Before I ventured off to start the business of my dreams (Veracity, of course!), I was the CEO of the fashion brand Cynthia Rowley. It was the job I had dreamed of, the job that I thought would be the pinnacle of my career and my happiness.
And in many ways, it did light me up. When you find yourself the CEO of a well-known fashion label in the middle of New York Fashion Week watching women walk down the runway in clothes that you had a hand in producing and selling, it’s hard not to pinch yourself. I remember standing beside the runway as the music began blaring thinking, “Man, this is so f**king cool!”
But at the same time, I was surprised in those moments that I didn’t feel the real enjoyment and fulfillment that I thought I would. The job may have been a dream job, but I wasn’t living my dream with it. I just didn’t get that feeling. It took a while for me to realize that just because everyone else thinks your job is the holy grail doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. Mine didn’t give me that soul-deep pride and joy that comes with finding your ultimate sense of self and purpose.
Part of my problem was that I was focusing on what I thought I should want, rather than what the little voice in the back of my head was trying to tell me I really did want. But the other part was that I was prioritizing the wrong things, namely balance and happiness. As a self-diagnosed perfectionist, I was like so many women I know, tying myself into busy knots trying to find the perfect state of zen and balance where, like Carrie Bradshaw, I really could have it all. But I have since discovered that I become the best version of myself when, instead of balance, I prioritize joy, that raw childhood feeling that combines excitement, bliss, and contentment.
Joy can seem elusive, at least more elusive than something like happiness, but I think it’s what we all should be aiming for. My problem with balance is that there is no real definition of it, so how can you make that your goal if it’s so undefinable that you can never actually know if you’ve achieved it? And happiness presents the false expectation that you should get to a point where you feel that way 100% of the time. But that’s never going to be the case.
Joy, on the other hand, is an in-the-moment sensation that is achievable, though that doesn’t mean it’s easy. For me, it has taken a lot of work to get to the joy because it requires being brutally honest with yourself. Our lives can get so complicated that it can be hard to figure out what you really want at your core.
Like a lot of type-A people, it’s easy for me to get caught in the trap of what I think I should do or what other people think I should do. Like, I should want to go to a certain party or to have dinner with some fabulous person who has a huge following on Instagram. And sometimes those are the things that are genuinely going to fulfill me. A part of me loves opening myself up to new people and opportunities.
But there’s a difference between choosing those experiences for the right reason and choosing them because they look cool on paper, are considered an accomplishment by everyone around me, or check off some arbitrary box on my to-do list. What I’m really searching for now are those experiences that give me an immediate sense of satisfaction that lasts.
After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve realized that these moments that produce joy are the ones where I can connect with people on a very personal level. They aren’t always the “Instagram worthy” ones—they could be as mundane as grabbing a salad with a close girlfriend or having an at-home date night with my husband—but they are the ones where I feel intense joy from being with people new and old who really get who I am at my deepest level, who can push me to be my best, and who can laugh with me and even at me.
Figuring out who you are and what will bring you joy and fulfillment is a process. As all of us obsessive to-do list makers have unfortunately learned, growing is never something you can check off and be done with.
For me, this has been an especially frustrating journey because, even though I’ve found my passion in the wellness world, I’m not actually great at the typical tenets of wellness. Everyone’s always talking about things like journaling, starting a daily gratitude practice, and meditation. I’ve explored all of these, and I’ve tried really hard to be good and diligent about incorporating them into my life. And they always go well…at first. But then these things begin to stress me out big time. I find myself literally adding “meditation” to my to-do list and then being overwhelmed with anxiety when I don’t get to it.
Today, I think of myself as an experiment. I try new things in an effort to check in with myself and figure out what will really bring me joy, but I don’t feel bad if something isn’t working out.
Right now, the process that works for me involves taking the time for self-reflection every Sunday. Sometimes it’s a more formal practice, sitting down with some good music and a piece of paper; other times it’s as easy as jotting down notes on my iPhone when I’m on the go. But it gives me a little bit of space to bring all of the underlying thoughts from the week to the surface and to make sure that my priorities are still the ones that are cultivating this sense of joy.
As this year comes to a close and the stress of the holiday season is upon us, I am constantly reminding myself — and now my beloved Veracity community — that your life doesn’t have to be perfect, but I hope it is always filled with joy.