Taking Control of Change in Life and at Work

by Grace Bonney

molly jacques cs lewis
Over the past few weeks, I’ve felt more excited, awake and like myself than I have in a long time. Mainly because I’m working on a project that means so much to me and feels so timely and important. While I’m normally a major homebody and highly affected by stressful schedules with a lot of travel, all of my back and forth (via train, plane and bus) for our book’s photo shoots has made me feel alive.

Moments like this call attention to all the times you realize you aren’t feeling that way. And having this recent moment of energy and focus has helped me pay better attention to what I need to work harder on to change at home and at work.

I realized that this book project only happened because I recognized a moment where I was unhappy and needed to make a change. I wasn’t inspired or moved by our old book topic and, with some major help from Julia, sat down to create a new proposal that captured what I was truly passionate about right now. That moment of inspiration and honesty lead to the excitement I’m feeling now and reminded me that I needed to do this everywhere in my life.

So, last week, I sat down and looked at the parts of my day and life that aren’t working the way I’d like them to. I took a good, hard look at what was making me happy — and what was bringing me down — and decided to take the first step toward changing all of them into something new. The first big step was a difficult one, but after a year of being unhappy in my own body, I joined Weight Watchers.

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Like a lot of people, I define myself in my head by a lot of different factors. What I do, who I spend my life with, how I behave and, how I look. Growing up I dealt with a pretty significant eating disorder that dominated most of my inner dialogue until well after college. I don’t think you ever fully “beat” an eating disorder, but I worked really hard to understand those parts of myself and feel much more healed than I ever have. So much so that without realizing it, I learned to let myself be so happy and so comfortable (which is not a bad thing) that I gained 5, 10, 15 and almost 20 pounds when we moved upstate.

Let me say first that there’s not a single thing wrong with gaining weight if you’re happy and healthy. To have enough food that you’re able to gain weight is a luxury. Not everyone has access to adequate food and water so I recognize my personal health challenge is one of privilege and not necessity. There are much bigger problems in the world than weight, but feeling uncomfortable in your own skin affects everything in your day, from how you interact with others to how you work and carry yourself in the world.

I spent the last year waiting for my body to suddenly turn back into the body I’d always known and recognized, but it just wasn’t happening on its own. I moped about it privately and then finally heard myself complaining and something kicked in. No one was responsible for making me happy at work and no one was responsible for making me feel happy in my own skin.

Just like with the book, asking for what I wanted was only the first step. I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable talking about my weight openly (I always feel more comfortable discussing work/mental struggles more openly than physical ones), but the second I did, things felt a lot less scary.

You know that expression about “keeping your head in the sand” like an ostrich? I used to be like that with a lot of things. I was like that about money, happiness and health (all the big areas of life). I just hoped that if I kept my head down and kept working, they’d all solve themselves. But they didn’t.

So in the last month I’ve started really LOOKING at all the things I’m scared of. The biggest one was feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. So joining a program that reminds me that I can have a healthy relationship with taking control of what I eat is helpful. I’d only known unhealthy ways of controlling food and in just this first week I’ve realized that, in the same way I check in with our team on a regular basis, I need to check in with myself and how I feel about my health, too. Sticking my head in the sand and hoping for things to always stay the same just wasn’t going to happen anymore.

I’m not suddenly my ideal, healthy weight or 100% happy with my body, but I’m getting there.

This little change in mindset (that I have to be the one to bring change to my life to move forward) reminds me every day to be open, ask for what I really want and then follow through. I stumble a lot, especially when it comes to the follow-through, but taking those steps has been a valuable lesson. I don’t have to be perfect and nail it on the first try, but asking and walking forward is a good start on its own.

I’m curious to hear what some of you may be scared to ask for or work on right now. Does anyone else out there struggle with that feeling of sticking their head in the sand (why do we do that?)? I want to spend more of my life above ground and feeling aware and in control and I’d love to hear how all of you are doing that, too. I know all of us have stories that would be helpful for others to hear and learn from. xo, grace

*This post is not sponsored by Weight Watchers. I mentioned the brand name here because I’ve found this particular program helpful so far.

