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Girl, Wash Your Face / , ! (by Rachel Hollis, 2018) -

Girl, Wash Your Face / , ! (by Rachel Hollis, 2018) -

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be / , ! , , , (by Rachel Hollis, 2018) -

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Girl, Wash Your Face / , ! (by Rachel Hollis, 2018) -
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2018
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Rachel Hollis
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Rachel Hollis
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upper-intermediate
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07:04:37
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be / , ! , , , :

.doc (Word) rachel_hollis_-_girl_wash_your_face.doc [602 Kb] (c: 27) .
.pdf rachel_hollis_-_girl_wash_your_face.pdf [971.85 Kb] (c: 20) .
audiobook (MP3) .


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For Jen, who has shaken my worldview off its axis three times: once with Interrupted, once with a trip to Ethiopia, and lastly by teaching us all that a real leader speaks the truth, even to her own detriment. INTRODUCTION Hey Girl, Hey! This is the big opening letter to my book, the part where I tell you all the things Im hoping for as you read it. This is the moment where I outline my intentions andif youre already game to read onthis is where I fire you up more about what to anticipate. This is also the important letter for someone standing in the bookstore right now trying to decide if she should buy this book or, like, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Upand the words shes reading now will decide for her. I mean, that feels like a lot of pressure for one little letter, but here we go. This book is about a bunch of hurtful lies and one important truth. The truth? You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are. Thats the takeaway. Dont get me wrong. Im going to tell a hundred stories that are funny or weird or embarrassing or sad or crazy, but each of them is reaching for this same pithy, Pinterest-worthy truth: your life is up to you. But that truth will never be believable if you dont first understand the lies that get in the way of it. Understanding that you choose your own happiness, that you have control of your own life, is so important. Its one of those things we grasp with both hands and put up on the bulletin board as a reminder . . . but its not the only thing you need to understand. You also need to identifyand systematically destroyevery lie youve told yourself your whole life. Why? Because its impossible to go somewhere new, to become something new, without first acknowledging where you are. The self-awareness that comes from truly digging into what youve come to believe about who you are is invaluable. Have you ever believed that you arent good enough? That youre not thin enough? That youre unlovable? That youre a bad mom? Have you ever believed that you deserve to be treated badly? That youll never amount to anything? All lies. All lies perpetuated by society, the media, our family of origin, or franklyand this is my Pentecostal showingby the Devil himself. These lies are dangerous and devastating to our sense of worth and our ability to function. The most sinister thing about them is that we rarely hear them at all. We rarely hear the lies weve created about ourselves because theyve been playing so loudly in our ears for so long that theyve become white noise. The hateful narrative bombards us every day, yet we dont even realize its there. Recognizing the lies weve come to accept about ourselves is the key to growing into a better version of ourselves. If we can identify the core of our struggles while simultaneously understanding that we are truly in control of conquering them, then we can utterly change our trajectory. Thats why I do what I do. Thats why I run a website and talk about how to make a centerpiece, or parent with kindness, or strengthen a marriage. Its why I researched thirty different ways to clean out your front-load washer before I taught my tribe how to do it. Its why I know the perfect ratio of balsamic and citrus to make your pot roast taste amazing. Sure, I cover a whole host of topics using my online platform, but ultimately they boil down to one thing: these are the elements of my life, and I want to do them well. The posts demonstrate how I am growing and learning, and I want them to grow and encourage other women too. I suppose if Id been into homeschooling or knitting or photography or macram?, I would have used those things to try and better myself and boost up my friends. But Im not into those things. Im into lifestyle stuff, so I focus on creating content that falls under the banner of lifestyle media. Early on in this career, though, I realized that a lot of women look at lifestyle imagery as what they should aspire to be. Many of those images are impossibleanother lie foisted upon usso I set out to be honest from the beginning. I vowed to be authentic and sincere, and for every gloriously styled cupcake picture we produced, I shared a photo of myself with facial paralysis. If I went somewhere fancy like the Oscars, I balanced that with a post about my struggle with weight loss and pictures of me forty pounds heavier. Ive talked about it all: struggles in my marriage, postpartum depression, and feeling jealous, scared, angry, ugly, unworthy, unloved. I have tried to be totally real about who I am and where Im coming from. Seriously, the most famous thing Ive ever done was to post a picture of the stretch marks on my saggy tummy on the internet. And yet . . . And yet I still get the notes. Women from all over the world still email and ask me how I manage to keep it all together while they struggle. I can feel the pain in those emails. I can hear the shame in the words they use to describe their own hardships, and it makes my heart hurt. So I write them back. I tell every single one how beautiful and strong she is. I call them warrior, courageous, fighter. I tell them not to give up. Its what feels appropriate to say to a total stranger. But its not all I want to say. Its not what I would say if it were my sister who was hurting, or my best friend. Its not what I wish I could say to my younger self. Because to those closest to me, I am supportive and encouraging . . . but I absolutely refuse to watch you wallow. The truth is that you are strong and courageous and a fighter . . . but if Im telling you that, its because I want you to see those characteristics in yourself. I want to grab you by the shoulders and shake you until your teeth rattle. I want to get in your face until you have the courage to look me in the eyes and see the answer for yourself. I want to shout at the top of my lungs until you know this one great truth: you are in control of your own life. You get one and only one chance to live, and life is passing you by. Stop beating yourself up, and dang it, stop letting others do it too. Stop accepting less than you deserve. Stop buying things you cant afford to impress people you dont even really like. Stop eating your feelings instead of working through them. Stop buying your kids love with food, or toys, or friendship because its easier than parenting. Stop abusing your body and your mind. Stop! Just get off the never-ending track. Your life is supposed to be a journey from one unique place to another; its not supposed to be a merry-go-round that brings you back to the same spot over and over again. Your life doesnt have to look like mine. Heck, your life doesnt have to look like anyone elses at all, but it should at least be a creation of your own making. Is it going to be hard? Absolutely! But taking the easy way out is how you end up on the sofa, fifty pounds overweight, while life passes you by. Will change happen overnight? No way! This is a lifelong process. Youll try out some different tools and techniques, and while some of them will feel okay, maybe one will feel like the answer and then thirty-seven different others will feel like garbage. Then youll wake up tomorrow and do it again. And again. And again. And youll fail. Youll fall off the wagon. Youll eat half of a birthday cake when no one is watching or scream at your husband or drink too much wine all month long. Youll fall into ruts because this is life and thats just how it goes. But once you understand that you are the one who is truly in control, youll get up and try again. And youll keep going until being in control feels more natural than being out of control. Itll become a way of life, and youll become the person you are meant to be. Its worth asking, right here, right up front, where faith plays a role in all of this. As a Christian I grew up learning that God was in control, that God had a plan for my life, and I believe in the marrow of my bones that this is true. I believe God loves each of us unconditionally, but I dont think that means we get to squander the gifts and talents hes given us simply because were good enough already. A caterpillar is awesome, but if the caterpillar stopped thereif she just decided that good is good enoughwe would all miss out on the beautiful creature she would become. You are more than you have become. Thats what I want to tell the women who write to me asking for advice. It might be tough to hear, but that knowledge is followed by this sweet truth: you are more than you have become, and you are utterly in control over what you do with that knowledge. Which led me to an idea. What if I wrote a whole book about all the ways I have struggled and then explained the steps that helped me get past those times? What if I talked about all of my failures and embarrassing moments? What if you knew that my biggest shame is that I sometimes get so angry I scream at my children? Not holler, not yell, not scold them strongly, but scream so loudly it nauseates me to think of it later. What if you hear that I likely have at least three cavities in my mouth right now because I am petrified of the dentist? What if I talked about my cellulite, or the weird third boob thing that sits in between my arm and my regular boob when I wear a tank top? Did I mention back fat? Or the hair that grows out of the mole on my face? Or my insecurities? What if I started a book by telling you that I peed my pants as an adult, as a fully grown human, and it wasnt the first time, nor will it be the last? And what if I told you that even in spite of my confessionsbe they funny, embarrassing, painful, or grossI am at peace with myself? That I love who I am even when I do things Im not proud of? And that its possible because I know I am ultimately in control of making change? I am in control over the person I will become. By the grace of God, I will wake up tomorrow and have another chance to do this life better. By the grace of God, Ive had thirty-five years of trying so hard in some areas of my life (like the creation of cheese-based casseroles) that I am crushing it. And in other areas (like controlling my anxiety) I am constantly working on different angles to attack the same problem. Its a lifelong journey, but I rest in the knowledge that every day Im learning and growing, which lets me feel at peace with myself. The things Ive struggled with? The lies Ive believed about myself for so long? The list is a mile long. So long, in fact, that I decided to dedicate a chapter to each one. Every single section of this book begins with a lie that I believed, and what follows are the stories of how that particular lie held me back, hurt me, and in some cases, caused me to hurt others. But by admitting to these lies, I have taken their power away. Ill share with you how I made changes in my life to overcome the strugglessome for good, and some as an ever-evolving dance between myself and lifelong insecurities. What are my insecurities? Well, here are some of the biggest and the baddest in no particular order. I hope theyll encourage you. I hope youll find the ideas helpful. More than anything, I hope youll rest in the knowledge that you can become whomever and whatever you want to be, my sweet friend. And on the days that seem the hardest, youll remember thatby an inch or a mileforward momentum is the only requirement. Love, Rach CHAPTER 1 The Lie: SOMETHING ELSE WILL MAKE ME HAPPY I peed my pants last week. Not full-on peed my pants, like that one time at summer camp when I was ten years old. We were playing capture the flag, and I couldnt hold it a second longer. I didnt want to admit that Id just wet my pants, so I doused myself with a bottle of water. Imagine, if you will, that once all of my clothes were wet, no onemost especially Christian Clark, my camp crushwas the wiser. I was resourceful even then. Did others find it odd that I was suddenly soaking wet? Probably. But Id rather be an oddball than a pants-wetter any day of the week. As for last week, this wasnt that level of peeing my pants. This was just your regular Ive-pushed-three-babies-out-of-my-body dribbling. Giving birth to a baby is like a space shuttle launch. Everything gets destroyed on the way out, which means that sometimes, you guys, I pee my pants. If this knowledge hurts your tender sensibilities, then Im going to assume you havent had bladder-control problemsand I offer you my congratulations. However, if my experience makes sense to you, then you probably have this problem toowhich means you just laughed a little, having experienced a similar predicament. I was jumping with my boys out back, and somebody hollered for me to show off a midair toe touch. This is my only known skill on a trampoline, and if Im going to work up the gumption to hoist myself onto that spring-loaded death trap, youd better believe Im going to give it my all. One second I was soaring through the air like one of the extra-tiny gals they launch into basket tosses during a cheerleading competition, and the next moment my pants were wet. Nobody noticedunless you count my pridebut it happened just the same. I had to keep jumping so that the continuous wind rush would dry out my shorts. Im resourceful, remember? The timing was perfection, too, because not thirty minutes later, a previously programmed Facebook post went up showing me trying on dresses for the Oscars. Before you get the wrong impression, I am not fancy enough to go to the Academy Awards. I am, however, married to someone ultra hunky. Hes not really fancy either, but his job certainly is. That means that sometimes I get to wear dresses like a princess and drink free wine in well-lit ballrooms. In these instances, photos show up on Instagram or Facebook of us looking well coiffed and ultra glam, and the internet goes wild. This is prime real estate for people to write me notes about how glamorous my life is, how stylish and fashionable and perfect my world must be. And all I can think when I read those comments later is, Ive just peed myself, in public, surrounded by other human beings. Ive literally gone to the bathroom in the air while trying to force my hamstrings into unnatural gymnastic positions in order to impress my three-year-old. Yall, Im about as unglamorous as you can get. And I dont mean that in a celebrity, stars-are-just-like-us kind of way. This is not like that time Gwyneth went makeup-free and, with her perfect skin and her angel-blonde hair, tried to convince us she was just a regular gal even in her four-hundred-dollar T-shirt. No, I mean this literally. I am not glamorous. I am 1,000 percent one of the nerdiest people youre likely to meet. If Ive somehow managed to convince you otherwise because I run a lifestyle website with pretty pictures, or because my hair looks extra shiny on Instagram sometimes, well, sister, let me set you straight. I am not a perfect wife, not a perfect mother, not a perfect friend or boss, and most definitely not a perfect Christian. Not. Even. Close. Im not perfect at anything I dowell, except for making and eating dishes that are primarily cheese-basedbut the other stuff, the life stuff? Oh girl, Im struggling. I feel like its important to say that. Important enough to base an entire book around the idea, in fact, because I want to make sure you hear it. I am so incredibly flawed in big ways and small ways and sideways and beside ways, and I make a living telling other women how to better their lives. Meof the workout regimens and DIY skin-brightening scrub. Mewith the tips on cooking Thanksgiving dinner and the itemized list of how to parent your kids. MeI am failing. All. The. Time. This is important because I want you to understand, my sweet, precious friend, that were all falling short. Yet even though I fail over and over and over again, I dont let it deter me. I still wake up every day and try again to become a better version of myself. Some days I feel as if Im getting closer to the best version of me. Other days I eat cream cheese for dinner. But the gift of life is that we get another chance tomorrow. Somewhere along the way women got the wrong information. Or, I should say, we got so much of the wrong information that we washed our hands of the whole thing. We live in an all-or-nothing society that says I need to look, act, think, and speak perfectly or just throw in the towel and stop trying altogether. Thats what I worry about the mostthat youve stopped trying. I get notes from readers and see thousands of comments on my social media feeds. Some of you feel so overwhelmed by your life that youve given up. Youre a piece of jetsam being tugged along with the tide. It feels too hard to keep up with the game, so youve quit playing. Oh sure, youre still here. You still show up for work, you still make dinner and take care of your kids, but youre always playing catch-up. You always feel behind and overwhelmed. Life is not supposed to overwhelm you at all times. Life isnt meant to be merely survivedits meant to be lived. Seasons or instances will inevitably feel out of your control, but the moments when you feel like youre drowning are supposed to be brief. They should not be the whole of your existence! The precious life youve been given is like a ship navigating its way across the ocean, and youre meant to be the captain of the vessel. Certainly there are times when storms toss you around or cover the deck with water or break the mast clean in halfbut thats when you need to fight your way back, to throw all the water off the boat bucket by bucket. Thats when you battle to get yourself back to the helm. This is your life. You are meant to be the hero of your own story. This doesnt mean you become selfish. This doesnt mean you discard your faith or quit believing in something greater than yourself. What it means is taking responsibility for your own life and your own happiness. Said another waya harsher, more-likely-to-get-me-punched-in-the-face wayif youre unhappy, thats on you. When I say unhappy, I mean unhappy. I dont mean depressed. True depression has everything to do with your genetic makeup and the chemical balance in your body. As someone whos battled depression personally, I have the utmost compassion for anyone whos going through it. I also dont mean sadness. Sadness or grief brought on by circumstances outside of your controllike the soul-shredding loss of a loved oneis not something that can be walked through quickly or easily. Sadness and pain are things you have to sit with and get to know or youll never be able to move on. When I say unhappy, I mean discontented, unsettled, frustrated, angryany of a number of emotions that make us want to hide from our lives instead of embracing them with arms wide open like a Creed song. Because happy peoplethe ones who are enjoying their lives 90 percent of the timedo exist. Youve seen them. In fact, youre reading a book written by one right now. Ultimately, I think thats what people are commenting on in my photos. Theyre saying, Your life looks so perfect, but what I think they mean is, Your life seems happy. You look content. Youre always optimistic and grateful. Youre always laughing. I want to explain why . . . I didnt have an easy start. Actually, if I am being honest, the word I would use to describe much of my childhood is traumatic. Our house was chaoticthe highest highs and the lowest lows. There were big parties filled with family and friends, followed by screaming and fighting and crying. Fist-sized holes would find their way into the walls, and plates would shatter against the kitchen floor. My father handled stress with anger; my mother handled it by going to bed for weeks at a time. Like most children who grow up similarly, I didnt know there was any other way to be a family. Then, when I was fourteen years old, my big brother, Ryan, committed suicide. The things I saw and went through that day will haunt me forever, but they also changed me in a fundamental way. I was the baby of four children and had spent my life up until that point largely ignorant of the world outside my own home. But when Ryan died, our already turbulent and troubled home shattered. If life was difficult before he died, it was untenable afterward. I grew up in that single day. And amid the anguish and fear and confusion of his death, I recognized a great truth: if I wanted a better life than the one Id been born into, it was up to me to create it. The year he died I was a freshman in high school, and I immediately started taking as many classes as I could in order to graduate early. My junior year, I received my diploma and moved to Los Angeles, the closest major city to my small California hometown. To this country mouse, LA seemed like the kind of place where any dream could come true. I was seventeen years old, not even grown-up enough to get a phone line or sign the lease on my apartment without an adult signature, but all I could focus on was finally getting away. For years Id lived within the chaos of my childhood home thinking, Someday Ill get out of here, and then Ill be happy. How could I not be happy in LA? I soaked up every inch of it from the second my feet hit the ground. I absorbed the frenetic energy of Hollywood and adapted to the rhythm of the waves rolling to shore along PCH. A multidimensional skyline made me feel worldly. I appreciated the kind of views that only an outsider would see. Most people dont notice the trees in Beverly Hills. Theyre much too busy coveting the mansions that sit below them, but the trees were one of the first things I saw. I gloried in beauty for the sake of beauty, since that sort of thing hadnt existed in the place where Id grown up. The thing is, the trees all match in Beverly Hills. On any given street, around any given corner, and even amid the chaos of a bustling city, you will see row after row of perfect symmetrya menagerie of Canary Island pines and camphor trees and date palms. They were laid out by the original landscape architect back at the beginning of the twentieth century. They hug the wide streets in meticulous rows, silent sentinels of one of the worlds most affluent cities. After a lifetime of chaos, I delighted in the order. Finally, I thought to myself, Im where I belong. Time passed and seasons changed, and my new city eventually taught me one of the most vital lessons Ive ever learned. Moving or traveling or getting away? Its just geography. Moving doesnt change who you are. It only changes the view outside your window. You must choose to be happy, grateful, and fulfilled. If you make that choice every single day, regardless of where you are or whats happening, you will be happy. I get to see my best friend, Amanda, a few times a year. Every time we hang out we talk until our throats are sore and laugh until our cheeks hurt. Amanda and I would have just as much fun hanging out in my living room as we would lying on a beach in Mexico. Now, granted, Mexico is prettier, the weather is nicer, and wed have easier access to cocktails with little umbrellas in them . . . but we can have a great time whether were in my backyard or behind the Dumpster at the local Walmart because were so excited to hang out with each other. When youre engaged and involved and choosing to enjoy your own life, it doesnt matter where you are, or frankly, what negative things get hurled at you. Youll still find happiness because its not about where you are but who you are. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. I stopped comparing myself. I stopped comparing myself to other people, and I also stopped comparing myself to whomever I thought I was supposed to be. Comparison is the death of joy, and the only person you need to be better than is the one you were yesterday. 