“Gone are the days of contentment in suffering,” says Kendra Davies, CEO and founder of Stellar Life Coaching. “We deserve to live big full lives and love who we are and if we don’t, then we deserve to learn how to harness our own personal power to bring about positive change.”
Kendra Davies has made this her mission. As valedictorian of her graduating class at Rollins College, she is a positive psychology practitioner and life coach and an accomplished speaker with more than 15 years’ experience in training and development with organizations like Deloitte, Siemens and Lockheed Martin.
Today Kendra uses the powerful science of positive psychology to transform the way we live, love and do business. She has helped thousands of clients identify, define and cultivate their own happiness to change their lives. From International retreats and workshops to online courses, Kendra is swiftly becoming one of the leading life and relationship coaches in the US.
Yet it is Kendra’s past that makes her accomplishments so profound. From high school dropout to valedictorian with 20 years sober, she has used positive psychology to reconnect with herself and find purpose. Now she helps others do the same.
Life’s Many Challenges
Kendra took her first drink at the age of nine. Her addiction grew tenfold over the following five years. By the time she asked for help, at 14, a freshmen in high school, she was addicted to cocaine and had lost all control.
“As a child addict, it was incredibly challenging to get and stay clean,” she says of her past. “Almost everyone in the 12-step program was 10-to-20-years older than me – it was easy to think I didn’t have a problem because I had never lost a house or a wife or a job.”
“But then one night in the rooms I was listening to a woman tell her story and instead of telling us what she had lost on the outside she described what it felt like inside. She used words like ‘alone’, ‘other than’, ‘empty’ and ‘terrified’ … I knew right then that I was an addict. I was a kid and I didn’t have the words to define it, but this woman told an entire room how I felt. I asked her to be my sponsor … and that is where recovery began for me.”
As a life coach, Kendra understands the importance of allowing other people to help you work through pain, trauma, and self-limitations. “Therapist, sponsor, coach and mentor – I have had at least one at any given time in my life since I was 14 years old,” she says. “This was a big lesson, one that shaped me into the person that I am today. I thought I was unlovable and worthless until I got sober. I didn’t know how to be a good friend or daughter, how to be honest, or how to not shoplift. I felt like a bad person because I had acted like a bad person for so long. But these people showed me it was what I did, not who I was that mattered. They showed me I could make a different choice. The idea that I could choose something different is the one lesson that has transformed my life.”
It didn’t end there. At 18 years old she relapsed and burned all of the bridges she had built in sobriety. “There were a lot of things that led to that,” she says. “When I look back at it now I can see clearly that getting sober made a lot of things better in my life. But I wasn’t able to see that.”
“Imagine you have a house, and when you get sober you get electricity for the house. Your living experience immediately becomes 1,000 times better. But when my eyes adjusted to the light, the hard truth was that the foundation of my house was broken. I needed to be sober, no doubt about it, but I needed help to do that. I had complex trauma that I hadn’t addressed and I suffered in silence with bulimia for years.”
Kendra began to rebuild her life. “My mother and I hadn’t spoken in over a year at the time. If I’m honest, my mother and I did not get along. She wanted me to be something I wasn’t, and I wanted her to be something she couldn’t be. She was living in Germany at the time, and despite all I’d done she offered to help. So at 21 I got my GED, I got my driver’s license and I headed to Germany.”
When her mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, given only a 10% chance of living another year, Kendra became her full-time care giver. “My mother and I only had a few good years in Germany learning how to love and accept each other. She was a stubborn old bird, so she lived 363 days after diagnosis. I took care of her through it all.
“Transformation, I have learned, is in action. Choice is always step one, but a choice without action does nothing. Forgiveness, love, hope … these are all excellent choices that mean exactly nothing if you don’t act on them. That final year of her life, I chose to make amends to my mother. Meaning, instead of making an apology of words, I lived my amends through action. I showed up for my mother. I walked with her toward death. We faced the fears, shaved heads, ate ice cream, cried, shared regrets and damn it we loved each other. When the time came, she waited until it was just the two of us, and her final gift was taking her last breath in my arms. It was the most beautiful and painful experience of my life.”
By 25, Kendra had experienced more than most do in a lifetime. “Outside of my knowledge and professional experience, what makes coaching with me unique is that I know the darkness and pain intimately, the paralyzing fear and what it means to be trapped in your life, your body and your mind. I am not afraid to sit in that darkness with you and hold the torch because I know what is on the other side. I know fierce self-love, radical responsibility and self-acceptance that becomes peace, joy and wholeness. The work I do with my clients … I have done with myself and still do.”
