This post is rough, and that’s the point. You’re getting all my interruptions, digressions and second-guesses. You’re getting all of me.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about integration of the parts of me I have worked really hard to keep separate. Work me/home me. Strategic me/creative me. Leader me/emotional me. [I’ve been also thinking a lot about the danger of binary thinking, but this is where my head is, so let’s just sit here for a minute, kay?]


When did I first learn to separate myself? When I went to school? When I hit puberty? When I was fourteen and a tragedy caused me to contemplate my mortality for the first time? All of these, over and again. It was safer to be separate. That way, no one could hurt the softness I kept at home, under the covers, with a flashlight, writing stories. It was safer to be smart. That way, no one would notice my female body and my vulnerable heart. 


[While writing this, I was interrupted by my son’s sobs downstairs. I rushed to him, paused his TV show and held him as he cried. I asked him if he missed his dad who is out of town. No. He was crying because on “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” they killed off a character he really liked because of “how old he was and how kind he was.”]


I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a humane workplace or field or “work.” Mostly by observing the ways in which the places I have worked or the places I desire to work are not humane. (I googled it: humane means “having or showing compassion or benevolence.”)


I have spent twenty years in the nonprofit field, across higher education, education and arts and culture. I have worked alongside people who pour themselves into their work because the work demands it. And I was one of those people. I WAS my work. My friends were work friends. My social gatherings were work gatherings. My creative work was completely separate, my creative friends completely unconnected to my work. I had values about a humane workplace but I did not uphold those values for myself – which means I did not truly uphold them. I perpetuated this “kill yourself” culture for others. “Kill myself” means deferring or sidelining physical and emotional needs – in my case, for work. Time off. Sleep. Relationships. It means killing off the part of you that is not-work. Or at least putting it into a deep carbon freeze as long as work-related responsibilities call (they always do).


The colleagues I work alongside now are tired. Some are better at setting boundaries than others. But all of them think it is their personal responsibility to take care of themselves outside of work. And it is. But isn’t it also the responsibility of all of us to take care of each other? And doesn’t that extend to those who hold power in the workplace, to the extent that we can create a culture of care in an environment that demands productivity? As an Interim ED, I have the privilege of making decisions that are popular and necessary while avoiding the tough ones. I proposed a one-week office closure this summer, so staff can rejuvenate without worrying that their work will pile up in their absence. Many other organizations have made the same decision and made the case in a way that is far more eloquent (an example from Youth Speaks).


Right now, I am in the sticky in-between of an old career and a new something-else. I am working 3-5 consulting gigs and also building a portfolio for writing for tv. I am working on my own solo theater work. I am writing, and it is work. I still catch myself thinking that I AM my work. When a fellowship rejection rolls in, it knocks me down in a way that other setbacks won’t. I become the grumpy mom who snaps at her kid for walking too slowly or pulls an oracle card because guidance from a deck of woo is comforting when you feel at sea.


The more I see of the entertainment world, the more I recognize the hallmarks of kill yourself culture.  I know how to do that. I could forgo social events (I did last weekend) and neglect my family (see also: Wednesday night writing group). I could give all of myself to this. But I’d just be replacing one sense of self worth for another, both of them dependent on someone else’s opinion.




Or…what? Or something else. I’m not sure what. I just know that the next part of my path has to be about creating a more humane culture – in work, family, and art – than I have known before. 


There’s another part to this, too. And it’s about integration. I’m not one thing. I’m not nonprofit Jess. I’m not mom Jess. I’m not artist Jess. I’m not aspiring tv writer Jess. I’m all of these and a nerd and a goofy person who enjoys whacky comedy and detective shows. I’m a person who has been truly, deeply changed by motherhood and also truly deeply doesn’t think of herself as a mother. 


They are connected: killing yourself is about cutting out all the fluff and being one thing. Workplaces will demand that you be one thing. That is how they understand productivity. 


But that is not how people are. And that is not how I do my best work. And it is not how I choose to be. I do my best work in the sticky in-between. I’m going to live here for a while. And you can figure out whatever you want to call me.