Zibby Owens: Hi, Rachel.

Rachel Hollis: Hi. How you doing?

Zibby: I’m good. How are you doing?

Rachel: Good. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” This is such a treat to get to talk to you. Your latest book, Didn’t See That Coming, I feel like that is the story of my life and obviously for so many people, especially during this time. Oh, my gosh, best title ever pretty much.

Rachel: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Zibby: Obviously, there’s so much in life that none of us can see coming. You’ve had a lot of twists and turns from a very, very young age starting with your brother’s suicide, which you write about so poignantly, all the way up until now. When you decided to write this book, which part did you want to focus on the most? What did you say was, this is the book that I have to talk about X, Y, Z? What was it?

Rachel: It’s interesting. I read something years ago that said that all authors are essentially writing the same back over and over. There’s a central theme for every author that they just keep exploring from a bunch of different directions. I thought that can’t be true for me because I’ve written fiction, I have cookbooks, and I have nonfiction, personal development, self-help stuff. I thought about it. I was like, oh, yeah, all my books have the exact same theme no matter what it is I’m talking about, which is, you can do this. You can do this thing. In this book, what I wanted to explore most was encouraging people who are going through a hard season or who are in the midst of something difficult that you can get through this. Not only can you get through this, but you can come out the other side of it as a better person than you went into it. In order for that to be true, you have to make a conscious decision that you are going to pursue the learnings in this, the wisdom in this, the information that you can glean out of it. Otherwise, you feel bitter or you get stuck or you don’t know how to move forward because you become paralyzed by the pain that you’re inside of.

Zibby: Wow. It’s all so true. You wrote so beautifully to your point about how people can get through grief especially. So many people are grieving right now given the pandemic and obviously just for regular life as well. You had this whole section. I just wanted to read a tiny portion of it because it was so encouraging. I have recently been through a lot of grief myself, so this was particularly resonant for me. You said, “The grief over death is making them miss the life that’s still there. I can’t tell you how to grieve. That’s an incredibly personal process that nobody’s in charge of but you, but I can tell you something with absolute certainty. The person you lost would not want this for you. The person you lost would never ever want you to suffer over their absence.” Then you say, “It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to miss them. It’s not okay for you to lie down and die too. You are still here, and there’s a reason for that.” Tell me more about that and how to really channel what you might know intellectually but then put it into practice emotionally.

Rachel: This, for me, shows up in two ways. One is, you know if you’ve read the book, there’s a chapter in it where I talk about my parents. I have children. I cannot imagine what it felt like for my parents to lose their only son to suicide. I can’t even fathom that, but I do know what it feels like to be the little sister who — as a little girl, I felt like I’m not enough of a reason for them to keep living because they both, in different ways, just checked out. They weren’t present. Ryan died when I was fourteen. From the time I was fourteen years old, I truly raised myself. Nobody cared if there was dinner. Nobody cared if my homework was done. Everything that I figured out how to do, I figured out on my own. I really truly live my life in a way that asks how situations, even if they’re bad, can be for me. I look back and I’m like, oh, that’s why I’m a self-starter. That’s why I’m an achiever. That’s how I built my company or wrote these books.

It was because of having gone through that experience, but there’s still a part of that that’s deeply painful that feels like I was abandoned by these people who are supposed to take care of me. That effectively, I don’t want to say destroyed, but really hurt the relationship I have with both my parents for the rest of my life. On the one hand, I am speaking about grief from that perspective. Then the other place that I come from is having done so much therapy for so many years about coming to terms with the loss of my brother and finding the bittersweet in missing him. When he first passed away — grief, if you’ve experienced this, then you know this is true. Grief is an evolution. The grief that you feel when you first lose someone or when you first lose something that really matters to you is very different than the grief that you experience five or ten years later. I don’t think that it ever goes away, but it does evolve. To have gotten to a place in my life where I can miss my brother but also really see that there’s beauty in that missing, it’s celebratory of his life.

