Danielle Dowling is one of those all around cool, stylish women that you love to join for coffee or cocktails. Her trademark long red hair, red lipstick and upbeat personality have always made her stand out in a crowd. We met about 12 years ago when we were both living in L.A. and working in the special events industry. She’s one of those friends that I didn’t see often, but when I did our conversations had a profound and uplifting effect on me. She always had such a gift for guiding people in the right direction, that it was no surprise to me when she went back to school to earn her doctorate in psychology and found great success as a life coach.
Ten years ago, the event industry was suffering from an economic recession and I was frustrated because I hadn’t found love or started a family. Danielle encouraged me to keep going, and reassured me that I’d meet my soul mate. A few years later, I had relocated to Atlanta, and was married with a baby son. I was in a position to do freelance event work, as well as pursue an acting career that I had left years earlier. I was concerned that if I pursed both it might undermine my credibility in one or both industries. Danielle helped me to set aside my concerns about “what they think.” She encouraged me to seek out opportunities to be multifaceted, and to work with people who encouraged and valued my different skills. With that mindset, I’ve been able to dedicate time to my family, work on amazing events, study my craft, and start to book a few acting roles and print modeling jobs.
I recently called Danielle to catch up and say hi. I noticed that she was starting her new workshop, Hello, Joy!, and I had recently started my new blog, Cookies & Punch. We’re both married moms with toddler sons, navigating all the challenges that come with a global pandemic, coupled with a 24 hour news cycle with tragedies and trauma that seem to grow on a daily basis. I told her about how I turned off the news for the whole day to celebrate my wedding anniversary on May 25, then woke up the next morning to see the brutal killing of George Floyd on television. Like many people all over the world, I felt shock, sadness, and despair. Then I felt some sense of inspiration and hope from the worldwide peaceful protests and demonstrations of solidarity. Then there was the emotional back and forth of the riots, the spikes in COVID-19 cases, and the increased tensions in the country. When my attention returned to the blog, I struggled with what to write, feeling that a lighthearted blog about entertaining at home might seem inappropriate or tone deaf.
Danielle shared that many of her clients and students are struggling to find a balance between staying informed and engaged, without becoming overwhelmed. “I think a lot of humanity is trying to find that space within themselves where they absolutely can acknowledge what’s happening – the upset and the pain- globally but also individually for themselves, but also consciously choose not to become completely consumed by it because that’s where true disease and sickness within ourselves starts.
Danielle goes on the explain. “There’s some trepidation right now. There’s some hesitation around, ‘Do I even deserve to feel good right now? Is it okay to pay attention to feeling good right now? Maybe it’s selfish if I feel good. I should be paying more attention to the upset and the pain in the world.’ I think that everybody’s finding that to live in it all day long, really is depressing and really does bring you down. You just have to pay attention to how you feel, and when you’re in that state for long periods of time, it very much does affect the work that you’re doing, or perhaps not doing, because you can’t seem to find the energy. It sort of becomes, ‘Is anything worth it? Rome is burning, why do anything?’ But any of us-most of us- could point to many reasons why it’s worth it. It’s so important to find that mid-zone where we are acknowledging the upset and the pain that’s happening, but we don’t binge consume it because that’s not healthy. It’s also extremely important and significant to find what’s feeling good, what lights us up, what’s feeling good that moment, that day, that week, because truly this is just how the Law of Attraction works. Because like really does attract like. So, if we’re only attracted to the worry, the upset and the pain, I think we’re going to find that we’re just going to attract more of that and it’s only going to lower our vibration.”
“It’s important to find a space where we give ourselves permission to do things we enjoy and find what helps us feel good because that’s really going to raise our vibration and raise the vibration of those around us. I’m by no means saying to ignore the state of the world, but more to hold the intention to also pay attention to what really lights you up and spend some time visualizing that, actually being in that for yourself because it’s so important to keep our vibration high for our own well-being and for our families. If you’re a mother, your children are always going to interact with your energy. They can always tell if you’re sad or down or depressed, and they feed off of that too."
Danielle has coached so many people, I ask her if she follows her own advice and applies it to her life. “Having a child (her son Aiden) has been one of the greatest soul lessons. It’s like that saying, ‘It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.’ It’s stretched me so much. It’s given me the opportunity to really pay attention to who I’m being in relation to- quite frankly- all these stressors. It was a huge adjustment. I had a baby at forty, so like you, you’ve lived half of your life not having to be really truly accountable to anybody. You have managers, and partners, and family but they’re not attached to your hip. You could walk away should you decide this isn’t working for me. But with a child there’s no walking away. They just love their mamas so much, and we just want to love on them.”
"Toddlers are so unpredictable. Sometimes he doesn’t want to do what I want him to do. Or he’s not going with the plan, and now we’re late. And my original way was just to get upset. But it felt so bad to be that way. So, I started to pay attention to, ‘Why am I getting so upset about this? Can I be in a different kind of relationship with all these stressors having to do with being a mom?’ Just raising him, I’ve had to learn how to really calm and center myself, and remind myself, ‘How do I want to be in response to this? How do I want to be in relationship? How can I just at least over time, little by little, bring it to the middle a little bit, so I’m not reactionary or upset or stressed out?’ She laughs, “Because I’ve got at least twenty years, right? And from what I hear, even when they’re big, you still don’t stop being their mom. They’re still on your mind. My mom once said to me, ‘Little kids- little problems, big kids- big problems.’ I really looked at it and said, ‘I want to enjoy this. How can I enjoy this in my emotional world that needs to just be finessed a little bit in order for me to enjoy having a child and enjoy having a relationship with him?’ It’s been a lot of introspection and a lot of work.”
