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What is the weight that you picked up to carry?
“I’m tired of doing this, and I’m sad. This is hard.” Tears rolled hot down my cheeks as I fired off the text to my mom last week. My SOS message went out shortly after an about-face of life plans. Thank you, United States Air Force.
Tuesday night at dinner, my husband Philip and I discussedpossibilities for his next position after he wraps-up his second squadron command next summer. We talked through likely options proposed by his boss during a meeting they had that morning. After dessert, I took a risk. I let my heart feel hopeful about what I heard.
Wednesday, everything changed. More news. A different opportunity for Philip was now on the table—a good one. The new option also injected a ton of uncertainty into our lives for the next year. Suddenly, I needed to brace for a no-notice international move. Please no, I thought. On one hand, I was thrilled for my husband. He worked hard for this chance. But I was also upset. It crushed me to think of ripping up roots somewhere I love sooner than I wanted. Again. I’ve been married to the military for a decade and a half, but somehow, transitions don’t get any easier for me.
And, this is the life that I’ve chosen.
We all choose our hard. I live a life of extreme privilege. Still, there are aspects of my existence that test me to my limits. By and large, the things that try me the most are the ones I have opted into voluntarily: marriage, parenting, and being a psychologist.
Marriage. Merging your life with another person isn’t easy. It’s even more complex when the government decides most things for both of you. When I married Philip, I ceded a lot of control. Not to him. To the US government. Ten days before we walked down the aisle, he took an oath. He swore to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. When he raised his right hand, in many ways, so did I. As I walked down the aisle in a white dress the next week, there was no way I could have known exactly what was waiting for me down the line. Still, I went in to my marriage with eyes wide-open. It's been exciting, for sure, but not easy. Living around the world has been amazing. We’ve paid for it, though. Years of separation and frequent relocations get old. Why do it? The people we get to serve alongside are some of the world’s finest. At this point, Philip could punch and we could walk away any time, but we repeatedly recommit. The choice isn’t about sunk cost. We stay because, for this season, we know in a deep place that this is what we’re called to do. This is how we want to give, even when it’s grueling.
Parenting. Being a parent is hands-down the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s also one of the best. Becoming a mother was a long, harrowing journey for me. The road involved several years of failed infertility treatments, piles of needles, and hundreds of medicine vials. I finally got pregnant, thanks to modern medicine. I (barely) survived childbirth. Then, the real challenge began. My husband and I take up the task of helping two tiny humans become quality adults every(night and)day. It can seem relentless a lot of the time. There is no easy button for parenting with intention. We don’t take shortcuts because there’s too much at stake.
Parenting can be painful because my kids refract the most unsightly parts of me. It’s uncomfortable facing myself in the mirror of my children. Regularly, my worst is laid bare for me to look at. Of all of the characters in the cast of my life, my kids make me the most crazy. They also brought me a joy I didn’t know existed before. As I raise my children, I’m growing alongside them. It’s a gift. I came close to giving my life for Reece and Grace the night they were born. In the last five years, a million and one times I’ve thought, “I’m so glad I took the hit, not them.” That instinct will never go away.
Work. I am convinced that I have the best job in the world. And, getting to where I am today has been a heavy lift. Worth it? Without question. Difficult? Very much yes. My six years of grad school were brutal. (Philip still refers to the period when I earned my doctorate as “the dark times”). After graduation, I’ve continued to jump through endless hoops for licensure. To practice, I need a new one each place we live. I bemoan the arduous process of it all sometimes, but there’s never been a day I regretted becoming a psychologist. It’s what I was meant to do.
Four years ago, my career took a sharp pivot. I left a government contract as a staff psychologist for the Department of Defense. In many ways at that juncture, I was at the top of my game. I was good at what I was doing. The pay was great. It would have been easy to stay. I was comfortable and finally doing exactly what I had worked so long and hard for. But I was starting to burn out and felt ready for a new challenge. Soon, I found one. In 2020, I was invited into the world of behavioral finance and started consulting in the wealth management industry. Before long, a friend extended me an invitation to co-found his company. Honored, I jumped at the chance.
Like marriage and parenting, being part of an early-stage startup has been So Good and So Hard. As a clinician, I’ve done and seen some wild stuff. Once, a patient with bulimia smeared vomit in my hair and proceeded to curse and scream about how much she hated me. She broadcasted her opinion to anyone who would listen as she ran down the hospital corridor. I’ve spent many late nights on call with suicidal patients in the ER. I’m not a stranger to stressful work but bootstrapping a company from the ground up is a kind of grind and pressure I’ve never known before. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. Without a doubt, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be, but it’s a lot. When you go all-in, it can’t not be.
Your version of chosen hard will look different than mine. But, I suspect that in some way, you’re carrying weight. Some of it you probably chose to pick up voluntairly, but that doesn’t make the load less heavy. We all have a story. Often, the most painful parts of it few people see, appreciate, or fully understand. For many, darkness is a lonely space. At some point, your version of chosen hard might seem crushing. Nights where tears stream down your face. Moments you want to scream. Periods where your level of stress makes you step back, take stock, and ask, “Why on earth am I doing this?” Next time you’re about to buckle under the yoke that’s yours, think on these things:
Acknowledge the struggle. Choosing something for our life doesn’t mean we have to love it all of the time. We can want something without constantly appreciating it. Articulating an honest reaction about your situation doesn’t mean you’re complaining. It’s okay to simply recognize what is. When you’re weary, don’t forget to give yourself credit. Extra doses. Being strong all the time is tiring. Celebrate your tenacity. Then, permit yourself to feel whatever is coming up for you.
Let yourself lean. Find someone who “gets it” and share what’s happening for you on a heart level. Pain shared is pain divided. Let your confidant know you want them to listen–not change, fix, or provide solutions. Often, when you
talk about something difficult, the listener will be naturally pulled to take away the discomfort. Give them explicit permission not to. Sometimes what we most need to hear is, “Wow, that sucks. I’m sorry that’s happening to you.” or, “No wonder you’re tired. I would be too!”
Own it. When things feel particularly hard, reconnect to your why. There were reasons that you opted into your present circumstances. Remember them. What keeps you there? Anchoring to our purpose can reenergize us when we’re feeling drained or discouraged.
Imagine an alternative. We often forget that some situations aren’t better or worse comparatively—they’re just different versions of hard. Life is full of trade-offs. If you’re unhappy, imagine yourself in different circumstances. What new set of challenges would you face then? No one is immune to fear, disappointment, or grief. Use caution, though, as you walk through this mental exercise. Take care to avoid self-invalidation. Comparative suffering helps no one. There is no hierarchy of pain. Someone will always “have it worse.” That doesn’t nullify your hard.
Contemplate change. Choose the hard that’s right for you. It may not be the job, location, or relationship that you’re in right now. For many people, the status quo is safe because it’s familiar. But it’s not always what’s best. (It certainly isn’t always the healthiest). Fear of the unknown is daunting. Humans prefer pain that’s predictable because they think they can better prepare for it. Sadly, this mentality can keep people trapped in bad situations. If you’re deeply unhappy, remember life is short. You’ve got one shot. Use it to create the life you want.
Our chosen hard is often our chosen beautiful. What I get to be a part of as a wife, mother, and founder blows me away. A certain degree of angst is the cost of admission I gladly pay to make a difference each day. As you navigate your hardest, best things, take hope. Connect to agency and practice gratitude—continually. Give yourself credit. Celebrate your wins. When you need to, find a friend and let yourself lean.
You may have chosen your hard, but you needn’t carry it alone.
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