bout a month ago, I turned down the opportunity to move to Spain for five months to teach English to children. The decision to stay in New York was, in part, motivated by professional ambition; after finally getting my foot in the door in the modeling and media worlds here, I couldn’t imagine giving up that momentum. And the idea that leaving could postpone — or even counter — my professional progress was too difficult a pill to swallow, and too difficult to justify to my agents, coworkers, family and friends.
Still, becoming fluent in Spanish has been a lifelong dream of mine, and I can’t deny the regret I still feel when I think of what I gave up. Did I allow what I’m “supposed” to do discourage me from pursuing what I wanted to do? Is the pursuit of professional fulfillment more important than pursuing fulfillment of a more personal kind? I feel lucky and proud to be caught between these two paths — and I plan on taking Spanish night classes at the Instituto Cervantes in the new year as a compromise — but my wheels have been turning on this small sacrifice ever since.
To learn more about navigating these waters, I spoke to three women who have forgone traditionally celebrated “paths to fulfillment” — like having children, or making a career of your passion — in order to achieve their respective ideas of fulfillment instead. Continue below to learn how they’ve transcended the status quo.
Kelly Looks for Passion Outside of Her Job
Kelly, 32, currently leads the technology risk management function at a financial technology company. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Tell me a little bit about your path to where you are now. What led to you forgoing the more mainstream approach of expecting your career to be your main source of fulfillment?
I have followed a very logical path from my college degree, to a summer internship, to my first job, then second job. I’d describe it as predictable for anyone familiar with my industry. It’s pretty clear that my choice of major set me on this trajectory, but it’s wild to think about how little thought I put into that decision. My double major is basically a combination of what my friends were doing and what I was genuinely interested in — with that combination, the journey forward was pretty formulaic.
I was at my first job for seven years, where I worked with a hilarious, intelligent and hard-working team. I learned a ton there and refined a lot of technical skills. I liked my job, but only because the team was amazing — I was not passionate about what I was doing. If anything, I was embarrassed by my career path. When I decided to look for a new job, I had a moment where I considered abandoning this expertise and finding something more in line with my interests and hobbies. But, in the end, it wasn’t hard to choose the lifestyle that my career was offering: I make good money, I have flexible hours, I feel very appreciated and valued, I respect the people I work for and I’m regularly challenged.
I don’t think that finding fulfillment in places that aren’t your career means you have to be miserable at work. I like working, I’m good at my job and I’m proud of how I’m balancing the rest of my life along with it. But I am not defined by my job title or my expertise; it’s just the gateway to finding fulfillment in the rest of my life thanks to the life it affords me (money, time, confidence, etc.).
What have you found to be most gratifying about your decision? Has anything surprised you?
I have found peace! This took some maturing. I spent too much time being embarrassed by my job or judged for choosing money over passion. I also have come to appreciate the separation of my creative hobbies and the structure and logic of the workplace; I value each for what it is. And of course, after watching some friends choose the other route, making your passion your work seems to take the fun out of it! It no longer has appeal for me.
This also got a LOT easier after having kids, because now, work is totally just work. It fills the time between when I say bye to my babies and when I greet them in the evening. I’m also even more thankful that I have invested in a specialty that, while dull to others, has afforded me the respect, credibility and seniority that I need to enjoy a good work/life balance and not miss out on my babies’ early lives.
Do you have any reservations about your decision?
No conscious reservations … However, I still sometimes find myself defending this choice to others, so there must be something deep down that feels some regret. I dread being asked what I do, especially in New York where it feels like everyone works at Vogue or Instagram or The New York Times. I have a sort of ‘bit’ I do about how boring I’m about to sound for the next 30 seconds before I give the shortest explanation possible. These insecure moments are fleeting, though. I wonder for a second if I should have tried to work for Martha Stewart or Bon Appétit, and then I rattle off the list of things that my dedication to the path I chose has given me, and it’s hard to wish things had gone differently.
Jordan Is Leaving New York City
Jordan, 26, is a professional dancer and works in social media. She’s from a small town an hour south of Kansas City, Missouri, and previously lived in Chicago for five years and New York for three.
Tell me a little bit about your path to where you are now. What led to you forgoing the more mainstream idea of “toughing it out” in New York City?
I knew when I moved to New York that it wasn’t a permanent move. I thought I would spend 5-10 years dancing here before I moved back home to settle down. I find my quality of living is very low in New York. Everything is harder than necessary, and that really wears on a person. As a performer, I am working three jobs as well as auditioning, taking class and working out. The hustle energy is so addicting, and I have enjoyed this nonstop lifestyle for three years. But recently I’ve been feeling emotionally exhausted. My body is still going through the motions, but it takes so much emotional energy for me to maintain this lifestyle.
