Interview 015: Embry Roberts
It's been awhile, so I KNOW you're hungry for inspiration. Luckilyyyy, I got yo' daily dose right here, with Badass Writer and Editor at Large/ TODAY Show reporter, Embry Roberts.
I went to school with Embry. She started a fashion blog that people actually read and I admired her from afar. We weren't friends. Five or so years ago, I started a blog of my own. Embry was living in New York, trying to balance the all encompassing acts of finding herself, healing herself, etc. etc. etc. I was in Chicago, attempting to do the same. We realized, through the magic of The Internet, that we are soul mates... and the rest is herstory.
I didn't have to ask Embry for an interview. I was planning on it, OBVIOUSLY, because she's making it as a writer, I connect with everything she has to say, and she's 100% her own muse... but she willingly completed her Infrequently Asked Questions "as an exercise" before I could ask. She's combo deep/proactive like that.
I know you'll love her words as much as I do. Here's Embry.
What character stuff have you had to actively work on over the past several years?
I've been told repeatedly -- by friends, by family, by bosses, by therapists -- that I'm too hard on myself. "I'm SUCH a perfectionist!" sounds like an asshole thing you'd say in a job interview, but that's because people misunderstand perfectionism. It's not about being OMGTOOPERFECT -- it's about being so ruled by abstract, impossible goals that you feel like you're always falling short, obsess over things that don't matter, and sometimes avoid doing anything whatsoever to escape that failure feeling.
(And by "you," I mean "I." I do all of these things. But second person helps me escape that failure feeling!!!!!)
Perfectionism can be crippling. It's a confidence drain, a productivity drain, and a massive barrier to engaging with others, who can fear you're judging them by the same harsh standards you do yourself -- or just get tired of the drama. We all like to think we're adorably neurotic, but that kind of ceaseless self-consciousness is exhausting.
How are you doing on that stuff now?
Well, I've gotten better at not verbalizing my tortured inner monologue, which I think has made me more pleasant to be around. But I've had to accept that to a certain extent, this is how I'm wired, and learn to work with that seeking impulse instead of against it.
I believe that "self-love" is a verb -- that is, loving ourselves comes from doing things that make us proud of ourselves. I can't think my way there. I have to take action. And on the flip side, it's hard for me to feel too bad about anything if I know I'm working on it. So the moment I start spiraling is the moment I need to just make a to-do list and get started. I can usually be proud of that.
How would you describe your purpose?
In a word? Storyteller. I identify deeply with being a writer, not only by profession, but also in how I process the world and spill myself back into it. I spent my early '20s telling my own story via my blog and my job as a lifestyle editor, which let me approach the content in a very personal way.
Right now I feel like I need to tell other people's stories for a while, which I get to do as a reporter. It's been more gratifying than I could have imagined. My subjects are so thankful to feel heard -- amazed to see their memories become a narrative instead of the hot mess life feels like when you're in it. I've gotten some wonderful thank-you notes, but I'm humbled they trust me to capture their lives. It reminds me why I do what I do -- and just how many stories can and should be told.
Define your career... Then tell us how it's different then you thought it would be.
Like I said, writing is a huge part of who I am, and I think it will always be a huge part of what I do for a living. I recently made the jump from big-corp editorial work to freelance writing, which was always kind of the plan. Freelance life is treating me well, but I'd like to think my creativity could take many forms in the future -- a book, a business, an editorial branding service. Gettin' after them multiple income streams, ya dig?
I also recently moved from NYC to Portland, Oregon, which is something I didn't foresee at 22 but am pretty stoked about! So I'm open to wherever that leads me, both on the page and off.
Do you feel like you've made it yet? Have things clicked? Explain.
Made it, in the sense that I earn a comfortable living writing cool stuff on my own terms with a flexible schedule -- yeah, and honestly, I'm pretty proud of that! Of course there's always room for growth -- there are publications I'd love to write for, and there are gigs I take just to pay the bills. As time goes on, I'd like to be choosier about what projects I take on and more aggressive with ideas I'm really jazzed about.
