Episode 019 of the Cultivate Your Life Podcast was released on June 12th, 2019. Listen here!
Lara: Saying no, especially to good things is really hard. How do you know what to say yes to? How do you know what to say no to? How do you say a gracious no? Over the next two episodes together, we’re going to dig into this. Today, my longtime co-worker Emily Thomas and I are going to walk you through 10 different turning points in our business and how we knew which direction to take, AKA, how we said no. It was pretty simple for most of them and it applies to all of life. Get ready to become a master of the gracious no, so you can say yes to what matters.
Lara: Welcome to Episode 19 of the Cultivate Your Life Podcast. I am especially excited for our time together today because you get to meet the woman I have worked alongside for the last decade. Emily Thomas is-
Lara: … here with us. Emily, I’m so excited that you’re here.
Emily: I am thrilled to be here. This is so fun.
Lara: We have a lot of fun stories to tell you today about our journey over the last decade and no one better to do that with me than Emily, who has seen everything alongside me over these years. Just before we started our chat with you today, we were discussing some favorite memories and some blunders along the way.
Emily: Yes, there have been both for sure.
Lara: There have been both. Over these last 10 years, we’ve made a lot of things happen together. There are also things we haven’t made happen and that’s what we’re here to tell you about, 10 things that we’ve made happen over the last decade, also known as 10 things we maybe chose not to do. Let’s talk.
Lara: You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do, you should go do them, the things that last longer than you, the things that run deeper and are more thrilling than skydiving, the things that make you come alive. Welcome to the Cultivate Your Life Podcast, where each week, we talked about how to uncover what matters to you in the big picture and start acting like it today. Whether you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed or in need of some refreshing truth today, I’m Lara and you are in the right place. Let’s cultivate what matters together.
Lara: Emily, I’m sure everyone would love to know the story of how you landed here, how did you get here, why 10 years? Tell us a little bit about a certain thing that happened to you 10 years ago.
Emily: Sure, well, 10 years ago, I was just graduating from college. In college, I knew that I wanted to work for wedding magazine. I did not want to live in New York City. Of course, a lot of magazines are based there, but one wasn’t and that one with Southern Weddings. Lara and I have kind of a neat story of connecting over my blog and a handwritten thank-you note. We connected in my final semester of college and then, just talked back and forth. After college, I moved to North Carolina to begin working at Southern Weddings with her.
Lara: The best and I have to say I still have that hand written thank-you note. Emily, you wrote a post about what, what was it?
Emily: It was about a journal, just a beautiful little journal and Lara commented on it, saying that she thought it was lovely too. This was just a tiny little blog that my mom read. Then, Lara Casey, the editor-in-chief of Southern Weddings was commenting on it, which just blew my mind. I was so overwhelmed that I decided to write her a thank-you note and send her one of the journals.
Lara: Well, she also has the most impeccable handwriting and wrote me the most gracious note and I thought to myself, “This woman is so gracious and likely a lot smarter than me, I think I should hire her.” The rest literally has become history, has become history-making over the last decade. We have been faced with a whole lot of decisions and maybe you’re feeling that right now. You got a lot of decisions on your plate, some of those lingering decisions that seem to just suck the life out of you. Are you feeling that right now? You just need someone to say, “Okay please, just tell me do I say yes to this, do I say no to this and can you say the no for me?” If you’re feeling that these next two episodes are really going to equip you to know what to say no to, what to say yes to and how to do it.
Lara: Today, Emily and I are going to share just as a springboard to get you thinking 10 experiences we’ve had in having to say yes and no. These things are some never before told stories. Emily and I are going to kind of switch off. I’m going to tell you the first few. Emily is going to tell you the next few, but you’re going to go way behind the scenes in Episode 16 of the podcast. You learned the story of how we let go of Southern Weddings, how we said no to Southern Weddings, so that we could say a really big emphatic yes to what was ahead. That wasn’t the only big no we’ve had to say over the years. Get ready for a little adventure through story land with us, some stories about our partnership with Southern Living and some surprising decisions we made about a TV show.
Lara: We’re going to share 10 things with you and these are in chronological order. We’re going to take a way back. We’re going to go way back. Starting with number one, which was starting a magazine, some people may not know that we started … Well, let me rewind, I and me and my cat started.
Emily: I was not there for the very early days.
Lara: No, you weren’t, but Abby Kitty Pants was.
Emily: Yes, she was.
Lara: That was great.
Emily: Meow, meow.
Lara: I started a magazine a little over 10 years ago with no journalism degree. It was a huge leap of faith. The short version of the story that you heard a little bit of in Episode 1 of the podcast is my husband Ari was deployed. He was in Iraq and I was very worried for him all the time. I had kind of caught the wedding bug from planning my own wedding and was very interested in events and even started to dabble in event planning around that time. I think I might have bought this 99-cent e-book, called How to Plan Weddings.
Emily: So good.
