Give us your “elevator pitch” (What you do, who you are, where you’re from).
I hail from the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, but I grew up overseas in Thailand riding elephants to school. Okay, the last part isn’t true--riding elephants to school--but the rest is. I spent my days eating ramen and Khao Pad until I graduated high school and moved to Chicago for college. I married my husband directly after college in a flurry of emotion and adolescent exuberance, and we’ve made that work as we’ve added a few more to our merry clan.
Five years later, I am an aspiring author with a book in the works, a millennial who navigates a complicated faith upbringing, a mother of toddlers, and a Starbucks aficionado who sometimes has to query herself, “Do you really need that drink?” I recently turned 27, which led to a night of crying about becoming an adult to my husband --I have a sentimentality about loss and moving on that my husband doesn’t find at all prescient in his own life.
Who’s your hero?
Women. Most recently my closest friends here in North Carolina who work while taking care of their expanding families. I am continually awed by the modern millennial woman. She is proving herself resilient in the face of difficulty, an independent and indefatigable force, and a gentle and resolute advocate for change. Michelle Horton (another millennial!) at Early Mama has impacted me with her focus on community, relentless honesty, and desire to still have a private life. These three things: community, honesty, and privacy are incredibly vital and yet increasingly difficult to possess in a modern world that is all flash and bling and celebrity. The older I get, the more I find I need to rewind the tape and focus in on being true, honest, grounded, and small. In that sense, my heroes are the “small” people doing “big” things. The artists, dreamers, mothers, Etsy shop owners, and writers.
When feeling stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to unwind and refocus?
If I’m honest, I’m mostly terrible at unwinding and refocusing. However, I do know what works for me when I’m at my best: retreating to my bedroom and turning on some music (check out Kate Baer’s amazing playlist here). Sometimes, I pull out some latex paint to splash a bit of color onto a chair. Really, anything creative. Listening to a podcast that is erudite and beautiful (i.e. this podcast interview with Mary Oliver from OnBeing) is also a go-to move for me. Anything that inspires me creatively and allows me to let down my hair literally and metaphorically. Sometimes I lie in my bed’s sheets and focus on the coolness of the fabric against my hot forehead. That in itself is good for me. I find that I am so often in my head, that any movement towards my physical self, any way of embracing the side of me that is in this world, is good for me. A day of wide brush strokes, being outside, or touching the sheets against my temple, these are the things that help me find a sense of groundedness again.
What’s your favorite book?
My favorite book of all time is The Great Gatsby. I have an obsession with desire and longing and the past, and I think this book addresses all of these things so deeply. I’ve often thought about the green light on the dock in terms of my own life--what is the green light that I’m longing for? Why do we long for the past and the future while living in the present?
I love so many things about that book. When I first read it, it was an initial occasion where I realized life as a woman was going to be harder than I’d planned. Daisy’s self-referential words about women as “silly little creatures” really hit me. I thought, “I’m going to be fighting this battle all of my life, aren’t I?” Up to that point, I hadn’t realized that being a woman was going to be remarkably different than being a man. It sounds silly, but this hadn’t occurred to me. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a master at making his men and women smart and complex and confusing and needy. We as humans are all of the these things, and I love this about his characters.
Describe the biggest risk you’ve ever taken. How did it work out?
Pursuing writing has been the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. I had no idea that life was going to be so much about failure and being continuously taken down a peg. I think millennials were set up to believe that you take steps and then you arrive, then you take more steps, and arrive, etc.
There is no arrival. This is an illusion. There is no “getting there,” from what I’ve seen so far. There is only a lot of rock-hard, crazy-making, beautiful work. Writing is a lot of work, but I can’t stop doing it.
Risks are inevitably risky--and people don’t like to take risks for this reason. Everyday I get up and I keep writing. Often I want to quit--almost everyday I want to quit. But I don’t. I’m learning and growing and I’m getting comfortable with the word “artist.” I guess I’m in the process of taking risks, I don’t think it ever really ends.
The word artist is a safe word for me, because it instantly takes away the pressure to be successful, and I think that this is what most artists need, they need a definition that allows them to feel safe and grow and learn and try. They don’t need to be judged by the amateur fruits of their labor. They need a cocoon to live in, a place of nourishment and darkness and safety. The world of technology is hard because it takes away the private moments of revelation and dips you into shiny liquid screens that demand more of you. The private, quiet, introverted moments are the caves where art is nourished and born (at least for me). These places feel increasingly lost to me.
