Before the first guy I was ever truly in love with asked me to make a choice that would break my heart, I believed I had it all.
I was 26 years old and I was living in a tiny apartment in New York City that rested between an always-open pizza shop and a public library. I was working full time at a tech startup that kept me busy between the hours of 9 and 5, but also allowed me the freedom to have a life outside of work. I used that freedom to start my own business, which practically took off overnight before I was able to figure out packages and prices, and even branding. But I loved being the CEO of chaos.
I woke up at 6 a.m. and worked on my side hustle until it was time to zip up a dress and head to the office of my paycheck job. I came home at 6 p.m., put on my pajamas and worked until my eyes collapsed or my computer battery died. On the weekend, I sat my butt down in a coffee shop until an employee announced last call and swept me out of the place.
At that time, I also had a boyfriend. He was a long-distance on-again, off-again boyfriend, but he was someone I loved dearly. He was an anchor in my life before I found a home and a job in New York City and he was someone I wanted to spend my life with.
I saw him whenever I had a chance. When I could get time off work and when I could manage taking a break from building my side hustle, one of us would drain our airline miles and fly across the country to be by the other’s side.
A lot of our fights started because I’d spend too much time checking my emails, writing business strategies and doing research. My mind was constantly running through Excel spreadsheets and mentally checking off to-do lists.
I was a workaholic, but I was happy. I loved being busy and having too much on my plate. I believed I was the queen of juggling it all without letting any of the balls hit the floor.
But my boyfriend didn’t believe any of that. He didn’t like that I could only chat on the phone for 30 minutes a day or that I was constantly checking emails or taking phone calls when we were taking strolls around Central Park. He didn’t like that I worked two jobs and took on freelance writing gigs when I had some free time. He didn’t like, as he said multiple times, that my main hobby wasn’t him.
So about two years into our rendezvous of a relationship, he sat me down and told me that I had to make a decision. He asked me to either quit my side hustle or quit our relationship.
I remember my mouth dropping practically to the floor. My eyes bulged so far out of their sockets, I probably looked like a cartoon character. I was completely and utterly shocked.
Why did I have to choose? Why couldn’t I have it all? Why couldn’t he just be along for this ride, even though the ride was at times stressful and sleepless? I was in love with my career and I was in love with him. Why, I begged and I pleaded with him, couldn’t I love both?
I felt my heart expand and then sink down to my belly button. Sure, I could have tried harder to have a work-life balance, but he could have tried to be more supportive too. It was in that moment, with him waiting for me to answer that question, that I realized the answer was obvious.
Maybe love makes you blind, but your career makes you open-eyed and hungry. I guess I liked — no I loved — that feeling more than I loved him.
I looked him in the eyes and told him that he had to pick that question or me.
He rolled his eyes, tied his muddy shoelaces and told me I’d regret picking my career. I never once have.