I was very close to my grandparents. Those are two other people that I, all the time, am missing. In my house, there’s pictures of my brother. There’s pictures of grandma and grandpa everywhere. I talk to my kids about them. Last year, we lost my brother-in-law very unexpectedly. That was devastating for our whole family. I was cooking dinner the other day. My niece, she’s a grown-up, she’s walking through the kitchen. It was her dad that we lost. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I got to tell you, every time I make this, I think of your dad.” She stopped. Her eyes are really big. She’s like, “Why?” She just was so starving for that story. I’m like, “Let me tell you this story about when I was a little girl. You dad made me this thing.” Even though there’s pain in that memory, there’s so much beauty in those people that we’ve lost still being very present in our lives. If there’s a way for people to get to that place, it is just such a better state to exist in than only feeling the painful emotions.

Zibby: It’s true. I feel like people are sometimes hesitant to tell stories or bring up the person who’s recently died for fear of upsetting the griever, which I feel like couldn’t be further from the truth. You’re already thinking about the person. It’s not like, oh, I forgot about this horrible thing that happened, but because you brought up my brother-in-law, now I’m upset. I think that’s a big misconception. By the way, going back to your parents sort of abandoning you, when you wrote about it in the book, about your Christmas holidays and watching the movie over and over again with your sister, oh, my gosh. Then how your husband thought that that was just something you enjoyed doing, but it came from this deep place. Anyway, my heart was going out to you.

Rachel: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Zibby: I actually recently interviewed an author named Hope Edelman who wrote a book called The AfterGrief. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not. It’s about how grief that stays with you for your whole life ends up, as you just mentioned, sort of morphs in some particular ways. She followed a group of people for thirty-odd years and did a lot of research into what the lasting effects of grief are. One of the points is exactly as you had said. There is a silver lining to it even though it’s horrific and you wouldn’t want that lining if you could return it, but that you do have a different type of appreciation of life. Anyway, in case you’re in the market for a new book to read.

Rachel: Yeah, thank you.

Zibby: Another thing that I was really struck by in this book is that you have built up such a reputation for yourself as sort of the healer to everyone. You’ve sort of taken on everybody’s pain. You were so honest in this book about how that makes you feel, like the scene where you’re out with your son. Somebody comes over to you and starts spilling out their most traumatic memories and you’re like, um, hold on. Tell me a little bit about that. You don’t often hear people who have become big-deal leaders on the emotional front having to confront how that makes them feel. I was hoping you could just tell me a little more about that.

Rachel: It’s so interesting. This is the thing that people have to understand. This was never my aim. I never in my whole life thought that this would be what I was known for, truly. In fact, if you look at my career as an author, I started writing fiction. I just loved to write. I wrote fiction. Then I wrote cookbooks. I never thought, oh, I’m going to be this self-help whatever. Then I had another author friend who prompted me who was like, “What would you say to women? If you were going to write nonfiction, what would you say to women?” My answer was Girl, Wash Your Face. It was my first nonfiction book. I put it out there. Just like every other book I’ve ever put out in the world, it had a slow start. I was like, oh, my gosh, five people read it. This is great. Then it exploded, millions. I want to say it sold five million copies. It’s insane what happened. I was describing it to someone the other day. I said the past three years have felt like I’m riding a runaway horse and I’m trying so desperately to rein it in and get control of the journey. It’s not always graceful. I don’t always do it well. It’s just felt like a really crazy experience.

Back before COVID, my company would throw a big women’s conference. We’d have five thousand women come from all over the world for three days, an amazing event. In those settings, I’m very prepared to hold space for your pain. I’m very prepared to be in that with you and talk about the hard things and do the work. There is a way that you can mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for that kind of experience. What happened when the books exploded was that there were no boundaries anymore. People would truly come up to — the thing I talk about in the book is a real experience, being at the grocery store with my son and a woman walks up with no “Hello. How are you?” Just immediately starts bawling and telling a very traumatic and upsetting experience as my little boy is standing next to me holding my hand. He’s afraid. It’s funny, but it’s one thing when it’s me. When it’s me and I’m walking through an airport or whatever, let’s go. I’m here for you. I’ll do all the things. I will be present with you in that space. The times that it has felt out of control, and it’s happened many times, is when I’m with my kids. That feels, to me, so inappropriate, especially because women are often telling stories that little kids shouldn’t hear.

