April Capil of IIN Health: “When you’re right, you’re right”

When you’re right, you’re right. My sister says this all the time, a take on Henry Ford’s quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” I always hear this in my head when I find myself talking to someone who is trying to convince me they can’t possibly do something. They […]

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When you’re right, you’re right. My sister says this all the time, a take on Henry Ford’s quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” I always hear this in my head when I find myself talking to someone who is trying to convince me they can’t possibly do something. They can’t give up carbs because they get tired when they work out. They can’t serve vegetables at dinner because their children will revolt. They can’t get enough sleep because they have so much work to do. What’s funny is, literally millions of people accomplish these “impossible” things every day. Working mothers manage to get 8 hours of sleep, and function more optimally than their sleep deprived peers, “magically” getting more work done in fewer waking hours.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Author and IIN Health Coach April Capil.

April Capil is an Author and Health Coach specializing in weight loss and cancer recovery. With a decade of experience writing about crisis management and post-traumatic growth, April has carved out the kind of “Bucket List Life” many people only dream about, re-inventing herself and inspiring young adult cancer survivors to “Get Busy Living.” After COVID-related budget cuts eliminated her day job in tech, she decided to start a new chapter as a Health Coach, working to help others achieve their wellness goals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Northern California in a mixed-race family; my father was Filipino and my mother was Caucasian. I lost both my parents by 21, so for most of my life, it’s just been me and my younger sister Rachel, following our dreams and working hard to make them come true. Just having someone in my family who supports me but also checks my expectations has been the greatest blessing. I joke that when I was diagnosed with cancer, Rachel and I both had the same question: “Who’s going to take care of me now?!” Truthfully, we’ve been through a lot of trials and tribulations together, but I think we’ve thrived because of the work ethic we were raised with and the resilience we’ve cultivated. I feel very fortunate to have survived a cancer diagnosis, and I never forget what a gift it is to still be here. It’s what motivates me not just to live the fullest life I can, but to always put my health first, for myself and for my family.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay Compensation: “The law of nature is, do the thing, and you shall have the power.” The idea of nature abhorring a vacuum — of everything in the world striving towards balance, is such a beautiful one. It’s so pure. This quote reminds me that I always have power in any situation, even if it’s just the power to tell myself a different story. Believing in your own agency is so important in a world that often makes people feel helpless.

It’s not uncommon to be faced with the end of a business or a relationship, and tell yourself you have no options, but once you start crafting a narrative in your head about how powerless you are, the next thing you know, you’re angry at the world for not serving up what you want. The world would ask you: “What are you doing for me, that I should compensate you for?” We live in a closed loop system that is constantly working to maintain homeostasis, so the only way to get something is to give something. I try to remember that when I find myself getting carried away by a sense of entitlement.

How would your best friend describe you?

My best friend is definitely my sister Rachel, and she would say that I have an annoying habit of always arguing that things that seem impossible might actually be possible, if you’re willing to take the time to chunk them down and do the reps. Big changes are built from tiny steps taken every day. I walked the Camino Santiago (a 500-mile pilgrimage trail in Northern Spain) the same way that everyone else does: one step at a time. I even tell my 3-year old nephew, when he says he “can’t” do something, “You can do anything if you go slow and be gentle.”

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?

Everything I’ve accomplished comes down to my 3-step “Recipe For Lemonade,” which I outlined in my first book. Step 1 is “Squeezing” — being honest with myself about my expectations; Step 2 is “Diluting” — reframing my situation to put things in perspective, and Step 3 is “Sweetening” — reminding myself of what I have to be grateful for. The “lemons” that come into our lives are just disappointments, and a disappointment is just an unmet expectation. A lemon doesn’t have to be the end of your happiness.

