One of my favorite sayings, which was quoted in a book I recently read, goes like this: “When you’re up to your ass in gnats and alligators, it’s easy to forget that what you really came to do was drain the swamp.”
After reading the book called “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This” by Kate White, this phrase became the mantra for my work heading marketing and an oil and gas service company. My team watched me write this phrase on my whiteboard, and it became the mechanism with which I prioritized our department’s responsibilities: Namely, in order to fulfill our marketing vision to improve customer awareness, satisfaction and growth, we had to never lose sight of the “drain the swamp” initiatives and get too caught up in the day-to-day tactics (i.e. the alligators and gnats).
Then in the fall of 2013, something happened.
My husband came home with a proposition: he was being recruited to take on a position that would move us back to Dubai. It would be a huge opportunity for him to gain operational and international experience that he simply would not get in his current role.
What to do?
We lived in Dubai from 2001 to 2003, right after getting married and before children, and we took full advantage of the occasion to travel, save money, and get career experience we’d never have gained otherwise.
And so here we were again – except this time, it wasn’t just about us. We have a five-year old daughter. I am pregnant, due in April. And I had finally landed the perfect job, at a great company, where I had been handed a blank sheet of paper to build a marketing function and team. Our lives were humming along just fine in Houston, in regards to our daughter, her school, our careers, and our home life. We were running the rat race and felt like we were making good time.
Or were we? Our schedules ran from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. most days, and our daughter attended pre-K and then daycare until 5:30 or 6 p.m. Sometimes it felt like our schedules would kill us. Sometimes we thought we would kill each other. Maybe what we needed was a change; an opportunity to take a breath. After all, if he accepted the position, surely my company would not be able to keep me in mine, working from Dubai. I could take some time off, have the baby, and ease back into work at some point in the future. Right?
We made the decision that he would accept the offer. Dread filled me as I started to plan for the conversation I would have with my boss to give my notice. While my mind was telling me this was a long-term “drain the swamp” kind of decision, my heart was having a hard time giving up, even if temporarily, something that was very important to me – my career.
Then, something funny happened. After I walked in to speak with my boss assuming I would be giving notice, I walked out with something entirely different – the proposition to continue in my role, but from Dubai. They weren’t going to let me go that easily. It’s a testament to the kind of company I work for, and also to my performance (as women we need to take credit for our talents and skills).
And so that’s what I’ve done. We’ve been here for just a few weeks. We’re still trying to adjust our schedules, but so far, so good. The culture here comes into the office late and stays late, which means my husband can handle school drop off and I pick her up (I go against the norm and come in early so that I can leave early). We’re not doing after-school daycare – I’m enjoying immensely more one-on-one time with my daughter in the afternoons while we run errands or get mani-pedis. Yes, I get online late at night to correspond with Houston, but so far this is working.
This month we will move out of the temporary apartment we’re in now and into our new home. My husband did a tremendous job of choosing a great location, just blocks from the beach near the famous Jumeirah Beach Hotel. One of the luxuries here is the ability to have a live-in nanny and housekeeper. I am in the process of interviewing, and whoever we choose will know how much we appreciate her. She will be instrumental to our ability to provide our children with a happy home. I fully appreciate that the opportunities we have been given are tremendous, and we as well as our children will not take them for granted.
And that’s the theme here. Taking things for granted. I took for granted that I would have to put my career on hold in order to move. My “drain the swamp” vision for our lives and my career weren’t in alignment. And I’m still working out what exactly my vision statement should be, which is why I hesitated to write this blog – I very much feel like I’m in a period of self-discovery right now, trying to make sure the gnats and alligators don’t get the best of me.
Last weekend we sat at the beach and my husband and daughter built sand castles while I engrossed myself in a book – for the first time in months. Maybe part of my journey is discovering that pursuing your career is possible while still having time to appreciate the waves crashing on the sand and the excitement on my daughter’s face when she finds a seashell. If so, then I’m happy to be along for the ride.
And wherever this ride takes me, I’m learning to take things one day at a time. I’m learning that finding clarity and happiness may mean something different from running a rat race, and that I can still enjoy my career while enjoying my family more than ever before.