My wife called me tonight, quiet on the phone, for a while, until it all came rushing out. “I’m not worth anything”, she said softly, and I knew tears were streaming down her face, her hands surely clutching the phone as she sobbed. I listened from 300 miles away in my apartment in New York City, a fan whirling above me in the late August heat, not knowing what to say. All her friends and professional colleagues knew her as a poised, successful, competent, and vibrant woman, but on this day, it all became too much.
My professional goals led me to take a job in Los Angeles in 2003, and since then, I have been on the road most of the time, flying home several times a month to spend time together. Even living in New York, a one-hour flight from Portland, Maine, I might as well have been halfway across the world for the amount of physical comfort I could provide to her. Through her sobs, she said she was a failure, couldn’t make her business succeed like she wanted, couldn’t make enough money to fix the house, couldn’t get through to that freshman girl trying to run three miles in a body that was changing before her eyes, and that she must be stupid not to be able to manage everything on her plate. That, no matter how hard she prepared, no matter how much she gave, she just wasn’t making any headway. This from a woman who has run her own successful language school in a small seaside town on the coast of Maine for 15 years, managing 12 language instructors, serving as the receptionist, teacher, sales team, marketing manager, chief operating officer, and president; this from a woman who spends 30 hours a week coaching an elite high school girls cross country and track team year round for less than $10,000 a year; this from a woman who teaches French every semester at Bowdoin college; and this from a woman who still manages to run 40-50 miles a week to stay in shape.
She vented for a while, and I so wanted to tell her just stop running her business, focus on her love of teaching and coaching, and lessen the load on her time so she could breath a little. But one of the things I have learned over the years is the importance of listening. As she spoke to me across the miles, I had open, in front of me, More.com’s website, and I spoke to her of the shared bond amongst the readers, the pressures of life, multi-tasking, and the importance of accepting, and embracing, a spirit of “reinvention”.
She called me later, her voice weary with sleep, to wish me good night. I told her I loved her, that she would have good dreams, and wake up refreshed. She was asleep before we hung up, I’m sure, hoping to have a good rest before going for a ten mile run the next morning at 6 am.
The city that never sleeps is now fairly quiet, and I sit alone, wondering what a husband says to a woman like this, like all women, who feel like they don’t have the time to reinvent themselves; they don’t have the time to reevaluate their priorities; they don’t always feel appreciated, or perhaps they honestly don’t know how to change things and there simply is no time.
I understand that, and so I guess the best I can do is to tell her I believe in her, she has the power, the talent, and the unbelievable work ethic to do anything she wants. What is she willing to let go? What steps is she willing to take to do something she fears? What does she love about what she does, and what would she like to drop? As her constant, though distant, companion over the years, I know I can’t answer those questions, but I can do something. I can remind her of the unbelievably substantial, potent, and breathtaking impact she has had on the world around her.