J: My guest today is Sara Bates and she's a vibrant mostly happy stay-at-home mom to 2 preschoolers, Preston and Evangeline. As a former lawyer, it took Sara years to shake a deeply held belief that she needed to be impressive in order to be worthy. When faced with the shift in identity that came along with motherhood, Sara began to look inward to claim her worth. Now, instead of focusing on expanding her resume, Sara focuses on expanding her happiness through self-compassion, curiosity, creativity, and singing at the top of her lungs as often as possible. Sara, that is like the best bio I've ever read, I'm so excited to have you on the show.
S: Thank you, Jen, I'm excited to chat with you today.
J: Now, everyone do you, you know, have a little bell ringing that, you know, Sara Bates? Because she's called into the show before a couple of times and I shared a clip. I have no idea what episode it was, but if you're recognizing her name, this is Sara Bates; so I'm glad you're here. So, Sara, let's start with a favorite quote and dive into this awesome interview.
S: Absolutely. So this is a quote that I turn to often because it kind of feels like a commentary on my life and yet a shove in the right direction. And it is from Anne Lamott and her book ‘Bird by Bird’; some instructions on writing and life. So it's a book for writers, but if you don't know Anne Lamott, it's worth reading. She's amazing, she's an essayist and I love her. So the quote that I selected by Anne Lamott from ‘Bird by Bird’ is, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won't have to die. And the truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you and have a whole lot more fun while they're doing it.”
J: Mm, ooh, that is fantastic. I love Anne Lamott as well and I have that book, but I had not noticed that quote before; that's awesome. So tell us what that means to you and how you're applying it.
S: So the quote really resonates with me. I lovingly refer to myself as a functioning perfectionist. I battle with my perfectionist tendencies probably on a daily basis. And to me, that quote just hits the nail on the head. If you're worried so much about doing things the right way or the perfect way all the time, you really do limit yourself, you really cramp yourself, and eventually, you will drive yourself insane if you live in perfectionism for too long. And that, to me, has just been really eye-opening. You said in my bio, I come from the background of being a lawyer, I was a corporate lawyer and I come from a school of education and training where you do everything right, you don't put a comma in the wrong place, if you do, you'll really make your client angry, you'll cost them a lot of money. And, you know, those mindsets are really difficult to shake, but they're powerful and they also I think infiltrate into other areas of your life, not just when you're drafting a contract unfortunately. So I'm definitely someone who, this is my battle, this is my thing that I work against. And I've definitely started to overcome, I'm pleased to say, but with a lot of work.
J: Would you call that a type-a personality?
S: Absolutely, I think so; I think it goes along with it. I think that you can be a perfectionist or suffer from protectionism and not be a type-a personality, but I do think that type-a is probably have that more often than not.
J: Were you born to type-a?
J: You know, what were you like as a child? Tell us about that.
S: I was, I definitely was born a type-a. I have always kind of been someone who wanted to study and get the good grades.
S: I'm an athlete as well so I always played sports, I've even played sports in college. So, you know, I have a lot of competitiveness to me and, you know, that also has kind of trickled over into adulthood when I'm not necessarily competing with anybody but myself. So I certainly have always been on a path, and I will have to say that I don't know where it comes from because my mother is not that way. My mother is a middle child, I'm an only child so I never… I don't know if it's because I'm a firstborn and an only born that I have that, that could be the case. But I don't get it from my mom, none of my family is really like that. I think it's for me just a unique personality trait, genetic and, you know, I fed into it my whole life.
J: It's so funny because I feel like you're describing exactly how I was in my family, just firstborn, I think there's something to that; my mom is the middle born. But, yeah, I think they thought I was a bit intense, that's the word people use, “Jen, when I met you, I thought you were very intense.” (Laughs)
J: Do you get the same thing?
S: I've heard that before. I've gotten… I carry around with me a lot of shame actually about how long how loud I speak.
S: So I hope I'm not talking too loud. I have always been pretty intense and I like to call it enthusiastic now, I like that better.
S: I think it sounds kinder but, yes, always intense, kind of fast talking and, you know, yeah, so I'm with you on that; intensity and volume .
J: What's your Myers-Briggs type, Sara?
S: I don't know. I actually…
J: You don’t know.
S: I don't know my Myers-Briggs type. And I have taken that before but I don't know what it is. I know that I'm an extrovert though…
S: … for sure.
J: For sure. Okay, Sara, well, I want to hear about your low point, especially how you shifted from that enthusiastic perfectionist to maybe letting some of that go and what that looks like for you. So let's hear about your story.
S: Absolutely. So I put a lot of thought into this, and over the past several years, I have been listening to your podcast for a while, and hearing your guests talk about this really caused me to reflect back on my own life. And so distilling this for this interview today it was definitely helpful in helping me wrap my head around some of this. But, for me, there was kind of a slow pileup of things that happened over the course of a few years that I basically ignored and kind of marched on, kept stepping forward on those perfect little stepping stones like the perfectionist that I am. And I was watching my feet, not really paying attention to what was going on around me, how I felt about what was going on, just marching forward as one does. And just for a little bit of background, what finally got my attention and where I think my low point story begins was when I had my son, my first son, my firstborn child, my son, in October of 2013. But leading up to the birth of my son, I had a quite a few changes in my life. I had quit my job as a lawyer, my husband and I moved from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia so that he could work for his family's business, and I got pregnant, had a child. So all of those things happened over the course of about a year.
J: Mm, that's a lot.
S: Right. So I decided to stay at home with my son after he was born. And I didn't want to go back into law so it was kind of the perfect opportunity after I had quit my legal job and had found out I was going to have a baby, it felt like the perfect opportunity to kind of sit back and take stock of my life and relax and figure out where things go. And any new mother will tell you that, once you have a child, the word relax doesn't enter into the equation very often.
