We often speak of our different lives. Our work life. Our personal life. Our family life.
Isn’t it true, though, that we have only, as Mary Oliver says, “one wild and precious life”?
Worthy of pondering is what you will do with it in this lease of unknown duration. Also worth considering, I believe, is how to think about the different parts of our lives.
Is it really possible to leave work “at the office”? Or leave your personal perspective at home? Does your “family life” stop when your “work life” starts?
I believe it’s more akin to the famed quote from Thomas à Kempis. “Wherever you go, there you are.”
I first heard this quote invoked in the sense of it being impossible to run away from yourself, no matter how you might try. That reads negative to me, though. Limiting. I think you can also read into it possibility. There’s incredible power and potential in accepting and embracing this fact and leaning into it. You are yourself in all of your “lives.” What would it look like to treat your “lives” as part of an integrated whole?
To me, it feels like an important opportunity to, own your authenticity. We are exposed to, and internalize, a constant barrage of archetypes – among them, the perfect partner, parent, “boss.” That’s a lot of molds to try to contort into. And artificial molds at that.
I’ve finally come to this: You’re you anyway. Might as well be yourself.
And, if you can be yourself, what does that mean in all of these different domains?
Early in my career, a mentor of mine opened my eyes to the idea that I could shape my own mold. Or break it entirely. The example he gave was with respect to business development, a significant expectation in law firm life over and above the many requisite hours of billable work. Many people took clients to sporting events and he didn’t enjoy those. He did, however, enjoy dining out in the city. So, that is the route he took. And, he chose to work with clients he personally enjoyed so all the time he invested in this commitment felt like a reward as opposed to one more thing he had to squeeze in. In addition to being one of the most well-rounded people at the firm, he was also one of the highest revenue generating partners.
It’s a small point and one that ignores a lot of the othering many of us navigate in these types of situations where questions of authenticity and psychological safety come up and all the privilege the entire discussion denotes. But, nonetheless, it was a reframe that provided a shift for me and I started to see how I might think about things differently in my own life. I could decide for myself what I wanted the different necessary pieces of the pie to consist of. There are many routes to a destination, as well as many destinations from which to choose.
For me, I realized through my work that I was drawn to fashion, retail and consumer brands and I was deeply interested in business beyond just the transformational deals. So, I’ve leaned into that. I still pinch myself when I’m reading Business of Fashion and The Fashion Law or a part of campaigns and initiatives that bring forth inspiration and impact and realize it is actually my job.
Think of it as concentric circles. Or a Venn diagram. How do you maximize overlap? How do you shade in as much as possible? And where can you color outside the lines in a way that feels expansive and generative?
With family (or even with friends and acquaintances), I like to explore what kinds of things would we all enjoy? And, how can we expand our circles and the overlap by intentionally curating our time to ensure we fill everyone’s cup?
I don’t like petting zoos. So, I don’t take my son to petting zoos. Not my jam. And I don’t feel bad about it. Because, I don’t endorse the martyr archetype impelled upon us as mothers. I know it would breed resentment in me. And, I believe that an absence of resentment is far more valuable than an absence of petting zoos is harmful. So, that’s the lens.
In our family, we’ve discovered we all do enjoy adventure, exploration, creativity and being active. So, while petting zoos are out, museums and musicals are in. Hiking and playing on the beach. Checking out a new city, near or far. Chill time as a family in our respective crafts.
If it’s integrated, there’s no martyrdom. Everyone’s well-being counts. You look at the whole in every case. You can’t excessively sacrifice in one aspect of your life and expect that the other aspects can thrive. It’s all one. After all, it is said that how you do anything is how you do everything.
And, when it comes to making time for and prioritizing my own dreams and passions, it’s the same thing. I look for ways concentric circles can turn into virtuous cycles. Leaning into my dreams and passions makes me feel engaged and inspired and I bring that to my mothering and wife-ing. My partner too. And, not only that but our son sees us pursuing our dreams. We talk about hopes and dreams as a family. We share when we’re considering new pursuits or ideas and we all participate in big moments, emotionally and experientially. Our hope is that conditions him – hardwires him – for living a life of bravely pursuing his own dreams. All the while, I use this hope to return to my intention. Asking what am I modeling? Leaning into my parenting instinct and letting my awareness that I’m setting an example be a source of coaching and grounding.
Across the board, I think it’s about showing up as yourself as opposed to someone you think you “should” be. Recognizing that there is a whole rainbow of different leadership styles and there is not one definition of “executive presence,” the same way there isn’t one definition of a good spouse or parent. It saves so much time and energy and also opens the door to bringing forth your unique gifts.
Bravely stepping into yourself has the power to inspire others to do the same. Perhaps it grants a sort of permission. I think I spent so much time feeling like a misfit myself, I didn’t realize how many people feel that way. Maybe being ourselves is what breaks the constraint of the mold for us all.
For me, this journey has involved embracing vulnerability and empathy, learning to see that as real strength, not its opposite. Even sometimes sharing my feelings in poem. Spending time as I like to spend it. Trusting myself and my creativity, even if I do and think about things differently than others. Leaning into enoughness and abundance rather than chasing scarcity. And, proactively and intentionally committing to strategic renewal. Going from generative to regenerative. Knowing, of course, it’s a fallacy to believe we can endlessly push without reaching a point of diminishing returns. And, by proactively avoiding the extremes of burnout and opt out, you leave much more space for productivity as well as holistic, sustainable engagement. Not to mention well-being, joy and inspiration. Life in harmony.
And that’s the heart of it, really. Each of us has but one wild and precious life. Live it all.