93: You Should

93: You Should

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

You Should

Every day is a new beginning. Treat it that way.

Stay away from what might have been, and look at what can be.

~Marsha Petrie Sue

All of my life I have been guided by those two small words: you should. Many times those two words guided and served me, but they also hamstrung me and boxed me in a corner. In March 2013, I’d had enough and retired from my well-paid corporate job at age forty-eight with two children approaching college age. This after a lifetime of being responsible and doing the things I “should” do.

My parents and all the other people who were telling me what I should do did so with the best intentions. And for the most part, all of that guidance served me well. But there comes a time when you have to stop doing what “you should” do and follow your gut instead.

Thirteen years ago, I was in a bad marriage, mourning the passing of my mother, managing an intense career in a large corporation, and raising two daughters with limited support from my husband. One Saturday morning, I was trying to get the girls (two and four years old) fed, dressed and ready for our day. I was cooking breakfast when my back seized up, forcing me to stop and lie down on the cold tile floor in the kitchen with my two girls walking around me and asking what was wrong. It’s said that if you have pain in your back, it is because you have no support. I wish I could say that was the day I decided to make some changes in my life, but it wasn’t.

Ten years passed, and I had remarried, still in the newlywed stage with the man of my dreams. But I was challenged with raising two teenaged girls, moving into a new home, learning how to blend our families, and leading the charge on a thirty-two million dollar business deal that required I leave my home in Maryland each week for Cheyenne, Wyoming. I was exhausted!

The straw that broke the camel’s back was my younger brother’s failing health. He unexpectedly required open-heart surgery. Naturally, as the older sister, I should have been the one to care for him. My husband and I invited him to move in with us so that I could help him recover. He moved in and for six weeks I changed the bandages on the machine that kept his heart pumping, prepared meals, changed bedpans and ensured that he had everything he needed and wanted.

With my brother so near death, it made me stop and think. How much more could I put on my plate? If I didn’t devote my full attention to his recovery, wouldn’t I always regret it? With my girls in high school didn’t they need my guidance more than ever? When was I going to have a chance to breathe? Would I ever actually spend quality time with my new husband? When was my time? What did I really want to be when I grew up? What did I want to be remembered for?

I chatted with my husband and he agreed I should take a leave of absence from my job. The next day I went to talk to my manager, who gave me his full support. I felt as though the weight of the world was off my shoulders. It took a couple of weeks to wrap up projects, but I immediately felt less stress than I had in a long time. One of the first days of leave was spent preparing a healthy after-school snack for my girls and then hanging out for an hour on the trampoline in the back yard. We were just lying there looking up at the beautiful sky. It felt amazing to be able to take the time, with nothing more pressing ahead of me that day than preparing dinner.

So how did I spend my year? After getting my brother on his feet and on the heart transplant list, I spent a lot of time on meal prep and cooking for my family; I was able to chat with and coach my girls (and their friends) every time something came up at school or in life; I gave my husband time that wasn’t rushed or squeezed in between activities. I think most importantly I gave time to myself. I rested, read, watched movies, and traveled to many events in various cities, all in pursuit of furthering my skills in coaching, women’s empowerment, speaking, and leadership. These had long been my areas of interest. I now had the time to discover and apply all that I had learned.

I also had time to connect with friends who weren’t local. If I had to sum it up, I would say that I filled my soul. And, yes, there were times that I felt a twinge of guilt for leaving my family at home, but I knew in my heart that all of my investments would serve my family in the long run. The most valuable lesson I learned was that I should take care of myself if I wanted to be better at taking care of my family.

In a few weeks I will return to my corporate position. I feel very fortunate that I have experienced the gift of time, as my girls will soon be off to university. I feel thankful for the opportunity for my limited retirement at a young and healthy point in my life. I also know there are many new areas of interest that I will pursue soon and that I have many gifts to share. I am so happy that I took a break from what “I should” be doing and nurtured my soul.

~Allyson Ward

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