S: So, you know, I had this baby and, again, like the perfect little life that I had plotted out for myself, I had planned to have a natural childbirth and I read book after book after book on natural births, Ina May Gaskin and you name it; I'm sure some of your listeners have heard of some of these stories, these books. And I took prenatal yoga, I did all of the things that you do. And what of course happens when you do all of the things that you do is that you have an unplanned C-section.
S: And I was shocked, but not planned for it of course, and was just simply not prepared for what I perceived as this huge failure. And, you know, I kind of ramped up, turning on that type-a personality that served me so well in my life up to this point, right? I dove headfirst into this mom stuff. I was bound and determined to breastfeed and I nursed my baby through cracks and infections and all through the night, he did not sleep for probably 18 months. He was colicky, he slept in my room and I was exhausted, but honestly, I kept pushing. I literally grasped at every possible straw that I thought would help me be this A+ mom. And I already felt like I was in the red because I didn't give birth quote ‘correctly’. So I did baby rearing, I literally walked around my house with my kid strapped to my back or to my chest all the time, all day long; unless he was napping, he was literally on my body.
S: And I made him the organic food of course myself with the little blender while he was strapped to my body and I did cloth diapers.
J: Oh man! (Laughs)
S: I mean, yes, come on, I mean, I literally felt like I needed to earn those bounty points. And I was just like, I was full-on in this mommy war thing. Like, I just was one of these like judgmental mommies, these Sancta mommies; is that what they call them? (Laughs)
J: Oh, I haven’t heard that; I like it.
S: I was just this picture of perfection, right? And on top of this all that I'm doing, I decided to work for my law firm again from home.
J: Oh! (Laughs)
J: That’s terrible, oh no! (Laughs)
S: Yes. So my boss called me one day and he said, “Look, I really miss you, I could use you on some projects. You can work from home!” Excellent, right? And I said, “Sure”, they were going to pay me well, I could still be a lawyer, even though I didn't like it, it felt a little bit better like it was on my terms. I didn't have to go in the office, right, so this all sounded good. So I picked up my legal job again and I also started doing nonprofit consulting from home because that was…
S: … an interest of mine in the legal realm. And this gentleman who was out of Texas only looked for remote workers, and I thought, “Hey, this will be easy, I can do this with my eyes closed. Let's do that job too.” So I had a 4 month old baby and 2 jobs from home and no help, no babysitter, no family helping me. And, you know, here I was, I was perfect, look at me, I can work at home, I'm at home with my baby, I have it all, right, I have everything. I have everything, this is the balance that everybody talks about. And, you know what? I still remember this one horrible night where I was on a training call listening to my baby cry in his bedroom and I just was sitting at my desk thinking, “What am I doing? What is this?” And I went upstairs, I asked the person to please put on because he had been crying for so long, and I went upstairs and my husband was just sitting in there with the lights out, he couldn't do anything to console the baby, he just had him laying in the crib. And here I am, crazy mommy war baby wearing mom, “What are do…? Why is he down? Why are you not holding him?” you know, and my husband's like, “Enough is enough, you sometimes have to put down the baby,” right? So I literally nurse the child for the rest of the training meeting while I was on the phone. I mean, this is what I was doing and it just… it wasn't good. I wasn't taking care of myself, I wasn't exercising, I wasn't sleeping, but again, it was this, “Look at me, I can work from, I can have the baby, I can be at home with the baby, I can do everything.”
J: Yeah. If you had to distill that all down into a sentence that describes how you felt, just one little phrase or sentence, what would it be? You had it all but you felt…
S: I had it all and I felt nothing…
S: … literally, I had it all and I felt nothing.
J: Aaw man.
S: I was exhausted. Because the truth was, right, I didn't have it all. I was doing it all, what did I have? What did I even want? Ding-ding-ding, like that was the question, right, and I wasn't asking myself that question.
S: So this is where… and I'm sure many of your listeners have had this moment, and this is where my moment where I kind of started to turn around from this one deep point. I was with a friend and I was just talking to her about this struggle of how it was really trying to, you know, be everything and do everything and still be a lawyer and still be a mom and have the ballot. And, you know, she just looks at me and says, “Oh, honey, me too.” And rather than… you know, it would be more dramatic to say she thrust a copy of ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brené Brown into my hands but it's probably more accurate to say she like texted me the Amazon link….
S: … and said, “Please read this book, it changed my life,” and I said, “Okay, I will.” And I actually looked on Amazon because I wanted to remember the timing of this, I bought Brené’s book on April 17, 2014; my son was 6 months old. And I sat down and I had my little highlighter out, right, because that's what you do when you're a student and, you know, you like to get A's and you… you know, you get your highlighter out, you take notes when you read your book…
J: (Laughs) Uh-huh.
S: … and I opened up ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ and, Jen, I'm literally on page, you know, XII, this is in the preface, I haven't even gotten into the book yet and Brené has this list where she talks about how we have these unraveling in our life that cause us to really just say, “I don't want to do this anymore. I don't want to do what everybody wants me to do. I want to live the life that I want.” And I have my highlighter out and I'm highlighting these items on her list of unraveling. And here I am, “1, soul-sucking job, 2, marriage, 3, moving, 4, trauma.” And I have to say that I lived with my in-laws for a little while in between this area where I move, and I have to classify that as trauma; I think anybody would say that that could classify…
J: Right, right.
S: … and becoming a parent. And I had all of these things on this list that she talked about. Our major unraveling, and I had ignored literally all of it until now. I did not stop to think about anything, I had just kept hitting snooze and kept looking down at my feet, making sure I was hitting those stepping stones and I didn't have to feel the discomfort of anything, I just kept moving forward. And this mom thing really just kind of opened my eyes and did me in and I just didn't have the energy for the perfectionism anymore.
