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Where in the World is Whitney? San Diego

After a year of balancing on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we packed up the Jeep, wrapped up the boat, and left Key West for the West Coast. Two weeks and 3600 miles later (we took a few pleasure detours), we arrived at another water’s edge: the rocky coast of the cold Pacific. From the United States’ southernmost point to the furthest southwest, from afternoon showers to dry Santa Ana winds, from 85-degree midnights to 65-degree noons, from the calm turquoise shallows to the rolling deep blues, we have left one magical paradise for another. We have found our new home in La Jolla, San Diego.

Through sheer luck and determination, we now find ourselves a stone’s throw from a popular surfer’s beach with whooshing waves on a 24-hour loop. “The waves are still on!” I announce to Fredrick when I come back into the apartment after taking out the evening garbage. “Can you hear the waves?” he asks as we lay our heads on our pillows at night. Yes, yes I can.

It doesn’t hurt that surfer dudes and chicks park on our block, and after catching some waves, crouch under open hatchbacks to carefully strip out of wet wetsuits, towels precariously wrapped around their waists. From our perch, they have nowhere to hide. On a clear day, we can see whales in the distance spouting breath through their blowholes, flukes flipping up and down, as they make their trek to the warm Baja waters to spawn. Tall, skinny, fanning palm trees line the streets where powerlines have been strung behind the houses so as not to obscure the view. It’s a moving postcard and its ours, all ours.

Without warning, the marine layer rolls across the coastline, dropping the temperature and reminding us that nothing lasts forever. You can hardly see a foot in front of you and going anywhere becomes a treacherous endeavor. But I don’t fear the fog anymore, having just come out of one of my own. “Fogginess is the path to clarity,” says a notecard that sits on my desk, wise words I heard directed at a another that I claimed as my own reminder.

How we got here is a series of events so complex and impossible to put into words, I almost dread having to recount it. On the one hand, we revel in sharing our journey of self-renewal and search for authenticity in the hopes it will inspire others to do the same. On the other hand, stories don’t do it justice. We are two people who individually and together have spent the last few years redefining ourselves, our values and our ambitions, after a lifetime of living by other people’s rules. The amount of inner work it has required each of us to get here defies description, and can only be truly understood when undertaken oneself. I have watched Fredrick leave a cushy corporate job to become a sailboat captain, and while I have been present for every stage of his development, I still couldn’t tell you what he’s really gone through on the inside, what he has had to do to become the person he was always meant to be. Just as he has seen me recoil from burnout, wrestle with relaxation and reinvent my business to better suit my life, he couldn’t possibly know the mountain I climb every day. Everyone sees the world from behind their own two eyes, and while our stories can tickle the imaginations of others, it can never make them see.

For the last six months, I haven’t spent much time in my beloved little corner of the Internet not because of writer’s block but because of something I used to consider far worse: I’ve been writing just for me. Though I’ve valued the process of writing to better understand myself since I was a preteen, my greater need was always to be better understood by others so that they could better understand themselves. When I started this blog six years ago (and five days), I slowly became conditioned to subsist on the immediate feedback of my readers — an instant gratification that simultaneously fed and starved me. I checked my comments, stats and Twitter feed compulsively like a dog who sits under the table waiting for food to drop. I was rabid, and the idea of writing something not for publication was heresy.

But despite months of living in the most serene scene imaginable, I was the same uptight, overwrought, anxious person I’d always been. I was living in a paradise that still felt like prison. I had to accept that my environment wasn’t going to change me; change was going to have to come from the inside out. It was particularly hard to confront since I’d always thought I had the self-awareness thing down pat, but I guess my focus had always been on my past. Something clicked in me this spring, fittingly enough, that forced me to start looking at my present.

I couldn’t figure out what was wrong so I began to write. First thing in the morning, stream of consciousness handwritten in a journal with no stopping, no editing, no filter. Three full pages minimum. I learned about Morning Pages when I joined a wonderful group of women reading The Artist’s Way, a 12-chapter, 1-chapter-per-week program for overcoming creative block. I was facing life-block so I thought it might help. Twelve weeks turned into…well, I guess I’m going on almost 8 months now. And man, what it has unleashed!

Through writing to myself every morning, I was finally able to admit that I was terrified about living my life honestly. The things I want now go against everything I’ve been taught by my parents, my teachers, my mentors and even my friends. I was shocked to see the real me appear on the page, repeatedly saying how exhausted she was from hiding out for so long. I think the only word I wrote more times than “I” was “tired.”