Lara: So good, I don’t know if that still exists, but you get what you pay for. I did, I started to dabble in event planning and just loved seeing a person’s love story come to life through these gifts of music and sound and a menu. Really, these were all things that I had learned about in my college years. I went to school for musical theater, where we also used lighting and sound and music to bring someone’s unique love story to life. For me, I called it wedding production. It’s really what it was and I just loved that.
Lara: I thought to myself, “I really wish there was some way we could share in my little tiny town of Pensacola, Florida, which is where I was at the time when Ari was deployed, I wish there was some way that we could show people that weddings can be about more than just stuffed chicken and tulle. There’s nothing wrong with stuffed chicken and tulle. I like a good stuffed chicken, but there is so much more to it. You could actually tell your love story or write a whole new one through a wedding celebration. I’ve been to weddings, where I really felt like the wedding itself transported me somewhere. It’s just like when you see really great play or you see an orchestra, I mean Handel’s Messiah is one that comes to mind. It just takes me to another world and it really does open my eyes and my heart and it changes you. That’s what good art does. I saw that there was possibility to do that in the same way with weddings.
Lara: In the middle of this like deep, dark period of Ari being deployed, I thought to myself, “Why not, why not just start a wedding magazine? I have no idea what I’m doing. What do I have to lose?” I got on Microsoft Publisher late one night, which is like the equivalent of Kraft Mac and Cheese to a five-star chef. It is a very basic program on your computer. I remember the first time, I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I sent our first file to the printer through this commercial printer-
Emily: Oh my goodness.
Lara: … from Microsoft Publisher. It’s kind of like sending a PowerPoint to a publishing house. Anyway, they were very kind, very gracious to me and said, “Have you heard of Quark,” which is now.
Emily: Now, I have.
Lara: Now, it’s outdated. Yeah, I just mocked up a wedding magazine cover late one night and maybe for you, there’s something in you that you just think, “I see a need or I have this like fire and this passion that bubbles up for something. What if?” I’m going to leave you with that question, what if? Go there, just take that next step. Even in your mind right now, what if you were to step into that thing? You never know and here I am, over 10 years later, saying this to you, you never know where it’s going to go. Did I have any clue that we would be here, Emily and I sitting here over 10 years later, having made a decade of Southern Weddings? I have chills.
Lara: Having been a part of so many of your wedding celebrations, so many of your engagement, so many of these life milestones, would I ever imagine that this would be a place for us to help couples plan meaningful beginnings to married life? No, no way, no way, didn’t even cross my mind. In the middle of that difficult time in our country, where you really would see the names of fallen soldiers passing on the screen constantly, in my own tiny, tiny way, I thought, “I just want to create beauty in this world that feels so broken.” You never know what that little spark of you adding your beauty to the world, whether it’s words or art itself or caring for someone that’s like right in front of you, in motherhood, in business, in work, whatever it is, you never know what that tiny little spark is going to do.
Lara: Number one was starting a magazine with no journalism degree, just taking that big leap of faith to believe in something that I couldn’t even envision, but I just knew it needed to exist. That was really saying yes to the unknown, to say yes to something that I was not an expert in. You know what that meant? I had to say no to my pride. I had to say no to feeling like I had to have it all together in order to do something meaningful. If I would have let those very real thoughts stop me in the beginning, I would not be here sitting with you right now, talking about this. Southern Weddings would have never existed if I would have waited for some magical day when I had it all together. The yes, with saying yes to something that I was not perfect in and in that I was saying no to my pride, saying no to a lie of perfection that tells us, “We need to be an expert before we start something.”
Lara: Number two is as that magazines started to grow, I realized that Abby Kitty Pants and I were reaching our capacity. I needed to hire-
Emily: She had no thumbs.
Lara: No thumbs, it’s tricky, it’s really tricky. I mean she has a tail. That’s like an extra appendage, but I needed a person. One of the scariest things for me and I’ve actually had so many other women express this to me in their business journeys was hiring my first employee. We’re really pulling back the curtain here for you. Again, I have a degree in music theater, all right, there was no business training in music theater school, aside from the business of the business and something I had no knowledge of was how to not just hire an employee, but do taxes, do payroll, how does any of that work, how do I even like incorporate this business? I really had no idea what I’m doing. I mean some people said to me, “Oh, I had no idea what I’m doing.” I’m like, “Yeah, but you had a business degree, yes you did.” I truly had no idea what I’m doing.
Lara: The other thing is I did not have the advantage that you have now, which is Google. I think AltaVista was a thing back then.
Emily: Ask Jeeves.
Lara: Ask Jeeves, oh man you just take way back. My AOL screen name was JazCMU because I wanted to-
Emily: That was so good.
Lara: … be a jazz singer. I was so good. I know did you have an AOL screen name?
Emily: Mine was based on my favorite horse’s name, so you know, there you go.
