My Dad was a huge railroad and model railroad enthusiast. Growing up as a boy in the 1930’s and 1940’s, he had the opportunity to experience the railroad in its heyday. His uncle handled operation and oversight for a freight depot on the Illinois Central Railroad line. He often told us of the adventures during his visits with his uncle and cousins.
Through his inspiration and a desire to always spend more time together, I asked for my first model train for Christmas at age six or seven. He taught me about the power of the engine and the importance of safety, maintenance, re-fueling, speed, etc.
I learned a lot about trains from him as we sat listening to the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails moving at a calm pace, a predictable rhythm. I wish I had paid closer attention to the lessons. I may have done a few things differently.
Growing up, I was always intrigued with being a working woman, getting married, and being a mother. All roles were equally important. As I grew, my aspirations went from becoming a cashier, a teacher, an office worker, a nurse, a businessperson, a manager, and high-level leader.
Leaving the station
I began working in my career field in high school and continued while going to college. Within two months of graduation, I began a job with a big corporation. The wheels were in motion. <Clickety-clack>
Picking up speed
My sense of competition and success drove me to be the best in my training class and earned me annual promotions. The pace was increasing, energizing. Within three years, we started our family. <Clickety-clack, clickety-clack>
Moving at a decent clip
I was working long hours and trying to earn enough to pay off student loans and afford a house. With a new infant, I changed companies to be closer to home. I was worried that she would never know her mother otherwise. <Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack>
Picking up steam
It was a good change bringing additional progress in learning, my career, financially, and was a more reasonable drive. Within another year, I took over a whole division and ran multiple teams affecting thousands of customers.
My husband would leave very early for his long drive and work. I dropped the kids off and worked long hours. He picked them up and got dinner going. I’d roll in somewhere during dinner prep and eating time, spend a few hours with the kids, get them to bed, and begin working again for another three or four hours.
I saw no reason to change my aspirations or trajectory. I could do it all. I didn’t need to re-fuel. I had plenty of energy. More was better and fueled my desire to succeed. Things were moving ahead. <Click-click-click-click-click-click->
Speeding up to the blur
I began travelling and so did my husband. On top of working a lot of hours and spending every other moment with the kids, we now had to juggle who was home, who was gone, where the kids needed to be, etc. Time was at a premium. Time at home was now cut in half.
Life was passing by in a blur as I barreled forward. I’m not even sure I know today all the things I missed during this time as life whizzed by. I remember coming home from a trip and my daughter giving me a big hug and saying, “Mommy, I forgot what you looked like.” <Cli-cli-cli-cli-cli-cli-click>
My runaway train
I knew that was a wake-up call, but I couldn’t stop. To continue moving forward, we moved to a new state leaving our extended family behind. In higher level roles, I didn’t always feel accepted or that I was enough. I sought to prove that I was worthy by working to become an expert, outdoing everyone, never resting, continuously working, and producing more. However, the recognition or position I was looking for never came. <Cli-cli-cli-cli-cli-cli-cli-cli…>
Slamming on the brakes
The squeal of the brakes was deafening as I was derailed and moved to a new division. Shortly after, my daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
All became quiet. No more clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails. No sense of rhythm. Time stood still. Everything had changed.
Finding a new pace
The following year would be focused on getting her well and holding it together. But she and the family were my sole focus. I still worked and did a good job, but it was now that I understood what balance could feel like – by taking time for family and life without feeling guilty.
I re-played many moments thinking about what I missed as life was blurring by wondering what I was thinking, how I built my identity around work, and my constant desire to live up to others’ expectations.
Having prayers answered and being blessed with a total recovery, I now had some choices to make. I could resume or change course. I chose the latter.
I began to prepare to change tracks. I created a plan to pursue a purposeful and peaceful track where I could do good for others. A track that allowed for a new pace, a calm rhythm, where I can take in the details and beauty on the journey.
Dad, you knew it all along. I wish I’d learned it sooner but I’m on my way. I think you would be proud.