We were sitting around the largest conference room table, all 40 of us, when our CEO announced that she had been offered an opportunity at a different company in a different state that she couldn’t pass up.
My face got warm and my eyes filled with tears. She had hired me only 4 months prior. In that short amount of time she’d taken me under her wing and had assigned me a very shiny project. We’d been meeting daily to think and talk through our strategy and approach. For the first time in close to two decades, it felt like there were no obstacles in my way and that I’d reach my full potential in my career. I was in the frequent presence of one of the smartest women I had ever met. Over those months I mentioned numerous times to my husband Randy that I couldn’t believe that I got paid to have so much fun and to please pinch me.
After she left the number of good assignments I received dwindled. As a company, we struggled to retain clients. We lost business. The whispers of layoffs commenced and the fear of the unknown brought out ugly office behavior.
I tried to see the silver lining. I had great work-life balance. I didn’t bring work home with me to do in the evenings or on weekends. I arrived at the office after 9 and was generally home before 5. This would have been fine if I didn’t have a strong need and desire for growth and contribution. But no matter how hard I tried to drum up meaning during the workday, there wasn’t much to do. And it wasn’t just me pretending to be busy. Most of us were walking around feigning purpose, only to return to cubes and inboxes full of nothing.
My identity was wrapped up in my job, which felt like a sham, and I hadn’t figured out how to anchor into a bigger purpose.
So with my self-esteem sinking, I stared at the computer (which was expected) and distracted myself with Facebook and online shopping. With each purchase, I told myself that I had accomplished something meaningful that would move my family forward. Buying things helped me feel like my days weren’t a total loss.
I’d interrupt my computer time to leave the office for socially-approved coffeeshop breaks, lunch breaks, chocolate breaks, and more chocolate breaks. I know now that I wasn’t hungry for food—I was hungry for an escape from a job with little meaning. These distractions manifested as extra pounds on my body which didn’t look good or feel good.
Outside of my office, it looked like everyone was productive. My boys were having rich experiences with their nanny. My husband was doing beautiful home renovations for his clients. My friends working in other industries were achieving major successes and I felt like I was falling further and further behind. Although I earned a very comfortable income, I knew I couldn’t stay. I was so afraid of wasting more precious moments of my life and my potential.
I was done with feeling incomplete and so I walked away.
A few months before I resigned we bought a camper—a Hallmark, the Guanella to be exact. At first, I thought it was too small. I thought we’d outgrow it. But Randy kept referring to it as the perfect family unity vehicle and that yes it would be tight for the four of us, but that we’d learn what we really needed in life and wouldn’t pack the rest.
A 9-week camping trip in British Columbia was part of our new family chapter—and it started the day after my last day on the clock.
I had so much hope going into that trip. It was the bridge between my 20 years in the corporate realm and setting off on my own. It was to be the Amazing Aardema (family) Adventure. I may have even used #amazingaardemaadventure in social media.
What ended up happening—both the highs and the lows? We immersed ourselves in beautiful places. We discovered new mountains, lakes, campgrounds and became so much more familiar with our boys and who they were. Spending 24 hours a day together was good for that. The lows? I packed way too much. And Randy felt a lot of stress. He was thinking about what his next phase of life was going to look like—and he wasn’t painting a pretty picture. Being our sole income earner for an unknown amount of time felt heavy to him. Me being in-between two worlds and two identities, spending the trip in my head feeling like I was walking on eggshells, didn’t help either.
We’ve both grown a lot since this trip. We’ve learned how to communicate much better with one another and we’re much more clear on what really matters.
The journey hasn’t been easy but it got us to today.
And today I’m refusing to live up to only a fraction of my potential, I no longer need to buy things to feel like I’m being productive, and I don’t feel a need to escape through food and more food.
I went back to school to learn about the power of functional medicine, the psychology behind why we do what we do, and how to change our behavior to reach our goals. I started my own health coaching practice focused on helping women release the extra clutter and weight in their lives and minds.
Randy and I swapped our boys’ rarely-used playroom for a beautiful home office for my business. And I’ve had absolutely no office politics to maneuver.
What I am maneuvering? I used to have work-life balance, but no meaning. I’ve traded that for tremendous meaning, but little work-life balance.
It’s something I’m actively working on.
Our boys are now in 2nd and 4th grade and I’m in awe of who they are and who they are becoming. I don’t want to miss this.
Our family unity vehicle? I’m grateful I said yes to it. It’s one of my most powerful connections to my greatest gift in life, my family, which I can fully appreciate since I now feel whole.
Our Hallmark is a reset button. It doesn’t take much time to remind ourselves of our potential as a family. We’ll find 24 hours in nature and slow down together by mountain biking, eating healthy robust meals, playing card games, sitting by the fire, and being fully present for one another.
Over the years our Hallmark has taught us to only bring the essentials and to not overpack. That everything we need, we already have. That we’re complete as we are and that we won’t ever be left behind as long as we seek our truth.
About the Author: Heather Aardema is a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach living in Colorado with her husband and two grade-school boys. She’s an aspiring minimalist, a real-food advocate, and a huge fan of leading a simple, yet full life—you can find more of her essays focused on growing healthy and living fully at RootofWellbeing.com.