Musings + Essays

Somebody That I Used to Know.

By: Jen Shoop

For nearly a year, I flew every single week for work, often to San Francisco. I barely remember that Jennifer — solitary, onto herself. How did I muscle the energy for such transience, such distance from my new husband? I was a new transplant to Chicago, a new leader in a new job in a new organization in a new field, and I recall a frequent, vertiginous sensation of anonymity. I was just out there, being relied upon to show up at certain places at certain times, booking my own transit, checking in and out of hotels, a roving and untethered dot zipping across the skyline from time to time. Who was that Jennifer? How many hours did I piddle away in airports and in taxi lines, and what was I thinking about? Work, to be sure. I was determined to prove myself, feeling as if the entire world was gambling against me — a young and ambitious girl credentialed in the wrong field. And I have always been dutiful. I recall one time during that dense span of travel aiming to save my organization a bit of money by staying at an inexpensive hotel in The Mission area of San Francisco (this was, to be clear, six years ago, and I understand that things have changed). When I arrived, the door to the room did not lock and I witnessed active drug use in the lobby. I sat for a few minutes on the sponge-like bed and decided the CEO of my organization would not mind if I upgraded, and I left, promptly, and cabbed straight to the closest chain hotel — a Marriott — and checked myself in there instead. This suggests to me that even though I was still battling imposter syndrome, I had the get-up-and-go to advocate for myself without bothering to ask for permission. But beyond the work and the occasional urgent accommodations issue, what was on my heart? My mind? I can’t recall. Who was that girl?

Do you think you have metamorphosed between selves? Or do you see yourself as one continuous evolution of the same person? At first blush, I can’t tell. It is hard to remember the permutation of “me” that existed six years ago. Motherhood, entrepreneurship triumphs and travails, and age stand between us. When I think back to the Jen sitting in her hotel room, working on her laptop late into the night, FaceTiming her husband, reading in little draughts while waiting at the airport bar, often wearing slightly flashy clothes and concerned with streamlining her packing so as to make the trip as seamless as possible, I think: she’s not so different from me after all. I have always been the same girl at core: conscientious, determined, polite, curious, ambitious. And so I imagine instead a continuous line drawing me from the Bethesda, MD house my parents brought me home to in June of 1984 to the Bethesda, MD home in which I now live with my own children, and I see a girl treading the rope with the same quiet determination and ambition she always had.

Post Scripts.

+This bag has been in my cart all summer but haven’t yet had an occasion for it…does my anniversary next month count?

+Found my go-to running shoes on sale in two spots: at Bloomie’s in a great white/neon combo that would go well with the tank / shorts combo we all bought, and at Bandier.

+Cute floral rashguard for a little under $20 — love the blue paisley print!

+I did end up ordering the Olaplex conditioner my sister kept raving about. Going to try that first and if impressed, add the no. 4 shampoo. If you’re already a die-hard fan, there’s a great value bundle available at Nordy’s.

+Love this bone inlay mirror. Eyeing for above my daughter’s dresser at the moment! The green is so unexpected and chic!

+La Coqueta further discounted their incredible sale selection. This brand is my favorite for special occasionwear — the quality and attention to detail are insane. I adore some of their more sophisticated patterns/neutrals, like this windowpane plaid in gray for a fall moment for a baby girl, these mary janes, this gray knit set, and this camel one. So elegant!

+V chic track shorts. Love the contrast stripe!

+Do you use a body oil? Intrigued by this new and reasonably-priced one from Summer Fridays to apply to shoulders/decolletage/legs to showcase summer sunkissed skin.

+Remember the Lisa Marie Fernandez swim cardi I went crazy over? I found a fun gingham alternative for less here.

+Inexpensive set of hand towels in a great blue color.

+Tuesday treat: treat yourself to some nice sleepwear.

+My husband is now ordering pantry staples in BULK. I am eyeing these for storing rice, grains, etc. We use this brand for their pasta-keepers already and have been impressed. (We buy really good dried bronze-cut pasta from Eataly and a few other great Italian specialty stores, and you can totally taste the difference. So then we want to store it properly once the packages are opened. Also, we eat pasta at least once a week.)

+My personalized cosmetic case from White Elephant Designs arrived and I’m obsessed. The big size is larger than Cuyana’s larger size and I love that you can buy them separately rather than in a bundle! LOVE.

+Sweet and reasonably priced everyday necklace.

+Oo this gingham mini — on sale!

+Pouches for every occasion.

+Cheerful pool tote! (More chic options here.)

+A major, saucy statement but WOW this black gown.

+I use my Prada card case constantly. Almost never carry my full-size wallet anymore! So easy to transfer from small bag to larger bag. I also love this cherry red mini wallet from Prada — so cheerful in your fall tote! Reminds me of a glossy red mani.

+I didn’t mention these Natori bras in my Nordstrom sale roundup because I feel like I’ve talked your ear off about them, but for those that haven’t been around long enough to hear: these are my absolute favorite underwire bra.

+Into this crochet top and skirt combo.

+Are some childhood ages categorically difficult? The comments on this post were interesting.

+Have ordered so many of these bins. They’re great for pantry but also bathroom/linen/utility/closets. Great catch-all for EVERYTHING. I just used one to stow mini’s hair bows in her closet, too!

+In this heat, a personal fan is occasionally necessary. I think my mom needs one for her golf bag!

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12 thoughts on “Somebody That I Used to Know.

