When my life was on the fritz, here's what I found when I looked under the hood…

I've always been the financial provider in my family, supporting my husband as he pursues his dream of writing the great American novel, but one day, I just wasn't happy with it any more.

I had noticed, too, that what I loved most about my work as a nurse midwife was talking with my patients about their hopes for their lives and their families. I realized that I was not only helping them give birth to their babies -­ I was helping them give birth to their dreams.

And then, four years ago, I had an epiphany. "These women need a midwife for their LIFE." And my personal coaching business was born. I built it while I continued to work the same hours at my hospital job.

It required me to work a lot of late nights and weekends, but when my clients told me that I had helped them accomplish dreams they had all but given up on, it made it all worth it. In fact, it became all I wanted to do.

And so my business grew a lot over its first two years, but not enough to support my family.

So I should've stayed at my hospital job, right?

But I couldn't do it.

I saw my friends being supported by their husbands as they pursued their creative dreams, and I looked at my husband, and I thought, "Why should they get to pursue their passions and I don't? When would it be my time?"

It made me feel jealous and powerless and taken advantage of, and I couldn't stand it. Yes, I want my husband to become the next JK Rowling, but I can't wait forever. I was using food and mediocre television to fill the void of wanting what I couldn't have, and that created more pain I didn't need.

And then, in February of 2011, I had another epiphany: I was coaching people to step out of their comfort zone, but I wasn't willing to step out of mine.

You know, I talk with people every day who dream of quitting their soul-sucking job to do work they truly love.

And I ask them what they're doing to achieve their dream and the answer almost always breaks my heart. There's a huge discrepancy between what they say they want to do and what they're actually doing.

That was me – and if that's you, if you're one of those people who don't know what your purpose is, OR you say you want to do your purpose-driven work, but you're not taking action to get you closer to whatever that is, then you probably feel like there's something wrong with you.

You probably think you're lazy or unmotivated. Maybe you think you don't want success that much, or that you are somehow broken.

Well, here's what you need to know and I want you to remember it:

There is nothing wrong with you.

You are not broken. You're not unmotivated. You're not lazy. And it's not hopeless.

Whether you know your purpose or not, I have learned from my life and from my clients' experiences that the pain you feel as you compare your life to your dreams comes from having tried to achieve those dreams-and having failed.

You may have tried multiple times; you may have given your dreams varying degrees of time and effort. But all the other demands on you made you lose focus, or you met with a barrier that seemed insurmountable, and it didn't work out. And when you think of trying again it hurts too much.

But here's the thing: You're in pain now. And re-engaging with your dreams may hurt even more-for a while. But it won't hurt for as long as you think it will.

And the only way to make the hurt go away is to start now.

The REASON that you HURT when you think, "Who am I to want more? Why can't I be happy with what I've got?" is because, quite simply, it is NOT TRUE that you shouldn't want more and that you CAN be happy with what you've got.

You are here to give so much more and it is a disservice to your God-given talent not to. And that's why it hurts. Because you are betraying yourself and your purpose.

OK, if I haven't scared you off or offended you, and you're still with me, you KNOW you have something more to offer, something really great, but you just don't know how to get it out in the world.

Here's what I want you to know: a breakdown is ALWAYS followed by a breakthrough. It's always darkest before the dawn, you know?

And it's actually Universal Law – you WOULD NOT be given the challenge without the opportunity for healing it, right in front of you.

That's what I realized back in February of 2011.

I knew that I didn't want to stay on staff at the hospital , but I believed that our family needed the "security" that my job provided. I thought my coaching business and writing career could support us, but I had no guarantees…which led me back to wondering why I couldn't just be happy with my job at the hospital.

It wasn't that bad, was it??

Those stressful thoughts are what led to my breakdown – and my breakthrough. I couldn't believe I was in such a bad place – overwhelmed by doomsday scenarios and too scared to think straight.

But along with all the dark fears, I'd also get a moment of clarity when I knew I should give up my staff position. BUT then the moment would pass and my heart would start racing again and I would be in tears thinking that I couldn't possibly leave.

And then I would get another flash of insight. It was like I was walking on a dark road and every once in a while a car would go by and its headlights would illuminate the path and show some sign, like a guidepost, and I would know again that I was on the right track. But the insights and the clarity always seemed so fleeting.

I would get them and almost immediately I'd be back in the land of fear and despair.

I couldn't believe that I was in such an undesirable, untenable position. I couldn't believe that I had been brought this far to fail. All I kept thinking was about what I didn't want. At some point in the depths of that despair, I heard a small voice inside that said, "What do you want?"

As soon as I got clear on what I wanted, I received a gift in the form of a thought-a thought I want to share with you: I don't know what the future holds, but I know I can figure this out. I will figure out how I can do what I love and support my family. No matter what .

