I can distinctly remember the sound of the metro doors on my last ride as a resident of the Washington, DC- area, “doors opening, doors closing”. I remember looking around at my fellow commuters, civil servants, academics, lobbyists, employees of defense companies, law firms, and advocacy organizations, among others and taking it all in before departing the train for the last time with a heavy heart.
Memories flashed through my mind of arriving in DC more than a decade before as a college freshman with big aspirations. Some of the memories were of my favorite DC-celebrity spottings, like Madeleine Albright, Wolf Blitzer, and the always special random interruptions of the motorcade of the US Presidents that held the post during my time in the city.
I felt intoxicated by my DC-dreams. I would often walk around the monuments at sunset and feel the presence of our founding fathers. The embassy events, rooftop bars, the cherry blossom at peak bloom — there was always something to look forward to.
But there was also a dark side to it all. There was always so much going on outside that I knew very little about myself. I was completely addicted to the adrenaline, and my sense of self-worth was tied entirely to factors that were completely outside my control. It was as if I was living inside a social media platform, constantly scrolling through the images and sounds, with no sense of real connection. I was the very definition of someone who was defined by their job, and everything in my life revolved around it.
Fast forward to 2015; I took the courageous step of exploring if I would still exist outside of the DC-context when my husband was offered an opportunity to move to Utah. The experience of packing up my family and leaving DC behind can best be summed up by this metaphor: it was like I was living inside a party hosted by David Guetta, and then one day, all the music and flashing lights just “stopped.” At first, the silence was deafening, and I was terrified to be alone with my own thoughts.
As time went on, I started peeling back layer after layer of a false image that defined me for so long. In that exploration, I found an inner freedom that had been hiding deep below the surface. I realized that I had given away all my power to others and so they defined when I should be happy or stressed or proud. Through this distance with a world that seemed so familiar, I moved away from my attachments to the conditionality of the world around me, I found peace, and greater humility and empathy.
As I talk to friends all over the country about how they are feeling quarantined at home, I see so many parallels with this experience. Though this is an unprecedented moment filled with sadness and uncertainty if we use this time to lean into the discomfort and ask ourselves hard questions about our own false self-images, we may be able to come out the other side much happier and with a new sense of authenticity.
It’s in asking these hard questions that we can fully realize in what areas we have given our power away to outside forces that cannot be controlled. We may even see that the ability to accept ourselves, even in the most difficult moments, depends entirely on us.
After this experience, we might all be one step closer to knowing who we are at a deeper level. Then we don’t have to fear a world where we have been stripped away from fancy clothes, party invitations, or push ourselves to burn the candle on both ends. We can have access to an unconditionality in your self-worth and deeper self-trust. We will be better employees, entrepreneurs, parents, friends, and leaders. What quality could be more important than the ability to separate ourselves from the many illusions of the outside world to focus on what truly matters?
I still smile when I see a Cherry Blossom tree (coincidentally my neighbor has one planted that I can see from my window) and am always on the lookout for a good DC-celebrity sighting, but now the deafening silence has turned into a sweet melody that I take wherever I go, and my goal is to share it with anyone who needs a change of tune.