Fuck Being A #GIRLBOSS. Be A Human Being.

woman-with-smoke

I haven’t been sleeping. It’s been weeks, in fact, that I haven’t either woken up several times in the middle of the night, or taken until the earliest hours of the morning to actually fall asleep. And this isn’t new — I’ve been in and out of doctors’ offices for insomnia and anxiety-related sleep issues, I’ve been on and off of everything from melatonin to Ambien, and nothing has really worked. Short-term, sure, I can get myself to sleep if I take enough Unisom and read something mindless enough to shut out my thoughts for an hour or so. But long-term, nothing results in the kind of basic relief, the basic sense of calm, that most people rely on at night to comfortably shut their eyes. I don’t get more than two hours of REM sleep a night for days, weeks, on end, and my days as a result constantly feel half-lived, half-awake.

And I know that this problem has gotten worse of late because my worst habit has been augmented and intensified: when left to my own devices, I will attempt to do everything myself, and it does nothing short of erode my sanity. And I do this because it is in my nature, but I also do it because it’s what I am supposed to do — my worth is, in so many ways, measured in how much I can handle, and how much I can check off on my to-do list. If I fail on one side, I am almost by definition failing at all, because I’m not being a #boss. But managing it feels like holding onto various threads of a quickly-unraveling blanket.

TFD is humming along at a pleasant-but-intense clip. Marc and I are moving at the end of the month, into an apartment we intend to buy later this year. We are newly engaged, and organizing something resembling all the adherent celebrations transatlantically. We are experiencing some unforeseen and deeply frustrating logistical issues with leaving our current apartment (more on that later, when it’s settled or certain enough to actually discuss). Various large projects I’ve taken on have turned out to be more of a quagmire than expected, and in the meantime, the tedium and logistics of packing, selling furniture, and getting quotes for movers looms large. At any given moment, there is an endless list of things I could be attempting to resolve, emails I could be answering, people I could be getting back to. And it’s maddening.

And yes, my situation would likely be maddening for most people — having such a high level of volatility in every part of one’s life, from personal to professional, is not easy to deal with — but I am lucid enough to know that I exacerbate these problems for myself, often without realizing it. The truth is that I have a really, really hard time ceding control of anything, whether at work or at home. (Being engaged alone has proven to be an endless wellspring of stress on this issue — my mother surprising me with some mild table decor at a small engagement dinner nearly sent me into a tailspin.) Often, I will delegate a task, only to take it out of the person’s hands after a short flirtation with patience, insisting I can do it better myself. I want to know every detail, leave nothing to chance or surprise, and be present for every minute decision. This isn’t healthy, or productive. It often has tangible negative effects on my work, and my quality of life. But as the unfortunate (or fortunate-but-stressful) situations pile up like cars rubbernecking at an accident, I find myself even more tightly-wound over how much control I have.

For example, I spent nearly all of yesterday in an alternating panic: phone calls with city officials, lawyers, and knowledgeable loved ones, then bursts of work done badly in the spaces in-between. I was running on about three hours of sleep, smoked a cigarette while trembling at my kitchen window to (barely) calm myself down, and didn’t feel fully relaxed until I had sufficiently cried on my couch with a succession of loved ones whose message was all the same: you have to let some stuff go. There were tasks I should have left to Marc, should have given to someone else on the team, should have loosened my grip on just a bit — I have only myself to blame for allowing everything to reach a fever pitch, let alone to stay there for hours on end. Only I choose to listen to the overwhelming narrative that I should be doing it all, but it is deafening.

There is a certain amount of social validation we get from taking things on entirely ourselves, particularly as women. The gendered language of #success is cloying. We’re #girlbosses if we can balance an ever-expanding list of tasks and obligations. We’re supposed to aspire to #havingitall, and if we aren’t there yet, we are always supposed to be actively reaching for it. Our measure of greatness is often how much we’re capable of saying it’s #handled. And if we define ourselves even partially by our careers and professional or academic accomplishments, this sense of rising to every occasion in an #effortless way is only intensified by the assumptions we’re working against: women are often perceived as fragile, lazy, or fundamentally uninterested in hard work. As a business owner and the leader of a team, my need to micromanage things has only grown like weeds throughout my life: I must live up to a specific gauntlet of entrepreneur that has been thrown. If I fail, it will be perceived as at least in part because of my gender — and that would be my greatest failure of all.