It's now been over 2 years since I stepped waaayyy out of my comfort zone and quit my hospital job. While it hasn't been easy, it has been possible for me to support my family from doing work I love.

What's possible for you when you replace, "I can't do it." with "How could I do it?"

Please let me know in the comments below!

by Stacey Curnow

Stacey with Turkeys

Back in 2002, when I took my job with Doctors Without Borders in Mexico I had to pack up my comfortable life in the United States and move to a part of the world that had no running water or electricity.

To an area where there was centuries-long, deep-seated conflict between the indigenous people and the Mexican government. To do a job for which I had no experience.

It was definitely the weirdest thing I had ever done. I had no real idea what I was doing. But I believed I would figure out a way to do it.

I've learned that what looks "weird" to other people, feels like excitement to me. I've learned that it's the wisdom of the world speaking through me. And trusting the wisdom feels like a huge leap of faith.

So I've learned to leap. Before the voices of self-doubt keep me stuck. Once a leap has been taken, or a path has been selected, momentum takes over and there is little time to indulge self-doubt or fear because there's work to be done. So you get on with it.

But here's the really cool thing. You take the leap and do the work, but you're not doing it alone. The Universe also starts to conspire on your behalf. You don't have to take my word for it. Listen to what WH Murray, a Scottish mountaineer and author of The Scottish Himalayan Experience:

This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence: Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

It wasn't until I was sitting in the airport in Amsterdam (where the Doctors Without Borders headquarters of my project was located), about to board my flight to Mexico City that I suddenly wondered whether I would actually be able to adjust to life in such a foreign environment. (Did I mention there would be no electricity or running water?)

Would I really be able to do the job I'd signed on to do? But even in that weird and wobbly moment, I knew that I would find a way to manage.


Why was I so certain?

There are lots of reasons. And none of them are because I'm braver, more talented, or smarter than you. Because I'm not. I promise.

I'm scared of public speaking, and parties of people I don't know, and difficult conversations or phone calls.

But despite my very ordinary fears, over the years enough people have asked me where I find the courage to make my bold choices, that I've come to see that although we are all inherently brave, some of us forget how brave we can be.

I've come to see that my path through life has equipped me with certain tools that help me make the daily decisions that add up to a courageous life.

I can see how my experiences have taught me to have faith that everything will be okay, and most importantly that even when everything is not okay, everything is actually okay.

I've been getting really curious lately about how I came to acquire those tools, because I want to share them with you. Because I want to offer them to anyone whose self-doubt is getting in the way of their good work in the world.

One of the things I've learned about courage is that we can "positively reinforce" our own courageous choices by taking time to notice them, recognize them and actually give ourselves some credit for them.

So today – please take five minutes to give yourself the credit for how weird and courageous you are.

And then make a habit of stopping to notice the small (and large) ways you are embracing your weirdness and choosing courage every day, and of giving yourself credit for it. If it helps, you can imagine you are talking to a good friend: How would you tell or show her how proud you are of her weirdness and courage?

Now, tell or show yourself how proud you are of your own willingness to be weird.

by Stacey Curnow

Confident business partners sitting at the table and shaking hands

Zig Ziglar once said, "You can have everything you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want."

You know what most people want? They want to be seen, heard and valued for who they are. They want to know that their life matters, and that their work is making a difference in the world (and other modest comforts, like a nice bed).

So it's not that hard to give people what they want and then ask for a little something in return. Because here's the really interesting thing: our brains our wired for reciprocity. So when we do something nice for someone else, they really want to do something nice for us too.

When I decided I wanted to get my book published, I gave some thought as to how to do it. Most "Writer's Market" type books suggest querying possible book companies or agents, but go to any publisher or agent website and you'll see that nobody accepts unsolicited submissions.

So what's a girl to do?

As I've mentioned before my modus operandi whenever I want to do something is to look to whoever has already done it and find out what they did. I really hate to recreate the wheel.

So my first step was to scour the "acknowledgments" section in all the books I love (and in a similar genre as mine) and see who the authors were thanking for "having made this book possible." Guess who they mention every time? Bingo: their agent.

So for every author who thanked their agent, I took some notes, did a little more research and then sent them a carefully crafted letter. Here's the one I sent Elizabeth Lesser, the author of Broken Open and the founder of the Omega Institute. (Note: I really want to give retreats and talks from her stage too.)

I sent my letter to her email address (which she helpfully provided in the back of her book).

Dear Elizabeth,

You're probably one of the most prominent midwives in America. Even though you're no longer catching babies, you're still a midwife, because like a good midwife, you're willing to facilitate, support, and encourage women in dark places.

