Four Year Cycles

I always imagined that when I had children, I would take a few years off from paying work to stay at home with my kids. I know that this would be the last choice for many moms, and a financially unfeasible option for others, and so fortunately, this post isn’t about the merits and demerits of how women choose to work once having children. (That’s also just a really tired conversation and the thought of initiating it bores me half to death; truly, what hasn’t already been said about it?!).

Instead, this is a post about how finding out I was pregnant—and considering leaving work—led me to think about cycles of time. 

When I realized I was expecting, did the math and calculated that my due date was situated in January and at the 3.5-year mark of time at my current job, I was shocked by the distaste that I felt at the thought of leaving then. I had the sense that I would be quitting in the middle of things.

This of course begged the question “the middle of what?” Yes, I work at a church that offers the majority of its programming during the academic year, of which January is the middle, and I would hardly be “quitting.” I would give several months’ notice which would leave my boss plenty of time to find someone to take over the programs and projects that I was in the middle of planning and implementing, and would even plan for overlap time to transition the new person. I reasoned myself through these points, but still felt perturbed at the thought of leaving my work then. 

I felt much better as soon as I made the decision, after lots of conversation with my boss and my husband, to take a maternity leave and then return to finish out the program year. At that point, we’d all evaluate how working flexible hours, largely from home, worked for my family and my employer and decide whether I’d continue at my job or leave it. At the point of re-evaluation, I’d have been working at this church for four years. 

Four years. 

Aside from the fact that I value staying open to possibilities and not rushing to make decisions, I felt such relief and satisfaction at the thought of staying at my job for at least this amount of time. Three-and-a-half years felt abrupt and incomplete; four years seemed just right. 

As I considered how differently I felt about this “four-year plan” than I did about the “three-and-a-half-year plan.” I thought about how my entire adult life has been lived in four-year chunks.  After four years in high school I spent four years in college, after which I moved to Boston for four years where I completed a three-year graduate degree and a year-long internship. In each of these four-year cycles, there were distinct periods of feeling new and energized by the freshness, settled and in a groove, and looking towards the future. Having four years to acclimate, develop relationships, try new things, thrive and make plans for the future served me well in high school, in college and in graduate school; and I want at least the same for my first job post graduate school. 

To me, four years isn’t a maximum (I may end up deciding to stay at this job for a decade or more!), but it feels like a necessary minimum. I would no doubt feel differently if circumstances demanded that I move during my first job, if I had an abusive boss or co-workers, if new and irresistible opportunities presented themselves, or if I was bored out of my mind at my current job.  But none of these things are true. I’ve learned and grown so much in the past three years and change, and I want to see at least this first four-year cycle through. 

Time is an interesting thing, because it’s not a concrete object or even a construct with absolute qualities, and yet we (or at least I) experience it in such definitive ways. Nothing officially says that staying at my job for four years is better than staying for 3.5 years, but in my experience, I know that four years will feel more complete and satisfying to me than 3.5 years would.

I suppose the same sort of thing could be said about other areas of our lives: we assign value to certain ideas, labels and concepts, and our experiences are impacted by how we value them.  That’s why it’s important to be clear about what we value (in this case, I value the four-year cycle) and do our best to let our values guide our realities. 

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Teresa lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church and dabbles in hospital chaplaincy. She has a BA in English, a Master’s in Divinity, and a passion for thinking about the intersection of spirituality, self-improvement, and well-being. Her perfect day includes slowly savoring a morning cup of coffee, reading for work and for fun, and receiving snail mail.