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  • Hi Grace – your personal posts are always so inspiring (well, all posts on DS are, but, you know what I mean!). Well, I have been moaning a lot about my career lately. I don’t really want a career, I’m not a person driven by work. Of course I like and need the money, which keeps me doing other stuff I love, like visiting restaurants, travelling, buying nice things to myself and my home. Apart from my full time job at a well known trend forecaster, i have a travel blog, and i have even published a travel guide, which is selling well. I have loads of ideas for other guides and books, but it’s hard to take the first step as I have to work on these ideas after work. So, I’m stuck. I do keep the blog (and the whole thing that comes with it: videos, social media, emails, collaboratios etc etc), but only if i left my full time job i’d be able to do the rest. my concern is: if i do leave and start doing blog/guides as a full time thing, will i ever get bored? as i said before, i’m not career-driven, so i’m always concerned the next thing will bore me within a couple of years….

  • Thank you for this post. I have gained 40 pounds within the past two years and I have not been happy about it. I was being reckless with my diet and my lifestyle all in the name of “being too stressed out with work and being too busy.” I was caught up in rush hour traffic and listening to the amazing podcast, On Being, and I felt like Eve Ensler was speaking directly to me. We are not just of our mind or spirit, we are also of our body. We need to take care of our body, it is a part of us. With that in mind, I begun the journey of being more present in my body. I started the process of eating better and just generally being more active. Even if I walk my dog for 30 minutes a day, I have achieved this goal. I understand where you are at, and just being present with yourself is a great place to start. Again thank you for this post, I needed this today.

  • Thank you for sharing this Grace. I would say that my introversion has made things at times difficult in my life (not a ton of friends, challenges in love, and not being more vocal in what I want in life). But more and more, albeit a little slowly I’m learning that it’s okay to be introverted, but that’s also okay to NOT FEAR THE AWKWARD. To push myself past my fears and live with whatever comes at me. Best of luck on your journey!

  • I think you hit the nail on the head right here: “I’m working on a project that means so much to me.” Obviously that means your book, but it also means your body and how you feel in it. I know I am my happiest when I feel I have a very real purpose.

    The problem is, I don’t think I can always feel that way. Sometimes my proverbial inner-field has to go fallow a little to give the ground some rest so that purpose can come back and flourish. That is where I am right now. So I try to trust in the fallow and trust that my current stage is just creating healthy soil for the next step.

    Thanks for sharing your story/experience, Grace.

    • Marya

      I think YOU hit the nail on the head with this, “So I try to trust in the fallow and trust that my current stage is just creating healthy soil for the next step.”

      There is so much wisdom in that one sentence. Thanks so much for sharing.

      Grace :)

      • I’ve been reading this article since last Friday several times a day, and Marya’s words resonated with me as well.
        In the spur of the moment I’ve decided to create a visual reminder for myself, which I printed and hung over my desk today.
        Take a look :)

  • Best of luck to you on the journey, Grace! I joined WW in February and its been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. And its true, it really is a great way to “check in” with yourself the same way you would do with your team at work or family and friends, and take control of your life in a healthy way. You may not always have the best week, but you are conscious of whats going on, and that makes all the difference. Just remember that its a marathon, not a sprint! I’ve had to remind myself of that a lot since I started, especially after losing weight quickly when I started and then evening out to a more normal weight-loss pattern a few months in (as many people do). Anyways, thanks for sharing your story and inspiring words!

  • At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, I’m doing well with my current body shape / weight and with my work. That is not to say that all things are going perfectly for me. I’ve been trying to declutter (and organize and perfect the art of speed-cleaning) for as long as I can remember – recently, I’ve made a lot of progress. However, I don’t feel that I’m getting any emotional support from family or friends with regard to this endeavor. It’s one thing to be happy as a clam surrounded by all of your things, but for me personally, I’d rather have fewer things to store and maintain. My friends couldn’t care less that I’ve reduced my clutter by half. My mom urges me not to toss / donate things because I’ll “be glad to have it someday,” and says in response to my latest cleaning victories, “Who has time for that? Spend your energy elsewhere.” I’m not sure how to keep my momentum going. Ordinarily, I draw inspiration from the people around me, but that’s not possible in this specific instance.

