Seven months ago, I was drinking a glass of wine with my friend Kate. Kate is a fellow Fair Trade Partner at Threads, and just an all around amazing and radiant human being. We were talking about our families, our work, the state of the world, and our responsibility to step up and lead.
“We need to be brave, truly embrace our authentic selves and shine our lights,” I said. “The world needs us right now.”
I heard the words coming out of my mouth and could feel the unease in my body – chest tightening, heartbeat accelerating, and an intense wave of nausea – sure signs that I am full of shit. I was being neither brave nor authentic in my life. I was drinking wine with Kate, waxing philosophical about authenticity, and lying. With every breath I was lying.
What a gift it was to be lying to my radiant friend Kate, though. Radiance is defined as “light or heat as emitted or reflected by something.” And boy oh boy, did she reflect the heat of my own lies back to me. I was a hypocrite and I could no longer pretend otherwise. Sitting with Kate, feeling her radiant heat lay waste to my lies, I knew that it was time to tell the truth and set myself free.
For years, I had felt lost, confused, and unhappy. This was inexplicable to me. I had a great husband and two healthy and beautiful girls. I loved my work, lived in a beautiful house, and had the most incredible family and community surrounding me. So why was I having anxiety attacks, not sleeping, and feeling distracted and numb when spending time with the people I loved most in the world? Why was I eating and drinking too much? Why was I scrolling through Facebook, watching mindless TV, and actively avoiding being alone with my thoughts? No matter how I avoided, though, I could still hear the quiet whisper of my fear: I didn’t belong here and I didn’t know why.
On the rare occasions when I would sit with my thoughts and listen to my heart, I experienced a deep aching in my soul. I had a vision for my life, a purpose that was calling to me and I could not see how I could ever fulfill it. I knew I was being called to be a leader in the fight to end global systemic suffering, a leader in connecting and empowering women around the world, and to help bring forth a new way of working collaboratively that lifts us all up. I couldn’t see how I could possibly lose myself in this purpose and still be the kind of wife and mother my family deserved. These two worlds seemed mutually exclusive. I could not have it all, so I continued to pretend, to avoid, to numb, and to quietly suffer.
I rationalized that I must be having some sort of midlife crisis. This will pass. It will be okay. I’ll get over these feelings. This is normal. I’ll pull myself together. I have to, I have no other choice.
And then, the unthinkable happened. I fell in love again and this time with a woman. An extraordinary woman. A woman who shares my values for dedicating our lives to bettering the lives of others. A woman who not only supports me but elevates me. She makes me a better mom, a better activist, and a better business leader. She nurtures and cares for me in a way that I never knew was possible.
I didn’t want to fall in love with her. I really, really didn’t. I spent months telling myself that it wasn’t true. This was an impossible situation. I was married to a wonderful man. A man that I loved dearly and who loved me back. The thought of breaking his heart was devastating. And, my girls, how could I break their beautiful, precious, and innocent little hearts? How would they ever be okay if we got divorced? We had promised – pinky swore actually – that we never would.
So I stuffed this new love down into the prison of all my other inconvenient feelings. What was one more to add to this overcrowded cell of strange and bewildering emotions? Love could hold court with loneliness and confusion and shame while I continued to pretend that everything was fine.
And then: a revelation! What if my daughters were in a situation like this? What if my daughters knew in their deepest reserves of knowing that the current design of their lives was not serving them? What if they knew that more was possible for them? What if they fell in love with an extraordinary person and then stuffed those feelings in a drawer and went on pretending? My God, that would break my heart.
And so I counseled myself the way I would counsel them: You are the only one who knows what is best for you. You must choose yourself before you choose someone else. Choose you, and the rest will work itself out.
My fear was loud, but my resolve to live an authentic life was louder. I made a choice to tell the truth and open my heart to the possibility of having it all — a loving and solid coparenting partnership with my husband, a new future with my unexpected love, an extraordinary relationship with my daughters, and the freedom to fully pursue my purpose.
The last year has been filled with scary and difficult conversations and choices, and our family continues to navigate our way through this unfamiliar terrain. I am unwavering in my stand, however, to live my truest, most authentic life. In doing so, I am taking a stand for every person who feels she can’t live her truth. There is nothing more radiant than a person embracing her truest self. When we do so, we give others permission to do the same.
I am forever grateful I have chosen to surround myself with radiant friends whose very beings will not tolerate my lies. Thank you, Kate, for the gift of your being. May we all surround ourselves with people who will use their radiance to call forth our own. May we all radiate our truth through our families, our communities, and our world.