Them, the women who have known and loved me for years.
Loved me long before I was a mother, long before I was The Leonie Dawson.
There’s the one who loved me when I was a teenager, greeting me on my first day of boarding school. I was mildly terrified at what this new world of boxes would bear, but I saw her open face and kind eyes and wide open smile, and knew I was safe with her.
There’s the one who had purple hair when I first met her, who talked loudly about her womb in an elevator filled with stiff public servants. I saw her and knew I wanted to be just like her. She was the one who led me by hand into my first women’s circle, to that moment I knew I was home, to that knowing I’d been walking to a women’s circle for all the moments before.
There’s the tiny, wild haired woman who was sitting in that circle, loving openly with her big brave heart. We’ve walked kindred journeys into motherhood and that tough, knee-skinning initiation. She is grace and courage and warmth.
There’s the one who I sat beside at cubicle desks for 7 years. She was apparently my boss, but most of all she was my comrade, my sister, my co-conspirator in mischief and glee. A mutual friend once remarked: “You two were the most unlikely love story on Level 11. Complete opposites who fit together like puzzle pieces.” She, the fastidious, elegantly dressed Virgo who willingly talks about her discomfort about all things hippy and spiritual, and her love of all things shallow. Me, the wild haired messy Scorpio who is a 24/7 channel for hippy, spiritual and deep. Together: unconditional love and mutual adoration.
These are the women I came back for.
I’ve had many glorious adventures in the past eight years. Trolloped all over the country. Two years in the Whitsundays in a tiny old wooden cottage my grandmother had lived in, spending our days by the beach, watching eagles in the backyard, listening to the sounds of the sugar mill heaving at the end of our street. A few months in Cairns, in that wild hot tropics, living in that treehouse, marvelling at the magic and the mould, visiting every white-sanded beach around. A couple of years on an acreage in the rainforest that I had hoped would be our forever home, but was too wild and unsettled for us. I still miss that timber home with vaulted ceilings and pademelons out the back and kookaburras that flew through our lounge room. That hippy village with its markets weaving down the hills and rainforest. Six months in Tasmania, that isolated island at the bottom of isolated island of Australia. Daily walks on a cold, brilliant blue beach, gazing up at the great snow-capped mountain each day. Being woken by him, as excited as a boy, at 5am. Get up, get up, it’s fucking SNOWING! It fulfilled my husband’s teenage wish to return there. My husband said six months there was worth thousands of dollars in therapy sessions.
And then one night after I’d fallen and hurt my foot badly, an injury that would take another 18 months to recover from, I was overcome with homesickness for my Canberra people. My foot was swollen and I couldn’t sleep. The Antartic wind hurtled around our house on the hill at midnight. I was tired of feeling alone, tired of being the new girl in town, tired of feeling like we had no one to call on.
I was faced with a sliding doors moment.
I knew if I woke my husband and told him, he would agree to move.
If I didn’t, we would stay, on that out of the way island that was at equal turns fiercely cold and stunningly beautiful.
In a moment that I would come to regret more than any other decision I’ve made in my life, I woke him.
Five days later, we had bought a nice suburban house online, and one month later we were landing back in Canberra.
At first I was giddy to feel so comfortable, so at ease, so at home.
I adored seeing my old friends so dearly. It felt deliciously safe to have them just around the corner from me.
It was a gift to have that time to be together, to see our own kids become friends too.
But within a few months, I was begging Chris to let me remake that decision, to go back to that midnight moment. The alpine suburban life felt like the saddest, beigest outcome after all our dreams of wild adventures and acreages. We felt like rainbow rainforest parrots caged, colours fading fast.
I was afraid of leaving too: I didn’t want to make the wrong decision. Didn’t want to find myself lonely again. Scared of losing the support I had outside my husband and kids.
To our excruciating surprise, it took almost two and a half more years to leave. We kept trying in earnest, and feeling utterly trapped and stuck. We’d discuss for months a new place we could move to, only to visit and feel repelled, uneasy.
I flew across the country by myself to visit a stunningly beautiful hippy town that is adored the world over, one with sky high mortgages and celebrities aplenty… a place that on paper looked perfect for us… only to feel instantly and profoundly repelled on landing and actually experiencing it. I returned home feeling like I’d just walked through energetic dog shit, and we crossed that one firmly off the list too.
We couldn’t go back to places we’d been before for various reasons: my Tasmania-loving husband didn’t want to be off the mainland again so he could be more available for his ageing parents. The other places we’d lived were beautiful in their own ways, but were shoes that didn’t quite fit.
Again and again, I tried to give up on my dreams.
Tried to contain myself to the life, the house, the land that didn’t fit.
I wondered if I was too greedy. Why I couldn’t just settle already, dammit. Why everyone else seemed so happy, so content, so unquestioning with their lives. I became convinced I was fucking up everything. I was sure I’d never find the right place for us, that we would be doomed to be restless, bereft of a sense of home. I began to worship at the altar of Nothing Will Ever Be Okay Ever Again.
