Defining Success, Career and Baby Envy, what Having It All means and the Inner Critic

“We may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”
– Thomas Merton

  • “Just” a stay at home Mum 
  • Money and defining success, what success means to me
  • Career and Baby Envy as a young single Mother
  • Envy as a useful tool for taking action
  • What it means to “have it all”
  • The Inner Critic
  • Reflecting on being a full-time stay at home Mother

I was in the Waitrose cafe lining up for my free soup when I overheard the woman behind me in conversation with a man. She said something about being “JUST a stay at home Mum”, he responded “you’re not JUST a stay at home Mum, you’re..” – I failed to hear the rest and deemed asking him to repeat himself inappropriate.
Now obviously I don’t know the context of their conversation.
But regardless, it touched my sensitive little soul and I’m pretty certain there are Mothers our there that still go about their days thinking of themselves as “JUST stay at home mothers”.
And let’s face it, going from employed to unemployed, studying to not studying, growing professionally to no longer making leaps and bounds professionally but growing as a person in other areas.
It can feel pretty shit.
It just does.
When you love what you do, or at least get some kind of fulfilment from it, be it in the work itself or the people you get to see 5 days a week, or just knowing you’re on a path that’s somehow related to a dream or goal or vision you hold; I suppose in a lot of ways, it must really effing suck – to say the least- to have to leave that behind.
You are giving up a part of who you are, a part of your identity, to go get screamed at by a tiny human FOR NO MONEY.

I’ve written many blog posts describing some really magical, memorable moments along my journey through motherhood, but I’ve never really mentioned how much I’ve longed to be earning. My desire for financial independence has gone from “ohhh I’ll figure it out” as I’m sat happily breastfeeding, reading a book in my oxytocin-fuelled-bubble, to “SHIT OH SHIT I MUST FIGURE THIS OUT, MOTHER, FATHER, I JUST WANT TO BE SUCCESSFUL, I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE YET BUT SHIT OH SHIT I SHALL FIGURE IT OUT ASAP”….

And of course I am. Figuring out what successful looks like, defining what success means to me in each area of my life, and overall.
I haven’t reached an answer yet, its constantly evolving, but it’s something along the lines of feeling at peace and satisfied with the actions I take each day to get me closer to where I want to be.
It’s knowing I am enough, I am doing enough, and learning to love the person I am becoming. It’s feeling both grounded and excited, every step of the way by what I’m doing and achieving.
It’s enjoying and embracing the process, celebrating the little wins as well as working toward and looking forward to the big ones.
It’s having time where I feel truly present with my daughter each day.
It’s taking care of myself.

Success isn’t just the big fat reward after years of hard work.
It’s getting something of value from the actual work. – Financially or otherwise.
It’s being rewarded -on the inside – each time you DO the work.
Success, to me, is FEELING alive every day.
I haven’t put a number on success yet. I’m still deciding on my financial goals. I don’t know money all that well, I’m still working out my relationship with it. (I know I like it a lot, that it’s an important topic I need to get my head around, that I needn’t be anxious about it and that I have a lot of learning to do).

The women who appear to have it all.

Having it all means different things to different people.
“Having it all” must be bloody hard work.

She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along.
-Margaret Culkin Banning

I’ve realised I’ve been operating under a somewhat unclear vision of what success looks like to me. It’s still rather hazy, hard to pin point in a concrete way.
I’ve been envying all things big.
Big families with their big houses and big cars.
Big voices.
Big careers.
The women who appear to have it all.
The women who’ve reached a level of success in their career that allows them the freedom and flexibility to decide how they divide their time between work and parenting.
They’re married with 2-4 children, have a rock solid relationship with their partner, love their job, feel proud of their work.
They’d survive financially even after a divorce and they’re independent in every sense of the word.
They don’t feel the need to ask their husband if they can buy something for themselves because they know they’ve earned it.

They’re generally fulfilled.
They know who they are.
They love themselves.

I see these women every single day.
Or at least, I think I see them.
I don’t really see THEM.
I see what I choose to see.
Because no one feels fulfilled every single day. We all have our bad days/weeks/months, our moments.
These women, with the big cars and the nice clothes and the kids and the husbands, they’re humans too.
They struggle and go through the same negative emotions; pain, self-doubt, shame, frustration, anger, jealousy.
They are humans at a different stage of life to me, a different time zone.

Envy just means a part of me wants to be where they are, right now.
Which doesn’t really make sense. I can’t just skip ahead to what I think looks like the best bit. It may not be the best bit. The gap between where I am and where I want to be can seem ever so huge, but maybe the gap is the interesting part. The part that makes you who you are. The part that challenges you to become, well, the real you. The gap is called life. The gap is the journey, the process, the times I’ll look back on and smile because I muddled through all the uncertainty.  

And who’s to say they really do “have it all”? What does “have it all” even mean?
Surely, like the term “success” it means different things to different people. You get to decide.
If having it all means rewarding career+ healthy happy kids + steady relationship + lots of money + lots of travel + giving back somehow; being fulfilled in all of these areas. Well what about general health, wellbeing, friendships, your relationship with yourself, your spiritual journey, I mean the list is endless. The list is exhausting.