I didn’t know how to handle that, truthfully. I had no idea how to process that. What I did was, I just didn’t want to leave my house. I traveled quite a bit at that time. I would travel and be on the road. People would stop me all the time. Then I would go home and I wouldn’t leave home because I was afraid that I wouldn’t know how to handle it. It just felt so overwhelming. It took a lot of time to come to terms with that and to accept the responsibility of that. I do think it’s a responsibility. I handle it now by believing if I am in public, then I am prepared to hold space for people. I worked really hard to get here, but I also believe that God and the universe gave me this opportunity. I want to take that responsibility with the measure of how big it is, I want to take that and do it well. If I’m in public, I’m like, all right, I’m here for you. When I’m with my kids now, I have learned to steer the conversation. I have learned to hold boundaries up. I make it really clear that it’s not an appropriate time to talk to me about that thing right now.

Zibby: Wow. That’s a lot to have to put on your shoulders just to walk out the door if you want to go run to the store or pick up some milk. That’s just a lot that you have to be — it’s almost like some sort of an ambassador, like a ruler almost, like you’re the president. Being a public figure I guess is what I’m trying to say. Maybe you’re not in the mood that day. What if you’re having a terrible day yourself?

Rachel: Honestly, there’s an interesting thing. I have some friends who are high-profile figures. The unique situation that I’m in is that I think because I talk about so many personal things in my life, my readers feel like they’re my friends. They don’t think that there’s anything weird about walking up and being like, oh, my gosh, Rach! Then they’ll tell me some story. It’s almost like they feel like they’re in the middle of a conversation with me already. There are definitely other friends I have who, they don’t experience that. I try and look at that as a gift. This is the biggest, lamest namedrop that I could possibly do, but my best example of this experience is, I had the opportunity at the end of this year to speak for Oprah on her tour. It was a lifelong dream. She’s my hero. It was just such a huge moment. I love this story because I’ve met so many people that I admired and have been really disappointed. I can tell you that Oprah exceeds every expectation you could possibly hope for. I did my keynote. I was backstage. She had welcomed me onto stage and hugged me when I was done. I’m like, okay, that’s it. She’s freaking Oprah. I’ve had my moment. I went back to my dressing room. I was there with my best friends. We’re just like, oh, my gosh, this is amazing.

Someone knocks on the door and says, “Miss Winfrey would like to come see you. Would that be okay?” All of us in the room pee our pants. We’re like, what? I’m in this teeny tiny dressing room. Oprah wants to come to me in this trashy room? She’s the queen. Shouldn’t I go to her? It was so wild. I’m like, “Yes, that would be just fine.” I close the door. We start cleaning. When you were little, if your company was ever coming and the whole family just starts cleaning feverishly, we’re shoving things under cushions. Get it clean! She comes into the dressing room and hung out with us for about fifteen minutes, which still blows my mind. There was this moment where she said — I know this sound cheesy, but she looks into your soul. She’s not human, first of all. She’s a goddess. It’s something so much bigger than a regular human being. She looks into my soul through my eyes. She’s like, “How has this felt for you?” I said, “It’s been really hard. I have had to ask myself a lot in the last year if this is something I really want.” She touched my hand. I wish you could see me right now because I’m acting out this entire thing. Truly, I cannot explain. My best friends were all there. It was a divine moment in my life. There is no other way to put it.

