Running, Eating Healthy And Living A Happier Life. My Journey From Corporate Warrior To 5k Mom.
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Before we start talking about running, exercising and eating healthy, let's use this first blog to take a little detour and talk about how did we get here and add some perspective to the conversation.
I have many great memories growing up, my family, my friends and I were always busy with something. But it was a different kind of busy during those days. Busy meant planning for a long the weekend, going to track and gymnastics practice after school, meeting with friends to study for the exam or a group project, or just being out and about always surround with great people and having fun. Busy, however, didn't mean devout of responsibilities. I studied hard, did well at sports and practiced hard, got a job when I was 16 and did my fair share of helping around the house. The difference though, it that is was a balance of shores and being busy being myself, doing things I enjoyed surrounded by people who I loved or who shared the same goals.
When I graduated from college and looked for my first corporate job, my expectations were that it would bring the same kind of fulfilment I felt when I worked with my friend on a group project or we studied together to get a good grade on an exam, or we practice hard and worked as a team to win a track meet or gymnastics competition. What I mean is the feeling of working together to accomplish something great and the sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves.
However, for me and many others, this is not what a corporate life turned out to be. As it turns out, it was not the collaborative environment I expected it to be, but a highly competitive, political environment with tremendous levels of stress and unhealthy competition. If you're lucky it would make you feel like you were in an episode of survival. I say luck because if you are that level you at least understand the politics being played and you can use it to your advantage to advance in the corporate ladder. if you are like most people it's just a mindless, task-oriented life, where you play a peon on some else's chess game. It doesn't feels you with joy or fulfillment, but isolates you and makes you skeptical. It stops you from trying to achieve greatness at the expense of building a kingdom to achieve the highest paycheck possible, it limits you from being innovative and taking chances and conforms you to a routine of troubleshooting and firefighting to ensure the house of cards don't fall. If you think I am exaggerating just look at the recent studies of loneliness, depression, suicide and anger in America. Many explaining how our phones and electronic devices are now filling the void that lack of true friendships and meaningful social interactions create.
The better question is why didn't you just quit? And the answer is as simple as it is terrifying. When I got married my husband and I lived in a $750 a month 1 bedroom apartment (Probably around $1,200 in today's world). We both drove the same beat-up cars we had in college with no car loans, we were both lucky to have graduated with no college debt ( See Peter Thiel's take on the cost of higher education for the new generation), the small apartment ensured that bills were low and manageable, we had no kids or other obligations. What that meant was that our small starting salaries at that time were enough to live a debt-free life and actually save. For a while that was great. While the corporate life wasn't what we expected we gradually made more money, saved, were active runners and work out regularly, hang out with our friends and had, for all purposes, a great life. It's started to change as soon as we had saved enough to buy a house, and started earning enough to compete with the Joneses. The funny thing about making more money and getting a better job is that if you're not careful, it sucks you in a game of unhealthy competition, leveraged by debt, all to impress people you don't know. And that's what happened to us.
We bought our first home giving 20% down, which we thought was the smart move to avoid paying PMI and reduce the total monthly cost. Off course the home was a large house on top of our budget. We sold our beat-up cars and bought new models after all, we were rising starts in our companies and needed to dress and act to impress. Those cars weren’t cheap either, so now we went from a very high saving account for a couple of twenty something years old couple. To a heavily indebted couple who depended on their jobs to make those monthly payments. That lead to a need to keep ascending and getting better pay at work, which lead to longer hours at the office at the expense of our friends, family and bodies.
The money was good, it paid the bills, and while we did not save as much as we did when we did not have any debt (excluding 401k and benefits). We lived in a good house, with a nice pool in the back, which we did not use much, but could show to the Joneses on the occasional get together, drove expensive cars and looked like the epitome of success.
Then came the kids. And I Love my kids and can tell you with a smile on my face that they were the best thing that ever happened to me. They are sweet, kind and have the innocence and free spirit that should be the hallmark of all mankind. But kids are expensive. Since both my husband and I worked we needed to hire a Nany, later put the kids on a daycare, which these days cost as much as mortgage. We needed to plan vacations, activities, there are the birthday parties and their social activities. And that costs not only money, but time. But since you already had given up almost all of your personal time in exchange for more money and success at work what gives? In my case was the relationship with my husband. Now instead of talking about our day at the office and support each other the home time and weekends ran around keeping the house in order and the kid’s activities. We still loved each other but had no time for each other, and I became more successful and lonely as I have even been.