Where the wanderlust worries became a crisis of chemistry. They are tied together, and it is hard to tell them apart, except that the worry was painful, the depression was seismic.
Still, it woke me and my husband up in a way we needed.
After it was over, and I was no longer comatose with sadness, my husband sat me down and said:
I need to tell you something. I couldn’t tell you when you were lost in depression. I just needed to be there for you. But I need you to know when you were down so far, I was worried. I worried that you might be broken, and I wasn’t sure how to fix you. And I knew I needed to look after you, and look after the kids. And so I decided I needed to take you home. The thing is, since we left the tropics, you’ve been losing your spark, the thing that you’ve always had, the thing that makes you Leonie. And the depression felt like you’d lost it all together.
So I need to take you back home, because you’re alive there, and your spark is so bright. I think we need to move to the Sunshine Coast. It’s not your home town, but it’s your home state, and it’s got the things we need there: the beach and the warmth and educational options for the kids. And you can see your Dad more often, and we can visit those places if we want to. But mostly, I just need to take you to the ocean and be in the sun again so you can get your spark back.
And I sobbed.
I felt so deeply seen.
I responded simply:
It all became so abundantly, searingly clear.
More cautious than ever, we decided to send me on a scouting mission.
Send the sensitive canary down the mine, see if she steps in energetic dog shit.
I called him that afternoon, hair curling in the humidity, barefoot and sandy.
I think I might like this quite a bit, I tell him. The air is so very sweet here. I can smell the ocean and the trees.
The next day I call him again, watching children ride through the village, joyous and free.
I think we might be happy here.
The next day I call him late at night. I’d just spent the day on a friend-bender visiting mates I’d met in every other place we’d lived who’d all moved here. I’d played with horses and alpacas by the mountain with one friend, waded through an ocean lake with another, laughed in a rainforest acreage with another, had dinner by the crashing surf with another. Just give me land and animals and outside wilderness, and I’m happy as a pig in fucking mud.
This has been the best day I’ve had in a long, long time.
In order to say yes again, I had to let go.
I had to let go of judging myself so deeply about all the moving we’ve done, all the choices we’ve made and unmade. I had to let go of that stranglehold of a need to get THIS decision right.
Instead, I had to become gentle and fluid, graceful and forgiving of myself. I decided to choose a grateful heart instead of a festering one.
I’m so glad we’ve had all these adventures. We are so very lucky. We’ve learned and experienced so much from each place. And even if this one isn’t the right place forever, that’s okay too. I can choose, and choose again. It’s okay if other people think I’m crazy, it’s okay if my friends won’t understand. I know myself and I know why we are doing this.
And we chose to move again. Put half our old house into storage. Find a smaller house near the sea that we could use as a hub to explore this gold blue green coastline, maybe find an acreage eventually.
Find some wings again after feeling stuck for so very long.
Stuck is our nemesis, our kryptonite. Have to keep moving forward, evolving, choosing what is right for us next.
I don’t know what I thought my dear friends would say when I told them we were leaving. I was so sad to be leaving them, but I couldn’t remain. I didn’t know how I could explain it without sounding ungrateful, crazy, a loose cannon.
I didn’t expect to be met with so much understanding.
We were sitting in a gravel car park at sunset. It was my final night out with my dear sisterfriends.
I’m so sorry I’m leaving, I tell her.
Oh honey, it’s okay. I knew we couldn’t keep you here. You’re a mermaid out of water, you need to be back by the sea. We didn’t think you’d even last this long! We will come visit.
I squeeze back the tears. Oh to be so understood. That she knew all along. That she still loved me anyway.
We walk down the path in the darkening air. There is a labyrinth by the lake, one I have visited and walked so many times over the years. We meet another friend there, and we begin walking it silently, one by one.
It is icily cold, and I shrug my hands deep into my pockets. Around and around, goes the labyrinth. This way, then a sharp turn that way. The trail is long, confusing, hard to follow. Just as you think you are getting closer to the centre, you curl back out. The labyrinth is life, of course. The path takes you every fucking direction under the sun. You question whether you are on the right path and doing the right thing often. And just when you can barely stay with it any longer, you emerge into the blessed centre.
In the centre of this particular labyrinth is a gnarled old tree that hold prayers and offerings. Beside it is a large slab of ancient rock from the desert of Australia, so powerful you can touch it and find yourself connected to the beginning of this land. One of my dearests is sitting on the rock already. The wind blows colder, and like a heat-seeking missile, I sit down and press my back against her.
We sit there for a long while, meditating alone together. It struck me how perfect it was: this one has always had my back. The bell tower, for the first time I’ve experienced it, is in full song. Melodies ripple out from it across the lake, bells singing together. I don’t know why, but it is a miracle I tuck into my pocket.
