Tina Essmaker, Writer and Creative Coach
We can't possibly think of a better woman to start us off in 2018 than Tina Essmaker. Seemingly alike to many, 2017 was a year of grief, loss, upheaval and growth for Tina - and the resilience, strength, and humanity she has shown through the past twelve months is something to aspire towards. It is such a treat to have Tina with us here, please settle in with a tea and a notebook to take it all in.
What do you do?
Last year was a transformational year for me, both personally and professionally. For the past six years, I served as Editor in Chief of The Great Discontent, a publication of in-depth interviews with artists, makers, and risk-takers. Through that work, I spoke with more than 250 notable subjects for the web, print, and audio, including Cheryl Strayed, Debbie Millman, Reggie Watts, Tavi Gevinson, Leon Bridges, and Krista Tippett.
Then, in January 2017, my marriage to my husband and TGD cofounder, Ryan Essmaker, ended. It was an opportunity for me to redefine my career and that drew me back to my roots as a social worker. I have a Bachelor of Social Work from Wayne State University in Detroit and spent over a decade working with runaway and homeless youth in Michigan before I moved to New York City in 2012.
Now, I’ve combined my love for the creative community and my desire to help people live more meaningful, connected, and fulfilled lives into coaching! I work one on one with clients to help them go beyond mere inspiration and take action toward creating the lives they want. I address themes that we wrestle with as creatives, and that I've encountered in my own life: self-doubt, burnout, transition, and finding fulfillment in work and life.
In addition to coaching, I write and speak about my work and the things that are important to me: vulnerability, living wholeheartedly, empathy, connection, and personal development.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
Yes! I have a few that became foundational for me in 2017 as I redefined my life and work after my divorce and career transition:
- Vulnerability is an ongoing choice.
- There are gifts in every season.
- When you make space in your life, the universe will fill it.
- Never turn down a good adventure without reason.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
Earning my social work degree and working with runaway and homeless youth for a decade in my home state of Michigan taught me how to truly listen. Cofounding The Great Discontent as a side project, which later turned into my full-time focus, taught me the power of personal projects to create your own momentum and give you space to practice new skills. Moving to New York City in 2012 expanded my world and led to the forming of new friendships that have been such a gift to me.
This is four, but choosing to transition out of The Great Discontent into coaching and writing was a pivotal moment for me last year. I cofounded TGD with my former husband and our partnership became associated with the project, so when our partnership ended, I intuitively knew I needed to move on and craft my own identity outside of that. It wasn’t an easy decision because TGD is special to me and I love the community, but the community will remain a part of my life and I’m excited about what I will contribute as an individual.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
I’m collaborating with friends on a new, top-secret dinner series in New York that is going to be amazing, and that’s all I can say right now!
What is your dream project?
I want to write a book—or books!
What places are important to you?
My home has become the most important place to me in the past year. It’s an apartment I found on Craigslist and it’s a block away from the apartment I shared with my former husband. I loved my neighborhood and didn’t want to leave. Moving here allowed me to keep the same routines, which was important to me. The space itself is just what I need at this stage of my life. It’s peaceful and relaxing. I’ve nicknamed it “Oasis” on my Google maps because that’s what it feels like to me.
Also, I have a roommate for the first time in my life at age 36. I was resistant to the idea at first because I like my privacy and quiet, but now I’m so glad that I went this route. My roommate and I have become good friends and confidants and we celebrated a lot of milestones and personal growth together last year. I feel lucky to have that.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
Björk’s latest album, Utopia, is really beautiful. I’m also listening to Kelela, Sampha, Wafia, SZA, Sevdaliza, H.E.R., Jhené Aiko, Princess Nokia, Syd, and Kendrick Lamar. I’m such a sucker for hip-hop and R&B! Outside of that, The War on Drugs, Slowdive, Kurt Vile, M83, Kesha (the new one), the latest Jessie Ware, and always Fleetwood Mac.
