I always thought I’d be important. Not famous, necessarily, but that I would do something really meaningful in my career or for my community. I’m sure this is the product of my upbringing. Raised in a relatively stable and healthy 1970s foreword-thinking household, sports, art, and scholarship were encouraged. Both of my parents are educators and they told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, be anyone I wanted to be. Between them and going to Crossroads School, where this belief was preached, taught, reinforced at every turn, I really believed that if worked hard, I could accomplish amazing things.
As a classic overachiever, I have certainly had my moments of success. Getting into Berkeley. Check. Traveling alone to Africa. Check. Getting hired as a Lair staffer. Check. Be named Editor at Chronicle Books. Check. Earning six-figures (at another job). Check. After that last one, which was in 2006, my list of accomplishments starts to get fuzzy.
“The” path to traditional success became so complicated, so curvy. I didn’t want to work as a media magnate in a company where I was ultra-stressed-out and afraid of being fired every day. It was time to raise a family and I wanted to focus on my children instead of my inbox. Also, there was the issue of E’s job. I committed to being with him and told him I’d follow him while he focused on his career. That meant we’d move every two or three years (indefinitely).
Because of my ingrained belief that anyone can succeed if they are creative, flexible, and hardworking, I thought I could still have a career even while we bounced around the globe. The plan was to leave the media company and spend the first few years having babies. After that, I’d transition back into the workforce by volunteering at a nonprofit, starting my own children’s media company, or becoming a famous writer. As with all well-laid plans, this hasn’t exactly happened.
Today I’m feeling wildly unaccomplished.
I’m now at that transition point. My second child is 3 and I’ve started to really work again (okay, only part-time). I decided to primarily pursue my writing and at the same time slowly work on developing kids’ books/media projects with a business partner. But, surprise, after a year of solid writing and submitting, there is no big book contract or fully-functioning, Erica-founded kids media company paying me a salary.
I realize that part of my problem is patience. If I work for myself, it will take awhile to build a business. But the other problem is this career as a writer. What a crazy, long, hard slog. I should know this. After all, I was the one sending out thousands of reject letters to would-be children’s book writers when I worked at Chronicle. But I’ve put a lot into the novel, which has garnered all kinds of great buzz and attention, still no one has sent me that contract yet. And on days like today, when the chilled Russian wind pours over the grey city, I can’t help but look at my drafts of kids books and stacks of manuscript revisions and wonder how I ended up here. Am I just another Trailing Spouse with book ideas or will this all lead to something someday?
Many new mothers face this same dilemma. How do we transition back into the work force? How do we redefine ourselves after motherhood? When will we hit our stride again after time away or with such a changed daily schedule? Adding the Foreign Service life and a commitment to a career as a writer has only complicated these questions for me. It is hard not to compare myself to those other famous Crossroadians or Berkeley grads whom have made a load of money, won big awards, or founded good-for-the-planet nonprofits. Wasn’t I supposed to be one of those? By now, wasn’t I supposed to be Important?
Some days, I spend quality hours with the two wee ones and feel enormously proud of my child-rearing skills. Other days, I fire off submission letters, call publishers, tinker with P&Ls, or draft a new chapter in my novel and think that I’ve got it all under control. But I certainly haven’t got it all figured out yet. And, since there are no awards, big paychecks, or book contracts by my name, I’ve still got work to do.
At least the thought of being called a Trailing Spouse is so repulsive to me that I made it the focus of my next novel. I’ve written almost 100 pages of a very rough draft and, if all else fails, at least I’ll have fully explored every aspect of what it means to trail. And I’ll have tried, through fiction, to better understand how we as women define ourselves, and our importance, through career, marriage, children and, place—especially when we find ourselves in a distant corner of our vast planet.