The Side That Saved Me
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes
Have you seen that "Quadruple Take" Buick commercial where the woman leaves a spin class and hops into her car (Is that a Buick?) with three other versions of herself? It always makes me chuckle...I think it's the idea that we are made up of variations of ourselves and that they could possibly hang out together, needle each other, and even be friends.
Lately, that's been hitting closer to home, mostly because I've realized that for about fifteen to twenty years, I was letting my professional life define all the sides of me. I was trying for so long to be so many things at work. I was trying to fit in, climb the ladder, seek validation that I was doing things right, make more money. I was Emily the Salesperson, Emily the Trainer, Emily the Program Manager, Emily the VP (great for my future résumé, but meaningless in that there were a couple dozen others with the same title). But none of it brought me passion or a sense of purpose. In striving to be so many things, I ended up being nothing.
I was content to settle into the societal expectations and the idea that happiness and success comes from climbing the corporate ladder and a big paycheck. Sure, I learned how to overcome my fear of conflict and how to set expectations through managing people; I hope I made an impact somewhere along the way. But my gallery of Emilys didn't really have anything to show for it.
I was like a bowl of rice or tofu, soaking up all the flavors around me—a needed filler but squarely in the background.
And by trying to be "who I was supposed to be" professionally, all of the other Emilys faded as well...Emily the Daughter, the Sister, the Aunt; Emily the Wife and eventually, Emily the Ex-Wife.
I marvel at the people who find their passion and make it their job, like 100 percent of the women I've interviewed for BRAVA Magazine profiles over the years. They find themselves in their advocacies or hobbies or missions. They put that forward into the world and that brightens all the other parts of them. I constantly wonder how they found the courage to so profoundly be that part of themselves.
I had to stop asking that question and start living it when I left my corporate job in April, but I felt super exposed. Who am I if I don't have a title? Who am I if there is no one there to tell me I'm doing things right or well? Who am I if I'm not putting all of my effort into blending in and being Emily the Professional? No, for real...who am I?
One thing I know I've always had within me is Emily the Writer. I put that Emily in a corner a looooong time ago and told her that she wasn't who I am because writing couldn't be a career. I couldn't make money with that Emily in charge. No one wanted to read what I wrote. I didn't have a degree in journalism or English, so obviously, I had no idea what I was doing (yes, I know...impostor syndrome). I did let her peek out every once in a while, but I didn't let her shine.
Eventually, when Emily the VP/Program Manager reached a breaking point, it was Emily the Writer who busted out of the shadows to soothe me. She was the one that knew writing could help define me, help me focus, and give my life a little more flavor and purpose.
I was ready to listen.
Now, broken free and given a voice, Emily the Writer is kind of all over the place. But I'm forced to listen to the parts of me that understand that confidence comes through action, and success can only be defined by my expectations and goals—no one else's.
As I work to focus Emily the Writer, it's allowing all of the other Emilys to wake and stir: the Girlfriend, the Dog Mom, the Friend, the Daughter, Sister, and Aunt. The Paddleboarder, Runner, and Gaelic Football Player (that is a new one that I'm exploring and loving!). Even Emily the Woman with No Kids. By removing that heavy, itchy blanket of trying to be so many things that I'm just not, I've started to be okay with all of the things that I am.
I'm also discovering that all of these Emilys feed the Writer. By lifting up all of the pieces of me, I'm more curious and empathetic. I listen better and am more present. Added bonus: it gives me so many ideas for things to write about!
Who knows, maybe I won't be able to sustain a living through writing, but I've at least given myself the chance to learn and grow across all parts of myself.
Even if you can't leave a career that isn't your passion, try searching for those parts of you that you covered up because someone (or society) told you it wasn't possible to be that person. Acknowledge that part that is uniquely you. Give her a voice and a little light. Become friends with her. Maybe even let her have a seat in the car and come along for the ride.