Jennifer Louden is a personal growth pioneer who helped launch the concept of self-care with her first best-selling book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She’s the author of 6 additional books on well-being and whole living
She has spoken around the U.S., Canada and Europe, written a national magazine column for a Martha Stewart magazine, been profiled or quoted in dozens of major magazines, and appeared on hundreds of TV and radio shows, even on Oprah. Jennifer has been teaching retreats and leading workshops since 1992, and creating vibrant on-line communities and innovative learning experiences since 2000.
Today we're talking about what Jen is rebelling against– women's voices being marginalized. She's giving us all the power and resources to claim our voices and tell our stories. Most importantly, we're talking about the importance of making what we want in this world and how things would change if we simply did that.
Tune into the audio:
Michelle: Hi Jenn, welcome to the Rebel Rising Podcast.
Jennifer: I love the title of your podcast so much, it just makes me sit up and want to rebel.
Michelle: Thank you. I mean, that's really the whole purpose of this show. It's for those of us who are doing things a little bit differently in our business, and in our lives. To have a place to belong, and to come up with new ideas. I'm thrilled that you love it.
Michelle: So, my first question for you is all about rebellion. Tell me, what are you rebelling against?
Jennifer: I sat down yesterday to reflect on the questions that you sent and I found them so, like really illuminating, and disturbing in a good way, you know? In the way of like, these are important questions. Why haven't I thought about these? I just love the way you worded them.
Jennifer: So, what am I rebelling against? I think there's a number of things. One of them, I'll just start with a light one, which is this whole idea of a life hack. I really, I understand why some of us want to hack things because sometimes there's a technical solution to something.
Jennifer: Like, you're hacking your smartphone, so you tap on it less. Or, hacking, going to the grocery store so you don't walk up and down the aisles seven times. But, the deeper questions of life, the deeper questions of business, the deeper questions of our souls. When we try to hack them, I think we just do such a violence to ourselves.
So I rebel against the life hack when it comes to the big deep questions of life. I rebel against women's voices being marginalized, and I especially rebel against us doing it to ourselves.
Jennifer: I've worked with so many women writers over the years, and there are kind of two focus to my business. And one of them is helping women writers. And the way that I … I mean some writers I've worked with for close 20 years before I can really get them to say, this is my story, this is my voice, this is what I stand for now. Of course, other people don't take that long.
Jennifer: I'm rebelling against becoming a cyborg.
Michelle: I love it. Oh my gosh.
Jennifer: One of the things I talk about a lot in my online community, which goes by two names, The Oasis and The Writer's Oasis. We have, everybody is a creative, some people have more of a focus on writing than others. And I talk about this idea of a human scaled life.
And it feels to me, and it's kind of related to the life hack thing, but not exactly, but it's becoming almost shameful to be human. To not be able to do everything at maximum speed, productivity, efficiency day after day.
Jennifer: And I don't know about you, but if I spend three or four days at maximum warp speed, I just want to drink a barrel of tequila.
Michelle: No, I agree. I feel like we live in this world where … It is, I think this is very much related to the life hacks around productivity where it's like, we always feel this need to produce and produce and produce and be more and more efficient. Which really, I think goes back to one of the other things you were saying, about how we prevent ourselves from having our own voice.
Because if we're always doing things in the service of efficiency and speed and productivity, we don't have the time to step back and create and find our voice and claim our stories.
Jennifer: Right on! Very well said. That's a great connection. I totally agree. Yeah.
Michelle: Yeah, cause I just saw those two being so hooked together.
So why do you think we have such problems claiming, especially women, claiming our voice and our stories?
Jennifer: Well, I mean if we look at most of human history, at least modern human history recorded, women have been murdered, subjugated, belittled, owned. We just, it's very, very new. It's really, I'm 56, so in my lifetime I have seen the rise of the ability to have a voice, to have a story, to own my own house without having to have someone, a man, co-sign with me.
Jennifer: So it's still very new for us to own that, and we don't change as humans as fast as this culture on steroids is changing. So my daughter is having a different experience, but she, I still see her struggle with speaking up for things. She's definitely getting better, she's about to turn 25.
Jennifer: So I think that it is the history of western religion is the history of saying women speaking up, bad.
Jennifer: You're the cause of sin. So this is … even if this isn't our world view, or isn't the story we were raised with or the culture we were raised in, it's still out there. And women being the objects of desire and being taught that our power exists in how we look, what we can manipulate through our looks is again, a message that is in every single magazine that you pick up.
