I’m still shocked that I went to Kuala Lumpur for 48 hours. On every level, this trip made no sense: My husband was in the U.S., literally as far from our home in Bangkok as a person could be. We have two adolescent boys: Only once in their lives have I gone out of town when their dad was already gone, and I only allowed myself that trip because…
a) I’d been invited to the White House
b) It was a work trip I’d prepared for all year
and c) I was only going to be a three-hour drive away from my kids.
This trip was none of those things, at least at the outset. (And it definitely didn’t involve Prince Harry, seen photobombing at left.)
Beyond the obvious roadblock of childcare, this Kuala Lumpur trip also made no sense because I’m a freelance writer. Any hours I spend not working are hours I’m not getting paid. And right now I’m working on launching a business, so I often use the nights when my husband is away to tackle that. Not the time to take an impromptu vacation, even for two days.
But one of my oldest and best friends had written me to say she’d be in KL on business for just a few of days, and wasn’t that really close to Bangkok?
More than a decade ago, she wrote me a similar e-mail when I lived in Beijing.
“I’m going to be in Tokyo for a few days,” she said back then, and my eyes lit up reading the message. At the time, I had a new baby. And a job. And my husband had to travel unpredictably for work, sometimes to places like Afghanistan or Iraq. And Tokyo is a really expensive place.
I really couldn’t go, I told her. It just wasn’t a good time.
It’s taken me all the intervening years to realize that if a working mother waits until it’s a good time to take a trip purely for herself, she will never go.
SHE WILL NEVER GO.
Because it’s never a good time. There are never enough spare hours. There are always more reasons to stay home than to go. She’ll always say no.
Isaid no to all kinds of things for more than a decade. It took me that long to start really making sense of motherhood. I’m sure a lot of other women got there faster than I did, but that’s OK: Lately I’ve been celebrating my arrival, belated as it might be. Finally, I’ve become a woman who works around the reasons and finds a way to say “yes.”
Understand: I’m not suggesting you abandon all responsibility, waste a ton of money and leave your responsibilities blowing in the wind.
But this time, I said yes to the impractical trip first, then I addressed each of the roadblocks: career, budget, childcare, time pressure. I came up with a story I could report from Kuala Lumpur and pitched it to an editor, making the trip profitable instead of costly. Then I asked a friend I trust to watch the kids and paid her for that work. To tackle the time pressure of being away from my business launch project, I made sure I discussed the business idea with the new friend I flew down with (herself the owner of a creative small business) and the old friend who’d invited me (a businesswoman with a ton of experience managing projects).
That’s how I ended up eating fragrant satay with wickedly good dipping sauce at the Shangri-la hotel in Malaysia’s capital last Friday afternoon. And it’s how I ended up sipping an perfectly balanced “bourbon martini” (which isn’t a real martini, I know) at a bar on the 57th floor of a building in the Petronas Towers complex, while reveling in the dizzying bird’s-eye view you see here.
Everyone’s life has different details, I know. Another woman will have different challenges, different opportunities and different solutions for the roadblocks to face. I’m really grateful for the opportunities my work can lead to and the friends who invite me to visit remarkable places (and often crash in their hotel rooms).
But for a great many of us, there are ways to make impractical opportunities at least slightly more practical. You just have to commit first to actually going, then labor to figure out how to make it work. Often the answer comes from asking other women for help and discussing concrete ways to return the favor so they can say “yes” to their own opportunities.
This is my new approach, and I’m determined to make it a regular habit. The best way to build a new habit is to reinforce it, so here goes: I have another friend who is planning a work trip to Nepal next month. She mentioned that she’s up for having a few friends meet her in Kathmandu to spend a few days in the shadow of the Himalayas.
It’s another wildly impractical time for our family. I said “yes” anyway. Found the cheapest possible ticket and didn’t let the reasons to say no stop me. The friend I’ll be traveling with is in her 20′s, not married and without kids. So of course, she can do this. But you know what? So can I.
Grabbing opportunities for yourself when you’re a working mother isn’t smooth or easy or practical, and it’s often uncomfortably guilt-inducing. But also it’s now or never.
I choose now.