Katie Dalebout’s Pivot: Healing and Feeling with Jessica Ciencin Henriquez

Transitions are universal and inevitable, regardless of age we’re constantly evolving. And while change can, at times, feel messy and uncomfortable, it’s through these metamorphosis that we learn success. All of my greatest lessons have come as a result of a pivot after a failure. These pivotal movements have made fertile ground for growth. Through the exploration of these transitions and changes it is my hope that fullest readers will feel less alone in knowing that others are going through the same trials and celebrations. As I move through my Saturn return and the tail end of my 20’s I find myself mining for life’s gems and sharing the lessons I’ve learned (and still continue to learn) through personal essays, lists, and interviews. 

Enjoy my monthly column, Pivot for the fullest.

There have been many women who have had a profound impact on me in my 20’s. They wander in and out of my life, but their lessons linger forever. One is Colombian-American writer and editor, Jessica Ciencin Henriquez. I took one of her writing classes this past winter and got to know her, really admiring the way she moved throughout the world. She has an extremely creative, confident, and nurturing quality about her and is one of those magnetic people who enter a room and instantly draw attention.

Jessica’s personal essays and narrative journalism have appeared in The New York Times’ Modern Love column, Self Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, and Time Magazine, and she is the author of the forthcoming memoir: If You Loved Me You Would Know. I recently sat down with her to try to squeeze out every last ounce of wisdom and creative inspiration I could…

How do you feel non-attached to an outcome you really want — in both writing and in life?

Jessica Ciencin Henriquez: When a person operates from a place of need they are outsourcing their value — rather than knowing exactly what they’re worth and what they’re capable of, they’re waiting for somebody else to tell them. When you’re operating from a place where you need external validation, it’s hard to be patient because you want it now. 

How did you start to change that operating system to be less attached?

JH: I think it’s a matter of getting older and letting go of ego. My agent once told me, ‘If the door doesn’t open, it’s not your door.’ I took that statement and tattooed it on my brain. Now, if something doesn’t happen for me, it’s not for me… and that’s okay. It changed my entire approach to my artistic life.

Has that reflected in your work’s success? 

JH: If you actually look at the trajectory of my career, I stopped trying so hard about three years ago, and that’s when everything started to unfold for me because I was no longer trying to manipulate and force it. So often people don’t realize that when they think things aren’t happening, it’s not actually true. The distance you’re creating between experiences is valuable. It takes patience and learning to appreciate the time in between opportunities, and then knowing that they each have a purpose.

How do you handle the discomfort of that in-between space where seemingly nothing is happening?

JH: I got to a place where everything I had done wasn’t working and I realized that maybe I’m the problem. I read a book by Lauren Zander called Maybe It’s You, and it was interesting that I never had considered that perhaps I was the reason that this relationship, this job, this whatever is going haywire. It scares people to feel that responsibility. If you can sit in your discomfort for a minute, you will realize that if all of this turmoil starts with me, then it must also end with me.

What would you say to someone going into the beginning of that period of intense change who is examining themselves and seeing that their role isn’t working? 

JH: Hang on, because it’s not going to be comfortable. The reason people don’t change is because change is hard. It’s painful. It’s messy. Create an inventory of where you went wrong, what patterns you’re repeating, and what you are going to do correctly next time. This process isn’t fun, especially if you strip away all of the things we use to cope while we change. For me, it was alcohol and treating my body badly. I was making my body pay for the mistakes that had hurt me in the past. I stopped sleeping with people, stopped dating, and stopped drinking. It freed up so much time. I had no idea how much of a time suck all of those things were. I dove into my past and when I came out on the other side I had a very firm understanding of who I was without all the narratives.

You write a lot about nostalgia and being a person who feels things intensely… how has that affected you? 

JH: I hold onto the past in every way — when it serves me, when it doesn’t, whether it’s pain or whether it’s joy — I hold on to it simply because it happened. If, as a child, you did not feel like you had control over things, as an adult you tend to overextend that control. The first three seconds after an event or intense situation is real — it’s a reaction that you cannot control. After that, you’re controlling it. If you choose to continue staying in that pain, it’s because you’re making that choice. If you were the common denominator in your past, then you’re also the common denominator in your future.

What have you learned from your experiences with love, relationships, divorce, and heartbreak

JH: It’s not hard to let go of a relationship that is dysfunctional, but it’s really hard to let go of the hope that it’s going to change and get better. Nobody suffers from walking out of a bad situation, we suffer because we’re letting go of the hope that a bad situation will repair somehow. The saddest part of a relationship ending is losing that friendship. You’re losing that person who has been there for better or worse, a person that is significant in your growth and in your life. It goes from connected romantic togetherness to nothing — but nothing is permanent. 

What has been your greatest lesson on romantic love?

JH: Oprah always says it, and she’s right. When someone tells you who they are, listen to them the first time. My therapist suggests making a list of the ideal partner you want in your life: how they treat their family, how they are with kids, how they fight, what their work ethic is. Be as detailed as possible… and then look at the list and become everything on it. 

Katie Dalebout is a writer, host, and founder of Let [a podcast] Out, a workshop that helps people DIY podcast. Since 2013, she has interviewed nearly 300 people on her long-form podcast, Let It Out. Her first book, Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling is a collection of personal essays and journaling prompts that was published in 2016. She now writes about her feelings monthly in her Let It Out Letter. Katie, her feelings, and all of her plants live together in Manhattan.

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