“Live Your Purpose.” It’s an easily digestible, hyper-tweetable ism you’ve probably heard or seen everywhere from social media to street art. But what does it actually mean to “live your purpose?” And if a purpose is so easily livable…then why aren’t more people doing it?
Emily Ghosh Harris, founder of SoulMedia and host of The Soul Collective Show, shared with WANT what she notices is missing in the purpose-living process…and some questions we can ask ourselves when we feel stuck in our own way.
We’re all given an important assignment when we’re born: a core purpose around which our life unfolds. And as we learn lessons along the way, we’re meant to give back and share what we learn with the world. Many of us learn some pretty challenging lessons – and we emerge stronger and more in touch with our soul than before.
Why then, when we have a deep sense of knowing that we’re here for a reason and we’re meant to make an impact, do we have such a difficult time discovering and living our purpose?
Is there something holding you back? Look closely. Because the reason you find “living your purpose” so difficult could be that there’s an unfulfilled need or unaddressed wound standing in your way. There’s an existing wound in your history that needs your awareness, compassion and focus so you can transform it, move forward, and fully embrace your life’s assignment.
For me, a big wound that was standing in my way was the need for approval. While I founded my company with a strong vision, purpose and intention to positively impact the world, I noticed that I would keep getting pulled into projects that weren’t in full alignment with our mission.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason I kept getting pulled into these projects (that I knew weren’t a fit) was that I was lacking the courage to unapologetically and authentically express my true desires. I was afraid of judgement and disapproval. This resulted in work that was by many measures “successful”…but felt far from the full actualization of what I knew I was here to be doing. I knew in my soul that in order to live my life’s purpose, I needed to heal a subconscious need to people please and gain approval from others.
Healing can be challenging. Giving yourself the love you never received as a child, or giving yourself permission to follow your calling, can feel nearly impossible.
In order to heal and transform, we must take a closer, honest look at our wounds and ask:
How am I triggered?
How do my insecurities detract from living my true purpose?
How does my fear limit my full potential?
The last question is key. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the world – and yet, sometimes it feels like we can’t get out of our own way. But underneath the fear, we have a deep desire to reach our greatest potential, and an inner knowing of our capacity to expand and shine our light. As Marianne Williamson says:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.”
I knew I needed to give myself the love, approval and permission I was desperately seeking, otherwise I would be constantly distracted and in fear of living and speaking my truth. The only way I could truly fulfill my “assignment” was by looking deeper and finding the courage to be my full self. All of me.
And so instead of looking at the big picture, I started observing the seemingly small ways I was showing up for myself and others. I started asking myself:
Were you present for a friend today?
Did you practice self love?
Did you try your best?
Did you exercise faith instead of doubt?
How did you stay focused on what matters most to you?
How were you patient with yourself and those whom you love the most?
What are you most grateful for today?
What I discovered is that we’re able to show up with vulnerability and authenticity in life when we learn how to embrace, heal, and fully love ourselves. Once we do, it is truly amazing how deeply we can connect to our purpose and to the world around us.
So if you’re in search of your purpose or trying to discover what your assignment is in this lifetime, look at where you may still have a wound that needs healing. Look at where you’re afraid of being seen. Our purpose is innate to us. It’s at the core of who we are. We just need to give ourselves full permission to show up in the world as ourselves.
About Emily Ghosh Harris:
Emily Ghosh Harris is the Founder and CEO of Soul Media, a socially conscious digital media and experiential marketing firm that inspires genuine, authentic connection and engagement. She is the Host of The Soul Collective, a podcast which explores the fears, challenges, joys and triumphs that unite humanity by interviewing individuals who are living authentic and purpose-filled lives. An entrepreneur, author and speaker, Emily Ghosh Harris has used her own personal pain as a catalyst for growth, igniting a curiosity and deep desire to help others navigate past limiting beliefs and common “freedom blockers” to move into greater peace, authenticity and freedom.
The guilt hit me before bed, as most guilty moments do.
Oh my god. I forgot WANT’s four-year anniversary.
My heart sank as I counted back since WANT’s big day had arrived and departed like nothing. One, two, three, four…ten days. TEN. DAYS.
I felt like a parent who had forgotten to put presents under the Christmas tree and it was way past December 25th. How could I have forgotten? Was I a bad business mom? How could I have been so negligent?
These, of course, were just rhetorical questions to fill space and buy time while I digested the gritty truth:
I’d been so caught up in what I WASN’T doing “right” over the last few months of running a business that I had completely ignored what I WAS.