You've certainly been a huge inspiration for me. You see, I'm also a midwife, and I think labor and birth make excellent metaphors for life. I currently practice nurse-midwifery in a hospital-based birthing center and I have a personal coaching business, Midwife for Your Life, on the side.

I've dog-eared almost every page of Broken Open and heard you speak at Omega NYC last April. Your message of making friends with change and asking every crisis or challenge, "What have you come to teach me?" has helped me more than I can express. Really, that book seems full of what midwives teach their patients: faith in a process of healing and our ability to find our own path back to health.

As it happens, I've written a book, called Create the Conditions for a Life You Love: 28 Days of Strategy, Tips and Inspiration That Will Help You Give Birth to Your Best Life. Every one of the days contains a lesson, with exercises I created from science-based research and from my experience with my midwifery patients and my coaching clients.

So- I couldn't help but notice that you spoke very highly of Henry Dunow in your acknowledgments. Would you be willing to suggest how I might make contact with him?

Thank you so much for your time and attention to this note. I look forward to attending future Omega retreats and dream one day of teaching at one of them! Take wonderful care, Stacey

Everything I said in this letter was true, of course. I deeply admire the work that Elizabeth Lesser has done, and I wanted her to know that she had made a difference in my life. And so I tried to be as detailed as possible, and worked hard to express all that her work has meant to me. That was the gift I hoped to offer.

I knew, too, that I needed to be detailed about how she could help me. "Will you help me get published?" would certainly have been too much to ask. But I expected that if I asked a small favor-one that would satisfy a need I had worked to define-she would have no problem granting it.

Her response?

Hi Stacey, Thanks for writing. Your website and all your work is inspirational.

Henry Dunow is not taking new clients. I can name a few other good agents, if you would like their contact information, feel free to email my assistant (details given for how to reach her). Warmly, Elizabeth

From there I proceeded to contact a few of the agents I thought most likely to be interested in my work. I was very excited when I found one who had successfully represented an author to Hay House, which is where I "see" my book published.

Here's what followed:

Hello Susan,

Elizabeth Lesser suggested I contact you. I was delighted to see that you represented Tim Freke to Hay House, because that is where I see my book being a good fit.

My book is Create the Conditions for a Life You Love: 28 Days of Strategy, Tips and Inspiration That Will Help You Give Birth to Your Best Life. It's a 28-day journey that guides you to your best life: With it you learn how to create the conditions for a life you love. It's everything I've learned about how to live a happy and successful life.

I'm a nurse-midwife and a mentor who helps women give birth to their big dreams. I have a thriving coaching practice and blog and I've published hundreds of articles online.

As you know, we're in the midst of a sort of literary "happiness boom"-with books like Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project spending months on the New York Time's Best Seller List (and weeks at #1), it's clear that readers are ready to get happy.

If you're interested in receiving a full proposal, I'd be happy to send it to you.

Thanks so much for your time and attention. Take wonderful care, Stacey

A few days later I received this reply:

Hi Stacey

Great to hear from you and your project does sound interesting. As this is a first book for you I am putting you in touch with my excellent and helpful agency administrator who will take you through new author assessment procedure and will do a report on your synopsis and book a meeting with me once that report is completed.

Looking forward to meeting you in due course,

Very best wishes
Susan Mears

And after a few more email exchanges, and one Skype chat, I was signed. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So what do you really want? And how can you help enough other people get what they want-even if it's only appreciation-so that you can get it? And when you're pursuing your dreams, how will you avoid reinventing the wheel? Answer those questions and you'll be actualizing your dreams before you know it!

by Stacey Curnow


"It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult." ~ Seneca

Thinking big – whether to create a new business or more balance in your life – is great, but actually taking steps towards those goals can be scary because it may require you to step out of your comfort zone.

In previous articles I've suggested many science-based techniques for achieving your goals, but ultimately you may just have to-as the ancient aphorism suggests-feel the fear and do it anyway.

Note that I recommend that approach only if the fear is a small part of the equation and the excitement is much greater. And how will you know?

Start by checking in with your emotional guidance system. Does your goal make you feel bad because you don't feel ready and you're afraid you'll never be ready?

Or does it make you tingle with delicious anticipation? If you're all tingly, you can just skip to the next paragraph. But if you don't feel ready, you might want to trust your intuition.

That doesn't mean that you can't make progress-it just means that whatever you're planning, you might want to take smaller steps until you feel more comfortable.

No matter how you are feeling, if you are not taking even small steps towards your dreams it is time to call in the affirmations. One of my favorite affirmations is attributed to Walt Disney: "If you can dream it, you can do it."

But a good affirmation doesn't have to be all pithy and mystical like some sort of koan. Ultimately all you need in an affirmation is a clearly expressed thought that feels better and works for you.

