When Old Identities No Longer Serve You

When Old Identities No Longer Serve You

**Disclaimer: I write some of my blog posts over the course of weeks. Others are the culmination of a few hours in a coffeeshop. This post is the latter. It began as a private journal entry before I realized that I would love to share it with others - creatives, in particular - to hear your feedback, your stories, and your perspective. Throughout the course of my life, my various identities have been both havens of safety and cages of discontent. This particular post depicts my “identity” as a musician and how it has morphed over time. Please feel free to share your own stories of the challenges and rewards of ever-shifting identities in the comments. Thanks for reading!**

I’ve been writing my own music since I was 5. I performed original compositions throughout high school and college. When I turned 21, I went to every open mic within a 20-mile radius and played ticketed shows. When I turned 22, I started organizing events, workshops, and showcases for musicians in Boston. And then, without warning, I lost interest in playing and performing entirely.

At first I blamed writer’s block. Then I blamed my busy schedule. But neither reason explained my utter disinterest in the art form that had once captivated my heart. Bewildered, I began turning down performance opportunities. Every time somebody asked me when my next show was, I felt myself blush and said, “I’m not sure - I’m taking a hiatus right now.” Inevitably, the listener would express disappointment, then good-naturedly encourage me to book something soon and keep playing. Their intentions were loving, but after experiencing hundreds of these exchanges, I felt nothing but pressure.


What was wrong with me? After all, being a musician was my identity: an identity I’d made public with hundreds of performances and Facebook statuses and a website.

But now, the identity that had made me feel seen, heard, and given me a sense of belonging felt like a favorite shirt that I’d outgrown. It felt like a cage.

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I started setting boundaries and speaking my truth. Here’s how.

I started setting boundaries and speaking my truth. Here’s how.

I still have the journal entry. It says, in striking black pen, “I wish I could say what I mean. If I can learn to say what I mean before I die, I will die a happy woman.” 

I’d written it the morning after I’d been the recipient of unwanted advances at a bar. A stranger had engaged me in aggressive conversation, peppered in flirtation, and every so often slipped his bony hand around my waist. For 30 minutes I’d tolerated his behavior with a fake smile before feeling it was appropriate to escape to the bathroom.

I could’t bring myself to say “Thank you, but I’m not interested. ’’ I’d waited in silence, hoping the man would mind-read my discomfort and give me space. My stomach had churned with discomfort. The next morning, I took my pen and articulated what I saw as my Great Frontier in life: speaking up, resisting the impulse to people-please, and not settling for less than I deserved.

My tendency to people-please at the expense of my own wellbeing manifested in all areas of my life.

It was why I worked in a job that didn't reflect my values; why I felt emotionally isolated in my imbalanced relationships with friends, lovers, and colleagues; and why I relied on external distractions and addictions to numb myself to my emotional landscape. Sometimes, my people-pleasing manifested as mildly as staying too long in a conversation that bored me, or offering to help a friend when I didn’t have the time. Sometimes, it was as extreme as sleeping with someone I didn’t want to sleep with because I didn’t want to “hurt his feelings.”

I knew that my difficulty setting boundaries was largely a consequence of a culture that encourages women to be people-pleasing, accommodating, and self-sacrificial. As Harriet Lerner says in The Dance of Anger: “Our society cultivates guilt feelings in women such that many of us still feel guilty if we are anything less than an emotional service station to others.”

Though I understood the cultural roots of my behavior, I didn’t want my socialization to define me. I wanted to develop the capacity to speak up for myself. The less I heeded the wishes and warnings of my inner self, the more her cries went unheard - and the more her anger, instead of directed outward, became directed inward, at me.

I felt like I was constantly betraying myself, constantly designing my life around others’ desires. The result was a life that felt mediocre, underwhelming, and not quite my own. 

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You Have To Feel It To Heal It: The Only Way Out Is Through

You Have To Feel It To Heal It: The Only Way Out Is Through

I plodded up the half-mile hill that led to my house, my backpack weighing heavily on my shoulders in the insistent summer heat. The mild breeze that drifted off the Boston harbor was a cruel joke, hinting at coolness but offering no respite.

Recently heartbroken, I felt tears streaming hotly down my cheeks for the third time that day as the pain of my ex-partner’s absence crashed swiftly on my heart.

