Is Your Career Haunted By Ghosts?

My friend slid into the seat next to me.
"I'm out of money," she said. "It's been a year and I'm still not working."
"Let me see your resume," I offered. She pushed it over.
"There's nothing wrong with you."
"Well, that's kind." She started laughing.
"So I don't understand why you're not working."
And as she started to talk, I learned why.
"My daughter is still with that guy, up in New York," she said.
"Oh no. Not that bad guy."
"Yes. He's in prison. And she won't come home."
"Did she have kids with him or something?" I asked.
"That is crazy," responded. And thought, If there is nothing tying her to this criminal, why is she running to be with him?
My friend sat back in the chair.
"You look tired," I said.
"I am."
"You worry about her a lot."
And then I said, "Are you holding yourself back as a way of saving her?"
Her jaw fell a little and her eyes went open, wide. She started crying. I felt bad for her but it was like I was frozen to my seat, and only my mouth would work.
"You were so full of joy when we talked about your business last year. But you won't give yourself permission to do it, unless she comes home first so you can help her."
"Yes," she quietly said. "That's right."
"You have a silent contract with your daughter," I said. "You save her and then you get to live."
"I worked so hard to save her from the neighborhood," she said. "I got her scholarships, I put her in a good school, I took out student loans for her. I did everything..."
Her voice trailed off and I knew she was thinking to end that sentence " that she wouldn't end up like me at her age."
"You aren't helping her by doing this," I said. "You're making it even worse."
"I know it. I feel what you are saying."
I could feel my heart breaking. I knew exactly what she was feeling because I had felt the same way a million times, myself.
I remember that I was very close to my mother, as a child. I could sense that she led an unhappy existence. And I'd reassure her, "I'll never leave you, Mommy. Don't worry I'll take care of you all my life."
When I met my husband it was horrible. It was the most natural and normal thing in the world for a young woman to get married. But I felt like a betrayer of the person I always had loved most in the world.
Of course I did get married, and had children. Then somehow the guilt was transferred onto the family. I couldn't live my life, it seemed - couldn't take a single step forward - unless every aspect of their minds and bodies was 100% kosher.
My career - never a job for me, but a calling - always waited until late at night when they were sleeping, or early morning when my husband was doing a jog. It was unquestioned that my feelings and needs not only came last, but were literally mortgaged to the well-being of everybody else in my orbit.
So I understood my friend's feelings well. So well in fact that my throat choked up and I teared for her, with her. I was in her brain, and it hurt to see how messed up she was.
Because my friend had no more money left.
"I want to tell you something," I said. I felt scared inside. I hadn't seen her for so long, was I entitled to give so much advice?
"Yeah." She seemed to want to hear it, but maybe she didn't. And there was no good way to let this out.
"Your emotional strategy is only making things worse."
"What do you mean?"
"On some cosmic level, your daughter senses that you are holding on to her, hovering around, and interfering with her journey toward freedom. As long as you do that, she's gonna keep doing stupid things." Self-destructive, I was thinking.
"And you don't need to look for yet another routine job. It doesn't just take up your time, it takes the energy and joy right out of your life." A substitute for your runaway daughter, I thought.
"You're right," she said, shifting around in her seat. "You said it." It was funny, she looked so happy right then. Her eyes were dancing.
"The best thing you can do is pursue your business," I said. "You love it and the people love you. You know what you are doing."
I had to say it again. I was talking to her, but I was also talking to myself.
"Just get out of your own way. The debt is over, the past is gone. Let yourself succeed already!"
We chit-chatted a little more, but it was nonsense and we both knew it. The business of the day was done. We got up and paid the bill and walked out of there.
And I knew that I would never see her again.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by U.S. Army Africa via Flickr; no endorsement expressed or implied.