Being at Peace with Leaning Out

For a few years now, I have slowly been right-sizing my life; practicing saying “no”, getting rest and exercise, prioritizing my innermost circles like faith, marriage, and children before the outer circles like career, acquaintances, and societal expectations. I have been perfecting the art of “leaning out” of my career and into my life.

Then surprisingly, a few months ago I had my first anxiety attack and it made absolutely no sense to me (not that anxiety attacks are supposed to “make sense”…).

Here I was, the most balanced, the most happy I had ever been in my adult life. But somehow I found myself pulled over on the side of the road, paramedics checking my vitals as my seven-year-old gleefully chatted with the cute firemen.

These seemingly-out-of-nowhere anxiety attacks prompted me to investigate what was stirring so violently in my soul. I consulted with doctors, counselors, self-help books and my inner circle, trying to identify the cause for this very real, physical anxiety. The answers I got were the obvious ones: “You’re doing too much.” “Even happy stress is still stress.” “You just started a new job – even if it’s making you happy, it’s still stressful.” But none of these explanations seemed to be right.

I had spent the last several years simplifying my life down to only the parts I truly wanted. I had been putting my family first, given up my shiny Silicon Valley job for one closer to home that supports work-life balance, started exercising more and was feeling great. I had even taken up piano and found it to be a profound therapeutic outlet. So why the anxiety now?!

It was the ole go-getter in me who wasn’t going down without a fight.

It was my 20-year-old “lean in” self revolting against this new older, wiser, balanced self. And it was the expectations of our society, constantly bombarding me with messages that these choices I was making for my life weren’t acceptable.

So even if you’ve made a conscious choice to lean out and find balance, how do you deal with daily pressure – even requirements – to “lean in”? What if you have a manager who expects you to be at your desk from 8am to 5pm and checking email every night?  What if you work at a “family friendly” company but the system still rewards productivity, achievement, and those who say “yes” to the extras and “lean in”? What if you make a hefty salary that you rely on to feed your family and pay your California mortgage every month?

What if your ability to enjoy your right-sized life is hindered by the harsh demands and expectations of mainstream America?

With these questions in mind (and the anxiety attacks to remind me of them), I realize my journey of right-sizing my life is not yet complete. The challenge remains to truly believe in my heart that it’s okay to live the life I want. Yes others might judge me – seeing what great potential I have as a professional and viewing it as a “waste” that I’ve chosen to reserve my mental and physical energy for higher priorities. But I have to hold fast to my convictions and be confident that I have chosen the right life for myself.

In all honesty, this very blog was created as a way to try and convince myself of this; to defend the very life choices that I’ve made. This whole blog is just an attempt to shut up my old “lean in” self!

You may be hoping I’m about to give you the answer. But the truth is, I don’t yet know how to find true peace with my own decision to “lean out”. If you find the answer, let me know! Otherwise, in the meantime, I’ll hold true to my decision to right-size my life and find solace in the fact that I’ve chosen my own priorities, not allowed others or society tell me what they should be. And as for that 20-year-old go-getter who rears her ugly head in the form of anxiety attacks? Well, that’s what 50mcg of Sertraline is for!

Are you battling with your own inner go-getter? Do you have influences in your life that make you doubt your priorities and choices to “lean out”? Have you experienced anxiety or other real, physical manifestations of this battle?

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5 Replies to “Being at Peace with Leaning Out”

  1. Thanks for sharing your journey. I had the choice to stop working when I was 42 and my first child and have been making peace with ‘not working’ ever since then. Long ago I heard a woman address the ‘have it all’ notion by saying that perhaps we can have it all, just not at one time. Perhaps a few can and that makes them happy. It wouldn’t work for me, particularly being an older first time parent. I simply didn’t have the energy to do it all to have it all! Maybe you’ll launch that company when your kids are older. Maybe not. You are still so young to have accomplished so very much! I suppose that’s where the wisdom that one has later in life comes in handy. Which memories will be most precious for you to recall at the end of your life?

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  2. I can relate to this feeling. I am also still working part time but I’ve scaled back tremendously. I quit my regular job Jan, 2017. After a few months of substitute teaching for college in my field, I had the oppotunity to teach more. The reason I took this opportunity after months of being home is 3-fold: 1) I needed to earn a small income. We were getting by but slowly using our savings. 2) I really enjoyed teaching. The stress level was 1/10 th what I was used to. 3) We can teach a couple days and get winter and sumner breaks. I do feel it’s possible to have it all. However, it takes lots of work to find the right fit and not everyone is positioned for part time work and some fields it’s not an accepted option. Also, it’s so much about perception. I can easily, even with a much fuller content life, give myself an anxiety attack if I focus on negative things. Heck, I now have time to think. To process and to feel. I have to watch my consumption of information and be careful to not take on the problems of the world on my shoulders. Living a balanced life is part strategy, part privilege, and part perception.

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