You’re Prettier When You Smile

For as long as I can remember, I’ve chosen to walk into the darkness. To feel all there is to feel in the shadows of this life. I’ve stuck my hand into the fire, just to feel it burn. Sank myself into a depression that left me a shell of a person with zero real emotion. I chased answers to questions as a child that most are afraid to ask at all. Questions about death and meaning and the rough, hard edges of our souls.

I’ve chosen, time and time again, not to run from all that’s hard and bad and heartbreaking. I lean in when others would pull back or try to reframe and gloss over the reality of the situation with a glaze of fabricated positivity. I go there, places where most wouldn’t dare.

For the most part, I’m a pretty shiny, happy person.

If you look at me on an average day, you’ll likely see an enormous smile or hear a laugh that flows freely and stems from the joyful parts of my heart and soul.

I’m joyful and in love with life, even when it hurts.
I’m passionate and overwhelmed by the beauty, even when it sucks.
I’m positive and trusting, even when things aren’t working out.

I’ve had several conversations in the last few months with people who like to fabricate positivity. To smear a tiny bit of gratitude or appreciation over tons of complaining, frustration, and pain. People who try to bypass the darkness through pretending to be in the light, when really they’re just avoiding what’s uncomfortable and challenging.

I’ve had many conversations over the years with people who like to tell me things along the lines of, “what can we do to get you back to how you normally are?” Or, “you’re prettier when you smile.” Comments to which I’ve learned to gently and firmly reply, “sometimes I don’t smile, sometimes I’m not happy… and that’s okay.”

Today I’m taking a stand for me, for you… for all of us.

There’s nothing wrong with the darkness we experience in the day to day. Nothing at all.

There’s nothing wrong with my pain and suffering. There’s nothing wrong with your anger or frustration. There’s nothing wrong with sadness or stress or feeling a little lost in this life. There’s nothing wrong with the tears that come without warning, or the way we sink inside ourselves at times. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. There’s nothing wrong with you or me or anyone else.

The light, joyful, and playful woman I am today was formed from those spaces. The pockets in life and love and the everyday that are raw and intense and oh so hard. The ones that make you question what the point of it all is, and shows you the pain and suffering we can’t outrun.

I embrace it. I absorb it. I feel all there is to feel within it.
And then I move forward and learn from it.

When I’m in that dark, hard, and quiet space, I’m actually growing into happier and more genuinely positive person… even though it doesn’t look like it at all.

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But the deeper we’re stretched into the parts that hurt, the greater our capacity becomes to smile and laugh and play. To love and open and share ourselves more freely and joyfully in our work and relationships.

The thing is… you would never get to experience the shiny, happy person that I am without all the bad, hard parts. Without those moments or days where I shut down completely and it takes everything I have to get through the day. The moments where I cry or feel overwhelmed, or feel all the hard things there are to experience. It’s all one and the same.

I’m showing you my darkness when I smile so big my cheeks burn and when I laugh so hard it hurts. When my eyes twinkle and light up from that overjoyed space deep inside my soul. I’m showing you the many wounds and raw spots from struggle, loss, and lies with every ounce of enthusiasm and joy that leaves my body, with every word of love and appreciation.

I’m showing you my light when I cry so hard I nearly stop breathing, crumpled in a ball on the kitchen floor. When I’m too broken and fragile to stand on my own. I’m showing you the love and passion and total gratitude for this life with every deeply exhausted exhale, and every moment I feel like walking away from it all. With every frustrated cell in my body.

There are only two ways we go wrong…

We don’t allow ourselves to feel what we feel, or we start to tell ourselves stories about it all, getting ourselves stuck in muddy waters we were simply meant to walk through.

I’ve learned to lean into the darkness without getting stuck by giving myself permission to be where I am, and not letting anyone else tell me it’s wrong. Not letting myself feel less than, simply because I don’t have it in me to smile.

