The Safe Choice

I met Megan when I was only twenty-two years old.  I was fresh off of my active duty tour as a Marine, having been in the communications specialty for the past four years.  My “job” was, effectively, IT, just as it is now.

I was ready to “settle down” already.  I had met a good woman, I was back home, with four years experience in my career field and only a car payment as debt.  While I hadn’t (and still haven’t) ever stepped foot onto a college campus (well, as a student at least), in the data communications field, experience is worth more than any diploma.    

I was set.  All I had to do is land a lower level job, pay my dues and work my way up in the field.  It would be an easy path to a successful, stable career. Megan and I were married less than three years after meeting, bought a house, and continued on, with Shelby arriving a few years later.  

I would be remiss if I didn’t say I felt “stuck” by the time Shelby was born.  I couldn’t even switch jobs, let alone career paths, because we couldn’t go more than a week without health insurance.  We had built up some additional car payments, mortgages, and bills, and a newborn isn’t exactly cheap, even with help from family.

The feeling continues.

I loathed the job that I had been at since 2004, commuting almost two hours, one way, and working for a boss that enjoyed the bottle a bit too much.  Almost everyone in my department was entrenched, meaning that there really was no room for advancement. Computers and IT had become so ubiquitous in everyday life at that point that it bored me.

I was good at my job, but I didn’t like it.  It was stressful and disheartening to wake up at 4:00 A.M. every morning, knowing I wouldn’t be home until at least 7:00 PM, having worked all day at a place I didn’t want to be, and arriving to a wife that could barely breathe or may not even be present, because she was admitted to the hospital.  Either way, I had no choice. I had to just grit my teeth and deal with it for the sake of my family.

That went on for 6 years.  Then, Megan got her transplant.  Not only did this completely change our lives together, it also opened up the opportunity for me to dip my toes into finding new employment.  We could “afford” to have a brief lapse in insurance, or at least be able to take the risk while I became vetted and received health insurance at a new employer.  

So, I did just that.  I didn’t pursue a new career path, but I began working for a new company, close to home, for a bit more money.

Within three years, I also hated it and felt stuck, mainly because of money rather than health.  We buckled down, caught up on debt and bills, and sat back to breathe for a second. Megan’s rejection hadn’t started yet, so I took the opportunity to move to a new job yet again.  In May of 2014, I onboarded with a new employer, as their IT manager.

Megan was dead seven months later.  

I could have, at that very moment in time, “sold it all and moved to Montana”.  I wasn’t nearly that clear-headed or willing to take that risk though. My then-seven-year-old daughter had just lost her mother, and at the time, my boss and the other management at my company were absolutely the best people I had ever worked for.  I had a “safe” path ahead of me, and I would have been insane to not take it.

I was lucky to have spent all of that time in the past, investing my labors into a field I had grown to despise, working for persons that treated me like a number, becoming a subject-matter expert on things that seemed trivial at the time, and learning to just roll with the stress.  When Megan died, I was back at work in two days. For once, it was LESS stressful to be sitting at a desk in front of a computer than it was to be at home.

But it’s been almost four years now.  I’m still here. Quite literally every single person in management has been replaced since that time, and the comradery and closeness (and the unending understanding they gave to me when Megan was sick) I once shared with them has faded away.  There is almost nobody left in my company that was present in 2014. We’re all just numbers again, and I have returned to the “going through the motions” feeling.

I’ve grown to realize that, though I hated the jobs themselves, I was good at them, and I never did them for free.  My compensation was equitable, and it was just part of being in the field. I worked, not because I wanted to, but because Megan and Shelby needed me to.  The overall theme, however, has changed from “I’ve got to find a better job” to “I’ve chosen the wrong career”.

For the past 16 years, I’ve stayed on the safe road.  Hell, the longest that I have been “unemployed” since I was 15 years old was a two week span.  In 22 years, I haven’t had any more than 14 days off consecutively .

I’ve stuck with what I’m good at, even though deep down inside, I didn’t want to do it.  Megan’s death reset the counter in a way, but ultimately, it has only made it more clear to me that I am in no way doing what I love.  I am doing what I hate for the sake of what I love.

Had there been no Shelby, I may very well have disappeared into the woods and become a hermit upon Megan’s death.  Instead, her death has given me the realization that I can still be proud of the fact that I trudged through life and undesirable employment for both of their sake.  The “safe” path was, and still remains the correct choice for us, until the next milestone is reached where an opportunity presents itself.

I hope that I continue to make the correct choice.

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