In 2014 on a couch in a small Portland, Oregon apartment I said out loud to my friend Audrey what I actually wanted to do with my life.
I was working at Nike headquarters overseeing content production for brand video assets and managing teams of creatives. I loved a good session in an edit booth and the high you get when a client asks for the impossible and you get to rise to the occasion to deliver beyond their expectations.
That’s what working at Nike was like. And if I’m honest, that had been the theme of my entire career up to that point. A high up in the clouds feeling of an all consuming industry filled with passionate misfits making entertaining, inspiring, and sometimes not so inspiring, pieces of commerce out of thin air.
It started the summer of 2008 when I was near graduating from college and I got an internship working on an independent film that was taking place at my college. One meeting led to an opportunity to earn credits which would allow me to graduate that December.
My mom was sick with cancer, the kind of cancer that keeps coming back, year after year and leads to a decade of struggle and surgery and scans and tears and fears and laughter and “is this the last christmas?” kind of moments. Weeks after I accepted the internship she would be diagnosed with liver cancer and be given a few months to live.
To say that summer changed my life is an understatement. I’d go from sleeping next to a hospital bed in my living room to planning my mom’s celebration of life with my sisters to sitting on a movie set until one or two in the morning in a matter of weeks.
2008 was my 2020 the way many of you faced tragedy and hardship in a way you had never seen before, in a way that no one or nothing could have prepared you to handle.
There was one professor who pulled me aside when I returned to my internship a week after my mom’s death and said, “I heard what happened. There are two kinds of people in the world, those who when tragedy strikes they need space and want to slow down and those who want to dive right into something and channel all of their energy. Which one do you want to be?”
I was too young to understand this was his projection of how he handles trauma, but the fork in the road he was presenting seemed pretty straightforward and I decided much too quickly to even consider the option of diving into what I was feeling and ya know, actually making myself feel it. I could barely get through a Billy Joel song (that week Billy Joel’s, “She’s Always a Woman to Me” was triggering tears the size of midwest hail but I just couldn’t stop playing it on repeat) Slowing down to feel more of that was just too frightening.
So like every life altering decision, the answer to this question would define the next decade of my life.
I dove in. From that movie set I leaped into the last months of college having my first straight A semester, I then packed up my entire childhood bedroom and my futon and moved to Queens, New York where I got three jobs to pay the bills and hustled my way to midtown to work as a page at The Late Show With David Letterman.
What followed New York City was a whirlwind adventure around the country working on TV shows in Chicago and in movie studios in Los Angeles. I channeled my emotions into my work and it worked.
The thing is, we aren’t taught anything about trauma in any science book in middle school or spoken to about it by our guidance counselors. Which I find rather interesting considering most of us don’t get out of this life without some sort of trauma.
And even in the hours of therapy I was doing with my incredible New York therapist Lisa (who generously followed me around on this adventure letting me skype in from all kinds of new IP addresses week after week) I wasn’t really grasping this concept that trauma needs to be processed both emotionally and physically. I didn’t understand that even though I was kind of processing, the patchwork job I was doing more often than not, working endless hours to avoid the real deeper feelings, was actually prolonging the affect of my trauma.
My trauma started eating away at me internally. My anger, grief, sadness, exhaustion, it came out in the form of self-hatred and self-doubt, and shame.
A lot of people’s unprocessed trauma seeps out of them like poison onto others, spreading like wildfire.
Let’s be clear, they are both equally damaging except mine you can’t see, it moves in the shadows in the dark, and the other kind, well it is more violent and moves more quickly and shows up in the daytime.
We are seeing trauma now in the current world climate; mass global deaths, job loss, loss of a loved one, racial wars, religious wars, gun wars, poverty, estrangement, domestic violence, hate crimes.
Just this week a man took his trauma out on me in a beautiful park. Unprocessed trauma, in the form of screaming obscenities at a stranger and her dog. I am lucky enough to have language and knowledge that helps me understand that his behavior was not about me, does that lessen the affect? Not really.
And I want to add that there is beauty in every single day and there is also this immense amount of emotional trauma. It is unhelpful to operate only with our focus on the beauty, because it denies us our humanity and the opportunity to evolve forward into a more loving and peaceful society.
And if it’s not you who is feeling trauma that day, someone else is experiencing trauma, and we are connected-so while you think you might be escaping these experiences, energetically you are influenced by what is happening to others.
If you’ve ever worked inside one of my coaching programs you know that I am not a Debbie downer (What is it with us and women’s names by the way? I think I am changing this saying to “Danny downer” because that feels more accurate). I work to find this balance of honoring our emotions as they are, providing tools and space to process those emotions, and then focusing on what we can build from a place of an internal foundation of emotional strength.
And that’s the business I described on my couch in Portland back in 2014 to my friend Audrey. I knew I wanted to spend my life working with women on this exact notion: that we all deserve and are capable of understanding ourselves so deeply that we know how to self regulate our emotions, manage and heal the trauma of our lives, and build impactful careers and businesses that transform the world into a better place for everyone.
I wanted women to engage their super powers without shame, guilt, or fear, and something told me (maybe my feminist mother) that this was imperative for our future.
It feels so idealistic but after 6 years in business I think it’s working, and I am not the only one doing this work. There is a movement happening around the world and in our nation in particular, where women are coming into their power and moving us in a new and better direction.
It is hard. It is emotional. It is challenging. And women are still being hung in the town square in modern ways for their courage and convictions.
It sometimes feels dangerous.
Which brings me back to trauma and emotional labor and healing and running businesses.
I know you may think that they aren’t related. But I have been inside the hearts, minds, career paths, and businesses of hundreds of women at this point, and I have to say, there isn’t really a separation.
We are humans, operating in a constructed society that denies most of us basic human rights. A society that rewards competition, hierarchical structures, and greed at every turn.
And it is going to take women to fix this, and they are fixing it, but I want you to understand as a reader, and most likely as a woman on the frontlines of this movement, that this work does not come without its trauma.
And it’s important to note the spectrum of trauma that is occurring. We will talk about this a lot this summer on season two of The Women of Impact series (you can watch over on instagram). When we say “emotional labor”, it is crucial that we highlight the immense emotional labor of black women in this current climate.
And if we want to move society forward, it will be necessary for us to lean into understanding and empathy rather than comparison, defensiveness, and ego (I am included in this).
A lesson learned never comes easy, but the masculine, hierarchical approach to leadership and business was built specifically to pit women against one another. It will be up to us, white women, the most privileged of the gender, to shy way from these old tactics and build a new path alongside our sisters, even when we feel vulnerable and exposed for our ignorance or complicity in their oppression.
So let’s keep talking about that. Let’s normalize that. Let’s put language to that. No nothing is wrong with you. What you are feeling is real, and important, and yes, perhaps, it is traumatic.
And if this has been the kind of 12 months that has brought you tragedy and hardship beyond what you thought possible, and you’re facing a fork in the road, slow down and process or dive right into something and channel all of your energy—I want to offer you a third path.
It is paved with both. It is paved with creative outlets and channeling, processing and slowing down, accepting and supporting, awareness and healing, doing and stillness, feeling and emoting, working and resting, grace and love, pain and beauty, good and bad, hard and simple, lonely and comforted.
We can have both, and if I am seeing this correctly after 6 years in the trenches I have to say, it is imperative for all of us that we allow ourselves to have both.