We’re born whole.
All of us, in our own way.
When we’re little we’re confident in knowing who we are without question or doubt. We simply, are. As we master the art of motor-skills we reach out towards the world with each waking moment. We look under rocks to see what’s hiding there, we wonder how it is that light can dance on water, & we’re pretty darn tootin’ sure that there’s nothing better in the world that spending a day at the beach.
From our first breath we know what we like (hugs!) and what we don’t (being hungry/wet/etc). We also know what makes us giggle & what fills our minds with endless curiosity.
In the beginning all of our milestones are celebrated, too. Our first smile, our first words, our first spaghetti dinner (so beautifully messy), our first steps. As we grow, we’re told we can do anything – and I mean anything – if only we put our minds to it & work hard. More than anything though, we’re safe in knowing that we’re special.
If we’re lucky, we maintain our awe when it comes to celebrating the differences in others. Mostly though, we learn that sameness is safer.
That said, when we’re young we find wonder in others. In their skills and in their successes. We play games, form teams, and work towards a common goal all for the sake of being together and growing together. We move through childhood hungry to learn and ready to take on the world. Oh that big, wide world. It really is our oyster in the beginning, isn’t it?
Everyone tells us the world is our oyster. Which even now at 38yrs old makes me giggle. I love the idea of the world being something interesting & shiny – but as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy oysters, I’d rather the world was a musical & approach life like that.
But, I digress…
As a 4yr old, I loved playing sports.
I’ve loved being a part of a team for almost my entire life. There’s something inherently grounding about knowing you’ve got the backs of your best buds on the field of play & that they know you’ve got theirs. Trust is established. Sometimes it’s broken. But mostly playing sports means we’re learning how different skillsets make a group of people stronger than a single individual. Also, beyond learning how to play by an established set of rules, teamwork builds up confidence & resilience in all of us.
When I was four years old, I started playing softball. Even though I was one of the youngest kids on the team I loved the physical, mental, & emotional aspects of playing a game I loved. In my first year, I excelled. In fact, I took out “The Little Slugger Award.” Not only was I quick rounding the bases on little feet, but I could connect my bat with a pitch more often than not. For full disclosure, my Dad played for the Los Angeles Dodgers back in his Glory Days – as Springsteen calls them – so I could catch a pop-fly & throw a ball before I could even put one foot in front of the other.
If anyone was swinging for the fences it was Little Cass (fun fact:I’m still swinging for proverbial fences daily). Believe you me not only did I play the part, I looked it too. I swaggered like a little slugger & owned my athleticism. I wore high Bobby-socks with stripes, short golden shorts, a purple jersey, & a visor that reigned in my pig-tails (just) while keeping the sun from my eyes. I walked confident in knowing myself. I stepped up to the plate without fear of a slider or curve-ball. More than that, I loved my bruised shins & skinned knees.
Off the diamond, I took pride in out-pacing the boys at foot races.
Stinky, beautiful, silly boys.
Ah to be a child of summer in Southern California, eh?
Through primary, middle, high school I was comfortable in my skin. I was comfortable in my competitive & curious nature. I was passionate about my dreams & was single-minded about doing what was right by my own moral compass. The Little Slugger was growing up. And, she was growing into who she knew she could be.
While sports were a big part of my maturing into an adult, music was as well. I played clarinet in the marching band & sat as second-chair in our concert band. From 8yrs old I took lessons, practiced a ton, & honed my skills when it came to ye olde liquorice stick. NERD ALERT! Am I right?
When little doubts about the coolness of clarinet playing started to trickle in to my psyche in high school, I swapped the clarinet for the piano. Whilst most of my peers were deep into honky tonk country twang or emo music like Nine Inch Nails, I was into Elton John. He was all glitter, glamour, & amazingness (he still is). So, following in Uncle Elton’s footsteps, I took to playing rock music on a classical instrument. I love it then & I love it now.
Through teenager-hood, I kept my nose clean, studied hard, played music, learned experimental photography, wrote poetry, played sports & got more & more excited about the whole “the world is your oyster” thing we’d all been promised.
Fast forward to university life.