But taking everything on because of an external idea of leadership or professionalism will never make you happy, and if you already have a control-freak personality, will drive your mental health to fray almost without exception. I know that my cuticle-decimating level of pervasive and sustained anxiety is anything but rare — I can only imagine how this relentless drive to manage everything manifests when coupled with being a parent. I can’t imagine the cocktail of pharmaceuticals I would need to keep functioning, and getting a few unsatisfying hours of sleep a night. I know that my “girlboss spiral” is still relatively mild because I am surrounded by a loving and competent support system, and can take time to break down if I need it. But even still, my worst thoughts that come, over and over, when I’m standing, wobbly, in my kitchen at six AM after a fitful night are inescapable. It’s hard not to want to abandon everything, disappointing everyone in one fell swoop instead of in ragged bits and pieces.

And it’s hard not to feel acutely, viscerally resentful of these ridiculous images women are bombarded with of what success looks like and entails — these wealthy, manicured women who recommend the perfect lipstick and pencil skirt to sport while nailing a tense conference call, cooking a perfect and healthy meal, being a perfect spouse, and maintaining Sex and the City photo ops with their girlfriends while out for a #workinggirl happy hour. In my most productive moments, I often look haggard and sickly, because working really fucking hard to deliver results often means working until the wee hours and then starting again for the 9:30 meeting. Maintaining basic friendships, let alone the superficial “let’s get drinks” relationships that every ~networking girlboss~ is supposed to have, can feel like a race where you are constantly falling into last place. And the bigger “personal” moments — buying a home, having a wedding, curating a fabulous “space” — can feel like logistical nightmares if you are not really fucking rich. That’s the key to all of that stuff looking like a Pinteresty, effortless fever dream: these women are wealthy. They don’t have to scrimp and scramble to make a down payment, or choose between having extended relatives at a wedding or making necessary upgrades to their plumbing. They can #doitall because much of their most mind-consuming tasks are outsourced to assistants, or paid to go away. (Many of the problems currently causing me to pull at my skin could be instantly evaporated if I could write a check for a certain number, but I can’t.)

And even then, even for those who seem to have it all together, I’d be shocked if they weren’t on some combination of vices, prescriptions, and exhaustion to maintain it. Nearly every week, there is a new tell-all from some lifestyle blogger or businesswoman about how her life is untenable, and presenting a perfect image of it is driving her to the brink of insanity.

Maybe the solution is to stop presenting a curated, creatively-directed image of what it means to be a successful or entrepreneurial woman. Maybe it means sharing ourselves when we are smoking that trembling cigarette by the kitchen window, crying because of a lack of sleep, unsure of what thread to cut so the impact will be least acute. Maybe it means admitting that “having it all” is a sick joke, and helps no one, least of all the women we’re attempting to #empower. Maybe we should define our “success” by our ability to be a decently-rounded, healthy fucking human being, no matter how imperfect she may be.

Image via Unsplash

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  • intrinsic

    “It’s hard not to want to abandon everything, disappointing everyone in one fell swoop instead of in ragged bits and pieces.” This whole piece resonated with me so much, but this line made me gasp. Thank you so so much for sharing your experience. You are very much not alone in your struggles and concerns. I hope things get better in some direction for you!

    • Judith

      That line made me think “I thought I was totally alone with feeling like this…”. Certainly glad I’m not.

  • Olivia Johnson

    Chelsea,
    Thanks for sharing this piece. You are totally right that we have to wok on being more human at the expense of our self-care and well-rounded lifestyle. Please keep in mind how much you have accomplished along this thought process, especially with #TotalHonestyTuesday. You and your business do a wonderful job of keeping it real and it’s benefiting women IRL as well as online.
    Keep calm and carry on, girl, because you are a boss and a relate-able human being. Congratulations, by the way, on your big move, business success and engagement to your partner. Wishing you many successes in 2017.
    Cheers,
    Olivia
    @FreshOJ18

  • Caitlin

    I broke my pinky at the beginning of December. It was pretty grotesque, and I had to have surgery to straighten it back out. I’ve been in a cast/splint since December 3rd, and I tried to keep up my same pace at work. It seemed so silly to me that such a tiny part of my body should have such a huge impact on me, but since I type all day, the last month has sucked. And somehow I still felt like I couldn’t ask for help or extensions on deadlines, because I’ve built this “persona” of being super tough and dependable, so how could I admit I’d been taken down by a PINKY?