S: And it all made sense, I mean, Brené has a chapter in her book about perfectionism and I dug into that and it described me to a tee, and this was when I really started to do the work. And this was when I found your podcasts, I did a search for birth trauma and disappointing birth experiences and helping cope with that, and one of your early guests had discussed that, and I apologize, I can't remember her name, maybe you'll…
J: I think Kimberly Johnson.
S: It might have been.
J: Does that sound familiar? Yeah.
S: And her story was so traumatic and it almost made me feel like, “What is going on with me? I know this woman really had dealt with a trauma and, you know, what I was dealing with was disappointment and failure and perfectionism.” And I really just dug into the whole-hearted journey that Brené teaches. I realized that I wanted to be authentic and that I was a person who I would consider was straightforward and truthful and was kind of true to my style and my aesthetic and things like that. But the piece that was missing from me from being an authentic human was the vulnerability.
S: I just… I didn't ask for help and my perfectionism was getting in the way of me being vulnerable, and my vulnerability, the lack thereof, was preventing me from being authentic. And, you know, I wasn't able to sit down with someone like my friend did with me and said, “Oh, honey, me too,” like that's never something that I would have been able to do then. And now, I just feel like I have this space in my heart from learning to be vulnerable and learning to be authentic where I can really sit and listen to people, and the connections that I have with people are just so much greater. And, you know, this was the same time where I found out about Gretchen Rubin, and I know you've spoken about her a lot on this podcast. And I can't stress enough, for somebody like me who's a type-a personality and really like kind of to do lists and being able to put things into boxes, how amazing Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies framework was for me to learn about myself. And me using that as a tool to help me understand how I responded to obligations was just really very eye-opening. And that kind of helped me start to be able to dig into really taking space for things that would help me feel like a human again and setting myself up for success when pursuing those things. And one of the really early things that kind of stepped in for me that I made space for was writing, and I kind of tackled that very pressing item on that list of unraveling of becoming a parent. And I really sat down and thought about my birth experience and how disappointed I was and how I felt like a failure and how I did all of these things to kind of account for that. And I sat down and I wrote about it, and I wrote an essay and I ended up submitting the essay to an anthology that was seeking stories from women who dealt with the same thing that I dealt with, processing a C-section after the fact and how this is really hard for some people and nobody talked about it. And they ended up selecting my piece and it's going to be published, it's actually coming out in the spring.
S: It's called ‘My Cesarean’, there's 21 mothers who have essays that are going to be featured in this. But, you know, I just sat… sat down and started to write, and I just felt this whole new kind of light come on inside that hadn't been on in a really long time.
J: So back up a little bit. So you…
J: … obviously had to create space for that writing, so well, first before we go there, what is your tendency from the 4 tendencies? I have to ask you; you mentioned.
S: So I'm an Obliger.
S: I wish that I was an Upholder which are basically type-a’s who not, only meet their own internal expectations, but also the expectations of others. And unfortunately for the Obliger such as myself, we meet the expectations of others before we meet the expectations of ourselves.
S: And that was kind of where I was slipping and that's where Gretchen helped me realize what I needed to do in order to take control of the things that I found important. And I might not be able to call on willpower to do them.
S: I might need to have accountability from an outside force in order to do these things.
J: Yeah, yeah. So you had all these ‘shoulds’ pressing it on you, organic, breastfeeding, baby wearing, 2 jobs, you know, you were the Sancta mommy, right? (Laughs)
J: Because these ‘shoulds’ were driving everything and leading you to feel nothing. I assumed that you had to figure out what you wanted first and then that created the space to let go of the ‘shoulds’ and find the space for the writing. I mean, I don't know, what did it look like?
S: Absolutely. I mean, the writing really was where my eyes started to open. And I didn't mention in all of this that when my husband and I moved and we were between jobs, I actually started a blog because it was just something for me to do. And it was a home decor blog, which I loved. I was really into HGTV at the time, I love doing DIY projects. That made me happy, that was a good creativity piece where I was exercising my creativity.
S: But after you have a baby, it's not quite as easy to have a nice-looking house and to work on DIY projects, and I just kind of… the blog was actually one of the first things to go, it was one of the first ‘shoulds’ that I started to ignore.
J: Hmm, nice.
S: And it wasn't that I didn't like maintaining the blog, I just kind of became disenchanted with the whole world, right, of the perfectionism, Instagram, Instagramable pictures of people's houses and that's not reality. And as I kind of picked apart this whole mindset that I had before, that was truly the first thing to go. And I said to myself, “I don't care about this anymore. Yes, I like living in a comfortable home, but I don't care if it looks perfect for pictures on Instagram, I'm done.”
S: But the part about the blog that I really liked was the story. And I used to get comments from people on my blog and they would say, “This is so hilarious,” and I was writing a story about how I made a headboard and I thought, “Well, that's fun because don't you want to pin my headboard picture to your Pinterest board?”
S: And instead they were saying that they found it interesting how I wrote a story about how my husband had to strap the plywood to the top of the car; that was what they liked about the blog post, not necessarily…
J: Ah, that’s so funny.
S: … they didn't really care about the picture of the headboard that I took. So, you know, the writing was kind of always there creeping around. And as I started reading more books of these kind of nonfiction writers and writing it myself, I really just started to dig into that a little bit more, and that's when I started to make space for writing because it felt more important to me.
J: And how did you feel when you wrote compared to, let's say, working those 2 jobs, for example? What were the different feelings you had for each?
