Because I had my first daughter when I was 22, right after I graduated from college, navigating continued education and career choices has always included family as a factor. It has been an on-going journey to recognize different motivations impacting my decisions and to refine how I discern. Over the last 17 years, I have sifted through longings of my heart and especially most recently, have received quality guidance to support me, shaping how I view what it means to be a wife and mom while needing to work to support the needs of my family through a Catholic lens.
The following are 5 key lessons that have supported me on my journey.
Start with Priorities and Values
It is important to remember that true discerning is between goods, which can make it even harder when we see the virtue in multiple choices but also recognize that each yes comes at the expense of time and energy that impacts how well we can show up and be present in other aspects of life. As a result, priorities based on values are critical. A former spiritual director helped me to recognize that proper prioritization in my life would flow as #1) relationship with God, #2) My husband and children, #3) career, and #4) ministry/service. He made the critical distinction that #4 was not the same as #1, a line that had been blurred in my mind and was making it challenging to consider when to press on vs. when to let go.
Boundaries: Clarity in Limits
Once we have a clear picture of values-based priorities, it helps facilitate the process of setting and maintaining boundaries. We recognize our own limitations and then convey and act in alignment with the boundaries we have set. It helps us to recognize when we or someone else begins to cross those established boundaries and it is time to re-establish or express the necessary boundaries. When doing so, I have learned to resist the urge to apologize. Instead, by praying through what I am committing to, what I am letting go of and why, I am able to convey my boundaries with confidence. It especially helps to understand how what I am saying no to allows me to better serve within the commitments I am saying yes to.
Growth in Humility in the Face of Expectations and Perceptions of Others
Despite having confidence, it can still be challenging when our discernment process has unfolded differently than the choices that others within our professional communities are making. At times, it can prompt a sense of shaking the confidence established or wondering whether we are really investing enough. Seeing the beauty of the virtue of humility has supported my ability to re-establish confidence.
The litany of humility has several lines that nurture growth by fostering freedom from the way pride can get in the way, such as:
- From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Lord.
- From the desire of being praised, deliver me, O Lord.
- From the desire of being approved, deliver me, O Lord.
- From the desire of being understood, deliver me, O Lord.
- From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, O Lord.
- That others may be esteemed more than I, Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
- That others may be praised and I go unnoticed, Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
When helping me to navigate several layers of my process, my former spiritual director told me that I can’t expect others to understand my values. This was a critical piece of advice because I recognized my desire to be understood.
Recognizing and Acknowledging that Others Will Make Choices Based on their Values, Priorities, and Where They are At in Their Journeys
I remember clearly a night that I was walking down the hall in our office space and in the sheer stress on the face of a colleague, I could see a version of myself from not too long before. It affirmed why I needed to make the choices I had been because it was not healthy for myself or my family to continue as I had been. Yet, it also sparked a desire to alleviate the suffering of another. I desired for my colleague to also break free from some of the stress-provoking layers. Nonetheless, with time, I realized that others will make choices based on a different value set, and it is important to allow space for them to make choices and have their own journeys. However, it is also critical that I do not allow the adverse impact of their choices to make me feel guilty, prompt me to do more than I had discerned was healthy for me, or sacrifice my own boundaries for the sake of alleviating the consequences of boundaries they had chosen to not set for themselves.
Intentional Simplification & Gratitude
A key component of my journey has been to have clarity in what is actually required of me in my career vs. what is an extra that I can choose to do. I have also recognized the value of knowing where there is flexibility within what is required and how that provides space to streamline and simplify. During this season of my journey my spiritual director talked to me about why it seemed to make sense for me to simplify as I shared different tensions between career and family.
I had been mourning the loss of needing to let go of something that I had clung fast to and that did not unfold as I had hoped it would. Even when we know it is good, letting go is still hard. At one point, I let my spiritual director know that I was following through with my conviction to be grateful but that I was recognizing many thoughts creeping in to the end of my thoughts, “I am grateful for ___, but ___ would have been better.” He reminded me that gratitude is for what is, not what could be or should be and that phrase has been an anchor as I continue to navigate praying through the layers of my life over time.
This helped me to move forward with gratitude, but I encountered another challenge. I had thought that letting go would greatly alleviate some challenges with needing to have enough time and energy for my family, but I still felt stretched. Additional stripping away was needed, even though I was still processing what I had already “lost.”
The process towards simplification was painful, but I began to focus on the fact that I still had access to daily Mass (and so much more). Even if I only had regular access to the Eucharist, that was enough. Around that time, as I received the Eucharist one day, the prayer from benediction for Adoration came to mind, “You have given them Bread from heaven, having all sweetness within it.”
Inspired by that moment, I still have posted on my office door, “Simplify to reveal the beauty contained within,” a reminder that I could strip down career obligations, resulting in an ability to better appreciate the beauty of what remained. I acknowledged how the role of fragmentation, sparked from too many yeses that were not necessary, led to stress and lower quality in my curriculum development and attention to students – aspects of my career that I highly value. All choices that lead to greater satisfaction at work by being able to invest in quality and alleviate stress in turn help me to be more present in my primary vocation as a wife and mom, while still having a fulfilling career to support my family’s needs.
Copyright 2021 Amanda Villagómez // Photo by Hector J. Rivas on Unsplash