This letter was created for a 2011 Letters To My Younger Self® Seminar
Michele Meyer-Shipp is a Vice President and Counsel at a large insurance company, providing legal advice and counsel on a variety of employment-related matters to several internal clients.
Michele and her now-ex husband were the rock star couple at the top of their class at Seton Hall University School of Law in 1994. Upon graduation, they both secured jobs at top-five law firms and began careers as litigators. They put in 12+ hour days, with the same future in mind. As Michele told me: “We’ll both work hard, both make partners at our firms, make loads of money and live an awesome life.”
When Michele had her first child in 1998, her perspective changed dramatically. She no longer cared about being a partner, making tons of money, and being a rock star in the legal community.
All she wanted was to care for her new baby. She didn’t want to return to work, even if it meant eating oatmeal and deferring on buying that super new home. But she stayed the course in order to meet everyone else’s expectations.
Michele returned back to work, albeit reluctantly, and all the pieces of the original plan began to take shape. She had another child, her family moved into a bigger home in a nicer community and they secured lots of “things.” Before she knew it, she was socializing regularly with exclusive groups of “power people.” She attended formal events so frequently that Michele had 20 black tie gowns in her closet.
But day by day, she felt more and more like a robot just going thru the motions. Between long work hours, two kids, maintaining her “dream” home and non-stop socializing, her life at home became increasingly stressful. She felt very alone and almost like she was having an out of body experience. By 2001, Michele was pregnant with her third child and found herself crying herself to sleep at night. She dared not complain to anyone though. Everything looked stellar from the outside.
Now 43 years old, she chose to write to herself during this period, when she was 33. The moment she chose was after an emergency trip to the hospital when she was 8 months pregnant.
Tonight feels like the lowest point of your life. Your personal life is falling apart. Your health is frail and your body is not healthy enough to continue to carry your third son. You had to be rushed to the hospital so the doctor could induce labor.
You’re telling yourself that the joy of this infant boy will mend your crumbling home life. But inside you know that the baby is just another bandaid, like every new baby, every new house and every new item or thing that has come before.
Michele, if you feel like a robot just going thru the motions, living a life that you think everyone wants you to live, it’s because you are. . .you are living a false life in which you have cast aside what really matters.
The birth of Miles, your oldest boy, tore a giant hole in your idea of a great life. All the picture perfect details—the nanny, the great trips, the huge beautiful house with its blank, white walls—suddenly felt empty. Here’s why: The tangible markers of success don’t actually mean that your life is great…or successful…or happy. These markers of success are actually handcuffs keeping you in a lifestyle you don’t value.
Your knack for conciliation and avoiding drama has often been a strength, but it’s hurting you now. You want to put genuine and authentic relationships at the center of your life, enjoy all the wonders of life that are staring you right in the face, not collect “things” or possessions.
True success starts with recognizing what’s true for you. Be brave enough to claim the life you are wishing for and live it to the fullest. See the world, enjoy the simple things in life, and embrace all that is your spirit!
From a better, more colorful place,
P.S. Won’t it be great to toss out those black tie dresses?