A Difficult Reality to Accept

In March 2017, I was a bigwig at a big, fancy financial firm in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had left clinical medicine six years prior because of the growing mountain of bureaucratic hassles involved with taking care of people. I had dabbled in medical media and found that while I did not enjoy the game of television, I did get a lot of satisfaction out of explaining medicine to non-physicians. I landed the job at the financial firm in 2011 and I thought "Why not?" Over the first four years in that job, the way medical information is used to determine the cost of financial products was taught to me by experts. I analyzed cases and reports and presented scientific conclusions intended to improve the business and increase profits. My performance was rewarded with a promotion to Chief. It all seemed natural at the time, but very quickly, as the time I had for case review dwindled and the administrative tasks increased, I hated my job.

I didn't know I hated it. I knew performance assessments and budgets weren't my favorite things to do, but I was in a Big Fancy Job surrounded by Accomplished Executives. This was what It was all about, right? I met with colleagues and friends and even hired a pair of career coaches to help me get used to my Big Fancy Job. I stayed in my office and worked until the security guards came to cut the power to the department at night. I prepared for meetings and team-building exercises and always showed up prepared and well read. I was mentoring a new hire and running the department and helping to make the company better. My performance evaluations were always full of glowing comments about how capable I was and how good my work was. I was at my boss' beck and call and helped the company through some sticky confidential situations. They said they appreciated it, but... The goals set up for me for 2017 were lean on medical growth and education and instead included meeting with the other department heads to learn how they ran their departments and to refine our budget.

The thought of sitting with people I didn't much respect and to try to learn from them made me cringe. I went to college and medical school and finished a residency. I served in the Navy. I had 18 years of experience in clinical medicine. I could tell people they were having a heart attack and then save their life. I could decipher reports submitted from all specialties and determine the risk the findings posed to the company. Those are my talents. Those are my passions. Besides, the employees under my purview were appreciative of my leadership and quite productive. Write a better budget? Bite me.

On several occasions, I approached my boss with requests to work remotely so I could spend more time with my children. Instead of allowing me to complete work I could easily do online once every two weeks, though, I was told to come into the office from 0500 to 1500 if I wanted to make it to karate with my kids. Not long afterm that, an employee new to the industry whom I had hired, taught and mentored began to show erratic behavior and provided unreliable work. I did what I was supposed to do and met with HR and talked to the employee, but the problem was ingrained and to work through it as a Boss would be a Sisyphean task. I didn't have the patience for that bullshit.

In meetings scheduled to discuss this problem, everyone told me my work was exemplary and appreciated. Yet, this employee was a problem and, more importantly, MY problem. Though I fought them as hard as I could, tears flowed from my eyes as I told my boss and HR that what they were proposing would not work for me and I told them the Big Fancy Job was not in line with my career goals. I was done.

Over the next two months, I taught intermittently (which I love!) and maintained our home. Gradually, the meat of the Big Fancy Job situation and my first 45 years of life came into clearer focus. I am an achiever. Since I can remember, I've been driven to land at the top of the heap. I was encouraged as a little kid, but was often told I would never be good enough and would never amount to much. In my twenties, those comments spurred me to academic success culminating in a medical degree. I strove to marry the Big Fancy Man and drive the Big Fancy Car. I bought Big Fancy Clothes and ate in Big Fancy Restaurants. At the Big Fancy Job in 2017, I was still working my ass off to prove something. But what??? No one was watching anymore. No one was keeping score. The Big Fancy Job was a dead end - there were no higher positions available. I had reached the pinnacle and I was miserable. THIS is what all of that was about???

My dream job has always been Mommy. More than anything in life, I have wanted to share my life with children and to love them. I have five wonderful kids. The Best Job is right here! What the Hell was I doing all this time?

An amazing peace very gradually washed over me as the summer heated up. I had time with my kids I never imagined I would have. They are such amazing people! We had time to play and talk and share. As I looked in the mirror, I recognized that I had not taken very good care of myself in the Big Fancy Quest for Fanciness and I had weight to lose and self esteem to cultivate. I stopped hurrying, which is harder than it sounds. My kids and I explored the produce section at the grocery like it was a never-before-seen exotic treasure. We tried new foods. We played at parks for hours. I cooked more and ate random garbage less. My fantastic husband was nothing but wonderful during all of this, supporting me emotionally and supporting our family financially. How was I to know he hated my Big Fancy Job also for what it did to me? We've had a few wrinkles, come on, we're human and this was a big change, but we acknowledged the truth: Our goals are to enjoy our family and each other above all else.

So I have stopped achieving greatness. Well, mostly. I cut my hair to make life easier and donated all of my Big Fancy Suits and Big Fancy Shoes. I will very purposely never wear them again. I have talents and experience and fantastic communication skills. Using my talents and knowledge for purposes that make me happy makes me happy. I chat with a wonderful group of elderly ladies at the Y every few weeks and answer their medical questions (The first week, a feisty octogenarian may have brought up vibrators, but I'll never tell) I volunteer at my kids' schools and love seeing the way the students interact and learn. I exercise regularly for the first time since my military service. We eat fresh food because I take time to choose groceries wisely. I ride my bike and enjoy the breeze. I continue to teach medical students and residents because of the warm feeling it gives me. This is the happiest I have been in my life. Damn, it feels good!

We live on the cheap already, shopping at thrift stores and searching for sales, so the loss of my income hasn't affected us. Rick and I would rather live lean than live stressed out. In discussing career plans and household details this summer, we threw around an idea about working abroad. We considered Canada, the UK and some US territories but settled on New Zealand. So we're moving there in three months.


  1. You haven't stopped achieving greatness Gretchen. You're just as great as you have always been. Only this time the right people are benefitting from it! Good luck to you!

  2. Thank you so much for your open and honest sharing. I am proud of you for taking care of yourself and your family. I look forward to more blog posts.


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