Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski, PHD, Amelia Nagoski, DMA
Burnout takes a deep dive into the psychology and societal structures that lead to the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that keep women from living their most fulfilling lives, while offering practical solutions to break the cycle. Emily and Amelia Nagoski use science and personal experience to demonstrate that fighting the patriarchy on a daily basis (whether it be through the recognition of systematic inequality or simple, yet daily experiences of sexism, or intersecting isms) is exhausting within itself. But, women become even more exhausted when we speak out about these experiences or refuse to conform and are gaslit by society at large (and many times by actual people in our lives) and told that what we are experiencing isn’t real, that structural inequality is over, and that we are the problem. This leads to burnout, or an inability to process stress, rage, or general discontent as we are expected to run households and businesses while denying our reality.
In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, Diane Guerrero
In the Country We Love is a beautifully written memoir detailing the experiences of Diane Guerrero, an American born citizen, whose undocumented parents and older brother are taken from their homes, placed in immigration detention centers, and deported to Colombia when she is just fourteen years old. Left with family friends, Guerrero details her life as a young adult making her way in the world amidst family separation, severe emotional trauma, and a childhood complicated and shaped by the inequality of the American immigration system.
Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson
In her book Caste, Isabel Wilkerson examines the Indian caste system, the caste system during Nazi Germany, and the current American caste system: race. Using historical context and a wealth of examples Wilkerson explains the striking similarities between the caste systems, and what we can do to break free from these constraints that harm us all.
Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, Ijeoma Oluo
In my opinion, this entire book is so impactful I cannot synthesize it down to a couple concise sentences. Instead of trying, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
White male identity is in a very dark place. White men have been told that they should be fulfilled, happy, successful, and powerful, and they are not. They are missing something vital – an intrinsic sense of self that is not tied to how much power or success they can hold over others – and that hole is eating away at them. I can only imagine how desolately lonely it must feel to only be able to relate to other human beings through conquer and competition. The love, admiration, belonging, and fulfillment they have been promised will never come – it cannot exist for you when your success is tied to the subjugation of those around you. These white men are filled with anger, sadness, and fear over what they do not have, what they believe has been stolen from them. And they look at where they are now, and they cannot imagine anything different. As miserable as they are, they are convinced that no other option exists for them. It is either this, or death: ours or theirs.”
Ijeoma Oluo, Mediocre
Notable Podcasts Episodes:
Unfuck Your Brain, “Episode 151, Maximalism.” 9/17/20
Today’s interview consists of my favorite questions from previous interviews. Some of them have been altered slightly.
Why did you decide to build a career in the beauty industry?
The simple answer is because I’m a naturally creative person who loves to do makeup. Even when I wasn’t very good at it, I was still pretty good at it. And because my parents instilled a great deal of unearned confidence in me as a child, I kept practicing and getting better even when the eyeliner was too thick, my brows looked too dark, or someone called me a “clown” with too much blush on. It never seemed to phase me much. I didn’t take it personally because my creations were always somewhat separate from myself. More like art, less like glamour.
I think that careers in the beauty industry can absolutely be trained, taught, and learned. However, I think that many of the most successful beauty professionals I know have a bit of natural talent somewhere. Whether it’s practical, like makeup application, or a little bit more abstract, like the ability to communicate well and deeply empathize with others.
The complicated answer is more along the lines of the Oprah quote: “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you intend.” I always positioned myself in a job near to the beauty industry. My original idea was to join my best friend Ashley Ellix, and attend beauty school right out of high school. Then go to college to get my writing degree once I had a career that could pay for it. I graduated when I was seventeen, and my parents wouldn’t allow it. Beauty school dropout and all that, I guess. So I went to journalism school first. Looking back on it, that allowed me to seriously build my knowledge in the industry. Working at Victoria’s Secret (running their beauty department), Estee Lauder, doing freelance artistry and working the front desk at a spa paid the bills while I was in college, but provided me with some serious beauty experience. And a lot of real business experience.
I moved up the ladder and was offered a couple of different pathways: climbing the corporate chain with Victoria’s Secret, or becoming a full time esthetician at a spa I worked at. I chose the latter, knowing that small business was more my style, and I didn’t know if I wanted to leave the area. Years later I was approached about a business partnership and the idea of owning (or co-owning) my own skincare and makeup studio was suddenly an option. I had never considered that before. A couple of years later after that deal fell through, I opened my own studio. You get what you intend. Even if you’re not exactly sure what that looks like.