Don’t avoid the darkness, but don’t make it into anything more than what it is: a feeling, one that will pass with a little time and a little tenderness. And when it does, we’re going to step back into a light that’s brighter than before, because we’ve stretched our hearts a little further. Life becomes flat and stagnant when we strive to keep things even keeled and “good.” When we plaster fabricate positivity over the parts that hurt. Life becomes richer, and a mess of beauty and miracles, when we’re willing to walk through the mud from time to time.

We’re beautiful when we smile, and we’re beautiful when we cry. When we’re sad and frustrated. And life is more beautiful when we embrace it all.

Around Here (#WDS2015 Edition)

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I spent the last 10 days in Portland, OR at my all time favorite event, with three of my best friends.

It was basically the best ten days ever.

This was my third summer in town for World Domination Summit, an event I can only describe as amazing and, “you just have to be there.” It’s a fantastic group of people who come to town for an event focused around three core values: community, service, and adventure. Three things I can absolutely get behind. There are phenomenal and inspiring speakers, fun dance parties, world record attempts, amazing foods, lots of tears, and tons of belly laughs. I always walk away inspired and more deeply aligned with my purpose in this world.

This year I brought a best friend from Boulder, met up with a best friend from San Diego, and stayed with a best friend from Portland. It was so amazing to introduce three of my favorite people who had never met, but have had such a huge impact in my life. We got inspired, made up silly songs, ate a ton of delicious food, met new friends, danced our booties off, and generally had the best time. There was trail running amongst redwoods in the ferngully-esque forest, more love and laughter than my heart has ever known, deep talks about life and love and loss, and passionate conversations about absolutely nothing.

We also ventured to the coast, where I promptly stripped down to just my bra and shorts and threw myself into the freezing cold water without skipping a beat. I love the mountains, but I’m a water baby at heart, and it was so healing and amazing to be back in the Pacific… despite how terribly, terribly cold it was. We ventured around Astoria (where Goonies was filmed!) and played at Seaside Beach as the sun went down. EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS TRIP WAS THE BEST.

There were moments where I broke into tears, because I realize how much I’m growing and changing, and there are some people and things that don’t seem to fit anymore here in the “after.” And that’s oh so hard sometimes. Then there are the moments I cried just because I’m so incredibly humbled by how beautiful this life is, even when it’s challenging, and I’m so hugely blessed by the people I get to walk through it with. This life is the best. My people are the best. 

As I get ready to fly home to Boulder, I’m just pausing to appreciate the amazing experience that was this last 10 days. There were so many tiny moments of normal that were made infinitely better by the ones I got to share them with. There are so many subtle shifts in myself and my work thanks to the beautiful talks given by beautiful souls over the weekend. There are so many stories and moments that I will hold close to my heart and treasure for the rest of my life.

Happy, happy, happy… and oh so blessed.

Your Mom’s Feedback Is Irrelevant

Over the last decade of designing websites and working with clients around creating products and services and business around their passions, I’ve noticed a common trend. We’ll work through a branding brief, come up with some strategies to implement, or present a website that’s designed to support their goals.

While many clients work solely on their own to help craft something that feels aligned, there are some who like to get feedback from every single person close to them… mom included.

Here’s the thing: your mom’s feedback is irrelevant. Your best friend’s opinion is irrelevant. What your brother thinks is cool is irrelevant.

Anyone you ask… their feedback is irrelevant unless they actually understand who you are, what your business/product/service is about, who you’re trying to serve, and what the brand strategy really is.

It doesn’t matter if your best friend thinks your dog is adorable and you should have a picture of him on the website. It doesn’t matter if your mom thinks blue is your color. It doesn’t matter if your cousin hates pictures of tress (yes, these are all real notes from over the years). Unless these people are actually ideal clients and customers for you, or they’ve taken the time to dive into your business and goals and can see the big picture, nothing they have to say is relevant because it’s not strategic. It’s just simple personal opinion.

I see so many clients make poor business, brand, marketing, and design decisions because someone close to them gave feedback that is totally irrelevant and off base. So many clients who’ve built businesses in a way that doesn’t feel aligned and isn’t creating the results they desire because they didn’t stop to think about whether mom’s advice had any merit. This needs to stop!

