I like mantras. Always have. They ground me, they inspire me and they sustain me. A few carefully chosen words pieced together in an insightful manner can get one through nearly any moment.

I’ve used mantras (even before I truly realized that’s what they were and that was how I was using them) throughout my life. I’ve recited them in my mind or from my lips mostly at the difficult moments, to pull my soul through the rocky rough of pain or discomfort to the hope of some smoother shore.

At one of several extremely low points in my life, when I felt more alone and isolated than I ever have before or since, when my life was consumed with work I did not enjoy, with people who felt like ghosts I could not touch, I used one particular mantra.

It was, “This is just what I do, it’s not who I am.”

This little phrase, recited daily, carried me through hours, weeks, months of grueling work, separation, boredom, disrespect and disillusionment, tens of thousands of miles from home. This mantra was not only a necessity, it was mental lifeblood.

Not too long ago, in a similar situation, I tried employing this mantra once again. But I found it had lost some of its power for me. At the time, I was too deeply entrenched in survival mode to really pause and understand why.

But tonight, I figured it out. In the ensuing 26 years between when I first developed that mantra, to several months ago when I tried to deploy it once again, I had changed. And I had learned something about myself.

When I commit myself to my work, it is who I am. I am a woman so passionate about applying myself to what I pursue, I become the pursuit. It is one of the most beautiful, terrifying, intimidating and real things about me.

This is a powerful quality, and one many employers have benefitted from over the course of my career.

But it also has a shadow. In the past, it meant I became attached to work that was not mine, did not feed my own growth, and most importantly, work that did not reflect my values. And, in hindsight, when the last condition became clear to me, I was finished. Done. Over it and out the door.

Yet, I still fought with this concept – rolling over the idea in my mind that there was something intrinsically wrong with mixing my concept of myself with my work.

“But your family/your kids/your spiritual life are more important than your work!” People would insist. “Don’t get all your value from that – find other passions.”

And I get that. We all need balance, healthy relationships that feed the soul, and time away.

But what if my pursuit and my passion were the same? What if these two concepts could combine into one total endeavor?

What if I stopped trying to create separation where there didn’t need to be any?

The key to it ended up being that the work I do had to not only reflect my values, but be my values. It had to be a sharing of my gifts, the precious joys I possess and felt compelled to share with others – but was afraid to do. This is a sensational set of standards, my brand of alchemy: listening, feeling, writing and drawing as well as strategizing, challenging and inspiring was what I had to begin by giving.

I have accepted that truth, as terrifying as it was to me at first.

To gain what you want, you must give it all away.

Now that I have stepped fully into my own pursuit, I see that this was always what I really wanted: for it to be OK to create this alignment.

For there to be no need in me to build a wall between my work and me.

For my ears to turn deaf to the critics who are simply afraid of a woman who operates from a place of passion.

For my heart to remain full, calm and steady in spite of the rejection of emotion and humanity.

For my mind to rest in the knowledge of the transcendent power of art.

And so now, my mantra can be: “This is what I do, and this is who I am.”