I’ve discovered much of the struggle with balance that women experience is in the deep-seated belief that we have to choose a single path and stick to it, rather than some perfectly imperfect combination.
I took a break from writing this afternoon to angrily slap some soap and water on a pile of dirty dishes, which I intentionally let sit for two days out of sheer principle.
After the inevitable burnout of climbing corporate America’s ladder rungs, on a quest to scrap everything and start fresh in pursuit of balance and fulfillment; I have become an accidental housewife.
Some days I look around and smile, full of gratitude for the newfound balance in my life and the time to take care of things I didn’t used to be able to. Other days, like the ones where I’m angry at the cutlery in the sink that’s starting to smell, I grapple with guilt over what I “should” be happy about, instead of longing for certain elements of the life I chose to give up.
A stark feminist, I’ve tended to run far and fast from anything that remotely resembled a typical gender role in my life. Yet here I am, a married woman whose husband brings in more than enough income to support our generally carefree lifestyle, left with the freedom to pursue my passion of writing. A dream, right?
Of all the obstacles I predicted I’d face in quitting my job, selling off nearly every material item in my possession and moving to a foreign country where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language—falling into a stereotypical role I had always viewed as unworthy (not for everyone, but for me personally), did not make my list of things to consider. It has been the biggest challenge yet.
Completely accustomed to spending my (very long) days—and nights, and sometimes weekends—in an office or conference hall surrounded by people, it’s no wonder I’ve felt isolated attempting to come to terms with a knot of conflicting emotions I struggle to unravel. I’ve harbored these feelings of being alone, knowing full-well that I’m not. Heck, I have only to Google “women + balance” to be rewarded with about 30 pages of results, like this interview project, confirming that, in fact, most women have a battle with balance at some point during their adult life.
Balance though, is what started this whole thing anyway, so the fact sometimes balance now frustrates the hell out of me seemed like something I should try and keep to myself, until I realized I don’t have to.
I spent my career in an agency setting—eventually ending up in a management role, handling corporate publicity for national and international brands. When I met my husband, I made more money than he did, and while the numbers eventually evened out, let’s just say, there was never a doubt about my contribution to the household.
With career advancement came neglect of pretty much everything else from hobbies and health to friendships, and from my relationship to any household responsibilities outside of paying the bills.
The breaking point came one night in attempting to plan a trip to Brazil to visit my husband’s family and realizing I didn’t have enough vacation time to make it worthwhile. We both recognized the rat race was destroying our quality of life and we’d never make it the next 30 or 40 years on the same track.
Being two completely rational, young adults, at the height of our careers, we decided to take what those around us perceived to be the risk of all risks. We were going to give everything up, including our prime apartment in Chicago, and move to a small beach town in Costa Rica. It was exhilarating.
As I alluded to earlier, my husband’s freelance web development work ended up spiraling into quite a lucrative remote career. And as a result I’ve had the freedom and security to focus on building a new career doing something I love.
I’ve been able to secure writing gigs I genuinely enjoy, and it’s been fulfilling and refreshing. I also have time these days to walk the dog, I’m working out again, I have time to make food at home and chat on the phone with my parents and friends. I started reading again, which I had grown to love as an adult and also quickly ran out of time for.
But my new reality is, I don’t clock anywhere near a full-time work week. Since my husband does, this leaves me the one who now has time to fulfill all the typical household duties and chores. I use to complain about the lack of time for these things, and feel somewhat inadequate as a result. I also used to be able to brush that guilt off pretty easily with the default distraction of being focused on a successful career, which my husband was wholeheartedly supportive of.
With freedom has come exposure. I no longer have the armor of a busy work schedule and paycheck to shield myself from my own sense of expectation. It’s just me, and the extra time I have to take care of a lot of things society has long told us are the “job” of a woman. A notion I have a fiery hostility toward to say the least.
Exposure can be a great teacher. It took the stripping away of everything familiar to me, to realize exactly how much of my identity I had actually given up to be the career woman instead of the family woman. It showed me that not only had my day-to-day life been unbalanced, but my entire sense of value. I had programmed myself to place the utmost importance on career success and dollar signs, and failed to recognize the value in all the other moving parts that make for a happy, healthy state of well-being, home life, and marriage.
After examining the pigment of the grass on either side of the fence, I’ve discovered much of the struggle with balance that women experience is in the deep-seated belief that we have to choose a single path and stick to it, rather than some perfectly imperfect combination. And that regardless of where on the spectrum you find your balance, some days are just laced with grievances, and that’s OK. There’s always tomorrow.
Jackie Minchillo is a freelance writer, gone from climbing the corporate ladder to international digital nomad, determined to enjoy life long before retirement. She’s the lead correspondent covering Costa Rica for International Living Magazine and writes about all things life for a variety of other publications.