I was still young in my career, working long, hard hours at a big PR agency. I traveled and had cool clients. I had big plans for myself. I wanted to be a VP by age 30. Just because, really. I was ambitious and determined to succeed. I was also married…to a wonderful man. A man who is also talented and ambitious so he knows what it means to have goals. But, this is what happened on the phone call.
My husband called my office one day. I have no idea what the first few minutes of the conversation were like, but I am sure I was gruff and hurried and preoccupied. My husband, always upbeat and positive, resolutely and calmly stopped me and said, “You know what. I don’t think I am going to call you any more at work. I can’t stand talking to you during the day and the way you are.”
Excuse me??? Right, excuse ME. Those words stopped me cold. Changed my path and opened my eyes. Just who in the hell had I become?? The man I loved the most HATED talking to me?
Looking around I realized most of the people around me had lives I never wanted as my own. So what if they had certain titles at a big agency. They had marriages that were falling apart, children they didn’t see and a distorted view of reality. So I had to ask myself, was there really a point to wanting to be a VP by the age of 30?
Over a series of days and weeks and months, I went through what I call my “quarter life crisis” as I was too young for the mid-life one. I started to question the purpose for my life and what was truly important. I’d always had a strong faith, family values and a desire to make a difference, but I wasn’t living.
So, I cried. A lot. I talked to my husband and apologized. I talked to my parents and my pastor. I quit the agency and went to work at a non-profit (that alone could be an entire blog post. J). I examined my life goals and the reasons for them. And began to live a different way.
Today, I live with a funeral view. That could sound creepy and depressing, so let me explain. My father has a degree in funeral home sciences. My mom is a nurse. I have worked in the cancer space for nearly a decade. I know death. I know funerals. I know that life is a journey and not a single one of us knows the hour or minute of when our journey will end. But we all get a journey. I want my journey to count. I want my life to matter.
Thus, my funeral principle. Am I living my life so that at my funeral one day, the people I love and respect and cherish (it’s okay if only a few are there…the goal isn’t to be adored by masses) will stand up and say: she was a great mom; she was a great wife/partner; she was a great friend; and she made a difference in this world?
In that same, hard agency world, it wasn’t all bad. I did get some great advice: “You will never be the perfect wife, mother and executive all at the same time.” You have to choose in the moment which one you will aim to be. Some days are good ones where I can hit a high note in all three categories, but essentially, the advice is right. I cannot do it all perfectly all the time. I have to DECIDE.
That is where the funeral principle comes in for me. When I left the agency world and went to non-profit, it’s because I want to make a difference in this world. Today, I work tirelessly to help find cures and save children from childhood cancer. It’s equal parts amazing and inspiring and heartbreaking. But, it’s not all I do.
In order to do my best work, I have decided that I have to be the best me. The best of me means understanding that I am child of God and he has a plan for my life. And, boy does that shape my everyday (that is why we picked up and moved to Memphis nearly three years ago – God had plans for us here!).
The best of me means being the best mom and wife I can be. I have quickly learned that all other things can fade. I am all right in the world if my family is all right (trust me, fear of losing them is in my mind constantly given the work I do). I leave work at 5 p.m. on most days to pick up my children, make dinner as a family and put them in to bed. My husband and I read a devotional together before bed (centers us and allows us to reflect on our blessings and how we can grow as people). It doesn’t mean I don’t work long hours. I do. But I do try to stop and be present in those moments then work later. Those moments cannot be replaced.
And, the best of me means truly taking care of me. So I run (thanks to an awesome coach who taught me to love running). I spend time with amazing friends. I travel.
I try to live each day in gratitude for all the moments of the journey so that while my legacy is discussed at my funeral, I am humbly standing before my God and he is hopefully saying, “well done…good effort…my good and faithful servant.” I don’t always get it right, but I’m trying.
Emily Callahan is a woman of faith, mom, wife, avid runner, and lover of great food (hence the running) and travel. Professionally, she is the Chief Marketing Officer for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She believes that each day is a gift and she works hard to treasure the moments with her precious kids (10 months and 3 years), her family and the mission of St. Jude that she serves.