01 Jul 2018

when it’s time to soften

me, a few years ago.

Any word taken to its edge is perilous.

Years ago, I took a yoga class. At the time, I’d been practicing for 6 years, 5 days a week & I thought I was the BUSINESS. Here I was executing arm balances and spending Saturdays at kirtan. On this particular day, my teacher was prepping us for bound triangle pose or baddha trikonasana. I said to myself, girl, you SO got this. My teacher walked over and tapped me on the shoulder, leaned in, and said not today, love. She knew my body and its limitations (one of my arms is longer than the other because of a car accident I had as a child and a broken collarbone that never set right). She knew my practice. And she also knew about my arrogance, which was foreign to me at the time. I ignored her and tore my hamstring, an injury which took a year to heal. Later, she talked to me about ambition. The word, in and of itself, is noble. We pursue the things we want with fervor. We’re focused and determined. However, push a word to its edge and ambition blinds you. It’s like a blanket smothering the rational part of you that tells you to back out of the pose. Just breathe. You’re not ready yet. All you could see is your want and your hunger for it. Everything else, however logical, is a distraction.

It would take me years to listen, even more, to understand. My ambition, the blind desire for the world and everything in it, had swallowed me whole. Back then, I went at everything so fucking hard.

I look at pictures of me at Brooklyn BodyBurn the year I moved to Los Angeles and I was FIT. My language was violent. I was crushing it. Killing itIn beast mode. I was surgical about my workouts and I calibrated everything I put in my mouth. I wanted to be FIT. But if we’re being honest, I wanted to be thin.

Sometimes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves are often more powerful and persuasive than the truths.

I look at pictures of me from my 20s, bone thin and unhappy. As nostalgia would have it, you forget the unhappiness and the hours you counted before 120 calorie yogurt and a 330 calorie Lean Cuisine lunch. You forget the seven miles a day you ran on the sand and the physical therapy you needed because you’d worn down the cartilage in your knee. You forget yourself in the dressing room, naked, wondering if it’s possible to be smaller. You shouted out, is there anything smaller than a zero, to which an annoyed salesperson responded, we don’t sell negative integers.

God, I used to be an asshole.

I arrived in Los Angeles three years ago this August trim and obsessive about the foods I could and could not eat. In a span of a few months, I felt the weight of all the unresolved history I’d left in New York and it was killing me. Daylight had become an assault and the idea of leaving my home was unimaginable. All I wanted to do was sleep in the bathtub and wrap the curtain tight around me. I was slipping. I ate until I got hives again. Then I saw a doctor for cortisone shots. Then I ordered razor blades off Amazon and I saw a doctor for that too.  

I’ve likely gained 20 lbs since I moved here and I remember walking into a megaformer studio in Los Angeles. Part of me took comfort in the fact that my old habits would get me back to center, to normal (even though I was anything but). Though, it hadn’t occurred to me just how much I’d changed. Depression does that to you. Strips you down to your rawest, most vulnerable self. There exists no fat. Only bone. Midway through the class, I said to myself, this is fucking crazy. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to suffer for a size.

I never went back.

Then there were people in my life who had a disordered relationship with food & their body, which I absorbed. Food was relegated to two camps: virtuous or villain. Carbs were the enemy. If you stop eating X food by Y time, your body will go into fat burning mode. Don’t spin–it increases cortisol, which is an open invitation to the belly fat party. Did you hear that you’re not burning 800 calories in a SoulCyle class? Did you know? And so on. The only “it” I was crushing was what was left of my self.

Those people? Gone, girl. For the past two years, I hated how my body looked. I hated that I no longer wanted to go so hard at everything. That my velocity was no longer something that I admired, it had become the part of me I abhorred. Slowly, my ambition had morphed into some sort of quiet purpose. I’m softer in all aspects of the word. I no longer felt starved; I felt sustained. 

I may have gained a little weight, but I never smiled like this when I was thin.

Then I came back to the mat. At first, I compared myself to what I knew I could do, what I had done!! But that’s dangerous and unkind. There is no comparison, and your body, whether you like or not, changes shape and form and there’s a degree to which fighting that becomes a game of diminishing returns. I no longer wanted to bang out poses, I wanted to breathe through them.

Always, I’m reminded of what my teacher had told me about ego and ambition. The mark of an advanced practitioner is not someone who drops down their mat and kicks up into handstand–that’s ego. The advanced yogi returns to a basics class and re-learns the poses from the ground up as if she’s encountered them for the first time. Think about a book you’ve re-read at various points in your life. Your view of the characters and stories has shifted over the years. What you thought you knew or believed to be true became something new and other. There were new truths. You advance by returning to the foundation, not stacking brick after brick over an unchanged foundation. Soon the ground will give way and all the bricks will become rubble–all because you were too arrogant to revisit and relearn that which you thought you knew. 

That’s the practice.

I’ve always believed that who you are in the mat is who you are in life. Granted, I can’t do all the poses I used to do, but that’s okay. My work is about coming to the mat and being okay with who I am, right now, at this moment in time.

A few days ago, I took a 90-min class and the teacher was exacting and methodical. None of this speed yoga that’s become fashionable at gyms and boutique studios to entertain the perennially I’m so bored set. The class was old school Anusara & Iyengar. Long holds. Complicated sequencing. Crazy discomfort.

I played every pose as it laid because it wasn’t about what I don’t look like or what I can’t do, rather, it’s about what this body can do. Right now. At this moment. How could I be kinder to myself with that knowledge? How do I tell myself it’s okay that I’m no longer a skinny Minnie workout maniac? That it’s okay to eat the damn pasta without feeling the weight of it. That my body is a house that shouldn’t be in demolition.