When I traveled out of town for dance gigs, I would dread returning to the city. On a recent trip home to visit my family, I cried at the thought of returning to New York. Everything at home is so easy; I had so much time and energy to take care of myself and make meaningful connections with people. After I returned from that trip, I started to look with envy at my friends’ posts where they shared holidays with their families, enjoyed Sunday dinners at home and spent spontaneous evenings out with friends.
I had been “toughing it out” for three years, but at what cost? I’ve missed birthdays, Christmases, babies being born, and saying goodbye to my grandpa. I’ve had these incredible, exciting experiences that can only present themselves in a city like New York — it is like magic. But the highs are high and the lows are the lowest I’ve ever felt. One day I just decided that emotional stability and spending time with my family held higher priority than chipping away at my life one day at a time.
What do you hope to gain by leaving?
There is a lot of pressure as a dancer to reside in New York City. A teacher once told me, “If you’re not here, you’re invisible.” But I really feel as if that isn’t the case. My dream job is to dance with the Radio City Rockettes. It is all I have ever wanted and worked for. But the Rockettes only hold auditions twice a year (and I attend every single one). Prior to moving to NYC, I worked relentlessly towards this goal. I would work out to Christmas music, watch the Christmas Spectacular on DVD and dance along with it in my living room, and practice 200 eye-high kicks a day.
Since moving to New York, I have let those habits go. I spend all of my energy working to survive, and there is none left to spare. I truly believe that I can succeed in a city that isn’t New York. I can always fly back in for the big auditions and continue my training at home. I will prove that teacher wrong.
Do you have any reservations about your decision?
Making the decision to move away was difficult and bittersweet, but I refuse to regret anything because I have so much to gain by leaving. I choose to focus only on that. The biggest matter that gave me pause was giving up my great apartment with my amazing roommates. I worked really hard to get to this position. If I ever choose to move back to NYC — I am leaving that possibility open — I will have to start from the beginning. That is frustrating, but right now my heart is not here, and I must follow that.
I am headed back home to Kansas City, Missouri. I am lucky that my [non-dancing] job is flexible and I can be based anywhere. I am also lucky to be heading to a city that is full of growth and change; there is so much opportunity for a dreamer like me in Kansas City. I have so many ideas and a New-York-City-hustle energy that just won’t quit. By leaving, I am hoping to reconnect with myself and that person that I was when I moved here three years ago: a woman full of optimism, confidence and an unstoppable willpower that cannot be broken. I have so much hope.
Angela Doesn’t Want Children
Angela, 26, is a software development student living in Tucson, Arizona. She recently scheduled a tubal ligation, which will prevent her from having children.
Tell me a little bit about your path to where you are now, and where would you like it to take you in terms of fulfillment?
I find fulfillment every day when I cross each day off in my calendar, bringing me closer to graduation in December. Each finished assignment or project brings me closer to a life built around my schedule, desires and emotions. I feel fulfilled walking my dog in the morning or holding hands with my boyfriend on our way to dinner. Right now, fulfillment comes in tiny, everyday experiences and knowing that everything is going to change within the next couple of months once I graduate.
[As for the future], I’ve been working to create computer programs that kids in all levels of education can use at home and school to help reach personal goals and stay on the path to graduating. I decided to create these programs when I was looking back on my time in school and kept thinking about how much easier it would have been if I’d kept better track of my progress. I want children to thrive. I don’t want any children to think that where they are in that moment defines their future. My goal for my own future is to have these programs in schools and universities across the U.S. I see myself traveling and mentoring young women into becoming the strong, confident people they want to be. I also see myself vacationing and enjoying life with my partner. Even though the children won’t biologically be mine, I’ll try my best to make sure they have a future.
What led to you to decide to get a tubal ligation?
The decision to not have children didn’t really feel like a decision; I knew at a young age that having children was not something that I wanted for myself. I tried pushing myself into at least imagining a future where I was a mother of beautiful children, but it just wasn’t something I could do. Fast forward to today, my feelings towards my lifestyle have not changed. Even with the adorable influence of two nephews and a niece, whom I absolutely adore, I haven’t been able to imagine myself as a mom. Sometimes the maternal clock never even had a battery to begin with, and that’s okay.
Concerning my decision to get the tubal ligation procedure done, it felt like the right and logical step to take. It’s like any other form of birth control that allows me to take control of my body. I realize that this is very permanent form of birth control, but it’s the right one for me. Without trying to sound like I hate children, I’ve worked too hard on building my future and my mental health to let an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy derail that.
Do you maintain any reservations about your decision?
My only reservation is how it will affect my future marriage. Will my future husband regret our decision to not have children and push me to change my mind? Will our marriage grow cold, or will he leave me for someone who does want kids? When I recently scheduled the tubal ligation procedure, I cried, which surprised me. I cried because that fear turned into a very real possibility. But I decided that this was the right road for me and kept the appointment, which I become more confident about and happier with every day.
Illustrations by Melanie Lambrick.