Resilience In Both Work + Life
As I write this little ditty about resilience, I’m looking out the window from my 8th address in 9 years.
For much of my career as a book and magazine designer, I’ve had a partner that was an active duty soldier for the United States Army. The perks of being a mil-family were living and exploring beautiful places, meeting a wonderful community that resides all around the globe, and, goodness, the healthcare was almost worth it.
But, among many perks, his tenure in the Army also came with 2 rapid deployments, months and months of solo-parenting, giving birth to our second kiddo alone, and always putting my career in the margins.
I want to caveat this whole spiel to say I’m not knocking my hubs or his career path. We both agreed on the military lifestyle and understood that the Army requires its mission to come first, with family and everything else being second. Even though we knew this, shit was still hard.
When colleagues or new friends hear my story as a military spouse, many say, “You are so resilient.” And they’re right, I agree. I am resilient, well, reluctantly resilient. Spoken with the best intentions to give me strength, to keep me brave and unbreakable, I secretly despised that icky ‘resiliency’ word. Assigning that word to me felt like I was on a pedestal I didn’t want to be standing on. I didn’t want to have to be resilient.
I Didn’t Want to Be Resilient
I didn’t want to roll with the punches and stop my work when the waitlist for our new on-base child care option was 9 months+ long when we only had 10 months left at that duty station. I bent with the flexibility of a rubber band, halting my work and creative joy as I managed another cross-country move alone while solo-parenting a toddler and being nauseously pregnant with our rainbow baby. I didn’t want to email treasured clients that I needed to pause my work mid-project because I was having trouble concentrating after hearing my husband sob on the phone from what he was witnessing on his tour. I didn’t want to be flexible, strong, and brave. I didn’t want to be resilient.
But unfortunately, I had to be just that. I’ve had to learn how to send my husband off to Afghanistan with 24 hours of notice, not knowing the next time I would see him and immediately slap a brave face on for my kids. I’ve learned how to rebound and refocus after Mother Army changes our next duty station orders days before the movers arrive. I’ve learned how to handle challenging conversations about my husband’s final wishes should he be killed while jumping out of planes or repelling out of helicopters. And it breaks my heart to say that I’ve learned no news is good news and that silence from the other end of the world is far better than a knock at my door.
Chronic Resilience left me Battered and Bruised
Due to the nomadic and chaotic nature of my husband’s career, I reluctantly moved from an in-house designer at an alt-weekly magazine to start up my own solo operation focusing on designing books, magazines, and long-form collateral pieces like cookbooks and annual reports. After the birth of my first baby, having my own studio allowed me the flexibility to work in the margins of nap time and to work anywhere I dropped my hat.
At the time, however, running my own design studio was not something I envisioned ever doing. I could handle the design part easily, but I had to self-teach myself all the business things like setting up my own business bank accounts, creating a marketing strategy, and paying taxes to whatever state I was living in. I can so vividly remember binging the early days of the Being Boss podcast as I would take morning stroller walks with my infant daughter, just trying to soak in as much Boss information as possible.
I know this all sounds so woe is me. But trust me when I say that I threw serious elbows to carve out my own space, my own creative time. When I was able to work and design, I could experiment, explore and allow my mind to wander and wonder. Working and designing filled my soul and my bank account, but it’s hard to get in that creative space when you’re worried about your better half, who is halfway around the world wearing government-issued kevlar to breakfast.
It took so much mental energy to jump from magazine layout to filling out next of kin paperwork. I never felt like I was thriving personally or professionally but only surviving from one day to the next to keep my kids fed and mostly well-adjusted. I was on an endless loop to be unbreakable and try to be the backbone for my family AND find space to fill my creative soul. I was trying to be resilient so that no matter the hurdle that lay before me, I could come out on the other side, even if that meant I would be battered and bruised.
Resilience In A Healthy Way
Overall, my life now is all very normal and low-key but genuinely full of life. We spend our weekends together doing yard work and piddling around farmer’s markets. And my mind and creative spirit can finally put the constant state of resiliency to bed. I can begin to thrive and not just survive. The other day, I painted for the first time in years, and my creative heart sang joyfully.
My argument against the word resiliency isn’t that I or others shouldn’t be resilient. At one time or another, we all need to be, by definition, resilient. I argue that we shouldn’t ‘have’ to be resilient as an attainable goal, a constant state of being, or even a personality-defining trait. The trendy lingo like “leveling-up,’ ‘hustle’ or ‘Good Vibes Only’ floating around on social media and blog posts everywhere can be dangerous.
Trying to be in a constant state of resiliency isn’t desirable or admirable. It’s fucking difficult and exhausting, and in my case, being resilient has left lasting scars on my mental and physical health. Instead of glamorizing the ‘grind’ and the ‘always getting back up’ aesthetic, let’s celebrate joy for joy’s sake, getting restful sleep, and being kind to yourself.
So, dear reader, as my little soap box against the word ‘resiliency’ comes to a close, take the day to be kind to yourself and do at least one thing that brings you joy. I’ll be perfectly content to work on my next design assignment while watching the birds and squirrels play in front of my lovely new window view.
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