I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mom. For starters, I didn’t just have a job — I had a career. By the time the pandemic hit, there was essentially no side of events I hadn’t worked on. From selling parking tickets for NFL stadium events and interning for an operations department at a soccer stadium, to programming playoff game ticket sales for multiple major league teams, when I say “I’ve worked on all sides of events,” I truly mean that. I’ve worked as an usher for the Democratic National Convention and U2’s 360 tour. I’ve had the opportunity to work behind the scenes for Garth Brooks, Hamilton, and the Great American Beer Festival. I’ve worked on the MLB All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver in an extraordinarily short time window. In the 11 years spent working in the events industry and the 4 years I spent in college before that, it never occurred to me that I might bow out of the working world at any point. It just never seemed like an option — until it suddenly seemed like possibly the only thing that would save me.
I’ve heard that someone who has worked in the same subject for at least 10 years could correctly be considered an expert. After living the dream for over 10 years, 8 of which I spent working at an industry-leading company, I don’t know if I would call myself an expert in live events, but I was gainfully employed and more than competent in the field. As far as jobs went, I knew I had it pretty good. My company had supported my family through two babies (they had a generous maternity leave that’s practically unheard of in the US) and an inpatient stay at a mental health facility. I couldn’t see any reason why I would ever leave.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t have lulls in my enthusiasm and energy at work from time to time, like everyone does. In late 2019, I was exhausted and couldn’t shake the anxiety that clouded my effort at work while I tried to integrate a new client into my slate of existing clients. My manager’s efforts to ease things didn’t do enough, and I knew we didn’t have the internal bandwidth to do work at a level that was up to our usual standards or my personal standards. It was just one of those common, unremarkable, totally stressful periods at work that pretty much everyone has experienced some form of. But after years at this company, it was a moment that first prompted me to think it was time to make a change. Leaving work entirely was still nowhere on my radar, but I knew something needed…shifting.
After returning from a holiday vacation, I started applying internally for positions that had recently been created as the result of department restructuring — one of them was perfect for me. I could kill it; I could really have a meaningful impact in this role. And I felt like I was primed to get it, since the HR staff had known me for years and my managers had embraced me and supported me since day one. But still, there was no guarantee, and I knew if this internal move at my current job didn’t work out, it would be my sign to move on. By then, it was early 2020.
I don’t need to tell you what happened next; it happened to all of us. Before my next interview for the new role could take place, the world shutdown. Overnight, I was, well, where most of us were: working from home, trying to navigate what would happen with…everything. My team and I were getting updates on the offices from around the world. We no longer focused on new or current live events (because, hey, they weren’t happening). Instead of programming for new major tours and doing early prep work for some major league play-off scenarios, the event cancelations rolled in with full force. Instead of doing one cancelation or two a month as usual, I found my entire workload for months to be canceling or postponing or rescheduling events all over the Midwest. The unprecedented crisis soon meant that our usual industry definitions were no longer clear-cut. A “rescheduled event” generally meant the original date no longer works and there is now a new confirmed date to announce. However, after 3 or 4 “new dates” were announced and inevitably pushed again for some events, we had to figure out how to make that event history clear to the fans and to our internal staff. The “postponed events” meant no new date had been confirmed, which became just as murky since some would flip-flop back and forth from rescheduled to postponed. “Canceled events” became outright complicated. Historically, canceling meant that the event was not happening and all accounts were getting refunded. In the environment of a pandemic though, we found leagues and venues and tours requesting major variations and having to learn how to cater to each of them on the fly. Was the event not happening at all? Or was it still happening but fans were allowed to attend? Or did the venue get approval for limited capacity and needed to cancel some tickets? Not only did the answers to these million questions change daily, the questions themselves did too.
The fun parts of my job simply stopped existing. I was no longer getting to experience the excitement of knowing an on-sale went smoothly and fans were excited to attend. The satisfaction of knowing that all of our hand work around each sale translated to butts-in-seats was gone. People were not getting to see their favorite hometown quarterback surrounded by others who were just as excited to be there. Friends and family supporting their favorite local band in a city’s historic small venue. The collective energy of large events was absent. Everything that made my job — my industry as a whole, really — fulfilling just evaporated. It all stopped so abruptly that it knocked not only the wind out of us. On top of no longer getting to hear about the amazing plays and concert stages and first Broadway show experiences, we had constant reminders that all venue staff were getting furloughed or laid off. The road crews were grounded and so many venues were shuddered; and then our company furloughs started. All the joy had been sucked out of my job, or rather, it was now my job to painstakingly shepherd the job to its death. I was dealing with the logistics of an industry going painfully into hibernation.
Am I walking you through this amount of detail about my daily work experience because I think it’s interesting to people outside the events industry? Absolutely not. But I’m guessing that even reading that long, tedious paragraph made you feel a little stressed out — living it everyday was significantly more stressful. Meanwhile, like other working moms, I had kids at home. We were all fried. As it did for most of us, not only did my job itself radically change in an instant when the pandemic set in — so did my relationship to it. I was getting worn down, and fast.
Typically, when things got hard at work, I did the usual thing: leaning on my coworkers. Only, they weren’t really there either. On Zoom calls, we all tried to laugh it off, walking around with our laptops perched in the crook of our elbow, showing each other what we were drinking or what our home office set up looked like or how messy our kids’ play areas were. Being an area where the staff was spread out across several states, Zoom wasn’t unusual for us, but around Thanksgiving I really noticed the sky-high level my anxiety reached when responding to meeting invites for company-wide check-in calls or any one-on-one calls with my managers. I knew I had been in survival mode for a while, but I was finally seeing the consequences.
