My time in Washington has surprised me. Like most Washingtonians, the Type-A atmosphere inspired my own organized drive toward achievement and in this, I soared – as a writer, a manager, an entrepreneur. I finished a book. My blog tipped. I got a great writing job. I was promoted many times. My driven desire to be the best version of myself both at work and in relationships reached a whole new plane of motivation. Drowning in copycat khaki and running clothes turned brunch wear, I had no choice but to become less judgmental, soften up, bite my tongue. I turned a blind eye to the Longchamp bags, Tory Burch flats and excessively wrinkled cardigans. The comparison comments I was once known for waned. Instead, I asked questions, became a more generous listener, a more deliberate friend, patient and intentional. My decision-making skills sharpened. My tendency towards recklessness forever abandoned.
Part of my vast growth was a little something called growing up, but another part was an environmental shift. Living amongst a cohort of people making calculated decisions to propel themselves forward in the direction of their goals left me no choice but to follow suit. For this, I appreciate Washington, D.C. and stayed in the District longer than I ever intended. Plus my mom is here, and I love my mom.
While the obsessive-compulsive achiever in me soared to new heights, the more free-spirited side of me slowly subsided, so much so that I came to deny she even existed until a few weeks ago. I was standing amidst my closest friends from high school laughing and talking loudly when one friend casually referred to me as “free-spirited.” I am not free-spirited! I spat back, stomping my stiletto. I was offended. Um, yeah you are. You work out for a living and you’re a writer. That’s free-spirited. I run a multimillion dollar business, I retorted. I just finished a book and write a column. Juggling that requires strategy and organization. Those aren’t traits of the free at spirit. You know what I mean, she shrugged, rolling her eyes at my dramatic response. I huffed and threw back the rest of my martini.
Later that night I found myself twirling around on the dance floor with a random stranger, flipping my hair and throwing my arms around. You’re not being free-spirited at all, my friend said dryly. The next day we laughed at how offended I was being called free-spirited. Although I would never acquiesce to her satisfaction, I quietly wondered if maybe she was right. Maybe I have been in Washington too long an the free spirit has been sucked right out of me. That happens to people here you know. Look at President Obama’s hair.
On the plane home I pulled up a document called “The Ambitious Life of Emma Dinzebach” and started highlighting the monthly goals I had completed. I looked through the green, yellow and pink color coded goals and wondered, am I really this anal retentive? Has my free spirit become completely dormant? The next day, I asked a friend from Washington. How do people really view me here in the land of the achievement? Am I a free spirit? You’re… well, you are… she started. I mean, you don’t really go with the flow. That’s because I am creating and directing the flow! I shouted confidently. Well, that’s true… Her voice trailed off, and we sat in silence for a minute. Finally she looked at me and ever so sweetly said, Emma, don’t think it’s a difference between being Type-A or free at spirit. While you’ve achieved so much professionally in D.C. a part of you has been repressed. That part is your more artistic side – your free spirit. That part is why you cannot stay.
So my free-spirit has been repressed? She nodded. You don’t need me to tell you that. Deep down, I knew she and my high school friends were right. I am the one dancing long after everyone else stopped. I wore a fur trimmed and sparkly gown to my senior prom. I travel alone, eat whatever I want, and even when it hurts, I love quite freely. Somewhere inside of this tiny shell called human being is a liberated spirit who wants to be set free. I see it sometimes when I’m dancing or editing my book or practicing yoga at home. Part of me really wants to connect with that free spirit, to answer the call of the wild. But not just yet. Not here. Not in Washington, D.C.
This post is dedicated to my perfect friend Brooke. Embrace your free spirit.