My first Real Life Book Club (RLBC) session started the 3rd week in November 2014. I dedicated six Monday nights to experiencing a personal development book with ten women. I had no idea that less than 9 months later I would have two more, six-week book club sessions under my belt or that I’d be launching my own circle on September 15th.

Real Life Book Club (RLBC) was the first community of women where I felt like I had found my tribe. Most of us come from a corporate background and many of the women are changing their status from ‘living to work’ to ‘working to live’. Some women are first-time moms, some are life coaches, some are trying to start businesses and others simply like the escape compared to the surface experiences they have during the daily grind.

We support each other in a way that is so much more authentic than many of the friendships we’ve grown accustomed to knowing. We hold space for each other, which means we listen without judgment and share from our hearts. I’ve learned that when I open with vulnerability about my relationship with bulimia, RLBC women open up about their own disordered relationships around food and body shames. I’m no longer alone.

Real Life Book Club was my bridge from living in my head with future-me fantasies to integrating my story into as many real-life interactions as possible. When I’m asked what I do, depending on the moment and the person asking, I can still find myself tearing up. Wow, I’m really, finally living this dream.

RLBC women share the truth about where we’re at in our lives. The ability to be real about our lives is a prerequisite for joining. We don’t skim the surface of he-said, she-said storytelling, we go straight to the core because this is the only way we can implement and practice true change. We process key elements from each book, celebrate our ‘ahas’ and make genuine shifts in our day-to-day lives. RLBC is a mastermind group that supports accountability.

Last winter, I was having a difficult time adjusting to my new life. I had recently put an end to over a year and a half of eating disorder therapy sessions and I had also resigned from my events career to be a writer. I felt a constant buzz of excitement with my newfound freedom. My imagination soared with endless possibilities and my fear hit me when I least expected it.

I’d wake up terrified in the middle of the night. Oh God! What have I done?

I was introduced to Real Life Book Club by a friend who is also interested in personal development. I signed up for a 6-week book club session right after I quit my job. We read Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection. In normal networking scenarios, strangers ask us, “And what do you for a living?” The truth is that when we socially ask people about their jobs, we walk away not knowing them at all. I know my 20+ year career path had very little to do with my life’s purpose. Real Life Book Club members want to know about the real you, not the Business Betty you.

I had two friends in my first RLBC group. I hadn’t anticipated how much it would make my introduction all the more difficult. In the past, I had shared tiny bits and pieces about my eating disorder with both of them, on separate occasions, but I had never told friends about my desire to publically write about my bulimia recovery. This is when I realized how much tougher it was to “come out” with people I knew versus strangers. Something is really wrong with this scenario.

I discovered that with old friends, I had built a façade around who I really was in life. I wanted to have it all, do it all and be it all in front of other people. I tried to prove myself, like there was an underlying competition to size one another up instead of being authentic. I didn’t know how to say, “Hey there! I’m human! I make mistakes! I’m imperfect.”

I knew it was time to stop isolating myself with shame and time to start practicing doing things differently. When it was my turn to introduce myself to the room full of supportive, smiling faces, I went for it. My voice caught. Oh boy. This is it. There’s no going back now. It was the first time I had publically shared my new stage of life. I pulled it off. My vulnerability tasted like freedom. I’m doing it. This is all real now.

That first night, Susannah Campora, the RLBC founder and our group leader, asked each of us to write down our 6-week ‘InspirAction’. I jotted down: Write the first draft of The Lonely Shoe Diaries and launch my blog. My goals were lofty and I appreciated that she guided us each week to check-in and evaluate where we were with our goals.

I decided to take the next two, RLBC 6-week sessions off because I felt like my habit of ‘joining’ was a self-imposed deterrent for procrastination. You join everything. Stop making excuses. Just write. I enviously watched group members step into leadership roles. There was something powerful about hearing friends proclaim their reasons for launching their own RLBC circles. In addition to the excitement of their book club launch, their businesses and relationships seemed to be thriving at accelerated speeds. I want what she’s having please.

During that first RLBC session, I discovered that when I started showing up as myself, this truth overlapped into every facet of my life, especially my writing.