S: I would say that there's no validation or gratification for the writing. And that was why I clung to my jobs for, I think, longer than I needed to was, it's kind of hard to know how you're doing when you're a parent and it's kind of hard to know how you're doing when you're working on writing projects just kind of in your own time. And having a job where you're responding to clients or a boss and they're kind of telling you, you do a good job, giving you more work as validation that you're doing a good job…
S: … none of that existed, and none of that certainly exists when you're really only job, if you're looking at being a stay-at-home parent, is nurturing your child.
S: And, you know, that disappears when you become a parent full-time, when you're a stay-at-home parent. You don’t get the bonus, you don't get a pay raise, you don't get paid; let's get real. I mean, you're doing a lot of hard work and the only thing you get in return is a smile from your child every once in a while.
S: And sometimes that can be hard, especially when they're babies. As they get older, you start to see how your parenting is taking effect, but when they're babies, I mean, my daughter is 3 right now, and woo, if there aren't days where you're like, “What am I… why do I do all of this?”
J: Right, right.
S: “Do you listen to anything that I say?” So, you know, the jobs were kind of me clinging on to that old need for the sticker, right?
S: For the A, for the sticker, for the bonus, whatever that was. I was kind of afraid to just let go into this unknown world of quote ‘just being a mom’; I really hung on to it for a long time. And pushing forward from this writing journey, after I began writing, I really started to take it seriously. I hired a coach who I worked with on a book that I started to write and I really was starting to feel like myself again. And what happens when you start to feel like yourself again, in my experience, is that you get pregnant again…
J: Ah. (Laughs)
S: … and you get sick and it all becomes really difficult. So I was literally just starting to see the light. I was climbing out of the whole mommy perfection storm, I was doing something for me and I got pregnant again. And I really didn't have energy to pursue something new and kind of slowed down on the writing. I had kept my blog, but the second pregnancy, I approached with an open mind and no expectations and it was so much better. I didn't have the ‘shoulds’ on me and I just moved through it and my birth experience was much better and the baby was happy, I had more confidence, she slept better and things were looking up. And this is where the second point of my low point, my exceptionally long low point story comes, was that one day, my husband came home from a business trip kind of exhausted, and our daughter is probably like 5 or 6 months old and he just kind of unleashes on me for the first time all of this trouble that he's having, balancing family, work, our marriage. You know, he's gone through, other than having the child, he's gone through all of these changes as well. We both changed jobs, left jobs, moved. And, you know, of course the light bulb goes off on my head that I wasn't really paying attention to what he was doing, I just thought that he was going to work every day and I was staying at home and I was working on me, and he was kind of suffering in silence until this day. And it all came out, and I don't want to share all of his story, it's not my story to tell, you know, without his permission or involvement, but it was kind of similar to what I was going through. And just the way that his struggles manifested themselves were a little bit different than mine and, you know, where I went in kind of overdrive mode he would kind of go into numbing mode. And so we were dealing with this kind of crisis at home, and that was honestly where I really dug my feet in and I put into effect all of these things that I had been learning, like the whole clichéd, “Put your oxygen mask on first if you expect to help anybody else.”
S: And it was very, very soon after he revealed this pain that he was having to me, I was having a day, my son was still really young, I mean, my son was 27 months old when my daughter was born. So he was a toddler, she was a couple months old and she was just screaming, and I remember I said, “That's it, I'm going outside,” I took my headphones and I went running for literally, I can't remember how long it had been since I had gone for a run, and I just felt good.
S: I listened to music, I was outside, I could literally feel my heart pumping blood into my limbs, and I thought, “I haven't felt this free in a really long time.”
S: And that was when another light bulb went on for me. And I went on this run, I stopped and walked a lot, it wasn't pretty, my legs felt like cement, but I did this run. And I got home and I thought about it a lot and I said to myself, “I need to do this more.” And I took all of that studying that I had done with Gretchen Rubin and the tendencies and I did all this studying I did from, you know, Brené and your podcasts and how important self-care is and how I needed to make a commitment to myself. And I was exhausted from dealing with my kids and everything and from this new dilemma that was added on top, but I needed to make a commitment to myself. And I emailed my friend that night and she's a marathoner and I said, “I want to run the Disney Marathon with you. I know it’s 6 months away, do I have enough time to train for it?” and she said, “Yes, and I will help you.”
J: Ooh, oh, nice.
S: And that was it, I needed the accountability partner, I needed the outside, you know, external obligation of a race on the calendar. And I got my butt up outside 4 days a week and I went running, and I felt this just sense of freedom that I had not had in forever. And I don't necessarily recommend training for a marathon to everyone because it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of time, but honestly, for me, I needed that many hours for myself. I just needed to get outside of my house, outside of my head, and away from all of these people. I know that sounds awful, but I really just after spending the past 3 years with either carrying a baby or nursing a baby, I needed some space. And they all respected it. I said, “Hey, I'm going to run this marathon race on the calendar,” and I told my husband I really wanted to do it, it was making me feel better and it was making me feel like a human, and he said okay; and so I did it. And he sat at home with the kids when I did my long runs on the weekend and, you know, I did that first marathon. And all along the way, I kind of had this thing where I really liked running and I had that little perfectionist voice coming back like, “Hey, maybe you can be a runner now, maybe you can be a runner, maybe you're a runner.” And, you know, I really had to work hard to tell her to stop because I didn't think I needed to be something else; couldn't I just do something because I liked it?
S: Do I have to be an expert at everything I do?
J: (Laughs) That’s a good question.
S: And that truly is something that I would have answered, “Yes, of course I do! Of course I have to know everything about everything that I do, I have to be an expert at everything that I do,” that's how I approached everything with this type-a personality of mine. And, you know, I ran that marathon and I ran another marathon after that, probably because of that little expert person nudging me. But after I ran that second marathon, I felt totally satisfied that running was just now a part of my life.
