This One’s For Me

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About the time I was a junior in college and really in the thick of it all – I had (as most 20-year-old girls do) a meltdown. Financial Management, International Finance, Export Marketing, Application of Quantitative Methods… these classes had me thinking and speaking in numbers, in stress and in the realization that I’d chosen my major based on my parent’s influence and everyone else’s two cents. “Get a business degree!” They said. “You’ll be so versatile!” They claimed. “You’ll have your choice of industry!” They chimed. Never mind that I’d spent my high school years in student government, the school newspaper, peddling through advanced english and history, all while avoiding math and science with every fiber of my being. Let’s just ignore that blatant pattern of strengths…

I remember coming home in tears to find my dad in his TV chair, enjoying some down time after a long day’s work. He looked up at me and in his “tough love” tone asked, “What’s the matter?” I then proceeded to explain in great, 20-year-old dramatic detail how much I hated my classes. How I regretted my choice of major, but it was too late to backtrack and start over with something new. How my life would now be filled with a stockpile of topical conversations and work assignments I would despise. My tirade ended in a desperate cry of “I just want to be happy.”

My father stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. What came out of his mouth next were words I’d live and die by through every tough situation I’d encounter over the next decade. “Happy?!” He asked (rhetorically). “Stefanie, I didn’t raise you to be happy. I raised you to be successful.”

And there it was. And there I was. I earned that International Business degree and followed it up with a master’s degree in HR Development. I worked endless hours through both programs and at a youthful 26, 4 years into my current, mindless corporate job; I hit a (proverbial) brick wall. I was done. I was spent. I was done and spent with my job, my city, my “party hard and spend every penny you’ve made because “stuff” is the only consolation to a job and life you currently hate”. So I quit. I walked away from a salary, benefits, and any sense of security and relocated to the west coast. My father’s only daughter just quit her steady job and was moving 3000 miles away without a single long-term plan. As you can imagine, he was less than pleased.

I’ll spare you the details of his anger, disappointment and choice in words as well as the heartbreak I felt going against his wishes for my life. Instead I’ll tell you that lot happened over the course of the next year. I picked up a freelance gig, which led to a job offer as Editor-In-Chief of a startup magazine. A good friend, who happened to be a successful marketing consultant approached me and asked if I’d like to hone my marketing skills and help out with a few projects. A nightlife production company used my writing skills to expand their social media strategy. Dad checked in with me professionally every so often, making sure I was paying my bills, sometimes subtly reminding me of how nice it would be to have a set salary. Then, on the brink of last year’s holiday season, he redirected his relentless energy to something that would become much more important than my career choice: Stage 4 colon cancer.

The freelance line of work that was just barely paying my bills, the risk of quitting a secure job, the battles with my father on the “would be’s, could be’s and should be’s” would be no match for the privilege I now had. The privilege of being by my dad’s side everyday as he embarked on a scary journey of cancer-fighting extremes. Over time, his criticism turned into curiosity, his preferences into suggestions and his arrogance into wisdom I would begin using in my every day professional dealings. After 8 months of intensive treatment, his health reached a relatively stable point, which allowed me to return to my west coast life. What the future holds, neither of us know.

But for now, here I am. Daughter of a stage 4 colon cancer patient, skinny as he’s ever been, but beaming at his only daughter, “who can work from anywhere, anytime and come home to see us whenever she wants.” My father, who after a long day of waiting for me to get off a plane, always asks the same question as soon as my mom walks out of a room, “So how are you? Are you happy?”

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