I used to live life at a million miles per hour. That’s probably not unexpected, considering I was raised by a man whose employees nicknamed him ‘Lightning’ when he bought a company when I was fourteen.
My dad could do it all. He worked like a madman. It wasn’t unusual for him to work from 4 am to 11 pm most days. I was, at my core, my father’s daughter.
However, while my dad worked hard, he also played equally hard, balancing his work with plenty of time off where he completely disconnected and just had fun and was present.
Unfortunately, I missed the second part of the lesson.
I describe the earlier version of myself often as a heat-seeking missile hell-bent on accomplishing every goal I set. Anyone who knows me would agree wholeheartedly—just ask my brothers. But while that course of life will take you to the heights of accomplishment, it also brings you to the ultra-low lows of complete burn-out and depression.
I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, and it probably bears repeating because it’s a lesson I’ve finally internalized to the point where I’m fairly certain I won’t repeat my past patterns ever again. I’ve grown in wisdom over the years, thankfully. And Jake, my soul mate, had a lot to do with that.
Once upon a time, I was dating a supermodel who was internet famous worldwide. He would walk through airports and be recognized constantly. He was the guy. So, what was it like dating Jake? Well, in the beginning, before we moved in together, I’d send him text messages saying, “I have five minutes to talk. I’m taking a break, but then I have to go back to writing.”
Yep. That really happened.
We’re talking about the sexiest man I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Like, when I first saw him naked, I totally pulled the “Oh my God, it’s like you’re photoshopped,” just like Emma Stone when she saw Ryan Gosling strip off his shirt in Crazy Stupid Love. Except, no offense to anyone intended, but Ryan Gosling doesn’t hold a candle to a naked Jake. Holy. Wow.
And yet, despite this crazy sexy man being totally and completely in love with me and wanting to talk to me, I was too busy living at a breakneck pace, cranking out the best books I possibly could in the shortest amount of time humanly possible.
What happened when we moved in together, you might ask?
We were living in Belize, on the beach, in a house on the Caribbean Sea. Jake walked around half-naked pretty much all the time because it was hot as hell and humid as crap.
I got up every morning at 5am and wrote books seven days per week. At first, I attempted to take a month off in between books, but as it got harder to keep up with my punishing editing schedule, that break shrank and shrank until I took maybe a week off in between.
Are you following me? I was living in paradise, with a world-famous model who looked amazing naked, and I worked around 100 hours per week.
Don’t get me wrong, I took afternoons and days off here and there, but while Jake was enjoying a leisurely morning and breakfast, I was chained to my computer because I just couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to slow down. I didn’t know how to take a break. It seemed like everyone wanted me to write as fast as I could…. my publicist, my financial advisor, my editor, and my readers. And then there was my ego. It wanted the New York Times bestseller list, and I ran myself into the ground trying to hit it.
So how did I eventually learn to slow down? It wasn’t just mega-burn out. It started with watching Jake. He was never in a hurry. Not to do anything. He didn’t punish himself with constant tasks and work because he felt like he needed to prove something. He might punish himself in the gym, but he excelled at resting—a skill necessary for any bodybuilder. For the first few years we lived together, I just watched him. It drove me nuts that he wasn’t desperate to fit as much into his schedule as possible. He did what he needed and wanted to do, anything I asked him to do, and then, he rested and he enjoyed life.
Meanwhile, I was still running at a breakneck pace because I just didn’t know how to interrupt the pattern so deeply grooved into my life. How could I learn to be like that? I wanted to slow down, but something inside me wouldn’t let me, no matter how much Jake begged me to.
And then one day, after I’d hit the New York Times and been devastated when I learned that it wasn’t fulfilling in the way I craved at all and my mental health was spiraling the drain, a $1500 per month life coach asked me, “Why are you doing this to yourself? What are you trying to prove?”
That’s when it hit me. It all went back to my dad. A challenge he’d once tossed out at me offhand, that I’d long ago exceeded, but because he was gone and couldn’t tell me I’d done a great job, I was still killing myself for approval I’d never get.
It was a life-changing moment. I realized I was chasing something I could never achieve. My dad couldn’t hug me and tell me he was proud of me anymore because God had needed him on the other side.
I realized I could slow down, and it would be okay. I didn’t need to achieve anything else. I didn’t need external validation. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I’d done a good job. Because suddenly, I could see it all around me. I’d built an amazing life that I hadn’t been really enjoying because I wouldn’t give myself time to enjoy it. It was there all along, but I couldn’t see it because I was going a million miles per hour, chasing a mirage.
I finally started learning how to slow down. My addiction to productivity, achievement, and making money as a substitute for self-worth was transformed into learning how to love myself. Not the girl who could and did write a New York Times bestseller in a week. Not the girl who could make millions. Not the girl who people waited in line to see. Just… me. The one beneath all of that. My true self. The one that doesn’t have to achieve anything in order to be loved. The one who doesn’t have to be liked in order to be loved. The one who could not make another dollar or write another book and still be loved unconditionally. She deserved my attention and my love and above all, she deserved a break.
So, I slowed down. I stopped writing so fast. I stopped punishing myself with deadlines. I made time for things that were good for me—exercise, meditation, and my amazing husband. I learned how to cook. I started reading books that weren’t romance for fun for the first time in twenty-four years. I stopped gossiping and unexpectedly lost many of my friends, which freed up a lot of time. I started to become a completely different person—one who wasn’t always rushing from one task to the next, not taking any time to appreciate or enjoy the journey. Instead, I started to chill out and relax and not beat myself up for not working every waking minute of the day. I took the social media apps off my phone and forced myself to quit working around five o’clock every evening by smoking weed and getting so high that I didn’t trust myself to work anymore.
Now, I barely resemble my former self. I don’t set alarms. I don’t have massive to-do lists. I don’t have any deadlines. I’m wildly protective of my time. I prioritize my relationships, nourishing my body with healthy food, meditation, exercise, spiritual practices, caring for my emotional and mental well-being, and being a dog mom all above “work.” For the first time in maybe forever, I enjoy each and every day as much as I possibly can. My only goal is for us to have great days and fall asleep grateful. I’m present. I’m aware. I’m constantly looking for miracles and synchronicities. We call out random numbers that send us signs. We play musical instruments in the kitchen. We play. We sing. We dance. We laugh. We love. It’s utterly beautiful. Old me wouldn’t understand it at all.
It’s been a long road to get here, but I’m incredibly grateful for the journey that brought me to this place. I could never have learned these lessons without taking every single step of it and making pretty much every mistake a person possibly could. But without those mistakes, I wouldn’t have the wisdom or this wonderful life of mine, and for those, I am eternally grateful.