I’d been pushing-pushing-pushing so hard, in hot pursuit, that I’d ignored the rock-solid foundation I’d already built.
I was telling my friend Angela the other day how I felt like I was struggling, and that nothing was coming to fruition “like it should.” She reminded me that in the span of a year, I’d gotten married, moved neighborhoods, transferred locations at my full-time job, QUIT my full-time job, began my first new job in fitness in eight years…and that was only in a year.
Moving across the country was harder on me than I’d like to admit, and I think moving uptown brought a lot of those unexplored feelings up to the front again. Changing neighborhoods in L.A. was no big deal for me – I did it almost every year! – because it was all so familiar. I knew the basics of Los Angeles by heart, and the newness of a neighborhood was simply thrilling to me.
Here, it’s different. The thrill is there, but there’s also a feeling of starting over I never experienced in Los Angeles. A feeling of starting fresh. New network, new connections, new places to meet up and places to be inspired. I didn’t realize it, but the lack of familiarity had been messing with my ability to move forward.
So, when I sat down to write a post commemorating the four-year WANTiversarry, something felt…off. Something I was doing before just hasn’t been present in the last few months. Something that was there for the first three years.
I always talk about how I believe curiosity will save the world. But I also believe it will save your business.
The biggest, boldest lesson I’ve learned in the last four years is to stay curious. When things aren’t going your way, in work and life, what do you do? Do you vent to your friends, over and over? Do you look and see what other people are doing, and try to keep up? Do you go over everything you could be doing BETTER in your mind, let it spiral, and just grind harder? I usually don’t, but for the last few months – maybe even the last whole year – I’ve been doing all those things and more.
Staying curious is the secret to anything worth doing, and worth doing well. Because venting won’t solve anything, keeping up with others won’t be true to your vision, and grinding harder will just burn you out. Curiosity is like a real-life Where’s Waldo book: you devise a strategy around what to look for (red and white stripes – got it! glasses – yes!), get in your zone, and zoom in on that mothereffer.
And that feeling of accomplishment and discovery is what makes you want to turn another page.
Almost TWELVE years ago, I came up with the idea for WANT based on what I needed most in my own life. And FOUR years ago, I (re-)launched WANT based on what I knew others needed, too. I saw that there needed, NEEDED, to be a space where we could go for tips and tools – along with motivation and inspiration – to shift our self-talk patterns in a real, lasting way. I knew, KNEW, that the business of affirmations and mantras worked for some people, but didn’t work for enough of them in the long run. And I got curious as to why that was.
What I found, through talking to others and scouring every popular self-help site and book I could find, was that people weren’t talking about the darkness as useful. If they were, they’d mention it then skirt the issue. I saw that there was nowhere that not only allowed people to feel their feelings fully, but encouraged them to think their thinks and feel their feels, and UNEARTH feelings they didn’t even know they had, and THINK thinks that they’d been avoiding for so long – and THEN, only THEN, gave them ways to move forward fearlessly through it all. Not around it all or past it all. THROUGH it.
Curiosity was the foundation of WANT. And I know it needs to be the foundation of me, too. Curiosity has led me to realize that I am a writer, speaker, and community builder before anything. I come alive in front of an audience, and I LOVE bringing people together to make shift in tandem. Working solo and working online are amazing, and allow for a lot of freedom…but maybe it’s too much freedom.
That freedom can make you go down a rabbit hole that never was meant to serve you. You’ve got to pay the bills, so you think about monetization and you think about partnerships. You see what’s being done, and how it’s being done, and you decode the game you believe you’ve got to play. And let me clarify: monetization and partnerships are not wrong. I think it’s so cool that we’re able to be in control of who we work with and where our revenue comes from! But it’s worth looking at the kind of work YOU’RE doing and the kind of business YOU aim to build.
Curiosity has helped me realize that lately, I’m not doing a lot of the things that fill me up. Things I used to do super-frequently because I knew they were the right things to do. Think live events/panels, creating and executing on an editorial calendar, partnering with smaller brand with the biggest souls, and feeling the joy I’ve felt the last few years instead of searching for it.
And why haven’t I been doing these things? Simple. Imposter syndrome. The more you don’t do things – and the longer the amount of time that passes in between – the more you start to doubt your ability to do them.
Sure, I have some good excuses. A wedding. Multiple job changes. Moving. All the other regular life stuff that’s par for the course when you’re a Highly Sensitive Person and internalize everything. It would be ridiculously easy to place blame and offload onto those excuses. But I know the only thing that’d been getting in my way…is ME.
So going into Year Five (omg), I hereby promise you – and myself – the following.
I, Katie Horwitch….