I reached out to a trusted friend seeking solace. “Sobbing again” I texted her, knowing she would decipher the pain behind my words. She hesitated for a moment before responding: “Duh.”

I hiccupped mid-sob, surprised.

She went on: “Feel it. It’s going to hurt. But every moment you’re sobbing, you’re doing the work. Every moment you’re hurting, you’re healing. The only way out is through.”

I stared at the screen, digesting her words. That was the last thing I’d expected. I’d expected to be coddled or encouraged to look at the bright side. I’d expected to be force-fed an ice cream cone at J.P. Licks.

This was different. For the first time in my grieving process, I wasn’t told to gloss over my feelings with a coat of rose-colored paint. Someone I trusted was encouraging me to feel my pain in its entirety. Through her eyes, my pain was valid and productive—a necessary step on my journey toward healing.

Her direct acknowledgement of my suffering was the permission I needed to truly feel my pain instead of avoid it. Instead of worrying that I wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy—instead of worrying that I was taking “too long” to heal—I felt like I was doing everything properly.

I could celebrate the work I was doing, even when that work was breaking into sobs, for the third time that day, on the half-mile walk home.

My pain and grief had meaning.

It could serve a purpose.

It could serve me.

Since then, I’ve developed a new way of looking at pain:

When we allow ourselves to fully experience painful or uncomfortable feelings, we are doing work. Sitting with our feelings instead of disengaging or distracting ourselves is work.

Once we accept that we are doing work, we can silence our internal critic that believes that feeling pain means we’re “doing something wrong.” Instead, we begin to understand that feeling our pain is important and productive.

When we understand the true nature of our work, we can summon compassion for ourselves as we move through our uncomfortable feelings on the path to healing, peace, and wholeness.

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10 Amazing Things That Happen When You Kick Alcohol Out Of Your Life

10 Amazing Things That Happen When You Kick Alcohol Out Of Your Life

Today is my one–year Soberversary. I’m sitting on the carpeted floor of my apartment in oversized sweatpants, a mug of tea to my right, the cool blue sky out the window to my left.

Calm mornings like this are relatively new to me. They’re a trademark of the sober lifestyle I chose one year ago today, and they – like so many of my new routines and simple pleasures – are sacred to me. Sobriety has reshaped my life in ways I never could have predicted.

This journey that I assumed would be difficult, isolating, and painful has been replete with silver linings. Though I never formed a physical dependence on alcohol, I abused it from day one. My five-year relationship with drinking was the origin of many traumatic memories, painful injuries, toxic relationships, and though I didn’t realize it then, my deepest wellspring of shame.

And so after five years of drinking, I made the difficult decision to quit.

My decision was predicated on months of reading, journaling, and wondering – wondering if my drinking was “bad enough” to warrant sobriety and wondering how hard it would be to quit. I was nervous at how my life would change. My mind was occupied with everything I’d miss as a sober person, and I struggled to imagine how a sober life could be satisfying and enlivening – an intoxicant all on its own.

When the benefits of sobriety began appearing – subtly at first, then rapidly, like a breaking dam – I realized that my life had become far more interesting than it was before. Becoming sober was the first choice I ever made to prioritize my health, wellness, and spirit, in spite of the fact that it would restrict me from certain activities, weaken certain friendships, and fundamentally restructure my lifestyle. That’s why sobriety honestly feels like my greatest achievement. I’m proud of it, right to my bones.

It opened my eyes to the many ways we use numbing agents to create barriers between ourselves and the raw, uncomfortable, potent experiences of living in this world.

What began as a commitment to avoid hangovers became a commitment to getting in touch with my heart, a commitment to living in the present moment in spite of discomfort, and a commitment to experiences and people that make me feel fundamentally nourished and safe.

The way I see it, we’re not incentivized to kick an addiction until we begin to believe in a brighter alternative – an alternative that feels more inspiring and satisfying than the addiction. When I quit drinking, I knew that if I was going to permanently resist the buzz of booze, I needed a compelling alternative waiting in the wings.