S: And I just did it, and I don't have to do it for any reason, I don't have to do it because I have a race on the calendar, I can just do it. And I built up this muscle, not only physical, not only were my lungs stronger, and not only is my body stronger from it, but just this kind of internal ability to just say, “I'm taking an hour for myself and I'm going for a run,” for no other reason. I don't have to justify it to myself because it's on my training schedule or to my family because I have a race and I have to train for it, I can just go.
S: And it was honestly the thing that really kind of peeled back my whole, you know, wanting to just be doing things for everybody else all the time, and it allowed me some freedom to just say, “This is good for me,” I'm going to do it.
J: Doing what you like, yeah.
S: Yeah, and I did. And, I mean, really, the whole thing just opened me up to this kind of new idea that not everything that you enter into has to be in pursuit of something, it can just be for the sheer pleasure of doing it. You know, I don't have to be running because I'm going to become a marathoner or because I'm going to win a race or an award, I don't have to make this my vocation, it can just be something that I like. And I think that that is where the piece of curiosity comes in.
J: Ooh, yeah.
S: It's just exploring something because you like it and being able to drop the agenda surrounding the thing. And, for me, running was how I kind of broke through that to see that not everything has to have an agenda attached to it.
J: So but while you were… you know, when you first had your son, you spent a lot of time trying to achieve and prove, and do so this is kind of like making a shift into just being…
J: … without doing. Agendas suggest doing and curiosity suggests exploring and being; I don't know, so interesting.
S: I had this epiphany when we were driving home from the second marathon I did, I ran it in Pittsburgh which is my hometown, which was very emotional for me to be running through all of my old neighborhoods. And a marathon is kind of an emotional experience as it is, it's a really arduous, it's very physically taxing, it’s mentally draining, and I had this emotional component on top of it because I was running through my old city. And we were driving home and I just had this feeling of peace. And I remember seeing a post on Instagram of this woman who I used to work with who had just had a baby too, and she ran a half marathon and she smoked me, I mean, she crushed it. I mean, I looked at her time splits and she was running like 6 minute miles, which is insanely fast.
S: And I didn't… I didn't care; I didn't. I had this weird moment where I thought, “Good for her, she rocked it.” And I didn't feel like I needed to compete with her, I didn't feel like I did a poor job in my marathon because I didn't run as fast as her. And, you know, of course I'm not going to run that fast, I'm just not, but still, there were always in the past been a voice inside my head that would say, “Well, why didn't you do it that fast?” no matter what circumstances were, and it was just not there.
J: Where did it go? I mean, like let's say someone's listening who battles the exact same thing and they're not on the other side where they stopped competing, can you verbalize what happened, where you stopped caring about those external, you know, validations?
S: I just loved it, I really can't say anything other than I just… I loved it. I loved how I felt when I was doing it and I didn't care about the outcome.
S: And I didn't know that I didn't care about the outcome until really that moment…
J: Ooh, that’s good.
S: … I didn't.
J: So you did something you loved.
J: Maybe that's the first step.
S: Yeah, I really did. And, you know, up until then, I can't say that I was doing that. I think that I was doing everything that I thought I should be doing and not anything because I just really liked it. And, you know, it was tapping into that old athletic part of me, an old part of me but still existed that had been there for a long time and was just dormant since, you know, probably I had became an adult in the adult world, right, graduated college when I was 22, that's the last time I'd been an athlete, so almost 10 years. And it was just a part of me that I had not paid attention to, and there it was, it was still there. And I think that that's kind of another thing work another place where curiosity comes in is sometimes, we have this parts of us that we just haven't paid attention to a really long time and we have these micro defeatists thoughts in our heads that just get in the way, “I can't. I'm not. I don't. I'm too old. I this, I that. It's never going to work. I'm not creative. I'm not a musician,” any of those types of statements. Those things really get in the way of you just trying something because you're interested in it. And trying something because you're interested in it without an agenda and without judgment, I think is kind of the best way to uncover these parts of yourself that really end up making you a lot happier. And I think that's the oppressor coming in, you know, what Anne Lamott calls the voice of the oppressor, the perfectionism, “I don't want to try something new. I don't want to do something that I don't already know how to do because it's uncomfortable and it's hard and it's scary.”
J: Yeah. Well, so the voice of the oppressor can be outside of yourself as well as inside of yourself or, you know, is it society, is it…?
S: No, I don't think so. I think that the voice of the oppressor is you…
S: … you and me. I think it's the voice inside and…
J: But which voice? The voice of the ‘shoulds’.
S: Yeah, it's the voice of this ‘should’, “I should just stick to what I know.”
J: Right, right, right.
S: “I should just do the thing that I am good at.” Human beings are born curious, it's part of our genetics. You can watch a kid explore something for hours and you understand. I mean, kids… I have a 5-year-old, he asks me questions about everything. And, you know, we lose that as we get older and stuck in our ways and as we give in to those mindset, so, “I… I'm not,” and, “I can't,” and “I don't.” And we're just choosing our comfort zones and, you know, ultimately siding with our fear that we're not going to be able to do something well. And, you know, if you're able to follow the part of your mind that just says, “Hey, I used to like to do this,” or, “Hey, I've always been interested in trying that,” and just ignore the part that says, “I can't,” and, “I don't,” because that'll creep in, but that, following that curiosity is what helps you write your crappy first draft of a poem or make a weird painting or a really bad rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ on a guitar or, you know, run like a really bad first mile or take a Zumba class and feel totally off step. I mean, but those are the types of things that make people happy if they're able to explore them without judgment and without agendas.
S: So… and I know that you have kind of mentioned this to me, and the one thing that I started to do purely out of curiosity (which I probably wouldn't have explored in the past because what's the point?) is astronomy.