I look up, watch the bare wavering tree limbs over us. Squint my eyes, the stars are jewelstrewn across evening’s velvet blouse now. I smile as I watch one friend still making her labyrinth journey. Smile as the warmth from my back buddy seeps into my jacket. Smile as I think of our other friends joining us later at the restaurant.
Suddenly, a wave washes over me, and I hear the words:
You are loved. You are infinitely loveable. This has all been a gift to teach you this.
Tears well in my eyes. I had no idea I was holding onto any idea that I was unlovable, unadored.
But there it was, and it had just been healed.
I soak in the warm wash of love.
If I had to go through all of this just to know this, that’s okay. I can carry this love with me wherever I go.
And I do go.
Go to the restaurant, and laugh, and tell stories, and listen. Look around at the faces of these women who love me just as I am.
Go home and kiss my husband and my children, give thanks for that cosy nest of love we’re building together, stick by stick, moss mound by moss mound. Our family is our home, no matter what state we’re in.
Finish loading the car, drive out of Canberra early one morning.
Point our car’s nose north, and head off towards the sun.
Health professionals look at my family tree + say:
That’s a profoundly high rate of mental health. You are genetically pre-disposed.
I joke regularly:
It’s a gift that I only scored one of them!
I forgot that it was two.
The grey whale came for me one Sunday morning during an ordinary day, an ordinary conversation.
My husband and I, talking about different options together.
Confronted with a decision, my brain synapses froze.
I excused myself, went for a shower, and howled.
Maybe the grey whale had already had me for a while, I just hadn’t known yet.
Looking back I see the flashes of silver beginning to entwine.
How often I’d started crying. How much optimism I started losing. How much harder I found decisions.
But those were relatively easy to ignore.
Just keep feeling your feelings, Leonie. It’s good for you, I’d think.
I wondered if I would ever progress from those feelings and find hope, healing, clarity.
Until then, intermittent bursts of tears.
And then the tap broke, and the tears did not stop.
I remember the moment at the bottom of the shower.
Plummeting head first into the darkness of misery and hopelessness.
Wild with sadness.
This is it,
I remember thinking.
This is my life now.
I am completely, and utterly fucked. I will never, ever be happy again.
I crawled out of the shower, lay naked on the floor of our bedroom, in a sharp beam of sunlight.
Still it did not ease.
I can’t remember the last time I’d felt this utterly fucked.
I throbbed with the pain of living.
It was over nothing, the conversation that had sparked this.
The whale came to get me for very little reason or logic, just a worm in the blood.
Maybe I was worn out from making decisions. Maybe I was tired and burnt out. Maybe I had neglected having time to myself since starting homeschooling. Maybe I’m just genetically predisposed to it.
No matter what had caused it, here I was, 20,000 leagues under the sea, and no way up.
My brain synapses had snapped and there was no repair.
The sobbing and the pain and the all-encompassing dark did not let up.
Not in an hour, not in two, not in twenty, not in days, not in weeks.
The grey whale had me,
and I was lost to the world.
And so it continued.
The anxiety would begin before I even opened my eyes.
My heart pumped filled with adrenaline, terror unfurling in my veins.
I’d be thumped into reality and wake up afraid, quaking, devastated to be awake.
I’d sit on the couch across from Chris, shaking and rocking and sobbing.
I couldn’t make eye contact, I could barely move apart from the uncontrollable.
As tightly wound up as a caterpillar under threat of a hungry bird.
My husband would spend the morning lovingly, patiently, coaxingly massaging my soul’s limbs back out again.
Tell me what’s on your mind this morning, honey.
It’s nothing, it’s dumb, I’d mutter, not making eye contact.
It doesn’t matter. It’s worrying you. Just tell me anyway.
And so I would.
I’d spill the litany of whatever was eating me alive that day. An odd assortment of ridiculous thoughts and #firstworldproblems that had begun to terrorise me obsessively.
I’ve failed completely as a Mother. I have totally fucked it all.
Why’s that, honey?
The kids can’t ride their bikes properly WITHOUT TRAINING WHEELS yet. I’ve absolutely fucked everything, I can’t get the simplest thing right.
Thinking back on it, this seems patently ridiculous. We’re not a bike-riding family for one, and my eldest is a risk-adverse gentle being who would prefer to be poodling about with a sketchbook than anything which may cause adrenaline. But that’s reason, and I was in no mood for reason. I was CONVINCED by these thoughts that I was both fucked and had fucked it. The amount of pain I had even speaking those words was unbearable.
Chris, to his shining, brilliant credit, did not laugh or tell me to lighten up or look at me like I was bonkers.
He listened. And nodded. And empathised. And reassured. And gave me empirical evidence that I hadn’t completely fucked it, and that in fact, everything was fine.