Michelle: Yeah. Well, I think you make an excellent point about this still being very, very new. The fact that we can have credit cards. I'm reading this book right now called White Fragility and-
Jennifer: I've read that.
Michelle: Oh it's so good. But the author was making the point that black women didn't get the right to vote until 1965 along with all other black people.
Jennifer: Right, except that was only in certain states.
Jennifer: She didn't write that sentence I thought as clearly as she could. Because some states, of course, black women got the right to vote earlier. But yes in the South.
Michelle: Yeah, in the South. And it's-
Jennifer: After I was born. Right?
Michelle: I know, I know. My husband was born in 1964. So I was like, oh my gosh.
Jennifer: So that … and it's true depending on our color, our gender preference, our sexual orientation where we fit in the culture do we stand … I'm pretty mainstream, I'm straight, I'm white, I'm married. I might have a little bit more feeling that my voice matters, or that I can express my stories than someone who's trans, or you know … But on the other hand, I've got a lot of Southern background. So that definitely doesn't play to one's advantage sometimes.
Michelle: Yeah. So there are a lot of cultural and systemic things that keep us from feeling like we can speak up and that our stories do matter.
Jennifer: And, while we need to know those, and we need to have a political view of them. At the same time, we can't stop them from letting us bother, from letting us tell our stories.
Jennifer: So we need to hold it in the larger cultural-historical context so that we don't take it personally. We don't do the self-help, oh it's all up to me, it's all about me, bull-shit.
Jennifer: But on the other hand, if we totally become, oh well it's just the culture so I have no choice. I mean, whoa. That's not a great way to go.
Michelle: Exactly, exactly.
Well and I think it goes back to that idea that we shouldn't bother to tell our stories despite all of the systemic and cultural stories and oppression that tells us not to.
Michelle: So I'm curious, what change do you want to create in the world?
Jennifer: Well I've been, I'm working on a book, and it is the third iteration, and it started off as a straight memoir, and by straight, I mean narrative ark. Which completely didn't work after I wrote 500 pages and spent four years on it. And then I re-invented that, and thought yes, I know what this book is about, I know what it is, wrote some of the sample chapters to that, worked on that for about four months, my agent turned it down and then I was like oh who cares. Who the hell cares if she turns it down. I'll find someone else, or I'll publish it myself and then I realized no, this still isn't it. And then the third iteration, which I'm three-quarters of the way through and I think is really working. And one of the stories in that is the story of me rejecting my own work for so many years.
Jennifer: And for those of you who don't know, I wrote a bunch of self-help books. I was the first person to really write about self-care in a popular context. I did a lot of teaching and retreats and keynotes and had a pretty good platform doing that for like 12 or 15 years.
But the whole time I felt like a fake. And I used to think it was just the whole Imposter Syndrome.
Jennifer: But it really, I mean there was some of that, for sure. Lots of things to untangle with that.
But one part of it was I never really owned how much I wanted to change the world so women could truly make what they wanted.
And it wasn't until I was writing a story of my father telling my mother she couldn't work. I was about 16 and she really wanted to take this job in a high-end gift store. And he said absolutely not, I want you home when I come home, I want you able to travel when I want to travel.
Jennifer: My dad was my hero, I loved him, he was a great guy, I make him sound like a dick, but he wasn't.
Michelle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jennifer: But it was all from a very different generation. And the anger that I felt from that episode really shaped my work with women. But until I saw that, talk about owning our origin stories for our business right?
Jennifer: That I realized, oh my god, this really is my work, and yes I want to iterate it and yes I want it to be … you know there are things about the self-help industry that I've hated from the beginning, and all of that's real. But here's this thing that I really care about, that I've been missing.
And that is that I really want women to be able to make what they want. So that's why I want to change the world. Look at the change I want to create in the world.
Michelle: Ooh. You want women to be able to make what they want.
Jennifer: I mean isn't that just so basic, but so true. Whether we want to make great families or whether we want to make a great business, or want to make great blogs or businesses or social change movements, that's really what feminism comes down to, isn't it?
I get to make what I want.
Michelle: Yes, well and it's so simple but I feel like we, especially as women we are the nurturers and there's a lot of expectations put upon us about how we should operate in the world and it feels so selfish to say I'm going to make this thing.
Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that's exactly right. I think that's probably why in so many ways my original work was around self-care and self-nurturing because I started, that first book was published in 1992 and when I would go out and speak about self-care people would raise their hand and say well I get my nails done.
