Cathy Heller ventured to LA to make it as a songwriter. What she faced was one rejection after another. What if there was another way to make a living with music?
And so Cathy started selling jingles to ad agencies making commercials and TV shows. Soon the money came in. And then hundreds of thousands more and she starts an agency helping other musicians to grow their careers doing the same.
Since, Cathy has started a podcast with over 8 million downloads interviewing creative entrepreneurs helping people find a deeper purpose in life.
The theme throughout it all? Your mess is your message.
Below is an excerpt from her book, Don't Keep Your Day Job detailing heartbreaking losses and failures of her and others, and yet, still finding success.
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. —Rumi
Do you find yourself having an idea and then overthinking it? Do you second-guess things too much? We must learn to dance with the fear and start. Something finished is better than something perfect.
We all stall on taking action when we’re afraid of failing or getting hurt. We want to figure out how things will play out before we begin so that we can avoid making a mistake. We want some guarantee that it will all unfold perfectly, or we won’t take the first step. We don’t want to look stupid. We all have these fears.
The question is, will we have the courage to tolerate the pain and keep going even when we’re scared? Don’t let anyone, most of all yourself, tell you you’re not enough.You’ve already won the greatest lottery ever.
I went through 15 rounds of fertility treatments when I was trying to get pregnant. I’ve watched the precise process that creates human life under a microscope. Of the infinite potential lives born of that process, you are here. The odds of you becoming you is one in 400 trillion.Your existence alone is the most rare asset on this planet. You won the lottery. The fact that of all the possible people it was your specific DNA that was created is huge!
It seems to me that the main thing holding everyone back is this overwhelming need to do something perfectly or not do it at all. In order to be great at anything, we have to be willing to be mediocre first. It takes tremendous courage to do things and try things and put yourself out there.
It takes bravery to be willing to make things, whether that’s starting your side hustle or podcast, writing a play or song, milling cider, or hand-lettering stationery. You don’t have to be the best at it. It’s good exactly as it is, and by doing it you’ll get better and better. We have to be willing to accept that and tolerate those feelings of inadequacy. Successful people recognize that it is all beta.There is no arrival.We’re here to make the best of the next iteration.
We’re going to get scared every single day. When you start to reach outside of your safe routines, you’re going to come up against conversations and situations that make you uncomfortable. It’s called growing pains for a reason! You risk rejec- tion every time that you put yourself out there. Publishing your writing or sending an email to someone you respect takes courage. But, as the quote goes, ships aren’t built to sit in the harbor.
Amber Rae, the artist and author also known as the “Millennial Motivator,” has a wonderful exercise in which she faces her perfectionism head on.
“I take out a sheet of paper and a pen and invite the perfectionist in. I say, ‘Hey, perfectionist, you’re here. Tell me what you’re afraid of,’ she explained.
“Let that part of you speak and then, once it’s spoken, I say, ‘Listen, there’s this thing that I really want to do. I know it makes you uncomfortable. I know it’s scary. I know this goes against everything that we think makes logical sense, but it’s important to me and here’s how I need you to support me.’We often forget that we are in control and we can negotiate with our perfectionist.We can negotiate with our anxiety if we have a conversation with it and understand it just like a person that we’re disagreeing with.” Amber also explained on the podcast how to overcome fear of rejection.
“Rejection is redirection,” she said. “Often our response to rejection is the belief that something must be wrong with us or that we’re not good enough. We so easily go into that place where we feel really ashamed, and that’s where we get stuck, that’s where we isolate ourselves, that’s where we shut down, that’s where we over-personalize the rejection. Look at rejection as redirection and as a sign actually pointing you in a different direction, and then you’ll find what’s meant for you. We’re supposed to be where we’re supposed to be. It’ll encourage you to get up and say, ‘Okay, well that wasn’t the right fit. Let me try again.’”
Choreographer Mandy Moore from So You Think You Can Dance arrived in Los Angeles at 18 years old with dreams of becoming a dancer. She was crushed when she wasn’t chosen for a scholarship program at a famous dance studio, which she thought would be the start of her career.
“It is probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” said Mandy.
The rejection made her even more committed to her goals. She started looking for other paths and started working at a dance studio to pay for classes.
“I would take classes every moment that I wasn’t working, which transitioned into me managing the studio.”
Mandy became a dance teacher and, ultimately, one of Hollywood’s most wanted choreographers today. She allowed her path to evolve and committed to learning and growing along the way.
One great way that I’ve taught myself to stay courageous in the face of rejection is by staying excited. I take away the fear of rejection, disappointment, and failure by always having more than one idea or project in the works. Also, I know I’m going to continue to follow up. I don’t take it personally if someone tells me “no.”
I’ve been rejected so many times and waited on so many follow-up calls that never came that I’ve learned to accept disappointment as a viable option before it ever happens. I remind myself that new opportunities are always around the corner in order to avoid putting too much stock in any one venture.