It’s okay honey. I know you love our kids. It’s normal to worry as a parent! I know I worry a lot too. But I want you to know it’s okay. Our kids will learn how to ride without training wheels. I didn’t really start riding bikes until I was older. Ostara doesn’t really love bikes, otherwise she would be more interested and wanting to ride! You care so much about these kids honey. They are great, they are happy, you are doing a good job.
I’d listen, unable to even look in his eyes. I’d still remain convinced that I had fucked it, as that’s what my thoughts were telling me. But he’d let the pressure out of my tyres just enough for me to not implode.
And so it went every day for weeks. I’d wake up pulsating from the shrill adrenaline in my veins. My brain would whirr into life, fixating and obsessing on all the ways I had thoroughly fucked my life. I’d be overcome with shame and pain.
I became afraid of my own brain, how fast it ran into terrible conclusions, how it wiped away all other realities but this: you are fucked. you have fucked it all.
I’m known by my mates for having a joyously high self-esteem.
I don’t spend time in self-doubt.
I rarely spend time in self-flagellation.
I do my best. I try to rest. I make mistakes occasionally, apologise fairly easily, look at what I could tend to and mend so I don’t make the mistake again, and carry on skipping.
I don’t have an inner critic, I have an inner cheerleader that has chanted for as long as I can remember:
You can do this. You’ve got this. You can do this. You’ve got this.
I don’t know how or why, really.
It just is what it is.
I feel like I’d lucked out on missing some part of the human experience for not having low self-esteem, but I didn’t spend much time questioning.
And then it was gone.
Second-guessing myself, triple-guessing, over and over.
Sure that this was the reality of it. That I’d finally woken up to see what a colossal fuckwit I was.
Inner critic had made its late arrival, and was vicious, blood-thirty, louder than all else.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Is this what it’s like for everyone else? This is horrific. How do people go on? How does anything get created at all? How do we even walk through this world?
The voice crippled me.
I was a crumpled piece of paper.
As the day turns into twilight, then night, I become more anxious again, agitated, limbs flashing as the tide of anxiety comes riding back in.
What’s happening, honey? Chris asks.
I’m scared of the night, I tell him.
What happens in the night? he asks.
Night is dark and all I can hear are my thoughts.
We go to sleep. Well, he does. I lay beside him, and watch the cavalcade of obsessive thoughts start up once more, bending back into the tightly wound caterpillar.
Then I’d wake Chris up when I couldn’t bear it any longer.
Tell him sobbing, heartbroken about the next catastrophe I envisioned.
Honey, I need to talk to you! Ostara is 8! EIGHT! In ten more years, she will be EIGHTEEN. And one day, she will move out. Just imagine that! GONE! FOREVER! NEVER TO SLEEP IN THE BEDROOM NEXT TO US AGAIN. And I will be DEVASTATED. I will be HEART BROKEN. I can’t bear it.
Again, he would listen, and reassure me, tell me we would make it through together. Tell me to gently wind down and try to get some rest.
I’d listen, and try my best, but the panic attacks would roll through the night, waking me, waking him.
I stopped eating, barely drank.
I couldn’t. It was too much work. My system was already working overtime.
Mouth already dry with fear, stomach swarming.
All I could do was shake and cry and rock.
I wondered when I should admit myself to a mental institution.
I seemed broken beyond belief.
I shut away from friends.
I was convinced I would infect them, that my feelings were contagious.
I didn’t, couldn’t do anything but what was absolutely required.
Groceries stores meant crying soundlessly behind dark sunglasses, pretending to be normal.
It took some long, painful weeks before I realised I needed to take action and get help.
I’m surprised I didn’t think of it, surprised my husband didn’t think of it.
Both of us are well-versed enough in mental health and psychology, both of us cheerful proponents of therapy and medication.
I can only assume we were both too busy to think laterally:
I was too busy in the pit of misery, Chris was too busy trying to reach me.
I booked an appointment at my doctor. Sat in the waiting room, crying behind dark sunglasses once more.
How can I help you today?
He is gentle, kind, diminutive.
He doesn’t know.
I start crying even harder.
I’m not okay,
I tell him.
It’s the hardest thing in the world to say those words.
But they are the words that save us.
My doctor listens, asks questions.
Are you feeling suicidal?
No, I just want to go to sleep and never wake up.
Do you think you would ever try to suicide?
No. My brain doesn’t go that direction. I just want to sleep.
I realised at that point how lucky I was that my brain doesn’t fall in that direction. How hard that must be to fight. I was at the mercy of my brain, and I was already cowering beneath its furious You are fucked, everything is fucked, you are a fucking idiot chatterings.
He asks more questions:
Are you eating? Sleeping? Drinking?
No. No. No. I can’t. It’s too much.
I know you are married. How is your husband about this?
Even in my fucked mind, this strikes me as a curious question. I don’t know what to answer.
He gets it. He’s good.
But… does he really understand? Is he supportive?
And finally, I click. I understand why he’s asking now.
