The Courage to Become | Debra Giunta
The Courage to Become Patient
Earlier this spring I couldn’t get out of bed. I opened my eyes and squinted into a sunny, open window. I breathed into a summer breeze I’d spent a cold, grey, stagnant, Chicago winter craving. For a moment I was struck with the memories of spending evenings not so long ago positioning my body under a pile of blankets until I’d begin to sweat, close my eyes, and breathe deeply, imagining summer heat on my face and the smell of blooming flowers. But on this day, I pushed my body closer to the bottom edge of the bed, covered my face in blankets and shut out the breeze I’d spent what felt like a lifetime waiting for.
There was no tragedy. No dark mourning crippling me. “Go!” I could hear my best self trying, “Be outside with no coat on! Listen to pop music with the windows down!” Instead I curled myself smaller and smaller until my fetal position self was scrunched as far as possible from the top of sheets, my entryway into the rest of whatever my day would bring. I spent 40 more minutes facing off with my iPhone - silencing a snoozed alarm and shoving it further beneath the pillows as morning emails and text messages vibrated.
“Business ladies don’t do this,” I thought. They push through. Or rather, they don’t end up here. They’re thoughtful and strategic. They plan and they wait. But me, I’m messy. Most often it feels my ideas, motivation, strategy, and rationale live tangled up in a pile. I’m always subconsciously applying for a new job at my own company, Design Dance. I started a business partly because I wanted freedom to live autonomously, to explore new ideas, job titles, versions of myself. Entrepreneurship allows me to stretch every part of me as far as it will go, constantly striving for the most expandable version of myself.
And when that’s your goal, it’s sometimes hard to determine the intersection of exploration, growth, expectations, and capacity. I am not, nor have I ever been, a woman of boundaries.
My eyes are still closed and I begin to think about the last 9 months of my business. We’ve traveled, we’ve built things, we’ve collaborated. We’ve cried, and shared and felt vulnerable with each other. Today is not particularly special, but for whatever reason it is the day I’ve realized that it’s all been too much.
In 9 months, along with my team, I’ve prepared and presented a TEDx talk, hired two staff members, executed a multi-city tour, worked to co-launch a non-profit side project, attempted to launch a storytelling series, built the start of an online product, launched a Kickstarter campaign, an event series, a personal blog, and a podcast.
In a nearly comical display of a lack of boundaries, I even volunteered my time to host someone else’s event series in my city. Each project, an expression of my very real excitement - a version of myself stretching and learning. How did it lead here - the place where getting out of bed feels impossible?
On my best days, one could call my relationship to work “ambitious” or “energetic.” Often in retrospect, it feels “frenetic” or “irrational”. Because when ambitious ideas intersect with tighter than realistic deadlines, the excitement that used to fill them begins to drain.
On days like today, when the world seems to be asking for updates on my many started projects, I know that I’ve fallen once again into the trap of approaching projects at the speed of an invisible race I’m running with the rest of the world. A race where the finish line keeps extending at the rate of new ideas I’d like to explore until the only way you can feel about anything is “behind.”
The best thing about being your own boss is that there is no one to tell you what to work on. The terrifying thing about being your own boss is that there is no one to tell you what to work on. The amount you’re able to accomplish feels like it’s only limited to the amount of ideas you’re willing to execute. And so quickly the weight of the commitments you’ve built for yourself creeps up on you and seemingly overnight, the top of the sheets becomes an entryway into a to-do-list-prison you’ve built for yourself.
I arrived to work that day at 10am with the help of my boyfriend, my cat, and a cup of very strong homemade coffee. I struggled to normalize myself through meetings with my staff, grappling with the strong dissonance between my fetal position bed self and my business owner self. At lunch I sat at my desk and opened a word document.
What do you need? I wrote at the top.
Inside, I knew what I needed to write but it took me 20 whole minutes to write it.
I need to stop, I finally wrote.
I didn’t need to stop running a business or having ideas or being energetic, but doing everything at once was killing me.
When I attempt to come to terms with why I live in this cycle, and why it feels like I always have it’s the same reason I struggle to save money, why I always need to eat my snacks in the car on the way home from the grocery store, or why I can’t watch a long movie. I’m impatient. The concept of patience is a difficult one for me.
At it’s core, it asks that I feel excited about a vision, but then wait indefinitely to see it come to life. It asks that I hold onto something valuable, wait, enjoy the process. In some ways, patience asks that I risk the things I hold most dear to me; What if I lose the magic of an early stage idea? What if the excitement my teammates have fades over time? What if after a while, I realize this idea is no good and then I’ll have wasted time? What if it turns out I’m wrong?
Acting quickly allows me to leverage my excitement, but my speed also means that my surroundings blur together and I lose the value of learning from the process, the joy of the execution itself, and the ability to create work I’m truly proud of.
It’s been a few months since I’ve struggled to get out of bed. And from the outside I probably appear exactly the same, but I know that I’m practicing something new. For the first time, I’m answering questions with “not right now” or “I’m working on it” or “I’ve decided to take a break from that.” And while allowing myself to let go of the hold I once had on my ideas is scary, it’s also one of the most empowering experiences I’ve ever had. Having patience to get to the finish line means you leave space to connect with who and what you want right now. It means you’re enough because you’re “doing work you’re proud of,” not because you’re “doing so much”.
Patience brings you back to the day to day reason you’re working at all.
Somewhere in the pile of things you planned to do is the reason you started in the first place.