When I lost my home and small business in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, I wasn’t alone. Plenty of people — just like right now during COVID-19 — lost not just their businesses, but their jobs and their homes that year. I could have reached out for support, but instead, I threw a pity party and spent weeks beating myself up because I thought I had blown my one chance at “the good life.” I had “junk” health insurance that wasn’t going to pay my medical bills; my business was circling the drain. My house sat on the market month after month, unsold no matter how many times we lowered the price. It was becoming clear I would have to file bankruptcy, and every day, I felt like I had utterly screwed up my future and would never be able to recover. One day, someone asked me how things were going, and I said, “You know, I’m just trying to make lemonade out of lemons.” That was the moment I realized I had to turn things around, or I wouldn’t survive cancer, let alone my 30s.

I started my recovery by being honest with myself about the expectations I had going into this “good life” I thought I’d built. Did I really think I could build a successful business overnight, buy a house that would never go down in value, and trust an insurance salesman I barely knew with something as important as my health? Looking back, my naiveté astounds me! I realized that if I was going to build a second happiness, I would have to learn from the mistakes I’d made, forgive myself, and rebuild on a more solid foundation.

I reframed my situation, looking for evidence that it wasn’t as dire as I imagined. I was still alive, for one. I was willing to work hard and learn something new, and I could manage to be comfortable living on a smaller salary. It wasn’t as if I was starting from nothing. I started counting my blessings — my creativity, my education, having family in another state with a lower cost of living and a spare bedroom.

By turning my head around, I turned my life around. I moved to Colorado, found an employer willing to take a chance on me, and worked my way back up in a new industry, just as I had done before.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

I’ve had so many second chapters! My first chapter post-college, I worked in the entertainment industry, in Post-Production at 20th Century Fox, Marketing Partnerships at Paramount, and Cable Sales in Fox Television. After 6 years though, I felt like I hadn’t really found a place I belonged, so I moved back to Northern California and started over, getting an entry-level job in Commercial Property Management. I eventually went back to school to get a Green MBA, and started an online business selling cardboard playhouses for kids. When an inheritance gave me enough money for a down payment on a house, I put it all into my biggest dream yet: a farm on the island of Kaua’i. I drew up a business plan to partner with a local non-profit to start a CSA, wrote a grant to expand their education offerings, and started networking with organizations to develop a model for sustainable local agriculture.

Unfortunately, the month I put 150 cacao trees into the ground, the U.S. economy imploded. A month after that, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. Overnight, every dream I had for my future fell apart. I put my house on the market, moved back to California to finish treatment and started looking for a “regular” job. After almost a year, I was still struggling, so I moved again, to Colorado, hoping to get a new start in Boulder’s growing tech industry.

Seven years later, I was still in Colorado and doing well — out of bankruptcy, cancer-free, with a ton of adventures behind me and a great job. That’s when my little sister called with the surprise of my life — she was pregnant at 39, and I was going to be an aunt! Not wanting to watch my nephew grow up on a screen, I moved back to California. By then, I had enough experience to get a mid-level management job, but three years later, COVID-19 hit my company hard, and my position was eliminated after a restructuring. Although I could have gotten another job in tech, something was calling me to work in wellness, so I decided to start a Health Coaching business, focusing on post-cancer survivorship and weight loss.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

The word “disaster” means “against the stars” — it’s something that wasn’t supposed to happen. When disaster strikes, it usually means the path you had imagined for yourself is no longer available. If your identity is closely tied to that path, it can be hard to let go of. To keep moving forward, you have to define a new path, and I think this is where a lot of people get lost. They don’t want to define a “second” happiness, or be a different person, or even take a different path. They don’t want a “new normal” — they want their “old normal.” They want a time machine and a “Crtl-Z” button.

Whenever I’ve been faced with what feels like a dead end, I’ve tried to see it as a corner — a new chapter, that I get to write. We live in a country full of stories about people who meet success after starting over from their biggest disappointments, but I’ve never imagined that it was because they “tried the wrong thing” and then finally found “the right thing.” I think that all our life experience collects and compounds, giving us exactly what we need to find success no matter what we do, as long as we have the courage to apply it and keep moving forward. They key is being able to change your perspective, and adapt to your environment.