  • My bete noir is money and paperwork. After many years I still must force myself to deal with bills and financial issues. My head is in the sand for sure, and only fear (terror) pulls it out long enough to do what must be done. I admire your willingness to face the inner discomfort that your body brings to your attention. I resolve right now to check my bank balance.

  • I joined Weight Watchers earlier this year, and I’ve lost 15 pounds. I consider it an excellent tool (I do the app version) for helping me check in with myself and my choices without having to constantly think about it.

    In my own life, I’ve found that when I choose to change something for soul reasons rather than vain ones, the changes stick–even if the outcome would be the same with either motivation.

    I try to be thankful every single day for all the privileges and fortune in my life, and move myself closer to being better than before (to quote Gretchen Ruben) from a place of gratitude rather than an invented or perceived place of lack.

    Cheers, and good luck on your journey!

  • I struggle to ask for time. Time for something that isn’t looking after my children that is and it’s a silly reluctance because I’ve never been refused if I do ask. I suspect I’ve taken on board a bit more of the do it all mentality than I ought!

  • I’ve been struggling with lots of frustrations in my work situation for a good 2-3 years now, and you’ve actually been a great source of comfort for me this week, Grace – even before seeing this post! I watched your Blogtacular keynote on a couple days ago, and it was like you were exactly in my own head… the fears of video, mobile, missing the sense of community, longing for big images and beautiful layouts as opposed tiny mobile pics, etc. But my biggest personal fears probably have to do with lack of relevancy… I put so much time and mental energy into all of my projects – often pulling all nighters or sacrificing what could’ve been quality time with my family & friends – and then when I publish the work it often feels like crickets in the end…so then I start to question myself and wonder if there’s even a point to it all and go down that lovely road. I know there is SO much I need to change and I genuinely want to do it – even find the thought of it exciting – but I keep letting myself end up at this point where I’m totally overwhelmed about where to even begin and then go right back to “sticking my head back in the sand” so to speak by keeping busy with one quick-turn project after the other – and continuing on that hamster wheel of life until suddenly 3 entire years have passed and I’m feeling even more behind and disconnected than ever! None of these “constantly busy” projects are really driving towards my bigger goals either, and I think I’m just totally missing that sense of accomplishment and relevancy and connection so much right now… I know without a doubt that it’s affecting every single aspect of my life, and I’m so tired of being… tired, if you know what I mean. ;) I’m determined to turn things around finally though – which is why I’ve been doing a lot more soul searching and am trying to soak up as much info as possible, as well as find rare chunks of time to sit and just really think honestly about things and stop hiding from them so much – kind of like “living with the fears” for a while, as you noted in your speech. It’s definitely comforting to recognize that you’re not alone in certain types of struggles, and to hear the tactics & solutions that others utilize to help work through the same things. So thank you so much for being so open about everything, and for continuing to remind us about things that *should* be obvious but are still all too easily forgotten… like how the person responsible for – and capable of – making things in our life change for the better… has been right there in the mirror all along. :)

  • Thanks so much for sharing, Grace. I love the way you describe the anxiety surrounding weight as something that’s not fueled by vanity, but by the way it makes you feel in every other context (interacting with people, simply the way you carry yourself, the way you work, etc). I so strongly identify with that in the way I feel about my own body.

    I’m working on starting to say no to things. but it is still difficult. I have a passion project of my own that has been pushed back for months–there is little to no time between being a designer, doing freelance work, being in a band, and just enjoying life with my partner. The reality is that I thrive off of craziness, but it’s up to me to find the right balance. :)

  • I totally get where you are coming from shying away from money, happiness and health, the big things. I do it too, and reading your blog makes me realise it’s like carrying around this huge weight of burden every day. Maybe it’s time to face my issues and concerns… Good luck with weight watchers and everything else and thanks for the great, and very honest, post xxx

  • Good for you! I gained 10 pounds years ago when I moved from NYC to Vermont. I also struggle with an eating disorder but have gotten much better at controlling it.