I think that for me it was always important that I have a job that allowed me to be creative, and work as far away from “the man” as possible. I work very well with others, however, I do not work well with bosses. I think that just as important, coming out of college with a ton of student debt, from a family that struggled with money, I needed to work in an industry that could give me monetary security. News writing is not that industry. It doesn’t pay very well, and it’s highly politicized so I knew my dreams of writing about what I was passionate about would be crushed, leaving me disillusioned. I also think that in the back of my mind I somehow knew that I wanted to keep writing close, to save it for later when I could choose what I would write about.
Now, my beauty career is more about community and entrepreneurship and less about the art. Reconciling those two aspects of business is the journey I’m currently on. But I wouldn’t trade it in for anything else.
What’s it like working with your sister?
It’s the most stress-free work environment I can imagine because we both just do our jobs. I know that sounds incredibly simplistic, but it’s the truth. We take care of our clients, show up on time, keep the shop clean, offer the same level of service, and are basically on the same page regarding all political and social issues that we may encounter as a business. Essentially, we don’t have to deal with any annoying coworker or boss issues, and we can trust each other with the business as a whole, and with each other’s clients.
Most people assume that we spend a lot of time together, but because we’re estheticians and spend 99% of our time in our treatment rooms, we actually see each other for about ten minutes a day. So we have to schedule time outside of work to see each other!
I love working with Christina and am happy that I was able to create a safe space for us to work together and build our careers. As an older sister it also makes me feel proud to watch her succeed.
Do you think working with predominantly female clientele and colleagues help to create a sense of community? If so, why?
YES. The answer to this question is simple for me. The more women I collaborate with, meet, and have as clients, the more full my life becomes, and the stronger our community and world become.
As girls, we’re taught the lie that women don’t work well together. That we are “catty, not supportive, back-stabbing,” and “dramatic” when we form groups. This is a lie the patriarchy constructed to keep us separated from each other, and out of our collective power. I believe with ever fiber of my being that our liberation lies is collaboration and empowerment of other women.
Women are people. We are individuals. We all have personalities and problems and flaws. We will not all get along with each other. However, there is nothing written in our DNA that states that once too many of us enter into the same room, we magically turn into passive aggressive bitches. We need to unlearn it, and I think the way that I’ve unlearned this lie is by putting myself in room after room after room full of women. In beauty school, in college (I was a Woman’s Studies minor), at work in a female-dominated industry, and by actively going to other businesses owned and run by women.
All the business connections I’ve made, the friends that have lifted me up, the opportunities I’ve been recommended for and the success I’ve had in my industry are all possible due to a strong network of women. Plain and simple.
What is beauty to you and how do you use your work to foster this idea?
To me, beauty is a lot of things. But mostly it’s a choice. Beauty is whatever you need it to be in that moment, for you, because ultimately it’s a feeling, and it’s fluid.
We have all been taught (especially as women) what is considered “beautiful.” I think that real beauty comes in the messy unlearning of that false ideal. In discovering what makes you feel good, happy, healthy and whole.
Beauty can be the full face of makeup you put on to cover up your sadness, or the full face of makeup you put on because you’re happy. It can be the feeling you get from a clean face. It can be art. It can be practical. It can be a feeling of calm, or a feeling of excitement. It can be messy or orderly. Dark or light, subtle or loud. It can take physical form outside the body in many ways but it’s also something inside of us.
At this point in my career, I think that one of the most important things I try to keep in mind is that my goal is to help you to feel beautiful. So my real job is to discover what that means. Not to impart my own ideas of what beautiful should be.
What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned from spending so much time with women of different backgrounds and life situations?
I’ve learned that I don’t know everything, and I should be grateful for what I have.
I would elaborate, but I think that is fairly self explanatory.
What is one piece of advice you have for someone wanting to enter into the beauty industry as a professional?
I learned this piece of advice from a dear friend and someone I would consider a mentor: You teach people how to treat you.
This is true in your personal life, but also in business. As a new beauty professional you will want to take every client that calls, work long and unpredictable hours, try to be nice when people don’t show up or cancel last minute, and make every concession to accommodate new clients. I did all of these things for years.
