“Struggle, learning, growing, trying something new, failing and trying again all need to be things we support and encourage” with Author Rachel Kenley

This is where society can help. Struggle, learning, growing, trying something new, failing and trying again all need to be things we support and encourage. I think if our heroes were celebrated not only for having done well but having overcome setbacks we’d be setting a better example. We need to hear and understand how […]

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This is where society can help. Struggle, learning, growing, trying something new, failing and trying again all need to be things we support and encourage. I think if our heroes were celebrated not only for having done well but having overcome setbacks we’d be setting a better example. We need to hear and understand how many times Edison tried to invent the lightbulb, how many years Steve Jobs lost money on Pixar, and about the people who came to their life’s passion and success after years of mistakes and choices that weren’t right for them. I also think it would be great if society honored and supported the older stages of life and not just youth.

As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview romance author Rachel Kenley. Rachel is a Jersey Girl currently trapped in New England without boardwalks or all night diners. She started reading romances at fourteen and credits them with her lifelong fascination with and study of relationships and how they contribute to our ability to live emotionally empowered lives. She believes in shameless flirting, never missing the chance to watch The Wizard of Oz, and the joy of retail therapy. Her most recent trio of novels features mermaids as heroines, and one even takes place on her beloved Jersey Shore. She is currently the President of the international writers’ group Broad Universe. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as well as

Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

My mother is a librarian and a lifelong reader of romances. She gave me Kathleen Woodiweiss’ The Wolf and the Dove when I was fourteen and I’ve been reading them regularly ever since. I’ve known since I was in college — maybe before — that I wanted to be a writer and when the time came to create the stories I wanted ones that were relationship-centric came naturally. Whether a relationship is good or bad, healthy or not, it’s amazing what we can learn and see about ourselves through them. And the better we are at building healthy relationships, with ourselves and others, the more likely we are not only to have the lives we want but to take risks, try new things and go for bigger goals.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

I am currently writing a series of small-town contemporary romances and my heroines are amazing women, but for each of them something has been holding her back or she believes something negative about herself that keeps her from realizing her dreams. In A Steadfast Heart, Jillian doesn’t believe in her own strength, her ability to succeed on her own. Once her dreams of being a professional dancer ended, she’s never gotten back the confidence back she needs to break out from the control of the men in her life. For Dani, the heroine of In from the Cold, who grew up hearing from her mother that she’s a disappointment, no matter what she attempts, part of her believes that she’s either going to let people down or she’s never going to measure up. It’s held her back in life and love. Both of these women are not only going to meet and fall in love with wonderful men, but they are also going to face and change the ways these lies have shaped their lives.

When I build a story it is always my hope for readers to see a bit of themselves, some of their own struggles, in the characters and that as these characters grow, change, my readers are inspired to do the same. More characters in novels have influenced and inspired me than anything I’ve read in non-fiction. We’re wired for story, and when we see ourselves in characters I believe we’re able to glimpse and grab on to new possibilities for ourselves.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

As I mentioned, when I’m writing, I’m always looking for the lies that my characters are telling themselves, the things they believe which are ultimately holding them back from living their dreams. One of those lies for me is “You’ll never reach your potential”. It was drummed into me throughout my school years and was a personal belief I lived with for a long time. (And yes, sometimes it still rears its ugly head.) When I was in my late twenties, that belief was controlling my life. I hadn’t had a romantic relationship last longer than a year, I was barely talking to my family and my job was going okay, but it wasn’t lighting me up. The one thing that was going well was my relationship with my best friend. Before we met, she’d done a weekend that gave her a huge amount of insight into herself and her relationships. She talked about it often as well as the women she met with weekly who were a constant source of support. It took me a while (we can be foolish for ourselves), but eventually, I signed up and did the weekend (now known as the Women’s Discovery Weekend It gave me an opportunity to open myself up to all the things that were possible within me. Before that I could have given you a list of all that was wrong with me, all that I thought I wanted or needed to change about myself, but not where I was worthy, capable, and powerful. I’d always focused on the negative, but that weekend showed me I deserved to put my thoughts and energy on the things that were wonderful about me. It raised my self-acceptance to a new level and gave me a foundation I’ve been able to build on ever since. I continue to read books, take seminars, and do what I can to open myself up more to my best self, my deepest truth.

