At the age of the 23, Minnesota-native Jenna Kutcher found herself in a very promising corporate role, headed for the kind of success and security she though would make her happy.
But when the young retail executive met with her boss one day to map out her next promotion with the company, she suddenly felt trapped in what she called “golden handcuffs.”
“The salary is good, the benefits are good, the retirement plan is good, ‘everything is so good that you’re willing to sit in a cubicle hating your life for eight hours a day simply because, on paper, you’re living the life’,” she wrote in her new memoir out this week, “How Are You, Really?: Living Your Truth One Answer at a Time.”
“While the thought of pleasing others, ‘making the company proud,’ and stacking up new titles gave me a tiny dopamine hit, there always felt like something was missing. If I’m being honest, I had a lot of somethings missing. I wasn’t happy. I was not okay.”
Kutcher turned down that promotion. Soon after, she left her corporate job, bought a camera on Craigslist for $300 and turned a beloved hobby into a thriving business: wedding photography.
After making that single investment in her passion and path to self-determination, Kutcher has since created a global online marketing brand and hosts the wildly popular Goal Digger podcast, with more than 1 million followers.
The entrepreneur, influencer and mom of two recently spoke to Know Your Value about her book, getting past so-called identity foreclosure and redefining traditional notions of success.
Know Your Value: Who is this book for and what inspired you to write it now?
Kutcher: This book is for anyone who is looking for more peace, ease and joy in their life. It’s written for those who have achieved their goals or a mark of “success” but find themselves unhappy or unfulfilled, left wondering if this is really all there is to life.
In a world that is so polarizing with messaging that tells ambitious women that they either need to hustle harder or manifest more, I find myself in the middle, where the woo meets the work. And this book is where you can tune out the noise of the world and write your own definitions of success, joy, confidence and rest.
Know Your Value: You suggest that some move through life not knowing who they are because they don’t even know how they actually feel.
Kutcher: My toddler constantly re-teaches me this one important lesson: feelings are supposed to be felt. We’ve been conditioned to aspire to happiness and in that pursuit, we often stifle or bury our feelings, not being willing to feel them or be honest about what they might be telling us.
Happiness does not have to be our constant. Our busy lives prevent us from confronting what it is that we’re actually feeling. Then we numb ourselves with screens and miss the depth of who we are. In turn, we also miss the signals that could guide us toward a more fulfilling life.
Know Your Value: You talk about the dangers of succumbing to “identity foreclosure.” Explain why women sometimes find themselves stuck in a certain career?
Kutcher: Cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Maya Shankar defines identity foreclosure as, “… [committing] ourselves to an identity, a very specific identity, without having explored all the other options out there, [which] can lead us to feel really fixed in that identity.”
This is precisely why we stay in places we know we no longer belong, whether it’s career, relational, geographical. We allow the fear of uncertainty to be stronger, or more in control, than our desire to transform. I hope to see a world where we begin to celebrate change even more, because it would give us all an open invitation to let our identities evolve as we move through life!
Know Your Value: You open up about having two miscarriages within a couple of years and struggling to accept your body through that time. How did you find self-love?
Kutcher: In the book I propose that how you rise up to your battles through life is linked to the kind of warrior you believe you are. I had to do the hard work of changing how I viewed myself and my ability to trust and love my body.
I learned that self-love isn’t a destination, something you arrive at one day, but it’s a daily (and sometimes hourly) choice. It’s a constant awareness of what you’re thinking about your body and a challenge for us to redirect our thoughts and narratives to be ones of love and grace.
Know Your Value: Women often get in their own way when it comes to realizing their goals and seeing their value. What’s your advice here?
Kutcher: You don’t have to scrap everything. You don’t have to upend your entire life in an attempt to fast-track your way to success. You don’t have to do that thing so many of us do — make a major shift all at once, get overwhelmed, then give up because your ambition is way too big to chew.
You don’t have to predict the future in order to play big in the present. There’s inherent risk in doing anything new, even if it’s just a risk to your ego, because learning something new can be a big ol’ challenge to your confidence. It’s about having faith that, if you fall, the fall won’t kill you. Remember falling down is so much better than never rising up.