And while I absolutely think that working hard and being flexible in the beginning of your career is integral to building a solid long-term clientele, I also think that you will attract people who value the same principles and boundaries that you establish. Do you want clients that show up on time? Be prompt. Do you want clients that rarely cancel? Rarely cancel. Do you want clients that treat you like a professional? Treat your clients with professionalism.
This will, over time, eliminate potential clients that don’t understand why you’re treating them this way. Clients who are always late will rarely be compatible with a professional that always runs on time. Clients who text you at midnight will rarely be compatible with someone who clearly states their business hours in response to those texts. I also think that this helps your clients to see you as a person with a life outside of your business, not simply a service person obligated to wait on them.
1) When you’re sober during a crisis, social media starts to look like a really bad, really desperate reality TV show (you know, the kind I love to watch).
As a society, we rely on booze like the comforting friend most of us are taught to look to in times of trouble, and social media is their highlight reel. Being sober in 2020 feels like peering into a whole news feed full of inside jokes you just don’t get anymore. Scrolling starts to feel like a voyeuristic maneuver to spy on a club you quit – a sorority you told your friends “wasn’t for you.” It’s like waking up and choosing to take the red pill over and over again, sometimes because you know it’s the better choice, and sometimes out of morbid curiosity. Maybe social media has always been like this – a big, long booze commercial starring nearly everyone – and I just didn’t notice before because I did my best to avoid scrolling. And before that, I was in on the joke.
Instead of feeling left out of the club, I feel good. I’m now an observer rather than a subject. I escaped a cycle that looks like fun, constantly reaching out with magnanimous hands offering relief and ease, but it fails every time. It’s a bully, a mean girl – after a night on the inside you somehow feel worse, until it comes around the next day promising to fix the problems it created. Get in bitch, we’re staying mildly cloudy at all times to avoid reality! This abusive cycle becomes particularly obvious when you’re no longer participating. Booze fixes problems just as well as Regina George values feminism (before she got hit by a bus and had an awakening).
I read an excerpt on social media that I screenshot about the differences between the underlying fears in George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. After doing some basic research, I found the quote as part of a forward in a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness, by Neil Postman. I’ve never read it. It was written in 1985. I’m surprised no one in journalism school mentioned it.
“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no big brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think… What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”
It’s been years since I’ve read these books, and plan to reread them again soon. After becoming sober this analysis seemed to resonate with me and pair beautifully with my reality TV theory. At this point I believe booze and social media work concurrently to produce the results Huxley feared, because no one is forcing us to partake, we choose the numbness for ourselves, and it takes work to escape it. Now, my challenge seems to be more in the looking away from the booze-induced denial fest, but we’ll delve into that topic another day.
2) Your brain off alcohol and drugs is capable of some crazy shit; good luck sorting that out. AKA: Everything is now an existential lesson in living… yay.
Seriously. There has never been another time in my life where I have gone through a significant amount of life-altering experiences and been sober enough to observe how I feel and respond in that moment, and then remember enough to be able to reflect on it later. It’s unsettling how much introspection and time is lost to alcohol consumption. I go to weekly therapy, workout about five days a week, eat healthy food and take vitamins. I don’t even take an Advil unless the situation is dire. You’d think my brain would be clear, my memory vivid, and my understanding of reality better than when I was drinking or taking anti anxiety drugs. Well, in some ways it’s not, but my recognition of that fact is new.
This is probably confusing, so I’ll attempt to explain using a recent example. When I got the news that Humboldt County was issuing a stay at home order and my business would be mandated to close, I literally do not remember much of the next three months. I remember staying late to work on one last client, packing up my car with all my retail products, and driving home. After that, it goes blank, or at best, spotty, until I started working in person again on July 1st.
That shit is confusing as hell.
In the past I would’ve chalked that up to nightly alcohol consumption. No big deal; it happens to everyone. Things got blurry; life was stressful. I drank more to cope with my crushing new reality. Now I look back and am forced to reckon with something much more complex – I get to unpack what stress does to my brain, how I react and respond, and what implications that has on the rest of my life. Awesome. So while things get clearer, they become more confusing. Instead of wallowing, scrolling social media aimlessly and letting my business die, I did the exact opposite. I used 100% of my brain capacity (ask my husband, he could probably tell you what actually happened during my three month out of body experience) to grow my business during what continues to be the most challenging time for me as an entrepreneur. But I don’t remember three months of it.
I think the lesson I’m taking away from this realization is that we are complex beings in a complex universe who understand very little, but without booze I’m awake enough to really think about that.