A key lesson that I’ve learned from Danielle is the difference between an intention and a goal. In the most simple terms, an intention is a larger vision, and a goal is a specific objective to be accomplished. As we head into the middle of the summer and plans for the upcoming school year include uncertainties about the COVID-19 pandemic, I share how I’m trying to navigate these times as a mother. “We’ve all had a process, and we’ve all had a certain way of doing things. Everybody’s had a system and a plan for what was going to happen for 2020. We can have our goals, but we also need our intentions because our goals may by necessity have to change. I was thinking that as my son started kindergarten, I would move forward in the event world more, but now in person events aren’t happening for more than 25 people. While I may have to let go of my goal of doing more events, I can still focus on my intention, which is to create memorable experiences. I can use my blog as a vehicle for that intention- to bring people some level of joy. I can also start finding opportunities to coordinate virtual events online. Because I have an intention, I can still see that through even if my specific goals have to change.”
As we discussed our new ventures, I told her about how I share recipes on my blog. Danielle told me about a new kind of recipe she’s created for her students. “My new body of work is called ‘Recipes for Radiant Living.’ The reason they’re called recipes is because the way that I learned it, emotional growth and transformation and self-development can very much be approached from this perspective as if you were cooking with a brand new recipe. There’s a time when we find ourselves inside an intention or a desire to grow, to expand ourselves, we can go about it from a goal-oriented perspective instead of an intention-oriented perspective. We can really push ourselves and expect ourselves to be perfect and confident and comfortable inside whatever this new ‘goal’ is for ourselves. Maybe it's even just losing weight after the baby. Well it’s like, ‘I want to lose this much weight.’ We make this decision, and then we push ourselves there. Now it’s got to happen, it’s going to happen by this date. It’s going to look like this every single day, and it’s got to happen a certain way or else I’m going to feel like I didn’t do it. I’m a failure at it perhaps, I did something wrong, it was a waste of time. So, we can go about that self-development in a way that’s very harsh and punishing. When we don’t reach that goal the way we thought we should, then we can go into a lot of self judgement and criticism. This can cause us to give up on our goals, because we say, ‘Well, I’m just no good at it.’ So nothing changes from year to year.”
“But when it comes to cooking we tend to be more gentle with ourselves. We don’t expect perfection right out of the gate. Most people actually expect to practice the recipe a few times, whether it’s something passed down generation to generation like something from your grandmother’s notes, or from a professional cookbook. Most people expect, ‘Well I’m going to be no good at it the first time. It’s probably going to come out terrible, but thanks for being here and eating this.’ Or maybe you won't invite anybody over, but you’ll think, ‘I need to practice this because I’m having a dinner party at the end of the month, so I need to cook it a few times cause I need to get comfortable with it. I need to learn what I’m doing.’ We approach cooking anticipating that we're going to have to practice it a few times, and as we practice it, we're sure we'll get good at it. We’re not so hard with ourselves. We say, ‘Oh well, it didn’t turn out so great but it was only my first time. Well, it’s still not perfect, but it’s only my second time. Let me just try it one more time this weekend. Oh, it’s my third time- that tastes pretty good. Maybe the next time, I'll add a little more salt, but it’s getting close. It’s going in the right direction. People expect to really cook a recipe well, they may need to practice it, three, five, maybe ten times before they’re like, ‘Hey, Everybody! I know how to make Julia Child’s pot roast! Come on over and we'll have a beautiful dinner party.’ We’re just so patient and loving with ourselves, and because we are, we stick with it. And because we stick with it, we get to experience the beautiful results of the practice of cooking.”
“I was guided to present a lot of emotional healing, self-development, if you will, inside this concept of recipes. There’s a theory of what we’re going to learn, but then there’s steps to follow as you practice it. But, with all my new clients and students, we always start with that lesson first, which is allowing ourselves to be in this process of practice with ourselves, so as we go into self-development, as we begin to hold intentions for ourselves, to expand, stretch the heart, come into that alignment with ourselves, that deeper knowing and understanding and realization of who we are, to really try to practice inviting in and being in this process of practice. If we can just be that self-compassionate and gentle as we’re learning something new for ourselves, as I had to do with Aiden- be more patient when things are not going according to plan. As I practice it, I have seen I’ve gotten so much out of it- I’ve grown so much. Even when I don’t get it right, I can say I am just practicing. So, every time I approach an upsetting situation, it is mitigated. I can emotionally come to the middle a little bit more.
Danielle give me a word of advice about the blog, which I believe can also apply to any area of life. “Write about something if it really lights your heart up, but also perhaps meets a need in the world right now. I’ll also say that if it’s a topic that lights your heart up and lifts you up, gives you a sense of purpose and passion, then most likely it’s going to light other people up. The people that it’s also going to resonate with are just going to find it too. So rather than necessarily trying to find a topic that you think your audience would really like, first always go to the space for you that asks, ‘What am I really excited about? What really interests me? What really matters to me? What do I enjoy? What would I want to be listening to, hearing about more?’ Go there first and then expand more forward with that, because the energy around it is going to be so much more vital than if you try to talk about something that you think people want to hear, or what you think people want to read, it comes from a place of ‘I’m really excited about this.’ The energy around it is going to have so much more pull. Catching up with Danielle left me energized to make positive change in a troubled world, but also to make space for enjoyment in my own life.
ABOUT HELLO, JOY!
Hello, Joy! is a six-week, interactive, live, group coaching course, designed to show members how to make the experience of joy, prosperity and inner-clarity a reality by deconstructing and releasing anxiety.