I have always admired people that seem to have lived multiple lives. You know who I mean, those people who’ve worked different careers, lived in different cities or countries, maybe even been married more than once. I envied their courage to pivot and redefine themselves. They were leading full and exciting lives. I had always hoped to one day be one of those people, but when I was finally presented with an opportunity to change my life, I found myself surprisingly hesitant.
I’m American-born, Nigerian-bred walking contradiction. I was always intensely career-driven, but harbored fantasies of being Suzy Homemaker. When I was growing up, I rejected all the things I was told I must do “because I was a girl,” despite the fact that I actually really loved doing them. I’ve always pushed myself really hard and gone for the practical route over my true desires, for instance, majoring in finance when I really would’ve preferred to study art history. Could you blame me? I was consistently well-rewarded for doing just that. So, when my future husband offered me the chance to move to Paris, be Suzy Homemaker for a while, spend my time in the greatest art museums, and begin a second chapter of my life, all my worst impulses to stay the familiar, but measurably rewarding route reared their ugly heads. The journey toward finally saying “yes” to my dreams revealed to me my patterns of self-denial and my attachment to my identity—and to the approval of others.
I’ve always pushed myself really hard and gone for the practical route over my true desires, for instance, majoring in finance when I really would’ve preferred to study art history. Could you blame me? I was consistently well-rewarded for doing just that.
I moved to New York City in 2005 to pursue a career in fashion, working for some of my dream brands. As the years continued to pass, I thrived. My life was good—repetitive, but good. When I started approaching 10 years in New York, I started to feel this consistent malaise that I could not verbalize. I felt like I was living the same life year after year. The jobs would change, the apartments and the boyfriends, but it felt like I was rewriting the same chapter of the book of my life. So—ever Ms. Practical— what did I do to counter the malaise? I applied to business school!
I went on the circuit, visiting and applying to top programs. I took the GMAT, wrote the essays, connected with alumni. I really made my life hell for two years when deep down, I knew that what I was really searching for was a justifiable way to blow up my current life and transition into the next one. After getting into some great schools, I sobered up and challenged myself to find a less expensive way to seek change. So back on the treadmill I went, continuing the upward, repetitive-but-familiar climb.
Back on the treadmill I went, continuing the upward, repetitive-but-familiar climb.
Then came March 2017, I was having one of the best years of my life working my dream job, in great shape, enjoying the fruits of my labor. The malaise had subsided a bit. One day, I agreed to a dinner date with a very nice Italian guy named Alessandro, who was visiting from Paris for a work conference. He was so open, happy, considerate, and fun. I instantly felt safe with him. We began a long-distance relationship between New York and Paris and five months into the relationship began serious discussions about getting engaged and being in the same city. After lots of analysis, we agreed that I would move to Paris because I had always wanted to live in Europe, the quality of life is better than New York City’s, and, well, it’s Paris. The plan was: I would move in May of the following year, take intense French lessons for a few months, and then start looking for jobs in the fall. I was thrilled. I had started working at 15 and had never taken a break in my life.
I worked up the nerve to tell my company that I would be leaving in a few months. But they dropped a bomb in my lap, offering me an even bigger role than the one I would be leaving. This was the best company and people I had ever worked for. I had never felt more supported and recognized in my career, and it would be a difficult environment to replicate anywhere in the world. How could I pass this up? I asked for some days to think. In my head, while I was already spending all the extra money and smiling proudly at my career trajectory, I was debating if I was really willing to deny myself my dreams of a slower pace in Paris for more “success.” Alone at night, that familiar malaise returned, along with anxiety-induced sleeplessness.
In my head, while I was already spending all the extra money and smiling proudly at my career trajectory, I was debating if I was really willing to deny myself my dreams of a slower pace in Paris for more “success.” Alone at night, that familiar malaise returned, along with anxiety-induced sleeplessness.
Alessandro saw the turmoil I was in and suggested we reconsider choosing New York because he couldn’t bear to feel he had ever held me back. Once he said that, I was met immediately with feelings of dread instead of relief. It’s like the proverbial coin flip that reveals your deepest desires right before the face of the coin is revealed. I wanted to go because, even though our combined incomes would be higher than in Paris, so would our cost of living and stress levels. I would be under pressure to deliver in the new role, traveling more, and managing a partner that was adjusting to New York City. He’d be the one taking a break he never asked for while waiting for a visa. We would both lose the social safety nets and protections that come with working in France, such as excellent affordable healthcare and job security. Finally, I wouldn’t be able to take those few months off, spend time learning French, or live in Europe. I couldn’t begin my second life. Ms. Practical wondered, “is that the price you must pay for success?” In hindsight, it feels like the answer was so obvious, but in the moment, I couldn’t see it because I was supposed to be an independent woman! But was I actually? Isn’t the truth that there is a dependency to our “independence?”
