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Why You Should Hit the Send Button

One of my favorite parts about traveling is the amazing people that I meet along the road. You never know how a certain phrase or story can resonate with someone. Sometimes it is weeks or months before I hear from someone but I love when they has the courage to connect. It’s scary, right? You draft an email, hoping for a response, send it into the Internet abyss and wonder if your message will even be read. I have certainly had that experience before, where my email has fallen on deaf inboxes, and it’s disheartening.

I make a pointed effort to reply to every email that I receive because I know the courage and tenacity that it takes to hit the send button. I wanted to share a recent email conversation that I had with Christine, a student from Roanoke College in Virginia. I spoke there this past spring and it made my day to hear from her. After getting her permission, she agreed to let me share her email. Why am I doing this? Because I think Christine’s ability to reach out and connect is remarkable—it sets an example for other college students. Also, she’s asking some questions that I thought would be valuable to share with all of you. Enjoy!

Visiting the Chi Omega Chapter at Roanoke College.

Visiting the Chi Omega Chapter at Roanoke College.

Here’s is Christine’s original email:

Hi Lauren,
It was my pleasure meeting you a few months ago when you spoke at Roanoke College to my Chi Omega chapter. I apologize for how delayed this email is, but I thought you should know how much you touched my life that day. You came and spoke in the middle of one of the hardest times in my life: trying to decide what to do with my life in the post-grad world that was looming in the distance. I still try to use the methods you talked about that night in my day to day life now. What I took away that night was not so much your message of choosing happiness but your method of not allowing or accepting defeat.

I’ve always known that I didn’t want a cookie-cutter life or career, much like it seems you imagined by interning with E! and Disney. I’ve always loved writing and found it to be the one thing in life I feel truly fulfilled doing. I interned at local newspapers and magazines in college, setting myself up for what I thought would be immediate success in the world of journalism. Instead, all I received the months leading up to graduation and the months I’m living in thereafter has been a resounding no after no or just complete silence from different companies and magazines. It’s hard not to get discouraged.

It’s in these moments of sadness that I feel like a failure for not doing what I’m meant to do or what I feel passionate about that I remind myself that God has a plan for me that’s bigger than anything I could imagine, and that you also heard no and turned that no into your own brand and book! As silly as it may sound, you’re my role model.

Which is why I turn to you, at what feels like as low a moment as it did when I first met you after feeling continuous defeat and confusion about how to turn my dreams of having my own business and well known blog into reality, to ask for your advice. How did you have the courage to create the no you heard about collaborating to make the teen version of the Happiness Project into your own yes? How did you know where to start? How do you avoid feeling self-conscious about what others may think about your dream?

I look forward to hearing your advice about how to continue a life with meaning, happiness, and the Chi Omega method of being “discouraged never.”

Thank you again for touching my life and inspiring me to chase my dreams or at least get the ball rolling on them!

-Christine Winder

A pretty amazing young woman, right? Christine is a member of my sorority, Chi Omega and she is a shining example of The Symphony, which you can read below.

In return, here is my response to Christine:

Dear Christine,

Wow! Thank you so much sending such a thoughtful and heartfelt email. I am so happy to see that you are pursuing your goals and not giving up easily. I can sense that you are not faint of heart and that will be one of your strongest assets as you move forward.

Journalism is an especially challenging industry to break into and it takes persistence. In my brief time working at NBC News (which I loved), I saw the kind of sacrifice that people in news are willing to make. You have to be willing to travel, prepare a story at a moments notice, and learn how to do it all—write, produce, and speak on camera (if that is your goal). If you are looking to do strictly print journalism, keep writing. I love how Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly skilled at something—professional. That equates to about 10 years. That’s no small measure of time but making a daily effort to practice your skill will make all the difference.

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback—and honest feedback at that. So many of us are scared to learn about our flaws or areas of improvement. But ask, especially when it comes to your writing. The best way to improve is to take a critical eye to your work and always challenge yourself to be better. Go to writing workshops, meet other writers, read—none of these efforts will be in vain.

