Has anyone else felt this way? Like the fate of humanity depends on you doing everything that is expected of you and nothing less. I’ve read a lot of books and articles about how the firstborn child has an “achiever” and “people-pleaser” mentality growing up. I was often told I could pretty much do whatever I wanted to. I didn’t color too far outside of the lines. I thrived on praise from my parents and teachers.
I’ll never forget one time when I was about 13 or so when my (overly outspoken) aunt looked at my younger sister and me and said that I was the “practical” one while my sister was the “vivacious” one. All through elementary, middle, and high school I self-identified as “smart”. I wasn’t ashamed of who I was. In fact, I was proud of it. I wasn’t trying to be cool or popular. I was always looking forward to the next big chapter. I wanted to do extravagant things with my life. I wanted to help people. I wanted to do the right thing.
I took a year off after college to work, save money, and take the LSAT because, of course, the next step for me was law school. Law school was no walk in the park. The bar exam made me want to pull my hair out, but I made it through, passed the exam on the first try, and found myself to be a California licensed attorney a couple months after I turned 26.
My Dream Job Was Killing Me
At the beginning of this year, I left my first attorney gig for the “dream job.” Everything had fallen into place, as it always seemed to, and I was working 10 minutes from home in the office I had imagined myself in since I started law school. It was perfect. Or so I thought. Without going into a great amount of detail, over the course of a few months I somehow lost myself to the pressure coming at me from all angles.
My relationship with God was at an all-time low. I barely saw my husband as I was working late every night and going into the office every weekend. I was a stranger to my family and friends because even when I had time, I suffered from an emotional shallowness that made it feel like the greatest effort in the world to pick up the phone or to schedule dinner.
All I could think or talk about was work, and when anyone dared to mention something else, I felt like I was looking through them, barely listening, and going through my mental checklists.
I suffered my first panic attack one weekend while preparing for a trial. I had hit my wall. I would cry silent tears in the shower and wonder what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I do this? I could do anything. That’s what I had always believed. I prayed for strength and peace that never seemed to come. When I compared notes with co-workers I was advised that I should “care less” or even “drink more”. I became more and more of a shell of my former self. People who knew me began to comment and worry. I would tell friends that I was fine, “just busy”.
One Sunday afternoon after church I decided to stop by my mom’s house before heading to the office to prepare for the coming week. I ended up spending five hours in her arms crying and, ultimately, leaving with the fortitude and confidence that only a mother can give you that I had to call it quits with my job. Now, of course, me being me, I was (and am) entirely aware that on paper this made no sense. It wasn’t “right”. I was a little over three months into the job. I didn’t have another job lined up. This was my dream job! I’d be putting a financial strain on my husband and me. What would I tell people? How would I explain this to future employers? Was it really that bad? Was I just being dramatic?
The Right Thing Isn’t Always the Right Path
For anyone reading this who also suffers from the desire to do and be perfect—giving up and anything that feels remotely like failure is an impossible pill to swallow. Nonetheless, the more I searched for affirmation, the more I began to realize that the “right” thing doesn’t always look the way you expect it to. More importantly, it doesn’t always look the way the world expects it to.
In fact, the Bible encourages us to think differently from the world, and we can see this in Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
When I called one of my best friends (also an attorney) and told her what I was about to do, she told me something that warranted me running into my apartment and writing it down in my journal before I forgot. Replace your name with mine, write it down yourself, and put it on a post-it on your mirror. She said, “Katie Sue, you can’t fail. Not if you’re seeking God and He’s smiling back at you. Our God is a God of risks. He loves to step out with his kiddos when they’re doing something risky—something that looks crazy to the rest of the world.” She told me she was proud to be my friend, and I cried a lot.
Since making the choice to leave, I’ve questioned it at least 20 times a day. But I am also feeling my soul thaw. I am waking up from a scary and all too realistic dream in which I became someone other than who my God intends for me to be. I have a lot of questions and still have a lot of growing to do, but I am confident that He is going to hook me up with something big that is part of His plan and purpose.
To my fellow “practical” ladies out there: take heart. Sometimes the braver thing to do is to give up that thing that the world tells you is right, in favor of trusting God’s Spirit that is nudging you into the unknown.
If you struggle with fear, panic, or self-doubt you need to listen to this podcast episode: Skillet’s Jen Ledger Shares Her Faith, Her Fear and Her Strength – 044.