2. I surrounded myself with positivity. I cringe even writing that because it sounds like a poster youd see taped to the wall of your eighth-grade gym classbut cheesy or not, its gospel. You become who you surround yourself with. You become what you consume. If you find yourself in a slump or feel as though youre living in a negative space, take a good hard look at who and what you see every day. 3. I figured out what makes me happy and I do those things. This seems like the most obvious idea in the world, but at the end of the day, very few people intentionally choose the things that bring them joy. No, I dont mean that you can build a life around massages and lavish dinners (or maybe you can, fancy pants!). I mean that you should spend more time doing things that feed your spirit: more long walks with your dog, less volunteering for that thing you feel obligated to do but actually hate. You are in charge of your own life, sister, and theres not one thing in it that youre not allowing to be there. Think about it. CHAPTER 2 The Lie: ILL START TOMORROW I cant count the number of diets Ive tried. I cant tell you the number of times Ive made plans to go to the gym and then blew them off. Number of half marathons I signed up for, paid the entry fee for, and then quietly pretended not to remember when it was time to actually train? Two. Number of times Ive declared, From here on out, Im going to walk a mile every morning before work! and then never made it past the third day? Infinity. I had this habit for years, as many women do. We talk about the things wed like to do, be, try, and accomplish, but once we get to the moment of actually doing it, we fold faster than a card table after bunco night. Maybe weve created this habit because we were brought up observing this pattern. Magazines and TV shows spend a lot of time focusing on what to do when we fall off the wagon rather than teaching us how to stay on it in the first place. Life happens, and the plans we make fall throughbut when it becomes such a regular occurrence that the promises we make hold very little actual power in our lives, we need to check ourselves. A few months ago I was out to dinner with my closest girlfriends. It was an impromptu happy hour that turned into an impromptu dinner and ended up going later than any of us anticipated. I got home after the kids were in bed, and Dave was already deep into a game of Major League Ball or Hard Hitting League or whatever the name is of the baseball game hes played nightly for the last two years of our marriage (without making any real progress that Im aware of). So I gave him a smooch and chatted with him about his day, then I went downstairs to the basement where our old treadmill is hidden and ran a few miles. I put the evidence of that workout on Snapchat, and later my girlfriend saw it and sent me a text. You worked out after dinner? What in the world? I wrote back, Yes, because I planned on doing it and didnt want to cancel. Couldnt you just postpone until tomorrow? She was genuinely perplexed. No, because I made a promise to myself and I dont break those, not ever. Ugh, she typed back. Im the FIRST person I break a promise to. Shes not the only one. I used to do that all the time until I realized how hard I was fighting to keep my word to other people while quickly canceling on myself. Ill work out tomorrow became Im not working out anytime soonbecause honestly, if you really cared about that commitment, youd do it when you said you would. What if you had a friend who constantly flaked on you? What if every other time you made plans she decided not to show up? What if she gave lame excuses like, I really want to see you, but this TV show Im watching is just so good? Or what if a friend from work was constantly starting something new? Every three Mondays she announced a new diet or goal and then two weeks later it just ended? What if you called her on it, like, Hey, Pam, I thought you were doing Whole30? Meanwhile Pam is sitting in the break room eating a meat lovers pizza and telling you that she was doing Whole30, and even though it made her feel great, two weeks into the program her son had a birthday party and she couldnt resist the cake and then figured there was no point. Now shes gained back the pounds she lost plus a few extra. Yall, would you respect her? This woman who starts and stops over and over again? Would you count on Pam or the friend who keeps blowing you off for stupid reasons? Would you trust them when they committed to something? Would you believe them when they committed to you? No. No way. And that level of distrust and apprehension applies to you too. Your subconscious knows that you, yourself, cannot be trusted after breaking so many plans and giving up on so many goals. On the flip side, have you ever known someone who always kept their word? If they tell you theyre coming, you can expect them ten minutes early. If they commit to a project, you can bet your butt theyll finish it. They tell you theyve signed up for their first marathon, and youre already in awe because you know for a fact theyll finish. When this type of person commits to something, how seriously do you take their commitment? I hope you see my point here. If you constantly make and break promises to yourself, youre not making promises at all. Youre talking. Youre waxing poetic like Pam and her diet or your flaky friend who bails on you to watch Game of Thrones. How many times have you bailed on yourself to watch TV? How many times have you given up before youve even started? How many times have you made real progress, only to face a setback and then give up completely? How many times have your family or friends or coworkers watched you quit? How many times have your children watched you give up on yourself over and over and over? This is not okay. Our society makes plenty of room for complacency or laziness; were rarely surrounded by accountability. Were also rarely surrounded by sugar-free vanilla lattes, but when I really want one, I somehow find a way to get one. Im only sort of kidding. When you really want something, you will find a way. When you dont really want something, youll find an excuse. How does your subconscious know the difference between what you want and what you only pretend to want? It looks at a history of how youve tackled similar things in the past. Have you kept your word? When you set out to do something, did you see it through? When were at a loss, we reach for the lowest barand the lowest bar is typically our highest level of training. That sounds a little backward, so let me explain. If you set out to run thirty miles today, where do you think youll easily get to without stopping? Youll get to your highest level of training. So if the most youve ever run comfortably is four miles, youll peter out somewhere around there. Sure, adrenaline can take you a bit farther, and mind over matter is a big deal too; but typically your body will revert to what it knows and what it feels most comfortable with. The same can be said for keeping promises to yourself. If you decide on a goalfor example, Im going to write a novel or Im going to run a 10Kyour subconscious will formulate the likelihood of that happening based on past experiences. So when its day four and youre feeling tired and you dont want to head out for a run, you will revert to the highest level of mental training. What happened the last time you found yourself here? Did you push through and form a habit and get it done? Or did you make an excuse? Did you put it off until later? Whatever standard youve set for yourself is where youll end up . . . unless you fight through your instinct and change your pattern. Thats how I changed my own patterns and behaviorshow I established the rule in my life that I would no longer break a promise to myself no matter how small it was. It all began with Diet Coke. I used to lovelike, obsessively loveDiet Coke. For the longest time Id have several Diet Cokes a day. Then I realized how terrible they were for me. I cut my consumption down to one can a day, and I looked forward to that soda like an addict waiting for a high. Do I want to drink it at lunchtime to give the afternoon a little pep? Or should I wait until dinner? Were eating Mexican food tonight, and Diet Coke is so good with chips and salsa, so maybe holding out is the right choice . . . I spent way too much time looking forward to the beverage. Then one summer I found myself with terrible vertigo, and I tried cutting anything out of my diet that might be harmful. Even my daily Diet Coke came into question. Honestly, I thought to myself, what kind of sicko gives up Diet Coke?! Are we supposed to just give up joy and goodness in our lives? Why dont I give up electricity and live like the Amish? My inner monologues are incredibly dramatic. I decided to give it up for a month. I figured one month wasnt a long time . . . I could hold out for thirty days on anything. The only problem was, Id never in my life successfully stuck to any kind of diet, exercise, writing, you-name-it without quitting or cheating at least a few times. What if just this once, though, I really saw it through? And so I did. For thirty days I didnt have any soda of any kind, which seems like no big deal when youre healthy and happy and not addicted. For me, that first week was a special kind of hell. But what if, I kept asking myself, what if I just dont break this promise? One day passed and then another, and by week three, it wasnt bad at all. At the end of the month I hadnt broken my word, and by then I didnt even crave DC anymore. Its been four years now, and it doesnt even occur to me to drink Diet Coke like I used to. When faced with it as an option, my instinct is to reach for my trainingwhich tells me that I dont drink that stuff anymore. Establishing success in this one small area made me realize that the only thing standing between me and achieving my goals is the ability to build on past success. Running my first half marathon? I got there by committing to running one mile a few times a week. When I kept that promise to myself, committing to running two miles a few times a week didnt seem like such a tough thing. My training told me that whatever goal I set I would keep, even if I was tiredso I kept showing up. Writing my first book? It was the same kind of thing. Before that first completed manuscript, Id started and stopped at least a dozen different novels. But once I got a first draft, I knew it was something I could do. When my instinct is to give up or walk away or throw my computer against the wall when Im on a deadline, I remember how many times Ive been here before. I used to wear the word count of my first novel on a cheap gold bracelet around my wrist: 82,311 was etched into it, and every time I looked at it, I would remember what Id achieved. I was the one whod strung 82,311 words together in semi-coherent sentences. When faced with the challenge of writing other books, I revert there . . . Well, I think, at least I know I can write that many words. Ive done it before! I know that blowing off a workout, a date, an afternoon to organize your closet, or some previous commitment to yourself doesnt seem like a big dealbut it is. Its a really big deal. Our words have power, but our actions shape our lives. If you choose today not to break another promise to yourself, you will force yourself to slow down. You cannot keep every commitment, promise, goal, and idea without intentionality. If you recognize that your words have power and that your commitments carry covenant weight, you wont agree to anything so easily. Youll have to ask yourself if you really, truly have time to meet that friend for coffee this week. Youll have to decide if working out four times before Sunday is a real possibility, or if its more realistic and achievable to commit to two beast-mode sessions and then one power walk with your neighbor. Youll slow down and think things through. You wont just talk about a goal; youll plan for how you can meet it. Youll set a goal and surprise yourself when you achieve it. Youll teach yourself a new way to behave and set a standard for the type of person you truly arenot the one youve dreamed about becoming, but who you practice being every single day. Also, maybe youll consider giving up diet soda because the chemicals in that mess are terrible for you. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. Starting with one small goal. Diet Coke felt like my great white whale at the time, but in retrospect, giving up a soda was a million times easier than running marathons, hitting our annual budget goals, or writing a book. When someone tells me they want to start a diet, Ill suggest they start by aiming to drink half their body weight in ounces of water every day. Its much easier to add a habit than to take one away, but the water goal is a challenge. When they conquer that for the month, theyve set a new standard for achievement and can add on something tougher. 2. Being careful with my commitments. We easily jump on board with anything that sounds good for us. A diet? Of course. Volunteering with church this Saturday? Absolutely. We know these things are important and good, so we say yes, assuming the value of the commitment will motivate us into following through. Unfortunately, that isnt always the case. Slow down your yes. Only commit to things you know you can accomplish because theyre incredibly important to you. Otherwise you set yourself up for continued failure. 3. Being honest with myself. Be honest with yourself about what youre blowing off. A little cancellation here or a bow-out there can add up . . . but only if you refuse to acknowledge your actions. If you take a good hard look at what youve canceled on in the last thirty days, you might be shocked to discover how youre training yourself to behave. CHAPTER 3 The Lie: IM NOT GOOD ENOUGH I am a workaholic. And I dont say that lightly. The words are heavy; the knowledge makes my heart hurt. Though if I give myself a little grace, then the truth is I am a recovering workaholic. I am a recovering workaholic, and I say those words with the same trepidation and shame that might exist were I to tell you that I had any other kind of addiction. I looked up the definition just now, even though Ive been certain of my diagnosis for a couple of years. My online dictionary app describes workaholic as a person who feels compelled to work excessively. Compelled. Thats a pretty strong word, isnt it? I cant be the only one who hears it and immediately thinks of The Exorcist and holy water and a terrified priest. But compelled feels accurate, like something inside of you that wont take no for an answer, like something you do without conscious thought. Did I feel compelled to work nonstop? Without question. Even now I am typing this workaholic chapter at 5:37 in the morning because waking up to get my word count in at five oclock is the only way I can actually manage to write books, run a media company, and raise a family at the same time. I still feel compelled to work until Im exhausted, physically ill, pissed off at the world, or unable to focus my eyesbut at least they dont all happen at the same time anymore. I feel like Im gaining on this problem. Part of the reason I work so much is simple: I love my job. No, I freaking love my job. The people I work with are some of the kindest, coolest, most creative cats youll ever meet. Each person on my team had to be vetted, and each role had to go through a couple of people before we got it right. Everyone had to be trained and had to train me right back on how to manage them and be a boss. Ive spent years building this team. When I walk in and its running well, when one person is creating the speaker lineup for our next live event, and someone else is taking the prettiest pictures youve ever seen, and the business team is booking new partnerships with some of the biggest brands on the planet, I feel proud. Proud to the very bottom of my toes that Ia high school graduate from the stickshave put this together. Beyond that, my heart wants to burst because all of these people are working their butts off for my dream. I had this fluffy, country-mouse idea that we could create a space on the internet that lifts up women from every walk of life, that makes them feel encouraged, that makes them feel like they have friends, that offers them help and advice and does it with positivity at all times. And you know what? Its totally working! When I started blogging, only my mom and a few fiercely loyal aunts read the website. Now my digital reach is somewhere in the millions and climbing every day. My online tribe is awesome. I admire them, and on most days I think they admire me tooand Im proud that Ive created a business manifestation of my faith in action. Huzzah! Then I go home. At home, Sawyer is fighting with Ford over who gets which Lego piece. Jackson has a little attitude he picked up from someone at school, and if he rolls his eyes at me one more time, Lord Jesus, Im going to rip off both his arms and whack him over the head with them. The baby is teething and fussy, and tomorrow is pajama day at preschool, but Im going to miss it because I have a business trip. Dave and I are ships in the night, and we havent had a date night in weeksand yesterday I snapped at him over prepackaged lunches and then sobbed all over my pajamas because I felt like such a jerk. And, and, and . . . being a mom is hard work. I struggle with it all the time in a hundred different ways. But being at work? Oh man, I have that in the bag! I excel at being at work. I am the Babe Ruth of knocking it out of the park in the lifestyle media sector! So when given the choice between crushing it at the office or barely hanging on at home, I got in the habit of working, working, and working some more. Every time I succeeded in business, I counted it as validation that I was making the right choice. But wait, folks. Theres more . . . You didnt think a major problem like this was caused by only one thing, did you? No way! Nobodys psychosis is one layer deep. I am a Vidalia onion of issues. Ive got a cartload of emotional baggage, so lets unpack some. I am the baby of four children, and by the time my parents got around to my childhood, their marriage was deeply in trouble. Even though I was the youngest, I was a very self-sufficient child, and I think the combo of those two things meant that I was largely ignoredunless I did something good. If I got an A on a test . . . If I scored a goal in the soccer game . . . If I got a part in the school play . . . When I succeeded, I got praise and attention; I felt liked and accepted. But the moment the audience stopped clapping, it all went back to the way it was before. What this taught me as a childand what I carried into adulthood, as I discovered amid a load of therapyis the belief that in order to be loved, I felt I needed to produce something. Fast-forward to me in my thirties, and youll see that its nearly impossible for me to sit still. I am constantly moving and going and rushing through life. The second I achieve one goal, and I mean the second its accomplished, I immediately think, Okay, what next? I struggle to celebrate or enjoy any victory, no matter how big, because Im always mindful of something bigger I could be doing instead. At work Im constantly at it. When I get home, I do dishes and organize cabinets and make a list of to-dos that will be impossible to accomplish in this lifetime or the next. This need to prove my worth, coupled with the fact that Im good at my career, made me one heck of a workaholicyet I had no idea that I was one, or that my work was grievously affecting my health and the happiness of my family. The very first time I had facial paralysis, I was nineteen years old. I was at the tail end of the first long, hard year with Dave, and I knew the end was in sight. Not the end of the yearthe end of our relationship altogether. He seemed more and more detached, and the long-distance relationship that we were trying so hard to make work just wouldnt. I could feel it comingjust like Phil Collins in that one song with the big drum soloand I started to get anxious. I handled that anxiety the way Id handled every other kind in my life: I doubled down at work. My already full plate became fuller. I wasnt even conscious of what I was trying to do; maybe I told myself that if I didnt stop to think about something bad happening, then it likely wouldnt. One morning I woke up and noticed that my left eye was blinking half a second slower than my right. I assumed I was tired from work and wondered if I needed glasses. By the afternoon, my tongue started to tingle and then lost feeling completely. I went to the doctor, worried I might be having a stroke. That was the first time Id ever heard of Bells palsy. A quick Google search informed me that it was a sometimes temporary paralysis that causes damage to the nerves that control the movement of facial muscles. Within days I couldnt close my left eye, move my mouth, or feel anything on the left side of my face. I dont know why its only one side of the face, but I can tell you, it only adds to the overall charm. I had to wear an eye patchwhich, by the way, is super sexy and basically every nineteen-year-old girls dream. Because I couldnt move my lips, my speech was slurred and hard to understand. When I chewed I had to hold my mouth closed with my fingers for fear that food would fly out and kamikaze to the floor. The nerve damage causes neuralgia, which is also incredibly painful. During that time I felt so sorry for myself. Even though it was fifteen years ago, I remember exactly how I felt when I looked in the mirror and realized how disfigured my face actually was. How I triedin vainto put on eyeliner or mascara, as if adding makeup would somehow make the paralysis go away. Or how each time I got the makeup on, I would inevitably cry it right back off. I spent those weeks perpetually worried, weighed down by the doctors prognosis that this could last a few days or months on end. There was no way to be sure. In retrospect, I never thought of myself as conceited. I never wore makeup or styled my hair until I was an adult, but having Bells palsy made me hyperaware of the way I looked. I became completely depressed. I only got out of bed to go to work, and as soon as I got back home, I got back under the covers. I never wanted to leave my bed or even answer the phone. On the rare occasion that a friend talked me into leaving my apartment, I was mortified at the way people stared at me or pitied me when I tried to speak. In the midst of it all, the bullet I had been trying to dodge found its mark. Dave broke up with me. Okay, yes, breaking up with a girl with a paralyzed face was not his finest moment, and I feel the need to point out that sometimes we do stupid things that hurt our loved ones when were trying to figure ourselves out. Since the moment we got back together, though (which happened when my face was still broken, by the way), he has been an incredible partner. The point is that Id made myself severely ill trying to keep something inevitable from happening. When the palsy finally subsided a month later, I was beyond thankful, relieved that the worst was behind me. I chalked up the experience to a onetime bout of terrible luck. A few years later Dave and I decided to take our first trip to Europe. This was back when we were child-free and could just dream up plans like, What if we went to Europe? With no babies or dogs or real responsibility, we just got ourselves a flight and toured old churches with our passports buried under our clothes for fear the gypsies we had heard about would rob us. God bless us. When we made it to Florence, it was everything I dreamed Italy would be. We ate loads of pasta, walked the cobblestone streets, and made out like it was our part-time job. We spent whole afternoons imagining our future and what we would name our unborn dream children. It was one of the most romantic experiences of my life. By the time we got to Venice a few days later, my tongue had started to go numb. I stood in an Italian hotel room and sobbed because I knew the palsy had come back. Our beautiful vacation was now being marred by the stress of trying to get medical help in another country. As an aside, using my English-to-Italian translation guidebook to explain to a Venetian pharmacist that I needed an eye patch is still one of the most comical experiences of my life! Also, the eye patchplus my paralyzed facemeant that we got to go to the front of every line in customs. Silver lining. Ever the comedians, Dave and I made jokes about the assets of such an illness. For example, I did an amazing Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation! Also, the pirate jokes were endless. Yar! It wasnt until we arrived in Parisa lifelong dream destination of minethat even jokes couldnt lift my spirits. As we walked through the Champ de Mars, I realized the photo I had always dreamed ofme in front of the Eiffel Towerwould forever be a reminder of this illness. As much as I hate to admit it, Ive never felt sorrier for myself than in that moment. In that old photograph (which you can Google, by the way, because Im not afraid to share any pic on the internet, apparently), Im standing alone in front of the tower, bundled up for the weather. Im wearing sunglasses to try and hide the eye patch, and since a smile would have only worked on one half of my face, I just did nothing at all. When we got back home, the doctor put me on steroids and sent me to see a neurologist to make sure the palsy wasnt a symptom of something greater. After the doctors didnt find the brain tumor I was sure was there, they gave me an interesting prognosis. Both times Id gotten palsy Id been under extreme stress. Like many women, I was working so hard and not taking good care of myself. I argued that this couldnt be the case. After all, Id gotten sick again while on a romantic vacation. Thats when Dave pointed out that it was the first vacation wed taken in three years. Three years of sixty-hour weeks followed by one two-week break does not a decompressed girl make. I was also at the beginning of launching a business, and I was staying busy, desperate to prove myself. We were trying to get pregnant at the time, and though I was only twenty-four, month after month after month had passed by without a baby. Rather than managing that stress, I had just given myself more things to do. Our bodies are incredible. They can do unbelievable things. They will also tell you exactly what they need if youre willing to listen. And if youre not, if you try to do too many things without rest, they will absolutely shut down to get what they need. About three years ago I started to develop symptoms of vertigo. Id stand up at work, and the room would sway around me. I felt dizzy throughout the day, my eyes had trouble focusing, and I spent most of my time feeling nauseous. For weeks I assumed I must need more sleep, more water, or less Diet Coke. When it got so bad I was afraid to drive with my kids in the car, I decided to see a doctor. I saw so many doctors. Internists, allergists, ENTs . . . Nobody could quite figure it out. I ate well. I was healthy. I ran marathons, for goodness sakes. They all agreed I had vertigo but couldnt definitively tell me why. Eventually the ENT suggested it was seasonal vertigo brought on by my allergies, and since no one else had a better idea, I went with it. Take an allergy pill every day, he told me. So I did. Every night, without fail, I took my pill. Sometimes when the spinning got really bad, I took a second one, which made me crazy drowsy, but at least it calmed the vertigo. I did this for over a year and resigned myself to the fact that life would be a little dizzier forever. It wasnt a big deal, I told myself. It only meant that instead of giving 100 percent, I now would need to give 130 percent to make up for not being able to work as fast anymore. It sounds crazy to write that, but in my overachieving mind, it made absolute sense. Then, about two years ago, I heard about a homeopathic doctor who specialized in vertigo. Id never gone to a homeopathic doctor in my life, but at that point if someone had said I could cure my constant nausea with voodoo and the sacrifice of a spring chicken, I would have seriously considered it. I went to meet with him, his ponytail, his shirt made of organic hemp, and his life-sized statue of Ganesh, and I tried to keep an open mind while he talked into the air beside him instead of to me. I laid out the whole story of when I got sick and how it affected me, and he asked a hundred questions about my emotions, my childhood, and the deeper reasons why I felt a certain way. I kept thinking, When is he going to prescribe some medicine? Why are we still talking about stress? And, Whats the deal with that little collection of crystals? Before Id gone to him I assumed homeopathic doctors tell you to stop your sugar intake, or, God forbid, stop eating dairy because it messes with your chakras or whatever. But after two hours of me talking, he abruptly interrupted and announced to the room, No more. I know whats wrong! Then he blew me away. He pointed out that my vertigo had come on for the first time when I was under extreme stress at work. And every time it got so bad that I couldnt even lift my head off a pillow? It was because the stress had gotten worse. That time I had a big turnover of staff at Chic? Vertigo. That time I was so excited to write my first contracted book but then was positive it was terrible and Id be fired and have to pay back the advance? Vertigo. In every single instance, my vertigo was a physical response to an emotional problem. A physical response to an emotional problem. I didnt even know our bodies did that! Okay, I knew it in the same way that every other God-fearing, law-abiding woman who watched Oprah and heard about self-care knows it, but I grew up in the country. I got a shotgun for my thirteenth birthday. I may have lived in LA for fourteen years, but my rub-some-dirt-on-it tendencies run deep. His words hit me like ice water, and now that I knew he was right, I immediately wanted to know how to fix it and get back to normal. Go home and do nothing, he told me. Im sorry, what? Go home and do nothing. Sit around, watch TV, spend an entire day on the sofa. Discover that your world doesnt implode without you going a hundred miles an hour. Get up the next day and do it again. Verily I say unto you, dear reader, his words made me want to throw up. It sounds crazyit is kind of crazybut the idea of doing nothing makes my skin crawl. Even when Im at home Im constantly doing something. If Im not taking care of the kids, Im organizing the house, cleaning out my closet, or giving myself a DIY facial. What would happen to you if you stopped moving? he asked me. I shook my head in blind panic. The image of a shark floating to the surface of the ocean, dead from lack of movement, came to mind. All I could think was, I dont know, but it will be bad. Talk about life-altering moments. Talk about someone holding a mirror up to your face and making you realize youre not actually the person you think you are at all. I spent my days thinking up ways to help women live a better life, and the whole time I truly believed I was qualified to teach it because I was actually living it. Meanwhile, I wasnt doing the most fundamental thing a woman needs to do before she can take care of anyone else: take care of herself! I needed a drastic life change. I forced myself to stop working so many hours. I went to the office from nine thirty to four thirty and was shocked to discover that the world continued to spin on its axis. I pushed myself to rest, to sit and do nothing. It gave me massive anxiety, so I poured myself a glass of wine and kept right on sitting there. I started volunteering at the local homeless shelter. I took a hip-hop dance class. Turns out, Im terrible at hip-hop dance class, but I love it so much I laugh like a toddler through the entire hour-long process. I looked for joy. I looked for peace. I stopped drinking so much caffeine. I played with my kids. I did a lot of therapy. And then I did some more. I prayed. I looked up every scripture in the Bible that talks about rest. I had dinner with my girlfriends. I went on dates with my husband. I taught myself to take it one day at a time, to stop obsessing over the next victory, and to appreciate the simple parts of today. I learned to celebrate accomplishments, not with big flashy parties, but with taco nights or a great bottle of wine. I acknowledged my own hard work and the achievements of my company, and I learned to rest in the knowledge that I will still be okay even if both of those things go away tomorrow. I studied the gospel and finally grasped the divine knowledge that I am loved and worthy and enough . . . as I am. Learning to rest is an ongoing process. Like any other lifelong behavior, I constantly fight the desire to slip back into the role Ive played for so long. They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, and two years ago I did just that. I learned that I am a recovering workaholic, but through this process, I also learned that I am a child of Godand that trumps everything else. