If life is a series of highs (mountain tops) and lows (valleys), then I’ve been in a bit of a valley lately - one so deep that even when I squint I can’t quite make out the shape of the next summit through the dark. Have you ever been there?
My first two months of 2018 sounded like this: “I am failing. I’m a failure. I have nothing to offer the world. I am worthless.” (My thoughts are career-specific, and mostly pertaining to my book. This is also not healthy or my usual self-talk, see * at the bottom.) Along the way, I’ve learned five pretty powerful lessons about “valley seasons” that I want to share.
1. Maybe I’m defining success wrong.
I haven't been following my own advice in this 2012 blog post. Because if I’m really honest, the approval of people + money is how I‘ve mostly been measuring the success of my career for the past couple years, and it’s got to stop. It’s not so much of an issue when those things are going great, but then what if those areas slump? Does feeling “successful” go then, too? I’ve been doing so much self-reflection on what I set out to accomplish in the beginning and what I want to accomplish now. Because “she had money and compliments” is not what I want my gravestone to say! And just because other people use certain barometers to measure your career success, doesn't mean you have to follow suit.
Getting your definition of success straight also helps you discover your next summit. A friend recently said, “I want to figure out my purpose and mission in life, but I need to be able to make money from it,” and I was like no! I understand you gotta pay your bills but you also can’t be thinking about money when you're thinking about purpose, you have to go mission-first. It can’t even be in your vocabulary! I nailed this when I first started blogging, partly due to the fact that making money from blogs wasn’t even a remote possibility yet (so convenient). But now in this season I need to (again) take my own advice and really focus on one, singular thing: “What keeps me up at night/do I want to change about the world?!” And then, “How do I change it?” Those questions lead to a new idea I’m really excited about, and guess what? I actually could see it making money someday. Money is not standing in the way between you and finding purpose with your career. But your thoughts about money are.
2. Nobody can take away your past success.
In the valley season, I needed to remind myself that I woke up one morning in 2010 with a fire in my belly and I wanted to change the world. I wanted to make fashion journalism more inclusive in every way, but especially in terms of budgets and socioeconomic status. Growing up, fashion felt off-limits for “someone like me," so I wanted to champion style content that was inclusive and down-to-earth – written by and for the everyday woman. And you know what? On that definition of success, I freaking rocked it!! The world has changed SO much since 2010. Budget fashion is now less embarrassment and more bragging right, even celebrities take pride in their high-low mixing. There are thousands of amazing budget fashion blogs now – a good number (in the hundreds!) who have told me over the years were inspired by J’s Everyday Fashion. I absolutely did not start or champion this budget-fashion revolution by myself (no one person ever does), but I’ve realized that I need to come into my power as a woman and entrepreneur and OWN my success and my impact on the world. Doing so will make a huge difference my own future, which will in turn impact others, creating a ripple effect.
I also made a list of things I did over the last eight years – not accomplishments like awards, but decisions made, and ways in which I stuck to my mission statement and did not take the easy route. Ways in which I actually had some control, because it’s so easy to write off my own success or the success of others as simply fate and luck. I found it so helpful to review the past to remind myself, nobody can ever take those things away! I don’t think it’s good to dwell there forever. I don’t want to live in the past, and cling to something I once did. But in those painful moments, it certainly helped to see what was already done, because I started to see how someone with my story could have a bright future.
3. I’m in the middle of my story, not the end.
One of the biggest lies you’ll hear in the valley is “Might as well pack up and go home because it’s all over for you.” Um, excuse me! I was not put on this earth to just give up and sit in a corner. (And neither were you!) Maybe one phase of my career is ending or something in one category is not going well, but I also have value, I have purpose, and I have SO much more left to do. I am very much in the middle and not the end. It’s almost 6-months post-launch and my book is not even close to a passing grade in terms of sales (the people that have read it, have incredibly lovely things to say about it though; also worth mentioning that I had incorrect info about how book sales were doing the day I wrote this post because I sound delusional looking back). Why is it doing so badly? The most simple answer is that the cover and title are possibly communicating a different topic than what the book is actually about. (Which is kind of a problem!) The more complicated answer is that I may have self-sabotaged. I certainly didn’t do it on purpose, and ultimately my publisher had final say over the cover, but then again I was too passive about it. I’ve talked extensively about how much fear I had around releasing this book, and it would just be so much better for me if people didn’t understand what it was about, and I could just hide safely in my corner. Coming out with a book that’s essentially saying "religion gets beauty so wrong – it's shaming, it’s legalistic, and that approach is Biblically incorrect” is a bit bold. Especially when my faith is literally the center of my life and the “vows” and rules we learn in childhood are difficult to re-write, even if they seem incorrect to us now. There’s still so much time to turn it around, though! And even if it never, ever turns around I’ll still be okay because…
4. Maybe I'm failing, but I’m not a failure.
Even if your whole world is a mess. Let’s imagine a person who is filing for bankruptcy, getting a divorce, lost their job, and estranged from their kids. Would you really label them as a failure? I wouldn’t. For starters they are still in the middle of their story so it would be tough to label anything that soon – what if they are actually resilient, hard-working and brilliant and they’re about to turn it all around? Too early to assign “failure.” The optics from the outside do not always reflect reality, and how you handle it says more than what actually happens to you. Most importantly though, we have so much intrinsic value as humans that simply can’t be erased by our circumstances, no matter what they are. The Declaration of Independence states that we are all created equal, and I think that means no matter what we look like and who we are, but also, our circumstances! Knowing and understanding the value that my own life holds, and that all lives intrinsically hold, is such a game-changer for me. Separating our circumstances from our physical selves is so important. Because the sum of the problems is not the sum of the person.
5. There’s purpose even in the valley.
I’ve been asking, “Why am I in the valley?” and there are so many reasons. To deal with my own sin, to be humbled, to learn and grow. Even practical things like a change in my attitude about my own book and really getting fired up about the mission behind it, and getting motivated to take action about it. I'm glad it happened, and it wouldn't have happened without a "valley season." This initial negative reaction women are having to “fashion and faith” as a topic - there seems to be an automatic assumption that it's about shame/condemnation versus grace/freedom - also proves the need for the book in a very real way. There's just so much good stuff that's coming out of this (albeit frustrating) time.
Moral of the story: you’re exactly where you need to be. Don’t fight the process. There’s so much good stuff in the valley. So much to learn, so much to digest, so much that you need to take with you into the future. The next mountain top will come into view soon enough. For now, “Maybe you're failing, but you're not a failure.” You have so much more to offer the world. The next summit is just around the bend.
*This is not my usual head talk and I do think some actual depression was at play. I’ve always struggled with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and while living in Florida it doesn’t usually affect me much, this winter was legit 10x darker and colder than usual. If you think you are suffering from depression please check out more info here.