Continuing the series of asking women I interviewed when I was writing No Excuses “What have you learned about your relationship with power since we talked?” here is a beautiful essay from Kristal Brent Zook explaining her answer about a very personal choice.
How Gloria Feldt’s No Excuses Reminded Me of My Power
Not long ago, my friend Gloria Feldt, author of No Excuses, asked me to take another look at her 9 ways women can embrace power to see if any of the strategies had resonated lately, in the year or so since the initial release of her book.
Since we all know how political the personal will always be, I thought immediately about the upheavals of the past year in my home life.
Last February, my husband and I decided—on a whim, really—to relocate from Manhattan to the suburbs of Long Island.
“Why not leave the city?” we asked ourselves. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Get some fresh air. A yard. A real house. It would shorten my commute to Hofstra University; and of course, we would be saving all that money.
A charming, two-story 1923 Colonial about 30 miles east of the city caught our eye: it was more than 5,000 square feet, with two sun rooms and front and back yards. The rent was $1,200 less than our midtown high-rise, and ditching New York City taxes meant another $1,000 a month in savings.
“Let’s do it!” we agreed excitedly, handing over a check for the first month’s rent.
We replaced our Metro subway cards with a 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan in Cherry Red and fantasized about how we’d slide back the sunroof on weekends and explore the shoreline, trolling for golf courses (we’d learn) and beaches. It would be a sweet country life existence, we decided. Paintings were hung, boxes were recycled. And just like that, we were settled in.
But if I’d been honest with myself, I would have realized that I was doing it not because I wanted to, but because I thought I should. Because it was the responsible, rational thing to do. Because it was what couples of a certain age, with certain aspirations to family life, did. Because deep down, I thought such “good” behavior would help me earn my dreams the “right” way.
“So, do you like it here so far?” ventured my husband, about three weeks after our move.
“Sure. Do you?”
We looked into each others’ eyes.
“I mean… I miss the city a little,” I confessed.
His face fell open.
“I’m not a suburbs kind of guy,” he blurted, relieved. “I thought I could be, but I’m not!”
It was true. He’d grown up in big European cities and traveled internationally for work. He had more stamps on his passport than a diplomat.
“And you’re not a suburbs kind of girl either,” he added. Also true. Before our move, I’d lived in New York City happily for nearly ten years.
Power Tool #2: Define your own terms
The truth was that in the city I felt most able; most myself; most powerful. It was where I’d discovered myself capable of dreaming my biggest dreams, and flying at my highest possible height.
We were New Yorkers through and through. Both of us. And so, we packed it all up and came back to Manhattan – just nine months after we’d left.
Power Tool #5: Carpe the Chaos
Embrace it. Chaos opens you up to new ways of thinking, as Gloria says. Change shifts energy, and leads us to new opportunities.
Literally jumping for joy, we reinstalled ourselves in our midtown west neighborhood. But something had changed, at least for me. I returned with a new state of mind, and a new understanding. Never again would I compromise so profoundly the needs of my heart, for the worries of my mind. Never again would I allow that which was outside of myself to define what makes or breaks a dream.
And this, Gloria, is my most recent homage to Power Tool #9: Tell your story.
About Kristal Brent Zook
Kristal Brent Zook is director of the M.A. Journalism Program at Hofstra University, and the author of “Black Women’s Lives: Stories of Power and Pain.” She has lived in New York City for eleven years, minus nine months.