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Here’s how to approach feedback in a way that will support your business goals and growth:

1) Cultivate a strategic review group.

If you’re going to have people look over your work or the work a coach, designer, or other professional is providing for you, make sure it’s a select and strategic group of people. This might be people you know who are in line with your ideal clients and customers. It might be certain coaches or strategists that are working with you on your branding and marketing. It might be your best friend… if she’s a copywriter or designer or whatever who does the thing you’re asking for feedback on for a living, AND understands what you’re trying to accomplish. Don’t just send a mass email to friends and family, you’ll just end up diluting your message.

2) Stop asking the wrong people for advice.

Basically the flip side of the last point… stop asking people whose feedback is irrelevant for their thoughts. Stop listening to their unsolicited guidance and opinions. Sure, you may love your mom to pieces, but that doesn’t mean she should have a say in what your website or business or brand looks and feels like. Thank people for their thoughts and let them know you’ll take them into consideration, but don’t do things just to make Mama feel good about her contribution. This isn’t about stroking the egos of those closest to us, it’s about being effective and successful at the work you want to do.

3) Learn to trust yourself.

One of my favorite things I’ve heard and adopted for myself is “my intuition is my business coach.” I’ve paid big names a lot of money just to ignore everything they’ve told me. There are points in our work where we venture beyond what others can help us with. Sometimes we get to a place where there’s no roadmap, and all we can do is feel our way into what’s next. If I had listened to a mentor i paid $20,000 to, I wouldn’t have my wildly successful Foundations for Unshakable Joy program, a program I love dearly and has helped change hundreds of lives over the last four years. I wouldn’t have the My Awesome Life Mastery membership, something that’s served both me and my clients incredibly well. I wouldn’t have my Jumpstart website package, an offering that brings together everything I love to do in a comprehensive and truly fulfilling way, and that is affordable and accessible for so many. You have to trust yourself first and foremost.

4) Stay devoted to your work.

I’ll say it again, this work you do isn’t about your mom or your best friend or your cousins unless they’re your ideal client or they inspired the cause. It’s about the work… being of service to your clients in a very specific way. Leaving your mark and contributing to society. If you’re devoted to your work first and foremost, it’s easier to put the following three steps into practice. At this point in my business, I’m highly protective of my work. I listen with an open heart and mind to advice, feedback, strategy, and coaching, but I only take what resonates for me and I discard the rest. I discard quite a bit actually, on a regular basis, from brilliant people doing good work in the world. I have a very clear mission and I won’t compromise that just because I paid someone for direction or a family member wants to feel like they helped. This is about the work, don’t ever forget that.

So tell me, where have you been taking advice, direction, and feedback that might not be aligned with what you’re trying to create?

This isn’t about feeling bad or focusing on missteps, it’s about getting honest about where you might not be taking steps that have you and your company’s best interests at heart. Check in with yourself and get honest about whose advice needs to stay and go, and how you can start building a solid group of individuals to receive guidance and feedback from.

Always One More Time

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time, and always one more time.”

I’m obsessed with this quote from Maya Angelou. Always one more time. It’s become my mantra, a way of showing up in this world and my relationships. A simple phrase that resonates within every single cell.

If I’m honest, I’ll tell you that sometimes in this life I get a little tired. A kind of tired that runs deep within my bones and reminds me that this isn’t the first journey my soul has been on. When everything feels challenging and nothing seems to be going as expected. When I’m overwhelmed by the fact that so much rides on me and my ability to show up fully. When all the things are happening at once, and I’m stretched as thin as I think I can possibly stretch.

But despite all the setbacks, heartbreaks, and losses, I’ve never given up. Not once. There are certainly times I’ve felt like throwing in the towel and just walking away. Days when disappearing to a cabin in the woods all by myself seems like the only thing that will do. When I don’t think I can take any more, because my soul is just too tired to do it.