I’m not sure I “reinvented” myself, exactly, because I’ve never felt like I changed who I was when I changed careers. I’ve always had the same work ethic, the same curiosity and willingness to learn new things, the same desire to seek out mentors and pitch in where help was needed. It’s no surprise that Property Management inspired me to start my own business, because running a commercial building is like being an entrepreneur. Agile Software Development appealed to me because it is so much about being able to pivot and respond to new feedback. And Health Coaching is inspiring because it enables me to help others achieve their own healing during a time when we are all struggling to put our lives back together.

If anything changed about me between chapters, it was that I let go of the idea that there could only be one path to my success.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

Some triggers were internal — feeling like something wasn’t right or wasn’t serving me, and knowing that I needed something different, even if I didn’t know what it was at the time. That’s how I fell into Commercial Property Management; I just gave it a shot and trusted I’d land on my feet! Other triggers were external — the tough job market in California opened me up to the idea of moving out of state, while my sister having a baby motivated me to move back. Being someone who had made these kinds of big transitions before helped a lot! When faced with a plunge into the unknown, I knew I’d be able to figure something out and make it work.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing?

How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

I could never have known that going through a lot of change in a short period of time — closing down my business, going through chemo, moving to Colorado — would have perfectly prepared me for a career in technology, where capabilities are always being upgraded and expanded. Being able to chart a flexible path for growth is an invaluable skill in the software industry, and I have practiced that skill in both my personal and professional life for over a decade. More and more, I think we are finding that knowing a lot about something is not as important as having the capacity to learn something new.

Before last year, I hadn’t considered being a Health Coach, even though I’ve been “coaching” young adult cancer survivors on how to adapt to their “new normal” for years — I’ve written three books about it! But defying my own expectations of what I thought was possible for me — losing 50 pounds in a year by adopting healthy habits — inspired me to write another book about how I did it, and Health Coaching is just a natural extension of that. The truth is, I feel better than I’ve felt in years, and I just want other people to be able to achieve this transformation, to know this same happiness.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Fantastic! I’ve developed an e-course and have a YouTube Channel featuring healthy recipe tutorials and all my favorite low-carb hacks. I’m piloting a Beta group to revamp my coaching program, and I’m really enjoying the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s curriculum — it’s just adding to my knowledge and giving me even more tools to help my clients. As people come out of our collective coronavirus coma, I’m looking forward to helping them rebuild their lives and their health. We’ve been through a lot this past year, and I’m excited for us all to come back stronger.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve always thought that even though I’ve achieved some amazing things — running the New York Marathon, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, walking the Camino Santiago, even kayaking the Main Salmon — the one thing that was outside my realm of capability was losing weight. I could never imagine being a size small, and for most of my life, I just accepted being a “big girl” because it wasn’t like I let my size or weight hold me back from any of my dreams. Then, I met Dr. G. — a weight loss doctor who helped me change my eating habits and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Working with her completely transformed my body and really, my life. She advised me on what I should eat and recommended the right vitamins, of course, but the most important thing she did was help me believe that I could change. I discovered my own agency because she helped me see that changing my body and improving my health was possible.

That’s why I called my book The Possible Diet. Transforming my body through my own agency opened a door to a life I couldn’t even imagine existed for me. Dr. G. showed me that we have no limits except the ones we impose on ourselves, and once we change our beliefs about those limits, anything is possible.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I had an appointment with Dr. G. a while back to celebrate maintaining my goal weight for 6 months, and while we were both excited about the milestone, she was even more excited to share that I had inspired her to start her own YouTube channel for her patients! Since the COVID-19 shutdown, she’s struggled with not being able to connect with people in person at a time when they need it most, and until I told her about my channel, it never occurred to her that YouTube would be a great way for her to “be there” for patients in between appointments.