And then there's the ongoing work of figuring out my ~productivity flow~, ideal work-life ratio, etc. I do believe that in order to have anything worthwhile to say, I need to spend a good chunk of time NOT staring at a screen. And I hope the everyday business of living will inspire stories I couldn't dream of writing now.
How do you think others perceive your life path? Do you care?
A year ago, I cared A LOT. But that's because I was living in New York -- where the culture very much centers on work -- and constantly comparing myself to everyone around me. I knew it wasn't serving me, and I left with the intention of doing a sort of Eat-Pray-Love adventure...and wound up moving to Oregon instead.
Opting out of the rat race has done wonders for helping me find peace, because there's no real formula for what I'm doing. I'm lucky that my time in NYC opened some doors for me professionally, and I've worked to maintain those relationships so that I can do impactful work while exploring the world beyond Manhattan. Part of me loves the hustle, and there may come a time when I feel ready to return. But for me -- and my mental health -- there was no other path.
Speaking of others, how have your relationships shaped you?
This is a hard one, because I'd call myself independent to a fault. I'd like to be a little bit more shaped by my relationships!
Going back to the perfectionism for a minute, I think being so hard on myself made it tough to be authentic. If I was with others, I was performing Me At My Absolute Best (very draining), and then feeling like an unlovable fraud when I'd go home and fall apart. In giving myself the grace to be flawed, to be quiet, to be changed by other people -- I've become more open, and in turn (I hope!) a better partner and friend.
What's your perspective on life like now as opposed to 5 years ago? 10 years ago?
I actually kind of look up to my 22-year-old self, who had far less to show for herself and yet far fewer doubts that she could do anything. I envy how much she could do in a day, because she wasn't afraid of exhausting herself. Her desire to be a well-rounded person, not just float through life seeking pleasure. Her desire to have relationships, not prove she could exist indefinitely without them.
I've been through some shit since then -- an eating disorder that ruled my life for several years, the aforementioned career angst -- and while I believe there is value in all of that, I do feel shakier for it. I'm glad to have captured my wide-eyed self in writing, because I love revisiting the way I used to think. I find it reassuring, and inspiring in a way.
I hope that doesn't sound sad. I'm not saying I want to be 22 again. But while life inherently changes us, I think there's value in revisiting the person we've been all along -- and taking the better parts of the past into the future.
What are you most looking forward to?
Happy hour. Kidding (though I'm not sure which question I ask myself more: is it too late for coffee OR is it too early for drinks? Forever under the low-grade influence and owning it).
I'm writing a book! Most of my work until now has been short-form, so I'm thrilled to take on something bigger and meatier. If you're wondering: No, I don't have a book deal (but if you want to give me one, call me). I just one day realized I have the free time and creative energy to write a book, and I don't need anyone else's permission to do so. Book has been manifested and book is underway.
In your daily life, when are you happiest?
It's less about any one thing -- right now, my best life involves having no normal -- and more about the self-care practices that support whatever I choose to do. Sleep. Hydration. Some sort of journaling practice. Some sort of movement, which can mean anything from hiking to weights to Britney choreography. Healthful eating -- the real kind, not the fake kind used to justify restriction -- but also a life that doesn't revolve around food. Enough social interaction to keep me feeling human. When all of those things are happening, I feel happy no matter what I'm doing.
On the other hand, how do you pull yourself out of a funk when you're in one? And how did you most likely wind up in said hypothetical funk in the first place?
I like to joke that I'm about seven years late to the podcast party, but they've been a game-changer for me. I used to spend so much time just zoning -- while commuting, while cooking, while chores-ing -- and even when I wasn't getting dark and twisty, there was just so much blank space (like literally, a LOT of Taylor Swift). It amazes me that I can use that time to expose myself to new ideas, get inspired by how other people live, and (if nothing else) laugh for laughter's sake. "That's So Retrograde", "Oh Boy" and "Dear Sugar Radio" are some of my faves.
Any other questions you wish someone would ask you?
Yes, and I'm ready when you are.
Creep on Embry on Instagram here. Thanks, Embry!