Honoring The Pause
“So, what are you doing now?”
That’s the question I’ve heard on repeat since I quit my “high-powered” job running a media company less than a year ago. When I first resigned my role as co-president of Latina Magazine, an iconic brand for Latinas in the US, I cringed when someone would ask me what I was up to. Because the answer was…not much.
It was a radical change for someone who wore her overpacked schedule like a badge of honor. But after three years of non-stop stress and travel and missing my young children’s milestones because I was always working (and rarely present), I decided to jump off the merry-go-round and reclaim my family and my life.
So suffering from severe burnout and near depression, I resigned. And I was totally relieved...for about one day.
Immediately after settling into my quieter existence, a new and unexpected set of pressures arose.
“What’s next for you?” That was the question I’d been hearing and receiving on repeat since I formally announced my resignation.
Surely, I wouldn’t leave my job without having another fabulous one lined up? I mean, everyone said as much. From the outside, my position had looked glamorous and powerful; I got to meet and interview luminaries like Barack Obama, Jennifer Lopez, and Rihanna on the regular. No one saw the day-to-day challenges and realities, like chasing interviews and breaking news at the lightning speed it takes in the online space, as well as the stress and sadness I felt as we went through rounds of layoffs.
In fact, some branding “expert” whom I had just met at a “power luncheon” told me with complete authority that I should act fast and GO BIG when it came to my career. This totally freaked me out, as it was the exact opposite of what I felt like doing. I felt like going nowhere and dissolving. Like the caterpillar before it becomes the butterfly.
I didn’t want to be the butterfly. I was the butterfly. It was fun—I flitted and flew. I just wanted to wrap myself up and fall apart for a while so I could get grounded again. Come back to center, come back to me. This genuinely didn’t seem so bad to me, but few could handle the in-between, can’t-put-a-name-on-it life I’ve been living.
I went to a conference, one I had booked while still at my last job, and my name tag said “Former Co-President of Latina.” I didn’t even get to be plain old “Robyn Moreno.” To some people, I’ll forever be the “former blah blah blah” until my next thing. But what about my now thing, or my NO thing?
Can we celebrate the humble, quiet home life as much as the glamorous, busy boss life?
My friend and mentor Nely Galán is a NY Times bestselling author and entrepreneur. Before that, she was the first female vice president of entertainment at Telemundo. What no one knows, and what’s probably not on her LinkedIn profile, is that for four years between when she left Telemundo and wrote her bestseller book, she veered off the executive track to both take a work break and finish a bucket-list dream. She went back to school and got her masters and PhD in psychology. When I asked her why psychology she told me because she wanted to heal. She wanted to better understand the minds of the macho men who for years had caused her so much stress at work and in her personal life.
That, to me, is interesting. But our society doesn’t seem to value or support the pause. We only care about living that #boss life where we create and cultivate. But where’s our “chill out and disintegrate” conference? Where we learn how to be, truly be, before we even think about doing? So for the past months I have taken a break from the hustle and instead honored the pause. While it might look like nothing to some, it has been everything—reconnecting me to myself, my family, my medicine, and my culture.
I started taking cooking classes and have become a vegan. Or a “legan,” which is my term for a lazy-ass vegan, but hey, I’m trying!
I’ve joined a hiking club. My home of Cold Spring, New York is a world-class hiking town. I first came here as visitor, hiking with my husband. We loved it so much we moved here! And then, between kids, work, and life, I never hiked in Cold Spring again. For three years. Not kidding. But now I want to do things differently. Slow things down. Enjoy what I’ve got. Reclaim what I’ve forgotten.
I joined a club called the Hiking Bandits. We’re bandits because we “steal time” to go hiking, usually early in the morning or after school drop-off. Our hikes are usually short—two hours max. But they’re long in natural beauty, physical exertion, discovery, and camaraderie. Sometimes we stop and meditate, listening to water flowing in the stream. Other times we’re chatty, talking about what we’re making for dinner or what’s troubling us at the moment. I’ve cried.
One my most surprising and unexpected reclamations has been my own culture and medicine. My great-grandmother was a curandera, a Mexican-American folk healer, mystic, and helper. I’ve known about her my whole life but never paid attention, or perhaps even valued her wisdom, until now. The activist and icon Dolores Huerta once told me the most powerful thing we can do is to know our herstory. I’m now studying Curanderismo at the University of New Mexico, and I study privately with a master curandera. It feels like I’m restoring a deep sense of power.
And, of course, my greatest reconnection has been to my family. Even though we’ve lost a six-figure income (for now, anyway), I can say with complete honesty that our family is happier than ever. I’m not saying it’s been easier than ever.
My presence has plugged us in—and together—as a family in a way we just weren’t before.
I’m more involved with my kids; I teach yoga at my younger daughter’s day care, and I’m a garden parent for my oldest’s first grade class. But just because I’m around all the time doesn’t mean they are perfect kids. My feisty baby scratched her sister so hard she still has a scar, and my sensitive older child still hates speaking up in class, though she is getting better. And honestly, I still sometimes find myself being that lady who screams at her kids at the grocery store. But I’m aware of all of this. Aware enough to deal with it, aware enough to de-escalate it, and aware enough to feel the pain of it all. The pain I was probably trying to avoid by being so fabulously busy.
Someone recently gave me the biggest compliment I think I have ever received. They commented on how “grounded” I was. Now, I am a Gemini, which is an air sign. And in the past, because of my constant busyness, I have been called a “tormenta,” which is a storm, and also a “spinning top” because I was always whirling and moving. So it took every part of me to stop myself from exclaiming, “Me? Grounded! How can you tell?” Instead, I replied calmly, “Thank you. I’ve been working on it.”
In Nahuatl, which is an indigenous language used by the Aztecs, the word for happiness actually means “rootedness”—to be grounded. I’m not sure if happiness roots you, or being rooted brings you happiness, but I’m glad I’ve rediscovered them both.
I’m especially glad I’m grounded, because very soon, I’ll be back into the land of doing. One, because I need to financially, but also because I finally feel ready. I’ve been writing a book about this process, and I’m planning to launch a podcast, sharing what I’ve learned. The difference now is that I will be coming from a place of fullness, not needing to be filled by others’ wants or needs, or to live by reacting to others’ expectations. And that, to me, is success. It’s not a coincidence that this pause has lasted about nine months, which is a baby’s gestation period, because I definitely feel reborn.
So my deepest, truest, most rooted advice to anyone is to honor the pause. Take the break. Allow yourself to fall apart. Follow your own instincts and path, even—and especially—if it takes you off course. You can only find yourself after you have been a little lost.
This essay originally appeared on the Woman Born.