“Just be yourself,” my honey says as she sweeps the hair from my eyes and kisses me goodbye on her way to work.
The problem is, I don’t know what that means anymore. Be yourself. Like I’m supposed to know, at the age of 52, who the hell that is. The best I can come up with at the moment is that I’m the sticky, messy peanut butter right smack in the middle of the sandwich generation, and a creative visionary who has found herself weighted down by a world gone sour and a hefty mountain of grown-up responsibilities. These things, while certainly part of a life fully lived, do not necessarily provide the shiny me that I’m going for.
Back when I was younger and looking for a job, it was different. The interview was all about impressing potential employers, wearing the right clothes, and saying the right things, all to give them a sneak peek into your badass potential. Back then, I didn’t know who I was, but it didn’t matter as long as I fit into the costume or job title they presented, because back then, it was assumed that I didn’t have my shit together, that I was the lost girl in her late teens and twenties trying to find a way to make ends meet with tiny bursts of experience typed onto an organized template. Babysitter. Cleaner of snake tanks at Pet Jungle. Scraper of slime off the giant blocks of feta in the cheese department of Integral Yoga Natural Foods.
It’s been roughly twenty-five years since my last job interview. I suppose I’ve updated my resume a couple of times since then to reflect my well-rounded and diverse education, my time spent as an entrepreneur, circle facilitator, artist, writer, and stay-at-home mom, as if these things were like nuggets of gold imbedded in a desert-like job history. Then there are the things that I’m not really supposed to put on my resume—my three-year stint with debilitating illness, followed by another three-or-four-year spell of barely surviving while helping my struggling son find his loving spirit again. Not to mention the fact that I’ve written the entire first draft of a book while hunkering down during a global pandemic (fist bump!). But there is no designated spot on a resume for these things that prove, without a doubt, that I can handle just about anything, that I am disciplined and hard-working, and that my greatest strength (as well as perhaps what can most overwhelm me if I don’t instill boundaries), is a wide-open heart that is devoted to bearing witness to both the beauty and the tragedies that unfold around me on a daily basis. And there is certainly no designated spot on a resume to lay out my nagging fears of illness returning, of my parents dying, of letting go of my kids as they forge their own paths, of molding to the schedule and expectations of someone else, of having my worth determined by a minimum wage paycheck, of covid, of having to drive to and from work in torrential rain and being away from my “therapy” dogs.
Just be yourself, I think to myself as I flow through my morning yoga practice— one that is called “Lionheart,” and is taught by Faith Hunter, a woman whose name feels aptly appropriate. I breathe in as I stretch into a modified camel pose, and imagine for a split second that the ceiling is a vast universe of stars and planets. I exhale while leaning forward and planting my hands on the floor in front of me, and I stick my tongue out and release a loud roar that invites Juniper, the puppy, down from her roost on the sofa. It’s clear that she’s not sure whether she should show concern or grab a toy and shove it into my face. I repeat this over and over, long after the hunter of faith has moved onto something else, because it makes me feel like I’m revving up my engines, like I’m dipping into a long-lost vat of bravery, like I’m a giant silk moth quivering just before its very first flight.
I carry this notion of being myself into the bedroom as I pick out what to wear. If I was truly myself, I’d wear overalls, the ones stained with dirt, paint, and peach juice, but I take a moment to consider what is “appropriate.” I settle for a nice pair of artsy pants and the only crisp white shirt I own, along with my favorite necklace, a large wooden spiral that reminds me that everything is a process. During one final glance in the mirror, I ignore the flyaway wisps of silver hair and roar like a lion one more time.
I find my way there early and sit in the car and listen to empowering songs until it’s time to go in. My belly is in knots. I ask to use the restroom and find a moment of sterile respite before greeting my potential employer in her office. Just stay present and be yourself, I whisper to myself one last time, throwing in a silent lion’s roar for good measure.
“So what are you doing these days?” she asks, my resume in hand. When I tell her I’ve been focusing on writing a book, she tilts her head ever so slightly, and pries, “Yes, but what else have you been doing for work?” I feel deflated, but recover quickly and go on to share about my gifts in organizing and creative thinking, tempering feral teenagers, and leading circles of women. I disclose that this is my first job interview in twenty-five years, not because I haven’t been working, but because I’ve been deeply committed to each position I’ve inhabited, from artist to mother. When she asks me what the most expensive thing I’ve ever done for self-care was, I look up at the fluorescent light to ponder, squeamishly wondering what the intent is behind her query. “Swimming with wild dolphins,” I declare, and suddenly, I feel comforted by the memory of floating in the sea, and her eyebrows grow curious. Something opens up between us, like a breeze through a window. Over the next few minutes, she tells me what an average day would look like, and we giggle and compare notes about our pandemic puppies.
Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and I spend the drive home wishing I had taken a breath and slowed down before answering certain questions, especially the standard hypothetical ones, like, “What would you do if a hurricane swept through and the power went out and we were busy with clients?” The obvious answer I’m sure she was looking for was to ensure the wellbeing of the clients, but instead, I found myself calling the power company and looking for candles and flashlights first. Doink. I begin wondering if I’ll ever be “employee” material, and start conjuring up circle ideas in my head and feel a subtle shiver of excitement.
I guess I was myself. Confident and giddy. Open and guarded. Resourceful and imperfect. Only time will tell if that was enough for her, and if the job itself ultimately lands in my bones as the right one for me if it is offered (afterall, I’m a bit more finicky in my old(er) age). In the meantime, I’m proud of myself for showing up despite the monstrous load of worries and uncertainties that hang from me like cobwebs. My family is trudging through a ridiculous amount of change right now, and just this morning, we found out my father-in-law is in the hospital. I’m relieved to know that I am more than these struggles, that they can’t paralyze me.
There’s a certain amount of alchemy that happens between now and when I’ll know if I’m offered the job, and so I buckle myself into writing like it’s a safety belt and remind myself to trust the process and be open to whatever outcome presents itself, for there might be something even better out there, waiting in the wings until I finish a more final draft of my book. Most importantly, I tell myself to be patient and brave and openhearted, to keep practicing being myself… whoever that is.