Sarah Malin is an ethnographer and all-around-smart gal who attended our Summer Salon. She's moved back east to Boston and shared some reflections with us as she hit the road.
Since the Summer Forth salon, I’ve ridden through summer’s carefree, adventurous energy and entered into fall’s sobering, edifying embrace. Summer inspired me to jump on a plane and explore what life could be like in Boston. Fall cautions me to contemplate what it means to go “home” to where I was raised, but leave behind a new home where I became an adult.
When I graduated from college, I prided myself on my adaptability, love of travel, and curiosity for foreign cultures. And then I discovered the beauty of nesting, committing and feeling the support of deep, consistent relationships. When summer brought back a yearning for newness, I questioned myself - am I bored in Chicago because I haven’t put in enough work to find the opportunities I crave? Won’t the other two legs of life’s three-legged stool come together when I’ve got such meaningful friendships? In the end, I’m honoring two versions of why I want to go: emotionally, I just wanna give new a try! and rationally, the opportunities I’ve found in Boston offer professional growth and challenge with a mentorship element that I haven’t found here. So here I go, taking to heart the summer salon’s theme of “letting go,” leaving familiarity and grabbing onto the yet-to-be-discovered. I’d like to use this post to map out the lessons and insights I want to use to carve out my next life chapter.
1. Gather around a table with life role models
Forth offered a community of role models. These were women I could look up to as I define my own balance of career, family, self-awareness and pursuing passions. They were nurturing, adventurous, intellectual, and humble. Lots of good things. And also doubtful, vulnerable and self-deprecating. They were real. They wrestled with the complex negotiations we encounter daily: how to be independent but seek community, how to enjoy self-discipline but find imposed-structure, how to keep control but trust collaborators. Role models are best when their impressiveness comes in a multifaceted and honest form.
2. Look for opportunities to reframe
We can approach certain situations differently and we can reframe our shortcomings as alternative forms of leadership. Instead of berating ourselves for worrying too much or being too sensitive or too soft, let’s leverage our perceptiveness, our empathy, our desire for rigor and knowledge before taking action. Instead of feeling inadequate with our skill set or ability to multitask, let’s reach out for collaborators with complementary strengths. When we feel ourselves micromanaging or being over-controlling, let’s look at why and how we can create relationships with more trust and communication. Let’s help each other grow in directions where we can succeed.
3. Lead with care, perceptiveness and intentionality
Building on this idea of an alternative definition of leadership, my Forth-mates lived a style of entrepreneurship that differed from what is celebrated in Silicon Valley and startup incubators/accelerators across the country. They had all embarked on a new business venture and embraced the risk that accompanied that decision, but rapid growth, tremendous wealth and fame were not top on their list. They want to step out and say yes even if they haven’t done the task before, but that shouldn’t compromise their integrity and might require collaborators. They want to sell confidently, but use authenticity more than performance. They want to be popular, but with customers who match their mission. They want to introduce clients to a novel experience, but are attentive to the explanation, education and encouragement that makes that leap possible. Self-employment can allow us to work with more grace, integrity and purpose.
4. Find a partner to aspire along with you
When we got onto the topic of work/life balance, we didn’t dwell on choosing one or another or how to juggle best so we can achieve it all. It was readily admitted that being a mother, being a wife, being a friend, being a boss and being all the other identities we take on is incredibly hard to manage. When my Forth-mates mentioned their significant others, they described individuals facing the same challenges they did, despite their different gender. Their partners chose to freelance so schedules were more flexible for family commitments. They were just as - if not more so - reflective, communicative, nurturing and emotionally aware. Some of their partners were their business partners as well as their life partners. These co-parents work at coordinating on a daily, weekly, monthly and life scale so that success means balancing careers, relationships and children. Forth painted a picture of family that replaces the tri-role dynamic of professional, parent and child with a bi-role version of parents and child. This is what I want to come home to some day.
As I wrap up, I think Rilke captures progress well:
She followed slowly, taking a long time,
As though there were some obstacle in the way;
And yet: as though, once it was overcome,
She would be beyond all walking, and would fly.
~Rainer Maria Rilke
Going forth is a process and we will face challenges. But once we get past them - and importantly, even in the midst of those challenges, we are capable of so much. I look forward to watching what 2014 brings for all of us!