Multimillion-dollar sales agents don’t quit at the height of their careers. Especially a mom who already worked straight through the births of two children and dove into a lifestyle that required two paychecks. No, I was the woman who decided words like “quit" were as irredeemable as the arcade tickets her kids proudly racked up on Daddy’s night out. I would never cede the corner-office shrine that housed all my educational and business acclaim—my value displayed on a wall of engraved plaques. Though my grip on Stuart Weizmann heels, Lily Pulitzer dresses, and my waistline necessarily loosened, I continued clutching the keys to my midnight-silver BMW convertible. I called that woman a fighter, not a quitter.
But success can take a drastic turn for a woman who appears to have the American dream in her grip. I sold real estate in my family’s company from the time I turned eighteen all the way through college and marriage and kids. And then I just . . . lost it. I couldn’t keep up. Photoshoots of houses lay unedited on my computer. The new website still glitched. Ad deadlines passed. Phone calls didn’t get returned. And the specter of a recession lurked dead ahead.
I lagged behind on everything no matter how late I worked. I could hear coworkers and clients growing more irate. Almost daily, my husband called the office to say he’d fed the kids and to ask when I could come home. Once or twice I didn’t make the pre-K pick up line on time. Work guilt, daughter guilt, and mom guilt piled up until I cracked under the weight.
The downfall came one day when I looked up from a spreadsheet in my home office and saw our kids’ nanny splash into a puddle with my son. I watched water slosh up over his little rubber boots. He squealed. He looked so happy. I longed to be the one out there laughing with him.
Suddenly nothing mattered to me. My husband came home and found me face-planted on the carpet in a pool of tears. I begged him and God for two things: let me keep the job I once loved, and give me way more time with my kids. I suspected I couldn’t work out a way for both to happen with nothing giving. If God had a better plan, I needed it fast.
Family businesses can be tricky to navigate, and I longed to make my parents proud. So I put off calling my mom. Instead, she came to my house for the inevitable conversation. We decided I would just take a step back to re-evaluate. I did not want to quit. But we don’t always get what we want. So I chose to walk away.
The first six months at home proved to be the hardest. My husband took our little family to the beach for a week to regroup. When we returned home, I worked to settle in with the kids. But they were used to their fun “auntie” (the nanny), not their stressed mommy. For a time, I grieved loss of identity, income, and time spent with my parents, siblings, and coworkers—many of whom were also family. An extrovert, I needed to talk to people—grown-up people—but reaching out felt too daunting. At thirty-six, I felt like a failure. I hadn’t succeeded as a businesswoman or as a mom.
Though I feared damaging my children, I also recognized my new opportunity to start over with them as an unquitable gift. And the gift felt like a calling. And one calling often births another.
The next eight years flew by like a kid on a zip line cutting through tree limbs. Just as we crashed into our new routine, I rediscovered a love of reading. A study nerd from the beginning, I’d forgotten that reading requires an outlet, because learning demands action. So I wrote. Then suddenly I found myself teaching high school girls in Sunday school.
As I taught, I bumped into another revived calling: traveling on mission. Mission sent me to the Orbit Village in Kenya, where my friend served over five hundred orphaned and vulnerable children, taught displaced adults skills to start and sustain their own businesses, and planted and helped to build churches. She invited me to write a book about the village’s twenty-five-year history and to join their board of directors. That first trip to Africa compelled me to put our home on the market. But it did not sell.
Instead of moving to Kenya, our next adventure led us to open our home to college students. Now we cook dinner most Sunday nights, and eat around an expanded table. Our family studies, travels, and serves with our college ministry.
To feed my inner eternal student, I applied to seminary. And while my soul relishes learning, it’s been one of the hardest endeavors yet. I can’t wait to see where it leads.
A single calling to stay home that stung like failure actually set me free. Surrendering to it unleashed a Scheherazade saga spinning over hundreds of Sunday-night maple-bacon breakfasts surrounded by my kids, big and small.
So maybe I’m not the big fat failure I once felt like. Maybe all I called success before was good. But maybe my definition of success needed to be expanded by an invisible hand. As the aroma of my husband’s chocolate chip cookies encircles us, it’s now easy to look around my living room and into the waiting eyes of my children and college students. I tell them two things:
First, your chemistry and calculus books and perfect SATs will not be there for you in the middle of the night when your heart is broken. Jesus and your people will. Give them priority.
Second, success is not found only in salaries or embodied in gold-plated statuettes. Success often asks you to think smaller. Sometimes it even feels like failure—like giving up. Because success sneaks in through surrender.
Cover image by Rob Wingate.
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