I spent the next 3 months BICHOK’ing (Butt in Chair. Hands on Keyboard). I noticed how my vision and voice had changed around my story because I was practicing mindfulness throughout each day. My dedication to staying present evolved into the plotline of my story. I was living the recovery that I was writing.

I missed RLBC. I missed the support and camaraderie.

I signed up for my second 6-Week Session with Lea Bett, personal branding specialist extraordinaire. She had selected The Power of Receiving by Amanda Owen. Lea was honest from the start about her journey of becoming a leader. She set the tone for authenticity because she didn’t start off our session with, “My name is Lea and this is what I do”. She started off by being brave and saying, “My name is Lea and this is who I am.”

Lea shared that she was a natural introvert, but only recently had decided that perhaps that was simply the story she had been comfortable telling herself while growing up. She began to question the idea of, “What would life feel like if I did things differently?” Her courage resonated with me. She saw the challenge of creating new experiences for herself as gifts rather than remaining afraid.

One by one, we were asked to introduce ourselves and share our stories. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room! The more a woman voiced her heart, the deeper everyone else’s introduction became. We talked about what it was like to be married to someone who was depressed, how it feels to be raised by an alcoholic parent, or unheard by colleagues, the loneliness of trying to make friends in a new city, what it means to be an entrepreneur when the speed of technology is cutting through your business like a knife, and what it’s like to watch your business go under and have to try again. This time when I shared my story, I was struck with tears of joy. It was the first time I was able to claim, “I wrote the first draft of my book and launched my blog.” It was a sweet release from a lifetime of chains.

Lea had an ability to hold all of us to our highest good by engaging us in book exercises, setting up weekly goals, assigning accountability buddies to track our progress and setting the space for deep shares from the group. We didn’t try and fix one another by butting in and saying, “Have you thought of doing this instead?” or “You should…” or “Well that happened to me and this is what I did.”

We simply listened and related. These aren’t the type of conversations we’re used to having with the people in our lives. Yet, these are the discussions that heal us from the inside out. It takes practice to listen with our full attention and to ask open-ended questions.

My new 6-week goal for Lea’s session was to practice self-care. Throughout our meet-ups, I discovered that I work much better with goals when they are specific and measurable. I spent time reshaping my vision, making sure to tell myself it’s okay not to get it right on the first try. Susannah is always saying, “feedback, not failure”. Lea taught us to go from thinking, “Why can’t I do that?” to “Why am I not doing that?”

simming in lake

Real Life Book Club socials also contributed to my desire to be a leader. Every 6 weeks Susannah hosts three panelists for a Q& A session. She uses The Studio space for these evenings, which practically feels like as second home for most of us RLBCers since it’s the location where many of our 6-week RLBC sessions are hosted.

The entrepreneurs who speak share their stories and each woman in the audience is hooked. Sometimes the speakers have hit rock bottom before climbing their way back up and other times it’s a slow progression of learning how to practice more mindfulness until each part of their lives are brimming over with light and hope.

I learned from Sonja Wiek that even extreme athletes push down their emotions. One more mile. She said that, “Willpower is bullshit. If you want to do something that takes willpower, you are going after it the wrong way. I heard relationship coach, Carla Khabbaz share about asking her mom as a child, “What’s wrong?” and hearing the canned response, “Nothing.” She thought, Oh, something must be wrong with me. Brandi Hancock, owner of S.W.E.A.T. gym told us her “aha’ moment at age 19 when she smoked two packs a day and wore size 24 pants. She huffed and puffed up a small staircase and knew, “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Nilmini climbed the corporate ladder and discovered howl lonely life was at the top. Christine decided that living a life that was “good enough” meant she was living the smallest version of herself.

I want what all those women have and what Susannah has: the ability to thrive by living their life’s purpose. The discovery process for me has been recognizing that I’ve always had that ability all along. Pushing through life was no longer working for me. It’s time to believe and practice living my life with a growth mindset instead of familiar resistance.

I want to be a leader because I’ve learned that being publically vulnerable brings people together. I want to express myself with authenticity in all situations, to be seen as relatable instead of right and to give a hope to anyone who feels alone. Most importantly, I want to put a face, a name and a voice to the silence of eating disorders. It’s time to love myself and to love my story.

Real life Book Club is a safe space to share from the heart and practice being vulnerable with extraordinary women. Register for my first 6-week book club session right HERE.

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