…Will create workshops and panels for you that help you live fearlessly in your own life – and in turn, help me live fearlessly in mine too. We’re in this together. When I’m fearless – when my fear is less than my faith in myself – it empowers you to be fearless, too. And oh-so-vice-versa.
…Will structure my editorial calendar based on what I KNOW is needed, not what I THINK is popular. Not that I’ve been doing this, but it’s a trap I want to avoid at all costs. When you write about subjective things like emotions – vs objective things, like face masks – the formula is harder to decode. SEO is only going to go so far. You’ve got to trust your gut, big-time, and keep your eyes wide open for the solutions people are craving in their lives. And trust me, I love a good face mask write-up.
…Will – THAT BEING SAID – get back to writing some more content that has stuff in it like face masks. Round-ups are fun to read and fun to write! And I know it’s a strength of mine that I’m able to do them well, and from the heart. I love turning this kind of product-heavy content upside down onto its head and crafting a piece that speaks to how you want to feel, not how you think you should look. Or what you should do. Or ANY should, really.
…Will still pursue what’s not yet materialized, but will shift my focus to encompass the pursuit of enhancing what already HAS materialized. Always reaching for the next-best thing is no way to live. Once you get the thing, once you achieve the stuff, where do you go from there? Pursuit can be an addiction, and goal achievement can be a hit. It’s not a *bad* hit to go after…but make sure your livelihood isn’t attached to whether you achieve the goal or not.
You wanna start a business? Get ready for the wildest ride of your life. Starting, and then building a business that’s purpose and passion based is tough work, but it’s the rightest work you’ll do. Curiosity must be your foundation. Here’s what else I’ve learned.
1 – START SMALL, AND START OFTEN. Marie Forleo likes to say that clarity comes from engagement, not thought. I’d like to add that clarity also comes from starting with what you have, not scrounging for what you don’t. Want to start a podcast but overwhelmed by all the equipment you “need”? Guess what: you don’t need it. I began the WANTcast with a Blue Yeti microphone and GarageBand. I knew how to use GarageBand, but if you don’t, you can attend a 101 course at ANY Apple store, for free. You can also use websites like Zencastr that make production super intuitive. I started WANT by building a website off of what I knew how to do and what kind of content supported my greater vision. I did Marie’s B-Schoolbecause I knew I needed some extra support – and opted for the payment plan because I wasn’t about to go broke for my idea. I sent the site to my entire list of family and friends, and then focused on doing the best writing I could, week after week. It was a schedule I could keep up and it was quality over quantity. Work with what’s available to you, and with what WON’T overwhelm you. Again and again and again.
2 – IT’S OKAY TO HAVE A PASSION. IT’S OKAY TO HAVE A BUSINESS. KNOW WHAT SEPARATES THE TWO (AND WHERE THEY INTERSECT). Someone once told me that if you don’t care about making money, it’s not a business. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but it’s 100% true. Just because you don’t intend to have any sort of financial transaction, though, doesn’t mean you can’t still create impact from it. What separates my passions from my business: the things that don’t fall into the “business” category are things I identify with that I am ALL IN on…except when it comes to the strategy and the industry. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop pursuing my passions. It just means I’m not going to use up all my “strategy energy” for things I don’t want to scale. In the same vein, I don’t believe in the terms Day Job and Side Hustle if you really want to make your passion project into your purpose project. Also read: Down With The Side Hustle, Down With The Day Job,
3 – SUCCESS IS MORE THAN A NUMBERS GAME (AKA: NUMBERS ARE DUMB). We all crave guarantees, clarity, and definition (a reason why extremes are so alluring). Staring at newsletter subscribers, Google Analytics, and Instagram insights can be a welcome validation or a panic-button push, depending on the stats of the day.
In my past life as an editor, part of my job was to be increasingly aware of site and social analytics: how many people showed up to read what you had to say, what kind of “following” competitors had, how much engagement a post got when it went live…stuff like that. It taught me how to look and what to look for. It also taught me to look beyond the numbers: where people were coming from, where they were going to, how they were interacting with one another.
When I launched WANT, it became uber-tempting to define its “success” numerically, because I knew what that game looked like. In order to do X, you must have Y amount of subscribers. If your post/podcast/email gets Z amount of views, that means that A-B-C.
But I started to realize that WANT’s success didn’t work like that. WANT was resonating on a deep level because of the two-way street that was happening:the WANT community was opening their hearts and engaging with not just me, but each other on a personal and vulnerable level. Because of this, podcast guests felt comfortable shining a light into their darkest corners, weekly “posts” morphed into nuanced essays, and together we turned this platform into a movement on a roll.