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. I went to therapy. This could be the first thing I list for every single element Ive worked through, but its especially real in this case. Were it not for my therapist, I never would have understood the connection between my childhood insecurities and my adult accomplishments. Were it not for my therapist, I never would have realized that the drive for accomplishment can actually be harmful. I cannot recommend therapy enough, and if I had Beyonc?s money, the first thing Id do is pay for therapy for every woman I could find. Ask your friends to recommend someone they like, or ask your gynecologist to refer you. A doctor for your lady parts knows the right kind of counselor for a woman. Trust me. 2. I hustled for joy. Work just as hard for fun moments, vacation moments, and pee-your-pants-laughing moments as you do for all the other things. I encourage you to take a walk, call a friend, have a glass of wine, enjoy a bubble bath, or take a long lunch. All of that work will be there when you get back, and a little time away can recharge your batteries and give you the energy to battle that ever-growing to-do list. 3. I reordered my list. When I ask most women to name the things on their priority list, they can throw them out there no problem: kids, partner, work, faith, etc. The order may change, but the bullet points rarely do. You know what also rarely changes no matter how many women I talk to? Women actually putting themselves on their own priority list. You should be the very first of your priorities! Are you getting enough sleep, enough water, the right nutrition? You cannot take care of others well if youre not first taking care of yourself. Also, one of the best ways to ensure that you stop trying to run from your problems is to face them head-on. CHAPTER 4 The Lie: IM BETTER THAN YOU I feel the need to confess . . . I shave my toes. I totally do. Sometimesnot all the time, mind youI look down in the shower and see my big toes sporting locks long enough to braid. Its embarrassing, sure, but a quick swipe of my razor returns my toe knuckles to their usual silky-smooth glory. None of this would be such an epic admission for me to make except that I once made fun of a girl in freshman-year English class for doing this exact thing. Blargh! I feel like such a jerk even now, a hundred and fifty years later. Friends, let me paint a quick picture of myself in high school. I was a solid twenty pounds heavier, I wore clothes from Goodwill, and I was the president of the drama club. I wasnt someone who teased others; I was someone who got teased. But there was that one instance when I did teasethe one and only time in my memory that I actively made fun of someone else. Maybe thats why it sticks out in my brain. Maybe thats why it still feels so shameful. Well call this girl Schmina. Her actual name is Tina, but Im trying to write in code here. Schmina was the girl who always seemed totally confident in herself. She developed breasts and a sense of humor light-years before the rest of us, and she was popular in a way I would never be. One day in Mrs. Jachettis English class, when we were supposed to be writing a paper on Zora Neale Hurston, Schmina mentioned something about shaving her toes. I dont know why she mentioned it . . . I assume popular girls share grooming tidbits the way the rest of us mortals talk about the weather. But anyway, while I didnt say anything to her directly, I talked soooo much smack about it to my best friend later that day. Who shaves their feet? More importantly, who has hairy digits in need of shaving? Schmina clearly has some kind of glandular disease shes not copping to. What a ridiculous conversation! Most people would have forgotten about a conversation like that by now, but it keeps haunting me years later because the whole time I was mocking Schmina and her hairy toes, I was totally shaving my own! To this day, hand to God, whenever I look down at my big toe and see that its looking a little shaggy, I think about what a jerk my teenage self was. Rach flaw number one? Hairy digits. Rach flaw number two? Hypocrisy. A story about hairy toes, a girl named Schmina, and the adolescent angst I really should have worked through with a licensed therapist years ago may seem like the most frivolous topic ever. But then, I daresay that tearing down other women is usually based on something no less frivolous than the insecurities of our fourteen-year-old selves. Why do we do it, ladies? Why do we gossip? Why do we rag on each other? Why do we say hello on Sunday mornings with the same tongues we use to lash others behind their backs a few days later? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Does it make us feel safer to mock someone who has stepped outside of the parameters we deem acceptable? If we can point out their flaws, does doing so diminish our own? Of course it doesnt. In fact, the stones we most often try and fling at others are the ones that have been thrown at us. Have you ever shaved your toes? And what I really mean by that is, have you ever made fun of someone else? Have you ever pointed your finger in their direction and ignored the three other fingers on your hand pointing back at you? Weve all been there, but that doesnt make it okay. Bringing others down wont elevate you. Recognizing that all words have powereven the ones whispered behind someones backis how you adjust your behavior. A few weeks ago there was a woman on my plane from LA to Chicago. She and her husband were traveling with two boys, the youngest of whom was about four. He was also the worst-behaved child Ive ever seen. Before wed even pulled back from the gate, he was screamingand I dont mean a whine or a protest. I mean screaming bloody murder about having to sit in a seat when he wanted to run around. His mother had to forcibly hold him in the chair for at least half an hour while he hollered to be released. Everyone on the plane, myself included, was miserable until he stopped. But a little while later, when I got up to go to the restroom, I saw why hed finally quieted: hed been given a big bag of gummy worms to happily eat his way through. Friends, I will be honest with you. I was disgusted. First of all, as a strict parent who was raised by strict parents, listening to him screaming, I thought, Oh, heck no! All through takeoff I was thinking about his mom. I was thinking about how she needed to discipline him better, have boundaries, get support from her spouse. And when I saw that shed rewarded his bad behavior? And with sugar? Keep me near the cross, Lord Jesus! I kept thinking, This woman doesnt have a clue. Later at the baggage claim, I saw the family again. The four-year-old was wildjumping up on a stopped luggage belt, hitting his brother, and running around in circles while everyone stared. What is wrong with his mother? I kept thinking, Why doesnt she get a handle on him?! Then I saw her standing next to the luggage carousel . . . utterly exhausted. When I really looked at her, I saw she was near tears, looking bewildered and totally overwhelmed. Her husband wore the same shell-shocked expression as their son ran in circles around them. And a gentle voice reminded me, Rachel, you dont know their story. I was so humbled in my ignorance. Maybe this little boy had special needs that made it hard for him to control his impulses. Maybe this little boy was a new adoptive child who had struggled in foster homes for most of his young lifesomething I should be graceful about, given what weve been through. Maybe this little boy was just badly behaved and his parents were struggling to discipline him because their older son had been easy to manage at this age. Whatever the reason, I will never knowbecause instead of asking or offering the benefit of the doubt, I cast my judgment on her before I even asked myself why things might be this way. Women judging other women. Its been on my heart for a while. Its something Ive tried to wrap my brain around fully so I could put it into words. I see it all around me in so many different ways, and that poor, tired mama on the flight to Chicago reminded me of what I want to say. What I want to say is that we all judge each other, but even though we all do it, thats not an excuse. Judging is still one of the most hurtful, spiteful impulses we own, and our judgments keep us from building a stronger tribe . . . or from having a tribe in the first place. Our judgment prohibits us from beautiful, life-affirming friendships. Our judgment keeps us from connecting in deeper, richer ways because were too stuck on the surface-level assumptions weve made. Ladies, our judging has to stop. So does our compulsion to compete with everyone around us. Let me give an example of that too. When I heard that some of my girlfriends were going to run the Nike Womens Half Marathon in San Francisco, I was excited. For some of them, it was their first race. I was also overjoyed because it would involve a weekend trip somewhere. I promptly invited myself along for the ride. The plan was for us to leave on Friday, drive the five-ish hours between LA and SF, hang out in town on Saturday, then run the race and drive home on Sunday. Wait. Scratch that. They would run the race . . . I would stand on the side of the road and clap for them while they jogged by. This felt especially interesting because I am a runner . . . and more than that, I am competitive about running. I like to challenge myself. I like to try bigger and better races. I like to beat my personal record and push myself to be the best. What I do not likewhat I had never actually doneis cheering for others while they do something I am fully capable of doing right along with them. I kept thinking, What if I didnt need to prove myself in this situation? What if making myself into someone better has more to do with my willingness to be of service than my willingness to compete? So I went to San Francisco. In fact, I drove everyone to San Francisco because I figured the last thing Id want if I were about to run thirteen miles would be to drive four hundred miles. Its worth saying that while I did all of this and had so much stinking fun with the ladies, I didnt always have a good attitude about my willingness to be a cheerleader. On Sunday morning when everyone headed out bright and early to the starting line, I got myself together and headed in the other direction, to the five-mile marker. About twenty minutes into my journey, I realized it was unlikely that I would get a cab at six a.m. on a Sunday morning. Around this time I realized that walking alone in the dark in downtown SF might be one of the dumbest things Ive ever done. I legitimately thought at one point, See, this is what happens when you try and do something nice: you get murdered on the streets of an unknown city! I get pretty dramatic when I am in fear for my life and havent had any coffee. Anyway, at that point I decided to turn around and head for the finish line since walking there felt safer than walking to mile five. Turns out, walking to the finish line meant walking up approximately thirty-two hills that were taller than some mountains I know. I was sweaty and grouchy by the time I arrived, grumbling under my breath about the whole ordeal, and thinking, Why on earth did I agree to do this? Then I saw my first elite marathon runner. Elite marathon runners are those superhumans who run a race in like five minutes. They look like cheetahs or gazelles as they fly down the road, and they are truly breathtaking to behold. As someone who ran twelve-and-a-half-minute miles in my first marathon (elite female runners, by comparison, run like six- or seven-minute miles), I was in awe. Since Im always so far behind these athletes in the race, Ive never been able to see one. I stood there and watched one after another sprint by and felt so blessed to see them in action. For the two and a half hours that followed, I stood in that exact spot and cheered on strangers. I clapped nonstop (my skill as a preachers daughter finally coming into play!). I screamed until my throat was sore. I yelled all the things that encourage me when I hear them from the sidelines during a race. You are so strong! Youre almost there! You can do this! And the last one is something Ive never heard but always tell myself when it gets hard during a run. I yelled it over and over again whenever I saw someone who looked ready to drop: Youve lived through tougher things than this. Dont give up now! Finally, it was there in that exact spot that I got to see my friends Katie and Brittany jogging up from mile twelve in their first-ever half marathon. You can see it in a picture someone shot of us. Im screaming like a maniac and trying not to throw myself over the fence to attack them with hugs. I was so proud of them I was laughing and cryingas if their achievement was somehow my own. I jogged alongside them, outside the track, wrapped up in the joy of the moment, and I heard God very distinctly say, Imagine all of the things you would have missed today if youd only been out here for yourself. I never would have seen the elite runners. I never would have been there when my friend Hannah ran her personal best (13.1 miles in under two hours!). I wouldnt have been able to stand next to Joy, who put my cheering to shame. After running her own race, she screamed louder than anyone from the sidelines, encouraging the other runners. I wouldnt have been there to hug Katie and Brittany. I wouldnt have seen any of it . . . I would have run another half marathon, like Id done ten times before, and Id have had nothing to show for it but a little extra pride and the banana they give you at the end. The first step toward getting past the desire to judge and compete is admitting that nobody is immune. For some of us, we judge in little ways: rolling our eyes at the way someone is dressed, frowning at a badly behaved child in the grocery store, or making assumptions about another mother at school pickup who has a serious expression and wears a suit every day and seems uptight. For others, judging is a bigger problem: berating your little sister because her views are different from yours, viciously gossiping with other women, taking to social media to write hateful things to people you dont even know simply because theyve stepped outside the lines of what you think is good. The second step is recognizing that just because you believe it doesnt mean its true for everyone. In so many instances judgment comes from a place of feeling as though youve somehow got it all figured out when they do not. Judging each other actually makes us feel safer in our own choices. Faith is one of the most abused instances of this. We decide that our religion is right; therefore, every other religion must be wrong. Within the same religion, or heck, even within the same church, people judge each other for not being the right kind of Christian, Catholic, Mormon, or Jedi. I dont know the central tenet of your faith, but the central tenet of mine is love thy neighbor. Not love thy neighbor if they look and act and think like you. Not love thy neighbor so long as they wear the right clothes and say the right things. Just love them. Yes, I also believe in holding each other accountable; but holding each other accountable takes place inside community and relationships. Holding each other accountable comes from a beautiful place in the heart of friendship that makes you sit down with your friend and ask with love if theyve looked at their own actions in a particular light. Holding each other accountable comes from a place of love. Judgment comes from a place of fear, disdain, or even hate. So be careful about dressing your judgments up as accountability to make your conscience feel better. I have worked tirelessly over the last couple of years to create content that caters to women. I have spent numerous hours trying to figure out exactly what women like us want in life. Do you know what they want? Do you know the number one thing that I hear most, get emails about most, get asked for advice on most? Friends. How to make friends. How to keep friends. How to cultivate real, valuable relationships. Thats what women are craving. Thats what they really want and hope for, and if thats true, we have to start at the beginning. We start from the beginning, and we teach ourselves to keep an open mind. We begin with that first hello or handshake, and we stop ourselves from making decisions not founded in fact and experience. We look for commonality instead of seeking out differences. We ignore things like hair or clothes or weight or race or religion or socioeconomic background. We pay attention to things like character and heart and wisdom and experience. And no, it might not be easy, but I promise it will be worth it. Your tribe is out there, and if you havent found it yet, Id challenge you to consider that maybe your people come in a different package than you thought they might. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. Nonjudgmental friends. We often become whomever we surround ourselves with. If your friends are full of gossip and vitriol, I promise youll start to develop the habit. When youre looking for a community of women, look for the ones who want to build each other up instead of tear each other down. 2. Policing myself. If were already judgmental (and lets be honest, most of us are), we have to work hard on policing ourselves. When I find myself judging someone in my head, I force myself to stop and think of compliments about that person. By doing this, Im learning to look for the positive instead of reaching for the negatives. 3. Dealing with it. Usually our judgment and gossip come from a deep well of our own insecurities. Get to the bottom of whats going on with you. Whats making you lash out at others? The first step toward becoming the best version of yourself is being honest, truly honest, about what makes you tick. CHAPTER 5 The Lie: LOVING HIM IS ENOUGH FOR ME I fell in love the first time I saw him. Does that sound dramatic? Probably. Im not even sure I was aware of it at the time, but the scene plays out so clearly in my memory. I went out to the lobby to get my bosss eleven oclock appointment. There was only one man standing there. His back was to me, hands down deep in his pockets. He had a beat-up leather messenger bag slung over his shoulder. I noticed the bag first. I remember thinking it was so cool that this guy wore business clothes but carried a worn-in leather bag instead of a briefcase. Excuse me, I said as I crossed the lobby. Are you here to meet with Kevin? In my mind, he turns around in slow motion. The memory illuminates when I first see his face. He smiles at me and reaches out a hand to shake mine. The moment stretches into infinity, then snaps back together like elastic. It speeds back up into real time. Something just happened, I distinctly remember thinking. I was equal parts excited and terrified. He was older and totally out of my league. Still, I caught myself thinking, But maybe . . . That maybe is what did it. My curiosity wouldnt go away. It was enough to startle me, to make me wish I was wearing something cuter than a black maxi skirt and an ill-fitting matching T-shirt. That day wasnt the first time Id spoken to him; he called to talk to my boss often. It was the first time Id spoken to him in person. Id had no idea what he looked like, or more specifically, that he was so handsomeand what had been a business relationship quickly turned into something more flirtatious. Its important to note here that I had zero experience with men. Id been hired as an intern during my first year of college. That summer they offered me a job, and I promptly dropped out of school to accept it. I had just turned nineteen years old. At this ripe old age, I had smooched a couple of boys in high school, but Id never had a real relationship and had never been on a date. I might have been professionally mature beyond my years, but when it came to romance, I had the life experience of an amoeba. Our relationship progressed over email and staring at each other during business functions. Its probably also fair to tell you that I had my big sisters ID, so at those business functions I ordered a glass of wine like everyone else. Given the job I had, this man never thought to question my age. I also never willingly volunteered the information. Its also worth telling you that he was eight years and a lifetime of experience ahead of me. He asked me out on my first real date, and I spent days trying to figure out what to wear. I was a little surprised to find him dressed so casually when I arrived. It was telling, in retrospecthis preparation for this date versus minebut I can only see that in hindsight. We walked down the street to a little Italian restaurant. I tried to keep it cool, though internally I was freaking out that we were on a date! I was so nervous. I worried that he would try to hold my hand or kiss me, or both! I had no idea how to handle either situation with grace, and I prayed fervently that I wouldnt be put into a position to figure it out. We were seated at a table. We ordered a bottle of wine. I hope youre not one of those girls whos afraid to eat on a date. He laughed. It annoyed me. Whoever or whatever kind of girl I was hadnt been determined yet. I didnt like the comparison to anyone else, didnt like the reminder that this wasnt his very first date too. I responded by eating more than half the pizza we were sharing. He talked about himself for two hours straight. I didnt mind. I was fascinated. That night when he walked me to my car, I thought I might be sick. I was 99 percent sure he would try to kiss me, and I felt confident that I wasnt a girl who kissed on the first date. I mean, I had no practice with this theory, but it felt like the truth. So when I went to throw my bag into the front seat and turned around to see him leaning in, I immediately threw both hands up in between usreal graceful likeand yelled, Dont kiss me! He paused, a deer in headlights, before chuckling like some sexy leading man. I was going to give you a hug, he told me. He reached for my hand and gave it a firm shake. But just to be safe. It was so charming I wanted to die. My mortification knew no bounds. I drove away from that date bemused and a little bit in love. I was positive, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would marry that man. After one meal of pizza and cheap red wine, we were officially dating . . . or at least, I thought we were. I didnt know there were rules. I didnt know there was even a game. Soon after that first date, he asked me out on another. This time for soup at an ultra-hip restaurant that was popular at the time. Only in LA can you unironically invite someone on a date to the trendy local soup joint and nobody finds it odd. A week later he asked me when Id graduated collegebecause, dude, I still hadnt told him my age. On some level I knew he wasnt going to be happy about our age difference. The email I wrote him back (because this was before text messaging, kids) started with, Well, this should be interesting . . . He responded like a champ. He told me I was Doogie Howser, and I did feel like some sort of child prodigy, because not only did I have this job but also I was in a real relationship with a grown-up. I didnt know it at the time, but on the other side of that email, that grown-up was very unhappy. It came up on our next date: I was too young, I was too inexperienced in every way, and he didnt want to be the guy that hurt me. Can you believe me when I tell you that I didnt hear him at all? I mean, my ears were working just fine, but my brain couldnt even process the idea. I kept thinking, How in the world could you possibly hurt me? Were going to get married and have babies, and its going to be awesome! I mean . . . bless my tiny, ignorant heart. He resisted, but I was dogged in my pursuit. I thought I was mature enough to handle it. I went quickly from never having gone on a date to spending every night at his apartment. For claritys sake, let me spell it out: at that point we werent having sex . . . but honestly, that was a technicality. Are you supposed to admit all of this when you write a book for a Christian publisher? I have no idea. But I know for a fact that I am not the only good Christian girl who fell in love with a man and threw every ideal shed ever believed right out the window because nothing mattered to her more than being loved by him. A month into our relationship we went to a party at my friends house, and because I was a tiny baby bunny, I introduced everyone to my boyfriend that night. This is my boyfriend. Have you met my boyfriend? Whos he? Oh, thats just my boyfriend! Oh, I cringe at the memory. I also cringe remembering the next day, when he was clearly upset with me but wouldnt tell me why. I kept asking until he finally gave a frustrated huff. Youve never acted your age before, but last night it was like it was written on your shirt. Ouch. On the one hand, in a lot of ways, he was right. I had always been incredibly professional at work and mature when we hung out, but in this instance I didnt know the rules. I didnt understand that you couldnt just call a guy your boyfriend without a discussion. I na?vely believed that if someone had seen your boobs and you regularly went to dinner together, it meant you were a couple. Just to put a little more truth on this, I had zero guilt about the whole here are my boobs thing because I believed we were getting married. I justified my choices because I thought they were part of the bigger story of us. Meanwhile, this man didnt even believe we were dating. Thirty-four-year-old Rachel can see all of this so clearly in hindsight. Nineteen-year-old me was in love and insecure, so I justified everything he said or did that was hurtful. Its hard for me to write all of this down. It will be hard for my husband to read it. Dave is so different from that man, and it will be tough for him to learnin detail Ive never fully sharedhow much this treatment hurt me. But heres the deal: I am not the only woman who ever let a man treat her badly. Its important to tell my story because I believe some of you may find yourself in a similar situation now. And just like me, youre maybe so deeply inside the forest you cant see the trees. In telling my story and my truth, I hope it can help some of you make better choices than I did, or see your reality for what it actually is. Because heres the ugly