I once wrote the end title song to a very cool movie. Everyone, from the director to the producer to the head of soundtrack, said “yes.” I received feedback like, “This is amazing,” and “This will be your big break,” and “This will be bigger than KT Tunstall’s song at the beginning of the The Devil Wears Prada.” It really was a great track.
The movie was made, and I attended the private screening, and then the song was gone. Just like that.
It happened again. My song was chosen as the end title song for a fantastic film directed by David O’Russell and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel. It was going to be that elusive career breaker until the director stepped away from the film. The movie went straight to DVD. My song was the end title song, but no one heard it.
I also worked on a TV pilot with the Jim Henson Company for two years. I signed a huge contract and built it up in my mind to be this big win. I was going to be the star of the show and it included all my music! Each and every network passed on it.
Experiences like these have happened so often throughout my career that I’m completely numb to the process. The important thing is to keep moving at such a pace that you’re not left waiting on a single opportunity.When someone writes to apologize for not responding, you realize you hadn’t even noticed because you were not waiting for it. I have found this strategy crucial to continuing.
We have to continue putting ourselves out far beyond our comfort zone. It’s a position we’re faced with no matter how many times we succeed.
Singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb started her career with a platinum-selling, number one hit song, but even she still hides in fear from her guitar some days.
“It goes back to summer camp, standing on the top of that high dive, thinking ‘I can’t do it,’ and then jumping anyway. You take a deep breath and do it. I am amazed, myself, that I continue to do things because I have such anxiety. I walk by guitars in my own home and glare at them. ‘Don’t look at me. I can’t write a song. I don’t know how to write a song,’” she said.
“All you can do is take one step . . . and it’s terrifying. It was terrifying for me. Part of the process is being open to your ideas all the time. I have hundreds of ideas and I’m always writing them down.There are small ideas and huge ideas, and there’s so much anxiety around it. The only thing that I’ve found that gets rid of the anxiety and fear is taking action.”
I don’t have to know you personally to know that your heart has broken. You’ve experienced loss and disappointment that left you on your knees.
We are all dealt a hand of cards. Most of us are dealing with some difficult circumstances, unsavory habits, or unwelcome ruminations. Only if we really compared them would we realize how much we’ve overcome.
Once our hearts break, we become clever—we tell ourselves to never want for anything or believe in something or love someone that deeply again. We tell ourselves so we’ll never get disappointed. We stop living and we stop receiving all the wonder swirling around us all the time. What a drag. What if we could instead reframe our situations as fertile and fortuitous opportunities.
As you start to share what’s inside you, you realize that your mess is part of your message.The flip side of our mistakes or wounds or misperceptions is our skills and talents and truth.
The power comes from realizing that perhaps our biggest challenges—what we see as weaknesses or setbacks—actually represent our biggest opportunities and gifts. We can only help someone out of the well because we’ve been down there.
In this book you’ve heard about some incredible humans who had the courage to listen to the whisper of their joy, turn toward their heart, and share their gifts. Everything you’ve been through has prepared you for this.
As you accept where you’re stuck and what’s holding you back, how a lack of confidence or self-worth is commanding your choices, you step into a really authentic and honest space.
The benefits of walking through that vulnerability are that you get to become a more real and aligned version of yourself. This is where the fun really starts.
Lara Casey is an entrepreneur, a blogger, the best-selling author of Make It Happen, and the founder of the online community and shop Cultivate What Matters. She zigzagged through many new career ventures, losses, and successes and then set off on a mission to help others also transform their old, painful roots into a foundation for a brighter and better future.
On the podcast, Lara explained how she had some tremendously difficult moments, including divorce, miscarriages, and financial ruin. She found herself constantly asking, “Why do I have to go through this?” With her gift of writing, she was able to work through those experiences and come to the realization that each of those painful circumstances was the springboard to helping or connecting with others.
Perhaps an all-knowing universe was intentional in its selection of her personal tragedies to set her on a path for greater good.
“Your mess can become your message,” she told us on the podcast.
Think of life like a taxicab: Either the light is on and you can get in, or the light is off and you have no chance of catching a ride. I don’t care if you’re reading this and you’re age 22 or 41 or 73. If you’re alive then the light is on. As long as you’re alive then it is never too late. There’s always another human being that you can affect. There’s always something awesome that you can do.
As we make peace with our past and pain and pride, we start to get a sense of just how unique our paths and processes are. I hope you feel a sense of empowerment with the realization that you were assigned to this life for a reason, and everything you’ve experienced has purpose.
Surround yourself with people who make your soul smile. Read good things, eat well, get some sleep, and be kind to yourself. It sounds simple, but so often we’re not setting ourselves up to succeed because we aren’t getting the proper nourishment. You just need a few of the right people to get you and see you. Choose to be around the people who energize you.