Not everybody has this. Not everybody has someone in their corner, much less one who understands mental health and empathy and therapy.
I think of all the hours my husband spent uncurling his wound up caterpillar wife. How the walls to my house were falling to pieces, but he was the roof. I’m lucky, even in the complete fuckery of this.
I wonder at how on fucking earth we all get through this life.
The doctor prescribes me medication.
A little of the old stuff. Some new stuff for a few weeks to get me out the otherside.
(Lexapro and Valium, for those playing at home.)
I exit, and I cry behind sunglasses at the chemist while I wait for the medication.
I want to say here:
Counselling and therapy can play a HUGE PART in mental health. I was already having sessions, thus why my doctor didn’t prescribe that to me!
And: I might be a hippy but DAMN do I love me some Western medicine when it works.
I have absolutely zero fucking issues with taking it.
My mental health is a biological, hereditary function just like everything else.
If some chemicals in a pill can resolve the chemical issues in my body that make me go bonkers, I will GOBBLE DEM UP.
Gobble them up I did. In the prescribed amount, and the prescribed time of course.
Taking Valium was like being in an induced feelings coma. It was lovely to not feel so crashingly awful, to be able to eat and sleep and not fear the night (or the day) anymore. To stop the shrill panic in my brain.
I took them while waiting for the Sertraline to build up to a therapeutic level in my system. After a couple of weeks, it wasn’t where it needed to be. So I went back to the doctor and increased its dose. After another week or so, it was up enough for me to start to wean off Valium.
(I share this because I talk about what works for me. You work with your Doctor about what works for you.)
As I waited for the Sertraline to work, I got the courage to tell a couple of friends what was happening.
Oh! Goodie! said one.
I’ve never met Depressed Leonie before! You’re always so blastardly cheerful! I’m really low at the moment too.
Can I take Depressed Leonie out for dinner? It will be so nice just to bitch and moan with you.
My friends share my completely bent sense of inappropriate humour, obviously.
I consented to be taken out. I knew I would be safe. That I could be all of myself with her.
It was an evening of the darkest kind of humour and Italian food.
I might be in a hole, but I knew I would be able to get out.
Over the weeks, life returned into me.
The crying lessened. The panic attacks ebbed. The brain slowed and began to make sense again.
It was less bad, and then much less bad.
The voice that heralded all that was fucked got softer and softer and then was gone.
Finally pinpricks of joy began to pierce into me again.
The whale had released me.
I was floating to the surface.
It was the most blessed relief to become myself again.
I was myself again, but changed too.
I’d been through one of the most painful breakdowns of my life.
My eyes were bared at how bad it could be.
My heart was awash with compassion at the human condition.
How much mental health and brain chemistry and pure life can profoundly affect us.
If someone ever tells me they had a breakdown, I’ll understand it more now.
I think that’s the gift of it all.
Even the most painful of the painful.
It comes, and it leaves.
And I think:
I will understand other people so much more now.
No matter how painful, I’m glad I experienced it.
It feels like this whole journey of life is to experience so we can understand each other that much more deeply, love each other that much more gently.
It’s been a few months now since the whale took me into that underworld.
I began writing this back then, finished it now.
It’s bloody beautiful out here, in the sunlight, on the otherside.
Years ago, me and my husband had a carpool buddy we called Mr P.
He was a mythical sage elf, hilarious and wise in equal turns.
Some days we would drive to work wheezing with laughter.
Some days we would drive to work in silence.
Some days our conversations would be deep and prophetic.
One particular day, it was both.
We drove along in silence this morning, and as we drove through an underpass, he turned from the window and said:
You know, people call breakdown by the wrong name.
So often we call it a breakdown, when really it is a breakthrough.
Then he turned back to look out the window and said nothing more.
That sentence echoed through my mind this year.
The whale took me, and it showed me the truth.
It showed me the truth of human suffering and empathy.
But it also gave both myself and my husband the answer to a question we had been asking for years.
And it’s a story for another day.
But the breakdown was most definitely a breakthrough.
If you’re struggling, I want you to know:
I love you. I know. I get it.
Please get yourself whatever help you need.
There is light and gladness on the other side.
I promise you this, and I promise it to you as a person who didn’t believe that could be true a few short months ago.
Sometimes our brains are capable of incredible, wise, miraculous things. And sometimes our brains tell us really fucking deadshit stuff. When it tells us we are fucked, everything is fucked, it will always be fucked, it’s time to get the help we need to fuck that voice off.
I promise the gladness will come. I promise the pinpricks of joy and light will return.
We will start with the life and business goals workbooks first and potentially extend the product range from there.
I’ve been incredibly successful with self-publishing since 2009 which I am so grateful for, but knew the next step was to partner with a publishing house for various reasons.
I’ll share them here incase you are interested in the behind-the-scenes!
I’ve wanted to be an author in like for-fucking-ever.