Personal connection is sometimes missing in medical care, and even though it’s not always practical for doctors to maintain a social media presence in addition to treating patients, I think connecting outside those too-short office visits can humanize what is often a transactional relationship. Fifteen minutes is just not enough time to share everything you need your patients to know about maintaining their own health and wellness. I have known some truly amazing physicians in my life, who have a lot to teach the world. I wish more of them could share their perspectives with a larger audience.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

You could say that ever since I had to file bankruptcy, I’ve been preparing for the next disaster. Not expecting it, but definitely lining up my ducks so my life wouldn’t be derailed again. For the last decade, I’ve been living below my means, saving for a rainy day, and improving my health and fitness so I (hopefully) won’t have to face another medical challenge. I’ve cultivated relationships and social networks because financial security isn’t everything. You need someone to listen when you’ve had a rough day, someone to call when you can’t do something by yourself, and someone to believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself. During COVID, it would have been easy to hole up and let those relationships atrophy, but research has shown that loneliness can be more dangerous than saturated fat when it comes to health! I set reminders on my phone to check in with people, send silly cards to let them know I’m thinking of them, and have Zoom coffee dates, even if they’re only 20 or 30 minutes. All these little things add up to build a supportive social safety net.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

Having closed one small business already, I went into Health Coaching fighting a lot of limiting beliefs about what I was capable of. My sister Rachel has always been the entrepreneur in the family; she’s run a successful photography business for 15 years, and is frequently booked out for months. After I came back from Kaua’i, I went to work in Corporate America, taking comfort in a predictable salary and reliable benefits. For years, whenever I dreamed of starting my own business, I would talk myself out of it, unwilling to take a chance for fear that it would end in disaster.

Early last year, Rachel had just gotten her Real Estate license when the shelter-in-place restrictions were announced. Overnight, every photography event she had booked in 2020 and 2021 evaporated. Without missing a beat, she immediately threw herself into Real Estate with the same persistence and dedication she had put into her photography business. Within a couple of months, she had a million-dollar listing!