Here are the 10 amazing things that happened when I kicked alcohol out of my life…

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On The Road Issue 2: Studenthood in Seattle

On The Road Issue 2: Studenthood in Seattle

Greetings from the road! As y’all may have read in my last blog post, I am in the midst of a nomadic journey. In August, I left Boston to live on the road and continue working remotely as a Life Coach. Currently, I’m bunked in Seattle - specifically, the charming, eccentric neighborhood of Fremont. Thanks for coming along on this journey with me <3

Recently, I’ve been thinking of this journey as an opportunity to be a student. Generally, we think of ourselves as students when we’re in educational settings, learning hard skills like math, car repair, pie crust recipes - you get the idea. Sometimes we forget that all endeavors - particularly those that are unfamiliar - are teachers. Identifying as a student has helped me embrace the what-the-hell-am-I-doing sensation that accompanies trying something new - and I happen to be doing a lot of trying something new these days. And how relieving: to feel like it’s okay to learn instead of to know. This mindset has helped me stay curious and keep my mind open on the road. 

In September, I wrote about synchronicities. My first few weeks on the road, I experienced lucky coincidence after lucky coincidence. The mother of all synchronicities took place when a Seattle-based friend-of-a-friend offered me his one bedroom apartment while he travels in South America till November. Seattle was already sneaking its way into my heart, so when the option arose to stay twice as long as I’d originally intended - for virtually no money - I accepted without a thought. 

And so today, like many other days recently, I am cozily sipping coffee at Caffe Vita, the neighborhood coffeeshop steps from “my” front door. Instead of hostel-hopping each week - overhearing friendly strangers complain about their hangovers in German accents at breakfast and trying to find comfortable sleeping positions with earplugs stuffed in my ears - I’m staying in an apartment. With a kitchen. In a neighborhood that I adore. Four of my new friends live within a five-minute radius. Most days, I feel like I stepped into a ready-made life, complete with home, favorite coffeeshop, burgeoning social network, and some days, even boredom. It gives me a sense of what living in Seattle is actually like.

This month may not be the most quintessential “life on the road,” but damn, I love it. Monday through Wednesday, I live a pretty normal life: wake up, make coffee, have calls with my incredible clients, be a human. I spend the other four days a week exploring the humans and destinations of Seattle. My three favorite explorations thus far have been:

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On The Road Issue 1: Synchronicities in Seattle

On The Road Issue 1: Synchronicities in Seattle

A disclaimer: the tidbits that follow are merely snippets of my travels. Beautiful sights, heartwarming connections, Hailey-esque neuroses, and the little revelations that weave it all together.

So here's the skinny: I'm a personal coach and digital nomad, living out of my epic backpack while I travel throughout the US working remotely. I decided to hit the road because I wanted to grow in unexpected ways. I wanted to see who I became when I wasn’t entrenched in the routines, communities, and comfort zones that shaped my life in Boston.

The year preceding this journey was a wild year for me. That wildness was a culmination of pursuing my current career as a Life Coach; awakening through a rough breakup; working on my codependency; recommitting to sobriety daily; embracing my sex-positivity; building healthier relationships with friends and family; learning what my life could look like if I put myself first; and embracing spiritual growth. All of the good, crunchy stuff that splits you open and leaves you free to rise. Becoming fully location-independent was the final permission slip I needed to hit the road. So I leveled up and bought a one-way ticket out West. That’s where this begins.

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Everyone's Doing The Best That They Can

Everyone's Doing The Best That They Can

My favorite principle is this simple truth: Everyone is doing the best that they can with the resources they have. Adopting this belief has radically changed my relationship to myself and to others.

This idea has been explored by a constellation of religious, spiritual, and wellness practitioners. As Deepak Chopra said, “People are doing the best that they can from their own level of consciousness.”

At first, it's a hard concept for us to swallow. In a culture that constantly urges us to do more, to be better, and to excel,  “I'm doing the best that I can” sounds like complacency—like an excuse. But what if we took a step back from our culture's infinite growth paradigm and considered, “What if, right now, there is a limit to what I can achieve? Can I be okay with that?”…

Published on Tiny Buddha. Read here.

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To The Man Who "Doesn't Like Body Hair"

To The Man Who "Doesn't Like Body Hair"

I am done with my body being a site for people-pleasing.

Shaving.
Losing weight.
Gaining weight.
Running to the far end of town.
Using my mouth to satisfy.
Using my ears to listen to empty, egoic words.

For all my life, my body has belonged just as much to others as to myself—just as much to society as to myself—and you will never know what that feels like: to have the most rudimentary evidence of your own existence belong to someone else…

Published on Elephant Journal. Read here.

