Do you know how you feel?

Last week a co-worker said to me, “You must be really stressed.”

Her comment took me by surprise. “Why?,” I asked.

“Because you’ve been talking to yourself a lot. You do that when you’re stressed.”

I stopped to think for a minute and she was right. I was feeling stressed. But I was so hyper-focused on the tasks of the week — including getting two kids ready to head out to college and one set for his first day of high school, I hadn’t taken any time to consider how I was feeling about it. All I knew was I had a to-do list a mile long (two of them, in fact — one at work and one at home) and I was chiefly concerned with ticking off  the boxes.

Since then, I’ve been trying to pay attention to how I’m feeling about situations and experiences. Those feelings have included:

Frustration — on several occasions, including when I’d spent more than an hour building a webpage at work, only to have the computer spontaneously shut down, causing me to lose an hour’s worth of work.

Exhaustion — moving two kids into college in two days will do that to you.

Conflict (Confliction? I’m not sure that’s a word) — As a lifelong Catholic, I’m feeling conflicted about my religion given several recent stories in the news.

Sadness — the first time I pulled up to our house and it did not look like a used car lot because there were only two cars there, not the four that had been parked out front all summer

Gratitude — For several things, a flexible work environment, the ability to provide our kids with education, a body that can move (mostly) freely

Exasperation — I love my daughter Annie but by the time she went to school, we were both very ready.

Fear — when my son Charlie told me he is going to his first college party and working with my other son to get himself organized for high school

As I look over this list, I’m surprised to see that happiness and joy didn’t make the list. Surely, I’ve felt both of those things in the past week. I’ve had periods of my life where happiness and joy went on long sabbaticals. This is not one of those times. I think I need to pay more attention to when those make an appearance and be grateful for them.

Are you aware of your feelings as you are having them? Or do you just march through your days ticking off the boxes?

What am I doing anyway?

I went to lunch with a friend this week and she asked me about my career trajectory. I had to think about it because I’m not sure if I’ve ever really been forward thinking about what I do to earn a living.

When I was preparing to graduate from college, what I wanted was a job. Something to pay the bills and to have something to show for the 4 years and thousands of dollars I’d spent as an undergraduate. A few years into that first job, I began looking for a new challenge. I made what I think was a career move — earning more money in a job that was related to both my degree and my previous job. But in hindsight, I was really just biding time until I could fall into my vocation — being a mom.

After Annie was born, I returned to work for a few months, and then decided to stay home and do some freelance writing, earning a fraction of what I’d been making. It was a choice I happily made and I was glad to have a skill that would allow me to have flexibility and the ability to still contribute to our family income. Today I would say that I had a career has a freelance writer.

When the kids were 8, 6, and 2, I returned to traditional work part-time. Thirteen years later, I’m still working in that job, full-time now. And I’m starting to contemplate what’s next. In all likelihood, barring the winning of a large lottery jackpot, I have about 25 years left to work. What is my career trajectory?

And the answer is, I don’t really know. I’m making a few stabs at investigating that question. I’ve enrolled in a master’s program — Master of Science in Healthcare Management. Before getting my current job, all of my experience was in healthcare, and I enjoyed it. I have an interest in adult day services and in hospice care, but I don’t want to provide clinical care.

I recently took an intensive class in fundraising, with the idea that I might be able to parlay 25 years of communications experience into development work. I think I could be good at it, maybe raising money for healthcare entities, but I don’t actually have experience doing that. Would someone actually give me a chance to try?

Then there’s the fact that I really enjoy working in higher education. I like the pace of the work. I like being where learning is encouraged.

So what is my career trajectory? I feel like I’m just throwing things against the wall to see what will stick. I think of the people who I worked with at my second job — communicators like me who built careers, some in freelance work, some in the pharmaceutical industry where we met. I think of the mentors I’ve had along the way and I wonder if they all deliberately built their careers or if it’s just what stuck for them?

Somedays the question of “what am I doing, anyway” is daunting and makes me feel inadequate. Other days that same question is an invitation and I feel kind of lucky to get to explore the answer.

What is your career? Are you there because of a deliberate path you set out on? Or are you where you are because of a happy accident? What is next for you?

Parenting a high schooler 3.0

When I published my first blog post 10 years ago, I didn’t have a high schooler. My kids were ages 11, 8, and 4. Now, at the writing of this first post of the reboot of my blogging enterprise, I’m preparing to send my youngest to high school in just two short months. And we (my husband Mike and I) are learning all over again.

Our oldest set out for a public charter high school, which was new territory for us. But she was (and still is) independent and capable. She was firmly entrenched in theatre and made friends through that easily. She was a determined student and didn’t cause much worry. When it came time for her brother to go to high school, he chose a Catholic high school — definitely more in my wheelhouse. He is an athlete, so his high school years were filled with conditioning and practices and games. He was a reluctant student, which caused us a lot of angst in his freshman year, but when he put his mind to it (and found he couldn’t play if he didn’t make the grades), he did fine.

Now, it’s our “baby’s” turn to go to high school and I think it’s fair to say that we (Robbie and I) are both kind of terrified at the prospect. Of all three of our kids, Robbie works hardest at school. It doesn’t come easily to him and his years of elementary and middle school were filled with plenty of personalized academic support. He wants to do well and where effort figures into the bulk of the grade, he does. But he learns differently. And he thinks differently. And he approaches life differently. And we are learning how to parent him differently.

The first difference we came upon was when Robbie said he didn’t want to play sports in high school. After four years all-in to high school athletic scene, I wondered “how exactly do you parent a kid who doesn’t want to play sports?” He played CYO sports for most of the years he was able and while not a stellar athlete, he is decent. His hard-working nature serves him well on the field and the court.

“How about you choose a team to work out with for the summer,” I suggested. “That way you can meet people and make friends before school starts.”

It wasn’t a bad idea, but I’ll admit that I was also hoping to “trick” him into deciding to play. But here we are, a month into summer soccer training and he is ready to hang up the cleats.

“Well maybe, you want to give tennis a try?”

No.

“Mr. N. thinks you could be pretty good at football.”

No. I just want to concentrate on school.

How can I argue with that? Plus, I know that he would be overwhelmed with the prospect of practicing or competing five to six days a week. My baby is my homebody. But what does high school look like when you don’t have a dedicated sport or interest (as Annie had theatre)? I guess we are about to find out.

If I’m honest with myself, I know this is about fear. My fear that he won’t fit in, that he won’t have friends. I’m also afraid that I am giving up too easily. Kids need us to push them out of their comfort zones, right?

This part of parenting I know well…discovering when to push and when to back off. Allowing our kids to make their own decisions (with some guidance, of course) and being there to support and re-direct them should those decisions come with unexpected or unwanted consequences.

High school 3.0. Ready or not, here we come.