    I’ve recently realized that I have not allowed myself the creative and intellectual stimulation and expression that I need on my career or life. That’s my current struggle. In realizing this, I feel that I’ve awakened from a long sleep; this is exactly what I’ve needed as impetus to move forward and really find my true essence so that I can give my very best to the world. I am seriously considering going back to school for an MSW and ultimately becoming a therapist specializing in art therapy. Aside from a desire to help other people, one of the things that appeals to me most about this is the requirement that I get to know myself deeply in order to do this work.

  • Hi Grace!
    Sometimes we don’t even realize we are sticking out head in the sand. Because it’s a way of coping really. I deal with chronic pain from a combination of fibromyalgia and other actual injuries. I’m constantly NOT going to get help about it because there’s a part of me that wants to tough it out. But as I get older, pain gets worse. I’ve started to prioritize “body” above everything else. Every day. In every single choice I make. (Bedtime, food, exercise) Because I know if my body is not healthy, nothing else will be.
    Good luck! And as always thank you for sharing your personal side with us!


  • I so get and appreciate where you are at. I read Fat is a Feminist Issue and felt that dieting was for those who couldn’t accept and attune. But you know, years went by, my body changed and after spending a couple of years profoundly unhappy that my body hadn’t naturally adjusted to a lower weight, I went on my first calorie counting diet. I used My Fitness Pal, and I loved it. I thought it would be such a mean awful thing, instead, it really made me pay attention to what I was putting in my body. For example, at one point in my life, I didn’t even consider calories from beverages. I mean, tonic water, wine, cocktails? Not food, so…I didn’t realize until I had to move into greater awareness that yes, there are hundreds of calories in liquid. And I also realized that I wasn’t eating the recommended amount of protein and each an every day I consumed over the recommended amount of sugar.

    Far from feeling as if I was turning Society’s Hate on myself by going on a calorie counting diet, I learned a lot and a greater truth, and one I was grateful to have separated from emotion, psychology, society, etc. Age+activity level+metabolism+calories=your weight.

    Best wishes, always.

  • I think sticking my head in the sand (and I do this in many areas of my life as well) comes from feelings of guilt over how I “should” feel for all that I have or have accomplished. Instead of making changes that I feel are necessary for my well-being I tell myself that I need to simply be grateful for what I have. I have been an interior designer for the past decade and have not been loving my career, despite the fact that it has been quite successful. People are always telling my how fun my job must be and how they wish they were designers and then I end up feeling super guilty for not enjoying what I do. I push these feelings down with a bunch of “shoulds” and continue on without making changes.
    Thanks for sharing your person journey Grace; you have inspired me to take a look at a few things in my own life.

    • Erin, I feel the same way! I’ve been a museum exhibit designer for 10 years and I hear all the time how fun and exciting my job must be. And it is! It’s a great career and I work for a great organization, but I’m burnt out. It’s almost too much to sustain. But, when I think about quitting (and I have many times), I think about how many people will question my decision and my sanity . . . especially if I don’t have an equally cool job in the pipeline. So here I am, with my head in the sand, just taking it one day at a time . . . foolishly waiting for a moment of clarity and direction. Interestingly enough, I’ve thought about switching careers to interior design. Maybe you and I could swap lives? :)