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower,” Alexander den Heijer, public speaker and transformation trainer, wisely said.
I had a life-changing conversation with author, speaker, entrepreneur, and blogger Danielle LaPorte on removing the obstacles to living our light. This conversation with Danielle was like listening to a symphony. Danielle is the mastermind behind the Desire Map Planners, calendars that prioritize energy over all commitments and help you plan what to do to achieve how you want to feel.
She is fully plugged into the present. By just being her authentic self and speaking her truth, she found a touchpoint that resonates deeply with her massive tribe.
“The universe cannot resist authenticity—you showing up as who you are in that moment. It’s magnetic.You’re always attracting something to you. As you align with truth and the God force and the flow of life and love, it is inevitable that you will attract a lot of good things or a few things that are deeply good. My ‘message’ is this: Just be yourself,” Danielle said.
Danielle is a master at surrendering to the creative process. She allows herself to be led and to watch what’s unfolding in- stead of holding on to an idea of where and how things are supposed to be. I speak with so many people who have a hard time bridging this gap between the way they think the path is supposed to go and what’s happening in real time.
I asked Danielle, Should we get messy and go with the higher flow? Or is there something to be said for persisting with a vision? “All those different routes are valid. It depends on the day, and the day is all about presence,” said Danielle. “If you are present in your heart, you will hear how life guides you. Some days your heart is going to say, ‘Fight until the bitter end. Persist. Stay up late. Crank it.’ Life guides you very quietly. While fears are loud and shout, love is steadier and more like a whisper.”
One of the biggest challenges that I hear about is how hesitant people are to go ahead and make something where they are. They feel like what they create is mediocre, or they don’t see the whole path and they freeze.They make one thing and it doesn’t go as well as they wanted, and they freeze again.
Danielle has been able to blaze a trail by continuously producing products for her tribe. I asked her, How can people detach from impostor syndrome or thinking that they’re not enough so they can just get busy making? How can people get into action? “This is really desire mapping. Everything that I talk about is core desire feelings. How do you want to feel? You get to feel any way you want to feel, but it’s not about wanting to feel successful. Success is one of those concepts that pulls us right out of our heart. If your first instinct is to respond, ‘successful,’ then press pause and go a little deeper,” said Danielle.
“When you get clear on how you want to feel, and you commit to doing whatever it takes to generate that feeling, you take responsibility for your energy.You believe that you are a deliberate creator.That desired feeling will eclipse your fears.You’re always going to have fears. I don’t believe in being fearless, but I believe in being a little scared as opposed to terrified. Life is risky. Showing up in love, on stage, in writing, on social media is scary. There’s always going to be risk if you’re being yourself.”
Danielle said, “Do the inner work to move into a state of believing. If you can’t believe it, imagine it. Create a vision in your mind that you are pretending that you are worthy, which will seep into your psyche and help loosen up some of those calcified thoughts that you’re not worthy.Those are lies and an illusion.”
Danielle’s eloquence struck my heart and reverberated throughout my body. Creative entrepreneurs so often got wrapped up in strategy that they neglect the spiritual technology that is running beneath their entire operation. There is a spiritual quest to the work that we do, and too often we find ourselves tolerating a life that does not support our highest creative expression. How do we get into the flow of being connected to what we really want and then let that in?
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it,” responded Danielle, quoting Rumi.
“For so long I preached about the concept of bringing the darkness into the light. I always thought, ‘Aren’t I removing all the obstacles?’ Because I’m loving myself. I want to crush it. I’m doing everything it takes. I have a gratitude practice. I eat well. I do yoga. God, look at me. I’m so devoted to being well and doing good,” she said.
“Some of that is beautiful and healthy, but there is a level of vulnerability that’s only found in the darkness. A lot of us will not go there because it hurts. This is the pain that needs to be cleared out for you to become whole. We go through a crisis situation and we get to the other side, but we don’t let it actually change us, change our paradigm, change our behavior. You actually have to let yourself die. It’s a death to the old ideas. The truth makes all things new.
“A pretty, glamorous, nice version of the story is saying ‘I feel worthy enough for my dreams to happen.’The other version of the story is saying, ‘Dear life, I do not feel worthy,’” she said.
“You get really honest about that and then start unpack- ing why you don’t feel worthy. There will be pain. It will be worth it.You have to do it. I don’t know any other way, but we don’t have to suffer over the suffering. The great Zen philosophy teacher Alan Watts says that there will always be suffering. It’s your choice and free will whether you’re going to suffer over what needs to be done. Are you going to suffer over the necessary pain? You can get through this, and then you arrive where you are not attached. From that place, your goals and your dreams shift.You don’t feel so desperate—like you’re going to die without your person or that job or those followers. You’re happy there and things flow from there.”
