The Danger of Compartmentalization


I was scrolling through Emily Henderson’s Instagram feed sometime last year when I stumbled on a rather mean comment someone had left her.

Most of you know of Emily, but for those who don’t, she is an incredibly talented interior designer based in Los Angeles.  

Emily had posted something about her children; I can’t remember now what it was. The commenter had responded with something along the lines of: “I follow your account for your interior design work. I don’t care about your kids, and your business Instagram isn’t really the place for that, is it?”  

I’m paraphrasing. But that was the gist.  

It bothered me, but I wasn’t quite able to quite articulate why—beyond the fact that no one deserves to deal with someone else’s negative energy. But I think now, many months later, I’m beginning to understand what it was that irked me so much. 

Throughout history women have repeatedly been told that they couldn’t occupy different spheres at the same time. My great-grandmother, Madeline, was one of the first female principals in Maine. During her interview, she was asked if she was married. In those days, if you were married, you wouldn’t be considered for the position at all— for they assumed it was only a matter of time until you would have children and stay home with them—abandoning your responsibilities at work. Somehow, Madeline must have told them off though sweetly, I’m sure; she was a gentle, kind woman— because she got the job, married and all. Years later, when she did have a baby, she continued working. And when her daughter went off to college, so did she— always growing, ignoring the limitations others had tried to set for her.

To me, that comment someone left on Emily’s photo sent the very same message: you can either be a businesswoman, an entrepreneur, a bosslady— OR you can be a mother. Those two worlds must not intersect.

But that creates a feeling of schizophrenia, does it not? Always having to remember which parts of yourself you’re allowed to turn on in certain spaces— and which parts you are expected to mute.

We are all whole people with many different angles and components. Yes, we are entrepreneurs and business owners, but many of us are also sisters, lovers, daughters, mothers, artists, poets, friends. And I can’t help but think that both our businesses and our lives would be richer if we allowed ourselves to be all those things at once.