That there’s nobility in leading a quiet, slower life.


  1. That there’s nobility in leading a quiet, slower life.

    yes yes YES!

    Posted on 7.4.18 · Reply to comment
  2. Karen wrote:

    I love your honesty and thought provoking writing. Thanks for refreshing today. Apology if comment seems quaint, I’m better at composing music, sometimes.

    Posted on 8.29.18 · Reply to comment

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  • As you guys know, I am BIG on education. My goal for this year is to share as much education and free resources on freelancing, marketing, and writing as possible. I'm even switching email list providers (moving to ConvertKit) so I can send you better emails related to what you're interested in. Don't care about the brand stuff, but want to know more about writing? I GOT YOU. When I sell resources, I want them to be relatively affordable. So, I'm starting small with a MONSTER guide on freelancing. I originally thought this was going to be 100 pages. Well, it's 150+ pages with 40% of NEW content I'm writing RIGHT NOW. Templates, how-tos, personal stories, resources, and everything you need to know about getting started, getting clients, onboarding them, managing them, and dealing with them when they drive you bonkers. .

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  • In this era of competitiveness and self-serving "entrepreneurs," it's rare to come across a peer who is generous with their work and their heart. Rarely am I moved by people, but today I was on the receiving end of an act of kindness that I had to share. 
I contacted a peer in the marketing space, a woman whom I revere and admire. She's young, smart, passionate, hardworking, and knows more about marketing than most people I've encountered in my two-decade-long career. 
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Who does this? Who extends their work and kindness so generously? I came away inspired. Inspired to share my knowledge--as much as I can--for free.

So many people paint consultants, marketers, educators and course providers with a broad brush. Yes, there are hoards of incompetent hustlers. People who don't do what they teach. But there are those who are bright lights. And today I was reminded of that. 
There are good people out there and I can still be surprised by kindness.
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  • With the exception of the cruelty that is tax day, I’m toasting some professional wins. I’m creating a comprehensive ebook on freelancing—the ultimate guide before I go the course route. Hit the link in my bio to subscribe to my email list to get all the details! I’m excited about this one because I’m rocking the baby steps before marathon approach.
Inspired by one of my professional heroes, @byreginatv, I removed 2,000 people from my email list and it felt glorious. Don't be tethered to a vanity metric. If people aren't connecting with you, the numbers are meaningless. I'd rather have a smaller, engaged audience of people who are into my vibe and work than the ability to shout out a high subscriber count. #foodforproverbialthought.
I’ve got new book recommendations up on my personal blog: http://www.feliciacsullivan.com if you want to devour some excellent reads.

Finally, aided by a new friend, I’m going to my first Quilt chat this week. The Wing isn’t my vibe and it’s can’t rationalize spending the money and Quilt is my scene. I’ll likely be chatting about this in my newsletter as I’m FINALLY in a place where I can network in a non-smarmy setting.
Here’s to an excellent start to the week!
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  • This year is shaping up to be my best yet, and I’m happy to have made it out of the dark country. I’m writing work that means so much to me. I’m reading 2 books a week. I’m tackling challenging, but thrilling projects. I’m collaborating with brilliant, beautiful friends. And I’m calm, centered, and focused. It too a long while and a breakdown to get here, but I’m grateful for my small patchwork of a family who always checked in, hired me when I desperately needed it, and didn’t flee when things got tough. Sometimes you need to feel the weight of your sadness to unburden yourself of it. Here’s to yummy lunches and the best year yet!
  • Over the past two years, I’ve been toying with teaching. I’ve taught marketing to creatives at USC. I’ve taught creative writing in New York. I’ve mentored employees and friends. I love learning and sharing what I’ve learned, and forpeople I know and love I often do it for free. 
So, what’s stopped me? Honestly, the machine that’s become the online course industry irritates me. Webinars that waste time. Who wants to watch a 45-minute infomercial? Not me. Or how about the fake fan love and Instagram platforms that are transparently transactional? Courses that are a million dollars, taught by people who haven’t done the thing they’reteaching beyond their own privileged platform. And did I mention that everyone looks the same? The super stars are white, well educated, and bragging about their seven-figure incomes. 
I mean, COME ON. 
Listen. I’m half-white, privileged as fuck, well educated, but I definitely don’t make seven figures. And I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated with freelancers who call themselves brand strategists (aka, predators posing as house pets) making bank, yet they lack the experience, education, and discipline. But I’ve learned that complaining does nothing if you’re not creating, if you’re not putting out the thing you want to see in the world. I spent two months creating an 8-step tutorial on how to build a brand platform because I was tired of people not having access to education and opportunity because they couldn’t drop $1,500 on a brand-building course.

Then I thought about how I need to stop complaining about the shady machine that is the online course space and put out the education I want to see in the world, made accessible to people who don’t look like me or have the fancy-pants Ivy League degrees I have (which have driven me to paralyzing debt, but that’s a whole other bag of sad tricks). I’m planning two courses: one on getting into the freelancing game and another on building your brand and finding your customer. Interested? Sign up for my email list (link in bio), where I’ll keep everyone posted.
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  • What a day! Ive been floored and humbled by the tens of THOUSANDS who viewed my 8-part brand building series on medium (link in bio)! I’ve heard from four university professors who want to incorporate my work as assigned reading, the people who were grateful not to have to spend $2K on some wack course taught by an “expert” whose only success example is their personal brand.
Today, I had a day of interviews that culminated in a presentation to the executive team. After it ended, several people asked if I’d considered teaching because I just delivered a master class on brand strategy.
It feels good to know your stuff but still have the hunger and drive as a student!
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