Third Acts

A month or so ago I sat down with a student from my Alma mater to answer a series of questions about my life now and how it was shaped by the college as part of an alumni project. One question she asked sort of rankled. I had just gone into what I did for a living and how it sucked more than forty hours out of every week and how my kids, husband, church, and extended family take most of what’s left. We had even talked about my current focus on writing and trying to publish a novel.

“So do you do any volunteer work in the community?”

I tried to drag my brain away from my first, instinctual reply which was ‘are you sh*&ing me?’ to a more nuanced answer.

I have to carve time (brutally) out of something else that should have it whenever I want to do anything that’s not my core focus. If I want to write, the house does not get cleaned. If I want to meet up with friends after work it means I miss out on time with my kids. No big deal? Every once in a while it’s not only fine, it’s good, it’s necessary. You need socialization, you can’t be a slave to your routine and the kids will survive one night of dad’s cooking.

But as for adding more on top of that. Uh, nope. I learned the very hard lesson that if you don’t say no to something, you’ll give less to everything.

I’d like to save the world. I’d like to take in refugee children. I’d like to advocate for the homeless. I’d like to do something worthwhile, some good in the world. I just don’t have the time.

My very first career was in the non-profit sector and I was all-in. I gave myself to that effort working crazy hours, going to seminars, reading industry publications in my own time. And I burned right out at twenty-six. I’m currently in my second act as a working mom in the very for-profit sector.

My day job is about making things run smoothly for a public company. I ensure that my corner of the company runs as efficiently as possible so we can make as much money as possible. Being profitable is not enough. Even when we beat expectations the assumption is that I will find someway for us to be even more profitable.

Honestly this drive for cash, (none of which is going into my pocket) makes me yearn for a third act. One where I can take everything I’ve learned in the corporate world and rock some non-profit cause. I’ve found myself dreaming up companies I’d like to run; a housing and vocational program for autistic adults aging out at twenty-two, a residential program for moms of young children struggling with mental illness, a work at home program for low-income moms and the list goes on.

Can my third act be social entrepreneur and author or am I asking too much? This publishing gig is full time if you want to be serious about it. How am I supposed to carve out time for it? What goes? I would dearly love to quit my day job and just write. I fantasize about it on the tough days that could pretty much be Dilbert cartoons, but I have to pay the bills.

Getting back to my interviewer and the question that hacked me off, it bugged me because it hit a soft spot. I never intended to spend my life making shareholders rich. Never. It just ended up that way. To this very nice student I explained that I have to honor the responsibilities that God has given me now.

But days later the question still nagged at me. Is it time for a third act? Time to take my 40-60 hours of labor a week and devote it to something that’s not about making a pile of cash for some old white guys? Maybe it is. And maybe I can publish a novel or two while I’m at it. Heck, I’ve given birth to three children, two of those after working all day. I think I can handle this.

And I want it. I want to do something that means something again. I’m all for the nobility of paying the bills, but I’m feeling the call these days and I can’t help but think  it’s time to respond.

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