  • I recently had a very difficult pregnancy, marked by debilitating depression. In the eight months since my daughter’s birth, I’ve been gradually coming out of a fog. I’m trying to pick up all the piece of my life that I dropped while depressed, all while caring for my two beautiful but needy young children. I’m focusing on purging and organizing my stuff and getting my body back by getting my cravings under control. I’ve done WW in the past, but it felt too restrictive to be to be constantly tracking my food, especially with two children to care for and the constant distractions they bring. So I read the book “It Starts with Food” and did Whole30. It was perfect for me. For a long time, I’ve felt controlled by cravings for sugar and carbs. I’ve finally been able free myself from those cravings. More recently, I’ve accepted that, at least for now, given the stress of raising young children, I am not capable of having a healthy relationship with alcohol, so I’ve stopped drinking. I’ve lost 15 pounds in four months, and I think I’ll continue to lose more. I feel like I’ve changed my lifestyle and relationship with food and alcohol for good in a way that I can sustain and continue to benefit from. Now I’m trying to focus my extra energy in creating a home that is organized and uncluttered, even minimalist (if I can), before I return to work in a few months.

  • Hi Grace, this is such an honest and moving essay. Realising that things don’t work, re-examining the world around you and taking a first step towards change is something I admire and can very much relate to. In my experience, being brutally honest with yourself is very important at this stage…and always. My first step in a different direction was also about my physical appearance. Although, instead of weight I choose to focus on strength and health (losing weight was a welcomed side-effect). Finding time to do what makes you happy, what gives you purpose and satisfaction is extremely important, in my opinion. Some people tend to put themselves second to others – family, work; but the consequences are damaging, to say the least. Good on you for taking the first step and putting yourself first.

    P.S. I’m using Kayla Itsines’ bikini body training guide (www.kaylaitsines.com). The exercises in the guide are a lot harder than they look. But results worth it *

    * This comment is my personal opinion. It was not sponsored or paid for.

  • If I lived with Julia Turshen I think I’d gain 20 pounds too!! ;)

    Good for you for doing the hard work of making big changes to become more “you.”

    Almost a year ago I quit my long-time corporate job to become a freelance writer and spend more time at home with my son. Leaving behind my pension, my great benefits package, a great salary, the comfort of co-workers, and that overall feeling of being taken care of by my company was terrifying. But what an amazingly positive change to my life!

    It’s true I’m a little bit poorer now financially. But I’m richer in every other way. Our family routine is easier and more relaxed and I get to walk my son to school. I love my freelance projects and love challenging myself to grow as a writer.

    And similar to what you have experienced, my career changes have had a ripple effect. I realized I needed to make some health changes, and my health is so much better now, including a major improvement to my previously crippling anxiety. I think my transformation is even rippling out to my husband who has also lately started making some much-needed changes in his life.

    Thanks for this post, Grace. I love your personal posts, and watching you come into yourself so fully is an inspiration and a joy.

  • I’m introverted, like mudslidecookie. I’ve been taking an honest look at my body, home, relationships, career (lack of passion) and taking steps, too. Bikram and Baptiste yoga have really helped in very practical ways yet intangible ways, too. Joining Toastmasters (to write what I think and speak in front of people) has helped with my introversion. Getting tested for my hormone levels and thyroid gave me eye opening information which is now getting corrected and is helping with the weight loss/gain problem. Just a few steps, but working! Your essays are all so inspiring, in particular the one on loving the home we have!

  • Do you see what you’ve done here? By facing your fears and insecurities in such a public way you’ve given so many other people a platform to express their own struggles and hopefully begin to process what they’re unhappy about in their own life. Myself included.

    A year ago, at the age of 61, my mom died. She had been sick for a very long time, so when she passed, it was very much of a relief (I hate saying that, but it was true at the time.) Since then, though, I’ve realized how much of a void there is in my life. Not just because she was my mom and I loved her, but because caring for her and checking in on her was something that I was focused on, almost like a project that gave my life added purpose. So much of my time and energy had been spent with her and all of a sudden, I had extra time and no one to care for.

    I feel unable and unmotivated to point my life in another purposeful direction. I feel unmoored. I’ve had a wonderful career for 10 years, but now it all seems pointless. Caring for my mom was what kept me motivated and moving.

    I still haven’t figured out what will make me happy, but reading what you and other readers have written has given me some peace of mind that it’s okay to feel down and just exist for a while. In many ways, it’s a needed recharging before finding and launching into the next project. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for opening up this needed dialogue.

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