You Are More Than The Best (and Worst) Thing You’ve Ever Done

by Grace Bonney

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

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  • Thanks for the reminder! I wish often that I’d come futher, done more, been able to get myself together more often, but I try hard to not let that longing define me.

  • I definitely needed to read this today. I’ve spent a lifetime struggling to find ‘my calling’ and have recently realized its been with me this whole time. I’ve just let insecurities and perhaps the wrong perspective on what a ‘calling’ is get in the way. Its encouraging to be reminded that its never too late to start a new chapter and to follow the still/quiet voice inside each of us. Thanks for all of the wonderful content brought to my mailbox (by you and your team) for so many years Grace. The inspiration has been endless. Enjoy every moment of your new chapter.

    • I would just like to know how you found your calling and what is it? I have been searching for years. I’m almost 50. I love to hear people’s journey’s.

  • I love this sentiment! Need to here this today. I wonder if you’ll be putting a list together of similar sites that design sponge fans can turn to for content of this quality once August 30th roles around?

  • YES YES YES! I used to work in a secure female facility (prison) and this is something I always reminded the students of. Thank you for reminding me today.

  • Always well said!

    I’m grappling with this right now- as I quit my job to start my own business (and right now that new business isn’t full time) , and realize my work defines my sense of self nearly entirely! I feel like I’ve left a cocoon, but having quite opened my new/own wings up yet!

  • When I left my career in the finance industry to become a stay-at-home mum, I felt lost. For so long my self-worth and value was heavily intertwined with my professional career. This belief was further enforced by a world and government policies that value career/work over and above family. I found myself no longer fitting in and was critized – oh you’re just a stay-at home mum, you don’t contribute to society, you wasted your university education and many others. I came to realise that, for me, parenting was more important than any other career. As a parent, I was not responsible for raising children, but future adults. Adults with morals and ethics, adults that would contribute to the betterment of society. More importantly, I also came to realise that it was people’s heart’s that mattered (particularly the intention of the heart) and not their careers/achievements or failures. I value the internal qualities/spirit of a person – love, joy, kindness, patience, temperance, gentleness, charity, humbleness and goodness. My thoughts.

    • I also left a job to stay home with my child. It was the best decision I have ever made. I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I hadn’t. Everyone is different and at different stages of their life. Just having the courage to be who you are is sometimes hard. I applaud you for staying home. Your children will always remember!

  • I think feeling too tied personally to my work has been part of the reason I haven’t cut out on my own sooner. (I am leaving my corporate job to go freelance, coincidentally, at the end of this week!) I had to learn distance from the work and not identifying as your work by working for someone else on work that wasn’t mine.

    I wish you peace and luck in the next adventure Grace! Maybe we should start a support group :)