That last part is crucial. In order to be effective, that better-feeling thought must ring true for you. For example, saying "I'm enjoying a wonderful love relationship." may be too much of a stretch. But saying "I'm on my way to enjoying a wonderful love relationship." may work.

Lines from your favorite songs are also a good place to look for positive messages that resonate deeply. I found one in Mary J. Blige's Just Fine:

Having a real good time, I'm not complaining

And I'ma still wear a smile if it's raining

I gotta enjoy myself regardless

I appreciate life, I'm so glad that it's mine.

Affirmations that help you feel like you're having a little fun are also great.

An affirmation I use when dealing with business matters is "Tap your inner Oprah." It always tickles me and makes me feel powerful.

Oprah knows exactly what she wants and she asks for it – firmly, decisively, and with grace. One of the things I admire most is her curiosity.

I've read reports that she goes into exchanges looking for connection, without judgment, and it's obvious she's genuinely interested in others.

If I find myself in a situation that makes me feel uncomfortable I think about Oprah, and I become less self-conscious. I stop thinking, "This is hard," or "How does this make me look?" and become more interested in the exchange, not the outcome.

If Oprah doesn't ring your bells, whom do you admire? You might prefer to take a page from Cesar Milan, host of the fascinating series, The Dog Whisperer.

The premise of the show is that he rehabilitates "bad" dogs, but it's pretty obvious in every program that he is really training the owners to think and behave differently.

Time after time he demonstrates that there are two energies in the animal kingdom: dominant and submissive. Dominant energy is energy that is aligned with one's inner source. It creates balance; it creates a positive, forward-moving direction and everyone wants to align with it.

Cesar also calls dominant energy calm, assertive energy. This means you have no tension or nervousness in your mind. You know that you CAN think big and you're going to do whatever you have to do to make your goals happen.

So if you're confronted with a situation where you're tempted to abandon your center, you might remind yourself to "Tap your inner Cesar" and get back into a calm, assertive flow.

Here's an assignment: Write several affirmations for yourself – write them on sticky notes and post them all over your house, on the dashboard of your car and in your wallet.

Feel the shift every time you read them. You can also find a symbol that is meaningful to you. Choose an affirmation to associate with it so that when you see your symbol it reminds you of that affirmation. (That works for those times where you need a reminder, but can't just put up a sticky note with the actual words posted-in your office, for example.)

Doing this assignment will help you create a practice, almost like a ritual, that will form and shape your day. Those messages will remind you of your intentions and bring you inspiration and encouragement. Eventually they'll become a way to talk to yourself on a whole new level-perfect for when all your little steps forward land you on a whole new level of challenges.

By then of course, you'll be ready: don't be surprised when magic happens. Please share your affirmations with me in the comments below!

by Stacey Curnow

4 Ways to Get a Strong Boost from Weak Ties

by Stacey Curnow

I started my first Facebook page back in June 2009. Then in September of 2010, I tentatively opened a Twitter account. At first I didn’t get it-who were all these people talking about what they’d just had for lunch? But then I started to find people I admire, like Paulo Coelho (Paulo Coelho tweeting!), and […]

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How to Be You Even When You Don’t Like You

by Stacey Curnow

The 12th-century poet Rumi said each of us is trying to hide the same secret from each other. It isn’t anything malicious – we’re just hiding the mere fact of our flawed humanness. Rumi called it the “Open Secret.” I know that I expend too much energy feeling less-than-adequate and I expend even more of […]

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Why Weight? How to Embrace Your Greatness and Enjoy Life Right Now

by Stacey Curnow

The photo above was taken of me in 1995 — 25 pounds heavier than I am now-and still happy. I was 8 years old the first time I remember being called fat. I started sucking in my stomach in photos from that moment on. I started exercising with the intention of losing weight when I […]

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The Bruce Lee Guide to Doing the Work

by Stacey Curnow

In the last several months I’ve talked a lot about doubts and fears – my personal challenges and those of my clients. I’ve talked about where those fears come from and what to do about them. But you know what? They’re never going to stop. And here’s the thing: You don’t want them to stop. […]

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How to Find the Lesson in the Life Challenge

by Stacey Curnow

When my son, Griffin, started kindergarten, he had an interesting assessment of his teacher: “She’s nice, but says ‘not-nice’ things.” Like him, I also noticed that she issued a lot of stern commands, and I had noticed that the teacher in the next classroom invited her students to do things in a friendly tone and […]

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4 Simple Steps to Feel Fully Alive

by Stacey Curnow

Do you ever wish you could access a natural state of vitality any time you want? What if there was process to do just that, and it only involved 4 simple practices? Would you want to know more? Me, too! That’s why I was delighted to be asked to review Code to Joy: The Four-Step […]

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