Jennifer: I think there's something more I'm pointing to. But you know, it really took me a few years to articulate it. I got interviewed for a New York Times article a few weeks ago, I didn't fact check for it so I don't know if I'm in it, but she wanted to interview me, but it was sort of was like, you're the first person to talk about self-caring and one of the questions was how do you think the current self-care perception or I don't know what we want to call it, movement or … How does it need to change, what is it missing? And I'm like you know it's great women, millennials and younger they really don't seem to have the guilt that women I worked with in the beginning do.
Jennifer: But I don't know that they're connecting it to the deep questions of what is my life about and how do I strengthen and nurture that? And I don't know if we're always connecting it enough to helping all women get to take care of themselves.
Michelle: Yes! Yes! Well, and I think when we have the, you know, I want to make what I want to make and I want to create that, we really are helping other women do the same. Whether it's we're modeling that for people or we're getting more resources so we can support other women in doing what they want to do in this world, I think all of that is so important.
Jennifer: Michelle, that is really I mean when you look at the evidence-based models for how do we change the world. Giving money and giving money appropriately, doing your research, is number one.
Jennifer: Sometimes I, that to me, if my business can be successful and I can give more money away, and I'm not saying we don't also need to look at our consumption and what did we buy, and what kind of businesses do we support and how do we contact our legislators and all of that stuff is super important. But to really have an impact, if we have a successful business that we can give away 10% or 20% of what we earn as well as support businesses and write livelihoods, at least don't damage the planet, wow that's incredible.
Michelle: I know. It's amazing. So I wanted to backtrack and ask you one question that I found fascinating as you're talking about this book project. You said that you abandoned a 500 page book.
What did that feel like? How was that process?
Jennifer: You know, it was interesting. I made a lot of mistakes on that book that I won't let any of my clients ever make, or try not to let them make. So when I finally, I had been working with a coach and all the feedback I was getting was great. And then, but I had this inkling that it wasn't working and that, I don't know whether she wasn't reading it enough or she was too impressed by me or what was going on. But anyway I hired somebody else who I really trusted and paid her to read the whole thing. It took her three days to write me the email and say this does not work.
Jennifer: And I was so relieved. Because I think I knew. I knew. And it felt like I ran around, I mean I cried and I was bummed. I read the email I think right before I got on an airplane and … But then I started to have this song in my head, “Ding dong the wicked witch is dead”. So I think there was just a part of me that just knew that, boy that wasn't working. But I don't regret writing it because it changed me so much as a person.
I don't think I would be the person I am today who is now writing this book, I wouldn't have the insights that I had, I think I'm so much happier, more resilient. I don't think I could have made this move from the Pacific North West to Colorado, as successful as it's been. So I don't regret it, but I think I probably could have done that in about half of the time.
Michelle: Yes, cause that's I mean-
Jennifer: That's a long ass time.
Michelle: Yeah, that was a really long ass time, that you were working on a project that ultimately didn't work. But-
Jennifer: Yeah there are stories that are coming out into this book. So, you know maybe 20 or 30% of this book will have been sourced directly from that book, so it's not a total loss but …
But you know I think this goes back to this idea of like when you create what you want to create sometimes you have to abandon your creation because you realize along the path that you're not creating the right thing.
Jennifer: Right, or you don't, you know, you got off the path you didn't ask the right questions at the beginning. I work with a small group of writers, at a private mastermind, we just started about three weeks ago and when we all listen to this, we'll be through the first part of it, but … I see them really, I'm giving them really hard homework.
Like who's your reader, and why are you writing this, and what is in it for you, and what's in it for the reader, why should the reader choose this?
Jennifer: And what's the point? Some people those are not hard questions, other people want to stab me.
Michelle: Oh, I know. Those are some of the, those are similar questions I ask when I'm working with a business on their messaging and their three word rebellion and they're like, oh these are hard questions, and I'm like yes, but that's how you actually connect with your people, it's how you connect with your reader, it's how you connect with your clients.
It's really by understanding their experience.
Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And choosing. I mean one of the things I see, a lot of the women I work with, not all of them, but a lot of them, they have a really hard time choosing. And I'm not quite sure what that is about. I coached one of the writers today and I said you know, when that voice comes up and says but what about this idea, and what about that story, I say, just be very loving with that voice and say I know that you have a lot to offer and let me just jot that down for right now, I'll jot that down and we'll look at it later. We're not killing that idea or that story, but right now we're focused on this section or this chapter.
Michelle: Yes! Well and I think that is great advice because I often find that with my clients too. They're all like but I have this idea, and I'm multi-passionate and I want to do all of the things. And I'm like, I understand that, and you will eventually, but for now, you have to focus on one thing. Otherwise, you confuse the crap out of people.