Everyone’s priorities are different.
Everyone wants to feel good.
Everyone wants to feel seen, needed, alive.

I used to think I was clear on my vision.
Now everything’s up in the air.
It keeps changing.
I’m asking myself all sorts of questions.
Do I need a big-ass salary to feel satisfied?
Or do I just need to write everyday?
What really matters to me?
What is it specifically about the people I envy that I actually envy?
Let’s get clear here. So I can do something about it.

Envy can be a useful tool. When channelled and listened to, it can help point you in the direction of where you really want to be going deep down.
It often brings deeper longings to the surface, if you are willing to pay attention.

For many months, I longed to have another baby.
There was a real sadness there.
I began telling friends about it because it seemed so ridiculous, I felt as though I was harbouring some huge secret.
“I know, I’m crazy, it’s stupid…”
“No it’s not, you already have one, it’s natural to want another..” people would reply.

And looking back, I get it now.
All I’ve really known, since the age of 20, is being a mother. I am surrounded by mothers on a daily basis. Newborns seem to be everywhere. Of course, given the environment I’m in, I was always going to want more. I’ll always love babies.
And feeling lost career-wise, I was always going to look to the one thing I have experience in- parenting.
Parenting is a certainty. It’s a safe yet scary bubble. I can just about do parenting. You don’t need a degree or an impressive CV and no one’s going to fire you. You don’t get a difficult email if you fuck up. Which everyone does. Just lots of guilt and consequences further down the line.

I have always wanted to be a mother.
I’ve also always been rather competitive.
I envied the people at school with better grades than me.
I wanted to be top.
All the time.
I knew I had it in me.
I cared.
I cared a little too much. Far too much.
I made myself ill caring so much.

Now, at 25, I look up to women who are fulfilled in their careers. (Or at least, seem it).
I admire those who have found their voice, and use it for good.

Thanks to social media, TV, film, theatre, books, plays, blog posts, I am exposed on a daily basis to people who get paid to do meaningful things that they happen to love.
It’s a thing.
I know nothing about these people, I know nothing of their struggles. I see only a fraction of their journey. But I know they have helped form my constantly evolving vision, and I like feeling so inspired.

But looking at these women’s paths, (and men’s too, but I’ve been focused on mothers pursuing their careers) learning from them, I have unknowingly formed another rod to beat myself with.
The inner critic has a field day:

“Why aren’t you THERE yet?”
“Why don’t you have an agent?”
“Where’s your 10,000+ blog following?”
“You don’t even know what you’re doing!”
“Who do you think you are, pursuing things that make you feel alive?!”
“Stop dreaming and focus on your finances, wake up you silly woman.”
“Most successful writers have something published by this point..”
“You won’t go far without a clear vision!”
“You don’t even know what you want! You have to know what you want in order to succeed at that thing?!”
“You think the dots will connect? Tell me how and when!”
“You have no discipline. At all. Good luck working freelance.”
“You’re just really really foolish. You’re not thinking clearly. Think better.”

*I feel the inner-critic requires a whole other blog post. It’s a daily battle. This is where acknowledging how far you’ve come and appreciating where you are in the journey comes into play.

I sometimes think I should have got a job when Maia was two or three, but for several reasons, it just didn’t seem like an option.
I already felt overwhelmed at times and I was pretty satisfied with the way I spent my days.
I’m proud of how I spent that time.
I generally enjoyed toddler classes and play dates, they were a chance to get out of the house and talk to other Mums, a lifeline for..most parents. (For the most part, when I wasn’t wishing I was married and pregnant with my second.)
I breastfed till she was three, and we all know how much I loved that. (Blog post right here.)
I used Grandma’s holidays and some evenings to do my internships/courses.
I read every personal development book I could. And a whole heap of others.
I’d found a nursery I was happy with -in walking distance from home and with close ties and conveniently adjacent to her new school- she started going at 3 years old.

Getting on the career ladder was not a priority for me.

Being around for Maia and exploring my creativity, my deep-down-loves and wildest-dreams was. I had the luxury of snippets of time to do this. Many young mothers probably don’t.

Had I lived alone with Maia, life would have been very different. She would have gone into full-time nursery at two or even younger, I would have achieved some kind of “financial independence” and yes I’d have control over my kitchen cupboards and her bedtime, but my struggles would have been very very different. (I’d have to own a car for starters, and I’ve heard those things are expensive..)

And although at present, I am nowhere near being financially independent; I do not regret a single choice made.
I wouldn’t do anything differently.
I’ve accepted where I am. I know it’s temporary.
Being at the bottom means there is only one way up, after all.

If the price I pay for not working over the last few years is being a little “behind” in my career, having more time with my daughter, and most-likely a few more years living at home with my parents, then I think I’m a lucky woman to say the least.

They get on my tits at times, but I have a huge amount of respect for my parents.
Two people that have raised a woman that believes she deserves it all.
Whatever “all” means.

However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
– Stephen Hawking



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