She touched my hand. She looked me in the eye. She said, “Do you want this?” Nobody spoke for like ninety seconds. I felt like it was the universe asking me, are you willing to carry this responsibility? I said, “I do.” She said, “Okay, but you have to understand what you’re taking on because very few people will understand what it means to hold this for so many women. I understand what it means. Just know what you are signing on for.” I was like, okay. It was truly just one of the most amazing moments in my whole life, understanding that you really do have to look at it as, it’s not about me. None of this is about me. It’s about her. It’s about the reader. It’s about who might be helped. I’ll tell you truthfully that I approach my work, always, if I’m going out to give a keynote, if I’m writing a book, always, my prayer is, God, let this help one person. One person. If one single person is helped by this thing that I am about to do, then it was worth the effort and the energy and the pain and all of it. It doesn’t matter. I’m talking about me. We could be talking you or your listeners. Whether you’re a teacher, if you’re a stay-at-home mama, if you’re a podcast host, whatever it is that you’re bringing to the world, if your work can positively affect the life of another human, then what a blessing. What a gift. I’m willing to carry the hardship and stress of that if it means that I can be helpful to someone.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that was amazing. I want to stop recording and just replay this five times for myself. That was amazing. Thank you.

Rachel: Good. You’re so welcome.

Zibby: First of all, I can’t believe you started that by saying it was a pathetic namedrop. That was the most inspiring — .

Rachel: I always feel like, “Oh, this time I met Oprah,” shut up, dude. Don’t be that person. I met a lot of people that I’ve been like, oh, man, I wish they weren’t so lame. She was so wonderful. Not only that, but she talked to my friends and hung out with my friends and took pictures. She had no reason to do that, no reason whatsoever. I like to tell that story because I think it’s good to hear that people are good.

Zibby: I agree, especially somebody like Oprah who’s so iconic. For you to have this personal experience and to know — sometimes you hear things about people. You’re like, she seems great, but privately she’s really awful or she’s so rude to other women. Then you’re so disappointed. I’m not surprised to hear that she’s as authentic as she seems, but it’s still nice to hear.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Zibby: Wow, that was a fantastic answer. Let’s talk about time and how you deal with all of the things that you do being of service to basically anybody who has an issue in the entire country or world or whatever, dealing with all of your kids, writing books, running a business. How are you doing all of this? I don’t want to talk about juggling. Just literally, how do you get through this?

Rachel: I actually just posted something about this last night on Instagram. I will tell you, I’m saying this and maybe it’s not true, but I am one of the most intentional people you will ever meet. I am wildly intentional with my time. I want to say this to your listeners. This is a learned behavior. This is not something that I grew up having. I would say about ten years ago when I really started to grow my business and I really started to focus on pursuing the goals that were in my heart, I started to understand that I needed to be so effective with the hours that I had inside of every single day. You do that by, number one, knowing what your personal values are. Especially for women and especially for moms, we are often told by the world, by our family, by society what we are meant to value. I absolutely fell into that trap when I was a new mom and was first trying to figure it all out. I was trying to be this picture-perfect, Pinterest mom and throw these elaborate birthday parties and volunteer as room mom and do all this stuff. I felt so frustrated. I felt so bitter. I did not feel closer to my kids. I felt like I was sort of making other moms think that I was doing a good job, but that I wasn’t really doing what I wanted to do with my own family.

The first piece is knowing what your personal values are. I tend to think that we should choose four to five things that we’re really going to focus on. The key, once you know what your values are, is to say, anything that is not these values does not have a place in my day. For instance, one of my biggest personal values is growth. I want to learn. I want to grow. I am a voracious reader. I am constantly challenging myself. I’m trying to learn Spanish. I’m taking horseback riding lessons. I want knowledge. It lights my heart on fire. I don’t even care what the knowledge is about. I just love to learn. That is really important to me. Someone else might say, my greatest personal value is showing up in my community and volunteering. They might then spend their time doing that. If you know what it is that you care about, then you can lay out your day to make sure that you have time to do the things you say you care about. Know what your personal values are. Be willing to say no to anything that doesn’t fall into that list. If you saw my schedule right now, it might stress you out. It might stress lots of people out. Yes, I am very busy. Beyond the stuff that’s inside of my work schedule is just — I’m looking at my calendar right now as I’m talking to you. My calendar starts at five AM. I put things into my calendar like, this is your reading time. This is when you do your gratitude work. This is when your workout happens. This is when you’re going to meal prep for your day to make sure that you’re eating foods that are going to bless your body today. This is when you’re going to go on your run.

