If it stops working for you, stop working for it

My mother worked in the banking industry for over twenty years. A front line teller her entire tenure, she wore heels and skirts pretty much every day, and wasn’t allowed to sit while she served customers 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

I have strong memories of the stress she carried as a result of her job. Sometimes it hit her on the way home from work, and she’d have to pull off the highway to throw up. Sometimes, it bubbled over after she arrived home and found us sprawled on the couch rather than folding laundry or cleaning the kitchen. It wasn’t fun for any of us, and with my dad away for weeks at a time for work, she carried most of the burden. I didn’t appreciate how hard it was for her then, but I certainly do today.

My parents are part of the lost generation, born just before the baby boomers. This demographic has been victim of unfortunate market circumstances their entire adult lives. They’ve weathered lengthy layoffs, high mortgage interest rates, the oil crisis, record unemployment and most recently were some of the hardest hit by the 2008 economic downturn. Yet still, in the midst of all the crises and financial pinches, my mother – one of the most risk adverse, cautious people I know – made a life-altering decision. She quit banking.

I remember my sister and I were shocked. How would we (i.e. our parents) pay the bills? Would we lose the house? Would we wind up on the streets? Unlikely, but the prospects for her were slim (the unemployment rate was high), and the potential for financial disaster was there.

For a while she worked in a retail clothing store. She sold Mary Kay. She did in-home market research. And then, she found her bliss – leveraging her tremendous relationship-building skills and empathy to help children with disabilities and their families, and today, doing the same with the elderly.

My mother is the poster child for ‘if it stops working for you, stop working for it.’ She walked away, despite the real risks, and found happiness and stability in a space she loves and still works in today.

We can all stand to learn a thing or two from her.