OK, so I explained how I first came across the concept of voluntary simplicity by accident at a difficult time in my life. I was running fast on the treadmill wondering if this was all that life had in store, hoping there might be more. I was so moved by Mr. Shut's book. And I sensed real truth in the words and ideas I found in its pages. (Actually, Truth with a capital "t.") The life I was living did not seem to match my core values as a Christ follower. My life did not immediately change, but I did have a huge epiphany that scrambling to climb the corporate ladder was pointless and not what I wanted out of life.
But my life did not change over night for several reasons.
First, a lot of folks wish they had the opportunity to be on that ladder. I had worked very hard and had good luck. Plenty of folks I went to law school with would have given much for access to the ladder. And I was doing a better job climbing it than others on the ladder with me at that point. Moreover, the nature of the job market in corporate America was such that if I stepped off the ladder, I would never get that opportunity again. Once off the ladder, someone else takes your spot and you are deemed to not be qualified enough to climb any more. I'm not a rash person, so I didn't just finish Mr. Shut's book, then walk into my boss's office and quit.
Plus by that time, my husband and I were parents, and we were anticipating the adoption of our second child very soon. We also had a mortgage, car loans, as well as my student loans. So, jumping off the treadmill immediately seemed implausible and irresponsible. But something in my heart had changed. I had become very aware of the futility of office politics and the emptiness of the suburban mini-mansions filled with stylish furnishings.
During that time of my life, when I thought about what did fill my life with meaning, what I wanted to fill it with instead of workplace pettiness and well-appointed homes, it was clear to me the answer was my family. I had a husband I thought was pretty awesome, but we didn't get to spend enough time together. We had an amazing toddler whom we never got to see except for brief period right before and after she went to bed. For years, I'd heard that for working parents, "quality time" was key. But I was finding that quality was rather pointless if the quantity was so scarce. We had so little time with our daughter, we were about to have a second child in our family and we were scrambling to find time to do laundry or get some prepackaged food from the store. My husband and I both had such demanding corporate jobs, we weren't living. In retrospect, we were barely hanging on.
Finally, I had an even greater epiphany. I was reading a number of books on voluntary simplicity at that point. (More on those later!) And I had realized that becoming a one income family would greatly simplify our lives and give us more time as a family. My husband was on a business trip when I had this big epiphany, so I noodled on it a couple days before I got a chance to share it with him. By then, I had thought it through more and realized that for a number of reasons, at least on paper, it made more sense for him to quit his job. I made more money and he had been in his profession much longer than me, so he would more easily be able to get back into the work force later on in time. He had been traveling in remote parts of Oklahoma visiting his company's oil fields when after several days he was somewhere where he got a bit of cell phone signal. We only had a moment, so after he shared a bit about his trip, I blurted out my epiphany quickly. He was outside on top of a windy hill, he asked, "You want me to do what?" I repeated my brainstorm. The phone went silent, I thought maybe he had lost signal. I asked if he were still there. His voice dropped deadpan and he simply said, "We're going to have to talk when I get home."
We did eventually talk about the idea at length. Pretty quickly, he agreed about the logic of having one of us stay home, particularly after we adopted our second child. It took more discussion, but soon he agreed that all signs seemed to point to him being the stay-at-home parent. We were both so thrilled. We made the decision with time to spare, so we had time to work at scaling back our spending, paying off some of our debt, and stocking away some savings. By the time our second child came along, we were in good shape for him to leave his career.
So, we had several years when I was the sole breadwinner and we had more time as a family. My husband took over all the household responsibilities, so when I was home, we could focus on being together and enjoying each other's company--not rushing to the dry cleaner's while trying to figure out we'd feed everyone for supper. Those were good times. But as I progressed in my career, I was constantly working to set barriers and eek out a personal life. It was always a struggle. And I had reason to fear that eventually I would lose in the battle to not have my career consume my life. There were some sane, humane people in the managerial ranks at my company who had been somewhat supportive of my efforts at work-life balance. But I could see the writing on the wall. Those folks would be retiring before long and the men who were poised to take their place were single-minded and unsympathetic to anything but the bottom line.
Due to this situation, I decided to make a huge career change and go into academia. It is notoriously competitive to become a tenure-track professor, it is something people in my profession carefully plan and prepare for before going on the market. However, on a last minute whim one year, I threw my hat in the ring and got very lucky. It was scary. Accepting the job meant giving up not only a very lucrative and stable career with my company, but my husband would be forever giving up on his career since we had to move to an entirely different part of the country where his resume would be less relevant. But we took the plunge. The lure of a much more flexible schedule and summers off at least in some respects was appealing. I was also excited to do work that I thought I would find more meaningful. I like mentoring young people, exploring ideas and writing.
Initially, my schedule was pretty good and life was great. I've always enjoyed the people I worked with, but as an academic I particularly loved and respected my colleagues. What a diverse, dedicated, talented group of folks. But there were administrative issues. We had three deans in my first three years. All of that became more and more of a drain for the school's focus, and to my great disappointment the office politics became worse than anything I've ever experienced in any other workplace.
Meanwhile, my children were getting older and I had felt like I had really missed out. Their childhood had passed me by! I'd always hoped and planned that we'd adopt again, but I blinked and found myself in my 40s. It was dawning on me this was not something I could continue to push off into the nebulous future. And in the midst of all this, my husband had gone back to school and had begun a new career in a helping profession. The writing on the wall had become clear that now I needed to step off the career freeway for a while.
So that brings me up to the present day. Homeschooling stay-at-home mom looking to possibly adopt again. And finally having the time for life that I've craved for years. Though even without a paid gig, there are still not enough hours in the day!
I want to flag that that has been just my journey towards voluntary simplicity, but that is certainly not the only path. I've known people who've taken very different paths. You don't have to be a parent or a white collar worker or married to embrace simplicity. I think all it really takes is an awareness of the emptiness of our modern American lifestyle that focuses on working to consume more than we need, and a hope that there might be another way.
I'm here to encourage you that there is!