Some days there are thousands of readers and listeners. Sometimes there are 30. But I’ve realized that while it might matter to people like sponsors or advertisers, those numbers don’t matter to US. They don’t matter to ME. Success is not about calculations, it’s about connection. Also read: Success You Can’t See.
4 – FLIRT WITH YOUR WHATS, GET MARRIED TO YOUR WHYS. There will always be a way to be better at something. But the quest for “better” can eat us alive if that “better”-ness is empty. As an HSP, I get overwhelmed easily – everything from piled-up emails to angry crowds. I also need to watch where and to whom/what I give my energy, because I’m like an empath on ‘roids: I’ll give and give and give until my well is dry, and even then I’ll find some way to empathize and give even when I’m not asked to do so. And the combo of the two? It leaves me with lots of things I tell myself I can be better at.
What’s helped me in these last four years has been committing to a purpose rather than just an action. For example: I receive lots of emails from readers and listeners, sometimes just saying hi, and sometimes asking me very specific questions. The hyper-empath in me wants to answer them all. But not just answer them, give the most groundbreaking answer ever! in my response. What ends up happening? The emails pile up, I get overwhelmed, and inherently feel horrible for what I interpret as letting everyone down. I now know that if I answered everyone’s questions personally and specifically, I would never get anything else done. So I use these questions to inform my writing, my podcast episodes, and the guests I ask to be on. WANT thrives off of your questions – so keep asking. What I’ve learned is that you are far from the only one searching for answers.
In Year Two, I flirted with videos. I ended up producing one and never touching video again. Because it wasn’t something that lit me up. And moreover – it didn’t have a strong WHY attached. Everyone told me how great I am on camera, and how good it would be for WANT’s growth. But it didn’t feel right, and because it didn’t feel right, I couldn’t keep it up. Maybe I will in the future – who knows! If there is a specific service I can offer…if there is a specific problem I can help solve…and video turns out to be a useful way to do it (and it begins to bring me joy), great. Yes, I quoted earlier that “clarity comes from engagement, not thought.” But that engagement has to have at least an inkling of a WHY behind it.
So, WANT, my darling, thank you so much for your patience while I work out some of my own stuff that’s tied to your growth and brilliance. It’s not you, it’s me. I know that sounds like such a line, but it’s true. I’m here for you.
Thank you for being here for me. I vow to reinvest in the JOY of the work, right here, right now.
To curiosity. To whys. To fearlessness. To being the you you know you’re meant to be.
Let’s crush the year ahead.
More of a podcast person? Listen here:
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“Fail,” in all its incarnations, wasn’t a word used often in my house growing up. I’d love to attribute 100% of this to my parents and their excellent leadership skills, but I think a big reason we didn’t use the word because we didn’t use it in school. While kids on tv shows would stress about Straight As and moan if they “flunked” a class, my elementary school worked with an entirely different system:
E = Excellent G = Good S = Satisfactory N = Not Satisfactory
My first real introduction to Failure was in middle school, in seventh grade I remember thinking of how mean that was, to use such a harsh word to describe someone’s work and worth.
But this is usually our first exposure to the concept of failure, right? Not doing well in a class, with a final hard-stop grade at the end telling you so. No second chances, no helpful notes...just a big, red F.
I’m obsessed with words, so I did us the favor of looking up “fail” in the dictionary. What I found was not one, not two, but THIRTEEN definitions of the word. I was going to be all clever in this post and string together some prose turning the definition on its head, but honestly…thirteen????????????
When I switched from the E-N system to an A-F one in seventh grade, I was beyond frustrated. As a star student obsessed with learning, this was just WRONG. A bad grade just means there are things I need to work on! A bad grade just means my work isn’t satisfactory YET!
But that’s not the system I was in anymore. I made up words to coincide with the letters, since that’s what I’d been used to, and it made the transition easier. But the only ones I could think of for D and F were “Dunce” (remember the cone cap kids would wear in Saturday morning cartoons when they acted up in class?) and “Fail.” They became dirty words meant to shame and scare me.
Fear of failure is what stops most of us in our tracks while we’re on our personal quest towards self-actualization. We get hung up on the idea of failure and what we’ve been taught it represents: being less-than, being “the loser,” being robbed of something and left empty-handed. Failure, we’re taught, is a hard stop. And those outdated definitions are what get us stuck, what keep us from being fulfilled, and what make us put limits our own possibilities and potential.
