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In 10 years, the fact that I worked late (or not) would be irrelevant. My career would be someplace I couldn't foresee. The babysitter would be working on Wall Street. And my kids would love or hate me for reasons much bigger than one late night at the office.

And so I stayed without flinching. I got my gold star at work, and the home-front grumbles faded as anticipated.

The second time I used 10-10-10, the ante was higher. I'd been asked to run a Saturday meeting for the company's executives—a big deal in terms of exposure. Unfortunately, the meeting fell on the same day my son went for his junior black belt in karate, a test that was four grueling years in the making.

Again, I ran through the time frames.

In 10 minutes, both choices stank. My son would be devastated. I could picture his sweet face all screwed up and turning pink as he fought back tears; he was the kind of kid who got sad, not mad. My boss obviously wouldn't cry, but her disappointment would surely be palpable.

In 10 months, I figured, the pain would be buried. Why? Because I would shovel frantically to make it so. If I attended the off-site, I would love my son extravagantly in the months that followed, spoil him with my attention, and apologize until he could stand it no more. If I didn't go, I would pull the same kind of performance at work, with my boss at the receiving end.

But 10 years...there was the problem. My kids would be gone and my career at full-throttle, whether I had gotten one promotion or not. But on some visceral level, my son would still know that I had chosen to miss one of the seminal events of his life for my own advancement.

That was damage I could never undo.

So I skipped the off-site. And late that Saturday afternoon, I cheered as my son received his black belt, his face pink as he tried to hold back tears.

About a year later, 10-10-10 changed my life.

Like many marriages, mine took a long time to come apart. The stakes of doing something—that is, ending it for real—seemed unbearably high: the children, the friends, the house, the backyard barbecues. And so we waited, and waited, for something to unfreeze us—a decision, one way or another.

One spring morning, I stole away from work and family, and hiked to the top of a mountain about an hour north of Boston. I needed the time and silence to work this tangled problem through. The 10-minute question came first, and it was painfully easy to answer—divorce meant chaos and despair all around. In 10 months, the mess would surely be worse, what with the upheaval, and lawyers, too. All I could think was, "Awful, awful, awfulness—not just in 10 months, in 20, and maybe more." In 10 years, though—in 10 wonderful years—we would have our lives back, of that I was certain. Different lives, but honest ones, free of unhappiness, uncertainty, and pretending.

That night, after a long talk about how things would unfold over the coming days, months, and years, my husband and I agreed we'd found a shared reason—and a road map—to say goodbye.

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