truth: I was a booty call. The preachers daughter, the one who hadnt ever been on a date, the conservative good girl . . . I drove to this mans house every single night he asked me to and pretended that it didnt gut me when he wouldnt acknowledge me during the day. When we were together, he was so sweet and so loving that it held me over during the times when he wouldnt call. On the rare occasions when Id meet up with him at a bar and his friends would ignore meor worserefer to me only as the nineteen-year-old and he wouldnt say anything to stop them, I made excuses. I was like the overweight girl at school who makes fun of herself before anyone else can . . . I acted as though I was in on the joke, that I was a jokethat I wasnt worth defending. When he would flirt with other girls in front of me or invite me somewhere just to ignore me all night, I told myself to play it cool. Hed reacted so badly when I called him my boyfriend, and Id learned enough to know that if I brought up any of this Id be seen as clingy. I took whatever scraps he gave me, and worse still, I was thrilled to receive them. As I write these words, Im crying. I didnt cry when I wrote the chapter about my brothers death or the pain of my childhoodbut this? This flays me. I am so sad for that little girl who didnt know better. I am devastated that nobody prepared her for life or taught her to love herself so she wasnt so desperate to get any form of it from someone else. Im sad that she had to figure it out on her own. Im disappointed that it took her so long. It took me a yeara whole year of whatever you want, whatever you need, whatever you think is besta year during which I tried everything I could think of, tried to be everything he wanted. Attentive but not clingy. Pretty without trying too hard. Funny and smart and cool. Nice to his friends even when they treated me like garbage. Caring and thoughtful when he wanted me around, and never bothering him if he didnt call me first. Toward the end of that year, when his company moved him to another state and our already tenuous relationship was threatened, my virginity went from technical to nonexistent. It was the last, best way I could think of to hold on to him. It didnt work. Two months after he moved away, he flew home long enough to break up with me. He wanted a clean break, he said. He needed a chance to really put down roots in his new city, he said. He cared about me, he said. It just wasnt going to work out, he said. Wed always be friends, he said. I can see it perfectly in my mind, though I dont often remember that day in real detail because it was so heartbreaking for me. My bed had a bright pink and orange Ikea comforter, and as I sat in the middle of it, I wept. The memory makes me lower my head, and it brings my heart to its knees. You may read this chapter and feel anger at the way that man treated me, or anger at the position Id put myself inbut I didnt see any of it. I had no pride. I sat in the middle of that neon duvet, and instead of standing up for myself, I begged him not to leave me. He left anyway. I cried myself to sleep that night. The next morning I got in my car and drove to my hometown two hours away to spend Thanksgiving with my family. That day was miserable. Use your imagination to dream up the kind of conversations I was forced into by well-meaning Southern aunts when Id been dumped. Jesus wept. When I got back in my car to drive home that night, I saw that I had a voicemail. Somehow I knew hed call me that dayit was routine, after all. He would do something hurtful, then I would accept it and wait by the phone to see if he wanted another go. I held off listening to that call for the two hours it took me to get back to my apartment. I dialed the number for my voicemail and stood immobile as I listened to his message. He was just checking on me, he said, wanted to make sure I was okay. It was a divine moment in my life. Never before or since have I experienced such total clarity. I stood in my crappy Hollywood apartment and saw our relationship like a map before me. There was the spot where we first kissed. The detour when we didnt talk for two weeks after I called him my boyfriend. The night he flirted with the popular girls from work in front of me. Then there was the day I first heard the line: Were not together, but were not not together. I saw that phrase and platitudes like it scattered like mortar shells over the terrain. There was the first time he called and asked me to come over after getting drunk at a bar I wasnt invited to. For a year Id only looked at the pretty parts of our relationship, and for the first time I made myself see what was really there. Who are you? I asked my empty bedroom. But that was the wrong question to ask. The issue wasnt that I didnt know who I was; the problem was that I didnt know who I had allowed myself to become. It might surprise you to know that I dont blame him for anything that happened that year. Though he was a grown man, he had his own baggage. He was young and immature in his own way. People will treat you with as much or as little respect as you allow them to, and our dysfunctional relationship started the first time he treated me badly and I accepted it. I called him back, just as I had a hundred times before. But this time I was totally calm. I had no anxiety about what he might think, and I wasnt excited to talk to him. When he answered the phone, he immediately launched into questions about how I was feeling and if Id had fun with my familyas if we were old friends catching up, as if he hadnt eviscerated me the day before. Hey, I interrupted him. He went silent. I like to believe there was something in my tone that made him pause, but perhaps it was simply startling because Id never interrupted before. Calmly and without any dramatics, I told him, I am done with this. I am done with you. Dont ever call me again. It wasnt a bid for attention or an attempt at playing hard to get; I meant every single word. Why? he choked out. Because I dont deserve to be treated like this. Because I cant go back and forth. Because I dont like what Ive become . . . but mostly because you said we were friends. This whole time, whatever else has happened, you told me I was your friend. I dont want to be friends if this is how you treat someone you care about. I meant those words with every fiber of my being. I hung up on him and shut off my phone. I brushed my teeth and put on pajamas. Then I went to bed and crawled under that pink blanket and went to sleep dry-eyed and peaceful for the first time in months. I remember that night as the first time I really felt like a grown woman. I woke up to someone banging on my front door. This is the great part of the story. This is the moment that feels like a movie or a romance novel. This is where I tell you that I woke up and found my husband on the other side of my front step. The man who treated me badly, who had strung me along, and who couldnt make up his mind was lost somewhere between his parents house and my apartment that Thanksgiving night. I know it seems dramatic, but thats really what happened. I remember everything in our relationship as either before or after this moment: our love story being reborn. And it is a love story. Our relationship is the greatest gift in my life. Dave is my best friend, the first real caretaker I ever had, and I have had the honor of watching him grow from that guy into a wonderful husband, father, and friend. But every story is not perfect. Very few roads to love are easy to navigate, and ours was no exception. But its important to me that you know that while our journey hasnt been easy, the fourteen years since that first really crappy one have totally outweighed the mistakes we both made. Its important for me to tell this story because it is the story of us. My husband is brave and humble to support me in sending it out in the world in hopes that it might serve someone else. Its also important to understand that I dont believe this is typically how it works out. Opening the door that night and finding Dave on the front porch begging me for one more chance feels special because it was special. What is far more likely to happen in most cases is that as long as you allow someone to treat you badly, they will continue to do so. If youre not able to value yourself, no one else will either. I hesitate to even tell you the ending because I dont want anyone to use it as an excuse to stay in an unhealthy relationship in hopes that it will become healthy. Our story ended well, but that wouldnt have happened if I hadnt been willing to walk away. That night in my bedroom, I hit the point where I couldnt live one more day without self-respect; I couldnt stay with a partner who didnt truly value who I was as a person. Sometimes choosing to walk away, even if it means breaking your own heart, can be the greatest act of self-love you have access to. What else can I tell you? What can I offer you as insight or wisdom or what I hope you receive from this chapter? I hope that if you read yourself in my story, it will hold up a mirror for you. I hope youll get out of the trees long enough to see the forest for what it is. I hope that those of you whove lived through something similar and carry guilt about it long after its over will learn that you are not the only one. So many women have made mistakes or done things they regret or become versions of themselves they arent happy with. So many other women have survived and come out the other side stronger because of it. Every day youre choosing who you are and what you believe about yourself, and youre setting the standards for the relationships in your life. Every day is a chance to start over. THINGS THAT (WOULD HAVE) HELPED ME . . . 1. A sounding board. When I walked through this season, I didnt really have any close friends or mentors who could advise me. I think if Id been able to speak with someone wiser, I might have become aware sooner of how unhealthy my relationship was. Be careful any time the only voice of advisement is your own. Your judgment is easily clouded when youre in love. 2. Being prepared. When my children are old enough, I will tell them this story. I know it doesnt paint either of their parents in the best light, but I want them to learn from it. If I had been less na?ve and known more about self-respect, I think I would have seen our relationship for what it was. 3. Someone elses shoes. If you told the story of your relationshipboth the good and the badwould there be more good or more bad? If a friend or a stranger heard about my relationship, and if I walked them through all of the stuff that was hurting me, I cant imagine them not wanting to shake me until my teeth rattled. Imagine someone else describing your relationship to you. Would they say your relationship is healthy? If the answer is no, or if you even have to question it, I beg you to take a deeper look at the relationship in your life. CHAPTER 6 The Lie: NO IS THE FINAL ANSWER When asked to be a keynote speaker at a conference, I usually get to choose to some extent what I will talk about. Sometimes its about business, life, or a more niche area of expertise, such as event planning. But the one thing most of my speeches have in commonthe one thing I truly believe myself to be an expert onis being told no. Truly, Ive been told no in so many different ways and by so many different people that sometimes it seems as if life itself is saying no. I am an expert in rejectionor more specifically, I am an expert in bouncing back from rejection and fighting my way toward my goal. I suppose if I can gift you anything in the reading of this book, its that no is only an answer if you accept it. So allow me to use one chapter of this book toI hopelight a fire under your butt. I want you to be so pumped up you can hardly stand it. I want you to have one of those nights when you stay up until one a.m. writing long lists of big dreams and plans. You know those nightswhen youre so excited you cant shut off your brain and you end up having to take a Benadryl just to fall asleep? Yes! I want these words to excite you that much. Im hoping some of my excitement rubs off on youwhich, granted, would be way easier if I were giving you this speech in personbut I promise to use lots of italicized words for emphasis and to tell you about the word no and the role its played in my life. I waited years for the opportunity to explain my relationship with rejection . . . a lifetime, maybe. About six years ago Inc. Magazine named me as one of their top thirty entrepreneurs under the age of thirty. Ooh la la! It was a huge honor (I mean, clearly, because Im still talking about it), but the really interesting thing that most people dont know is that when you get a prestigious title like that, almost immediately you begin to make hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Just kidding! No, what happens is, every college within a hundred-mile radius immediately starts calling and asking if youll come and talk to their students. Since I havent stopped speaking since the moment I figured out how, of course I accepted every single request. Each of those sessions lasted about an hour, which consisted of thirty minutes of me chatting about my career and my company and thirty minutes of questions and answers. After a while, I could almost time to the minute when I would hear the classic question: Hi, Rachel, theyd always begin (because apparently we call adults by their first names now like were a bunch of hippies!). Can you tell us the secret of your success? Like, whats the one thing that truly gives you an advantage over others? First of all, God bless our youth. God bless these wee infants who believe that a lifetime of hustling and working and sweating and stressing and building, building, building a company could be summarized with one single answer. But I tried. At first when I was asked this question, I would give generic answers: hard work, dedication, making yourself indispensible, blah, blah, blah. But the more I went to schools and realized it was going to be the one question I got asked every time, I decided Id better figure out the truth. So I began to ask myself questions. What led to this massive platform and all of these fans? How did I get book deals and TV appearances? Why was I the one standing at the front of the classroom answering questions? Why not somebody else? I think the obvious place to start is my family connections. So, after graduating from Yale, and then later Harvard Business School, I began working in my familys oil business. I later went on to be a part owner of the Texas Rangers before becoming governor of that great state and thenI mean, most everyone knows that my father was a former president, so when I decided to run for president myself . . . Wait, no, thats not me. Thats George W. Bush! No, as a reminder, I grew up in a place called Weedpatch. That wasnt a cute name for locals; thats literally its moniker on any map that wants to include it. The point is, family connections havent been the secret to my success. Seriously, though, after I moved to Los Angeles I started to gain some pretty influential friends within the entertainment industry. Paris Hilton and I became incredibly close. Later I went on to date Ray J (remember him?), and it really shot me into celebrity status. I used the attention from that relationship to get my own show on E! and then made millions with many kinds of products. When Kanye asked me to be his wife, well . . . Wait, shoot, nope. Thats Kim Kardashian. The secret to my success isnt celebrity status. All joking aside, my success has a lot to do with waking up early, being the hardest-working person in the room, asking for help, being able to fail over and over again, and working constantly to improve both myself and my brand. But plenty of people do those things and dont experience the kind of success I have. You want to know what it is? Why I believe Im the one writing this book right now when people whove tried to do exactly the same things I have havent succeeded? Its simple, actually. Its not about talent, skill, money, or connections. Its because when they went after their dreams and came up against a roadblock, when they experienced rejection, or when someone or something told them no . . . they listened. I am successful because I refused to take no for an answer. I am successful because I have never once believed my dreams were someone elses to manage. Thats the incredible part about your dreams: nobody gets to tell you how big they can be. When it comes to your dreams, no is not an answer. The word no is not a reason to stop. Instead, think of it as a detour or a yield sign. No means merge with caution. No reminds you to slow downto re-evaluate where you are and to judge how the new position youre in can better prepare you for your destination. In other words, if you cant get through the front door, try the side window. If the window is locked, maybe you slide down the chimney. No doesnt mean that you stop; it simply means that you change course in order to make it to your destination. I realize, though, that not everybody looks at no the way I do. In order to inspire you to run headlong after your dreams, I may have to shift your perception of no. Im going to give you everything I can think of to get you there . . . and Im going to start with this question: What if life isnt happening to you? What if the hard stuff, the amazing stuff, the love, the joy, the hope, the fear, the weird stuff, the funny stuff, the stuff that takes you so low youre lying on the floor crying and thinking, How did I get here? . . . What if none of it is happening to you? What if all of it is happening for you? Its all about perception, you guys. Perception means we dont see things as they are; we see things as we are. Take a burning house. To a fireman, a burning house is a job to domaybe even his lifes work or mission. For an arsonist? A burning house is something exciting and good. What if its your house? What if its your family whos standing outside watching every earthly possession you own burning up? That burning house becomes something else entirely. You dont see things as they are; you see things through the lens of what you think and feel and believe. Perception is reality, and Im here to tell you that your reality is colored much more by your past experiences than by what is actually happening to you. If your past tells you that nothing ever works out, that life is against you, and that youll never succeed, then how likely are you to keep fighting for something you want? Or, on the flip side, if you quit accepting no as the end of the conversation whenever you run up against opposition, you can shift your perception and fundamentally reshape your entire life. Every single part of your lifeyour gratitude, the way you manage stress, how kind you are to others, how happy you arecan be changed by a shift in your perception. I dont have an entire book to devote to this topic, so today Im just going to focus on your dreams. Lets talk about the goals you have for your life and how you can help yourself achieve them. In order to do that, you have to name your goals. You have to shout out your hopes and dreams like the Great Bambino calling his shot. You need the courage to stand up and say, This one, right here: this is mine! Before you continue reading, take a few moments to focus on a specific dream. Get out a piece of paper and write it down. Maybe write down ten dreams . . . maybe start with little innocuous things and keep writing until the truth comes out. Come on, girlno one is watching. Theres nobody here to judge. Cue: elevator music. All right. Do you have your dream? Great! Maybe for some of you, thats the first time youve admitted that dream to yourself. But Im willing to bet that most of you have met that dream before, even if youve never had the courage to put it down on paper. Hello, old friend. Perhaps its been around since childhood . . . maybe its something youre currently working on . . . maybe you used to work on it but gave up. Either way, if this is still a dream you have, then chances are, youve experienced some rejection where this dream is concerned. So my first mission is to change the way you see the word noto take away your fear of it. Fear is driving your choices and affecting your decisions, so lets take the fear away. The best way I know to do that is to talk about it. The Bible says, let that which is in the darkness be brought into the light. When things are allowed to sit in the darkness, when were afraid to speak them aloud, we give them power. The darkness lets those fears fester and grow until they become stronger over time. If you never allow your fears out, then how in the world can you disseminate them? Why do you think every chapter of this book begins with a lie I used to believe? Because I want to encourage you to speak your own lies into the world. The trouble is, we rarely know they are lies until someone points them out or we get past them. Before we can name them, they just disguise themselves as things were afraid of. Think about it. So lets take the fear away. Lets go through some of the reasons why people give up on their dreams. I want you to ask yourself if any of these examples sound like you. Some people quit because a voice of authority tells them to. Voice of authority can mean all sorts of things . . . Maybe your first boss said you werent right for your dream job, and you believed it. Maybe a parentout of love or fear or caution or their own issuestold you not to try. Maybe a spouse or partner or best friend was afraid of what would happen to your relationship if you grew and so they tried to keep you anchored to the ground. Maybe that voice of authority said youre not right for it. Someone said youre too fat to train for a marathon or that youre too young to build your own business. They said youre too old to take dance lessons. They said youre too female to travel by yourself. Maybe the voice of authority is your own. Maybe the negative self-talk in your head has been playing on repeat for your entire life. Maybe an entire industry of experts is saying youre not right. I have wanted to be an author for as long as Ive understood that books were created by actual people. Like most wannabe authors, I started approximately seventy-three manuscripts but never actually finished a single one. Then, several years ago, I decided to stop giving up . . . Just once, I thought. Just once Id like to know what its like to finish! So I began working on my historical-fiction-meets-time-travel book (because, I mean, why not write that on weekends?). Out of the blue I was approached by a literary agent. (Okay, just to give context, I suppose it wasnt out of the blue. I was a popular blogger and had built up a following of fans as well as a lot of publicity as a celebrity party planner by this time.) The lit agent asked me if Id ever considered writing a book. Of course I started regaling her with tales of my time-traveling historical romancewhich, in case youre wondering, is basically every literary agents worst nightmare as a pitch from an unknown, unproven author. So this woman, bless her, read the first twenty pages of that Dumpster fire and politely came back a week later to inform me that it wasnt really her style. Shed actually been reaching out to see if I wanted to do a nonfiction book on party planning. Since I was expressing an interest in fiction, though, she wondered if Id be interested in writing a roman ? clef. Id never even heard of that term, but a quick Google search informed me that its fiction about actual notable people. You just change the names to keep yourself from getting sued. A great example is The Devil Wears Prada. The agents question was whether or not I had any juicy stories after having survived years of celebrity events. Boy, did I ever! As soon as we got off the phone, I knew the story immediately. I knew the story because it was my story. Id moved from a small Southern-minded town to Los Angeles as a teenager. Before I was old enough to drink legally, I was working parties for the biggest A-list celebrities on the planet. I was a fish out of water and always awkward, but somehow built a career within that space. I didnt even have to dream up material; I had years of stories so juicy I couldnt have made them up if I tried. I wrote ten pages and emailed them to her right away. Two days later she wrote back: I can sell this all day long! A literary agent . . . a real-life, legit literary agent told me that she could sell my book if I was willing to finish it. I nearly choked on my joy. I became obsessed. I barely saw my husband or my kids as I wrote like an insane person until my first draft was finished. I kept telling myself that the only reason I didnt have a book deal already was because Id never actually finished a manuscript . . . so I believed this book was fated. I imagined in intricate detail what it would be like to hold the published copy in my hands. I did finish the book, and the literary agent sent it to every publisher in New York. The initial responses were so kind and encouraging. Editors would write long emails back explaining why it wasnt for them but telling me how much theyd enjoyed it. My belief that we were going to sell it only increased when three other publishers asked for conference calls to discuss it. When I dialed into the first call, I thought I was going to pee my pants. When we got on the phone, the publishing team started by telling me how much they liked me, my online presence, my writing style, etc. They praised the book as funny and cute . . . good things, as far as I knew. Our concern, said the editor, is that its too sweet. I had no idea what that meant, but since it was my first book, I assured them that anything like that could be fixed in an edit. We were hoping youd be open to changes. Of course! I assured them. Id be open to ritual sacrifice if it meant selling my first book. So youd feel comfortable adding some steam? Yall, I had no idea what she was talking about. My brain conjured up the image of a manhole cover with steam coming out. What exactly did you have in mind? I hedged. Sex. It needs sex, Rachel. No young woman in her early twenties who lives in LA is a virgin. Nobody will believe this love story. If you spice it up, this could be a bestseller. Im trying to remember if Ive ever been so uncomfortable in a professional setting in my life. For context, its important to note that this was right when Fifty Shades of Grey was breaking into the book world. Since publishing chases trends like any other industry, every editor was hyperfocused on trying to tap into that fan base. I had zero idea how to respond to them. Yall, Im no saint. Ive read books with sex in them before (dont tell my Mema!), but I had no earthly clue that someone would ever ask me to write it. Also, I loved that the heroine of my book was na?ve and innocentand I thought thats what made her special. The more they tried to convince me to write steam into my book, the more I wondered if I was in an after-school special. Like, Hey, Rachel, just smoke this crack and well be friends with you. I politely declined. We totally understand, they told me. But without that element, this book is too sweet for the market. Nobody will buy it as is. I was devastated. Two more calls with publishers went exactly the same way. Then one after another, every publisher left on our submission list turned it down. It was a Friday afternoon when the very last publisher passed. I remember locking myself in the bathroom and sobbing. And, you guys, these were not gentle, beautiful tears. This was like, my dreams are over / everyone hates my book / I am a terrible writer UGLY tears. I cant tell you how long I stayed down on the bathroom tile, but I can tell you that I eventually got back up. I dried my tears and walked to the kitchen to pour a glass of wine. Then I sat down at my crappy laptop where Id written my terrible prudish manuscript that nobody wanted and Googled, How do you self-publish a book? In February 2014, I self-published Party Girl about a