S: Because… so I'm 35 years old, right, what's the point in being interested in this thing? How do you get good at astronomy? How do you become the best astronomer? Do you go work for NASA? I mean, no.
J: Yeah, right.
S: Like, you don't, it's just the thing that people do. And like most 5-year-olds, I'm sure, my son likes to read the same books over and over and over again, and he's really curious about outer space. And I was reading this book to him and I was reading this section about one of the planets and how long it takes the planet to orbit the Sun and it was 165 years or something, and I thought, “Isn't that insane?” and I looked at my son and I said, “Isn't that crazy?” and he's looking at me like, “Mom, you're crazy,” and I said, “No, really, 165 years, that's a long time, that's really far away, that…” you know? And I just went down this rabbit hole and I started reading all of these books about astrophysics and astronomy and I started looking at the stars, I started going to star parties with all of these old men that were, you know…
J: (Laughs) That’s so cool!
S: These guys, they're like twice my age and have these huge $15,000 telescopes that they would let the young girl look through because she brought her son with her who was 5. (Laughs)
S: But, you know, I just… and now, it's kind of this piece of my life that I follow just because I really liked learning about it and I felt good the more I knew about it. And there was, again, no agenda for this other than I liked it. And now when I go to different cities, I look for planetariums. My husband and I actually went to South America for vacation and we did stargazing excursions there, and I took pictures of the Milky Way, and they're really bad pictures and I hung them up in my house because I took them.
S: And it's not the perfect picture and I could buy a really great one off of Etsy, I'm sure, but it's my picture. And, you know, that has, for me, just been another example of how just shedding that whole perfectionist agenda and following what I like to do has really just opened up my mind and helped expand my happiness in ways I never would have been able to predict and would have said to you 3 years ago, “Sounds so stupid, that's so stupid, what's the point?”
S: And now, the point is I like it and it makes me happy. So… but it took me a really long time to get to that point where I really just felt like I could do things just because, without an agenda.
J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
S: And it wasn't easy and it took a lot of kind of beating myself over the head with the messages over and over again. So…
J: Do you think there's a connection between that pursuing what makes you happy and your intuition?
S: I think so. And I really started listening to my intuition a lot more rather than listening to those outer expectations that I was making up. And, for me, the intuition piece is just so much about thinking in terms of how something makes you feel rather than, “What is the point of this and why am I doing it?” other than it makes me feel a certain way. And, you know, for me, that was where my intuition really tapped in to, “What are the ways that I want to feel and how do I open myself up to exploring more of these things that allow me to feel that way?
J: Ooh, yeah.
S: And these truly random little bits of interests, and I like to call it kindling that I have picked up that I kind of keep throwing on to my fire, keep me going, are just… I never would have thought that this is where I would be, these kind of random interests that keep me happy. And, you know, I still have days, I'm still a stay-at-home mom to 2 preschoolers and I don't get to do all of these things that I like to do every single day, but I make space for them. And I always know that if I'm feeling cramped in one area or another that I need to lean back on one of the other things. And, you know, that's where having more than one interest or one component to yourself, just having something that you do purely for pleasure and for the joy of it really comes into play.
J: Mm, for the joy of it. So let's say there's a mom listening who… or anyone listening (maybe not even a mom) but who feels really stuck and like they've lost their joy, they've lost their sparkle, it seems like you're saying, “Just follow what feels good,” is that accurate?
S: Yeah, I think so. And, I mean, what really distilled it down for me and I like sound bites and I like really easy-to-follow actionable kind of quotes. And I was listening to the Good Life Project one day and one of the guests said, can't remember who it was again, but he said that, “People are confused, they think that happiness cures depression, happiness is the opposite of depression, but actually curiosity is the opposite of depression, and that people who are curious and kind of explore their interests without judgments or agendas are less likely to fall into those kind of depressive fogs because they're looking at the world around them.” And I'm obviously not saying that somebody who is in a deep depression can maybe pick up a book and it will cure everything, but I do think that if you're feeling kind of a general malaise in your life and you just don't know what to do, that curiosity is that spark that you could follow. And Liz Gilbert actually tells a really great story about how she was stuck between books and she had actually lost a story that she had worked on for over a year and she didn't know what to do, so she kind of just went inward and started working on a garden in her backyard. And then she became interested in knowing the origin of the plants that she was putting into her yard, and that led her to going over to Europe to work with botanists and study these 18th century botanists, and she wrote ‘The Signature of All Things’.
S: So it's just… Liz Gilbert, if anybody is listening and they're interested in kind of thinking more about curiosity, Elizabeth Gilbert has some beautiful talks on it. She actually talks about like curiosity is better than passion, and it's very much worth listening to if you kind of feel lackluster or you wish you had a passion and you wish you had something to follow. She really has some good tips on following your curiosity and letting it take you in the right direction and just seeing what unfolds.
J: Mm, I'll try to put some links for those on her show notes page at jenriday.com; that's so great. So curiosity is the opposite of depression. Everyone, if you're going to follow Sara's path (which I'm totally going to do), do what you love, do what feels good, and be curious without judgment; so beautiful. Well, Sara, let's go and talk about a few of your favorite things, let's start with your favorite life hack.
S: So this is really easy, but my favorite life hack is sleep.
J: (Laughs) I love it. (Laughs)
S: And I… honestly, this is something that I struggle with as a person who wants to get it all done and has that, you know, perfectionist tendency that I fight with. I have a permission slip on my wall of all of the things I need to remind myself, and one of the things that I have on my permission slip is that I have permission to sleep 8 hours a night without shame.
J: Oh yeah.
