Athlete Moms: Worth the Risk

Although this blog is primarily focused on me as an “Athletemom” and my journey as a runner and triathlete, I’d thought I’d shift subjects a bit to my background as a freelance writer. Because balancing my career, parenting, and training is a constant juggle for me. Here’s how I (sort of) make it work. 

This guy (and his sisters who followed) lived in the Bjorn!More than six years ago, I walked away from a job at a top magazine to pursue a freelance writing career. I was in my late 20s, and disheartened that my passion—the passion that brought me to New York City with dreams of becoming a magazine writer–was being snuffed out with each passing day. The particular job, though not without its perks, was stifling me.  I needed an out. 

The seed of freelancing was planted in my head when I was just an intern. An editor whom I greatly admired would regale me with tales of her adventurous freelancing career—interviewing celebrities, traveling around the world, going on epic adventures and then getting to write about it all with a huge byline in a major magazine. It seemed so glamorous to me. So out of reach. Something I’d do much later in my career, once I’d taken the appropriate, expected path in the magazine industry. 

But as the frustration with my job built, that seed began to take root. Suddenly, it seemed like a feasible career option. I’m sure I wouldn’t be so emboldened today to take a less conventional, more circuitous route to my goal. Now married and with kids, I am much more cautious about my decisions, for obvious reasons. But back then…back in the carefree, newly-married, kid-free days…I shrugged off the What Ifs. If things fell through, I told myself, I’d just get another staff job.  But I never did. Instead, I soon picked up a different title all together: Mom.

Little E in his arm-stabilizing wrap. As if being a first-time mom isn't scary enough, throw a baby born with a broken arm in the mix and it's down right horrifying.Eamon was born about a year into my then-fledgling freelance career. The first thought I had when I found out I was pregnant was, No one will ever hire me to write knowing that I have a baby. I was nervous—absurdly so--to tell editors that I was expecting. I was still proving myself, taking on grunt work for little pay, afraid to say no. Although I was ecstatic to become a mom, I felt that being pregnant would put me at a disadvantage, somehow. That I would be shucked off of my editors’ list of go-to writers, that I wouldn’t get those amazing assignments because, all of a sudden, I had responsibilities that extended beyond myself. 

Of course, I was wrong. My editors were thrilled for me. My work picked up, even after that hot, humid August afternoon when I gave birth to a 9 pound, eternally hungry baby born with a broken arm who screamed in pain for his first three weeks on earth. After he healed, after we figured each other out, after I’d emerged from that hazy new mom fog, we got into a groove: I’d pop him into his Baby Bjorn and rock and sway as I tapped on my computer on a countertop. Or, I’d pack up my laptop in the bottom of the stroller, take a long walk until he fell asleep, then roll into a coffee shop to snag a few minutes of writing time. I worked while he slept (though, admittedly, solid shuteye was a rarity for E), I worked while he swatted toys in his little play mat gym, while he sat, memorized, in front of the TV watching Sesame Street. I worked on the weekends, when Mark took him out, sitting by a window and wishing I could be out with them, my little family. But at the same time grateful to have some time to myself. 

Now, two children later, I’m still squeezing it all in. With each additional child, the challenges have increased, but so have the rewards. Freelancing has served me well: I’ve traveled, met some great people, and have been able to do what I love every single day. It’s also allows me to stay home with my children and to have flexibility to swim, bike, and run. But it’s not glamorous. There are late nights, early mornings. There are editors who stop responding; those who take jobs at new publications—and don’t take you with them. There are budget cuts (which cut freelancers out of the equation), there are monstrous assignments that are not worth their fee. I learn huge lessons every year about how much I can take on, how to work within my own limits so I can take steps toward striking that balance between being a working mom and being a stay-at-home mom.

I always tell people that the best thing about being a freelancer is not knowing what’s ahead of me. This time last year I didn’t know I’d be traveling to Alaska to cover a race or writing a children’s nonfiction book series. And I have no idea what’s around the next corner. That variable of the unknown excites me, while I’m sure it sends others into an anxiety-fueled panic. This life, this career, is not for everyone. But right now, it’s for me.

Have you ever taken a big risk with your career? Did it pay off?

 --Sarah