Power in Positive Psychology
There are moments in one’s life that change everything. For Kendra there were many, but none that would shift the trajectory of her life as much as discovering positive psychology. “It must have been 2008. I was having a particularly bad day at the tail end of a rather rough decade … There was a woman i- line ahead of me at Starbucks who was watching a video on her phone, but she was laughing – obnoxious joyful laughter. I remember hating how happy she was. So, in an effort to call attention to the fact that the rest of us didn’t appreciate her boisterous joy, I asked her what she was watching that was so funny. It was a video of Shawn Achor, a positive psychology researcher. I have been hooked ever since.”
“Traditional therapy brought me to where I am. I was able to function in the world, without lying, drinking or doing drugs. I could hold a job and my resume wasn’t 100% a lie. I was probably the healthiest I had ever been up to that point. I had a deep, thorough awareness and understanding of what happened to me and what was ‘wrong’: trauma, codependence, PTSD and addiction. If we stick with the house metaphor, I had rebuilt my house, I had electricity (sobriety) and the foundation was solid (therapy), but I was still sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Positive psychology gave me the ability and tools to make my life and my house a home. Something shifted, my focus went from what is wrong and why … to what was right and how can I do more.”
Kendra continues, “It is truly shocking that we can live our entire lives without ever asking questions like ‘what does happiness mean to me’? or ‘what brings me joy’?, only to be completely bamboozled when we aren’t actually happy with our lives. This was my first lesson with positive psychology; I was learning to crack the code for myself. The benefits of this study was that my days were filled with topics like hope, optimism, love, mindfulness, meaning and purpose.
“Although my circumstances in life hadn’t changed all that much, I found that I was growing more content. I was no longer obsessive with my thoughts or emotionally explosive. Even more powerfully, I was no longer looking to blame others or avoid discomfort. My past fell back into its rightful place and I was able to string together days, months and eventually years of balance. Something my life never had.”
“The true game changing magic happened when I started sharing my knowledge. I started leading book clubs and small groups. I began to mentor women with stories like mine. I saw what Positive Psychology did for them and realized I was a part of something greater than myself. I knew I had found my calling.”
Kendra would go on to mentor more women, and bring positive psychology to life at local colleges and in her community while she continued her college studies. “My mentor at the time challenged me to write down what I wanted to do, if anything was possible and there were no limitations. In my journal I wrote:
1. I want to help people.
2. I want to talk.
3. I want to travel.
I remember I looked at him and asked: ‘Who the hell is going to pay me to do that!?’
“That is when I learned about life coaching. I saw coaching as a way to make a good life great. It put me in a position to implement the ideas, practices and methods that had profoundly changed my life. Stellar Life Coaching was born April of 2013.”
How to Rediscover Yourself
“The truth is people with my story statistically do not live beyond 25. Young addicts don’t often become valedictorians or crack the code on happiness. The real miracle for me, and all of us really, isn’t that we are successful – it is simply that we are alive. This is the foundation, but let’s be real, once you get that idea down – you don’t want to just live – you want to thrive.”
“My success has not been linear. I have taken the longer and harder road more often than not. However, I have learned a few revolutionary truths that guide me daily: 1. I am responsible. It is my life. These are my goals. My feelings. My thoughts. I decide what I want. I decide what I am willing to tolerate, accept, and/or change. It is all on me. 2. I cannot mess this up. In all of the ‘wrong’ choices I thought I made, it has been made clear over time there was never a ‘right’ choice. There was only the choice I made. 3. Stagnation. Ambivalence. Stuckness. These are all me choosing to not change. But the world around me is going to change whether I like it or not. So, it is a better ride if I choose to change with it, to love it.
Through this lens, the concept of radical responsibility, as I teach it, is owning our mental, emotional, physical and fiscal health. It is not letting anyone else define who we are, who we will become, or how we live; it is holding ourselves accountable for the ways we have consciously or unconsciously let ourselves down and choosing new actions and beliefs that support the life we truly want.”
Kendra believes limiting beliefs can hold us back from the greatness we deserve on the path of self-discovery. “All of us fall victim to this mentality at some point in our lives. It usually stems from insecurities about our body or self-worth. Then it finds its way into our relationships with money, success and intimacy. Eventually, it manifests in our subconscious actions and then it influences everything we do.”
As Kendra illustrates, these powerful limiting beliefs that we hold can often be the only things holding us back. “You can change your job, or move to a different country, and you’ll still feel unfulfilled. But when we do the work, we come back to ourselves, reconnect with who we are, and shift out of survival mode. We let go of the ideas about ourselves that we acquired when we were children. We no longer believe them unilaterally, and step away from the mindset of, ‘Make the money, make this work, and just survive’. Instead, we start applying a healthier mindset to our relationships. A mindset of abundance, wealth, and gratitude.”