But if I’m reading them right, almost HALF of those thirteen definitions involve something other than a locked door or closed chapter. Definitions like “losing strength,” “falling short,” and, my favorite, “to disappoint the expectations or trust of someone or something.” These aren’t hard stops – these are all fixable. These aren’t red lights – they’re yellow.
Think about the last time you “failed” at something. How did it feel? Try to take out the shame or anger…what are you left with?
A lot of times, failing can feel like flailing. I’vetalked about this before: how being an adult is a graceful flailof grasping for certainty and being at peace with not knowing all the answers.
And so I’d like to propose that most of the things you call FAILURES aren’t really FAILURES at all: They’re FLAILURES.
Because failing can feel like flailing, and flailing means you’re being blown by the wind into your next adventure.
Are there still things that are failures? Of course. But the blanket term “failure,” with all its thirteen-plus definitions, doesn’t apply to every single thing that doesn’t work out. A meme of Jackass-proportions (remember that show??) paired with a big bold Sans Serif EPIC FAIL is not the same as being rejected by a book agent (hello and welcome to my home, so glad you could make it). Red light, yellow light. A fail is a hard stop. A flail keeps going.
Sure, I still get scared of failing – or, rather, the Ghost Worry that I’ll do something to feel ashamed of later. But in the thick of that fear, I remind myself that I’ve got this. I remind myself that I’ve never felt right about something that’s wrong, or wrong about something that’s right. I listen to my gut and I act. I might be too much for some, but I am always just right for me…whatever that looks and feels like, whether I’m aware of it or not. I’m on a very specific path that’s all my own, and those little sparks of fear are signals that I’m about to hit another benchmark.
I just need to let the wind take me there.
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I open my door and walk out into the still-sleeping streets and they close in. The busses plow by and I’m hit with their force. Signing onto Facebook, tweeted out on Twitter. On fitness product placards and grocery story windows and spa practitioners and mega-store outlets.
I know them so well: the claims and calls to change your life.
They make it seem so easy – just sign up and go. Just buy this thing or set this goal, and once it’s yours you’re the You that you want to be. Simple as that.
Honestly, we’re the ones that should be laughed at. We’ve been duped, and it’s at no fault of the companies and corporations. I mean, maybe some fault…but it starts with us. They know where to hit us in our soft spots and seize every opportunity. We WANT change. We’re starved for it, even. They’re just giving us what we ask for.
Why is it, then, that with so many available outlets for change…we’re still endlessly craving it?
There’s this somewhat confusing, somewhat contradictory feeling that comes with big change. It’s excitement, it’s anticipation, it’s bliss…but it’s also a little fear, a muddle of oddity, a dash of discomfort. The contrast can be enough to frighten us away.
And that’s where they get us:
Offering us a place to go when the real steps are too scary.
Working out is too hard? Try this machine.
Eating well is too expensive? Buy this cheap box of massive claims.
Finding love in all the wrong places? Gurl, you totally need a new wardrobe, and also a facial.
Hello, just go to that class 3xs a week and watch your life fall into place! It worked for us, it’ll work for you.
We often associate discomfort with something bad – but what if we’re just displacing our true emotions? Discomfort merely means a state of non-comfort. And sure, sometimes that’s a by-product of a very bad place to be. A place of falseness, lies, of going against who you truly are.
But discomfort can also be the by-product of massive shifts and important changes in motion – the by-product of being affected by them.
To make lasting change, we must allow ourselves to be affected and moved.
We must allow ourselves to feel.
Sure, joining a gym or buying a new pair of jeans can be awesome. But they’re baby steps on the road to lasting change. Supporting players, not leading roles. Going to a spin class for the sake of checking it off your to-do list won’t get you the change you want, attending yoga so you can SAY you did won’t make you FEEL zen, and eating healthy foods for bragging rights won’t get you glowing. You’ve got to surrender yourself to the experience. Because there will be bumps in the road, and they WILL be uncomfortable. But that feeling won’t be because you’re doing something wrong. Nope – it’ll be because you’re breaking new ground on the way to doing everything so very, very right. Breaking through anything is uncomfortable. If you disengage from feeling, you disengage from change.If you slam down on the breaks, you miss the breakthrough.
Ever entered a room or started a conversation and felt an immediate coldness? That is what happens when someone disengages, when someone decides they don’t want to be affected: everything freezes.Connections remain on a surface level, interactions are completely on the outside. No wonder so many of us flip out when we’ve found a new soul-friend or a lustworthy romantic prospect! It’s not that the depth of character is so rare – it’s that too many of us fight against depth or freeze it out. Depth is uncomfy, depth means you can be affected. Depth means you feel things that sometimes will hurt.