After high-school I had one last hoorah of a summer to share with friends before heading north up the 101 through LA & Ventura & on to my college campus. Upon arriving in a new town full of people I didn’t know, I became more introverted than I’d ever been. My confidence took a hit. But, Santa Barbara is a magical place & I met people & made friends quickly. I also found solace in the comforting nature of playing sports.
I had dreams, too. BIG dreams. Whilst at UCSB – a school that had tenured professors & Nobel Laureates at our disposal – I wanted to do two things with my life: the first was to play tambourine in Elton John’s band, and failing that – I wanted to travel the world as a photo-journalist.
My poor parents were forking out dinero like no one’s business to educate me & here I wanted to live on the road shaking whatever I could shake (yes, including that which my momma gave me…) in a band of older, foreign men. Oy vey! My parents, being the amazing humans they are, laughed the Elton fantasy off & masterfully steered me towards a more secure future. When I graduated from UCSB after four years with a degree in History & Spanish Language/Literature, I put my tambourine away. Tucked gently away in a box or a dresser drawer somewhere.
Graduation day was a trip! Family from across the USA came to celebrate. Missouri mixed with So-Cal mixed with the UK. It was magical, fast, & the earth seemed to be spinning at a pace that was faster than normal. At one point in the day though it seemed as if the world stopped for a moment & pivoted in place. Actually, the world didn’t pivot – what it did was it threw me for a good ‘ol 360.
Looking back I reckon this 360 happens to almost all of us at a big juncture in our lives when we cross the threshold from child to adult.
Enter working life.
Whoa, welcome to the real-world, Little Slugger. Where once the world I was told that the world was my proverbial oyster, I learned that wasn’t true. Lots of grit, very few pearls.
The world it seems, is a ladder. And, to climb it, we must start at the bottom rung & climb only as & when we’re allowed to. Your gender, skin colour, economic standing, & culture all determine how quickly you get to move from rung to rung. The rules? They’re the rules & we’ve got to play by them. Yuck.
At the point in life when we learn that we must play by rules we never had a hand in writing, things get uncomfortable. So to become more comfortable, over time – without even realising it – the rules become us. We become them. We don’t question anymore, we simply do what we think is “right.” In doing so we tend to lose ourselves to labels assigned to us by random job titles, undefined skillsets, & somewhat relevant professional experience. We truly believe that this is the only way to be happy & stable & to pay the bills every month when they come due.
In today’s modern media world, world we’re connected to our devices & to each other all of the time. There’s no clocking in & out for the most part. We’re tethered to our emails. The pings, buzzes, whizzes, whimpers of notifications tell us we’re busy & important.
We’re always on.
Everything we post, comment on, like or share becomes a part of what is now deemed our “personal brand.” People we don’t even know form opinions on our skills or bankability by the people we follow on LinkedIn & by people with blue-ticks who re-Tweet us on Twitter.
Older Millennials like myself are of an age where we’re the test-cases for a huge social experiment that we’re not sure is going to turn out super amazing for our physical or mental health. We dove into the world of online & digital without nary a look back – & now that’s a lot of what we seem to be doing. Looking back. Social media & the people who built platforms to hook-us (hello dopamine) have a lot to answer for. But so do we, the willing participants of said experiment. When do we decide that enough is enough? I don’t have an answer just yet for this question, but I’m working towards one.
I remember long car drives as a kid. We’d roll down the windows & sing to whatever tape was in the player. Mostly it was Tom Petty or Wynonna Judd. We didn’t have phones to distract us. We took photos without anywhere to post them other than to our friends through the mail or on our bedroom walls.
It’s different now, eh? Do you find it hard to remember disconnected times?
I sure do! In the world we’re working in & navigating today though, we’re on. Logged-in. Liking, sharing, commenting, hash-tagging. To what end though? What I’ve noticed quite a lot recently is that, even though we’re living in new times, we’re still doing things like our parents did before us. And there parents before them. Ad infinitum…
We get up each morning, get in our cars, hustle kids to school and head in different directions to spend time with people who aren’t our family or loved ones. If we’re lucky, we don’t get stuck in traffic for an hour before arriving at an office where we send emails, cover our asses, and sit in meetings all day.
Only to wash, rinse, repeat day in and day out… year after year… and for what? Security? The ability to intertwine our job title into the fabric of our own importance?
