The other day I was sitting in a meeting, thinking about this Netflix show that I’ve been addicted to when I found myself interrupted with the instructions to pair off with a partner and do a wellness exercise.
I don’t really mind those on-the-spot, ice-breaker moments with random partners, but in that moment I was feeling overly emotional and PMS-ing to the max and just wanted 11 Twix bars and to take my bra off and never pluck my eyebrows again. The last thing I felt like doing was baring my soul to a person who was undoubtedly not ready for my complete hurricane of emotions and who was now unknowingly doubling as my therapist.
But alas, the exercise went on despite the seven obvious and well-timed eye-rolls that I offered the meeting leader. He asked us to go through a series of statements about forgiveness with each other. “I forgive somebody for_____, I forgive my ex for ______,” ya know, normal, everyday forgiveness-based things. The last question, however, got me right in the PMS.
“I want you to look at the person in front of you and tell them something that you forgive yourself for.”
What could he possibly mean? I am nearly perfect (and a little too confident) if you aren’t catching on. I live a life with basically zero regrets, and I rarely see mistakes as mistakes, but more moments of, “Whelp, I know not to do that again.” What in the world would I have to forgive myself for? Well, let’s backtrack, mainly because I love backtracking, but also so you can follow me a little bit better here.
Over five years ago, I walked away from a loving relationship to pursue a career. It was a difficult decision, and I spent the following years fiercely questioning myself.
Every single day, I thought of him. I thought of the kids that we would have had and the life that we would have lived. I thought about us kissing each other before we went to work in the morning, or the way that we would lay in bed at night and laugh.
I thought about all of these things non-stop while I climbed the corporate ladder and made a name for myself. The climb was lonely and cold. But I made it, and I became the woman that I wanted to be. I became the woman that I walked away from love to be.
So here I am, sitting in this wellness exercise, all of these emotions flooding over me. I start to tear up as I look in the eyes of the poor girl who has to listen to all of this soon-to-be-ramblings, and I tell her something that had never once crossed my mind:
I forgive myself for choosing my career over love.
At this point, I don’t regret my choice. I have come to a place where I am happy that Leah from 2012 somehow understood what Leah from 2016 would want. But in that moment, I realized something that I had never once considered: I never really let myself off the hook for it.
I see women around me all of the time getting engaged, having babies, getting new minivans and using Facebook to ask other moms mom-ish questions. I don’t know the answers to any of these, and sometimes, I feel really, really bad for that.
I have real, actual guilt that I have not yet given my parents grandchildren. It bothers me that my dad has never shaken the hand of a man that he knew I would someday marry. It gnaws at my soul that by the time I have children, my nieces and nephews will be old and grown, some of them possibly even married with their own kids.
I feel sad when I think about these things. And in that moment, I realized that I needed to forgive myself.
But it was a weird kind of forgiveness. You see, I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I needed to tell myself once and for all that it was okay to not be the conventional woman that everyone swore and wished I would be. It’s okay to not have kids today, in a few years, or maybe at all. It’s not selfish of me to work 70 hours a week or to never want to stop working and be home.
Somewhere along the lines, I bought into the lie that I was breaking the rules. I believed the rumors that the only thing a woman could truly succeed at is being a wife and a mom. So although I am a successful woman in Detroit, actively working to change the dynamic of the common workplace and making strong connections in my field, I felt this weird, awkward kind of shame.
The forgiveness that I needed to offer myself wasn’t because I had chosen that life, but because I had chosen it and constantly looked back. The forgiveness that I so desperately needed to purify my soul was saying, “Leah, it’s okay that you picked yourself.”
You see, I know me. I know me better than anyone else knows me. I know how many pieces of pizza I can eat before I go into self-loathing. I know that if I cut bangs I will literally hate myself and be mad for months. I know that I cannot be in a relationship during hockey playoffs because I become way too combative.
And on that day, I forgave myself for doubting all of that. I let go of the shameful feelings of missed love, of an empty womb, of a home minus children’s toys and a man lying next to me. I let go of the shame because it wasn’t my own. It was what I was told I should be feeling.
On that day, I rid myself of the notion that I am meant for convention. There is so much beauty in being a stay at home mom, a wife, or a home-school teacher. But there is an equal amount of beauty in being a CEO, a career woman, or a person who never wants or even can’t have children. We are not less because we aren’t in the majority.
So instead of saying that I am “this”, or will one day be “that,” I am just going to trust that I know myself. I know what I want. Every single day, I discover it more. I love being an aunt. I love being a creative director. I love being a hiker. I love that I don’t have bangs. I love all of those things.
But what I love most of all is that I can be all of those things today and none of those things tomorrow. I forgive myself for thinking that I had to pick. I forgive myself for placing limits on myself and on the other women in my life.
And now, I move forward into this unpredictable life not knowing very much except that I have adventures ahead because nothing is pre-decided. I’m excited to wake up every day. That excitement is available to both the housewife and the boss-lady. We don’t have to choose anymore, ladies. We can have both.
I choose both.
But even more than that, today, and every day, I choose freedom. I choose forgiveness. I choose me.