    I want to end this story on a positive note, but tbh I’m still overwhelmed at work, my house is a wreck, and I’m dreading my ER and surgery bills coming in the mail. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Chelsea, thank you for sharing this. You are far from alone.

  • KMS

    “If I fail, it will be perceived as at least in part because of my gender — and that would be my greatest failure of all.”

    THIS.

  • Katie

    Your honesty and authenticity are more important to the world than any manufactured image of being a ~~girlboss~~ could ever be. Thank you for always being so open and refreshing in a time when so many people are not!

  • It’s hard to contemplate stressful situations and an overload of tasks to-do. Often it’s shut down and pushed away under the notion to “think positive thoughts” and focus on the good. Thank you for not conforming to that. Your transparency and willingness to share struggles against a common (and damaging) narrative are appreciated.

  • Isabel

    As I also plan a move, start physical therapy for FOUR injuries that I ignored over the past year, and write a grad school app/take the GRE, I broke down in the parking lot of my campus yesterday. Yep, I was that girl weeping in her car. Tg the lot was empty, but I was at that point that I wouldn’t have cared anyway if someone had seen me.
    Then I went and did my work and #handledit, like we all do.

  • Rachael Junard

    There’s nothing wrong with being a Girl Boss and struggling. I think what you’re doing is honorable and great! Still definitely consider yourself one and know when to ask for help. Great piece!

  • Mary Kate Pleggenkuhle

    Thank you so much for this!!!
    My resolution in 2016 was to get better at the whole “delegate and trust” thing. It was super fucking hard, but at the end of the day, it was SO worth it. This makes me think of that quote “you have as many hours in your day as Beyonce”. Like, what garbage. No I don’t! I bet Bey doesn’t have to go grocery shopping/prepare her own meals let alone any other mundane “normal person” task. I remind myself of this all the time, and I think it’s allowed me to redefine what #girlboss means to me. Being a #girlboss means trusting people to help, and sometimes you have to learn hard lessons about people who can’t be trusted to help. Wishing you the best of luck! And I for sure recommend putting that resolution on your list for the year, make that a conscious decision, it will be worth it!

    • SN

      HAHA so true about the Bey quote. I’ve always hated that – thanks for articulating why.

  • kirstmas

    This is the 2017 post we needed. Thanks for your unflinching honesty and willingness to share it with us

  • Diana

    This article is very similar in sentiment to a lot of others I have read from you. They all have the same common thread: “it sucks that people present their life inaccurately on the internet. i will now go on a rant about this”. Well, yes, of course it sucks. But is there not also a of burden of responsibility that you carry yourself for endlessly scrolling through pinterest and instagram and blogs? Why are you doing this? What can possibly be achieved with it?

    I think people have trouble taking responsibility these days. If something on the internet is triggering you in a bad way, stop visiting said website, stop following said person. I’m not saying the way the internet world is right now is great, but I am saying that there are very simple things people can do to make things better for themselves that they often don’t.

    Not to mention the fact that I don’t think I’ve seen much of this from you either. #TotalHonestyTuesday was a great idea that I loved, until one day you posted a picture of your brand new rose-gold macbook pro with a caption about how bad it is that you’ve been too lazy to transfer over your files. Like, really? Are people supposed to ignore the fact that it screams “look @ my new laptop” instead of #TotalHonestyTuesday?

  • Bri

    Have you read the book #GIRLBOSS? Because it definitely mentions struggle and isn’t all like “work until you drop.” I think being a boss is about doing you, all the way, and doing what will make you feel happiest and successful on your terms. So chill if you need to chill. You’re not a girlboss for working to the point of losing your sanity.

  • Meghan

    With regards to chronic insomnia, ask your doctor about Trazodone. I suffered from insomnia, off and on, for a couple of years. Couldn’t fall asleep for hours, would wake up constantly; on one spectacular day, I had a total breakdown at work from exhaustion, and had to go home. I had been resistant to medicine, but enough was enough.

    Trazodone was originally developed decades ago as an anti-depression and anti-anxiety medicine. But it’s used as much for insomnia treatment nowadays. It’s cheap, it has decades of medical experience behind it, and it works. And it does help with anxiety, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

    Hang in there.

