When I graduated from college all wide-eyed and full of hope, I set my sights on a career in the fast-paced world of advertising.
I was the first in my immediate family to finish college and my sole focus post-graduation was being “successful.” At 21, success meant climbing the agency ladder to become a Creative Director, making lots of money, marrying a dreamboat, having two kids and getting my June Cleaver on.
Call it the naiveté of being 20-something or the illusion modern feminism perpetuates, but I told myself that I could do it all.
Sure I married the dreamboat and we started our family, but working at an ad agency was nowhere near as exciting as the movies made it out to be (Thanks, Hollywood). Long work weeks, crazy deadlines and the insane amount of mom-guilt I felt each morning, leaving my son had me teetering on the edge of a meltdown.
The one comfort I took each day, as I left my son, was that he was in the care of my saint of a mother.
I know that everyone says that their mom is the best, but I’m telling you now, mine is. My mom, who raised my sister and me as a single-parent, moved from California to Texas when she retired so that she could be a full-time grandma to our little one. Having her nearby was a huge blessing. Not only because we are close, but her keeping my son felt like the next best thing to me being at home.
We were fortunate that my mom was able to care for our son for nearly the entire first year of his life.
He loved spending each day with Grandma. But at the end of 2015, she began experiencing horrific stomach pain. The pain so severe that she couldn’t eat and began rapidly losing weight. Numerous doctors visits, months of misdiagnoses, and a battery of tests revealed that she had Stage IV Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Cancer, the big “C”… whatever you want to call it, the awful disease was ravaging my mom’s digestive system.
My focus shifted from balancing work and family to just making sure that my mom got well. My husband and I were her only family nearby, therefore, the responsibility of caring for her fell on us. Work became second to her care. I used up all of my vacation and sick days so I could be at as many of her doctors’ appointments and weeklong chemo treatments as I could. Emergency room trips became a regular occurrence, often meaning that my husband had to pull double-duty with our son. For five months, life was on pause as we navigated through her cancer journey.
Once she finished treatment, I knew things couldn’t go back to the way they were. Watching her suffer and almost losing her made me realize just how short life is. I know it’s cliché to say that, but it’s true.
After spending the better part of a decade focused on chasing the ideal career and the almighty dollar, it took something of this magnitude for me to see that neither was the key to my own personal happiness. That little epiphany caused me to shift my entire perspective of success.
I no longer equate success to a high-powered job with a fat salary. Success now means running my own business so that I can play with my kids in the morning without having to rush off to a 9-5. It means being able to take a day off so that I can spend it hanging out with my mom without worrying how it affects my chances of promotion. It means being present in my life and enjoying the little things.
My focus is now family first, work second. While the MotherHustle looks different for everyone, and like mine, may change along the way, we are all bonded by the fact that we are mothers who love their kids. If something in your life is getting in the way of you being the kind of mother you want to be, then make a change—big or small. Keep your focus on what matters most.
Nicole Ellis is the visual brand designer behind Sweet Southern Pixels, a boutique design studio specializing in helping female entrepreneurs by crafting beautiful, powerful visual brands that convert clients and sets them apart from the rest. Wife to Cliff and a #boymom to Truett and Parker, Nicole enjoys all things pink, a glass of champs and a great handbag. Follow along with her on Instagram.
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