na?ve, sweet, and, yes, virginal party planner in her early twenties living in LA. That first weekend I think it sold fifty copiesand likely forty-five of those were bought by Dave. Every week, though, Id sell a few here and a handful there. The sales kept growing, and people were passing it around to their friends. As it turns out, the sweetness of the main character was the exact thing that people liked about the book. Six months later a publisher called and asked if they could buy it from me and offered me a deal for two more books to turn it into a series. To date, that single book, the one I was told no one would buy, has sold over a hundred thousand copies. It also launched my career as an author. Heres the most important piece of that whole story. Are you paying attention? If I had listened to the experts, that book would still be sitting on my computer today. Nobodynot a voice of authority, not your mama, not the foremost expert in your arenagets to tell you how big your dreams can be. They can talk all they want . . . but you get to decide if youre willing to listen. Another reason people give up on their dreams? Its difficult and/or its taking too long. Goals and dreams are hard. I get it. Actually accomplishing them is so much harder than you think it will be. Maybe youre making progress, but its only an inch at a timemeanwhile, your friend Tammy has been promoted twice, your sister is married with two kids, and you feel as though youre still way back there at the start when everyone is passing you by. Some days you feel so discouraged you want to cry. Go ahead and cry. Rend your garments and wail to the heavens like some biblical mourner. Get it all out. Then dry your eyes and wash your face and keep on going. You think this is hard? Thats because it is. So what? Nobody said it would be easy. Youre tired? How many times in your life have you been tired but you found a way to keep going? How many of you reading this right now have given up on a dream because it was exhausting to keep chasing it? In that same vein, how many of you have ever gone through labor? Even if you havent before, I know you can understand the gist. No matter how you bring a baby into the world (even through adoption), its emotionally and physically exhaustingbut somehow you find a way through. You dig down deep for strength you didnt know you had because the process is literally life or death. Dont tell me you dont have it in you to want something more for your life. Dont tell me you have to give up because its difficult. This is life or death too. This is the difference between living a life you always dreamed of or sitting alongside the death of the person you were meant to become. Thats what it feels like to me when Ive given up on a dream, even for a little whileas if Im at a wake. As if Im sitting in a room and looking at the evidence of what could have been. Im sure many of you know what thats like, and you either want to change it or keep yourself from getting there in the first place. You have to do something about it. You have to reach down inside yourself and remember the reason you started this. Youd better find the will to keep going, because if you dont, I promise you someone else will. If that happens, girl, you will watch someone else achieve your dreams and enjoy the spoils of their hard-fought battle. And if that happens, you will understand one of the greatest lessons in this life: the only thing worse than giving up is wishing that you hadnt. You think your dream is taking too long? It took Julia Child ten years to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her work changed cooking for people all over the world and launched her career. James Cameron worked on Avatar for fifteen years, and it is the most successful film in the history of time. On January 3, 1870, ground was broken for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. The project took ten years, and during that time, the lives of so many men on the building crew were lost. But, you guys, the Brooklyn Bridge still stands as a symbol of New York, and 135 years later, it brings forty-three million cars to and from Manhattan every single year. Dont you get it? Nothing that lasts is accomplished quickly. Nobodys entire legacy is based on a single moment, but rather the collection of ones experiences. If youre lucky, your legacy will be a lifetime in the making. Between my event company and the media business I run now, its taken me thirteen years of work to get to this placeand not one of those years was wasted. I needed thirteen years to gain the knowledge to write to you about this topic. I needed thirteen years of speaking to college students, MOPS groups, and panel discussions to build my skill enough to give the keynote speech that served as the inspiration for this chapter. I needed to fail at public speaking and make mistakes over and over again to learn how to do that. I needed to write crappy manuscripts that I never finished and then one that nobody wanted to buy. I needed to fight my way into the publishing industry and spend years making my presence known before I was in a place where someone would give me the opportunity for a book like this. I needed to endure personal hardships and discouragement and one rejection on top of anotherall so I could stand right here and say to you, Your dream is worth fighting for, and while youre not in control of what life throws at you, you are in control of the fight. The last reason people give up on their dreams? Something traumatic gets in your way. Disaster is the ultimate excuse. Divorce or illness or something far worse happens to you, and sometimes the goals slip quietly into the background and get left there. We leave them because this trauma is so heavy we just cant carry one more thing. Sometimes trauma happens, and if were being honest, a part of us rejoices, thinking, Well, now nobody can expect anything else from me because its miracle enough that Im upright. Let me take a moment to tell those of you who are dealing with and fighting through something painful: it is a miracle that youre sitting here. You are nobly doing your best to battle your way through it. You are a warrior because of the trials you are going through, but dont you dare squander the strength you have earned just because the acquisition of it was painful. Those are the most important stories to share. You can use that strength to pave a path for others to follow along behind. Ive shared many of my own painful stories in the chapters of this book, and none of them have been easy to talk about; but I do it because I hope that by sharing them Im able to help some of you whove walked through similar things. Ive also talked about my own goals and dreams and the ways Ive pushed myself to achieve them. Every single one of those dreams has served a purpose in my life. Sometimes it was a small change and sometimes it was life-changing, but in every circumstance, I grew for having walked through it. Friends, its not about the goal or the dream you have. Its about who you become on your way to that goal. When a voice of authority says its taking too long, youre too fat, old, tired, or female for it, or your trauma is too big . . . do you know what they are giving you? Permission to quit. Youre already scared, youre already second-guessing yourself, and when someone or something comes along and speaks into that exact thing you were already questioning, you think, Yep, thats what I thought. I give up. Look again at those dreams you wrote down on your paper at the start of this chapter. Now listen to me: You do not have permission to quit! I revoke that permission! I take away the power those people or circumstances put over your life, and I give it back to you. You think its not that easy? Of course it is. This is all about perception, right? Your perception of whats holding you back is currently big and bad and terrifying, but those obstacles are only real if you believe in them. Its all in your hands now. Everything that happens from here on out is entirely up to you. This is the hard part because I will tell you right now: nobody will ever care about your dream as much as you do. Ever. Do you hear me, sister? Whether you want to lose weight or write a book or be on TV or travel the world on a speaking tour, you are the steward of your own dreams! Maybe you want to own your own home, get your degree, or save your marriage. Maybe its a shop on Etsy, opening a small business, or getting the lead in the local production of Oklahoma! this fall. Whatever it is, big or small, grandiose or simple, nobody can care about it the way you do! Even if you have a supportive family. Even if you have the greatest friends alive. Even if your spouse is the most uplifting, encouraging human and your number one fan . . . even then, girl, they will not want it as much as you do. It doesnt keep them up at night. It doesnt light their soul on fire. Its your dream. Your own special wish that your heart made long before you were even conscious of it. You want to see it come to fruition? Well then, you have to understand that nobody can take it away from you and ultimately nobody is going to help you achieve it. Not really. You have to decide to pursue your wildest dreams. No matter what they are, no matter how simple or extravagant. No matter if they seem ridiculous to others or maybe even too easy . . . it doesnt matter. Theyre your dreams, and you are allowed to chase themnot because you are more special or talented or well-connected, but because you are worthy of wanting something more. Because you are worthy of not letting your past dictate your future. Start today. Start right now, this very second, and promise yourselfheck, promise methat youll reach for the big stuff. Do you want the big stuff for your life? You wont get there by saying yes. Yes is the easy part. Youll get there by not giving up when you hear the word no. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. Audacity. Its pretty audacious to ignore what other people, even experts, are telling you is right. I think we could all use a little more audacity around these parts. I dont mean that you need to become militant or disrespectful; I just mean you should keep your eyes on your goal, regardless of what gets in your way. 2. Alternate paths. I worry when I give this advice that some random person who listens to the idea of not giving up on her dreams will hear, Go harass people until they give you what you want. Thats not going to get anybody anywhere, and we all know it. Use the no you hear as an indication that you should try an alternative route. 3. Keeping my goals in plain sight. Its easy to focus on your goals when youre fired up or excited about a new project, but focusing becomes harder when life interferes with your direct access to keep working on it. So pin up your dream somewhere you can see it. Im a big fan of displaying visuals inside my closet door to remind me every single day of what my aim is. Currently taped to my door: the cover of Forbes featuring self-made female CEOs, a vacation house in Hawaii . . . and a picture of Beyonc?, obvi. CHAPTER 7 The Lie: IM BAD AT SEX I used to be really bad at sex. Whoa, Nelly! You didnt think I was going therebut I totally am. Im going to talk about sex as a married, Christian woman, and I hope itll be okay. My husband? Hes likely hiding under a rock right now because me writing about this is definitely his worst nightmare. My worst nightmare is getting chased by Bigfoot, so I guess we all have our crosses to bear, Dave. But Dave shouldnt be worried. Im not writing about him; Im writing about me . . . and my bad sex. Im choosing to write about this big, scary, embarrassing thing at the risk of petrifying my in-laws and giving Mema a heart attack because I think its important. I dont think women talk about it enough. Oh sure, the world talks about it. As much as it can, as loud as it can, as often as it can . . . but not in a realistic way. Not in a way that makes tangible sense to a virginal clarinet player whose experience with men when she met her husband was equal to her experience with hunting large game in the African wilds. Which is to say none. None at all. My early opportunities for sexual education included ladies at church (who didnt speak about it within my hearing) or media as a whole, which showed me an ideal that was impossible to achieve. So I walked into my marriage with no realistic idea of what to expect. Which is flipping ridiculous! I wish just one time before I got married someone had said, Look, here are my experiences. Heres what you need to know, heres what you should consider, and also, the first few times you have sex you should pee afterward so you dont get a UTI! Somewhere in Texas an older reader just fainted. Yes, I wrote about a urinary tract infection. If that freaks you out, move right along to the next chapter, sister, because its going to get way more intimate than that. I knew very little about sex other than what I had gleaned from TV or movies . . . so I was terrible at it. And not terrible as in awkward (though I was most definitely that). It was terrible because I was miserable, and I made my husband miserable too. Five years into our marriage, our sex life was nearly nonexistent. By comparison, well celebrate our fourteenth wedding anniversary this yearand now our sex life is the stuff of legends! No, seriously. We do it more than any married couple you knowor at least more often than most married couples with four kids and two full-time jobs. We have sex not out of obligation but because its really, really good. When its really good, why would you not go at it like a couple of howler monkeys whenever you can? Today, its awesome. But it was a long road from there to here, and Im going to tell you all about it in case you find yourself in the same place . . . and because I dont want you to get a UTI. Listen up. I met Dave when I was nineteen years old and he was twenty-seven. I had never even been on a date before, and he didnt know how much younger I was than him. As Ive already told you, when the truth came out a couple of months in, it went over like an obese cat falling off the back fence. It was an ungraceful and violent fall, but we still landed on our feet. Dave has been my best friend since that first year together. He is my favorite human on the planet, and I love him so much it makes my heart want to explode. When we got married, we had the happiest life I couldve possibly dreamed up for myself. And as for sex? We did it like rabbits. We did it like rabbits because thats what youre supposed to do as newlyweds, right? How many times could we do it in a day? How many times in an hour? I would do it in the rain, in the dark, on a train, in a car, in a tree . . . You get the point, Sam I Am. We were having a lot of sex. And I loved it. I loved it because being physically close with him made me feel cherished and adored. I loved it because it made him so happy. It made us so happy. We were newlyweds, we were having sex, and life was good. But as the first couple of years went on and the newness wore off, the joy of the honeymoon phase wore off too. In the beginning my excitement made me bold. As time went on, though, I felt less comfortable, as if a switch had been flipped. I was raised to be this good Christian girl. Now I was supposed to be a sex kitten, but I had no idea how. So I drank. Wed go on a date and Id have just enough wine to feel sexy. Then Id try and do sexy things or act in a sexy way, but I rarely enjoyed it as much as he did. Did I pretend to enjoy it? Heck yes! Thats what youre supposed to do, right? Then I started to resent the fact that I wasnt enjoying it, resented that I thought I should have sex even when I wasnt that excited about it. Then I had a baby, and my body morphed and my stomach stretched out and my boobs leaked and I was exhausted. Sex was basically the least enjoyable thing I could imagine. But I kept doing it, kept pretending that I loved every second. I never once talked to Dave about how I was feelingI was too embarrassed and unsure. I was also nervous about hurting his feelings, so I kept it to myself. More time passed, and our sex life was hanging by a thread. By the time our second son was a toddler, sex barely happened at alland when I came out of the fog of being a mother of two and thought enough to ask Dave about it, the answer was hard to hear. Why dont we have sex anymore? I asked him one night. He looked at me as though the question hurt his feelings. I got tired of being shot down. I was immediately defensive. I dont shoot you down. I always say yes. You might agree, Rachel, but you dont actually want to, and thats worse than not having it at all. Initially, I was pretty annoyed. Here I was taking one for the team, and he was hurt because I wasnt more enthusiastic. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood how right he was. I mightve been agreeing to sex, but I was stiff and uncomfortable, tired and unenthusiastic. Agreeing to it did not mean I was embracing it. My husband could tell I wasnt enjoying it, so rather than asking me to participate halfway, he had just stopped asking altogether. What a bummer. They say the first step to fixing something is admitting you have a problem. Now, I know many of you are super in touch with your own feminine mystique. Youve got the whole sex thing down pat, and you have a hundred orgasms a week. Good for you, sister. Seriously, youre my hero! And the following advice probably isnt for you. For you, what I have to say will sound trite and basic or maybe even na?ve. Thats cool, because these are the things that worked for me, and I share them in case they are helpful to someone who is like me (or who I used to be). Here are the steps I took to go from being bad at sex to being exceptional at sex. There are seven of them . . . one for every day of the week. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. I redefined sex in my own mind. For the longest time, sex symbolized a lot of thingsand not all of them were positive. I decided to change what I thought sex was . . . This might not be what sex is for you, your friends, or the Holy Ghost and all the saints; but going forward I decided that sex was supposed to be a fun experience that would always be more compelling than whatever else I could be doing. Up until that point I was continuously weighing sex against other things (reading a book, watching TV, etc.)and it was playing second fiddle. But if I reminded myself that sex was always an awesome opportunity, then I would presumably want to choose it. 2. I figured out how sex could be an earth-shattering experience. When youre uncomfortable or dont feel sexy or are nervous or shy or whatever, youre not going to enjoy yourself. If youre not enjoying yourself, youre not having good sex. So I asked myself: How can I enjoy this more? Whats holding me back? The answer? Me. Next I spoke with Dave about all the things I was thinking and feeling. It shocked me that after all our years together I could still be so embarrassed, but I pushed through it. We needed to be on the same page, and the only way to get there was by opening up the book and talking to him about it. 3. I read Hebrews 13:4. Part of my hang-ups were related to my being a good Christian girl who couldnt reconcile becoming a freak in the sheets. And then I read Hebrews 13:4: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled (WEB). Now, straight up, Im sure Im not reading this right. Im sure someone who studied theology will tell me that this actually means something different. But what I read, or what I take away when I read that line, is that the things that happen in my bed with my husband cannot be weird or bad or wrong. Let me back up and say there are definitely things that a committed, monogamous couple can do sexually that can be incredibly hurtful to them both. Pornography, for example, is extremely damaging to both the consumer and the people being used as objects for your lust. But the other stuff? Lingerie, leather, toys, role-play, trying every position possible, going at it on the kitchen table, dirty talk, whatever . . . If it turns you on and doesnt hurt you, I say go for it! 4. I embraced my body. Having a low opinion of your body is so damaging to your ability to enjoy sex. I used to worry about whether or not my tummy was tight or if my butt looked okay in those panties. You know what Dave was thinking when I took off my clothes? Boobies! Your partner is just thrilled you showed up, and all those things youre questioning arent helping anyone. I practiced positive self-talk about how great my butt looked or how sexy I was. I did it so much that at some point, I started to believe it. 5. I committed to my orgasm. Okay, just writing that line makes me blush. Im imagining some future book-signing where a reader comes up to my table and says, So . . . you committed to your orgasm. But this is important, and even if it embarrasses me I want you to know it. Back in the day, when we first started having sex, an orgasm for me was like icing on the cake. But heres the thing, ladies: Orgasms are not icing on the cake. Orgasms are the cake! A second orgasm is icing on the cake! Remember how I said that I had to figure out how to make sex the greatest thing ever? Remember how I told you that I wanted to desire it over anything else in my life? You know how you do that? With orgasms! I decided years ago that I would never, and I mean never, again have sex that didnt include an orgasm for me. When I told Dave this plan, he agreed it was the greatest idea Id ever come up with. Because heres the thing: for most of us, our partners are thrilled to give us pleasure; and if were both committed to my orgasm at the outset, it will happen. 6. I had to figure out what turns me on. Oh sure, Id been turned on many times in my life, but Id never truly considered the difference between what really did it for me and what was just situational. Knowing what turns me on was key because, remember, my orgasms were our new endgame, and I dont know how to have one without being turned on. So we experimented until I learned myself and my body better. (Feel free to head back up to the undefiled marriage bed paragraph for a list of ideas.) 7. We committed to having sex every day for a month. Years ago, at the outset of changing up our sex lives, Dave and I initiated something we called Sexy September. We vowed to have sex every day during the month of Septemberno excuses. It was pretty daunting in the beginning, especially with full-time jobs and two little kids. But the end result was fantastic! It gave me the opportunity to experiment and try things out without any pressure. Also, shockingly, having more sex made us want to . . . have more sex. I highly encourage you to pick your own sexy month and go for it! CHAPTER 8 The Lie: I DONT KNOW HOW TO BE A MOM Im the worst pregnant woman youve ever met in your life. No, really. I hate basically every part of pregnancy except the baby you get at the end. I have friends who love it. Like, capital L-O-V-E, wish they could carry one hundred babies and be pregnant forever. I fully support their earth mother calling and the obvious joy they find in being a vessel for human life. But I dont share it. I am thankful for my pregnanciesso stinking thankful to the bottom of my heart that God blessed me with the ability to carry three beautiful little boys to term. I do not take this for granted when I know so many women who pray for the same blessing have not received it. But every single part of pregnancy is hard on me. The morning sickness never once went away after the morning, nor did it end after the first trimester. I put on pregnancy weight like it was my part-time job, then felt incapable of taking it off. My back hurt, my feet hurt, and during my first pregnancy, I got a varicose vein in the most terrible place a human being can get a varicose veinwhich meant I had to wear special weight bearing underwear with each consecutive pregnancy. Sidenote: If you ever are curious about the easiest way to crush a gals spirit, Id recommend searching groin support panties on the internet. But I digress. The point is, Im pretty bad at pregnancy. On top of everything else Ive mentioned, I also dealt with unrelenting fear. What if I ate bologna and contracted listeria? What if my blueberry-sized fetus developed some rare disease since the last time Id had an ultrasound? What if all the Carls Jr. chicken strips I was eating gave him high cholesterol? What if the cord wrapped around his neck? What if the room wasnt ventilated enough when I painted the nursery? What if the placenta previa didnt clear up? What if that vodka Red Bull I drank when I was two weeks pregnant (but didnt yet know it) had hurt him? Seriously, though. What if the cord wrapped around his neck?? The worries were overbearing, and I managed them with the dignity of a geriatric terrierwhich is to say, I barked at anyone who got too close, and I needed a special stepstool to hoist myself in and out of bed. When the blessed event finally occurred, I was ecstatic. First, because I was finally going to meet Jackson Cagea child we had dreamed up and named on a cross-country road trip years before. Also, I was finally going to have my body back to myself. I was euphoric to have made it through the labor, something I honestly believed would be the toughest part of motherhood. But at home with Jackson in all his perfect glory, I was unprepared for how inadequate Id feel as a new mom. I loved him obsessively. I was also terrified of him. All the fears I had while he was inside of me suddenly multiplied by a hundred million. I barely slept at night because I was positive hed stop breathing if I wasnt there to watch him do it. Breastfeeding was hard and painful, and I never produced enough milk to feed the giant offspring Dave and I created. We had to supplement with formula, we had to learn how to manage his reflux, we had to navigate a middle-of-the-night ER visit when he got a high fever at seven weeks oldall while dealing with the soul-sucking loss of sleep. My husband has always been my best friend and my favorite human on earth, but I remember once, when Jackson was about a month and a half old, looking at Dave and sincerely believing I hated him. Like, to the pit of my soul hated him. I like to tell young married couples about the time I hated Dave. I like to tell them because I want them to know how this feeling is totally normal and theyll likely find themselves there now and again. Jackson was six weeks oldwhich, by the way, friends, is the most probable week for real unadulterated hatredand he was still waking up in the night. Its important to emphasize the word still here because I think my young, ignorant, pre-child self thought wed be back to neutral and coasting toward parental bliss by the end of month one. Bless my precious, childlike heart. Becoming new parents is such a fake-out. The first two weeks youre deep in euphoria and, yes, its hard, but people are bringing you casseroles and your mama is still in town to help and you have this perfect little cherub whom you love so much you want to bite the chubby cheeks right off his face. And then the next couple of weeks go by and you settle into a zombie routine. Your boobs start to leak through your clothes, and you havent bathed in a week. Also, your hair is literally the most terrible its ever been, but whatever. Youre getting through it. But by six weeks, the wheels start to fall off. Youre thinking, Why am I so exhausted? Why do I still look like Im five months pregnant? Why am I still spending all my time nursing? And what punk invented cluster feeding? Because I will punch him right in his stupid face! At six weeks, I was a little, um, frustrated with how much I was doing to care for our baby. In other words, I didnt feel Dave was being that helpful and the responsibility of managing most of it by myself was overwhelming. I didnt mention any of this to him, though. I just bottled it up nice and tight and shoved it down deep where it could never bother anybody. Everyone knows thats the best way to