I discovered I still had some residual bad feelings about how someone I trusted had treated me. I discovered I was scared to take the next step in my career because I didn’t know how to be a beginner again. I discovered that I’d been putting so much pressure on myself, it took all the fun out of doing what I love. I discovered that I was finding my self-worth in what I do rather than in who I am.

Most importantly, I discovered that there’s a lot more I have to learn about myself. While sharing myself in this public way certainly has its benefits, there’s a lot more to be gained from some quiet “me time.”

Now in my new digs, in a place that feels so right, at a desk overlooking the ocean and surroundings that reflect how I feel inside, I’m ready to open up again, with a greater purpose and commitment to my well-being than ever before.

Hard to believe, but I’m now more than halfway through my year-long coaching certification program. I currently have six clients who I’m coaching on a wide range of topics, from learning how to be an effective leader to dealing with the emotional roller-coaster of entrepreneurship. This has been the most meaningful work of my life and I’ve fallen in love with every one of my clients. I’m in awe of the progress they’ve made already and how much they’ve dedicated themselves to their self-development. It’s an honor to know them, to support them, and to learn from them every day.

As my career continues to evolve, I feel conflicted about whether to pursue it with a fresh start or to find a way to integrate it with my existing work. User experience has been my everything for more than a decade, and it has given me so much, but to be perfectly honest it’s just not enough for me anymore. I don’t care about solving design problems and it’s been a long time since I have. I no longer feel the need to be the one with all the answers.

I want to help people solve their own problems, find their own answers. That’s how I found my way to coaching in the first place, and what I’ve learned so far has taken me deeper into the beauty and complexity of the human condition than I ever dreamed possible.

I want to work with individuals, I want to work with teams, I want to work with people in technology, I want to work with people in the arts. I want to do it all, and right now I see no reason to limit myself. Things will come naturally, I just have to let them.

At the core, I like making people feel good. And I like making myself feel good too. It took me three decades to start figuring out how, but I’m getting there. Taking it slow, eating healthy, exploring my spirituality, exploring the world, living lightly — this is what matters to me now.

And I can’t think of a better place to be doing it than here.

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  • jimvoorhies

    Other people will always tell you what they would do (or think they would) if they were you, but trying to figure out what makes you happy takes real effort. You’re a natural empath. You’ll figure it out.

  • http://www.lockedowndesign.com/ John J. Locke

    I can relate to “going back to the cave” to regroup and reinvent yourself. Life is a series of stages. We never *really* know what’s going to happen next, although we try to plan it. I like to think younger me would still approve of older me, but past me could not have predicted my path in a hundred years.

    It’s OK to change, and it’s OK to not know everything. It’s even OK to become someone radically different from who we were, because that’s part of thee natural cycle. I think it’s more difficult the more you become known for being certain things – like a New Yorker (heard you say this on the podcast), or knowledgeable about a ceratin area. Then you’re just “That guy or gal who does *x*”. That’s a huge burden, and sometimes we just outgrow it.

    Success is a trap. It can keep us from going outside our comfort zone. Keep on keeping it real, Whitney.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      I sincerely appreciate your perspective, John, and I’m very grateful to you for sharing it. Reblogging!

  • Cousin Deb

    Good for you, Whitney! I love the way you describe your journey, and I am cheering you on every step of the way. Can’t wait to see what you do next . . . and then next after that . . . and after that, too. The possibilities are endless, and you will continue to improve the world with every step you take. Enjoy yourself, and please keep sharing if and when it feels right!

  • Pingback: Going back to the cave | Pleasure & Pain ☯ by Whitney Hess

  • Christina Young

    Whitney, I think this is one of the most beautiful posts you’ve written in a long time. Whether you’re flying high and feel at the top of the world or whether you’ve stuck in a rut and battling your inner self, the words you share with the world have certainly encouraged me, if not many other readers who visit your blog.

    Until recently, I was betting on an offer for a job based in Hong Kong. Later, I found out that the leadership had changed, the expectations of the candidate had increased, and the hiring manager gave me honest feedback about how poor my portfolio presentation was. What a whack of reality. And the best thing is, I feel so much better; I can let go of this opportunity and freely pursue freelance gigs, which is what I truly wanted to do in the first place.

    I sincerely hope things continue to look up for you!