  1. Clicked over here from today’s post and your prompt about how our self evolves was, as usual, stirring! An anecdote for you: At work, my team does weekly check-in questions that are supposed to be pretty innocuous and just warm up our conversation, but can end up being rather jarring in what they elicit from folks, at least in my opinion. A recent question was, “What is something about you that your 12 year old self would be surprised by?” Well our boss’s answer was about liking tomatoes, but everyone else had something along the lines of “I’m not married with kids yet,” or “I never thought I’d be in a job like this,” or even, “I’m not expressing my gender now the way I did at 12.” It struck me that almost everyone felt they’d be disappointing their younger self, and we noted that 12 was a very specific age to refer back to — many of us felt precocious at that age but also so far from understanding what adulthood would be like.

    That discussion feels like the other side of what you describe, where you’re looking back on a younger self and measuring the distance between you. In both directions, I think we can trace through lines and find the core self that still feels true. And that very exercise feels meaningful and important.

    1. Wow – what a sleeper hit of a question. That will have me thinking for a long time. Like your colleagues, I feel inclined to share something that would disappoint or at least confuse my younger self. Thanks for sharing that provocation!


  2. Loved this post — so spoke to me. I am coming out of a job where I was required to travel to Texas every week for 3 – 4 days so much so that it felt like I lived there. Watched their news every morning, interacted with a team that views and current events really different from me. But I do know that era is over and I know I am very much still me. Love your posts and that you are a Bethesda gal. I am from Silver Spring but live in Chicago now and cant wait to head to Bethany Beach on Sunday!

    1. Hi Mollye! I’m so glad this resonated. Funny how sometimes the right words hit you at the right time. Sometimes I’ll be scrolling through Instagram and BAM — a quote appears in my feed that I simply needed to hear, or a prompt materializes in my morning reading that strikes me at just the right moment. Kismet!

      Enjoy Bethany Beach! Many happy memories there for me 🙂


  3. “Do you think you have metamorphosed between selves? Or do you see yourself as one continuous evolution of the same person?”

    Oooh great prompts, as always, Jen! I so appreciate how reading your blog invites so much personal reflection. It’s such a rare gem nowadays in a very saturated space!

    I was just talking to my husband about this after feeling like I’ve been “languishing” (a term coined specifically to this feeling many people seem to be experiencing during the pandemic, I think the NYT wrote an article on it at one point?). A large part of it, I think, is feeling that I’ve lost parts of myself after becoming a mother, and there’s been a gradual acceptance to come to terms with that — I can both love being a mother (well, most of the time!) and miss/grieve parts of myself pre-baby at the same time — when I had a sense of purpose/direction, and quite a few fulfilling hobbies. I certainly think that there were times, especially during that hazy first 6 months or so, in which I barely recognized myself. I was a person who, just months before giving birth, volunteered and taught in graduate school and wrote papers and churned out a grant application for federal funding for an educational program under tight deadlines. But now that I’m 3 1/2 years postpartum I realize that my purpose has shifted entirely to motherhood, so I had to evolve. It’s interesting, thinking about how on one hand giving birth (or adopting, or fostering, or taking on any maternal/caregiving role) makes one metamorphose into a *mother*, but on the other hand I think that one evolves, grows into a *MOTHER* (caps intentional). If that makes sense? I feel like I’m approaching the time to start evolving again — to find a broader sense of purpose beyond mothering, now that my daughter is a bit older and in school. It feels somewhat foreign, and quite honestly, scary — but perhaps that means it’s a good thing.

    1. Hi Mia — You are so not alone in this process of redefining yourself/your ambitions a few years into motherhood! Not that it makes it any easier, but at least trust there is solidarity…I have friends whose children are now of school age and they are again going through transitions by either returning to the workforce or finding themselves with a lot more time on their hands. It is scary! I saw an interesting graphic the other day that said: “a lot of people think grief shrinks as time goes on — but it stays the same size; we just grow around it.” I know we’re not talking about grief directly here, but I found the visual really…stirring as a way to think about accepting changes in life, new versions of ourselves, etc. Maybe there’s something in there that jumps at you, too.


  4. Olaplex is the best!!! I use #3,4, & 5 consistently and keep 6&8 on hand also.

    My stylist uses it in salon and it keeps my hair so healthy. Highly recommend! For #3, I’ll even sleep with it before showering in the morning or put it on as soon as I get home from the office so it gives my hair plenty of tI’ve to absorb.

    I spritz my hair with water, smother it with #3 and clip it with an alligator clip.

    Also- thinking back to who I was 6 and 10 years ago. It’s almost unsettling to think of how much I’ve learned. I instill boundaries, place my health first and have an actual sleep routine. I may have taken steps ‘backwards’ in my career, but my life has more balance. Instead of managing a team of 20, I manage nobody. Instead of 100+ hour workweeks, I work 40-45.

    1. Hi Melinda – Thanks for the upvote on Olaplex!! SO excited to test.

      Love your reflections on you of 6-10 years ago versus now. A life with balance is major goals for me. Especially during this busy month I have had to verbally tell myself it’s OK to prioritize just sitting outside on the porch, doing nothing, after dinner. It’s so needed! Thanks for sharing!


  5. On one hand, I have definitely always been me. My internal consistency has been something other people have commented on my entire life. On the other hand, when I look back at challenging things I did during my teens and college years I am sometimes amazed at how intimidated I would be to take them on now as a 30-something. That’s the thing about being young- you really don’t know to be scared or intimidated by certain things because it’s all new! You just dive right in in. For instance, during my senior year of high school, I was an after-school nanny for a family of 3 kids, 3 days per week, one of whom had special needs. Now if you asked me to do that level of child care for someone’s children I would FREAK OUT. Hah. But I was 18, so I didn’t blink an eye.

    1. !! I so know what you mean!! Can totally relate as a summer nanny during my college years. I also nannied for a family of three and had a blast doing it. Now I’m thinking back and wondering what I did when the children needed disciplining or something? I haven’t the faintest idea how I managed it! Now I’m sure I’d be thinking about what the mom would want versus my instincts and all that jazz…


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