Sarah Ban Breathnach is one of my latest great finds. She is the author of the bestselling book called Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. The book features 366 essays about how to live life with simplicity and grace, but most of all gratitude. After her success, in 1995, Breathnach went on a spending spree (even buying Isaac Newton’s Chapel), lost all of her millions, and entered into a marriage that turned out to be a complicated nightmare rather than simple abundance. In 2010, she wrote, Peace and Plenty: Finding Your Path to Financial Serenity, a memoir that told a tale not filled with just happy platitudes. Her life story filled me with great hope and courage. What makes her work more revolutionary is that she lives in every sentence and comes alive in every paragraph.
Of her life as a writer she comments: Heaven knows, I have spent more time than I can even remember working an entire day on one sentence: putting a comma in during the morning, then taking it out in the afternoon. It doesn’t matter whether you get paid or not—paid, of course, is preferable—but that’s not going to happen for a long time, so you need to accept it, hence the legal secretary’s gig. In the beginning you will have to do a lot of work “on spec”, (which means the editor is a bit interested in the idea, so write it on your own dime and then we’ll see what comes of it). What matters is that you do it. Write. Show up on the page and keep a disciplined schedule so the Muse knows where to find you. Then, finish the damn thing, whatever it is. Turn it in and begin another.
Still, when she does finally take a backward glance, all the hard scrapple years of naïveté, disappointments, detours, wrong choices, bad timing, bungled efforts; all the threadbare years of struggle, loneliness, failure, second guessing and despair it took to get her to the right moment at the right time (a publisher’s “Yes” after 30 rejections, five years work, and a whopping advance of $22,000), it will only seem like a blink of an eye because she has truly discovered, as you will too, that success only comes after striving and struggling, even in the dictionary. It would take her 20 years to achieve the last goal of 1976, to be able to earn a living as a writer.
I am so grateful that heaven operates on a “Need to Know” basis. It is one of life’s most overlooked blessings.
Here is an edited excerpt from her, that made me feel like I would incur the worst kind of Karma if I did not share the world of this amazing bestselling author with you.
It takes longer than we can imagine for a woman to grow and bloom into herself. And pearls of wisdom, well, they can take an entire lifetime to accumulate. As the great and aptly named Pearl Bailey wryly observed in her memoir, The Raw Pearl: “There is a period of life when we swallow knowledge of ourselves, and it becomes either good or sour inside.”
There is also a period in each woman’s life, when we can wear the jewelry of that inner wisdom. Diamonds may very well be a girl’s best friend, but pearls are a woman’s sacred and secret confidant. In many families a girl receives her first pearl on a simple chain or as a ring for her 16th birthday, symbolizing that she is become a young lady, with the first string of pearls the gift of coming of age at 21. But I believe it is only decades later before a woman can actually wear pearls properly and only women of a certain age can carry off pearls with panache.
How marvelous that there is something enchanted that all women can look forward to as we grow gracefully into ourselves. Imagine that you are having a conversation with a young girl and you have just asked her what she wants to be or do when she grows up and she responds, “I want to be a woman who wears pearls!! I agree.
The fascinating paradox about pearls is that their beautiful destiny is conceived through irritation and grows slowly in layers, just as our lives do. Something foreign gets beneath the shell of an oyster, embeds itself and years later emerges in an exquisite new form, as effortless it would seem, as a butterfly from its chrysalis. But to be born—a butterfly, a pearl or a woman– is a strenuous journey. Still it seems, at least for the butterfly and pearl, that the journey knows exactly where it is headed. If only we could learn that lesson. If only we could learn to trust that faith, even as small as a piece of grit, could lead us to an iridescent future.
Of course she was talking about actual pearls, but like every good writer the article has a universal message, where someone else thinks about the actual string of beads, another one thinks about the wisdom they have picked along the way; wisdom they need to fall back on during those moments they feel lost. The wisdom you have collected along the way will announce to the world just like pearls that you have taste, sophistication and a sense of purpose. There are pearls to fit your mood, the occasion, the season or to showcase your physical attributes to their best advantage.
Here are ten of my favorites:
“If you really think small, your world will be small. If you think big, your world will be big.” Paulo Coelho.
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Anna Quindlen.
“Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.” Michelle Obama.
“I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me. I can even ask for help! Not feeling that I have to know everything…that is where the growth comes in, in the not knowing,” Tracee Ellis Ross.
“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.” Hillary Clinton.
“An empress does not concern herself with the antics of fools.” Gabrielle Union.
“I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.” Serena Williams.
“There are many shades on every journey. Nothing is black or white. I have been through hell and back, and I am grateful for every scar.” Beyoncé.
“The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it.” Nicholas Sparks.