When I was 4, I knew I wanted to write and make art for a living. That dream never changed.
When I was 21, and learned about dreamboards, I immediately included a multi-book publishing deal on it.
I started coming up with book proposals and sending them out, but got no interest. To be honest, I was shithouse at rejection as well at that point, and didn’t put myself out there as much as I could have. I was SO SURE that I was going to be a teacher and an author, and I didn’t know why it hadn’t happen already!
Instead, I decided to create my own empire, and just start choosing myself.
I started blogging in 2004 when I was 21, and running workshops and retreats at 23, and I eventually started creating e-courses at 25.
I created the Life goals workbook in 2009, pregnant with my first baby. I had just started the habit of setting goals, and wanted to create something for the coming year, but all the options out there were bland, black and white, uninspiring. So over the course of a few days, I wrote and painted up pages with questions for myself to answer. When I was done, I thought it looked pretty cute, so I decided to scan it in and pop it up online. I thought if I could sell it to 10 people for $9.95, that would be pretty exciting!
I released it Boxing Day, and in the next month, went on to sell 1000 copies. At the time there was absolutely nothing like it in the market. Over the years copycat products have emerged, but back then it seemed like a lightning bolt of new.
Each year I released updated versions, and the sales numbers doubled or tripled each time.
A couple of years later, I had enough people asking for a business goals version as well, so I produced that.
By 2014, enough people were asking for a printed version that I decided to offer printed versions through Amazon’s Createspace which is a print-on-demand service.
That was great, but I hit limitations in terms of what they could produce (they can only do trade paperback), that I couldn’t set a constant price on Amazon, and everybody had to order through the US. I felt like the next step was to fund a self-published version with spiral binding, printed in China, and distributed through 3 shipping houses in the US, UK and Australia. That way as well I could extend the product range to include a diary/planner, wall planner and to do list pad.
The sales numbers continued to explode which was absolutely amazing and absolutely huge to cope with all at once. Dealing with getting 80,000 products out in a 3 month period is an enormous blessing and challenge.
I honestly was super naive in terms of the difficulty and complexities of printing, shipping, customs, distribution houses, shopping carts and managing the customer service needs of tens of thousands of individual customers. I thought it would be relatively easy. LOLZ NOPE.
For the years that I self-published and printed in China, I learned a LOT about business, and navigated some fucking crazy business situations. I’ve had books held to ransom by a crazy distribution house owner who was extorting my company. I’ve hired contractors to rescue the books and drive them across America in the snow to a distribution house who could help us. I’ve dealt with the surprise additional $10,000 bills from Customs and the major shipping port delays. I’ve dealt with tech staff unable to deliver a shopping cart on time, and releasing a buggy system. I’ve dealt with key staff quitting days before the launch of the workbooks. I’ve dealt with staff who made major mistakes in their printing decisions that I’ve discovered too late. I’ve dealt with managing a whole team of customer service staff to respond to hundreds of customer service requests. I dealt with managing the huge team I had to have in order to deal with the business growth… and discovered that managing staff and their dramas is my worst nightmare, the thing that kills my magic and mojo the most. I dealt with a workload which meant I was editing the next year’s workbooks before I was finished marketing last year’s ones. I found that 99% of my time was spent in managing the logistics and team… and not in what I originally wanted to do… which was to create and write. I was now a CEO, not an author and creative.
When I talked about it to my accountant in tears, he said:
“Leonie, you’re a high growth company. It was going to happen in the end. Business growth is a great problem, but it’s still a problem to solve. Businesses who reach that point either have to insource and hire the team like you did, or outsource and work with another company. Both have challenges, but there is usually one option that works better for each individual company. And you have to try them both out to discover which one is best for you.”
I knew I couldn’t keep going with what I was doing. I was burning out. It was putting stress on my family, as me and my husband had to spend vast parts of each day trying to fix and problem solve the latest drama. My beautiful dream come true was fast becoming something I hated doing. When people asked me what book or product I was going to create next, my internal response was: Never in a million fucking YEARS. I don’t want to add anything to my workload, or to the complexity of the printing processes! It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when an author refuses to write anything more because they don’t want to deal with the print processes of it!
Plus, I had a real, deep vision and knowing of what was needed next for the workbooks. And I couldn’t do it alone.
So, here’s the vision… the vision I have seen for YEARS.
Every year, from November through January, the workbooks are on the New York Times bestseller list. They are in bookstores and newsagencies throughout the world on a big, bright, beautifully designed stand all of their own with their companion products. In every town throughout the world, there are groups of people meeting to do their workbooks TOGETHER. And all these amazing souls start dreaming up what they want to create, and start achieving their goals, and changing their lives… and I really believe the world will change from this. All these conscious creators empowered!
And I knew that I couldn’t do that on my own. Yes, self-publishers often CAN get into bookstores. But it was going to take more staff and expertise and even MORE logistics. And I couldn’t bear to add that to my workload. I was getting firmly out of my zone of genius.
