I have worked since I was 15 years old. My first job was at a Jewish deli at the mall, and this is where I get my excellent sandwich making skills. It was fun, and like most, this was my first taste of financial freedom. For many years, my mom was a single parent so when it came to “stuff,” we (my brother and I) often did without certain “things.” No shoes with a swoosh on the sides or alligator shirts amongst many other designer items, but we always had the important stuff; love, health, a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, lights, heat, and food. But having my first job gave me the means to buy the “stuff” that I thought would help me keep up with some of the other kids. Clothes I wanted, make-up, movies and when I started driving, gas money and car insurance payments.
Since that time, I’ve had very few moments in life where I didn’t have a job. One did not quit a job without having something else lined up. That was a definite no. You had to have money to “support” yourself. That’s the way it works, and little did I know that back at a young age, I had fallen into the “keeping up with the Joneses” theory even if it was only teenage girls clothes vs. having the best yard in the neighborhood.
I can remember three times I didn’t work:
- – March 2001 – After my 3rd startup company, I told my husband I needed some time off. While I took a break from a paying job, I took on the most important title and impacting role I’d ever have; stay-at-home mom of two teenage kids. Also during that time, my husband had started his own business, so I helped him in the office and built his business. And for a hobby, I went to nail technician school so I could do nails – something I had always wanted to do. So I took time “off”…not so much.
- – June 2008 – I had decided to take a voluntary severance package from a job, and within one week of that decision, one of the largest and well-known software companies came knocking on my door. I went through the interview process and had landed the role in July, but didn’t start until September (I was moving across the country and needed some time to get all of that in order). And so for about six weeks, I had the peace of mind financially and professionally just to enjoy things for a moment. I did have to pack up a house and sell it, but the little things. 🙂 In all reality, my husband took care of getting the house ready to sell. He worked with the movers, the relator, the contractors for the small work or he did it himself. He was so supportive and just wanted me focused on one thing — my new dream job and our new adventure in another state. Done and done. I genuinely enjoyed this short amount of time. My days consisted of long workouts in the morning, lunching with girlfriends in the afternoons, reading books on the patio, and BBQs at night. Life was good. It was a time when I felt aligned on all fronts; physically, emotionally and financially. The time went by quickly not without bumps in the road. It was a short time in life overall and six months went by very quickly.
- – February 2013 – my husband passed away, and I could not work. I had been on leave starting in October 2012, but I was his full-time caregiver. What I thought was the most laborious work I would ever do, only to be schooled that grieving the loss of my husband would be the most painful and challenging work I’d ever do. Because that is what grief is; it is work. I won’t go into details about what that means, but those who have been through it know. It’s not just surviving every day, but you have to work through grief. And it’s hard. For the first time since I was 15 years old, I didn’t have a job. Worse than that, it felt like I didn’t have anything including an identity. In one fell swoop, I was no longer a wife, caregiver, and who even cared about a professional career. My kids were grown and out of the house, so while I will always be a “mom,” I wasn’t raising kids. I am a “mom” to my fur babies, but that was it. My only “job” and responsibility at this point was me. I had to take care of myself. Be my caregiver, full time. Heal myself from not only the grief of the loss of my husband but the trauma I had been through taking care of him for 18 months. While we don’t admit it while we are “in it,” the entire experience was traumatic. From the shock of the diagnosis to the painful decisions, to the brutality of watching him go from Superman to a mere mortal, and ultimately to his passing, trauma seems like too small of a word to describe what we all went through. But there were bills to pay, and frankly, the fall and winter months were coming, so I needed to get back to some normalcy. I officially left my job with the said software company and moved onto another smaller company in January 2014 – less than one year after the most devastating experience of my life.
So when changes came about at my job in 2017, I had to dig deep into what I wanted to do. My habits of “you can’t quit a job without having a job” jumped right into play. Christina Rasmussen, author of Second Firsts, a book I have recommended to many that are at a crossroads in life. We do what is safe and what we know because our “Survivor” tells us we have to do so. Before digging too deep, however, I was headed out on a much-needed vacation. A week in Maui where I would unplug and not think about any of it. Life, working, politics. Nothing. I would take not working to the ultimate degree.
I went to Maui, and it is an understatement in saying what a great trip I had. It was my first real vacation in years. I’ve traveled, but it’s been for work or family, never a complete tropical paradise indulgence. It was my first without my husband. A different kind of trip with two girlfriends who could not have been more supportive, caring and downright FUN 🙂 We had a great time, and when it was time to come home, I realized what I was returning to was not much. Let me pause in saying that I have so much gratitude for what I have in life. My children, my parents, my friends and family, my doggies, of course, the roof over my head, and the job that helps me to pay for my lifestyle and incredible trips like the one I was completing. But when thinking about what I was coming home to that day, what my life was about, I had very little that I could come up with in my mind. For the past several years, I have been on auto-pilot going to a job every day that while financially secures me, it does not serve me in a significant number of ways. I won’t go into the details of what that means, but I know better than to allow life to keep passing me by the wayside. We only have so many days and while procrastinating and being fearful or “surviving” is okay, it’s no way to live life.
I have spent many hours contemplating what I want to do. I have no clue. On this trip, however, I did realize that I don’t want to do this any longer. And the fear of “what if I never find another job again” plays on a continual loop in my mind, I finally pushed the pause button as asked myself, “What if I take off six months’ time? A sabbatical? That does not nearly sound as scary as quitting my job. Right?” In fact, it didn’t. And with that, I am officially on permanent sabbatical from my career. For an undetermined amount of time. Because in the grand scheme of the 33 years I have been working, this seems reasonable and in my gut, the right thing to do. A risk, sure, but healing from trauma does not come in one short year.
Perhaps I didn’t take enough time after my husband passed? Perhaps I was too disillusioned about what I “should do” and not focused on what I needed to do. I don’t know what’s ahead, but I do know that I will indeed be living a one-day-at-a-time life of presence. I will not overly plan or schedule myself. I will do like I did in Hawaii and having gratitude for the day, honoring the sunrise and sunset when I can see it here in the Pacific Northwest :-). I will take care of myself physically, spiritually and emotionally figuring out what feeds my soul and serves me. Writing? School? Something completely different? I don’t know, and it’s okay not to know. Life is not one master plan that we can control.
I will be okay. I can take the road less traveled and survive.
I got this.
Have you ever started over? Leave me a comment and let me know how you did it. I can use all of the help I can get right now 🙂
Thanks for reading!
A Chicago native transplanted to Seattle, Washington, Tracey Yeager Blackburn has found herself in many roles. Parent, caregiver, patient advocate, cancer researcher, storyteller, and corporate professional. Adding widow to her list was not planned, but has helped her create a new path that validates the grieving process while carving out a new niche of self-realization.
She has masterfully taken her experiences as a successful corporate marketing professional turned caregiver and patient advocate into an opportunity to share that life is not always what you plan. The impetus for new projects to inspire others including creating sandshifting.com — a blog and podcast designed to share stories of inspiration, reinvention and hope.
Tracey is grateful for her family, amazing friends and two dogs that keep her moving forward — even as she enters into life after fifty. Tracey’s blog can be found at traceyblackburn.net and on Twitter at @TheOnlyTraceyB.