Jennifer: It's not that we're not all multi-passionate but my business doesn't have to, I mean I don't know, maybe Yo Yo Ma is, maybe he's just passionate about the violin. We have to present something that's easy for people to explain in their minds, right? It's like if you meet me on the street, you're going to immediately have a picture of who I am. Whether it's … It's not the whole of who I am, but you're going to be like oh, middle-aged woman, blah, blah, blah, you know, athletic, likes to shop. Likes bright colors. And has a big gray streak in her hair.
Jennifer: Okay, interesting. You know, so you're going to have all of these associations and ideas that are going to be instantaneous, that's the way our brains work. We have to work with that.
Michelle: Mm-hmm (affirmative)!
Jennifer: And we have to be willing to know that, that isn't the whole of who we are. And I used to try to do this, I used to try to cram everything I was interested in into my business. Well, that didn't work.
Michelle: No, no! And it's okay.
Jennifer: Well look at what happened to writing a book either.
Michelle: I mean I think that's so key, it's okay not to cram everything in, and to have one focus for a season, knowing full well that your focus will probably evolve and develop over time.
Jennifer: And it's allowed to, and you don't have to make a big ding ding doo about it. And telegraph to the whole world that you've changed your brand yet again. Just start talking about what your new thing is.
Michelle: Yeah. Take them on the journey with you.
Michelle: Exactly! Yes!
Michelle: So my final question for you, and this one's always the doozy.
So if everyone acted on your message, on this idea that women should be able to create whatever they want to create. What would the world be like?
Jennifer: Well, I think men and other people would have to step up and help with the third shift. I think women would be paid on par or whatever, there wouldn't be the pay difference.
Jennifer: I think that we would have, I guess sort of the image that comes to me is just this flow of more aliveness because we wouldn't be holding ourselves back. I would hope that we would have less compare and despair.
We would have more, yes I love the work you're doing and I'm really … More a sense of generosity, because I am over here writing my poetry or crafting my garden, or whatever it is. It doesn't have to be you know a business, or make money, to make what you want.
Jennifer: So, a sense of wellbeing and lightness, and more aliveness in the world. And then I would hope, and this may be very Pollyanna of me, that the more we did that, the more we would want to work to help others have the same possibilities. You know whether it's women in this country who are living in a gun violent neighborhood with, in a food desert, working three, below minimum wage jobs or whether it's a woman in another country or …
Jennifer: And that we would, it would continue to fuel our desire for social justice without draining us. Because it's definitely one of the things I see, and this is a chapter written in my new book. Western women are not [inaudible 00:22:06] because one of the things I see, is this sort of, women not bothering about what they want to make because they think if they don't save the world first, or if because they weren't able to save the world and they got burnt out or sick, now they're not allowed to make what they want.
Jennifer: So finding that balance, that sort of savoring life, and making what you want, and letting it help you naturally serve.
I mean, I don't know, that may be Pollyanna of me.
Michelle: No, I think that's beautiful. I always say you should really go big with this question, and having that vision of when we're able to make what we want, when we're able to be more, when we're able to have more resources, then we're able to do more good in the world. Like we have more bandwidth, we have more to give, so with that change actually ripples out from us, to other people, and I think that is the beauty of it.
Jennifer: Yeah, that's what I would hope. And I think even more fundamental than that is that this sense of when we really own our desires and we really own our voices and our stories, however, we want to put it, it always sounds a little cliched, is that it's so empowering, also a cliche word. That we sort of, it just kind of ripples out from us, we're like come on.
Everybody should get to do this, and then hopefully that motivates us in a deeper, more sustainable way.
Michelle: Ooh, so Jenn, I have loved this conversation, and you'll have to come back when your book launches.
Jennifer: Oh, thank you.
Michelle: In the meantime, tell us where can people find you online?
Jennifer: Oh you can always find me on my website. And there's a great freebie there that's a really cool e-book that I wrote, that I just love. And I'm on Facebook, and I've been on Twitter, and then I kind of went away from it, I'm trying to make myself go back, and Instagram.
Jennifer: Instagram's always good to see a picture of my dog.
Michelle: Oh, I love Instagram too. Yeah, you can always see pictures of my cats on Instagram.
Jennifer: And I just went on a day, offline, off-grid, silent, solo, writing retreat and I had this red fox, I was up at 10, 600 feet, this red fox came and visited me twice, so you can go on Instagram and see pictures of the fox.
Michelle: Ooh, I love it, I love it, I love it. Well thank you so much for being on the Rebel Rising Podcast, this has been an amazing conversation.
Jennifer: Oh, my pleasure Michelle.