Danielle ended our podcast conversation with a beautiful prayer for everyone who hears her story and wonders whether they’ll ever find their path and courage and joy.
“Everybody take a deep breath. Let me give you a few dif- ferent names or terms,” she said.
“Creator, the divine mother, the divine father, life source, God, creation, we come to you with earnest hearts. We come to you so sincerely to know who we are, to know the source of life, to be in the light of creation, to be ignited ourselves and in our own light. May we see the brilliance of our souls. May we be warmed by our own glow and, in that, see where we see the lies. Take our unworthiness from us.Take any perception or lie or illu- sion we have that we do not deserve ease, that we do not deserve grace, and please replace that with full knowing that we’ve been loved since the beginning of time. We will be loved for eternity, and our desires, our divine impulse, what we want is always bringing us home. Give us the grace and courage and blessings for all those things to manifest. We give thanks for what’s been. We give thanks for what is. We give thanks for what is on its way.”
Often our calling is so different than what we expected that it takes time or a crisis to recognize it.
I had the gift of interviewing Josh Spencer, founder of the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles—a magnificent 25,000-square-foot space that thousands enter every day. It is worth visiting for its architectural beauty and creative vibes. Josh’s space has become a celebration of all that books represent and of the important role they play in our lives.
I was amazed by the store when I happened upon it one day and called Josh to set up an interview. What I didn’t know before meeting him was that he is a paraplegic and turned a tragedy into his greatest gift for good.
Josh grew up in Hawaii as a competitive surfer, during which time his physical body and athletic talent defined his identity. He was hit by a car while driving his moped during his junior year in university. Josh had his entire life in front of him but woke up three weeks later in a hospital, paralyzed and uncertain whether he could go on. He started to ask himself whether a life in which he could not even walk was worth living.
His friend brought him a Bible, and Josh started to leaf through it until he happened upon the story of Samson. These words felt like they were written directly to Josh: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.”
The story of Samson explains how he is confronted by a lion, whom he tears apart with his bare hands (Samson is best known for his godlike strength). He later comes upon the car- cass of the lion and finds a bee hive filled with honey. Samson later repeats the riddle created from his experience, although none are able to solve it.
Josh always loved stories and took this tale as a calling. Maybe something sweet could come from this darkness? Perhaps this event and its consequences, which felt completely in- surmountable, could actually be the path to something better than he could have ever imagined.
He looked at his situation from a storytelling perspective. “I understood that stories take dramatic shifts. There are plot turns and things happen to characters. So I thought to myself, ‘My life has a story and this is a plot twist. As the character in that story, what am I going to do next?’ I wasn’t going to just lay around and be depressed.That’s a boring story.”
A few weeks later, Josh’s lawyer told him that he had the opportunity to become a multimillionaire. By suing the driver and the city, Josh could effectively be set for life, but he didn’t want the money. He didn’t feel right taking it because he hadn’t come to a complete stop.
He had received the knowledge that perhaps he was chosen for this particular set of circumstances because he had a huge pur- pose to fulfill. He trusted his intuition. He didn’t want to throw away that opportunity to learn and persevere and live his purpose by taking the money. He believed that if he put in the work and did the climb on his own, he would be rewarded for it on a much bigger level than anything that the money could bring.
Josh started selling books on eBay. He got pretty good at it and saved enough money to buy a small space in downtown Los Angeles. On a whim, he upgraded and bought a much larger space, which he built out to its current 25,000 square feet over the next year. The stunning space is one of the most sacred in Los Angeles today and inspires millions with its design and the place it holds for exploration.
Perhaps pain transforms into our purpose. I believe that there is a kindness to how the world works. I don’t believe in random tragedies.
You are enough.
You’re doing better than you realize.You’ve overcome so many obstacles to stand where you are today.
Everything we want—feelings of well-being and happiness—is within reach.
Happiness is an inside job.
Your mess is part of your message. Our biggest challenges often represent our biggest opportunities and gifts.
Our achievements do not determine our worth.
JOURNAL ON “YOUR MESS IS YOUR MESSAGE” “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” What barriers do you need to break down? What defeating thoughts or habits are blocking joy and creativity from entering your life?
Cathy Heller is the author of Don't Keep Your Day Jobsharing wisdom, anecdotes, and practical suggestions from successful creative entrepreneurs and experts, including actress Jenna Fischer on rejection, Gretchen Rubin on the keys to happiness, Jen Sincero on having your best badass life, and so much more. You’ll learn essential steps like how to build your side hustle, how to find your tribe, how to reach for what you truly deserve, and how to ultimately turn your passion into profit and build a life you love.
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Written by: Kevin Evans
Head of Growth and Marketing at Intelligent Change. I have my hands in all things from emails to product creation. Passionate about improving mental health education. Sucker for donuts. You can find me in sweet home Chicago.
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