And so I decided the time was right and bright to find a publisher to partner with. They could take care of all the logistics and printing and bookstores. THEY could have the huge team to deal with it. And I could just do what I’ve always wanted to do: create.
The journey to finding a publisher took WAY FUCKING LONGER than I expected.
Again: I was probably naive. I figured: I have books that sell more than bestsellers. I’m handing over a licence to print money here. I already have a large audience and a proven product. I’d already done the hard work. I thought publishers would CLAMOUR over it.
But instead, I experienced a fascinating indictment into why the publishing industry is fucked. (I LOVE you publishing industry. Please keep making books! I like to read! But for the LOVE OF GOD PLEASE INNOVATE!)
I wrote to every literary agent in Australia and got rejected/ignored by EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.
I wrote to every publishing company in Australia and major in the US and got rejected by EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.
I got knocked back because: my books were spiral bound (even though I told them I was open to them being a different kind of binding). Because my books were full colour and illustrated, and they only wanted to do black and white text. Because they were seasonal. Or they would only take them on if I wrote another book instead (even though I already had best-selling books to print! I’m too tired to write another one right now dammit! Just take the bestsellers!). Because ONE person on a committee of 12 on the buying team didn’t “get” them, even though everyone else did. Because they didn’t have “fuck” or “girl” in the title (those are the popular hot words for titles in publishing right now. I AM NOT FUCKING KIDDING YOU GIRL. See what I did there? Because they were a little bit outside of what they were looking for.
In my brain I just kept thinking:
I HAVE BOOKS. THEY SELL A LOT. DO YOU NOT LIKE SELLING BOOKS? DO YOU NOT LIKE MAKING MONEY, PUBLISHING INDUSTRY???????? WHY ARE YOU SO ADVERSE TO THIS?????
So it’s taken me 18 months to finallllly finalllllllly for the looooooove of fuckinnnnnnnng goddddddddddddd someone publishhhh my booooooks goddamit I ammm famousssssss on the innnnnnnternetttttt and theyyyyy selllllll a lotttttttttttttt GET A PUBLISHING BOOK DEAL.
Here’s how it ended up happening:
After being rejected so many times ON MY BEST SELLING FUCKING BOOKS, I got pissy and did a call out on my blog and social media.
PLEASE FOR THE LUCK OF FUCKING GOD SOMEONE BUY MY BEST SELLING BOOKS.
I had a bunch of publishing houses and literary agents get tagged in it. I spoke to all the publishing houses, and they rejected them for the same dumb reasons as I’ve outlined above. (Can you tell I am graceful, compassionate and understanding about it? I AM NOT. BAHAHAHAHA)
I talked to a couple of literary agents, and ended up working with a literary agent Anjanette Fennell.
She was already a fan of the workbooks and used them herself in her business, so it felt like a good fit.
She went to a bunch of publishing houses she had contacts with, and we got rejected for the same reasons as before.
This has been going on for about 18 months.
And then, a month or so ago, she had an intuitive hit to reach out to an innovative publishing house called BenBella in the US.
Within a week or so, I had a call with the CEO, Glenn Yeffeth.
I was impressed by how smart and entrepreneurial and marketing-loving he was (a dude after my own beating business heart!)
Basically: Glenn’s background is in start-up environments. So he has applied similar concepts to publishing.
Instead of taking on hundreds of titles and throwing them all at the wall to see what sticks, they carefully hand choose about 40 titles a year. They have 20 staff, and they pour all their energy into producing fantastic books and marketing the absolute shit out of them. They also have a partnership approach with authors, so we get more creative control. Important to me as the art and design is mine, and integral to the workbooks and my brand. Plus their royalties model is different: they give zero to tiny advances and instead give a much higher percentage for royalties.
That might not work for every author. For me though, that’s a great fit. Even a $100k advance isn’t of much interest to me as I can earn more from self-publishing. But a profit share model? Woot to the woot. That just motivates me to sell even more books and get them out into the world!
Will publishing make me more money than self-publishing?
Probably not. But it DOES mean:
I will not perish from burnout
I can stop hating the business model I was in and start solely focussing on creating again
I am actually inspired about the possibility of writing more books now I don’t have to actually print and distribute the fuckers myself!
The books can go out into the world to achieve that big, beautiful vision… of finding all the people they are meant to help… people who likely won’t know or care who I am (WOO HOO!)
And those things are worth more to me.
So, is this information useful to you as an end user? Probably not. But a whole bunch of you are either creatives, business owners or stickybeaks (I am all of these!) so I thought I’d share the in depth behind the scenes with you.
What it’s going to look like going ahead:
BenBella will be publishing 2019 Life and Biz goals workbooks, and they will be available for sale later this year (will let you know dates later on!)
This year is a SUPER fast turnaround, so they will only be available for purchase online.