I just finished Silence by Erling Kagge and started reading Consolations by David Whyte, which is about the meaning of everyday words, and it’s very meditative. I also go back to Mary Oliver’s poetry often. Other books I love: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, M Train by Patti Smith, and When Everything Falls Apart by Pema Chödrön.
I listen to podcasts, too! Design Matters, How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black, Sex with Emily, On Being, and Death, Sex & Money are a few favorites.
For TV, I started watching Dark on Netflix, but haven’t finished it yet. It’s haunting, both the story and the visuals. I also binged Insecure on HBO and Big Little Lies. And I absolutely loved the existential inquiries of The Leftovers, and was totally pleased with the ending of the series.
Who would you most like to answer these questions next?
Julia Hembree, the photographer who took my portraits for this. She’s super talented and thoughtful!
How can we find our more about your work?
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
Over the past six years I’ve interviewed nearly 250 creatives, and the one theme that is consistent is that hardly anyone knows what they’re doing when they’re doing it. It’s easy to look back, connect the dots, and straighten the path out to make sense—but a lot of the decisions made in the moment are by intuition. You make a decision, see how it pans out, and then make another decision. There’s no formula to pursuing a nontraditional career path. The path and the timing are different for everyone.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
I want women to be paid equally to men. I also want women to understand how valuable their contributions are and ask for pay that reflects that. Cindy Gallop is an incredible advocate for equal pay and she worked with R/GA to create a chatbot that pops up in Facebook Messenger to coach you to ask for the salary you should be getting based on location, field, and experience. Claire Wasserman who founded Ladies Get Paid is also doing excellent work in this realm.
What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?
I have a twin brother who was born first—and I was the surprise. My parents didn’t know they were having twins!
What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?
I think we can ask better questions in general, but here’s one example. I experienced many pivotal, yet challenging, moments last year. One of the most helpful things friends did was check in on me and ask how I was doing that day—and they really wanted to know! So often we ask people, “How are you doing?” Sometimes we don’t really care, but offer it as a formality, or if we do care, that question can feel overwhelming to the recipient if they are experiencing a life-changing event, like I was in going through a divorce. Many friends thoughtfully asked me, “How are you doing today?” That felt good. I felt cared for, and I could answer that. Now, I try to remember this when I’m reaching out to friends to inquire about their lives.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
I have an extremely tight network of women who work in creative fields, but I haven’t always had that. Most of them are based in New York, but some are not and we keep in touch via phone calls, texting, and social media. One thing that made a huge difference in my life last year was making a point to connect with my girlfriends on a regular basis, either in person or via phone calls. It’s been so encouraging and our relationships have become much more vulnerable and rich because of it. Call your girlfriends on a regular basis!
Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?
I traveled to New Orleans alone for New Year’s Eve. It was a symbolic journey for me after spending the last year transitioning out of a long-term marriage and business partnership. While I was there, I visited the New Orleans Museum of Art, and I had a striking moment of clarity about my value as an individual outside of the context of my marriage and partnership, which I was associated with for so long.
I stood in the museum in front of a pair of paintings hung side by side: Lee Krasner’s Breath and Composition (White, Black, Blue and Red on White) by her husband, Jackson Pollock. I wrote about the experience in a Medium post called In Togetherness and Solitude. But what struck me was how I had never seen their work displayed together, and I’d never seen her work at all.
The placard next to her work referenced her status as a “woman painter” and how that may have stunted her critical success while she was still alive, and it compared her work to Pollock’s and quoted critics of her time who detailed the tendency of women painters to “tidy up” their husband’s styles.
I thought about the many years that my work hung alongside my former husband’s and how I struggled to carve out space for myself. When my marriage ended, I was tasked with redefining myself as an individual and understanding what I had to contribute outside of any partnership. Now, the contributions I make are my own and I cannot hide in or be consumed by a partnership. I’m grateful for what I created in that partnership, but I’m ready to hang my work alone.