What’s your favorite quote?
A quote that I stumbled on when listening to Jen Lee talk on the Moth Radio Hour (which you should be listening to if you love stories in any shape or form). I was so inspired by her story because it matches mine at some points. After listening to her, I subscribed to her newsletter. When this quote arrived in my inbox, I started crying, and had no idea why.
“You are allowed to ask the same questions for years and years. To have a hard time believing the answers, even though everyone else seems to have known them all along. -Jen Lee
I’ve since realized it’s because I haven’t believed or owned the permission to stumble and wonder and wander. I didn’t know I was allowed to stay in a state of flux. This in-between state of being. I’ve been trying to get out of it for what feels like years.
Jen’s quote is one that I’d like to tack up on a bulletin board somewhere. I took a huge breath of real air after I read it. Something tangible and heavy lifted off of my shoulders.
It’s important for us to move into a place of letting ourselves sit amidst the questions without freaking out about the answers. Honestly, I don’t have the answers, and I think a lot of people who claim to have them don’t either. But even if I’m the only one who doesn’t, I’m ready to believe that that is okay.
Describe your dream vacation.
My dream vacation is a trip to France and Spain with a million dollars to spend on paella and escargot and drizzly olive oil with fat hunks of crusty bread. Food and wine are my BFFs and I wish I knew more about them--I’m an aspiring foodie who knows next-to-nothing about good food or how to make it. I’m hoping that my hubby and I will develop this passion together. I envision us both in our retirement, hacking away at onions and putting prosciutto to bed with chicken breast and tangy arugula. It’s my secret wish to travel to great restaurants with my hubby.
Where do you see yourself in 25 years?
Reading. I love reading, and my secret dream is to spend my days reading and writing and learning. Living a rather quiet life that balances intellectual pursuits, art, community, and family. It’s funny because I’ve always thought of this question, “where do you see yourself in 25 years?” in terms of How much will I have achieved? It’s crazy-making, because when you think about how “MUCH” you end up constantly feeling inadequate--like a squirrel storing up nuts for winter never has enough--I feel like I have to think in terms of balance. I hope I will have a balanced, fruitful, content life.
What’s currently on your radar? Tell us about your latest project.
I’m working on writing a few things for a new site that asked me to contribute. I’ve really enjoyed this writing because they’ve given me a lot of leeway content-wise. I’m also trying to get back in the saddle of editing my book. The more time I stay away from it, the more I see it’s glaring deficiencies. I also write for a career services company as a resume writer. This is something I stumbled into and that helps pay my family’s bills. It is my bread-and-butter.
Any advice for recent college grads?
These are the years to take risks. Take every risk you can. Charge into things and learn things and try things and taste things and cry about things. Don’t feel bad about not knowing things, and don’t let failure define you. The worst thing you can do is take failure as an indicator of whether or not you are on the right track. Or even take failure as a measure of yourself as a person.
At the same time, if you are in a job that isn’t working for you, find a way to get out. Your twenties are too short to be doing something you hate. Try to see the difference between failure, which is inevitable, and hating something because it is a poor fit, which you can change. First jobs are not always the best jobs—just like your freshman roommate wasn’t into you or your style, a first job is often not right up your alley.
In other words: sometimes you have to wait things out and learn. Sometimes you have to leave. Don’t feel bad about either.
Figure out your personality. Take a Myers-Briggs test. It will tell you so much about your strengths and weaknesses. The people I admire are those who’ve owned both their strengths and weaknesses and have found their way into a career that is a passion for them. I’m always thrilled to see another person charging ahead—whether in business or art or life. It is a beautiful thing when someone is doing something that naturally “fits” their strengths. It’s inspiring and always makes me want to applaud.
And then I’d give permission to wander. Live. Be Confused. Let yourself try things. The older you get, the less you feel like trying new things. So try things now and fail and pick yourself up again with a grin. You are going to crash your bike into a few trees because you are learning to ride. Don’t feel dumb about it. That’s life. Next time you ride, you’ll be chasing the wind and it will feel amazing.
Connect with Briana:
Follow her @brianameade on Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her website @ www.brianameade.com .
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