But depth is also what warms us up from the inside out. It’s our internal thermostat.
Ready to have your mind blown? Change does not come from something. It comes from all things. The insides, the outsides, the marriage of the two. There is possibility for change everywhere, and you never know for sure where you’ll find it. Allowing yourself to be affected, to be moved, to feel, is to allow yourself permission to move into that change that’s so meant for you.
And so while the bus sign and Newsfeeds and grocery-store windows try as they might, their claims are no substitute for the magic that unfolds when we just open up and feel. We’re fine-tuned on the inside to respond to every effect and affect in a way that’s all our own. Taking a deep, long breath and opening up our insides to our outsides is way more effective than any claim you’ll read.
You don’t need a pill to see a shift. You don’t require rules to make a difference. And just going THROUGH the motions is nothing compared to what happens when you are shaken to the core by the way they make you feel.
Open your doors. This is all yours.
Now go and change your life.
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I’ve always been a sucker for late 90s, early 2000s rom-coms. The soundtracks! The star power! The good person getting the job and winning the man!
(there’s always the man. more on that in a sec.)
I still love me a good rom-com for sentimental reasons. But the most clichéd ones? They’re now rough to watch. Many require you to majorly suspend your disbelief as you watch a completely problematic and unrealistic situation magically work itself out, and many (at least many of the early ones) reinforced a trope created in decades prior that looking, acting, and responding in a very particular way will get you what you want and deserve in life.
My main issue with rom coms when I watch them now, however, is this:
In many of these so-called “girl powered” movies, the storyline follows women positioning themselves as experts in a field, but somehow, they’re unable to tackle the problems they’re so good at solving when those problems hit the closest to home (dating expert, advice columnist, wedding planner…you get the gist). That’s usually when the man – or someone else – comes in and saves her or shows her the light. It’s rare that we’re shown how to move forward fearlessly when shit gets real, and how to do it on our own. And the message is that when darkness or hardship looms, someone or something will swoop in to save us and make us feel worthwhile again.
We need a new model for what to do when it all feels like too much.
You can know your through-line, crush Casual Negativity, and be a pro at shifting your self-talk…when life is going pretty well overall. But what happens when the you-know-what hits the fan, and it keeps hitting the fan? What happens when you’re in major need of a WIN, and that win just isn’t coming your way?
Here are five strategies for when life won’t let up:
1.) Focus on getting to NOW-Normal instead of BACK-To-Normal.
When things suck, we want to make them not-suck. We want to “get back to normal” or “the way things were back then.” THEN, of course, being a time when there were limited obstacles and you felt in control. This is totally expected and totally natural.
However, normal NOW isn’t the same as normal THEN. You’ve got a new normal in the Now.
Instead of trying to force old habits into a new set of circumstances, focus on accepting this new normal – not trying to adjust to make things like “what they were,” but maximizing “how they ARE.” What might have been easy or routine for you before simply might not work as well for your lifestyle right now.
Making lifestyle choices and developing positive habits, then, become like a game. What WILL feel good? What WILL stick? Inthis episode of the WANTcast with Lynn Chen, she tells us that when her father died and she was too overcome with grief to do anything, she treated her life like she was recovering from amnesia. Trying things out, from foods to workouts, to see what resonated and what didn’t. ZERO pressure to stick with one thing, and ZERO ties to what once worked.
When life feels the most challenging, do like Lynn and do a scavenger hunt to find your Now-Normal. If something doesn’t really stick, you have full permission to move on. If there’s a spark there, try it again. And again. And again.
I am NOTHING for ANYONE if I am not GROUNDING for myself. And so when shit starts to hit the fan – or when everything, good or not-so-good, feels like it’s coming at me all at once – I schedule what’s called “white space.” It’s time that is all your own, that you don’t plan to fill and don’t schedule over. It’s both everything and nothingness.
It can be an hour. It can be three minutes. It doesn’t need to be formalized “meditation.” It doesn’t need to be productive OR unproductive. But I’ve learned that white space time, time that belongs to ME and ME ALONE, time that’s like the “white space” on a canvas – TBD, no paint, open to possibility – is a deal maker or breaker for me. If I don’t take time to reconnect to myself with no external stimuli or things to answer to, and don’t take time when I need it most, I end up going off the rails.