S: Because I really do. I think that we're a sleep-deprived nation, and after coming out of having 2 kids right in a row and feeling the difference between not having sleep and having sleep, I really think that so much can be cured by just like drinking a big glass of water and sleeping for an entire night.
J: Oh, so true.
S: So if any moms… if any moms are listening who are in the throes of maybe newborn, please don't hate me, but eventually you'll get there. And just when you get there, take it, take the sleep.
J: Yes, for sure.
J: Sara, before we turned on the microphone, you were sharing another cool hack, do you remember?
S: Yeah. So I don't know how this necessarily applies to everybody, but as a writer, I often have to describe places that I don't frequent, and I use Google Earth to look at those places. So this is kind of a fun thing to do with your kids honestly or just if you're interested in say, you know, I think I mentioned to Jen looking at Disneyworld one day. You have to fire up Google Chrome on your computer, I don't know if it works on other browsers, but if you go to Google Earth and you type in a location, it'll zoom right in on that from a satellite image. And you can literally plop the little Avatar right down on the street and walk around, and it's super cool. So I use it for writing when I need to see a place that I haven't been to in a while, but my kids love it. We'll pull up Google Earth and my son will say, “Let's find Grandma's house,” and, you know, we'll find Grandma's house and was zooming on it and he really gets a kick out of it. So…
J: That's great.
S: And they do like looking at Disney, that's always a fun one in our house. (Laughs)
J: Yeah, have you been… have you taken them yet?
S: I have, yes.
J: Oh, nice.
S: Another life hack is don't take your children to Disney until they're out of a stroller; maybe that's another life hack.
J: That’s a good one. I have one to add to that, don't take your kids to Disney when it's 105; that’s what I did. (Laughs)
S: Oh, good luck, good luck then. Good luck finding a day when it's not 105 in Orlando. It can be whatever anywhere else, unless it's like that 1 day of year where it's 40, it's 105 there. (Laughs)
J: Yeah, yeah. Well, this was at, Disneyland in Anaheim so…
J: … it was so hot, yeah. Well, what's your morning routine like, Sara? I mean, you get your 8 hours of sleep and then what?
S: Yeah, honestly, so I would say my morning routine starts at night, and that is I go to bed at 9:00. I am kind of a bedtime alarm person, if I look at the clock and it's starting to get to 9:00, I start to get panicky. I need to go, I need to be asleep at 9:15; I wake up at 5:15 so I need my 8 hours. When I wake up in the morning, this is another thing that has helped boost my happiness tremendously is that I have to give myself time before my kids wake up to do the most important things in my day. And anymore right now, for me, that's writing. And so I wake up first thing in the morning, I usually make… and you can hopefully link to this recipe for everybody, I make the Skinny Tastes Loaded Baked Omelet Muffins on the weekends. And that's just, you basically mix eggs and omelet toppings into a bowl and then dump them into muffin tins and then they pop right out…
S: … and I heat them up in the microwave. So I have a high-protein breakfast, you know, 5:30 in morning without having to get out a pan or anything.
S: So I do that, I take my vitamin, and I might do maybe 1 or 2 yoga stretches, but that's it. I sit down at my computer for 2 hours and get all my important work done before my kids wake up and start pulling me in different directions.
J: What are you writing right now?
S: So I'm currently working on a young adult novel. This is a second novel, I abandoned the first one, and I'm now plugging away on writing a novel. It's actually November while we're recording this and I am in the throes of National Novel Writing Month, and it is a challenge to writers to write 50,000 words in the month of November. So that's what I'm working on and I'm, as we stand today, 30,000 words, and so hopefully by the time this airs, I will be able to proudly say that I finished that 50,000 words and I finished my first draft.
S: So it's exciting and also scary and I love it; I love it so it's a great.
J: And National Novel Writing Month.
J: So that's where NaNoWriMo comes from, you’re taking the first…
J: … first 2 letters of every word.
S: NaNoWriMo, the famous acronym, yes.
J: Ah, that's so cool.
J: If someone wants to follow your journey and get ready for your book to come out, I hear you talk a lot about Instagram, what's your Instagram handle?
S: My Instagram handle is Embrace My Pace, and that was what I started when I decided to do my marathon and I wanted to document my running journey, so pace was very literal. And now, Embrace My Pace feels a lot more organic and authentic to how I'm trying to live my life basically. So…
J: Yeah, yeah.
S: … it all kind of worked out in that mysterious way, but that's where you can find me. I post a lot about writing and I post a lot about the books that I'm reading as well, so…
J: You know, I kind of love… I don't follow many people, but when your Instagram Lives pop up and you're talking about a new book, I watch them. So there, you have a fan. (Laughs)
S: Thank you, thank you. I hope that I am… I'm like hand selling, I'm hand selling to people's books over Instagram, hopefully one day I'll be able to hand sell my own book and not somebody else's; that's a few years down the road, but… (Laughs)
J: You know, what's about… it's about time for… let me just share a funny story. I used to be in a book club when I had a bit more time and we all got very into the Twilight series, and I think a lot of women did. And we had Team Jacob and Team Edward, and I feel like there hasn't been a Twilight level, as silly as it is, a Twilight level book series. So now, I'm holding out hope that you're going to provide that for me.
S: Oh, that's a lot of pressure, that’s a lot of pressure.
J: My book similarly has some themes that are contemporary so there are no vampires, but there might be a little bit of drama, maybe a love triangle, I'm not quite sure yet, but…
S: Oh nice, nice.
J: I mean…
S: It’s hard to compete with the vampires and the werewolves, let's be honest. (Laughs)
J: You know, and I have to say, I've had a lot of people say, “Jen, why do you own those books? I mean, this isn't what love looks like,” and I know that, but for some reason, I'm so infatuated with the Twilight series. I watched them over and over and I read… I mean, not all the time, but Harry Potter… Harry Potter and Twilight, there you go.
