Meet the Panelists: Cortney Ahern / by Taylor Bryant

OUR WELLNESS + SELF-CARE PANEL FOR CREATIVES IS ON MAY 19. GRAB YOUR TICKET.

Cortney Ahern is a food and agriculture advocate who works with nonprofits that sit at the intersection of food access, agricultural development and community empowerment.

Real emails in my inbox right now:  

  • “This Mental Trick Will Get you Through Any Stressful Situation.”

  • “5 Habits Mentally Tough People Always Embrace.”

  • “When We Lose Our Center.”

  • “Learning How to Take Care of your Mental Health as an Entrepreneur.”

This type of neatly packaged wellness advice feels a bit like preventative medicine - everyday actions to take care of ourselves and promote our wellbeing.  Just like an annual physical, dental cleaning, or oil change - we are checking off the maintenance boxes to keep things running smoothly.

But, here’s the thing: You are not a to-do-list. You are a whole person, made up of parts. The part of you that keeps you humming along day-to-day, kicking ass at work, keeping yourself balanced, maintaining your motivation and discipline, is not necessarily the same part that you need to call on when you fall apart or when things fall apart around you.

Photo: Eva Deitch

Photo: Eva Deitch

In the past, my solution to tackling stress and crisis was: Push through. Stay busy. Take on more personal and professional responsibility. Direct my attention towards things I can control. Smile.

I can pinpoint the moment I realized that strategy wasn’t going to cut it for me anymore. I was in a yoga class, lying in savasana. I started to cry… audibly. In public. In front of other people. All the feelings and exhaustion and uncertainty I had been pushing away and pushing through came roaring out in the first moment in months I had allowed myself to rest my mind and my body. I was still, I was quiet, I was doing yoga for goodness sake.

After I peeled myself off my mat - the most caring thing I could do for myself was to sink in and allow myself to feel those feelings. To wrap my arms around the sadness and anger and insecurity. I didn’t need a trick or a tip to fix things; I needed to honor those feelings, to explore what was broken.

So often, conversations around wellness and self-care seem to focus on how to improve ourselves, how to be mindful of positivity. But, there is creativity and honesty that stem from our own vulnerability and fear. When you hit those lows and are feeling raw, you are able to tap into the parts of yourself that are brave and strong. You can’t check-list your way out of it because it’s not about finding a way out, but finding a way through.

cortney-ahern-forth-chicago

What I would challenge us to consider as part of this conversation is self-forgiveness as a form of self-care. What we do after we’ve experienced loss, disappointment, or failure? How do we nurture ourselves when we drop the ball on our aspirational self-care plans? When we snap at our Mom on the phone, forget a friend’s birthday, botch a deadline at work, have a bag of Doritos and a bottle of wine for dinner -- how can we incorporate the low moments into our path to wellness?

As a young woman who is figuring out who I am in an often-stressful industry of creatives, entrepreneurs, and social impact-makers, I am thrilled by the emphasis on wellness and self-care permeating our fields.  But I also know that a singular focus on happiness and motivation can create unrealistic standards for what success looks like. When we operate in a world of perfectionist filtered lifestyles posing as authenticity, we can be so damn hard on ourselves. Sometimes the most caring thing we can do for ourselves is to admit that it’s okay not to be okay all the time.

Meet our other panelists, too!

Lauren Ash

Dana Frost

Molly Rudberg