After I wrote about my Instgram bully, I had many people write to me privately about their experiences with harassment and, specifically, others telling them to feel compassion for their bully as a coping mechanism. And how fucking INFURIATING that can be. For me, it’s moments like these that remind me why I practice white-space-moments on the regular. So that when shit gets real…when I’m hurt, when I’m highly emotionally triggered…I can pause even for a SECOND and remember who the F I am and what the F I stand for.Without anyone telling me who I am or what I SHOULD BE. It’s in these moments, these seemingly-millisecond moments, I’m able to do the thing that’s most proactive, not reactive (see last point). That I’m able to be the way I know I’m meant to be, not the way someone else told me I should respond.
I practice those white-space moments not for the moments I’m necessarily in. But for the moments in the future when I’ll need them most. It’s sunglasses in the subway and walking back and forth outside before I go and join the party. It’s hiding in the bathroom before networking not because I’m scared but because I can’t bear to not be myself. It’s what I do when the stakes are low so I know where to go when the stakes are high. It’s not the most sexy or socially acceptable thing but it’s what keeps me going. It’s not easy work, but it sure is right.
4.) Nix the one-sided emotional labor and replace it with a two-sided emotional investment.
This one is maybe the most profound (and hardest) for me. Emotional labor is what it sounds like: doing the emotional work to make something function. It’s actually a good thing, but becomes dangerous when it is ridiculously one-sided…and in which case, it’s usually the women who are doing the work.
Emotional labor can look like being the one who is constantly dissecting your friend’s toxic relationships and convincing them to see the light (then they do it again and you do it again, and so on and so forth). Emotional labor can look like putting on a happy face for your partner and “being a light” for them as they continuously stew in their own troubles. Emotional labor can mean decoding the unspoken subtext at work so that everyone can actually get things done. Emotional labor is brushing off micro-aggressions because they’re “not really that big” and “not really worth it” andexcusing your bully in the name of “compassion.” Emotional labor is why it’s so exhausting to be a barista or a server or in the service/hospitality industry in any capacity: you’re soaking in the emotions of each and every customer, many of whom are taking their daily aggravations out on you. It’s your job to keep the peace and “put a smile on their face.”
If you’re in the service/hospitality industry, there are going to be parts of one-sided emotional labor that are unavoidable – you need to figure out your own personal boundaries, makes, and breaks. But let’s talk outside of those instances.
Emotional labor is taxing, and gives all your good stuff to others while leaving zilch for yourself. You can’t drink from an empty well, so to speak. And it’s when we’re feeling empty, depleted, and emotionally dehydrated that things turn really dark.
An emotional INVESTMENT, however, is different. By definition, an investment is “an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.” Start-ups present investors with data, proof points, and projections for a reason: to let them know their money isn’t going to waste and their investment won’t make them go bankrupt.
With an emotional investment, if you’re devoting your emotional time, effort, and energy to something, you’re going to see a return. Emotional investments might not be two-ways in the moment, but you’ve got proof points that when you need it, you’ll be getting that investment back in your direction. That’s why investors don’t just pour money into companies that sound cool, and why you shouldn’t invest in people who aren’t going to ever give back to you. That’s not being a friend. That’s being a savior, and dehydrating and bankrupting yourself of your most valuable assets.
When you’re feeling like the bad stuff won’t stop, immediately cut ties from one-sided emotional labor. This is the time your emotional investments should be making a return in the form of love, check-ins, and support while you slowly start to build up your emotional funds again. It’s not the time for you to mindlessly spend as you continue to overdraft.
5.) Ask yourself: is this decision PROACTIVE or REACTIVE?
When making decisions during tough, emotionally heavy times, I always ask, “Is this decision proactive, or reactive?” Its a practice that got me through a really horrible breakup in my 20s and it’s yet to fail me. Am I reacting to my situation and letting it dictate my actions, or am I proactively moving THROUGH the darkness, the fear, the anger, the confusion, the whatever-it-is, to make my way through to the other side? Here’s a post I wrote for some encouragement when it comes to taking and embracing the small steps that end up making a huge difference.
Above all, know that the know is not the forever. This is a moment in time – a chapter of your story. And while it’s just one chapter, how you choose to read it will inform how you view the other chapters to come.
The storm will pass and the dust will settle, and you’ll still be standing. But the great thing is, you won’t need saving, and you won’t need anyone to “show you the light.” You get to be the star, and you get to write your own success story.
The memory just flooded back to me as I drove down the West Side Highway. Or not so much flooded. More like sneak-attack haunted-house-level *jumped out* at me.
Truthfully I don’t remember if the words exactly were you have nothing on your resumé or you don’t even have a resumé or what. But the gist of the conversation was: why the hell should anyone want you to do anything other than what you’re doing right now. You don’t have enough that IMPRESSES ME.
