I sat next to my mom on the beach and considered how similar we were in regards to career drive and ambition. It was Mother’s Day, and I was five days post-surgery. We were sitting on the seawall because I wouldn’t make it up and down the stairs to the sand. Technically I wasn’t supposed to even be walking yet, but I needed to get out of the apartment.
I buried my feet in the sand and thought about what she was suggesting. “All I’m saying, Holly,” she said, “is that you might want to take it a little easy. Maybe you just slow down this year. Don’t make any big changes. Don’t move, don’t change jobs, don’t start any companies, don’t take on anything extra besides work. Just be for a while.”
Who wouldn’t want to be told to do less, I wondered. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to be lazy? And there it was. Right there. Lazy. Kicking ass at a full-time professional job, being in a wonderful committed relationship, writing two blogs, and founding a professional organization is lazy? I’ve always pushed myself to be more, better, faster. If I wasn’t the only person doing it, I’d better be the youngest person doing it. If younger people were doing it, I was doing more.
I’ve been teetering back and forth on whether or not the women in my family have bodies that are just not equipped to handle stress, or if we put an extraordinary amount of stress on ourselves which affects our bodies. Two of my aunts have battled cancer, breast and brain. My mother was emitted to the E.R. with chest pains for the first time at 42. The pre-cancerous cells my surgery and biopsy had revealed were most likely the result of stress, my doctor warned me in her office.
I had my first nervous breakdown as a high school junior. I was working part-time, volunteering in an at-risk school, going to school full-time, taking 4 Advanced Placement courses, and taking a night class at the local college. I crumpled like a ball in the living room when my mom scolded me over the laundry. It didn’t really slow me down though. By my senior year I was going to the local college full-time in place of high school classes, with the same extracurricular schedule. Who was I if not all those things – a star student, an impressive application/ resume, a good employee, a girl on the make?
So maybe that’s why I wasn’t surprised when my doctor eyed my chart after the second round of biopsies and said that the past three months of low-stress living hadn’t made a difference. Hadn’t I spent most of those three months stressing out about how to maintain my immense checklist of “low-stress” things to do? Wasn’t it only the last few weeks where I let myself go to whatever the results were, left it in Something Larger’s hands?
One painful, frightening surgery later (which I had um, postponed by a month so I could launch a professional organization), I sat next to my equally driven mother and took her words of advice. She knew. She was still pushing and climbing at 50. “It’s always there,” she said of ambition. “It’ll be there in a year.”
Who am I if not a ladder-climbing employee, a twenty-something entrepreneur, a moonlighting freelancer, The Person in Town Who Knows About That, a woman on the make?
I guess I’m a woman taking it easy.
Tempering my ambition and drive is something I’ve got to figure out in my life, otherwise this thing, this cancer is just going to keep coming up. And the risks are just too great to ignore.
And while I made up my mind on the beach that day, it wasn’t until today I had to act on it. I turned down a $500/mo. freelance gig. And it was in a type of work that I love and have wanted to do more of. I even initially agreed, but backed out after a long talk with my boyfriend and lots of prayerful contemplation this weekend. It was probably one of the hardest things, besides the surgery, I’ve had to do this year.
My greatest fear in giving up this year to maintaining the life I already have is that I will miss out on something, some opportunity, some chance, some big life-changing event. Then I realize that I just went through the life-changing event. I came head-to-head with so many fears over the six months I endured biopsies, waiting periods, immune system boosters, and surgery. In the end, if I don’t learn how to slow down and enjoy what I’ve built, I’ll miss out on so much more.