So, when you ask me about where I found my courage, here is my answer. Approach the world fearlessly. Don’t look back at what other people are saying about you because it will break your neck. It’s no secret that I love Pinterest and a quote that I read the other day was poignant: “Don’t be afraid to do something just because you’re scared of what people are going to say about you. People will judge you no matter what.” Perhaps it’s a sad reality but it helped me realize that what other people think about me is none of my business. My business is creating meaningful work and inspiring others to find happiness. You have to find out what your business will be.

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I believe the way that we hear the word “no” is all about perception. For some people, they are crippled by it and often cower in fear, afraid to even ask questions. But others hear no and it motivates them even more, it gives them that drive. That’s what it did for me. And if you feel like every door is slamming in your face?

Build your own door. This is one of the biggest keys to success as a young Millennial. People expect us to be lazy, entitled, selfish, etc. Show them that you are different by creating your own work. Show others that you have the self-motivation to create your own job. If you can prove that you can teach yourself and that you are willing to voraciously learn, others are going to be much more inclined to work with you. They won’t need to hold your hand—instead they can high five you.

How did I know where to start? I used my resources. Five years ago, Facebook was in its heyday. I used that platform to interview hundreds of young adults about what made them happy. I felt like that was a central question that was not being asked of this generation and so I made a concerted effort to find out the answer. Find your own niche that is currently untapped—offer a new perspective that hasn’t yet been shared.

As a young author, I felt like the central judgment against me was be my age. Ultimately, I learned that this was my greatest advantage. Don’t let your age intimidate you. Let your work surprise others and it will speak for itself. With your age and your life experience, you offer a unique take with your writing that others will be curious to read. I believe in that.

And how do I avoid feeling self-conscious about my work? I own it. I have certainly had times when I’ve felt embarrassed or not “cool” enough, especially when I’m speaking with teens who know what’s on “fleek.” Still grappling with that word. But I accept who I am. As I’m sure you know, inauthenticity as a writer is one of the greatest disservices that we can do to our readers. They deserve our genuineness, our flaws, our humanity. It’s hard to put ourselves in that vulnerable place but I often that it is in that place that our best work flows forth.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Keep Shining Girl Scouts

I was recently asked to speak at the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles Gold Award Ceremony. While I was eager to say yes, I had no idea how truly inspiring these Gold Award recipients would be. These young women exemplify motivation, persistence, gumption, and grace. While it saddens me to say that I was not a Girl Scout, I hope that one day I can have a daughter so that she may be a Girl Scout. The organization is that amazing.

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There’s a big reason why I think we need more programs like Girl Scouts. It was not until after my college graduation that I realized how truly unprepared I was to take on the world. Perhaps it was my lack of initiation or the heavy emphasis on research and theory from college but there was something crucial missing from my training: how to SURVIVE.

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While our schools teach us about the quadratic formula, Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, and the anatomy of a fetal pig (or frog or cat, etc.), we were forgetting something major. Maybe you were lucky enough to have parents take time to educate you further but ultimately, many of us are missing the essentials. These include the following:

  • How to establish credit and effectively use a credit card
  • How to purchase stock and save funds proactively
  • How to rent an apartment and someday purchase a home
  • How to cook a meal other than macaroni and cereal
  • How to maintain happy and healthy relationships

Are you catching my drift? We’ve been so busy teaching to the test every year, we’ve forgotten how to help kids not only survive, but THRIVE. And this is why I love Girl Scouts.

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Girl Scouts teaches young women the most valuable lessons.—these are lessons where you earn a patch but never a grade. These are lessons that we may innately know as adults but sometimes forget to teach to children. We can’t always remember pre-calculus or even algebra for that matter, and so we hire teachers. But investing? Laundry? Friendship? Kids are supposed to watch and observe and if they miss it, too bad. Sometimes we forget that if school isn’t in session and there’s no bell to start class, students don’t need to keep learning. But I think it’s what happens after school hours—like talks at the coffee table or drives in the car—when kids can truly learn the most valuable lessons. We just have to make sure our parents are sharing and our kids are listening.

