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Facts and Arguments After fainting at the hair salon, I knew it was time to fire myself from my high-octane career

Michelle Thompson/The Globe and Mail

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

I woke to the sound of buzzing in my ears; a million tiny bees swarming around my head.

As I opened my eyes, the buzzing dissipated and four worried faces and a hair salon swam into view. It was clear I was not waking in my bed. I was sitting in the salon chair, where I had fainted and my very nervous hairstylist was calling the paramedics.

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I waved off the need for paramedics, assuring them that I was fine and just needed to rest and maybe have some orange juice.

Clearly relieved that I was not screaming about a fault of the salon, they let me sit quietly in the chair while I waited for my husband to come and get me (I had at least agreed it would not be a good idea to drive).

As I stared at myself in the salon mirror, quietly sipping my juice, I reflected on two things: One, thank God they were finished with the colour. That would have been a right mess. Two, something really needed to change in my life if I was fainting in the hair salon on an otherwise lovely Saturday afternoon.

This was for me the tipping point for a life change that is still in progress.

Prior to that September day, I'd been ticking off all the boxes in my structured, middle-class life. Completed undergraduate degree: check. Completed graduate degree in business: check. Met and married wonderful man: check. Build career that would lead to meeting amazing people, progressively more complex assignments and frequent travel to seemingly sexy destinations: check. Produce two absolutely marvellous kids: check. And so on, until 18 years had passed since I first set foot on campus to begin my undergraduate degree.

It was all moving along at a reasonable pace until I started to have trouble sleeping. I would wake at 3 in the morning thinking about the workday ahead, the to-dos for the kids, the plans, the plans, the plans. But I ignored that warning sign because everyone has things that keep them up, right? I then progressed to grinding my teeth at night, so hard that I actually chipped a tooth in my sleep. Not to worry, I thought. That can be fixed with an ever-so-attractive night guard. Did I mention how wonderful and understanding my husband is?

In retrospect, these troubles were red flags I should have responded to, but when I fainted at the hair salon I had to cry "uncle" and admit something had to change.

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So, what to do? Honestly, the first thing I did was have a minor melodramatic meltdown. But that didn't last long because my personal tolerance for that type of behaviour is pretty low. The next step post-meltdown was to build a plan and this is where I do excel.

I reflected on what I love, where I draw passion, energy and abundance (pardon the lapse into Oprah-speak), and where the bulk of my time was currently spent.

I watched our nanny walk down the street holding the hand of my three-year-old son and six-year old daughter and knew that, while I wasn't sure where the next step was career-wise, I would never regret being with my kids. I realized that while I hugely value supporting and caring for my children, I was spending a disproportionate amount of time on my work.

I could very well keep ticking those boxes, succeeding at the life I was laying out for myself and being rewarded financially, but my life was more than just me, and who would bear the brunt of that decision? I didn't want to look back in 10 years and feel even an ounce of "I wish I had …"

After that, it became a relatively straightforward exercise of figuring things out. My husband and I had to determine whether we had the money to make a career break happen and we had to decide on timing. We trimmed our budget. We won't be doing renovations on our house any time soon and some minor repairs are going to have to wait. Our rusty car won't be replaced unless it completely gives out. There won't be meals out at restaurants – or takeout for that matter. Impulse purchases are a definite no-no. We also became more selective about activities we chose for the kids. Life is about trade-offs and we're okay with these choices. As for timing, I left my job in March. I'd worked with my employer at various companies for 10 years and wanted to give as much lead time as possible.

The only hitch in my plan was getting past my ego and concerns about what others might infer from my decision. Wasn't I supposed to be "leaning in?" What lessons would my daughter take from this choice? I realized I had to let those worries go. I'd never been one to chase position and title, so why would I be concerned about that now?

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That said, I still couldn't fully tell my daughter I was letting go of my career. I said I was taking a break and would try my hand at consulting once her brother starts school full time in September.

"So, you're firing yourself?" was the comment I got at that explanation.

"Essentially, yes."

"Okay. And you'll be picking me up after school now?"

"Yep, that's the plan."

"I love you, Mommy."

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Decision made.

Leah Reilly lives in Toronto.

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