Seeing my sister summon the courage to pursue a new career during a time of so much fear and uncertainty inspired me to take a chance on myself again. Rachel’s willingness to adapt reminded me that as long as you can learn and grow from an experience, it’s not a mistake — it’s just a lesson you couldn’t learn any other way.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started the second chapter of my life” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. When you’re right, you’re right. My sister says this all the time, a take on Henry Ford’s quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” I always hear this in my head when I find myself talking to someone who is trying to convince me they can’t possibly do something. They can’t give up carbs because they get tired when they work out. They can’t serve vegetables at dinner because their children will revolt. They can’t get enough sleep because they have so much work to do. What’s funny is, literally millions of people accomplish these “impossible” things every day. Working mothers manage to get 8 hours of sleep, and function more optimally than their sleep deprived peers, “magically” getting more work done in fewer waking hours. Crossfitters on keto — eating less than 50 grams of carbs a day — manage to finish pre-dawn workouts on empty stomachs and not fall asleep on the way to work. Plenty of families manage to eat vegetables every night for dinner without meals erupting into World War III. Honestly, where there is a will, there is a way. And if your will is to find an excuse so you can build a case for why you can’t do something, you will find a way! Speaking of….
  2. Many people want things to be different, but few people are willing to change. I’m guilty of this myself — wanting to wear a smaller pants size but not wanting to give up white rice! Some things in life are mutually exclusive — like self-destruction and self-care. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will keep getting what you’ve always gotten. You have to make a change if you want to get a different result. You have to learn something new in order for an opportunity to be available to you, or change what you eat to force your body to burn stored fat instead of glycogen, or live on less money to be able to save more for retirement. The amazing part is, even though you have to change for things to be different, it’s usually not as hard as you imagine it will be. Small steps taken every day add up over time, and the beauty is, sometimes the changes are so small, you barely notice them. Swapping cottage cheese for oatmeal, making your own coffee instead of spending 5 dollars on a daily latte, reading or listening to one new book a month. Even changes that are tough at first can become routine after a while, and the next thing you know, your growth and development is on autopilot, and you wake up one day feeling like a new and improved you.
  3. The most powerful thing you can do is believe in yourself. Nothing can derail or discourage you like a lack of faith in yourself. It’s the voice that says “Who are you kidding? Why are you even trying? No one thinks you can do this.” That tired narrative can turn what could be your big break into another wasted opportunity, and that’s why it’s important to notice and correct your negative self-talk. I’m not encouraging you to go through life as a blithe Pollyanna — just to not tear yourself down because you’re having a bad day! When my confidence is low, I turn into a forensic detective: I make a list of all the evidence that I’m enough, that I’m worthy of success, and everything will turn out for the best, one way or another. When I don’t get something right, I remind myself that human biology is designed to learn, adapt, and bounce back. You literally cannot build muscle without tearing it down. As long as I keep learning, I can keep growing.
  4. If you are looking for what’s holding you back, notice what you get defensive about. We know in our hearts what’s good for us. If there is anything meditation has done for me, it’s helped me connect with my inner voice — that part of me that loves me unconditionally, that accepts me for who I am, and knows what I really need to be my best self. Whenever I find myself justifying something or getting defensive around it, I know I’ve come up against a true handicap — a limiting belief or behavior that my inner me knows is holding me back. It might be holding me back out of fear, or anxiety, or just a lack of confidence, but noticing when I’m getting protective or defensive around something is always a signal that I’m not being honest with myself. I’ll start saying things like “There’s nothing wrong with ordering another bottle of wine,” or “Blind dates are the absolute worst,” and suddenly, that little voice will ask, “Why do you feel the need to argue for the rightness of this?” The answer is, because I know it’s not good for me. The indulging in a third glass of wine isn’t good for me. The rejection of an opportunity to meet someone new isn’t good for me. There’s always something else going on — a desire to not end the party so soon, a fear of being rejected or stood up — and that’s what the defensiveness and justification are really about. Our limiting beliefs are often what we fight hard to preserve, even though they’re usually the thing holding us back from being our best selves.
  5. Success comes from doing the reps. Ask any bodybuilder and they will tell you: strength is built from reps. There are no shortcuts. If “luck” is preparation meeting opportunity, then the preparation usually comes from years of trying, failing, and dusting yourself off so you can get back up and try again. Resilience and strength come from practice. What looks like a quantum leap is often just a reframing that allows all the pieces you’ve been collecting to suddenly align. We forget, in that “AHA!” moment, that those pieces took a lot of time to collect! This is why just presenting someone with a million-dollar idea isn‘t a guarantee they can execute on it. So many stories about “overnight success” are really stories about people who built their skillsets or businesses over years, so they would be ready when the right opportunity came along.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would want to be the person who brings self-love to weight loss. So much of the diet industry is built around using food as a carrot or a stick. We ignore the idea that weight is often a layer between you and the world, or, as Geneen Roth has put it, a cast protecting a wound. I can tell someone what to eat to motivate their body to burn stored fat for energy, but if the person is using food to escape pain or soothe discomfort, we need to work together to help them replace that behavior with a healthier coping mechanism, or they will turn back to using food as a drug as soon as the weight starts coming off.

What Dr. G. gave me that no other “diet” did was unconditional positive regard, and in doing so, she modeled how I have to look at myself to truly be free from emotional eating. With her guidance, I learned how to stop beating myself up for not being strong enough or thin enough or fit enough. I started nourishing myself and loving myself exactly where I was — celebrating my progress and the things I did get right. I cultivated self-care routines that had nothing to do with food: walking when I needed a break, meditating when I was stressed, letting myself feel an emotion instead of silencing it with a sugar binge. Today, I’m happy with the person I see in the mirror, and it’s not because I cut back on carbs or took up jogging. It’s because I did the reps. I practiced loving myself every day, until being kind to myself became a habit. The physical fitness and drop in dress sizes was just a side effect of that loving kindness.

What do you want to be remembered for the most?

I hope people say, when they remember me, “She helped me see I could do something I didn’t think was possible. She helped me realize I’m capable of so much more than I imagine, and that I can achieve anything with patience, persistence, and faith in my own agency.”

How can our readers further follow your work online?

These days, the best place to find me is on The Possible Diet’s YouTube channel — https://bit.ly/thepossiblediet or on Instagram at @thepossiblediet. My website is www.aprilcapil.com.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you!

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