We were only a couple of minutes into our conversation when Erinn Stranko shifted gears and started touting the works and talents of another woman, artist Allison Wickey. “You know, she is someone you should probably connect with and interview!” Erinn was so enthusiastic about her recent time with the artist. Well if that doesn’t uphold the mission of EmCoWo, then I don’t know what does – share don’t compare or in her own words, “Cooperate, don’t compete!” I went into the conversation knowing this was just the type of woman Erinn was – the type to recognize, applaud, and connect with other amazing women – but it still impressed me. Erinn is many things – the Marketing Director for the Seaside Repertory Theater, a military spouse, an accomplished and educated scholar, a woman with deep family ties to the Emerald Coast… but yet none of these things can sum up the multitude of things she ACTUALLY is. Erinn and I first met during some professional collaboration between “The REP” and a local fundraising organization. Immediately her work ethic, intelligence and wittiness stood out. When EmCoWo.com was born Erinn was one of the first women who came to mind, because if you don’t know who she is aside from a professional, educated, Air Force wife, well then you should.
ABT – Always Be Transforming
Over a couple glasses of rose and a stunning view of the bay, from The Bay, we talked for hours about goals, challenges, dreams, and what we expect from ourselves and others.
Erinn is in the process of making a BIG move from Alaska to Melbourne, FL in connection with her husband’s new promotion and duty station. While traveling back and forth to Seaside, FL she maintained her life, her dogs, a full-time career, strong friendships, a supportive spousal role AND completed her Master’s degree. During this time, she lost both of her fur-babies tragically and has still managed to work through those emotions and carry on. Yes, you can see she is an assertive individual from the outside, but unless you have opened the vault you may not see that Erinn lives in a constant state of transformation. I asked about the challenges that all of this ongoing change can create. “I am always naturally in a transformational state.” Military life means new homes, new friends, new hobbies. For example, “After recently moving to Alaska my hobbies shifted from things like beaching and paddle boarding to mountain hiking and kayaking the cold Alaskan waterways.” She makes this whole process sound easy and I am in awe of her adaptability and positive outlook, “Being in a constant state of transformation means always having the chance to create a new environment for yourself if you wish to. Though it can be disruptive it is also a great opportunity if you make it!”
During our talk about expectations, Erinn expressed a struggle between her own expectations of herself and those placed on her by society. From having children – or not – to what she “should” be doing with her ample level of education which has now officially exceeded its application in her current career. One might assume she would then seek a career path instantly that aligned with her new degree, however she has not yet decided to make that leap. “Erinn, we met through your work at the REP , but do you feel defined by that?” I asked her in trying to understand how she defines herself. “Actually, I do feel The REP defines me a bit,” she explained that her connection to the theater and its members as well as the accomplishments she has made in her role over the last year and a half are things that speak to who she is as a person. Should Erinn change careers to something she is less passionate about at this moment simply because there’s a timeline somewhere written by someone who does not live in her skin? I think not. Can she change her mind at any moment? Yes indeed! Meanwhile each of us measure ourselves by different standards hopefully defined by ourselves. To Erinn, the work she does and the impact of her efforts is extremely important.
In everyday conversations we are hyper aware of many expectations imposed on us by society – to get an education, to find a partner in life and get married, to have children and raise them according to these expectations, work out every day, have a career and a CLEAN and organized house while putting dinner on the table at night. What happens when we veer off the yellow brick road? As Erinn quoted during our chat, “comparison is the thief of joy,” and she is working on gauging her success by the measure of her own expectations (and level of general happiness) rather than the rest of the world. That refreshing thought should inspire all of us to do the same! Let’s have this conversation with ourselves and with each other – how we can do a better job making promises and vows in our lives and relationships based on what makes us happy – instead of what we think we “should” be doing? Want children? Have children! Don’t? Don’t! Is the space under your bathroom counter super organized? Great! If not? Also great! On that same note, how can we do a better job forgiving ourselves, re-deciding, and moving on when we change our minds, or the outcome is not as we anticipated?
Music and the Roach
Picture a sixteen-year old Erinn cruising down a steep hill with the windows open and the tape deck blasting in her deep burgundy 1980 Cutlass Supreme aptly nicknamed “The Roach”. The haunting psychedelic rock anthem filling the air is “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. If you ask most people what their go-to karaoke song is they might spit out a line from “Sweet Caroline” – actually they will probably just sing, “Sweeeeeet Carrroliiiine – bah bah bah…., “ but when we jumped on to the subject of music and singing there were light beams coming from Erinn’s eyes! She opened her mouth and let out a couple bars singing, “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small…” I am transported to the early sixties. She’s got the music running through her veins! Growing up she possessed a natural talent for playing the trumpet. Upon realizing this her musical leaders soon encouraged her to play the french horn. She still plays on occasion!
“What qualities in yourself as a little girl do you sometimes wish were a part of who you are now as an adult?” She thought about this for a moment, “Being skinny, and dancing and singing without inhibition!” She shared a photo with me of her as a young girl dancing and smiling from ear to ear in an oversized t-shirt. It’s spectacular that as children we can find joy and happiness without fearing judgement from anyone around us. I wish that same thing for all of us as adult women!
Your Life, Your Island
Creating personal boundaries is something people are either really good at, or terrible at. She has a great philosophy about your life being your own personal island. “We are all trying to survive on this island together – so if we are meeting around the fire at night you need to bring some coconuts, some fish, something…” she said as a reference to how each person in a relationship whether personal or professional contributes to its success. Here’s Erinn’s advice on how and why she has been successful in creating and maintaining these boundaries.
If we don’t enforce boundaries (in any situation) we cannot complain that our lines have been crossed.
Don’t do things you don’t want to do! Don’t be around people you don’t want to be around.
You have 100% control over who and what we give our time to. Choose wisely and when something or someone violates your boundaries, REDECIDE!
If you see a girl with fire in her eyes – like Erinn Stranko, know it’s coming from the flames in her heart. Don’t assume her level of conviction makes her overly critical or “bitchy”… instead ask her – ask any woman, “what are you passionate about?” This might just clear up your misconceptions and give you a thing or two to think about. In her own words she is kicking ass, taking names, and making the world a better place!
Stay tuned on Facebook, Instagram and on emcowo.com for more from our conversation and to learn how Erinn feels about things like unicorns, vaccinations, and thong underwear!