It’s all in there because in order to accomplish and make traction against your goals, both personally and professionally, you have to have a plan for when they’re going to show up. I’m super intentional. I’m very focused on where I’m going. The other piece of this is that if you’re going to take the time to figure all of this out and you say that you care about something and you say that you’re putting it in your calendar, you have to show up for yourself. I have a personal rule that I do not break a promise that I make to myself. As women, we often will keep our promise to everybody else, but break the promise that we made to ourselves. Meaning, you said, man, I’m for sure going to get a walk in today because I know it makes my spirit feel so good and I love to get outside, but then someone needs you to do a favor. You’re like, you know what, I’ll not the do the thing that matters to me so that I can do the thing that you need me to do, which is how we get to the place where we’re burnt out and stressed out. If you say that you are going to do something, you got to do it. You’ve got to hold yourself accountable to the things that you said you were going to do. Those are some really practical things that I do to make sure that I can accomplish all the things that I set out to do.

Zibby: This is amazing. You have bullet points for everything I ask. This is perfect advice. It’s amazing.

Rachel: The thing is, I get a lot of the same questions on social or on Live or whatever.

Zibby: Oh, I’m sorry.

Rachel: No, no, no, don’t hear me like that. What I mean is, I get a lot of the same questions from people in my community, not that I get the same ten questions, but I get the same one hundred questions. I try really hard to come up with answers that are helpful. Even for you, you’re doing this podcast and you’re helping people find information in the world. Oftentimes, someone will ask us how to do something. We think that the knowledge that we have — you’re like, oh, that’s so simple. Anything I tell you would be dumb. Nobody wants to know how — no, people want to know exactly how. I try really hard to pay attention to how I get the result so that when somebody prompts me, I’m like, great, I’ve got three things you can do right now.

Zibby: Wow. I’m going to put that on my list of things to do, having a million answers ready for when anyone asks me anything, not that anyone cares.

Rachel: Girl, don’t say that. If you have listeners, they care.

Zibby: I’m joking. My one question about your really effective, intentional time management system is that you have lots of kids. So do I. They don’t really care what’s on my schedule sometimes. When they fall and need a Band-Aid or when they want to show me their art project, I stop everything. How do you interweave the complete unpredictability of having children with the need to be totally self-directed?

Rachel: Great question. I’ll tell you that as I look at my schedule right now, I’ve got this chunk of time that starts at five AM and ends at six thirty, which is when the kids get up for school. Then there’s a chunk of time that’s just, breakfast, lunches. Get everything prepped. Get everything ready. Get the day going. Once they’re settled, then I’m going to start my workday. I will tell you, because I’m the queen of ask for help, I have a nanny. I’m really blessed in that I have a nanny of four kids. I could not do the work that I’m doing if I didn’t have her help. The kids’ dad is as present as a father as I am as a mother, so definitely coparenting inside of the family. Then the other thing I would say is the schedule ends every day at five PM. Past five PM is clear. I know the things that I want to do because I’m really big on routine and ritual. Each one of my kids, there’s a different bedtime routine that I go through with them. That’s really important to me. I talked about, how do I want to show up as a mom? I freaking love teachers. I’m so grateful for teachers. If someone wants me to donate money or get cupcakes for the class bake sale, I am there. If you want me to volunteer my time, that is not a value. That’s not a personal value that I have as a mom. My value with my kids is intentional time with them at home, so what happens in the morning, what happens at night, what happens on weekends. After five PM, it’s clear again because that’s just family time. That’s kid time. By compartmentalizing my day like that, I am so much more productive with work. At five o’clock, I do not look at work. I’m not picking up my phone. I am not checking email. I am not on Slack because that time is for me and my kids.

Zibby: Wow. That’s impressive and inspiring. Thank you.

