It’s deceptively easy to hide how we feel. At least, it is for most of us.
The hiding happens in the social scripts of “I’m good, how are you?” and “it was great, how was yours?” We recite these automated responses with everyone from the cashier at the grocery store to our coworkers in a Monday morning meeting. But our body always knows when we’re lying. The fatigue weighs on our tone, the sadness is laced in our pace. We don’t feel comfortable being honest with them because most of the time, we don’t feel comfortable being honest with ourselves.
2020 was the year our lies caught up to us. 2020 was the year of full body breakdowns.
I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I kept repeating this like an affirmation, swallowing the words like medicine thinking if I took enough, the pain would go away.
I tried to talk myself out of how I felt. What does it mean to love your job, anyways? Work will be work, the bills need to get paid. You’re working with kind, decent people and you have the most autonomy you’ve ever had. You’re choosing your projects, you’re wearing all the hats you’ve wanted to wear. This is what you asked for, be grateful you’re here.
As the world changed, what I wanted changed with it. I’d always been driven by a desire to build equity. Even before I learned the vocabulary to understand this, I was driven by a desire to care for the needs of people whose needs were often ignored. The pandemic highlighted our inequities and put them in bold headlines. Black and Brown people were dying at disproportionate rates from the virus. Asian Americans were being unreasonably scapegoated and attacked in violent hate crimes across the country. Young creatives were laid off without robust savings accounts to land on, relying on government assistance to barely pay their rent. People who already experienced symptoms of chronic illnesses had heightened symptoms mixed with looming fears of what could happen next. Getting groceries felt like a scene from Hunger Games.
When we started working from home as a precaution a few weeks before New York officially announced a statewide lockdown, the things I’d tried to bury swarmed around me like angry bees. Something had been disrupted, the idea of certainty was destroyed.
In Zoom meetings, I sat on mute while scrolling through a gallery of faces, faces that were becoming increasingly symbolic of what I was missing. I realized I didn’t want to be okay with all the things I’d been okay with before. I didn’t like the way I felt in this environment, this aching discomfort that turned into a disdain for myself. Because after all, was I choosing this?
Following the first wave of protests for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Black lives taken by the police, I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks. I lost my appetite, I was unnervingly irritable, I lost every morsel of motivation, and I spent the last and first waking hours of my days staring at the ceiling waiting for a sign to tell me where to go, what to do, who to be. These depressive episodes have happened before, but this felt different. My body was telling me that something was deeply out of alignment.
The rest of this story is too long and layered to tell here, but it ends like this: I invested a good chunk of savings towards a life coaching series with Didier Sylvain (close to this exact amount ended up making its way back to me the same week I submitted my first payment) and after mapping out my life from past to present to future, I wrote up a letter of resignation and became fully self employed under an LLC I bought for $500 on incfile.com. In retrospect, I’d been building my business for years. It was only a matter of allowing myself to see it.
On March 18th, Black Lives Matter international ambassador Janaya Future Khan wrote on their Instagram, “We are in the time of your calling, not your career.” This wasn’t the time for me to lie to myself, to bury the feelings my body couldn’t afford to ignore anymore. This was the time to pursue my calling in full and take a leap into my future.
I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. I see the shift happening among communities like Ethel’s Club and among friends with deep commitments to Black, Brown, Asian, queer liberation who have left their jobs to invest in their own ventures. They too have shifted their attention.
Because after all, attention is our most valuable resource. With this attention, we invest our energy, resources, and time like water and soil to a growing garden.
I share all this to say, I don’t think I’m alone in this sentiment. We’re longing for more because — especially if we’re of any non-dominant identity — we deserve more. We deserve more than good enough. And while our mind may allow the disconnect, our body will start sending signals to listen deeper to what’s calling from within us.
As creatives, we have the ability and responsibility to reimagine the future. What seemed radical before seems necessary now. Truths we whispered to ourselves must be shouted aloud. Dreams we’ve been brewing in our minds must be put to paper and pixels, must become our lived reality. Because once we get out of our way, once we expand our choices, the vision we have feeds into the vision of others. This is how we create a world where our needs are met and our creativity has the conditions to flourish.
I think we’ll move deeper into this, infusing more meaning to our work, moving with even more intention than ever.
And maybe this is how we grow towards the sun, this euphoric utopia where we’re living out our wildest dreams hand in hand. Maybe this is how we grow towards each other.
If 2020 was the year of breaking down, 2021 will be the year of breaking through. I look forward to meeting you there.
Writer, Creative Equity Advisor, & Transformation Facilitator