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How I Realized I Didn’t Need to Have It All

Like a lot of successful millennial women, somewhere in my childhood—maybe it was the first time I got 100 percent on a test or that time in third grade when I won first prize in handwriting, or maybe it was the rush I felt when I won a competition for the summer library reading program—I got labeled as an achiever. I was the smart kid, the responsible one who could be counted on to babysit her little sisters and finish her homework without being asked. I was the good girl. And I hustled for it.

The message was clear in my eager-to-succeed young mind: My worth lay in my achievements. I came of age in the era of “hustle culture,” full of glorified 18-hour workdays, Rachel Hollis–inspired boss moms, and one burning question: How can you have it all? I truly believed that as a woman, I could be more and have more if only I did more. After I had my first baby unexpectedly in my early twenties, I became even more obsessed with hustling, feeling that I had to prove I wouldn’t let a baby slow me down as a young mom. I worked two jobs, one as a night-shift nurse and one from home as a nonprofit coordinator, and started my own six-figure writing business, went back to grad school, landed a book deal, trained for and ran a half-marathon, and never slept. And oh, by the time I turned 28, I had three more children, for whom I was the primary caregiver, because hey, YOLO.

I truly believed that I was the ideal millennial mother, capable of having the family and career I wanted for myself. I believed that was entirely within grasp for other women as well—so much so, in fact, that I ran writing workshops and advocated that if other mothers could just work harder, get up earlier, believe it was possible, then they too could have what I achieved.

Then my hair started falling out.

A Rude Awakening

I wish I could say that was the last straw, but it took a few more months before I could no longer deny my symptoms. After several specialist visits—a naturopathic doctor, a therapist, a chiropractor—I found myself in the office of a traditional ob-gyn. My blood work showed symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Stress, my doctor explained, had likely led me to stop ovulating, throwing my hormonal system out of whack and causing my hair to literally fall out of my head. She asked me: Was I perhaps doing too much?

Automatically I started reciting my to-do list, checking off the daily tasks as well as big life goals I was working toward. As I listed them one by one, it dawned on me that she didn’t look impressed. In fact, she looked downright horrified. I felt a glimmer of shame creep up over me.

To get healthy I had to take a step back from the hectic pace, a slow-down that forced me to reckon with a lot of misguided beliefs I had built up over the years. Was I really someone who cared about getting the best grades, or was that the way I thought I had to earn love as a kid? Did I really want to achieve all of these things, or is that the only way I had learned to see value in myself? Did I even like running?

Underneath the shiny goals and book deals and race medals and bigger bank account was the truth that I had never let myself admit: My self-worth was entirely wrapped up in my accomplishments. Without them, I believed, I was nothing.

Life Outside the Hustle

Growing up, I was taught I could have anything I wanted if I just worked hard enough for it—an “empowering” message with toxic undertones. I could buy the house and run the race and write the book and make the money and decorate the house and meal-prep the food and be Joanna Gaines, running my fingers through my lustrous locks while smiling at my hapless yet hardworking millionaire husband.

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