  • Judith

    Such a great piece… I love the honesty in it. I truly don’t know how anyone can handle being “full-on perfect” mode, I’ve tried and failed spectacularly so many times… So many, in fact, that I had to realize I’m physically unable to function like that. Was that a rude awakening…
    Luckily, I figured out the pieces I could cut so that I’d be more “me” and to hell with anyone who doesn’t like that. I’m extremely lucky though that my profession (I’m an engineer) lets meg get away with jeans-n-sneakers every day and the occasional antisocial glued-to-my-screen-please-don’t-talk-to-me day.
    Anyway, what I meant to say is that I feel awesome that I found a way out of it and empathize a lot with when quitting it seems impossible.

  • Monica

    Thanks for sharing, Chelsea.

    I would add that not only do we have dignity regardless of our mental state/how effortless our life may seem, but it also doesn’t matter how much we take on before we “break down”. I think your post says this, but sometimes it needs to be even more explicit.

    Some people might be pushed to the edge by running a business/buying a home/raising a family etc., but some people might be overwhelmed by way less, and that’s OK too. Like you said, our worth comes from our being, not our doing. No matter where on the spectrum of #girlboss we fall, we need to be compassionate towards ourselves.

    Brene Brown says this really well in the *must see* TED Talk about Vulnerability https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability (which I probably should re-watch once a week).

  • SN

    This is my favorite thing you’ve ever written.

    And ok I don’t mean to make this about myself but THIS is what I was trying to convey with my comment to the “Stop Taking Pride” piece, which yes I’ll admit I am still salty about because I received several comments that basically implied I was lazy and delusional. Everyone has a different level of “basic shit” and at a time where I had to move and also adjust to a much longer commute, plan a wedding, and take on a lot more responsibility at work, I felt like I was drowning in something other people could have handled much better. I have a partner who can’t take on a lot of the home responsibilities, so they fall to me – someone who also works full time! So I *feel you* on this. Hard.

    There is so much pressure on women to act like *I’ve got this* and just be cool. I want to rattle my friends who seem totally fine and be like HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS WITHOUT GOING BROKE but I really fear judgment. I mean, I’m judging myself, why wouldn’t they?

    Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. It makes me feel so much better – not in a way where I feel entitled to being scatterbrained and not have my shit together, but in a way that makes me not feel crazy and inadequate.

  • Sofia van Hayden

    An overwhelming number of pieces lately have trended toward tearing down #successful or #girlboss women, and I have to say I’m disappointed to see this coming from a feminist staff.

    “…because women with any sort of success or advantage are supposed to be self-deprecating. They are supposed to complain or evoke the terribleness of their lives, so that other women will not be threatened, to diffuse the powerful and frightening competitive instinct. This is an expectation most of us pick up in middle school, but the fact that it persists and lives on in the blogosphere … is shameful…”

    This is from Katie Roiphe of Slate, in a piece talking about how women are all about complaining that there are not enough successful women, but the ones they encounter they rip apart. She continues at the end with,

    ” if we are interested in female power then we should let our powerful women pursue power, without harassing them with our distaste for that pursuit. We should not expect them to be warmer, fuzzier, more nurturing than their male counterparts because to do so is to impose sexist expectations. We should not expect extraordinary women to be ordinary; we should not be constantly demanding that they live like us, or be like us or feel like us. Our discomfort with their ascent is mingled with resentments and jealousies and female jostling that is not worthy of the new world of opportunity in which we find ourselves (and, really, not worthy of the schoolyard from which it comes). If you want to see someone who is just like you, look in the mirror.”

    Being stressed, overtired, emotional – all of those things are normal. But what should never be okay is insinuating that “every woman who looks like she has it together is either disgustingly rich or a liar”. Plenty of women lead successful lives (that look pretty great to other people) without being either of those things, and none of them should ever be obligated to try to downplay those lives to make others feel better about their shortcomings or personal failures. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean the women you envy are too, and claiming they are to make yourself feel better is just wrong.

    I feel like instead of cheapening those women who *seem* unattainable, maybe we should be encouraging each other to be better versions of ourselves. Not copies of Meryl Streep (even though she’s a goddess) or Angelina Jolie, but ourselves.

  • emma

    🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽

  • Eva Jannotta

    Damn girl, I feel you. I really relate to this. Thank you for being candid and saying it with such aplomb!

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