And yet here I am, at a place in life where I’m beyond happy and fulfilled. When I’m fully aligned with my passion and purpose, and I’m surrounded by the most amazing people. Where I laugh and cry at the same time, because life is just that good. Because without having the words for it, I’ve lived by the idea of, “always one more time.” Never giving up and never letting anything or anyone derail me from my pursuit of figuring out who I am and what I want… and making it happen.

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No matter what you come up against or what life throws at you, choose to never give up. Choose to try, try again, just one more time.

Always one more time.

Even when your heart’s been broken and you feel like you’ll never be who you were before the awfulness of it all. When the pain still lingers and the wounds have yet to heal. Even when you’re not entirely sure how to stand firmly on your own two feet, and no one seems to know how to simply take you by the hand and love you through the thick of it. When the people you think will hold you tight walk right out of the room, and you feel a loneliness at the core of your bones. Even when too many have mishandled your gentle heart over the years. When you’re tired and exhausted and feel like there’s no one who will walk this life with you.

Even then, have the courage to open yourself to the ones that show up in your life, and love them as deeply and fiercely as is humanly possible. 

Because that’s when you’re going to find the people meant to share this life with you, the ones who will love you so much and so fully and meet you exactly where you’re at. Only when you’re willing to learn from the ones that didn’t fit and stay open to those that will come. When you’re willing to give it one more go.

Always one more time.

Even when you’ve failed so much you’ve lost count and you can’t remember what a win feels like. When the bills are piling up and you feel so overwhelmed you don’t know whether to scream or cry or just hide under the sheets. Even when you’re standing in it all alone, without anyone there to cheer you on or kiss your wounds when you fall. When no one understands or wants to rally for your cause. Even when you’re fighting with all you have left just to take another half step forward. When you’ve lost count of how many times and how far back you’ve fallen.

Even then, have the courage to stand up one more time and face another day with more passion and purpose than before.

Because that’s when you’re going to find the success you so deeply desire and finally learn the things you need to know to bring your vision to life. Only when you’re willing to see the lessons in the setbacks and brush yourself off just one more time. When you refuse to give up and find a resilience you’ve never known.

Always one more time.

Even when your voice breaks and your knees shake so hard you’re not sure you’ll be able to hold yourself upright. When you struggle to speak through the knot in your stomach and all eyes are on you, burning all the way through. Even when it goes against everything and everyone and there’s no one to back you up. When you’re standing there alone and it’s scary and isolating as hell. Even when it hurts so much you’re not sure you’ll survive it. When it means laying it all on the line and risking everything you’ve built in your life and work.

Even then, have the courage to show up as fully as you possibly can and speak the truth that comes from deep within your soul.

Because that’s when you’re going to learn how to settle fully into yourself and the life you’re here to lead. Only when you’re willing to get vulnerable and expose yourself so that things can begin to really align for you. When you’re willing to lean into the fear and lay it all on the line.

Always one more time.

Promise me, right here and now, that you’ll never give up on what your heart desires, no matter what.

We all experience setbacks, and we all come up against reasons that make it easy to say we’re done. The difference between settling for a mediocre life and having the life, work, and relationships that light your soul on fire is this simple. Don’t give up. Don’t stay down. Don’t let anything stop you.

And always… always one more time.

Today is a Choice Point

Life is too short to waste being afraid, and far too fragile to leave room for wonder.

When we’re at the end of the line and there’s nothing left to do but wait for our last breath, we’re not going to fondly remember the moments where we held back and played it safe. We’re not going to be glad we never spoke our truth when it mattered most, or that we never told the people we cared for deeply how we truly felt. We’re not going to be glad that we did what we thought we “should” rather than following our hearts. Rather than taking risks, putting it all on the line, and living life full out.

No, we’re going to regret the words we never spoke and the ways we ignored our heart’s true callings. We’re going to wish we were braver and bolder, and that we showed up as fully as we could have. We’re going to want to go back and write a different story, one that’s colored with love and passion and purpose. We’re going to wonder what we were really afraid of, and how things could have been different and more fulfilling.