handle your problems, right? Then one day we were chatting about something, and Chernobyl fell out of his mouth. Im tired. Thats what he said. Those were the words. My world shifted on its axis and my eyes widened to eight times their natural size, but he didnt notice. He was too busy talking: I am just so exhausted from waking up early this morning, blah, blah, blah, more ill-conceived words. You know that TV show Snapped? Its a docu-style series about real-life crimes where women just snap and try to take down someone on the way. That was me. I went full-on Sybil. I was crying, I was laughing, I was trying to figure out who would raise this baby if I strangled Dave with the plastic tubing from my breast pump. To quote one of the most famous sayings in our entire marriage, I shouted/cried, On my wedding day I never thought I could hate you as much as I hate you right now! It was not my best moment. But luckily for me, Dave, and all the other humans on this planet, relationships are full of opportunities for grace. Even when the baby started sleeping (and we started sleeping), I was a mess. I loved Jackson, but I didnt really feel bonded to him. I was so terrified of doing something wrong that I never let myself relax. I was so focused on housework and chores and making sure his onesie stayed spotless that I never just enjoyed my time as a new mom. I think because I was so worried about failing him, I ended up failing myself. Because I was so concerned with how we should all look as a family, I didnt take the time to let myself feel connected. I continued this pattern with my second son, Sawyer, so that when I became a mother of two, I had a serious case of postpartum depression. I spent almost every day imagining what it would be like to run away from home. I sat in our living room, breast-feeding my week-old baby while a twenty-month-old ran around a living room littered with toys and dirty diapers I hadnt yet thrown away, and Id think, I should just drive away and never look back. Everyone here would be better off without me. Because I didnt feel I was succeeding at being a momthe one thing I should innately know how to doI was positive I was a failure. In retrospect I can recognize that my perception of this role was based on images I saw online and in magazines, but at the time I was too sleep-deprived to know I was chasing an impossibility. I had spent so much time worrying about not living up to some Pinterest-worthy standard that I completely lost who I actually was. Oh, those were dark days. When I look at pictures of that time, my hair might be combed and I might even be wearing some lipstickbut my eyes look haunted. So this chapter is for the new mamas or soon-to-be mamas. Listen up! You dont have to have it all figured out. You dont have to know everything. The mechanics of keeping a newborn alive are fairly simple. Feed it, cuddle it, love it, change it when its wet, keep it warm, cuddle it again. A new mothers daily list of goals should boil down to 1. Take care of the baby. 2. Take care of yourself. Boom. The end. Darn it, you didnt get to the laundry today? Look at your list again: Did you take care of the baby? Yes. Did you take care of yourself? Also yes. Oh, I think youre crushing this new-mom business then. I guess the laundry can wait. Whats that, youre sad because you havent lost the baby weight? Check out your handy-dandy to-do list with exactly two items on it. Is the baby still alive? Awesome. How about youare you still breathing in and out? Well then, it looks like youre the greatest mom ever. Keep on trucking! Pinterest is awesome, and decorating your nursery in perfectly coordinating colors is half the fun of having a child. Looking at Instagram? Heck, I still look at all those pregnant Instagrammers for adorable bump-appropriate wardrobe tips, and Im not even pregnant! It makes sense to look outside ourselves when were unsure about something new, and we are rarely as uncertain as we are during new motherhood. But let me tell you thisbecause I didnt understand it until years later . . . The God who made the moon and the stars and the mountains and the oceans, the Creator who did all of those things, believed that you and your baby were meant to be a pair. That doesnt mean youre going to be a perfect fit. That doesnt mean you wont make mistakes. It does mean that you need not fear failure because you cant fail a job you were created to do. Somewhere some cynical reader is thinking about all the parents who do fail. There are plenty of mamas who make bad choices, who hurt themselves or their children. As a former foster parent, I know firsthand that there are babies suffering right now from abuse and neglect, and even if a divine plan brought them to their mamas, it might not be the best answer for them to stay there. But Im not speaking about those mamas. Im talking to you. Dont be overwhelmed with anxiety that your baby should be on a sleep schedule, eating organic foods, or sitting up by now. Im talking to the person who is reading all of the books and all of the articles and feels overwhelmed by whats right when there are so many possible wrongs. The very fact that you are so concerned, sweet friend, means youre engaged and focused and dedicated to doing whats best. That makes you the best kind of parent. The rest will take care of itself. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. Finding a tribe. Join a church group, go to mommy-and-me yoga, or look online for a club to join. Look for a group of women who understand what it means to be a new mom too. There is so much power in solidarity. There is so much grace when youre talking with someone who also has baby puke on her shirt. 2. Staying away from Pinterest. For the love of all that is holy, nobody should be allowed on Pinterest after a big life event. Why? Because you feel like youre missing out, or that your life, nursery, or post-baby body should look like what youre finding on the internet. Pay attention to what is giving you anxiety or making you question yourself. If its social media, then do your heart a favor and take a break from it. I promise it will still be there when youre getting more sleep and feeling less emotional. 3. Getting out of the house. Every. Single. Day. The best thing you can do for yourself, your sanity, and your baby is to leave the scene of the crime. Leave the place with the dishes in the sink and the overflowing Diaper Genie. Put your baby in a carrier or a stroller and go on a walk around the neighborhood. Put in some headphones and listen to Beyonc? or Adele or a podcast on business ethics. Do whatever you have to do to remind yourself that there is a life beyond your nest and that you are still part of it. 4. Talking to someone about my feelings. An effective way for us to overcome lies is to speak them aloud to a partner. Whether you choose your spouse, your friend, or a trusted family member, sharing with them that youre struggling can give you the support you need to see all of the falsities that are popping up in your life. CHAPTER 9 The Lie: IM NOT A GOOD MOM If were going to talk about how much I struggled as a new mom, then we also have to talk about how much I have struggled as a mom in general. Navigating what it means to be a mother while dealing with a newborn baby is brutal . . . but what comes next? Thats an emotional mind-screw of epic proportions. When my oldest was seven, he crushed my soul over Cheerios. You know what you need, Mommy? he asked me one morning while I was pouring cereal into a bowl shaped like a bulldogs face. When a child gives you an opener like that, the conversation could go in any direction imaginable. Maybe I needed a superhero cape or a new spatula or pink hair. His train of thought could go anywhere. What? I wanted to know. What do I need? You need one of those necklaces with our initials on them. You know, the ones with the letters for each kids name? At the time monogram charm necklaces were all the rage. Yes, I know those necklaces. You should get one of those. All the moms at my school have them, he told me between bites. You need to get one too. Okay . . . I was a bit confused. Why do I need to get one? He smiled at me happily. So you can finally be like all the other moms. Finally. Like all the other moms. A handful of words shouldnt crush youshouldnt make you question yourself as a mother. But when youre already questioning yourself, and then someonenot just your son but anyonebrings up the exact thing youve been worried about, it doesnt really take much to push you over the edge. I hadnt worried about what my jewelryor lack thereofsaid about me as a mom, but I was glaringly aware of how different I was from the other mothers at Jacksons school events. I just didnt know that hed noticed as well. I grappled with his statement for days . . . His suggestion to be like all the other moms meant that he recognized I wasnt like them already. It meant that he saw me as differentand when youre little, all you really want is to be just like everybody else. What he noticed is that Im not like the other moms because I work . . . a lot. I very rarely get to drop him off at school or pick him up. Because of that, I made a special effort to volunteer in his classroom every other weekbut that wasnt right either, because even though I sat in the teeny tiny chair cutting papers and stuffing homework folders like the other volunteers, I wasnt in jeans or yoga pants. I was in high heels and a white blazer that I should have known better than to wear on the day they were making teepees out of brown modeling clay. (Another mom was sure to point that out to me.) I was wearing that outfit because directly following that session at school I was heading to a meeting. Like most working moms, my life is a constant juggling act. Sometimes it looks like a perfectly orchestrated ballet where Im able to flit back and forth between the kids activities and work activities. Other times it looks like a triage unit where Im doing everything I can to keep up with the need around me and yet still dropping the ball on priorities that feel like they are slipping away before I can get to them. At the time I hoped that committing to extra projects for my boys would make up the difference. So Id overwhelm an already overwrought schedule by agreeing to plan the big fund-raiser for their class, or being on the board at preschool, or taking off an afternoon to cover soccer practice. I thought the extra effort would win me brownie points with my boys, but it didnt. My children were little, and their memory stretched only as far as yesterday. Even now they dont care about todays business trip, my looming book deadline, or the staff at my office who count on me to pull my weight. My kids care that their friends moms went on the museum field trip yesterday and I didnt because I was flying to Chicago for work. Having kids in school feels stressful for me. My three little people have totally different schedules to keep track of, and my baby girl has her own agenda. Theres paperwork: both the kind that accumulates in massive piles in the first couple of weeks and the loose-leaf permission slips and sign-up forms that I find shoved into backpacks throughout the year. Also, school lunches. Im pretty regimented about using a system to keep their lunches organized, but now that the boys are older, they want to have lunch at schoolbut only on specific days. So now tracking the cafeteria calendar is a part-time job, as is making sure their lunch cards have enough money on them to get the teriyaki chicken this Thursday. There are field trips and performances. There are bake sales and carnivals. There are dropoffs and pickups and banking days when they get out an hour early, and if Jackson (God bless him!) didnt remind me about them, Id likely forget every single one. There are so many things to remember, and I guess what ultimately stresses me out is the idea that other momsat school or out there in the wild worldare somehow way better at keeping track of this than I am. I am one of the most organized people I have ever met, and even with all of my planning, I still am constantly forgetting thingsor remembering them at midnight the night before theyre due. And no matter what I do or create or volunteer for, some mythical other mom at school has done it better. Yes, Mommy, you can buy the T-shirt we need for make-your-own-T-shirt day, but Liams mom grew organic cotton plants. Then she hand-separated the seed from the fiber before spinning it into thread and fabric for the shirt she sewed him herself. I cant even begin to keep up, and the stress of trying to do so can make me crazy. So this year I made a big decision. Im over it. I am utterly over the idea of crushing back-to-school timeor any other part of school for that matter! I do some parts of it well. Our morning routine might be choreographed chaos, but we are never late to school. My kids (with the exception of the four-year-old) are well groomed and well mannered, and they get good grades. Beyond that, they are good peoplethe kind of kids who befriend the outcasts and the loners. Sure, they attack each other at home and are dramatic enough about their lack of access to technology to earn themselves Oscars, but whatever. We are doing pretty goodand pretty good is way better than trying to fake perfection any day of the week. So I might not volunteer in the classroom this yearthough count me in for store-bought goodies at the class parties. And I might not make it to every field trip, because even if it means Im the jerk of all jerks, I hate chaperoning field trips. Alsogird your loinsa babysitter will likely pick up my boys from school more than I will. I wish our town would extend more grace for this . . . perhaps the same level of grace extended to working fathers who arent able to make pickup either? Mom, you should parent in whatever way works for your family and spend less time worrying about other peoples perceptions of how youre doing. Can we stop being so hard on ourselves and instead focus on the good work we are doing, the results of which are evident in the awesome little people were raising? What if we all went into the next school year with the simple intention of just gracefully doing our best? Meaning, lets try our darndest to turn in every slip on time and remember every Wacky Hair Wednesday, all the while knowing that well inevitably forget something, be too busy to volunteer, or fail to compete with Liams mom and her non-GMO custom gingerbread kits for every member of the class. Can we agree that imperfection is okay? Liams mom is awesome at her thingbut you and me? Were awesome at ours. We can walk into the school year and remember that were raising our children into the adults they will become. Our valiant endeavor will take us a lifetime of effort. A single day, or even a handful of days, when you arent mom of the century wont make or break your kids. Its the intention to do well that will see them through. Its the lessons in grace and self-care and realistic expectations, where you teach them about what youre capable of, that will truly serve them later on. Choose a handful of things that you rock as a school mom, then knock those out of the park as often as you can. The other stuff? Give yourself the permission to do the best you can and the grace to be peaceful on the days when you miss the mark. My childrens attitudes will shift and grow over time. I believe that the very thing that makes me so different nowthe company I runis one of the things that will make me cool when theyre older. I hope Im creating something theyll be proud of. I hope Im showing them the power of following their dreams and the value of entrepreneurship. I hope so many things for the future . . . but often those dont help me with today. Today I am on yet another business trip, my third in as many weeks. Today Jackson is nervous about rehearsing his lines to audition for the class musical, and its hard to accept because Im good at musical theater but not there to help him. Today Ford has a cough and a fever, and hes been clingy and fighting us on bedtime. But I wont be there to help Dave manage him this evening around eight oclock when he decides hes meant to stay up all night like a club promoter from the eighties. Theres always something. Something that can overwhelm me and make me question whether or not Im doing any of this correctly. That anxiety I felt when they were first born didnt exactly go away. It manifested and grew like a yeast starter. The only difference between now and then is that Im better able to see that narrative for the lie that it is. Being a perfect mom is a mythbut being a pretty great mom, most of the time, is actually possible. I dont believe in one best way to parent. In fact, I think it could be pretty damaging to our children if we tried to impose the ideals of someone else onto how our family should function. The Hollis boys are sarcastic. They get that from their parents. Dave and I think its hilarious, and we admire their quick wit. But in your house, their sarcasm might be seen as disrespectful. Likewise, Im incredibly strict with manners. I want yes maams and no sirs. I demand pleases and thank yous, and if someone says something inappropriate or rude at my dinner table, they will be asked to leave. But maybe in your house that seems over the top. Maybe at your table you burp the alphabet after every meal and then laugh like maniacs together. If so, awesome. Mama, there is no one way to be a mother. Theres also no one way to be a family. Remember when I was talking to the new moms about the daily requirements: keep the baby alive, and keep yourself alive as well? Well, the list for older children might be extended, but the intention is still the same. You need to care, truly care that you are raising your babies to grow up to be good people. You need to do the work today to ensure that it happens. On some days you will knock it out of the ballpark, and on other days you will scream the house down, wondering who replaced your children with changelings who have horrible manners and no respect. Good news! Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow youll count to ten before you lose your temper, and maybe theyll eat every bite of the dinner you made and say something so hilarious youll think, Man, people without kids are totally missing out! You will experience every kind of day as a mama, and you will need to accept the grab bag of good, bad, ugly, awesome, magical, and miserable days as a parent. You dont have to get it right all the time. You dont have to do things like anybody elses mom. You only have to care. Not only about them, but also about yourself. You cannot properly take care of your children or teach them how to be whole and happy people if you are miserable and harsh with yourself. That means doing the absolute best with them that you can. That means calling in reinforcements in the form of friends, your spouse, your mama, or the playland at your local gym when youre fraying at the edges and need a break. That means giving yourself time alone and away from the precious cherubs who are driving you crazy. Get a manicure, go for a run, or call up your college roommate for dinner. Better yet, plan a whole weekend if you can. Imagine two full days without once wiping anyones nose. Imagine being called by your actual first name! Can you imagine sleeping in? Oh my gosh, girl, you are going to sleep so hard. Or maybe youll get a massage. Or maybe hole up somewhere all day watching Drew Barrymore movies on TBS . . . The world is your oyster! Then imagine coming home feeling uplifted and renewed, feeling better able to manage the squeals and screams and requests to have the crust cut off without wanting to lock yourself in the closet. Imagine living your motherhood out from now until forever, without guilt. Imagine caring for your children and yourself simultaneously without constantly questioning every decision you make. Its possible. Its also a choice. You have to choose not to compare. Dont compare your family to other families or yourself to other women or moms at school. You have to choose not to compare your children eithernot to your friends kids and most definitely not to each other. I am not saying that you shouldnt strive to improve yourself as a parent; and when it comes to kids, your job is to help them become their best selves. But sister, please, please, please stop allowing your fear of getting it wrong to color every beautiful thing youre doing right. Years ago I had to make a choice. Either I had to embrace being a working mom and be wholly proud of what I was doing, or I had to quit and commit to being a stay-at-home mom. Constantly castigating myself for my choices wasnt fair to my children, and it definitely wasnt fair to me. I also wasnt setting a great example for them. Did I really want them to see me spending my life pursuing a dream while also anxiously acting as though I didnt deserve that right? Absolutely not. A couple years ago, when I was trying to lose the baby weight from my second son, I went to visit my first trainer. She was a battle-ax of a woman with a fondness for burpees (clearly in league with the Devil), and more than once I puked after the time I spent with her. Jerk. One day we were talking about my dietat the time I was still going through a bad breakup with Carls Jr.and she asked me, Would you ever feed your child the food you feed yourself? At the time I had a habit of going half a day without eating, then binging on anything and everything in sight. I was horrified by the question because I put so much time and energy into what my boys ate. No, of course I wouldnt ever feed my children the way I feed myself. Later, a version of this question became the lifeline I used to pull myself back from the brink of debilitating mom guilt. Would I ever want my children to feel this way? Would I ever want them to pursue the desire of their heart, the profession that lights their soul on firebe it a stay-at-home parent or cosmonaut or entrepreneurbut then constantly second-guess every choice they made because it doesnt look like everyone elses social media feed? Oh my gosh, you guys, the very idea makes my heart want to stop. I would never want them to struggle with their worth as I have. I would never want them to question themselves to the point of anxiety. I would never want them to think their entire parenting career could be summarily dismissed over Cheerios on a random school morning. So I made a decision. I will do my best, and I will trust that my best is exactly what God intended for these babies. So I choose my battles. I do the best I can with the time I have, and I bend and stretch for the stuff that seems particularly important, even if it only makes sense in the mind of a seven-year-old. One season Sawyer announced that he only liked my sandwiches for lunchnot Daddys. I started getting up early each day to make sure I was the only one who made their lunch. When Jackson told me he wanted to start running with me, I bought him shoes and went on the slowest mile-long jog the world has ever known. And when he told me I should get a necklace like the other moms . . . I got one. I got that necklace, but there are still a hundred reasons why I dont fit into all of this as neatly as other women do. For example: I hate organized sports. Being a sports mom is sort of a badge of honor, right? Your kids get into soccer or baseball or hockey or gymnastics or whatever, and you jump right in along with them. All over Facebook and social media are pictures of mamas joyfully cheering from the sidelines. My girlfriend Kate recently told me she nearly lost her voice cheering at her sons game because she was so excited to be there. I love Kate for that: she is so quintessentially that sports mom whos in for every single part of it. But I am not. I love my kids more than anything on this planet. But sports? Meh. Sports arent really my thing. For several years I beat myself up because I dreaded having our Saturdays disrupted by a game schedule. I felt like a crappy mom because I should want to be out there watching my son play soccer or baseball, but I really didnt. Oh sure, on the outside I cheered and yelled and made the special game-day snacks, but on the insideand I know Ill get flak for this admissionI thought (and still think) its kind of boring. My husband? He could not be more thrilled to be there. He loves sports of any kind, and I suspect watching his sons play them might be on his list of top three favorite things on this planet. But I dont get it. I mean, Im happy the boys are happy. Im thrilled that theyre involved in a team sport, learning the benefits of physical activity and gaining confidence in themselves. Beyond that? Its just not my favorite thing. And I know there are those of you who dont understand this perspective. For you, these kinds of activities make your heart sing. For you, these kinds of moments are exactly what you imagined when you dreamed of being a momand I think its so rad that you feel that way. Its awesome that we each get to experience moments of blissed-out mama pride with our babies, but what evokes that is different for every one of us. If time has taught me anything, its that our differences are what make this life unique. None of us are exactly like the other, and that is a good thing because theres no right way to be. The room mom, the working mother, the woman without children, the retired grandma, the mom who co-sleeps, the mama who bottle-fed her baby, the strict mom, the hipster mom, the one who lets her kid go shoeless, or the one who enrolls her baby in music enrichment classes at birthwhoever, whatever you are, youre adding spice and texture and nuance into this big beautiful soup of modern-day parenting. I can look at other mamas and learn from them. I can also leave the things that dont strike me as authentic or practical for our family. You can do the same for your own. That is the beauty of growing and learning and figuring out exactly who you are. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. I looked at the evidence. I used to spend so much time obsessing over all the things I was doing wrong as a mom. But you know what? My kids are awesome! Oh sure, they drive me bonkers at times, but they get great grades and are kind and welcoming to everyone they meet. Im the one they come to when theyre hurt. Im the one they call out for in the night if they have a bad dream. Our bond is strong and unbreakable, which doesnt change simply because Im a working mother. Look at the evidence in your own life. If youre raising arsonists who are rude to their grandma . . . well, maybe you need to seek out some help. But if your kids are basically good most of the time, then cut yourself some slack. 