S: I'll have to make a recommendation…
S: … that if you're totally into the cutesy series, boy meets girl, lovey stories, then you have to read ‘To All the Boys I've Loved Before’…
S: … by Jenny Han. It's a trilogy and then there's a Netflix cheesy chick flick that goes along with the first one.
S: So it's perfect fodder for guilty pleasure, easy, fun reading…
S: … about teenagers falling in love; it's so cute.
J: Yes, that's…
S: There aren't vampires though.
S: So… (Laughs)
J: Well, ‘Hunger Games’ as well, that whole dystopian thing…
J: … that’s a piece I love; I don't know. What's coming after the dystopian novels? Are they getting old yet or are they still popular, do you think?
S: I think they're kind of getting toward their end but I don’t know. I mean, read ‘Ready Player One’, have you read that?
J: I have, I have, that's great.
S: Yeah, I'm reading that right now, so…
J: Some more future thinking instead of, “World destruction, what's the future going to be?”
S: Yeah, I don't know. I listened to Andy Weir give a talk on this and he said that the problem with dystopian novels is that they're so easy and that the writers don't have to make up the conflict, it's already created for them, that generally most people that write science fiction have these kind of doom and gloom mindsets where the world is going to end. So…
S: … I don't know. You might be getting a lot more of those books, you might not have to worry.
J: (Laughs) Okay, perfect.
J: Yeah, I love Orson Scott Card, ‘Ender's Game’; fantastic. I just like Lord of the Rings, that's my genre. And now, I'm asking you to write me a book about all those…
S: I know.
J: Just for me, Sara. (Laughs)
S: Oh, it’s a tall order.
J: I know, I’ll stop; that’s so mean of me.
J: Well, what's your favorite kitchen gadget?
S: My husband. (Laughs)
S: I just told you at the beginning that he just made our entire family Thanksgiving dinner. So apart from that, probably my immersion blender.
S: Since it's wintertime, that's the best thing to avoid the whole blender… soup pot to blender ordeal that happens a lot in the winter when you're trying to make a nice smooth soup. So…
J: For sure.
S: … which I'll have a lot of in the winter.
J: I used mine to make homemade mayonnaise, olive oil mayonnaise.
S: Oh nice.
S: That's awesome.
J: I think I'll post the recipe on my show notes, by Melissa Joulwan, she’s a paleo cookbook author…
J: … I got it from her, so yeah. What's your favorite book though, Sara?
S: Oh, my favorite book probably as it relates to the topics we've discussed today has to be ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ or anything else that Brené wrote.
S: I also love ‘Love Warrior’ by Glennon Melton; and I guess she's Glennon Doyle now, I always confuse her last names. And ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert…
J: Oh yeah, that's one of my favorites.
S: … creative living beyond fear, so I really love her. And as far as nonfiction go… or fiction goes, my favorite book right now that I recommend to any grown-up who likes to read about grownups, I like a lot of young adults so I always have this one in my pocket for people that like grown-up books is ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’.
S: It was the first book that Reese Witherspoon chose for her book club and it's a really prickly protagonist and it's hilarious.
S: I recommend that story to anybody who wants a good next book for their book club to read; I love it.
J: Ah, that sounds great; thanks, Sara. Well, this has been amazing, and let's go to our final question, what does it mean for you to be a vibrant happy woman?
S: So I thought a lot about this and, for me, what it means is to live with the mindset that I don't have to be setting the world on fire all the time. Fast pace can be really debilitating and what it's okay to do is to pick up these little pieces, our interests, the things that make us feel whole or free, and pick them up like they're kindling and you just keep them… keep throwing them into the embers to keep from burning out. You keep the heat, and as long as you can keep nurturing that heat in your core through self-care and compassion and curiosity and creativity, then eventually, all of these little pieces of kindling that you pick up, you throw them into… you know, keep them on your embers, you throw them into your fire. And eventually you light up, eventually there's a spark, and there you are on fire where you kind of felt like you want it to be. And that's what it means to me to be a vibrant happy woman, is to recognize those cycles that some are the slow burn and some are just the keeping warm and some are the times that you're on fire and to appreciate all of them. And to know, when you're in the slow burn one, to not look at somebody else who's on fire and judge where you're standing because what you're doing right now is important to where you're going to be eventually. So that, for me, is what it means to be happy and where you're standing at any moment.
J: Well, Sara, this is awesome, thanks for that really cool analogy. Every time I burn something now I'll think of it, but let's have a challenge from you to our listeners and we'll be on our way saying goodbye, sadly.
S: Absolutely, thank you. So my challenge is for everybody to, if they're feeling kind of malaise or not sure what direction they should be going, and don't be too judgmental, just keep picking up those pieces of kindling, try to ignore those ‘I can't’s and ‘I'm not’s and really follow your curiosity without judgment. Maybe try something new or try something you used to love and see if you still love it, just do it. Write yourself a note, put it on your mirror and tell yourself to do it, give yourself the permission slip. And don't judge yourself and don't have an agenda, just see if you like it and see how it makes you feel. And I think that if people keep following that path, they'll have really amplified and enriched and happier lifestyle, you know, they'll be grateful that they did something for the pure pleasure and joy of just doing it.
J: Awesome. Thank you so much, Sara, this has been awesome advice, and maybe I'll have you on again one day with your new young adult novel; that would be so cool.
S: Hopefully. Hopefully it will be there one day, but I'm taking it one step at a time.
J: Yeah, no doing, just being and enjoying, right. (Laughs)
S: Yep. (Laughs)
J: Well, thanks again for being here, Sara, this was so awesome.
S: Thank you, thank you so much.