Rachel: Just know, please know this took me years to get to this place. I would just make a little bit of progress over here. Then on that progress, I’d add another great little thing and another great little thing to get to the place that I am today. I don’t think we go from zero to sixty overnight. I think that you just slowly try and weave in things that will be helpful to you. Then you build the foundation for the life that you want to have.

Zibby: That’s great. If I could figure out how to cut out hours of emails after five PM, that would be very nice. I’m working on it. I’m going to use the Rachel Hollis tools now. I feel empowered and all the rest.

Rachel: There you go. I know you’re a reader. I just want to ask, have you read The One Thing by Gary Keller?

Zibby: I have not.

Rachel: Please put that on your list, especially as you’re working on the show and you’re trying to grow your platform, whatever that looks like, for people who are listening who are businessowners. Heck, you could look at it through the lens of having a better family. The idea in that book is Gary Keller, who is Keller Williams Real Estate, he talks about this idea that we all have this stuff. We have fifty million things that we want to do in our business, in our life. It helps you identify, what’s the one thing that I could do that would make the rest of the list obsolete? If I pursue this one thing and I make traction against this one goal, everything else, it’s like the tide coming into the harbor. All the boats rise. That’s a really powerful tool, a really incredible read for anybody who feels like, oh, my gosh, there’s so much going on. How do I even focus? The One Thing by Gary Keller.

Zibby: I’m buying it right this second. I’m on my phone as we’re talking.

Rachel: Please do. You’ll love it.

Zibby: It’s in my cart. I’m checking out. Done. See, multitasking, there you go.

Rachel: Perfect.

Zibby: This whole thing has been advice, but in terms of writing itself because we haven’t talked too much about the actual writing, do you have advice to aspiring authors on how to get everything done or just any inspiring advice on that front?

Rachel: Yes. Honestly, I will give you a little tidbit. I got this request so often that I just did a podcast about this I want to say three weeks ago, four weeks ago. It is my most successful podcast of all time, which is wild. “The Rachel Hollis Podcast,” it’s called How to Write a Book. If you go look, it’s just a few weeks old. It won’t be hard to find. I share all of my wisdom. What it boils down to is, writing — I don’t care how much support you have from family and friends. I don’t care if you don’t have support. Writing is a really interesting thing because it is a solo endeavor. It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world around you. You have to find the will to write down the words. I was at an author conference years ago. I was listening to a workshop given by Nora Roberts who has written ten million books. Someone raised their hand. They were like, “What’s the trick? Tell me, how are you so productive?” Everyone’s looking for the magic bullet or the thing that’s going to — can I buy something that’s going to make this easier? or whatever. Nora said, “Yeah, I’ll tell you how to finish. Sit your butt in the chair,” except she didn’t say butt. She said, “Sit your butt in the chair. Write the freaking words.” She also didn’t say freaking. This sweet, petite, polished older woman fully dropping F bombs was like, write the words. That’s the trick. If you want this thing, there’s a reason that not everybody does it. It’s hard. You have to give yourself the permission to get to a first draft that’s awful. You have to let yourself create. This is not just for writers. This is anybody who wants to create. You’re going to have let your creation suck. If you don’t let it suck so that you can get to the end of the first draft, you’re never going to get to the polished book which comes in the eighth edit. Just let yourself have that freedom. Push yourself to finish. If you want all the other advice, go listen to the podcast.

Zibby: This is great. I wish I could interview you every day.

Rachel: There you go. Here I am.

Zibby: Thank you. Wow. I hate to even end this, but I don’t want to take too much of your time. I know I’m already over. Thank you so, so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and sharing all of your tips and tricks. I know there are a bazillion more in the book, Didn’t See That Coming. Your story with Oprah is going to stay with me the rest of the day. It was just awesome. The work you’re doing is amazing. It was great to be able to chat with you.

Rachel: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Zibby: No problem. Have a great day.

Rachel: You too.

Zibby: Thanks. Buh-bye.

Rachel: Buh-bye.