Discover more from Origin Stories
Breaking Performance Addiction...
... and wrapping up my first season of Origin Stories
In a recent podcast*, Peter Attia brought up a paradigm shift that occurred to him while writing his book, “Outlive”. “What good is it to live longer,” he asked himself, “when you are really unhappy?” He described the cause of his unhappiness:
Peter Attia: A big part of my problem was performance-based esteem. The drug that I needed, Bari, was performance. Not food, not alcohol, not sex, not gambling, but performance. My whole life was a journey to find things to do well in: in school, in surgery, in swimming, in boxing.
Bari Weiss: Most of us hear that and we think, “Just a Type A, high-performing person.”
PA: It depends on what the root of that is. There are some people who, I think, are Type A, and the root of that is love of the thing that they’re doing. And I’m not saying that I didn’t love the things I was doing. But the main impetus of those things was to get the esteem, was to be worthy.”
This resonated deeply with me. Until recently, my ability to run a successful business and make a positive ‘dent in the universe’ was my primary standard of self-worth. If I couldn’t do that, who was I?
Life has a funny way of making us confront the lessons we need to learn. I quit my job before the birth of my daughter in the fall of 2019. I was still at home when the COVID lockdowns hit six months later. Rather than return to work, I suddenly found myself at home with my infant and toddler (and my husband and my au pair), trying to create screen-free normalcy without the support of school, playdates, or library outings.
On various forms, I confronted the field, “Occupation”. I didn’t really know what to say. “Former entrepreneur?” or “I swear I used to be productively employed?” For so long, in my childhood, my father had disparaged raising children as a worthwhile pursuit. My inner honesty required me to write, “Homemaker,” even as my thoughts ran in circles questioning what the heck that even was. I wasn’t producing anything of value that could be traded for money or quantified in any way, I told myself.
My children returned to school in the spring of 2021 and, relieved, I immediately began thinking about what I wanted the second half of my career to look like. The concept for Origin Stories began to emerge. I started interviewing people and I had an ambitious, large-scale vision of what I wanted to achieve.
Life sat back, grabbed a drink, and handed out the advanced assignment.
I got a major health diagnosis just weeks before launching Origin Stories, and realized it would require significant surgery and downtime. I let my interviewees know that my project was delayed and focused on the immediate future. Thankfully, I made a full recovery by the end of that year, but throughout 2022 I found myself mentally paralyzed. I wondered, “How can I commit to any meaningful endeavour, when I could be called away due to school closures or surprise health issues at any time?” and “Who am I, if I am not able to commit to a meaningful endeavour?”
One interesting data point came in March 2022, when I spent a month building a team and pulling together a website to help Ukrainian refugees find shelter, working 16 hours days. It reminded me that I still had my startup-CEO chops. It taught me how to ask my husband and au pair to step in and step up when I wanted to focus on work. It also helped me realize that I could make this lifestyle work, but that I didn’t want to anymore.
I recognized that nurturing my children, spending time with my husband and having time for friends and family were important values to me. I was *choosing* to spend time on them, rather than on work. How to square this new idea with my performance-based self-esteem? I had no clue, but it was the right question to ask.
The next data point came in early 2023, as I was preparing to teach a personal leadership class at UMD. I was trying to come up with a prompt to help my students overcome the paralysis some face when considering what they see as impossible goals. I wrote: “The question isn’t, ‘Can I do it?’ but ‘How can I do it?’
This was transformational. It was clear that work, the way I used to do it, wasn’t compatible with the whole constellation of values I wanted in my life at this point. I had to think about work a different way: if I wasn’t going to work 16 hour days to build a world-changing company (and thus feed the performance-self-esteem monster), how was I going to work?
I decided I was going to do work that was meaningful to me, which increased my knowledge and skills around my chosen goals and gave me a sense of moving forward, even through the repetitive, circular aspects of raising a family. It didn’t matter if it changed the world or earned me accolades; it was enough if it had an impact in my sphere of influence and paid my bills.
I noticed that was I hesitant to launch Origin Stories because I didn’t think I could do it at the massive scale I envisioned, given the time constraints I had voluntarily embraced in my life. When I took my own advice, and asked, “How can I do it, within the time I have?” things started shifting.
I know that massive social media growth requires daily posting and videos, and that my target Gen Z audience is on TikTok. What felt possible to me, however, was a bi-weekly Substack post. I added Instagram for my younger audience, and LinkedIn for parents and educators. I considered my time availability: I had some 12 weeks left of the academic year, before summer set in with its travel plans and patchwork childcare.
I made a deal with myself: I would publish twice-a-week for 12 weeks, then take a summer hiatus to meet my other commitments. I would return in the fall. This was so far from the perfect social media strategy I imagined, but it was what I could do. And I did it.
I have 20 published posts, some paying subscribers (including one I don’t know personally, THANK YOU) and 1,250 monthly views. I’ve recently attended the Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers (EACE) conference, and was able to point to Origin Stories as something that I am actually doing, not something I aspire to do. It feels good.
And now I am going to take that summer hiatus, teach my summer intensive class, learn from students (my audience) and enjoy time with my family. I won’t be perfect, it won’t feed the performance-monster, but I will love doing it and I will be happy.
I’m looking forward to re-connecting with you all in the fall, and sharing many more exciting Origin Stories.
Have a great summer!