The longer we play the games of adulthood, the more we believe in a false-idea of becoming who we should be.
Right here, right now we’re living in an era where anxiety, depression, & suicide rates are sky-rocketing. In the past two trips around the sun I’ve lost six (SIX!) friends to depression & suicide. That’s six too many. We’re a generation of lost kids – kinda. We’re lost not only to others, but to ourselves & we’re digging our heels in deeper & harder when it comes to how things should be. We’re blinded by a blurry past-tense that the generations before us believe we need to bring into focus while living in a present-tense that is just that…tense.
Work-life Balance is BS.
Enter work-life balance.
Never truly-defined, we chase an idea of work-life balance that is, at its core, an illusion. As we chase this illusion, we move further away from who we are at our core. If you can’t define something at scale then how do you attain it? Dunno. But we’ll try! We’re hard workers.
That 4yr old Little Slugger I used to be? Yeah, she became a whisper of a memory that was merely a ghost. A memory. A thing of the past. For many years I learned to dress as someone else & recited lines verbatim from professional up-skilling books like a good corporate citizen. I replaced the Little Slugger in me with a woman in a business suit who straightened her hair every day, wore expensive heels, & donned make up – all in an attempt to hide herself. To fit in. I tucked away the intense blonde curls that used to naturally grow out from my under my cap. While she was away, I missed my Little Slugger. So much.
A few years ago I worked for a company with a great reputation as a place to be employed. My first day on the job was magical. Great people, great vibes & lots to dig into & help with. Not long into my tenure with the business, a senior member of staff took me into a room & told me that I was not, in any form, to communicate outwardly through social media, digital media, or anything IRL without express consent of the business even if said communications were personal & seemingly unimportant.
My opinions? Yeah nah.
They weren’t mine to share anymore.
Huh? Wha? Bacon powder…?
How’s that supposed to work?
Before working for this particular business I’d built myself up a fairly strong personal brand over the course of a decade or so working with some big brands across sectors. I loved the challenge of new tech & media. I loved learning, growing, & sharing ideas. I spoke passionately at conferences on a range of topics spanning from professional to personal & back again. I also stayed sane by writing blogs for myself & an occasional article or three for publications with big readerships. Oh, I was also friends with a whole lot of people from a whole lot of different walks of life.
All of these things were giant red-flags for the company.
I was told I was a risk to the brand.
I was told to stop or else.
Long story short:
Over the course of my tenure working for this company I stopped.
I went with the safe route – mostly.
I succumbed to or else.
I stopped tweeting.
I stopped blogging.
I stopped speaking.
I stopped seeing my friends.
I stopped going to the gym.
I stopped taking photos.
I stopped learning.
I stopped calling my family.
I stopped smiling.
I stopping chasing my creative passions.
I stopped being me.
<insert sad panda emoji>
I STOPPED BEING ME! And, I crashed & burned big time emotionally because of it.
For a long time I was angry with the business who’d given me the cease-&-desist order for the hard times I went through. But over time I realised that I’d played the game, their game. And the game won (as did my eventual therapist & her bank account for all of the sessions I needed to un-do the un-doing of me.) I was at fault for not pushing back. I could’ve chosen or else & probably been better for it. I didn’t though.
Toeing the line meant breaking down. My marriage broke down. My confidence broke down. My mental health broke down. My life became something that was not my own. Leaving the job was the biggest gift ever. It took a while for me to stop being angry with myself for playing the game. Especially when I could see it happening in real-time.
But, I’m better now. Much, much better. And, kinder with myself.
There’s hope for all of us, yet.
In truth, we all play the game. And, in playing it we become a part of the machine. So the machine keeps going…slow, steady & unchanging. All the while, we lose pieces of ourselves. We take up less space. We speak up less, and we forget to lift (or fear lifting) others.
Recently there’s been a revival of purpose-driven brands though. Businesses big & small who champion their people & who truly believe that great brands aren’t built from the ground up, but rather from the inside out. When I think of great brands I think of their people.
I think of the women of Wildfang.
I think of the people who make Patagonia magical.
I also think about Nike.