More recently, as my sons are now older and I’m able to make myself a priority in a different way, I’m learning that self-care is an acronym for me to practice where C is for self-compassion, A is for self-acceptance, R is self-respect and E is self-encouragement. The more I practice all of these for myself, the better my self-understanding and self-love.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

There are so many opportunities for us to compare ourselves to others — and come up lacking — and yet so few ways for us to see ourselves honestly — and see our magnificence. It’s an unfortunate combination. The images shared on social media, television, movies and in magazines are frequently so far from the everyday truths — even of the people being featured — but portrayed as fact that it’s hard not to internalize them. Everyone on “reality” shows has great teeth, so if you don’t, you see yourself as lacking. And body size? Yes, there are a few celebrities who aren’t a tiny size, but slenderness is still sold as the ideal across every public platform. This is also true for youth. Getting older is rarely shown and almost never celebrated. Life isn’t airbrushed or filtered. The consequences of this dissatisfaction include low self-esteem which has us thinking we’re unlovable unless we look like what we see elsewhere, all sorts of eating disorders and other body dysmorphic issues. The first thing many of us think when we look in the mirror is “Ugh” when it should be — we deserve it to be — “Hello, fabulous!” because that is what we all are. There is something incredible, unique, and deeply worthy in all of us and when we dismiss ourselves outwardly on a regular basis, we internalize it as well. Wouldn’t it be terrific if we could all just start with the assumption that we’re wonderful and build from there?

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

It’s hard to get away from the truth in clichés, isn’t it? My take on it is no matter how many different relationships you are in, no matter how long or short they are, the one constant in all of them — is you. If I can’t be in a loving and accepting relationship with myself, not only is it going to be that much more difficult to connect with others but there’s always going to be someone in the room I don’t like — me. And to be honest, there have been times in my life when I haven’t liked myself, where I’ve made choices to make others happy or I’ve been so disconnected from my own needs and desires that I’ve become a stranger to myself. The end result usually is the situation — job, relationship, living arrangements — blows up. As I pick up the pieces, I tend to start by blaming everyone else who was involved, only to find that my role was the one which contributed the most to my unhappiness. When I’ve been willing to be honest and compassionate with myself about the situation, (and compassion is EXTREMELY important for me because in the past I’ve been more likely to be honest and critical, a harmful combination) I’ve made better choices the next time around. When I continued to make it about others, when I didn’t take the time to learn and see ways I needed to be more authentic and loving with myself, then I usually made the same mistake again.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

We stay in the situations we believe we deserve, and until we are willing or able to change that belief, nothing around us changes. And the relationship doesn’t have to be a romantic one. We stay in mediocre jobs and friendships that are one-sided. We “put up” with situations that don’t really serve us or make us happy until we have the courage to look at our lives — the things that fill our days, the choices we make both consciously and unconsciously — and say I want more, I deserve more. I think many people are afraid of their big desires or their big needs. Well-meaning parents, teachers, and friends have put their fears of failure on us, told or shown us not to overwhelm others and the result is we disconnect from the passion that could and should be guiding and motivating us. My advice is to do what you can to listen to the quiet voice that won’t go away — the one telling you it’s okay to want more, have more and do more. You deserve your biggest, brightest and most exciting dreams.

When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but for our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

Whenever I write a book, I start by considering the journey the main characters must go through, looking at how they will be different from the beginning of the book to the end. As I develop characters I’m asking myself: What does my heroine need to learn? What does she fear? What would she never do? What is her dream and what is the lie she tells herself that keeps her from getting this? Over the years, I’ve had to ask myself the same questions, and I haven’t always liked the answers, at least not at first. The one that’s made the most difference to me was first asking “What do I want?” and then “Why don’t I have it — really?”