These words, said by a marketing manager at a former job, stunned me. I was too shocked and thrown off to give a good, confident response – and, tbh, probably wasn’t even confident enough at the time to think one up even if I’d been less shocked by the moment.
I noticed today that my face seems softer than it has in a while. Not to the touch, but to the eye. I’m getting the kind of rest I need, and when I go hard for a few days I’m able to block off time to recover. I have a stronger flexibility-structure balance than I’ve ever had before, which means a lot of location autonomy and scheduling freedom, which also means a fraction of the traffic time I’ve ever experienced in my life. This is a very, very privileged position I find myself in. But I know it’s not forever, and I REALLY know it doesn’t come unearned. I also know that the softness reflects something else: a radical self-acceptance and self-curiosity that I’ve worked decades to develop.
I’m 32 now – an age that has always felt special to me. I can’t give you a tangible reason why, other than the fact that I took a lot of “What Age Are You” online quizzes in high school and always got 32, both confirming the fact that I was an older person in a younger body and that I didn’t belong amongst my peers.
The bigger reason, online quizzes aside, is that in my gut I’ve felt that something big will happen this year. I don’t know what and I don’t know when, but just having that objective gut feeling makes me walk with my eyes a little wider and my senses a little higher on alert. I’m looking for opportunities. I’m looking for the magic. I don’t want to miss it.
32 reminds me that I’ve lived my life thus far making the next-right-choice for me at the time, whatever that time was. And so when that marketing manager told me in her office that I Had No Resume, I felt a wave of shame and massive self-doubt.
In hindsight, I can see certain truths about her behavior outside of that room that suggested there was a lot more going on under the surface than I was aware of. I’m a writer, and a professional one at that, and one of my main rules is to never write about someone else’s experience as fact when all it really is is my assumption and interpretation. But on my end: in that moment and the following days after, I played a flip-book in my mind of all the things I’d done until that moment. Had they been a waste? Did I really have nothing to my name?
I might be able to rest well now and eschew traffic for the most part. But this is the Now, not the Forever. I know I have a lot of living to do, and this is merely where I’m supposed to be in this moment. This is a 1/3-of-the-way chapter, not the foreward or the intro or the first gripping pages that set the stage. Because in my life so far, I’ve played SO many parts, literally and figuratively. Rizzo in Grease. Frederika in A Little Night Music (she was 14, I was 21 ::shrugs::). A Parisian model. A broken woman. A personal assistant, a studio manager, a fitness instructor, an editor, an actress, a session singer, a ghostwriter, an insurance broker’s middle-(wo)man, a store clerk, a juice sales maven, a yoga-mat-cleaner, a professional sit-in-hours-of-traffic-and-drive-things-across-town-er, and about 12 other things I won’t name here but had me doing everything from other people’s laundry and hearing their deepest fears to creating little fairy and mermaid dolls out of things you can find at Michaels’ craft stores (*my first entrepreneurial venture as an adult, btw. the company was called Fairy Blossoms).
Point being, these are all things that have made me into who I am today and led me to where I am right now. I did what I needed to do to feel the way I wanted to feel. Not everything I did was impressive. But it’s all a part of my story.
Just like relationships. How many relationships, flings, infatuations have we all been a part of that didn’t pan out? Does that mean they didn’t matter? Hell no. Not every-one is supposed to be *THE* One or *A* One, and that’s wonderful. Because through our relationships, flings, and infatuations, with people or otherwise, we get the opportunity to learn way more about ourselves than we knew before. We get to practice conflict resolution, and reexamine the way we view Love. We get to dig and uncover what is healthy and what is toxic. And then we GET TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN AND LEARN MORE. And sometimes some of us reach a point where the only natural next step of learning can only happen alongside one other person, and sometimes some of us want to always be learning alongside multiple people, and sometimes some of us go where the wind takes us, and all those choices are valid and beautiful and way way a-okay. The point is, it’s our decisions and our next-right-steps that get us there, and help us make the choices that are the rightest rights for us in our journey of Becoming.
You do not need your story to be impressive to anyone else in order for it to be impressive. You don’t need everyone to be able to see each and every step you take in order for you to climb the staircase. All those steps and all those little-but-huge moments are what build you into a person. Anyone can be a human. A Person has consciousness and conscience-ness and agency. A Person has a Self.
And so, to that marketing manager who told me I Have No Resumé, I apologize if you misunderstood my motives. I am building things bigger than what’s obviously linear. I can do hard things and I will do even harder things because I’ve trekked through the forest and never forgotten how the trees made me feel. I don’t live to impress you.I live to become Me.
Well, here I am. Watch me.
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