Most of us know this, yet we don’t really take it to heart, do we?

We hear the words, but they don’t register on a soul level. Or maybe they do, but it’s too uncomfortable for us to really let sink in, so we shake it off and pretend like we’re really honoring ourselves in the moment. That we’re doing the “right” thing, or that not everyone can follow their heart.

Yes, there are bills to pay and people we’re accountable to. There are things to take care of in the day to day of life that simply can’t be pushed aside. But there are also the things that are more important, and yet somehow we justify de-prioritizing them… because we’re scared or uncomfortable or just unsure of how to take action. Because we think there are more important things to focus on first.

But the truth is, life is too short to waste being afraid, and far too fragile to leave room for wonder.

Ever since I declared I wanted to be braver and bolder with this one life of mine, I’ve been presented with opportunity after opportunity to live up to this commitment for myself. Choice points between going after what I really want in this life and playing it safe. Between making assumptions that leave room for wonder, and being courageous enough to ask the hard questions and have the uncomfortable conversations.

I’ve put my heart on the line in order to bring closure to situations that were slow leaks of energy and focus. I’ve come face to face with old patterns and ways of hiding out so that I can step into more depth and connection. I’ve been honest about what’s not working for me so that I can invite in more of what does. I’ve challenged myself to create on a level I never have before, so I can step further into the work I’m here to do.

I’ve stopped allowed fear and discomfort dictate the trajectory of my life. Instead, I’ve chosen to lean into the uncomfortable, raw, hard spaces of life, love, and work so that I can truly say I lived my life as fully as possible when that last breath comes. So that I can be proud of the things I was brave enough to go after, and left with absolutely zero wonder and regret.

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There are always reasons why now isn’t the right time, or why we should continue doing what we’ve always done. Our mind’s can justify anything in any given direction, especially when it means keeping us “safe” (aka stuck).

So the question is, are you willing to settle for a life that’s guided by fear and leaves space for wonder and regret? Are you willing to stay stuck because getting uncomfortable seems too much to bear? Are you willing to spend your whole life wondering what could have been, simply because it was easier to stick with what you’re already doing?

Or are you willing to go after what your heart really desires and start taking the steps towards building a life or business or relationship that makes you feel alive? Are you willing to lay it all on the line so that someone can see and love you fully? Are you willing to risk rejection and failure to bring your dreams to life, to do the work you’re here to do?

This is a choice point. This message right here.

A big one… just like all the others.

You can choose to let this be another message where you nod your head (possibly with a little oomph even) in agreement, only to then continue on with a life or business or relationship that doesn’t light you up… because it’s easier, or it’s not good timing, or you “should” be doing whatever it is you’re doing. Or you can choose to lean into the uncomfortable and make a change.

And here’s the thing about change, it doesn’t have to be hugely disruptive or hard. It doesn’t mean totally uprooting yourself from everything and everyone you know, or walking out of the job that pays your bills. It means making a choice and taking a single step in a new direction. Maybe that step is big, or maybe it’s as tiny and powerful as admitting you’re not happy. But you have to take that step if you want to create changes. That first, tiny step… and today is a choice point.

So, I’ll say it again: This message right here, it’s a choice point.

Will you continue on letting fear dictate the trajectory of your life, or are you willing to do everything you can to eliminate wonder and regret? To ensure that when that last breath comes, you feel proud that you lived bravely and boldly and went after all that you wanted, success or failure?

It’s up to you, but I would nudge you to choose the latter… life is better when we make the choice to lean into fear and discomfort and eliminate wonder and regret. It’s better when we choose to be brave and bold. Sometimes it’s harder and more challenging, but it’s always worth it. Always.

What are you going to choose?

If you asked me two months ago what topic I wanted to base my business on, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. With her guidance and support, my business is up and running and I have created my Individual Coaching Package and two Transformational Quick-Guides. I’m currently coaching my own clients and there are several other products and packages in the making. The best part is that, by working with Stephenie, I have been able to overcome my own mental blocks so that I now feel so much more in-tune with my own creative flow.