Nike? Yep! As a business, it seems as though (from the outside looking in) they empower people from all across their organisation to post, create, & curate information about their time working for the businesses. I feel like I know more about the beating heart of the gigantor that is Nike than I do about some local brands closer to home.
I also think about my friend Miri Rodriguez from Microsoft. Miri is a powerhouse. She’s a storyteller, a momma, a friend, a colleague and one helluva human being. She also happens to work for Microsoft. In knowing Miri, I’ve taken a different view of a brand that once was corporate, buttoned-up, cold, & looming in my eyes.
People being themselves matters.
Good brands aren’t built from the ground up, they’re built from the inside out.
Life-life Balance rocks my socks.
I have a hot-take on work-life balance: I don’t believe it’s actually a thing.
In fact, I call bullshit on the entire notion of it. Instead, I believe there’s something more attainable & real, I believe in life-life balance.
So many of us talk about the ever-present struggle to attain work-life balance. WORK- LIFE BALANCE. Ahhhh… if only.
Let me explain, I don’t start & end when I walk into an office or a meeting. Nope, I bring myself – all of myself – along for the ride. The quirks, the silliness, the passion, the belief in a better world. And when I bring my whole self to work, the ensuing trust engendered means the business gets just as much a halo effect from me as I do from working with them. Chasing the unattainable is what our parents & our grandparents did. It’s not what I’m about to commit to. Not for one more day/hour/minute.
The reality of the work-life balance fallacy is that we’re living in the most connected time ever known to humanity, yet we’re still expected to disconnect from ourselves when we’re at work. Lucky for me, I’ve found a great business to work with that is filled to the gills with people I admire, respect, & like. I’m allowed to be me. All curls & denim & big ideas.
A little while back a colleague of mine lost her father. Her Dad had been ill for a long time & had weathered some scary storms of getting ill & then getting better again. So, when the end was actually nearing she was understandably upset. We’d seen her ride the rollercoaster of grief – hope, sadness, despair. We’ve all been there, all of us.
Here’s where magic happened: Instead of asking her to wipe her tears & park her grief at the door, our leaders wrapped her up & lovingly supported her through some of her darkest days. Watching a trusting relationship between colleagues unfold in real time & with real tears filled my heart. Our friend brought her whole self to work.
She showed up when she could on her terms.
So we showed up for her.
This is what I mean by life-life balance.
We all get 24 hours in a day.
We do not stop being who we are when we cross the threshold to an office block.
We get one life.
Living it individually & authentically is the only way any of us will ever be truly happy or connected to ourselves, the people around us, & the environment that sustains us.
Back to good.
How do we then find ourselves if we spend most of our time in places where we learn to be anything other than the confident, curious small humans we were waaaaaaay back in the beginning?
We must empower each other in our weakness & walk confidently in our unknowing. Weaponising the unknown or poo-pooing curiosity is like shutting off a tap when you’re already thirsty. In a world that awards a highly curated, overly-perfect ideal of “self” at work, it’s necessary for us to feel comfortable in our own skin. To do this we must allow for imperfection.
What does empowerment look like for me? Well, it means sitting at the boardroom table in double-denim, docs, & a backwards baseball cap while simultaneously being respected for my experience, ideas, and passion. Because, in reality, getting back to who I was when I started out life – hungry to learn, impassioned by the mundane, and driven to help others is where I want to be more than anywhere else.
It’s also where any brand I work for will get the most value from me. Over the past few years I’ve gotten to know myself again. I’ve learned to trust my intuition & I’ve started having playing just for the sake of having fun!
4yr old Cassie, went away for a long time.
I spent almost 20 years pushing the Little Slugger away.
But, lucky for me, she didn’t go too far.
She’s back & ready to take on the world.
She’s at the plate, smiling & swinging for the fences.
She whispers “Bring on those curve-balls. Bring on those change-ups.”
I don’t have any high socks, short-shorts, or pigtails anymore – well, I do, I just kinda wear them at home when not many people are looking at me – but I am very at home in my skin.
And, I wish the same for you.
Go on, revisit your passions. I hope, in doing so, that you find your Little Slugger again – that part of yourself that is curious, comfortable, & charging ahead without fear.
When you re-connect with yourself, confidence & calm are what you’re left with.
Talk about magic!