“A simple way to practice radical responsibility is to start with language. We often lean on certain words when we are in our limiting beliefs and caught in fear cycles – I call them red flag words. ‘Can’t’, the #1 red flag word, assumes that someone is fundamentally incapable of something, as if beyond choice or control – and frankly that is 99% of the time just not true. For example, in saying ‘I can’t write my book’ or ‘I can’t forgive what she did’, the word ‘can’t’ is just not true. I may not be willing to face the discomfort of writing a book, or I may not be willing to forgive – but I absolutely CAN and I am choosing not to. Change your ‘can’t’ to something more honest and responsible. Aim for a ‘want’ or willing statement.”
“These are some of the practices we dig into during the Slay Sessions, and even more deeply in the Phoenix Retreat. By taking ownership and becoming aware of the very things that hold us back, we create the opportunity to change, and evolve.
Take Your Power Back
Along Kendra’s journey, she has used positive psychology to find deeper meaning in every facet of life. She believes that there are key tenets that make life more fulfilling, and happiness more than just a fleeting moment. “We tend to think of happiness as luck, or circumstantial, and that it just sort of happens to us. We think it’s something we can’t know or predict. But positive psychology tells us that’s not true,” she explains. “Forty percent of our happiness relies on intentional choice. Here is an example: after deep, dark, pain, like a break-up or divorce, we start to rediscover ourselves. On our path towards self-discovery, we begin to meditate. We work out again. We find time for self-love. Maybe we hire a coach or a therapist, we begin to care for ourselves. Then, all of a sudden, a new job pops up or you meet somebody. That is when you recognize that you’re happy – most of us think that it’s the job or the person made us happy, but in reality, it was all of those choices to take care of ourselves for the months before we finally noticed it.”
“No matter where you are in your journey one of the most effective practices in taking radical responsibility is journaling. Journaling allows us to objectively see what we think about, what we are doing, and what we believe about who we are. It is creating the space to say the truth about what is in our heads and in our hearts. Chronic negative thoughts can become negative beliefs. When we make them visible, they can be examined, questioned and challenged.”
Putting pen to paper allows you to immortalize and identify thought patterns and feelings. It’s an inherent benefit of journaling. Certain languages can be detrimental to growth, and Kendra pays special attention to the words we use in day-to-day life. “Just like red flag words, any time you use absolutes, they hold a lot of weight. Things like, ‘I am a failure’, or, ‘I am selfish’. By making these affirmations, you’re deciding what you actually are. But it’s not about what you are; it’s really about what you do. Being able to build that distinction starts in your language. You’re not selfish, but you might be acting selfish. You’re not fearful, but you might be afraid about a specific thing. Take the ‘I am’ statements and transform them into something you can actually grow from. Being able to be more honest and specific about behavior takes the shame out of the work.
But alongside making note of areas that need improvement, Kendra sees value in acknowledging the good. She suggests starting with a gratitude practice. ”Start with identifying just one thing you are grateful for. The more you look for things to be grateful for, the more things you will find. The challenge with positivity is that it must be chosen, we do not have an evolutionary need for positivity – if we want more of it we must be intentional and create it. Gratitude is a practical and fun way to begin infusing positivity into your life.”
Beyond accountability for your actions, language, and behaviors, Kendra also understands that circumstances won’t improve if you don’t have the conviction and drive to make a change. “I always say a lack of urgency is sudden death to goals. But the truth is if you are sitting in a good life, that you do not feel connected or fulfilled by – you are in the danger zone – and you must create a sense of urgency about living,” she states. “This life will not live itself. Your goals will not smash themselves if you don’t get excited about living. And living includes hurting; it includes getting fired, breaking up, losing, failing, and being wrong. But it also includes deep love, joy, peace, and contentment. Have a sense of urgency to live your life the way you want to live. I don’t want you to improve your life because one day you are going to die… No, I want you to do these things because you are ALIVE today. Your life, desires, wants, dreams, feelings, and ideas matter NOW. Today. The illusion is that you have time. ”
That sense of urgency to live a full life is one of the reasons Kendra says she loves taking women on the Phoenix Retreat. “These women travel, often to a different country, and they have a sense of urgency to break through. They are hungry to change and willing to grow beyond what they think is possible. These women face fears and address limiting beliefs. They are in their power demanding they show up, and by allowing us to see them, they invite us all to be seen. It is powerful and truly inspiring to witness. But, the proof is in the lives they go back to. The women from the Phoenix Retreat have gone on to quit their jobs, start businesses, write books, break into seven figure income, launch non-profits, get divorced (finally), fall in love, and heal relationships with their children and parents. If you asked me today what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, this would be it. Because the Phoenix Retreat truly changes lives.”
Kendra shares an important lesson in the value of taking back control: To look within yourself and realize that your time is your own. You get just one life to live; spend it doing the things that enrich your soul, fortify your spirit, and empower you.