As a company, we acknowledged the year anniversary by taking a day for reflection. SO many people had been furloughed or laid off entirely; I was lucky enough to be deemed valuable enough to still have a job, for which I was rewarded with both more work, a heap of new guilt, and a strong sense that complaining would be a betrayal to my good fortune of still being employed at all. I wasn’t…doing great.
March 11, when the first confirmed COVID case for an NBA player and the league shut everything down and the NHL followed suit hours later. In the live event industry, it’s not always possible to fully take the day off, but when I was able to take that time, I noticed I couldn’t let go of something a manager said. That “we needed to keep going so those furloughed and laid off had something to come back to.” I don’t believe it was said to add pressure, but the sensation in my body wasn’t comfortable. In the weeks following, I didn’t sleep much or take much care of myself. One night my husband found me in the middle of the night in a full-body crying episode.
I finally shared with him how miserable I was, how miserable I had been for some time, and once I started giving voice to those feelings, it all came flooding out. No words could ever do justice to the massive feeling of release in my chest when my husband told me that “if I needed to quit, we would figure it out.” It was as if my lungs had been encased in concrete for 14 months and I hadn’t noticed until some of the pressure was taken off. It wasn’t in that moment that I fully made the decision to leave my job, but even just feeling supported to do what I needed to do gave me the mental space necessary to even figure out what I needed. There hadn’t felt like any space to consider that for a very long time.
I sat with the conversation with my husband for another couple of weeks afterward, a period peppered with even more conversations about it. Unless you’re sitting on considerable financial resources, which we were not, the decision for one partner to stop working is never one that is made quickly or lightly.
Still at my job, I applied for other positions that needed backfill from staff not returning from furlough. The position that was put on hold had no timeline to recommence and nothing else felt right. In fact, the only thing that felt right was a growing sense that maybe, despite what I ever would’ve thought before, I would like to be a stay-at-home-mom. Weirdly enough, the idea wasn’t off putting to me. It didn’t feel like quitting or failing or taking the easy way out. (I’d already been a parent long enough to know that there’s nothing “easy” about it.) The ease of acceptance I felt about transitioning to that role was what finally made my decision final.
Of course, there were still the logistics to figure out. My husband and I had mostly kept our finances separate, but now we sat down together to figure out a shared budget, deciding which subscriptions to keep or cut, sorting out our bills and payment schedules. Throughout the exercise of budgeting my way out of a job that was draining the life from me, I was keenly aware of the privilege of even being able to do what we were doing. I’m far from the only working mom who was driven beyond a healthy point in a job that wasn’t serving her; this is the plight of countless working moms, most of whom don’t have the option of simply not doing that job. For my family, it definitely wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was possible. It wouldn’t be sustainable forever, but I would get a break to recharge, refocus on my kids and the fulfillment I got from parenting them, and scope out a new professional environment that was actually conducive to my health. Even if it meant our finances got tight in the meantime, I had a way out, to take a break. If I thought it would’ve been a betrayal to my unemployed peers to leave my job even though it was killing me, wouldn’t it also be a betrayal to all the women who would die for a chance to take a long time out from working when I actually was able to do so? It was a no brainer.
Once I decided to leave my job, so many months deep into a pandemic that seemed to never end, I was floored by the encouragement I received from loved ones. Those who are close enough to me to have heard all the headache and heartache expressed their pride so fully — no one wanted me to keep powering through in a job that was so obviously bad for me.
Of course, none of that means I didn’t still struggle with my own mindset when I was transitioning out of my job. For most of 2020, I had felt survivors’ guilt for making it through the COVID-induced furloughs and layoffs. I constantly feared the feedback would be to “stick it out” and mandates that “now is the best time to level up” my career in the vacuum left by those who had been laid off. I worried people would think me weak or selfish for making the shift to being a full-time mom and zero-time employee. None of these thoughts deterred me from doing what I knew was best for me and my family, that I was overjoyed was even possible for me to do.
And after a few months away from work, those fears have worn off and have been replaced by joy. Joy in spending summer days with my young kids and signing up to volunteer at my daughters’ school for the first time without worrying about my work schedule; joy in the freedom to explore my yoga practice and to write a book about my experience with postpartum depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. I can sleep and even remember to take the time to feel the sun on my face and drink water. Joys like that have a powerful way of silencing worries about what other people think of your choices, or what you might’ve previously thought about them yourself on more doubtful days.
As we have started to navigate the school year and adjust our budget a little more, I don’t see myself returning to the industry that I once thought I’d be in for the entirety of my career. Having a bit of space to consider what I really want and to get some perspective on how I felt in my old career…well, it’s done what breaks and distance and perspective always do. Everything feels possible right now. And maybe that’s the real truth of being a stay-at-home mom: it’s not something you fail into, or hide in, or that pulls you away from your career against your will. It’s not some sad ending, at least not for me. Being home with my kids is exactly that: it’s coming home. And when I leave home again, which I inevitably will, for a new job still unknown, I will be immeasurably better for giving myself the time to be here. I had set the goal of not thinking about returning to the workforce for two months and now I’m not sure what it’ll even look like once I do. This situation isn’t sustainable for the long run, but I will cherish every moment it has given me. The lesson of choosing my mental health for myself and my family over a position where I was always replaceable, has framed my soul in a way where I’ll not look back. As a family, we will step forward into this new path together with joy.