One of the clearest times those questions made a difference to me was before I was married. For years I dated men I couldn’t see myself in a long term relationship with, and yet that’s what I wanted. Finally, I asked myself why I didn’t have this lasting, loving relationship and listened for the answer. I eventually came to the truth — which was I wasn’t willing to risk having someone get too close because not only was I afraid of getting hurt, I also wasn’t willing to risk showing all those vulnerable parts and then finding out this wasn’t someone I could trust. The change I had to make in myself was learning to take risks for what I want rather than staying safe and not having my dreams or goals come true. It took time, but I was slowly able to take risks and even though there have been — and continue to be — setbacks, the rewards have outweighed the fears. My best relationships still require me to take risks, and there are times when it still scares me, but every risk I take strengthens me and deepens my personal strength. And I’ve been married over twenty-two years.

So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

I think it’s essential. The input and impact of the world around us create influences we’re not always aware of, many of which aren’t supportive. We absorb this information and it frequently adds to the belief that we’re not good enough, not doing enough, or not successful enough. The truth is even if your journey and mine have similarities, we need to be able to accept our own for what it is and where it is. We can’t live by comparing our insides with someone else’s outsides. I love the times when I can be alone in my car. No music, no news, just me. I let my thoughts go and take notice of where they wander. One of the greatest gifts my husband has always given me in our relationship is time by myself, whether that’s meant a room of my own to work in, taking the boys out so I’m alone, or supporting me to go off and do my own thing for a day or a weekend. We acknowledge that the person we’re with most of the time is ourselves and it’s important for that relationship to be a good one.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

The more I’m able to accept and love myself, the less energy I spend trying to hide or disguise myself from others. This is usually a huge part of the process my characters go through. How can you have a good relationship with someone else, allow them to get close, allow for the closeness that makes a relationship worthwhile if you are always worried that they are going to discover some “awful truth” you believe about yourself and that you’re working to hide from them? The answer is, you can’t. Anytime we feel the need to build barriers, we limit our ability to connect. We create distance. The closer we’re willing to be with ourselves, the more we’re able to accept all the pieces — who we are, who we aren’t, and who we’ll never be — the more we’re able to allow people to see the real us which leads to connection and intimacy. I’m not sure I believe we can’t love someone more than we love ourselves, especially when it comes to parent/child relationships, but I do believe there’s a limit to how close we’ll let anyone get to us if we don’t accept ourselves.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

This is a tough one. What usually happens for an individual is an external event forces a personal confrontation with themselves. That’s what gets the hero/ine of a book or movie going on their journey. A job loss, a death, the end of a relationship. All of these — and many other things — can, if we’re willing, be an opportunity to stop and look at the choices we’ve made to learn if they are truly right. So often we take a path we’ve been told or believe we “should” without taking the time to find out if this is true. “Should” can be a dangerous word, keeping us from understanding and accepting our own needs. Only when the path takes an unexpected or unwanted turn do most of us stop to consider if we’re on the right one. We tend to start with a definite set of ideas and structure but when we break free of this we’re able to know ourselves better.

This is where society can help. Struggle, learning, growing, trying something new, failing and trying again all need to be things we support and encourage. I think if our heroes were celebrated not only for having done well but having overcome setbacks we’d be setting a better example. We need to hear and understand how many times Edison tried to invent the lightbulb, how many years Steve Jobs lost money on Pixar, and about the people who came to their life’s passion and success after years of mistakes and choices that weren’t right for them. I also think it would be great if society honored and supported the older stages of life and not just youth.

I’d like to add that this, again, is one of the reasons I think we’re drawn to story, to fiction. In movies and books, we see the struggle, the journey, the setbacks and then the ultimate realization of the goal, or even better — the goal changing to one that’s more heartfelt. We tend not to see ourselves in the non-fiction books we buy and so there’s a distance between us and the process the book is trying to show.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

1. Journaling. Ever since reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, I’ve been a big fan of morning pages. It took me a while to get consistent with this, but I can feel the difference in my emotions and self-awareness when I don’t start my day this way. It’s three pages, written freehand in a notebook and it gives me the time and quiet to hear my thoughts. I can hear my critic, my inner editor, as well as the loving supportive voice that can be drowned out by the noise of the world. It sets an important and supportive tone for my day.

