I first met Emily Erb at a New Year’s Eve party. She was the date of a friend of mine and although physically breathtaking, her brightness was quite understated. She was engaged and playfully took part in the evening’s festivities, but she was also observant and mindful, closely paying attention to how she conducted herself in a new environment. This quality in a person, someone who takes time to reveal him or herself, is something I have come to appreciate over time. They are the types of individuals that continue to surprise and delight you. You have to earn their trust, but once you do, layer upon layer is peeled back—exposing a vibrant luminosity that you never could have guessed was there. This is the essence of Emily.
For our interview, I speak with Emily out of her warehouse office in Oakland, California, where she co-operates a tea company, Leaves and Flowers, with her business partner. We take no time diving in to conversation and begin by exploring ideas around judgment, self-comparison, and our ability to edit what it is that we choose to share with the world through digital platforms. Emily notes that when she starts to judge or compare herself to someone she has just met, she tries to stay open to learning a little bit more about them by maintaining a foundation of curiosity. This curiosity allows spaciousness for the messiness of what it means to be human. Emily continues,
“Everyone’s lives are messy… It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your socioeconomic status is. There’s a whole bunch of shit that you have to wade through and I think that’s the thing you can easily forget when you are comparing yourself to what is being presented versus what actually is.”
With curiosity, I ask Emily about what messiness is currently showing up in her life. She responds lightheartedly—at 35 years of age she has no idea what her five-year plan is. Although she has an inkling of a plan, it is not very dialed in, and she is learning at this stage in her life to let go of her attachments and expectations of how she thought her life should be. She notes that she often has to check in with herself about her current state of happiness in order to not get lost in the trap of trying to figure out what is going to happen in her future. These thoughts are focused around the themes of partnership and family, pieces of one’s life in which it is easy to feel pressure to have a clear answer and point of view. Emily states,
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen. You can start to focus on checking off the boxes so much that you can lose sight of what is actually feeling good to you.”
Emily was once married to a man she had fallen head over heels for when she was 30 years old. Their ultra romance spanned the 12 months leading up to their wedding, which also coincided with the unexpected and tragic death of her older brother. Emily shared that the experience of losing her sibling made her aware of the fact that life was short. Instead of allowing herself the space to take a step back and feel the intensity of what it means to lose someone that you love, her brother’s death pushed her to jump into marriage sooner than she may have done otherwise.
Right after Emily was married she had a huge freak out, questioning her decision. She realized that she didn’t give a lot of thought to her actions and was navigating the enormity of what it meant to be a wife while simultaneously wading through the choppy waters of immense grief. With her partner, neither one of them were able to give the other one what they needed. Her husband didn’t allow for her to sit with her sadness and he was forced to put his needs and expectations of joining their lives together on hold. Emily remembers putting a lot of blame on herself during this time, as she was “overcome by sadness and the joy of getting married didn’t overtake the grief.”
At this point in the conversation I am intrigued to understand if she was in touch with her intuition or instinctual desires while all of this was taking place. Reflecting back on that time in her life, Emily remembers that she felt like she couldn’t trust her gut. It was clear to her that she shouldn’t have gotten married, but she had no idea why. Without a word from me, Emily quietly mumbles that it probably had to do with fear—fear of not having the guts to undo something that maybe should not have ever been done.
We talk about the New York Times short documentary Ten Meter Tower that came out early in 2017. The video films 67 people who have never been on a 10-meter (about 33 feet) diving tower before and have never jumped from that high. Each participant was paid $30 to participate—which meant climbing up to the diving board and walking to its edge. From there, you watch a vivid depiction of bravery and fear, psychological norms that impact all of humankind no matter who you are or what your background is. It was from this brave state that led Emily to first take care of herself in order to figure out what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go in her relationship.
A few years have passed since Emily and her husband have been divorced. She is happily in a new relationship and able to reflect back on the ending of her marriage with grace, respect, and kindness. I ask Emily what words of advice she would give to someone in a similar place, looking to reconnect with their own intuition in relationship with themselves and with others. Without a moment’s hesitation she reflects,
“I learned to be really honest in my feelings and [to] not be afraid of the outcome of sharing that… [To] allow freedom for yourself and for your person to really, openly communicate and hear one another.”
Embracing fear, which often means letting go of something that feels safe or secure when it is not bringing you happiness, is an act of bravery. It is messy and filled with unknowns, but inevitably it has the power to redirect your life toward that which brings you joy.
Emily finds joy through human connection whether it be from family, her community of friends, or the simple interaction of a chance encounter on the street. She has a deep connection to nature, but is drawn to urban living because of her love of art and culture. She finds balance between the two in San Francisco, where she now calls home. Emily is the co-founder of Leaves and Flowers, a tea company based in Berkeley, California