Work had become very stressful, the higher you go the more dangerous and complex the game becomes. It became so bad that many times I thought about quitting and cried myself to sleep, only to show up the next day with a fake smile on my face as if everything was perfect and I had total control. But I could not quit. Quit meant that we would not be able to afford our lifestyle and large home (Which was not the house I talked to you about, but a larger house to accommodate the growing family), and I thought I could not do that to my family. My kids had everything they wanted and had friends and a great life that reminded me of my own childhood and in my mind that mattered more than anything else. What I didn’t realize is that they didn’t have everything.
On my son’s thirteen birthday I realized my mistake. His birthday was on a Saturday and we had a big party set up for him. My husband organized most of it since I had a busy few weeks at work and had to fly during the week for a corporate strategic meeting. I was planning on coming back on Thursday, but there were a few important clients that wanted to get together, and I changed the flight to late Friday night, so I could squeeze that extra good will I that would help my career and the companies’ business prospects.
I too an Uber to the airport, I thought we would not make it on time as the heavy rains started to pick up and traffic just crawled to a halt. I got to the airport and ran to the check in. As it was closed to boarding time we were informed that the plane had suffered a small delay. One hour after that we got another notification that there was a mechanical problem and that flight would be delayed for another hour, until finally they announced that the flight was cancelled, and we had to be reschedule for other flights. I did manage to catch another flight in the morning and I got home in time to cut the cake and make the family pictures. But that night, at the airport, I was afraid I would not make it and I had some time to think. No about that particular birthday party, but my involvement in the lives of my husband and kids. I had not missed a birthday before, but football games, soccer games, parent teacher conferences, social events, awards ceremonies, school plays, parties. Thanks God for photographs and video cameras. I was giving my family everything but my time. My son was turning thirteen and as I look at a picture of him holding my hands and laughing when he was 5 years old I started to cry. I always thought that life is about the memories you make, it about the experiences, but except for the two weeks a year vacation that we so eagerly blast every single picture on Facebook to show the world our family bliss, and the occasional kids social event where you don’t know half of the parents and we are all buried into our phone to avoid any conversation or awkward small talk , there wasn’t much on the day to day where I took time for myself, my husband or my kids. And that’s not what I wanted for the rest of my life.
That night after the birthday party I talked to my husband. I was miserable at work, my life was centered around working harder to make more money to be able to afford taking on more debt to buy more things, to impress people that I don’t know. I wanted out. My Husband, not surprisingly, felt the same way and we started to create our freedom plan. Our lives didn’t change the next day. I didn’t walk into the office the next Monday an quit my job, but it did overtime which brought me here. Writing this blog.
We paid off the cars and did not get new ones, we reduced unnecessary expenses, and cut costs ( changed cable for an Antenna, Heroku and a Slingtv, renegotiated our cell plans, cut lawmaking services and cleaning service and did ourselves with the kids help, shopped smarter for groceries, cut down on eating out and cooked more and healthier at home). Seems small but small things adds up, but more importantly it changes your mindset. We started life on a $750 a month apartment with total monthly expenses of less than $2,000 and got to a point that our monthly costs were overwhelmingly high and we became slaved by the system under the promise of the American dream. I eventually quit my high paying high stress job for another job that while it did not pay as much was more fulfilling and gave me the flexibility I was looking for. As a side note, It was interesting to see how once I was not obsessed with being promoted and playing the political corporate how I become much more productive and innovative. I was not just gunning for the next job, but really trying to collaborate and makes things better which was what I wanted all along and what I expected to happen when I started to work many years ago.
With the summer coming to end and the transition over the last year, I am in a much better place. My Son’s 14th birthday is coming up, our relationship has never been better. My husband and I are closer than ever and I am starting to run and taking care of my body and health again. I am reaching out to old friends, making time to have meaningful conversation and fill the book that is my life with memories worth remembering.
I will be posting about running events, meets, tips for runners, healthy eating and wellbeing. And writing the occasional blog to keep you guys updated on what’s going on.
I Hope you find that makes you happy in life, exercise and life a healthy lifestyle. See you around and good luck!