2. Time with my “tribe”. We all live with so many identities that require us to do and be a certain way. Spouse, employee, parent, offspring, sibling, chief cook, and bottle washer. It’s endless, and it can make it hard for us to remember ourselves. I try to schedule a few times a year when I can get rid of as many extra identities as possible and make things a little simpler and more focused. Writing retreat weekends are a way for me to “just” be a writer. Spending a full day (or an overnight) with a friend so I can get back to that part of myself is wonderful.

3. Reading. I suppose as a writer, that’s obvious, but slipping into the words and worlds created by my favorite authors can actually connect me to myself. I’m able to either see some of the best of myself in the characters, or I find insights that I haven’t been able or willing to connect with. For me, it’s also a wonderful time to turn off the “noise” of the outside world, this can be true reading of both fiction and non-fiction. Concentrating on something different often brings me insight into myself. And when I’m not looking, I frequently get new and unexpected answers to challenges I’m trying to work out.

4. Learning something new. Maybe it’s because I was raised by a mother who was a librarian and a father who read the New York Times cover to cover during the week, and most of it on the weekends, but learning something new lights me up. It’s a special kind of high when I find new things to learn either about myself, my work, or something completely unexpected. For writing, I’m always checking blogs or taking classes whether on the writing process, editing or the business of being an author. I try to do attend at least one event a year that will add to my personal insight, and when the opportunity comes to try something new — I take it. I attempted making chainmail jewelry recently. I’m terrible at it, but it was fun to try. I think learning and trying new things invites an increased awareness about our strengths, how far we’ve come, and that the journey is always continuing.

5. Eating dessert first. What I mean by this is sometimes your priority needs to be the really fun stuff, the stuff you put off until you finish all the “serious” work. There are times when I am almost too focused on my to-do list. I really look up from a project except to check what needs to be done next. Instead, I go from writing to mom things, to house things and back to writing. When I do that too much, I find myself disconnected from the people and the daily joys all around me. That’s when I need to do something indulgent, silly or just plain fun. I’ll move my work to the afternoon or to the next day. We’ll go out instead of me cooking. Basically, I look up at the world around me, rather than only at what’s in front of me and having a chance to be in that bigger picture is refreshing and revitalizing. There is a codicil to this. There’s a difference between taking care of yourself and being a “brat”. If you’re doing this all the time you’re probably using it as a procrastination tool rather than a way to be honest about what you need or should be doing to support yourself. Sometimes you need chocolate cake — more often you need fresh fruits and vegetables. Indulging our urges is great. Letting them run our lives? Not so much.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

Romance authors tend to have huge personal collections of books on relationships and I am no exception. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight, the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (I try to know my characters’ love language as I write them) and Men are Great, by Karen Jones. Karen’s newsletters are wonderful too! When it comes to knowing and loving myself, I adore the books by Regena Thomashauer and the incomparable Brene Brown, both of whom are terrific on audio as well. Maybe because I’m a writer, but Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes really struck a chord with me — and I also have that one in audio. In podcasts, I highly recommend Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin.

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? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

What a terrific question! As a huge fan of the Wizard of Oz, what I want most is for people have the strength and passion to follow their yellow brick road. Dorothy is clear about what she most desires and with the help of her friends — head, heart, and courage — she’s able to stay focused, move forward (most of the time) and reach her goal. I would love to inspire people to know their hearts’ desire has always been with them (which I refer to as The Dorothy Principle) and to know they’ve had the power all along to have it (The Glinda Principle). I think the more people following their own true passions would be a wonderful thing!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

There are two that come immediately to mind. Both are from Anais Nin and, I think, they are connected.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

There have been several times in my life when I’ve had to accept that what I was doing, who was in my life, and the choices I made daily were no longer serving me. Have you ever gone through that? Those uncomfortable periods where something seems wrong or nothing seems to fit quite right. For me, it’s meant that I’ve either outgrown where I am or, even better, I’m growing into something more amazing. I’m ready — even though I may be scared — to make changes, take risks, step out of my comfort zone. And what I have found on the other side has always been worth it. There’s a magic and a wonder to blossoming, and I hope that more and more people are inspired to do it.

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

Thank you for having me!

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