2. I made friends with the other moms. Yes, the ones your kids are comparing you to. Yes, the ones youre comparing yourself to. If theyre at all human, then chances are they can tell you that theyre also worried about screwing up their kids. Yes, Samanthas mom who sewed one hundred sequins onto one hundred buttons onto the hat she made by hand all to celebrate the one hundredth day of school? Yep. Shes worried about her parenting too. The emperor has no clothes, yall, and unless you seek out the truth, youre never going to know it. 3. I focused on quality. When Im stressing about parenting, its usually because I feel like Im lacking for quality time with my kids. Quality time means Im not on the phone or near a computer or talking to another adult. Usually it looks like reading, playing Candy Land, going on movie dates, or cooking with them. When I focus my energy on them, thats when I really feel content that Im doing a good job. CHAPTER 10 The Lie: I SHOULD BE FURTHER ALONG BY NOW Last week I sat around with a group of women enjoying a glass of wine and a chat. The women around me were all ages, came from different cities, and had various backgrounds. Some had families, some didnt, but all of them were what I would describe as successful. The topic of age came up and whether or not we liked to celebrate our birthdays and the passing of another year. The general consensus was definitely not. This threw me for a loop. Im one of those people who loves her own birthday. I plan it months in advance and make long lists of things I want to do (wear sweatpants all day!) or what I want to eat (spinach artichoke dip with a funfetti cake for dessert!). I look forward to it with the same childlike glee as I did as a third grader. Its not just the actual celebration I like either; I wear each passing year with pride, and I truly dont care what age I am one way or another. I know that women dont like growing older. That clich? has been around for as long as weve recorded history, Im sure. But I had never really asked anyone why they felt that way. So I asked this group of ladies. I wanted to know what they disliked so much about growing older. The answer, at its core, was the same for every single person. I expected some reference to looking older or even feeling older physically. Id always assumed it had to do with lost youth, and maybe for certain people thats true. But this groups issue with passing time wasnt about what was happening. They disliked growing older because of what wasnt happening. You see, theyd all made plans. As little girls or adolescents or women in their early twenties, theyd made all sorts of them. Little plans and big plans and grandiose shoot-for-the-moon plans that they assumed would have been accomplished long before now. And while they had checked many things off their list, there were still those nagging few . . . the hanging chads of wishes and dreams that still hadnt come to fruition. So, for them, birthdays served as a reminder of all the things they hadnt achieved. For some, they fell short of a career or financial goal. Others wanted to be married or have children. They had set themselves on some sort of course long ago, and each year they didnt reach that preconceived destination was a harsh reminder of the promises they were breaking to themselves. Who hasnt fallen for this lie? I cant count the number of times in my life when Ive beaten myself up because I thought my goals had expiration dates. (As a sidenote: What a downer attitude about a day that is supposed to be filled with buttercream icing!) But, ladies, we need to recognize that this mentality doesnt do any of us any good. Were focusing all of our attention on the absence of something. Imagine a little baby taking her first step. Shes joyful and chubby and shes been balancing in place without holding on to the coffee table for weeks now. Finally, finally, she takes her first coltish stumble from the relative safety of the side table, then wobbles across the perils of the living room rug to grasp the edge of the sofa. She gets there and looks up at you with elation and pride and so much excitement. Now imagine you give her a quick, brittle smile and demand, Yes, Chloe, thats fine, but why arent you running by now? Can you imagine the dismay that baby girl would feel? What kind of parent has that kind of reaction to a child whos just learning to do something new? It would be unheard of for a mother to react so harshly, to judge a baby on what she hasnt yet had the time or life experience to figure out. And yet . . . and yet we do it to ourselves all the time. Our own negative self-talk can be more damaging than the emotional abuse heaped on us by a hateful parent. Its also far more insidious because theres nobody there to stop it, since we rarely even realize its happening. Beating ourselves up about all the things we think were doing wrong becomes a litany of white noise. Eventually we dont even hear it anymore. And for what? Because you thought youd be partner at your firm by forty? Because you cant believe how much weight youve gained since having kids? Because your sister is already married and youre not even dating anyone? Because you dropped out of college and didnt get your degree? And youre thinking with every passing hour and day and week that its too late? I call bull crap. God has perfect timing. If you arent of a similar faith, think of it as everything happening exactly when its supposed to. You look at your life and the eight things you thought youd have accomplished by thirty-five and feel depressed. But maybe its just that you dont have enough life experience yet. Youre like the baby whos balancing in the middle of the room on chubby baby thighsmaybe you have to get your bearings for a while longer. Or maybe that goal wasnt ever meant to be yours. Maybe you are destined for something so much cooler, which wont come until five years down the road. Maybe you have to walk through this space youre in to be ready for that. Nothing is wasted. Every single moment is preparing you for the next. But whether or not you choose to see this time as something wonderfulthe time when God is stretching you and growing you or maybe forging you in fires hotter than you think you can withstandall of it is growing you for the person youre becoming, for a future you cant even imagine. When I decided to try and get pregnant for the first time, I thought Id snap my fingers and be expecting the next minute. It took eight months to conceive. Eight months of hoping, eight months of crying every time I got my period, eight months of trying not to be jealous of the women around me who were pregnant, eight months of being sad when it didnt happen the way I thought it should. The morning I finally took a test that showed me two pink lines, I ran over to the mirror to look at my face. I kept thinking, I never want to forget how I looked when I found out I would be a mother. I can still see myself in that mirror, wide-eyed and filled with shock and wonder. Jackson Cage Hollis was born on January 30, 2007, and he is one of the greatest joys in my life. He loves computer games, cooking with me, and wears a stack of rainbow-colored rubber bracelets on his right wrist at all times because theyre cool, Mom, thats why. Guys, if I had gotten pregnant at any point during those eight months of trying, I wouldnt have had Jackson. God has perfect timing. I used to dream of being the biggest event planner in Los Angeles. I wanted a big staff and a fancy office and the highest-paying clients in town. Year after year I kept thinking, This is the year Ill need a staff of twenty. This is the year Ill produce the Governors Ball. This is the year Ill bring home a million dollars. (Im a dreamer, youll recall.) And every year we grew but not as big as I hoped, and Id feel so depressed that I wasnt as successful as I wanted to be. Then my little blogwhich was only ever supposed to be a marketing tool for the events companystarted to grow a fan base, and I absolutely loved testing out recipes for them or talking about how to decorate a living room. Eventually the site became my full-time business, and a college dropout without any knowledge of tech or digital media found herself running a lifestyle media company with fans in the millions. Beyond that, this work is so much more fun and gratifying than the events ever were. If Id had the biggest events company in LA with the staff and the millions, I wouldnt have had time to write the little blog that would eventually become my career and change the trajectory of my life completely. God has perfect timing. Dave and I walked through a long adoption journey. Nearly five years ago we started the process to adopt a little girl from Ethiopia. After mountains of paperwork and nearly a year of filing and preparing and getting fingerprints done for the hundredth time, we were officially vetted and waiting for a match. Two years of waiting later, the adoption program in Ethiopia imploded and we found out that continuing to wait for a match was futile. We had to mourn the loss of the life, and the daughter, we had imagined for ourselves. We started over. We decided to adopt through foster care in LA County because we recognized that the need was great. During that journey we took in two little girls through foster care, and I sobbed for weeks after they had to leave us. Two months later we got a call about newborn twin girls that would be ours. We brought them home from the hospital at six days old, we named them, and I experienced a love that cant properly be explained. Unbeknownst to us, their biological father decided he wanted them, and five weeks later the babies I thought were my daughters were taken back. I wasnt sure how to think or feel, and I truly didnt know if I had it in me to try again for adoption. I knew I was letting my fear control me, that the worry about giving my heart away again only to have it stomped on kept me from taking a next step. In the midst of such heartache, its hard not to worry. I cried so many tears, thinking, Lord, why would you put this desire on my heart if it wasnt ever going to come true? And, God, if we try again, youre not actually sending my heart out to be slaughtered, right? Because this process with court dates and bio parents and doctor visits and trauma and the Department of Child and Family Servicesthat was already hard enough . . . Youre not going to eviscerate us at the end of this, right? Right?! Amid these fearful thoughts, I heard him ask me, Do you have faith in my plan or not? That is what it boils down to: faith. The belief that your life will unfold as it was meant to, even when it unfolds into something painful and difficult to navigate. Do I believe he has a plan? Absolutely. Ive seen the proof of it too many times to consider anything else. That means I have to hold on to that belief even when the process isnt simple or easy or safe. I could make a list for you all day. I could point out a hundred different moments in my life when I thought I should have something and was so upset about not getting it, only to discover in retrospect that it wasnt ever meant to be mine. Looking back, I think that was the case with my daughter. The other girls were only meant to be ours for a little whileand for whatever reason, we were only meant to be theirs for a short time. We were a part of each others journey, a stop along the way to the ultimate destination, even if we wont be there to see each other reach it. As I sit editing this chapter, my daughter is asleep in a bouncy seat on the kitchen table next to my computer. Just five months after the twins left, five months after I could not imagine trying to adopt again, we were matched with her first-mom through independent adoption. That season was filled with anxiety. I was so terrified of the things that could go wrongthat had gone wrong in the pastthat I could hardly function. But what came out of the experience was a relationship with both Noah and her first family that is so special it could only have been crafted by the divine. And yet again I am reminded that God has perfect timing. If you have a goal, thats fantastic! I am one of the most motivated people you will ever meet, and my list of life goals is nine miles long. But Ive learned that along with my list of goals, I have to give myself some grace. Being married by twenty-five, pregnant at thirty, and the president of my division before I turned forty are just arbitrary numbers. Because guess what? None of those preconceived notions or plans for myself worked out. Marriage and babies came way earlier than I thought . . . and career success came way later. Turns out, the most beautiful things in my life were never on my to-do list. Today there may be items on your to-do list, but you also have a long list of things you have achieved. Youve already done little things and big things . . . goals you accomplished years ago that are on someone elses bucket list. Focus on what you have done. Pay attention to the tiny steps you took across the living room carpet on wobbly legs. Celebrate the small moments. Theyre sacred, even if they arent stepping stones to something else. Nothing is more important than today. God has perfect timing, and its highly possible that by not being where you thought you should be, you will end up exactly where youre meant to go. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. Making a list. Seriously. List out everything youve accomplished to date. In fact, write yourself a letter about your tenacity! I took a workshop with Elizabeth Gilbert last year, and she asked us to do thisto speak from the part of ourselves that has achieved so much, that refused to back down. You want to see a room full of people sobbing? Ask them to do this task. When you force yourself to admit to all the things you have accomplished, youll realize that its wrong to be so hard on yourself for all the things you havent. 2. Talking to someone. Many times we dont admit to the way were feeling because were too embarrassed. But when you have someone you can talk to, who will listen to you say, I feel worthless because Im not a rock star by now, then you can experience the balm of their validation. Are you kidding me right now?! theyll say. Look at all the rad things youve done! You are amazing. Stop being so hard on yourself! Remember, when you keep silent, you give those lies power. 3. Setting goals, not time limits. I love goals. They can help you become your best self . . . but big dreams shouldnt have expiration dates. As long as youre working toward the things you hope to accomplish, it shouldnt matter if it takes you a month or a decade. CHAPTER 11 The Lie: OTHER PEOPLES KIDS ARE SO MUCH CLEANER/BETTER ORGANIZED/MORE POLITE Ive spoken at my fair share of MOPS groups over the years, and I personally believe there will be a special place in heaven for anyone who has lived through the season of raising a preschooler. Like with most talks Im asked to give, I get the question about what Id like to speak on when it comes to parenting. Sometimes they even have a theme for me to work with, such as Better Together or A Journey into . . . On these occasions I try and work into the theme based on what I know well. A Journey into the Left Side of the Taco Bell Menu . . . A Journey into Books with a Vampire and Werewolf Love Triangle . . . A Journey into Finally Learning the Cha-Cha Slide to Impress Your Kids Just Before the Whip/Nae Nae Brought You Back to Square One . . . Inevitably I sit down and do my best to work up some thoughtful, poignant discussion based on the proposed theme. A Journey into Understanding the Gospel, perhaps? Or: A Journey into Finding Peace. But when I try to sit down and write out my thoughts, I cant organize them . . . Life gets in the way, kids get in the way, work, bedtime, dinnertime, naptime . . . It all gets in the way. I find myself thinking, Lord! How do you expect me to speak about anything if I never get a moments peace?! Im running around here like my hair is on fire, and youre asking me to share wisdom with other women? You want me to talk about my faith?! Im so tired I cant even spell faith! And I hear that still, small voice . . . That is what I want you to speak about. This is probably the impetus for most if not all of the things Ive ever done that resonated with other women and were therefore successful. I was struggling, and rather than try and sugarcoat it or pretend it wasnt happening, I simply acknowledged my struggles in my work. So I am not going to talk about finding your peace; Im going to talk about embracing your chaos. Lets be honest: this is way more likely a scenario because I dont know a woman alive today who can slow down long enough to find her keys, let alone a continuous state of inner peace. If you ever happened to find your peaceful inner bliss while raising children, please dont tell the rest of us. Itll only make us sad, and I eat raw cake batter when Im sad. I run a lifestyle media company that specializes in creating content for women. The tent pole of that company is the website, and every day a large fan base of ladies from all over the world checks in to figure out what to make for dinner or how to DIY a throw pillow or organize their kids for school or which outfits they should try for fall. Im reminding you of that so youll remember that I literally offer women advice for a living. Every single bit of the work I do is created to help make womens lives easier. This is crucial because Im about share an entire chapter on running toward chaos, on walking through hard things, on accepting the season youre ineven when it sucks. A decade of doing this job has taught me something, and I have a pretty strong theory. Ironically, I think embracing chaos might be the path to finding peace. Have you ever heard of the chaos theory? Chaos theory is the field of study in mathematics that identifies the behavior and condition of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditionsa response popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. FYI, I Googled that. Ive never in my life written out a sentence with the words dynamical systems before or since this moment. The butterfly effect is a long-ago term based on the idea that if you tracked the path of a hurricane from its inception, youd find that it was all caused by a change in air pressure from the flap of a butterflys wings three weeks prior and halfway across the world. In simple terms, it just means that small things can have monstrous effects. Chaos looks like: my three-year-old waking up at least once a night and battling to sleep in our bed; my website crashing and needing hours of repair; my brother-in-law making a trip to the hospital; my husband traveling for ten days on business; me getting hives or Bells palsy or stress-induced vertigo; me spilling an entire gallon of milk; a bird pooping in my hair; a baby pooping in my hair; me fighting with my husband, my mom, my sister, or my husbands moms sister . . . Yall can fill in the blank with your own personal brand of chaos because we all have it. Every single one of us is living in chaos, and we handle it in one of three ways: 1. We ignore it. This is one of my favorite methods of chaos management. I pretend it isnt there. I keep my head down and keep working harder and harder because nobody can hit a moving target. The problem with ignoring your chaos is that chaos by nature is incredibly stressful. Its like trying to pretend youre not really sick when you clearly have the flu. You can try to mind-over-matter it, but ultimately, stress always catches up to you, and your body will react in negative ways. For me, my stress has reacted with Bells palsy or vertigo. My big sister gets hives when shes stressed out. Another friend gets insomnia. You may think its not affecting you directly, but it will come outand likely in ways that arent healthy for you or your family. 2. We battle it. Typically we battle chaos on a completely different field from the one we really need to address. So, in response to our relationships being stressful, we might clean the kitchen. Well clean the bedroom and the front room. We clean the kitchen again. We brush our kids hair and wipe their faces and cry when they get ketchup on their church clothes. We do everything in our power to have a picture-perfect existence, because maybe then the inside will match the outside. The problem with a battle is that we will always lose. If we believe we can do enough or organize enough or plan enough to make sure that nothing is ever difficult, we will only make ourselves feel like a failure when life is too hard. Life is crazy and stressful, and sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. Losing a battle against regular, everyday life makes us feel impotent and angry. It makes us feel out of control. 3. We drown in it. We get overwhelmed by housework, regular work, family, and friends. The stressful things become all we see. It feels insurmountableand no matter what we do, it doesnt get better. We slip into wallowing. We complain, we crawl under the covers, and we let the chaos win. The problem is, drowning means suffocating. And if we choose to stay underwater without kicking our way to the surface, we eventually forget how to swim. Sister, you are stronger than this. Youve got babies to raise and bills to pay and a life to liveand you cant do that if youre hiding under the covers! Also, each of these waysavoiding, battling, and drowningis a prime platform for the false life preserver of substance abuse. You can use food to avoid facing your life. You can get drunk as a way to drown your sorrows. You can reach for so many negative substances to take your mind away from the chaos around youand many of us do so without realizing that were developing a dangerous, regular coping mechanism instead of a one-time escape. The biggest problem with all three of those things? Any one of them implies that you are the one in control. And to some extent thats true . . . after all, the driving force behind this book is to remind you that you are in control of yourself. But you cannot control the actions of others, your kids having a meltdown, the baby having a blowout at Target, the dog digging up your yard, or the washing machine breaking down. And when you think you can, youll only find yourself angry, frustrated, and stressed. Also, when you assume youre in total control, you dont stop and take time to seek out a relationship with God; you use alternative means to try and manufacture some peace. So what are our options? Ignore it, battle it, medicate the chaos until we feel numb to its effects? No way, we are stronger than that, even if its hard to feel it when youre buried under a pile of laundry and a horde of hyper children. There is another optionone people rarely cling toembrace the madness. Interestingly enough, the people I know who do this best are the ones whose lives are the most chaotic of all. Theyre my friends whose husbands are serving overseas. Theyre the women I know who are raising special-needs children. Theyre the single mamas working three jobs. I believe its because they learned a long time ago that there is beauty in the chaos, as well as freedom in not trying to fight against the tide. The thing is, Jesus was the ultimate embracer of chaos. He preached and taught and shepherded a flock, and in the midst of his tumultuous ministry, he accepted everyone. Everyone was allowed to join in on the love. The widows, the prostitutes, the lepers, the orphans, people with great need, people who brought drama and stress into his life, and folks who werent always lovable or even kind. Furthermore, Jesus told us to love them too. He didnt ask us kindly or say, Hey guys, maybe you could . . . No, he straight up called us to stand with the oppressed. Jesus looked at them and said, Bring it on. Jesus took in the messy, broken pieces and said, Behold, I am making all things new (Rev. 21:5 WEB). Amid our chaos, fear, and frustration there is the reminder, For everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven (Eccl. 3:1 WEB, emphasis added). Youre sitting in your house, in your neighborhood, in your city, and thinking, This is so hard. Nobody else understands. I cant keep up. Blah, blah, blah. And God is up there like, Good and perfect daughter, I have been talking about this since Jump Street! Being overwhelmed isnt a new concept. Having a tough day or week? Do you snap at your husband or want to pull your hair out? You havent cornered the market on that. You are not the only one. The way you deal with your stress, though, is where your individuality comes through. So maybe youre reading this and youre thinking, Okay, Im in . . . I get it. Lets embrace this chaotic life! But how in the heck do I do that? Start by giving yourself some grace. We all mess up; we all make mistakes; we all forget pajama day or mix it up with picture day. Ive screamed at my kids, my husband, and myself. None of it feels good, all of it devastates me, because the loss of control is so upsetting. But you know what? Tomorrow is another day and a chance to try again. Take a breath. Find humor in the situation, and force yourself to look for it when its not immediately evident. A couple of years ago when we were getting certified to be foster parents, a social worker had to interview each of our kids. We sat in the living room with them while she asked innocuous questions over iced tea. She gave them harmless prompts . . . harmless until she spoke to a barely four-year-old Ford Hollis. What makes you happy? she asked. He said he liked to go swimming. And what makes you sad? she followed up. Without hesitation he told her, When Daddy scares me in the night. Both Dave and I froze like deer in headlights. What? What the heck was he talking about? And why was he choosing right now, with a social worker from Child Protective Services, to work through this? What do you mean when Daddy scares you in the night? You know, when he comes to my room in the night and hes mad at me. Yall, when you do an interview like this, youre already on edge; but when your kids say something crazy, you think that not only are you not going to get approved for foster care but also you might lose the children you do have. More questions revealed that Ford was talking about the night before when hed woken up in the middle of the night and tried to sneak in bed with us (which is against the rules). Daddy was grouchy when he had to walk him back to bed three times at two oclock in the morning. Its hilarious in hindsight, but at the time, before wed gotten clarification, I thought I was going to hyperventilate. So push yourself to laugh at hard situations. In fact, the crazier the situation, the more humor you should be able to mine from it. I also encourage myself, and you, to look for the fruits of the Spirit. For those of you who didnt grow up singing them on a kids worship music tape before breakfast each morning like I did, the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All of these are incredible values, but I believe theres always one that we need the most in a particular season. Choose the one that resonates with you at this moment, write it down on some Post-its, and stick them everywhere. Dont forget to take a break, take care of yourself, go on a date, or get your nails done. Take some time just for you to refill your cup, and youll be better able to embrace all the madness when you step back inside of it. Find a tribe of people who are in a similar walk of life as you are. Once you find them, be honest about where you are and what youre struggling with. Learn to ask for help, and when someone offers help, accept it! Accept any and all help you can get and consider it a gift from God! I cannot tell you how many women ask me how I do it all, and when I tell them that Ive learned to ask for help, they look at me as if Im an alien. Like, help with what? For example, when your mother-in-law says shell come for the afternoon and entertain the kids, say, Yes, please. If your husband offers to fold the laundry (even when you dont think hes good at folding towels), say, Yes, please. If your girlfriend says she wants to bring you dinner or wine but you feel bad that youre putting her out, say, Yes, please. Or if your elementary school offers afternoon classes that will occupy your rambunctious boys for an additional hour and a half, say, Yes, please. What can give you more time, more space, more freedom to find your center? Whatever it is, say, Yes, please to that! Remember that old joke about how a man keeps praying for God to save him from drowning? Someone comes by in a boat and asks him if he needs a ride, and hes like, Nah, God will save me. When it happens two more times, he says the same thing both times. Spoiler alert: The man ends up drowning, and when he gets to heaven, hes like, God, what the heck? I asked you to save me. And God looks at him and says, Dude, I sent you three different life rafts, and you ignored each one. Girlfriend, God is sending you all kinds of life rafts. Some are big and obvious, and some are as simple as the bagger at the store offering to load your groceries into your car. Get in the freaking boat! Remember Philippians 1:6: Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. Oh man, I just love that scripture. I believe its true, and Ive watched it unfold in my life again and again. You will get through this season. This too shall pass. Dont set the rest of your life up on a downhill slope because of one hard season. It also might be helpful to remember that someone else is praying to have the kind of chaos youre currently crying about. What I mean is, the things you think are so difficult could be someone elses dream come true. I dont say that to make you feel bad, or to negate your difficult experience; but perspective may help you see that your chaos is actually just a gigantic blessing. Adjusting your view can work wonders. Lastly, remember the butterfly effect? Well, lets consider an actual butterfly, or more specifically, a caterpillar. Caterpillars are awesome. They have all those legs and theyre really cool, and theres an entire childrens book series about how pretty they are. But if the caterpillar just chose to stay a caterpillar, if she decided that the chaos of metamorphosis would be too much for her to handle, she would never know what she could become. Do you think that changing her entire being isnt painful? Do you think its not scary and hard and overwhelming? Of course it is, but if she didnt fight against the fear, if she didnt allow the change to turn her into her true self, we would never know how beautiful she is. She would never know that she was meant to fly. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. Friends like me. Meaning, friends who were newly married when I was newly married. Friends who are entrepreneurs because Im an entrepreneur. Friends who are working moms or boy moms or have kids at similar ages . . . theyre all lifesavers. Having someone you can grab a glass of wine with who can totally relate to your day is a gift. Such friends are vital in helping me feel encouraged. 2. Priorities. You can keep a clean house or start a company or stay at home with a baby or build a slammin bod from working out seven days a week . . . but I dont think you can have all of those at the same time, or at least not in the same increments. Sit down and decide whats really important to you. Not whats important to your mother-in-law or your girlfriends . . . Decide whats really important to you. Then do those things first. If the house is cluttered or you need to wait until next year to train for a half marathon, well, thats just life. 3. Boxed wine. Okay, Im kidding. Well, slightly kidding. I do think you should have something that helps you unwind. Running or watching HGTV or baking might be the thing for you. No matter what, find something in your life that feels like a treat or an indulgence. When youre feeling extra frazzled, you should be able to go to your happy place and reset. CHAPTER 12 The Lie: I NEED TO MAKE MYSELF SMALLER I went to a conference last yearthe kind of thing where a life guru stands on stage and walks you through guided meditation or yells at you to believe in yourself. I loved every single second of it. As I constantly analyze how I can grow and become a better version of myself, I appreciate wisdom wherever I can get it. No one person can be your source for all the answers, but you can glean a handful of powerful thoughts here and a dash of insight there. I hope you get some great tangible advice from me, but I dont for one moment believe that youre going to take every single thing in these pages as gospel. So I read the books and listen to the podcasts, and when someone I admire fills an arena nearby for a few days of wisdom, you better believe Im buying a ticket. It was during an experience like this that I had a powerful insight into something about myself I never expected. Which parent did you crave love from more? the speaker asked the crowd. Not which parent did you love more . . . Which one did you crave love from more? My dad. I would assume that this is true for many women, but its definitely the truth for me. And heres the thing: Ive done a lot of therapy, and much of it was so I could work through questions like this one. So when he asked the audience whom we craved love from the most, my answer was my dad. But, I already knew that, no great surprise there. Then he asked the follow-up question that changed everything. And who did you have to be for them? Meaning, what did you believe as a child that you needed to do to receive that parents love? Successful, I grumbled to myself. This was not news to me. As Ive already mentioned, I understood all about how being a performer had affected my life as an adult. Besides that, the man on stage asked, what else did you have to be? Small. It fell out of my mouth without conscious thought. Before that moment, I can tell you I had never, ever considered that concept before. Where did that come from? What did I even mean by it? I sat back in my chair and considered it for the first time in my life. I believe my father was always proud of me, but he wasnt verbal with that praise unless I did something well. As a hard worker himself, he appreciated the achievement. Simultaneously, because hed never had a great example of what it meant to be a good dad, he had nothing to go by. He had no idea what to do with little kids. My memory is that as children, we understood we should be seen and not heard. I learned quickly not to make a fussnot to make noise at all if it wasnt what he wanted. Sometimes he wanted to interact, to have conversations or even play. But most of the time he wanted silence. As I got older I was aware of the disparity more and more. Little girl. That was what he called me . . . and not as an endearment. Little girl, you have no clue what youre talking about. Little girl, the real world is going to eat you alive. Little girl, youd better grow up quick. Little girl became an expletive. I hated when he called me that but never truly understood how it affected me before that day at the conference. And not just negatively, but positively as well. I wouldnt be who I am were it not for my childhood. I wouldnt be where I am without the work ethic instilled in me by my father. The same man who praised my achievement might have unintentionally taught me to chase it a bit too much, but you cant blame the past for the things that went wrong if you arent also willing to be thankful for the things that went right. Digging into the whys of how I behave as an adult are what make me able to overcome unhealthy habits. Take, for example, how uncomfortable I used to become when speaking about my job. If you asked me at a party what I did for a living, Id say something dismissive like, Oh, I have a lifestyle blog. Never mind the fact that I built a media company from the ground up and manage a staff of eleven. Never mind that our clients are some of the biggest brands on earth. Never mind that the website gets millions of visitors a month or that Im an author and public speaker while also raising babies. It feels boastful to mention those things; it feels like I might make you uncomfortable if I speak about them. A larger part of why I dont want to be boastful is because I learned a long time ago that I was a little girl who had no clue what she was talking about. Being big while also being small is an impossible task for anyone. As I sat at the conference that day, I understood how that dilemma had colored so much of who I had become. As a company we have been offered so many large opportunities over the last few years, and Id found one excuse after another to turn them down. I worried that we would disappoint our clients. I worried that we would fail. I worried that I wasnt smart enough to lead the team into new territory. Its hard to write it down now because I spend so much time telling other women to chase their big dreams. And if you had asked me, of course I would have told you that we were daring ourselves to grow by leaps and bounds. But when I took a real look at my life and my company, I recognized the truth: I was making myself small. I was performing just enough to gain your attention but not truly being myself for fear of what everyone might think of the real me. Who am I really? Im a wife and a mother, and I also dream of being a true media mogul. I am working to grow my lifestyle media agency to incredible heights. I dream of having enough revenue so that all of these incredible people who work for mewho took a chance on helping with my dreamcan own their own homes, pay off their student loans, and take long, dreamy vacations somewhere sunny. I dream of starting a nonprofit that supports other women who want to chase down dreams of their own. Im working to build a company my children will grow up and work at too. I think the media we consume can positively impact our lives, and by creating media that uplifts and encourages women, we can literally change the world. I have so many goals and dreams for myself, and not one of them is small. Theyre big and wild and full of hope. They require faith and courage and a whole lot of audacity. I cannot get there, I will not get there, unless I start embracing every side of my characterincluding the sides of me that make other people uncomfortable. This is what occurred to me at the conference that day: I cannot continue to live as half of myself simply because its hard for others to handle all of me. I was at another conference just a few weeks ago when I saw this playing out in other women around me. Four hundred inspiring, entrepreneurial-minded women, and I kept hearing them saying the same things over and over: Well, this is just my hobby. This is just something I do on the side. My job is being a mom, but this is a great side gig. Yall, these were not women casually selling antiques from their garage on Etsy. These women were running businesses and teams. Some of them were making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, yet I heard the word hobby over and over. It made me realize: I am not the only woman who is making herself small to make others feel more comfortable. Its hard for people who dont understand us to be fully supportive. When you boil it down, thats the heart of the problem with my father. He couldnt understand what to do with a small child, let alone a girl. Since he didnt understand me, he often unintentionally muted the parts of me that made him uncomfortable. Working women sometimes have to fight their way through patriarchal systems. Working mothers get backlash from in-laws or parents who cant understand our desire to work, while stay-at-home moms slam us for being away from our children. Ill bet stay-at-home moms feel similarly judged by working women who cant relate to their life choices. Its as though were all children on a playground trying to say whatever others want to hear, trying to hide all the parts that others might not understand. It makes me wonder how many women are walking around living in half their personality and in doing so, denying who their Creator made them to be. Do you really think God made youuniquely, wonderful youin hopes you would deny your true self because it might be off-putting to others? I cant believe thats true. The more Ive thought about it, the more I believe that God made me this way. He knew I would have a workers heart, and he knew I would want to build big dreams. In the same way, he knew another one of his children was meant to stay home and raise her beautiful babies, while another daughter of his wouldnt want to have kids at all. Have you spent a lifetime muting yourself for fear of what others will think? Are you an entrepreneur who calls your business a hobby because you worry about what your mother-in-law will say or because its safer to keep everyones expectations low? Are you hesitating to go back to school because you think youre not smart enough? Do you stop yourself from daring to try something new because youre already positive youll fail? Do you remain silent when you have so much to say? Do you believe youll never do better or be better than you are right now because of your family of origin? Do you hesitate to admit your dreams aloud because youre nervous about others making fun of you or judging you for your choices? Girl. I lived in fear of this for years. I worried that if you knew how much I love to work you might call into question how I can do any of those things while being a successful mother. Ive had too many people question my commitment to my children over the last ten years, and it influenced what I came to believe about being a working woman. It was a long battle from mommy guilt to acceptance, and I was only ever able to work through it after we adopted our daughter. When she was about six weeks old, I had to go on a business trip; and while I was gone someone asked me about mommy guilt as a working mom. Its a question that comes up a lot and one that I bet most mothersregardless of whether they stay home with their babes or choose to workhave grappled with. Ive thought about it a lot over the last ten years of motherhood, and even more so now that Im raising a daughter. And heres what Ive decided . . . I refuse to teach her this narrative. I absolutely refuse to raise her with the ideal that only one parent is ultimately responsible for who she will become. I was raised by two working parents and the proverbial village. I will not consent to the belief that having a mother with a full-time job means that shes not loved and well cared for. I will not set her up to believe that having a career (or not) has anything to do with how much shes committed to her partner or how much she loves her children . . . should she choose to have either. I will not tell her that a mans work is only out in the world or that a womans work is inside the home. If she chooses to stay at home, then we will support her with all our hearts; but we will never teach her that theres only one kind of woman to be. This is important because her brothers will be told by society that their options are endless, and she will be shown by media that her world is limited. I know this for many reasons, but mostly because her daddy has never one time been asked if he feels guilty for having a job. As she grows, my daughter will learn things out in the world that I wish she didntI cannot control thatbut I can control the kind of woman I set as an example. I, her mother, believe that Noah, my daughter, is fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who imagined her place in this world long before either of us was born. I believe the same thing about you. I believe that you are not a mistakeand feeling guilt about who you are (working, staying at home, overweight, underweight, overeducated, uneducated, emotional, bookish, street-smart, or whatever) does a disservice to yourself and the Creator who made you. There are hundreds of ways to lose yourself, but the easiest of them all is refusing to acknowledge who you truly are in the first place. Youthe real youis not an accident. Those dreams you have for yourself are not silly; they are the road map to your divine calling! Dont sit this one out. Dont let someone elses opinion of you determine your worth. Dont miss out on the chance to live the life of incredible possibility in front of you. You were not made to be small. You are not a little girl. You are a grown woman, and its time you grew up. Become exactly who God calls you to be. THINGS THAT HELPED ME . . . 1. A willingness to offend. I dont mean offend as in tell a bunch of yo mama jokes. I mean embrace the idea that not everyone can understand or approve of you, including those closest to you. If youre a people-pleaser like I was, this is especially hard because my instinct is to ensure that everyone likes me at all times. So I decided to get out of my own way and stop focusing so much on what anyone else thought. I focus on being the best, most loving version of myselfbut whether or not you approve of that isnt my concern. 2. A bold statement. For me, it was a tattoo. Id secretly wanted one for years, but I was worried about what others would think. Then I had an epiphany: I get to decide who I am. Every single day were alive, were choosing this life and this persona. We choose to be the stay-at-home mom who loves baking and Pilates. We choose to be a hipster who loves coffee shops and artisan goods. We choose to be a lawyer who runs marathons and only eats organic. Every single aspect of our persona, no matter how long weve rocked it, is a choice we make every day. This was a massive eye-opener for me. And as odd as it sounds, when I realized this and it hit me right between the eyes, the very first thought I had was, Im getting a wrist tattoo! 3. An encounter with a guru. Many times I need the insight of a podcast, a book, or a conference to gain perspective. If you wonder if you are muting a side of yourself, or if there are things you know you want to work on, start consuming content that speaks to that specific area. You may not adopt every word of what you hear or read, but youll certainly garner a bit of wisdom to help you with your season. CHAPTER 13 The Lie: IM GOING TO MARRY MATT DAMON Laugh all you want, but this was something I believed for years. Ive talked about my obsession with Matt Damon many times, mostly because its funny and I live to make other people chuckle. Its also an easy laugh because people have a hard time reconciling a seemingly intelligent, sane person believing that she will marry a celebrity shes never met. But the truth is, there was a timewhole years of my life, in factwhen my greatest life plan was to find Matt Damon somewhere in LA and lock it in. I spent most of my junior year in high school watching Good Will Hunting over and over. I can still recite the entire movie for you by heart if you need me to. I applied over and over again for jobs at Miramax Films (because they had produced Good Will Hunting and my eighteen-year-old brain assumed that Matt Damon might stroll through the lobby at any given moment). For my last year living at home and my first year in Los Angeles, this fantasy of Matt as my knight in shining armor kept me going. I imagined it in vivid detail: how wed meet, what Id wear, where wed marry, what our house would look like, what our kids would look like . . . When I found myself in a bleak place, those imaginings were the light at the end of my tunnel. I truly believed they were where I was headed. When I finally did bump into Matt while working a party for Miramax a year into working there, he walked right toward me at the back of the theater. I mean, hand to dog, he made a beeline for where I was standing. My heart nearly exploded in my chest because it was happening exactly the way I thought it would. He saw me and somehow just knew we were destined to be together. As soon as he got within earshot, he started to speak. Excuse me, he said. This is it! I thought. Do you know where Im supposed to sit? He spoke to me because he was a celebrity and I was the girl with the clipboard in her handsnot because he sensed we were destined to be together. I walked him to his assigned spot and left him there without a marriage proposal or even a request for a date. After living in LA for a year, enough reality had hit me to understand that my former imaginings were part of a childish daydream. Later on in life I had another fantasy. This one was smaller, the outcome less life-altering, but I obsessed about it almost as much. I wanted a Louis Vuitton bag. More specifically, I wanted a Louis Vuitton Speedy bag. For those of you who arent familiar, its one of LVs classics. Its about the size of a regulation football, and at the time they cost a little over a thousand dollars. One. Thousand. Dollars. For a bag the size of my head. It was ridiculous, but I still wanted it. I wanted it because it represented the kind of woman I dreamed of becoming. During my first summer living in LA, I often visited the Beverly Center. The Beverly Center is a fancy-pants mall in Beverly Hills, and at the time I couldnt afford anything other than the six dollars it took to park there. Even still I would wander around window-shopping and dreaming of someday. It was on one such trip when I saw the most glamorous woman Id ever seenor at least, the epitome of what I hoped to look like someday. Her hair was glossy, her makeup was perfect, her outfit was cute, and in her hand she carried a Louis Vuitton Speedy bag. Even better? Shed tied a vintage scarf around the handle of that bag, making it the classiest-looking thing Id ever witnessed in real life. In that moment I was sold on this ideal. Someday I was going to be as pulled together and stylish as that woman. Someday I was going to own that bag. I coveted it for years knowing it was a total fantasy. A thousand dollars was an astronomical sum to spend on something so frivolous, but I still imagined what Id do with that bag. I imagined where Id use it and how Id change out the scarf seasonally or to match my outfit. I pictured it in great detail, and over time I came up with a game plan for achieving it. Someday I would build a company, and someday that company would have real clients who would pay me really big money. The first time someone gave me a check for $10,000 in consultation fees, I decided I was going to buy myself that bag. It took me years, you guys. Years of scraping and hustling as a small-time wedding planner. Years of building up my portfolio of work and my client roster. Years of charging $750, then $1,000, then more. Every time I went to the mall Id walk by Louis Vuitton and stare at that bag through the window. Through every meeting and contract, I held on to that vision. For every mean bridezilla or drunk best man speech or late night cleaning confetti out of the hotel carpet so my clients wouldnt lose their deposit, I kept thinking, Im going to get that Speedy bag! The day I received my first $10,000 check, I drove directly to the bankand then from the bank to the Louis Vuitton store at the Beverly Center. When I walked out of that store it was the proudest Id ever been in my whole life. A purse is cool, and a Matt Damon obsession is . . . er, interesting, perhaps. But why bring them up now? Why tell you about this random quirky lie or this purse I used to be obsessed with when the other chapters carry so much weight and seriousness? Because I think my ability to imagine my dreams in intricate detail is one of the biggest reasons Ive been able to achieve them. Seriously. Dont rush by that statement. Sit with it for a minute. A huge part of my success is built into my imagination. And I dont mean Tim Burtonstyle imagination. I just mean the ability to pick out a daydream and then focus on it . . . sometimes for years. One of the questions I get most often is how I stay motivated. Lately Ive been trying to offer tangible ideas: surround yourself with inspiring people (both in real life and in your social media feeds); listen to motivational podcasts; blast pump-up jams until youre feeling inspired; figure out a formula for what motivates you, then do it again and again. But that may sound like advice youve probably heard before, so whats the point of repeating information that wont stick? Id rather hone in on whats going to make the big difference for you, even if it might sound a little strange. For me, the big difference was envisioning a very specific future. Believing I would marry Matt Damon was borderline crazy . . . but it got me to LA, and it led me to fighting for and getting a job at Miramax Films, which then led me to both my career as an event planner and my future husband. In the absence of clear direction or a real vision, I just imagined one. I latched on to the idea of a future so I knew a direction to walk in. Along the way I grew up and learned about my destination, but had I not held that idea in my head, who knows where I would have goneor more importantly, how I would have mentally escaped the hard times while I was still inside of them. When I was dreaming about that purse, my larger goals of making a decent salary and contributing to the bank account I shared with my new husband seemed overwhelming. They didnt feel tangible. But breaking it down into a bite-sized goalin my case, buying a pursewas achievable. Calling your shot is powerful when youre chasing down a dream, but its also not enough. You have to spend real time focusing on everything you can about that dream. What does it look like? What does it feel like? How much detail can you imagine? How real can you make it in your own mind? Because heres the deal: my goals are real to me. There isnt a single doubt or question in my mind that I can achieve them. I have absolute certaintythe same way I did with Matt or that ridiculously expensive handbag. Whether or not the dream ultimately comes true isnt the point; the point is, how do you steer your ship in a clear direction? How do you stay on course even when the water is choppy or the boat is crashing on rocks? You do that by keeping your eyes on the horizon. For me, my daydreams were an attempt to keep my eyes above the waves. When life was hard and murky and difficult to navigate, having a clear vision gave me something to focus on. I cant recommend it enough for you. Do you have a goal for yourself? Ill tell you again: write it down. No, seriously. Write. It. Down! Imagine it in intricate detail. Focus on it whenever you can. What will it feel like to get healthy? How will your clothes fit? Or how about your dream job? What will your first day at that company be like? How about the fiftieth day? What will you be able to do in your free time because you have that position? How much happier will you be? I like visuals as well. I keep my visual reminders of my current goals taped up inside my closet so every single time I get dressed (which is daily, yo) I see them as a reminder. What are they? I knew youd ask. One is the cover of Forbes with the top female self-made millionaires. The second is a picture of a vacation home in Hawaii. Both have been on my wish list for years . . . the house in particular feels extra dreamy but hard to achieve. My goal is to own it by the time Im forty . . . so Ive got five years. You guys, I cant tell you how often Ive felt tired or discouraged or whatever, and Ive closed my eyes and imagined my fortieth birthday party at the house in Hawaii that Ive dreamed up. My friends, my kids, my husband, and my family are there, and were all drinking some fabulous cocktail. Im wearing a gorgeous caftan of some kind . . . because when you make enough to buy your own Hawaiian vacation home, you can wear whatever you want and theres no way Im restricting my midsection. That birthday party and that house are crystal clear in my mind; they help me focus when I get bogged down. Sometimes these daydreams work as a distraction technique too. When Im running long distance or training for a race, my imagination is a stellar tool for focusing on something else. Back when I trained for my first half marathon, my only goal was just to finish without dying. The next time around, the goal was to run those thirteen miles faster than I did the time before. That meant training often and well, doing long runs and tempo runs, and pushing myself each time. Its hard, yall, and it hurt muscles I hadnt used since I did step aerobics back in the nineties! When I run I use this trick for getting through any strenuous workoutand you are free to use it too. Its utterly ridiculous, and even a little embarrassing, but it works for me every time. I believe Mindy Kaling coined the phrase cardio fantasieshow she invents stories to entertain herself as she exercises. If she didnt, someone please trademark that for me and Ill turn it into my next book and a line of activewear. My cardio fantasy is the big, crazy dream I typically imagine myself in during a particularly difficult workout. Sometimes the music in my headphones can get me through, but when the going gets tough, the tough (me in this scenario) imagines herself vacationing with George Clooney at his house in Lake Como. Laugh at me all you want, but Ive found that the more outlandish the cardio fantasy, the more time I can pass without noticing that my quads are screaming. Dont have your own cardio fantasy? Borrow one of mine. These are (no, seriously) my go-tos. You think Im trying to be funny here, but I swear by the power of Grayskull, these are really what Im thinking

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