I’ve been struggling lately with certainty and steadiness. With our new, lower cost home, we can easily afford all our bills and have disposable income each month on just Jason’s salary. However, I have these nagging thoughts that I should secure another regular, professional job to pay off Jason’s student loans and our mortgage faster. It’s not that we won’t get there, but we could literally achieve those goals in just a couple of years if I went back to a similar level position. On the flip side, I wouldn’t necessarily be pursuing my passion, unless I found a very unique position.

Recently, a job came up on LinkedIn that intrigued me, with a company I admire. I hesitated in putting in an application, because it feels like I’m giving up on my dream of being a professional designer if I were to pursue it. But would I? Isn’t it my dream to be completely debt free, as well? When Jason and I talked about it, he just sighed and said that it was in my nature to want change. Without realizing it, my previous position made me very adaptable to ever-changing projects and challenges, along with a healthy dose of uncertainty and risk (our jobs were “soft money”; i.e. if we didn’t raise money through grants, we likely would be cut). The great part: I’m willing to take big leaps. The bad part: I like to make sweeping changes fairly often.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in securing some early clients after founding Idlewild Design Company, and at least one of my projects will take me a year to complete, as it is a fairly complex historical renovation (my part is mainly oversight, with heavy design work later). Jason feels I need to stay focused on the design business for the next year, and not pursue any other positions. I am torn. Certainly some of the hesitation is rooted in the fear of missing out–less for me, more for my kids. We could do elaborate vacations, private school, expensive clothes, Pottery Barn Kids everything. And that’s when I pause.

Why do I look to others to determine how I need to live my life? The pull of society and social standards is strong, and I don’t want to get sucked into it. I buy a lot of our clothes secondhand, and the kids typically get hand me downs from their cousin (thanks, Riley!) or I go to mega sales like Pass it On. Can anyone tell? No. And yet, it’s not something I really advertise, even though I love it when I can get an awesome deal on quality clothing.

The things I have loved about these past few months are the challenges I have encountered through starting this business, the extra time with my kids while they are still too young to go to school, the flexibility to go to the gym and run errands as I want, and being outside so much more. I have been reading constantly, and learning so much (shout out to Jason, who got me a Kindle and the unlimited subscription for Christmas). I’ve wasted time, too–on Facebook, napping, random living room dance parties, etc.–things I never had time for before.

The parts I haven’t enjoyed: losing the prestige that went along with my former title, losing essentially half of our income (not really because, well, taxes), and not having a fully formed answer for when I am asked the inevitable “what do you do?”. I realize that two out of three of these are rooted in vanity, and the third shouldn’t be considered too much of a hardship when one check at our current income can cover almost every single one of our bills. But there it is, human nature with its unending flaws.

Every year I define a word for my resolution. In 2018, the word is steady. Nothing ground-breaking, no major changes. Just following the path with our ultimate goals for our family in mind. The real trouble now is to determine what path leads to our desired outcome in those goals. Do I stay the course, or explore options to speed up overall freedom? What would you choose?

Emily Behnke

Formerly a high level professional in a scientific organization, Ms. Behnke now owns and operates an organization and design company focused on living well in small spaces.