew that whenever smoke began to seep out from under the hood they were to alert me so that I could refill whatever fluid was running low. I couldn’t wait to buy a new car and I was already picturing the vacations that we’d finally be able to afford.
This job was absolutely ideal for me and the company’s values were very much in alignment with my own. I’d be teaching motivational and inspirational workshops to teachers, helping executives become better leaders, and instructing daycare providers on important childcare concepts. The owners were passionate about impacting low- income families and innovative in their policies for integrating children with disabilities into all classrooms. The position required three weeks of travel each month – that’s three weeks a month making a difference by doing something worthwhile that I loved while earning a great paycheck. There was only one problem and it was an important one: it meant that roughly 75 percent of my time would be away from my boys. At this point, they were six and seven years old. When I realized that the job required this much travel I knew instantly that it was not possible for me to accept it.
My priorities were clear but that doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle with the decision. I yearned for financial independence. I desperately wanted to give my sons a better education and pay for the expensive sports lessons that their friends enjoyed. So I tried to think of a way to make this new job position fit around my lifestyle. Hiring a full-time nanny could be an option, which I would be able to afford with this salary. Still, I knew in my heart that this arrangement would never work, not for me.
You see, I absolutely loved being a mom. Of all the different roles I’ve had over the years, being with my boys when they were young was my most favorite. I truly enjoyed them and was most happy when I was doing things with them. I had an excellent part-time job that offered me a lot of flexibility. We were very active at our church, their school and in our community; other than not being in a more comfortable financial position, I was very happy with my life just as it was.
Still, I imagined how our lives would be changed with the financial security that this position offered, and I felt torn. Would I be any happier if my bank account had a few extra zeroes? Part of me believed that filling that “missing piece” would complete my life, yet I knew it would not be the right decision for us as a family. After a week of obsessing about this choice, I called the owners of the company and let them know my decision. I earnestly asked them to reconsider me for any position that did not include as much travel. They couldn’t understand how anyone could walk away from such a great opportunity. They were shocked and perplexed.
I felt confident in my decision. I knew I made the right choice but was also very disappointed and upset about it for several weeks. I remember thinking that I would never, ever get another opportunity to work in a job that I loved so much and paid so well. I felt extremely guilty for walking away from an opportunity to give my sons a better life. Even though weeks had passed since I’d declined the position, I still thought about it every day. One afternoon as I was at my kitchen table writing out checks to pay bills, I looked at my bank balance and thought, If you had taken that job, you could have it all. Immediately, my inner voice replied, “Beth, You DO have it all. You have a nice home and healthy, happy children. You work flexible hours, have enough money to cover your expenses and you get to spend all the time you want with your children. You already have it all. Lots of women would give up their paychecks to enjoy what you have. This isn’t the last job you’ll ever be offered. In 10 years you’ll be able to travel and something even better will happen for you. Yes, you CAN have it all; you just can’t have it all at the same time.”
This message was powerful. I felt that God had spoken directly to me. From that moment on, I stopped feeling guilty about declining the job offer. Instead, I began to acknowledge the many blessings in my life. I didn’t have financial independence yet but I was independent. Just six months later, that company went bankrupt; 1,200 employees in three states went to work one morning and found the doors locked with a sign: “Out of Business.” When I heard this news, my heart broke for everyone who had lost their job. In the same breath, a wave of peace washed over me. I had listened to my inner voice and it didn’t steer me wrong.
Over the next several years, I continued to do what I loved best: being a mom. I worked part-time and pursued my passion for writing and speaking to motivate women in whatever spare time I could find. Occasionally, I’d feel a twinge of guilt that my boys weren’t in the best schools or weren’t playing on exclusive traveling sports teams. We spent our summers at the public pool while our friends traveled to the beach or Walt Disney World. At times, I felt envious but then I’d remember that powerful message: You can have it all, just not all at the same time. This brought me peace and kept me feeling content with my present life and curious about my future.
Over the years, I’ve built my own empire and developed creative ways to earn money while keeping my priorities in order. Even though my boys are grown now, I still want to be available when they call, visit or need to talk. Owning my own business gives me control over my schedule and allows me to spend time with the people who are most important to me. I can work odd hours if I want (my clients are very familiar with my late-night emails!) and I get to take advantage of my creativity whenever the muse strikes. I have developed a large network of women who support one another. I’ve written several books and created dozens of workshops and programs that help other women succeed in life and business. My work takes me around the world, where I meet and interact with women in all stages of life. I wonder where I would be today if I had ignored that little voice in my head many years ago.
Today, when I talk with women, they often share their frustrations about work and family. They feel guilty, worried and even resentful about the demands on their time. They feel like they are part of a big rat race, and overwhelmed with the expectations they place on themselves. Many struggle financially while trying to keep up with their neighbors. Trying to accomplish everything at once is a disservice to the entire family, especially when everyone is frustrated, struggling and upset. Remember, rat races are for rats, not human beings.
Sometimes we get so busy doing everything that we think we’re supposed to do that we forget why we’re doing it in the first place. I know for sure that we’re not supposed to live our lives feeling upset, guilty, overwhelmed and worried all the time.
If this describes you, please stop. Take some time right now and think about what is really important at this point in your life. Listen to your inner voice; it won’t lie to you. If it’s your career, put your focus there and don’t feel guilty. If right now is the time that should be dedicated to your family, go fully into it and don’t spend a moment wondering what others might think. The only opinions that really matter are the ones of those closest and most important to you – and only if they truly have your best interest at heart. Remember that life changes. Things will never again be as they are today. What’s important today will be different in 10 years or so. Do what is best for you and your loved ones right now. You’ll never get this time back.
Recently, I had an impressive job offer from a prestigious company, much like the one I stressed over all those years ago: a six-figure salary, expense account and other perks, a full support team. Along with all of that came weeks of travel, long hours and the corporate grind. This time, I took a matter of minutes to make my decision. “I’ll think about it . . . in about 10 years,” I told them.
This content is excerpted from chapter one of the book INSPIRE: Women’s Stories of Accomplishment, Encouragement, and Influence, originally published in 2014.