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Because parents are so cramped for time, they don’t always have the time or energy to educate their kids on these life lessons. There will be another time—another moment when it will matter more. That’s what we say as the days turn into weeks and into months and into years. And then it’s graduation time…except the graduate doesn’t know how to iron their graduation gown.

What I love about Girl Scouts is that they don’t wait. You’re never too young to learn…even if you’re a Daisy or a Brownie. They take the precious time to TEACH young women what others think is innate. Children are not born knowing how to prepare effective business plans, rise to leadership roles, or simply connect with others. By taking the time to train these Girl Scouts on the building blocks of a successful life, they are able to truly shine as they reach adulthood. They are not the college students fumbling to find out the answers (like I was), they are the ones exceling and moving one step ahead. They are ready in every sense of the word.

With the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles CEO: Lise Luttgens

With the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles CEO: Lise Luttgens

While those Girl Scout cookies are darn delicious (even just the smell of the Trefoil cookie candle they gave me is intoxicating), they are teaching young women invaluable lessons. They are learning how to network, approach and interact with adults, organize money, and set challenging goals. They also get to experience the reward of meeting those goals and thus they are motivated to reach higher. Hence the prestigious Gold Award years later.

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When the big day came, I asked a question before my keynote. I was quickly corrected. I said, “How many hours does it take to win the Gold Award?” To which the Marketing Director replied, “Our Girl Scouts don’t win the Gold Award…they EARN it.” I think that says it all.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

The Positive Praise Binder

While I’m traveling I meet a lot of young adults who struggle to take ownership of their lives. Somewhere along the way they learned they weren’t smart enough, funny enough, clever enough—GOOD ENOUGH—to go after their dreams. Some of them don’t know what those dreams are because they’ve been doused with more reality than they can handle. I’m all for realism but not when it cripples imaginative thinking; that’s where I set my limit. Unfortunately I see that all too often.

Many of us tell ourselves “no” before anyone else ever gets the chance to say it. We think—why bother? Why humiliate, embarrass, and make myself vulnerable for something that will never work out? Because it could work out. And even if it doesn’t—so what—the lessons we learn through failure are often that much more valuable. Hearing “no” is not the end of the world; in fact it usually opens our eyes to a whole new world of opportunity.

Whether or not you have been beating yourself down with this negative self-talk, I have a challenge for you today. I recently heard in my practicum class about the value of having a positive praise binder. In this binder, you keep all the nice cards, comments, emails, and compliments that you’ve received. It can be tremendously healing when you’re having a bad day to look at this binder. And when someone does tell you “no” and you feel brokenhearted—you can turn to this book and remember that you are loved.

I have done a virtual form of this binder by keeping every kind word and email that has been sent to me. I look at it every now and then when I’m feeling defeated. My spirits are lifted when I read it and I am reminded of my resilience. After I read these words, I know that I can go on and do more.

There are a few key times when these kind words were particularly helpful. For instance when I was writing my first book and I really doubted my ability and worth as a writer, people sent me messages like these:

“Hey Lauren its nice to hear that you are still an extremely creative, inspirational, and involved girl… Sounds like this project could do a lot of good, especially in a time when there is so much pressure put on teens that they easily forget the most important part of life… being happy.”

Or when one of my mentors, Lisa Bloom, saw something in me:

Lisa Bloom: @TheSunnyGirl5 Note to world: The Sunny Girl is going places. You heard it here first. You look like my long lost daughter, Lauren! Thanks for being game for vegan lunch, and keep shining

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It takes just a few minutes to say something thoughtful to someone. But it may carry them through the darkest nights, weeks, or months of their life. We often don’t know what a gift these words can be, and so we hesitate to give them. We feel awkward, clumsy, and once again, vulnerable to say something meaningful to a person. We stick to small talk and keep it superficial. It’s safer that way. But not sweeter.

On the flip side, if you tend to shun compliments or they make you feel comfortable, work towards acceptance. Let the words sink in and sit with them. Don’t push them away or ignore them. Don’t belittle the words or deny them. Nurture them with gratitude and don’t be ashamed to savor them. You never know when they will carry you through your night.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
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