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9 Dos & Don’ts: How To Hold Space For Someone Who’s Hurting

9 Dos & Don’ts: How To Hold Space For Someone Who’s Hurting

Does this sound like you?

You experience something painful. It hurts. You feel anxious, angry, or frustrated, as if you’re on the verge of boiling over. So you self-isolate—sometimes for hours, sometimes for days—and wait for the pain to subside.

You don’t call a friend or a loved one, even though you know you technically could. You know that using your support network is supposed to enable your healing process, but you just can’t pick up the phone. The thought of having one of “those conversations” again is simply too exhausting…

Published on Elephant Journal. Read here.

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Hailey Magee on the Let The Music Set You Free Podcast: "Freedom From Expectations"

Hailey Magee on the Let The Music Set You Free Podcast: "Freedom From Expectations"

Listen to Let The Music Set You Free Episode 7: “Freedom From Expectations with Hailey Magee.”

Let The Music Set You Free is a movement started by Katie Dobbins. The Let The Music Set You Free Podcast brings musicians together to share stories and songs about setting ourselves free, with the hope that our message will empower you to break free from whatever has held you back.

In Episode 7, Katie Dobbins talks with singer-songwriter, Trailblazer Coach, and entrepreneur Hailey Magee about setting yourself free from expectations.

Credits:
Spoken by Katie Dobbins & Hailey Magee
Jeep Song by Katie Dobbins
This Beautiful Machine by Hailey Magee

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A Simple Trick To Declutter Your Life and Prioritize Your Soulfood

A Simple Trick To Declutter Your Life and Prioritize Your Soulfood

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more picky about how I spend my time. I spent my first 22 years doing things I thought I wanted: taking dense course-loads, working mind-numbing internships, and spending time with halfway friends. Of all my commitments, few genuinely lit me up inside. Most were voluntary “responsibilities” - Clutter - that I thought would advance my career or get me one step ahead in the world. (What I was racing towards, I’m not sure. I hadn’t yet realized that life was not a race.)

After a while, I burned out. I was sick of working toward goals that morphed into something grander the moment they came within my reach. I realized that I had a choice: I could spend my life robotically trying to achieve a nameless “something greater,” or I could intentionally design my life for present-moment happiness. (You can imagine which one I picked!)

I felt like I was waking up from a trance. For the first time, I was giving myself permission to declutter my schedule and design my life on my own terms (which now directly informs my women’s transformation coaching work.) Since then, I left my work in politics to become self-employed; bucked social norms and quit drinking; and left a permanent address behind to become a digital nomad. 

Decluttering my life has been a constant learning process. In a culture that rewards non-stop motion and falling in line, sometimes we forget that we have deciding power over how we spend our time. It's as important for us to declutter our mental space as it is to declutter our physical space - our closets, our bedrooms, our backpacks, and beyond - so every six months, to keep my priorities aligned with my values, I like to take a step back and declutter my life with my Life Jar. Here's how:

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poem: touch(love)

poem: touch(love)

i. collarbone
if i starve, will you love me better?
i’m so hungry all of the time.
no peanut butter, no milk, no pasta
i tiptoe on the scale like a ballerina and trace my collarbone in the mirror
i’m an archaeologist digging for love, but
i only find bone.

ii. lips
i’m so lonely. i get tired of performing.
i just want to escape for a while.
alcohol loosens my limbs and limbers my lips
gives me permission to scavenge for scraps of touch(love) 
beneath the naked moon
to eat greedily from the hands that feed me.
i’m so hungry all of the time.

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Love As The Foundation Of Social Change

Love As The Foundation Of Social Change

I retaliate against these [modern political] crises with love and community. It’s the only path that aligns with my values. It’s how I feel I can be most impactful.

Hurt, fear, anger, blame, violence, and the reduction of other beings to less-than-human are the tendencies underlying modern public debate. We can’t make the paradigm shift we need - right at the very roots of our hearts and culture - without building a foundation of change upon something radically different.

Aggression and division have developed a stronghold on modern, mainstream social justice communities. Folks who are not angry, unwavering, “renouncing,” and “calling out” are told they are not doing their duty as activists. But what about our duty to build a better world - not by shouting over evils, but by loving, caring, and acting compassionately in our communities?

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