I’ve had a lot of people approach me recently to ask, “How do you do it?”
After fumbling some half-assed answer on two separate occasions, much to the dismay of the poor women seeking support, I sat down to craft a more thoughtful answer. I grabbed my kid’s crayons and construction paper and whipped up a slightly sad-looking but accurate infographic chart drawing thing (it’s stunning, I know)…
I thought my lifelines would be things like date nights, health insurance, and a great bottle of wine, but what ended up emerging was more foundational (though date nights, wine and health insurance are nice too).
Here are the pillars of my life that have allowed me to have clarity and vitality around my work and career and family. I realized that I have a pretty great life, and if this helps a new mama out there raise herself out of the ashes of Butt Paste and puke, I will have done my job here.
Pillar #1: Tribe
When I polled the mama actors in our TMA Facebook group about the one piece of advice they would give to a young actress who wants to be a mom someday, the unanimous response was, “Choose the right partner”. This is absolutely, bottom-line, vital. Like, even more fundamental than the three pillars I’m discussing here.
But beyond that one person who will make or break your parenting experience, a dynamic, well-rounded tribe is essential.
Your inner tribe is like your inner, inner circle of soul-love. Your partner + kids + close family & soul sisters. I hope I don’t have to tell you why the inner tribe is important.
Your outer tribe is made of all the people that you bring into your life that simply help shit work better. They may not be soul sisters, but they will watch your kids when you have a last minute audition. They may not have held your hair while you puked in college, but they will help you tape an audition or give you advice about your agent. You might pay them in exchange for their services and that is 100% okay.
Here is a partial list of my outer tribe: my babysitting co-op, my career coach, my neighbors, my agents, my theatre company, The Mama Actor Facebook group, my accountability partner, my Women in Film mentoring circle, the casting directors who know me, the Starbucks guy who knows I like a splash of heavy whipping cream in my coffee. In short, the vast network of connection that weaves together the threads of my life.
Part two of creating your outer tribe is knowing that you know them. Here’s what I mean: We take for granted the vast network of people that undergirds and enriches our human experience on this planet. Recognizing the breadth of my outer tribe makes me feel supported and connected and set up for success. This awareness in turn lowers my anxiety, fuels my ambition, and frees my creativity. See? Know who they are, and then know that you know.
Pillar #2: Purpose & Vision
Technically vision and purpose are two different things, but I didn’t have room on the green construction paper for another pillar so I combined them. I see my purpose as the thread that connects all the parts of my life, the thing that runs underneath everything I do. Most people trace their purpose back to a deep and early formative experience or condition, and this has been true for me as well.
As a multi-racial girl growing up in the time and place that I did, the feeling of belonging was something I struggled with deeply and continuously. For me it went beyond the sense of isolation that most kids experience at some point or another. It was a biological certainty that my DNA meant that I would never belong anywhere, not even with my own parents. This feeling of fundamental disconnection forged the core of my purpose: to increase true belonging, acceptance, and community in the world, and to decrease isolation, conformity, and separation. This purpose guides how I raise my children, how I operate in the entertainment industry, how I engage in my community.
While my purpose won’t change anytime soon, my living vision is more fluid and changing. It’s basically a document that describes my vision for all areas of my life–career, creativity, family, marriage, spirituality. It’s a specific, 5 sense picture of how I want to experience life moment to moment, day to day, across the various domains of my life.
What’s really behind the living vision is a sense of agency. A feeling that I can make my life whatever I want it to be, so why not design it on purpose? It makes me feel powerfully creative and in charge. Like the boss lady of my own life.
Pillar #3: Practice
The essence of practice boils down to choosing to invest in 2 things: habit over motivation, and growth over perfectionism.
I’m so over striving. I was a striver for a long time. I lived with a vague sense of anxiety underlying all of my experiences, the feeling that I should somehow be better or further along. It’s bullshit, mama. It’s the Koolaid of the Ivy League.
Practice means movement, perfection means stagnation. Practice means that dissatisfaction & happiness can co-exist, that I can be happily, blissfully, gratefully dissatisfied. The commitment to a practice-based mindset as opposed to a perfection-based mindset allows for contradiction, layers, complexity, humanity. It allows me to love where I am at the same time that I am working to deepen my marriage, develop more patience, and expand my creative expression. It is bigger than striving, bigger than waiting for inspiration, bigger than setting goals and benchmarks.
Practice allows. Practice accepts. Practice does not wait to be motivated. Practice is. Practice does. Practice means I can fuck up and succeed at the same time, and I’m all in favor of that.
I hope that’s a more complete answer to “How do you do it?” than I was able to provide to the poor moms I recently met. What are your foundational pillars that support your ability to thrive? How do you do it, mama? Share in the comments here on the blog or in the TMA Facebook group.