Isn’t the truth that there is a dependency to our independence?
Hear me out: If you’re consistently aware that you’re sitting on a house of cards, constantly competing, plotting, and striving, knowing that all you have can be yanked away at the whim of “management,” with a disappointing bonus, or the next economic downturn, are you really independent? More independent than a housewife? Maybe we are all dependent on something and shouldn’t measure ourselves or each other with that label.
So, I told myself to make the decision as if I lived in a world with no judgement. What did I really want? I wanted to slow down, to take a break and allow myself to need someone who wanted so badly for me to need him. I wanted to live in Europe. To start a business. Once that became clear I needed to examine why I had been holding onto my old life with clenched fists and a tight jaw; clinging to my fashion career, insisting on staying at the front of a rat-race that was eating me up inside with anxiety and constant worrying. The answer was because we attach our self-esteem to our jobs, to the brands, titles, and salaries. How would I introduce myself at parties without a big title? How could I show the progression of my life if not with promotions? The realization that my attachment to my old identity and fear of being judged was holding me back and costing me my happiness, made it easier to let go. So, I did. I resigned, emptied out my apartment, and booked a one-way ticket. It had been a very long time since I had felt the feeling of freedom that I felt when we drove the U-Haul out of New York City. One of the most exhilarating moments of my life was standing at Charles de Gaulle airport, a week later, with my nine suitcases and a clear calendar.
How would I introduce myself at parties without a big title? How could I show the progression of my life if not with promotions? The realization that my attachment to my old identity and fear of being judged was holding me back and costing me my happiness, made it easier to let go. So, I did.
Making the move was one big step, the second would be coming to terms with it, because the guilt that I was wasting my life and my brain didn’t magically disappear upon my arrival in France. I remember sitting in French classes full of mostly students, feeling old and silly.
It was in conversations with my mentors and girlfriends that I got clarity, support, and maybe even a little envy. They reminded me that everyone wanted to be me. I had a responsibility to acknowledge the privilege to be able to rest and reflect on how I had spent my previous years, and a duty to use the time to thoughtfully ponder what to do next. Where was Alessandro in all this you wonder? Practically begging me to stop thinking and allow my next move to reveal itself.
This experience showed me that so many women were feeling the same way I had been feeling: in their attachment to their status and identities, some were tired of the pressure, questioning the career paths they were on, weighing the money and prestige against the lost time, discarded dreams, and cost to their mental health, relationships, and happiness. I also noticed how so many of the women whose career journeys I had admired had taken twists and turns on their roads to “success.” This would be my twist. The past few years have left me questioning how narrowly we define success as a society. Why don’t we place value on what I’ve achieved? Learning a new language, making new friends, experiencing more of the world. Why are those accomplishments not considered on the same level as improving my excel skills or shipping out more product for a big corporation? The answer is that it is not up to “society” but to each of us as individuals to analyze our choices and define what we consider a life well-lived.
Why don’t we place value on what I’ve achieved? Learning a new language, making new friends, experiencing more of the world. Why are those accomplishments not considered on the same level as improving my excel skills or shipping out more product for a big corporation?
I’ve never felt more vibrant, more confident, or more sure of myself and my abilities than since I arrived here. Stepping away from my old life has allowed me to find my purpose: bringing people together, communicating, advising, mentoring, and forging connections between women with the aim to help them live their best lives, on their own terms, and by their own standards. I launched In Vibrant Company as a platform to do just this.
I’m on my way to being one of those people who has lived multiple lives. My hope is that through the stories we tell on In Vibrant Company, we may encourage even one woman to take a risk she has been considering. I hope to give “success” many different faces, to build a community that celebrates taking a break, changing your mind, allowing yourself to say “no” to more if you so choose, and allowing yourself to need someone when you’re tired. I hope that we all reassess what we consider “success” and how we calculate our value; that we drown out the internal and external noise and be easier on ourselves and others.