For 2020 workbooks, they will be rolled out into bookstores. We will start just with the workbooks and potentially add further products/workbooks down the line.
BenBella also has first options for any future books I want to create which I’m muchos excited about. Now that the impediments to publishing are off, let’s see if anything wants to be birthed through me!
I am beyond ecstatic and delighted that I’ve finally achieved that big goal for myself… my 4 year old self and my 21 year old self and all my selves in between are celebrating out the wazoo right now.
Big love and gratitude to Hiro Boga and Kerry Rowett, my mentors/coaches, for their wisdom, belief and magic.
Thank you to my dear friends who’ve heard me bitch for years about how long this goal was taking to come true.
I can’t thank YOU ALL enough… for loving these workbooks as much as I do… for making them the shining success they are… for helping them get out into the world to help even MORE PEOPLE! SO.MUCH.LOVE.
And most of all… to my husband. My right arm, my life partner. He has believed that this day would come just as steadfastly as I have. He knew it was in my destiny and my stars just as I did. And he’s walked the path with me to make it happen. It might be my name on the books, but this was a co-creation.
Finally, I wanted to say for any creatives out there:
If you have something to say, don’t wait for someone to pick you. Pick yourself. Publish it yourself. Start sharing it with the world. You can get a book deal later, or you might just find self-publishing continues to be perfect for you. Choose you. Your voice is needed in this world.
Even though I’ve been relatively absent from blogging + social media, I’ve been full steam ahead with my magical Shining Biz + Life Academy, doing monthly coaching calls + releasing new courses each month!
Here’s some of the goodies I’ve created lately:
It’s been 8 years since my parenting initiation, and I’m still learning every.single.day.
I’m by no means a parenting expert (HAHAHAHAHAHA OH GOD). But I do have stories to share about what’s helped me on my journey to being a calm, happy mama.
In this workshop I’ll be sharing:
my warts-and-all parenting story
the best advice I’ve been given
what’s helped us have a tantrum-free household
the things that have worked for me and my family
loving permission for you to find a parenting flow that works for you.
BUSINESS FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
Get your business finances managed so you can increase your profit!
Wrapping your head around managing your business finances and meeting tax obligations can be one of the most stressful parts of being an entrepreneur.
Never fear though – I promise it can be a simple, straightforward system for you that doesn’t cost you a huge amount of time or stress.
In this powerful, concise one hour workshop I’ll be sharing with you:
Common misconceptions about managing your business finance
How to create a simple system to manage your business financials without driving you bonkerdoodles
Financial reporting that drives business growth
Ways to reduce expenses and increase profits
It’s time to increase our financial literacy and become incredible custodians of abundance!
EMOTIONAL SELF HELP
Do you want to feel less angry or stressed? Stop feeling overrun and overcome with emotions that you’re not sure what to do with? Do you want to develop more emotional resilience and awareness?
Maybe you feel like your reactions may be damaging your relationships with your kids, partner or more. Or that you are numbing your feelings with addictions or other unhealthy behaviour.
Or maybe you’d like to just feel less bonkers on a day-to-day-basis.
Let’s do a deep dive into the transformational process that can help: Emotional Self Help.
This is a 3-part process that can help you handle the waves of life with more grace and ease, find the golden insights that emerge from your feelings, and help you process and heal.
WEBSITES THAT SELL
Fact: right now, you are leaving money on the table. People are coming to your website and then… leaving without buying anything.
This can feel heartbreaking. You’ve got gifts! To share with the world! You want to help people! You want your art/magic/spirit to be out in the world touching the people it’s meant to be touching!
Here’s the good news: You can change this situation.
You can change your website so it is helping people learn about you, start building trust with you, getting inspired by you… and (of course) buying from you. Because isn’t that what your website is for?
In this workshop I’m going to give you:
the template for a good website that sells
examples of other websites using this template well
the mojo + wisdom you need to start seeing more sales coming in every.single.day.
Watch now + start applying the changes today to see the difference it makes to your sales.
The Secrets To Getting More Done In Less Time
Productivity… it’s the thing that can make or break your business.
This isn’t about waking up at 5am to get more things done. It’s not about becoming a relentless 24/7 work bunny. It’s not about sacrificing your health, family or sanity to be a productivity supermachine.
This is about getting the mission-critical things done as quickly, effectively and efficiently as possible… so you can get back to enjoying your big, beautiful life.
I’m bloody excited to be sharing this workshop with you… I’m such a proponent of having strong productivity habits, and have been teaching about them for years now, so it’s great to have one comprehensive workshop to cover them all!
In this workshop, you’ll learn:
8 principals to increase your productivity exponentially
4 ways to kill off your to do list
The exact productivity system I’ve used to build successful companies working part-time hours.
2018 LIFE + BIZ GOALS WORKBOOKS
And as always, my Academy members received digital Life + Biz goals workbooks.