I’ve been struggling a lot over the past few years to reckon with how big of a role my work life plays in my self confidence and identity. I don’t think I realized until just a year or two ago that I judge and define myself based almost entirely on my professional output. How good I feel about myself and my future seems to be so wrapped up in how much I work and how much I can churn out.
That’s right — churn out. Because not every creative project has been easy, smooth, or exactly what I was hoping. Sometimes things were a slog and the end result felt that way. But still, it was something to put out there. And that something meant I was being a productive member of society. And since so much of our society praises business, I felt like I was being a “good,” productive person. It wasn’t until I went through some really tough times personally that I realized that if I define myself by the “good” professional items on my list, then I have to define myself by the “bad” items on my personal list, too. And then I started to feel dizzy.
Therapy has been a powerful support system in my life for a long time now (one that I wish everyone could have access to, if they want it), and it’s one of the places I’ve felt safe to grapple with this idea of good vs. bad and productive vs. unproductive (and also why I shouldn’t say “vs.” either). I don’t know that I’ve figured it all out yet, but I came to an important learning moment when I re-read a quote from In the Company of Women that Ashley C. Ford shared with us:
Portrait by Sasha Israel
Ashley reminded us that we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. And I started thinking that by that logic (which I hold true), we are all more than the best things we’ve ever done, too.
If we’re lucky, life is long and complicated and full of ups and downs. And it’s so easy to get pigeonholed into thinking we are defined by our biggest achievements or our biggest failures. And in reality, they’re all just parts of us. Small pieces that are part of a big whole. That doesn’t mean we get to fully forget the parts we wish we could or live only by the praise we’ve received, but rather they all come together to form something more complicated — more human.
I have a feeling I’m not the only one out there who may need to hear this today. If you’re struggling with where you are in life, in your work, or, like me, trying to figure out how to move on from something that you feel may define you, remember Ashley’s advice above. We are all more than a single thing we do, produce, or conceive of. We are capable of so many things, so many new chapters, so many ups and downs, and so many wonderful moments. I’m so grateful that all of you have given me the space to experience all of these here, it has been such a wild and wonderful ride. xo, Grace