Lara: Friends, if you have an AOL screen name, bring that back to life. Just bring it out. It’s good fodder for conversation. Yes, it was a scary thing because I just reached this point and I think sometimes people hire for multiple reasons. Either, they are smart and they have the forethought and the business acumen and training to look ahead and know, “Hey, I think we’re going to grow to this point, where we’re going to need someone later on down the road.” For me, it was, “I’m working 24/7 and I see that this is growing, I don’t know how I’m going to continue.” I mean I was at that urgency point, which is not the best place to hire someone from, but I did. I think I put out a call on Southern Weddings, I don’t know. Do you remember how it happened?
Emily: No, I don’t think so.
Emily: I had just written that letter to you-
Lara: Oh yes.
Emily: … kind of like a couple months after we connected initially and just told you that I would love to come work for you if something should open up. There wasn’t a job that had been posted and then, you reached back out to me and said, “Okay, let’s talk.”
Lara: Well, now that I know you for the last decade that does not surprise me. She’s like, “If I’m going to do something, I’m just going to try to make this happen.” You made yourself a job, nice.
Emily: Yeah, no, I sent you my resume. I sent you a letter about myself. I think I actually filled out the little interview that you had.
Lara: Yes, okay. Emily made herself a job, but on my end, I was terrified. I thought, “How am I going to pay for this employee?” I’ll tell you the thing that was the scariest though and I mention this a little bit before, you have a great background in journalism. You went to Wheaton. You have poetry in your resume, like so many things. I certainly did not have any of that training and I thought, “This gal is smarter than me, so either she’s going to run circles around me and run me into the ground or she’s going to take us to the next level.” I think that was probably … I did not know this at the time, but that was a very wise thing on my part. Now, we’ve carried that through. Emily is actually our chief of staff now and helps alongside the hiring process. Hire people who are smarter than you to take you to the next level. We actually hired Catherine at the time too. Catherine had a … Was it law?
Lara: What is her actual degree?
Emily: I guess communications.
Emily: … something like that.
Lara: From Harvard, okay so here I’m hiring a Wheaton graduate and a Harvard graduate and I’m thinking, “I have a theater degree people.”
Emily: From a great school.
Lara: Okay, fine, it was a great school. Carnegie Mellon was a great school.
Lara: I think it was the one of the biggest leaps and fears that I had to overcome was I’m afraid that since I do not have the formal training, I will not know how to be a great boss. I’m afraid that I will not be able to pay for these employees because I just don’t know how to manage a business at this point. I had this kind of beautiful animal that was growing, snowballing this magazine that was growing and growing faster than I ever thought. I knew that. I knew we had traction there, but I did not know any of the back end things.
Emily: Yeah and I mean you probably remember, we started working out of your town home in one tiny room.
Lara: Yes, it was the master bedroom.
Lara: We’re taking it way back guys.
Emily: Yeah, even for just three of us, it was tight. I think that-
Lara: Three plus Abby Kitty Pants.
Emily: True, yes, three and a half. The lesson there is that sometimes you have to take that leap before everything’s perfect, almost always before everything’s perfect.
Lara: Yeah, absolutely. I said yes to taking this giant, scary unknown leap of faith to hire my first employee. In doing that I was again, again saying yes to the unknown and also saying no to doing it all. That really pushed me to take that big leap of faith. As I knew where I didn’t want to go and that can be the key for you too. Where do you not want to go? What’s the path you don’t want to take? Sometimes that’s going to push you forward to make a decision about that thing. I knew that I didn’t want to keep doing everything for the business. I knew I didn’t also want this magazine that I had created to stay where it was. I wanted it to get into the hands of so many more women, who really needed these messages. I said yes to that scary unknown thing because I wasn’t going back there.
Lara: Number one, starting the magazine from nothing. Number two, hiring my first employee and number three, scooting forward several years, my marriage as you know from Episode 1-
Lara: Episode, this is going to be unscripted guys. I’m not editing that out. You know my marriage story from Episode 1, we’re just going to go with that and we are Southern Weddings, right? From Episode 1, I had a great transformation around the time of our third, fourth and fifth issues of Southern Weddings. My marriage had been in such turmoil in the beginning and then, by God’s power and grace, again as you know from Episode 1, really the impossible became possible, it happened. Our marriage was not just renewed, but given a completely new track. In that time period, I had written a blog post, expressing how I did business. I had lots of people, as the magazine was growing, asked me, “How do you do this, how do you make this happen?” Let me just take you way back, this was … Again, this is not many years ago, but a lot has happened in 10 years in the internet world. When I first started the magazine, there were maybe two blogs around. There was Faye and Greer for people that remember way back and Style Me Pretty. There’s probably a few more at that time too, but if you would have said the word blog to someone, they would have said, “Do you mean the movie from the 1950s or whatever it was, 1970s.”
Lara: Going way back here, this was in a time, where there weren’t many resources for people to take a dream and do something with it. Most people worked a traditional nine-to-five job. If you had a creative hobby, it was a hobby. Nowadays, there are of course a plethora of resources and so many people that have made their passion or that hobby turn into a paying business. There’s so many avenues for that now. I got asked that question a lot, like “How did you do this, how did you do this from the ground up?” I spent a lot of time on the phone with people. I didn’t want to charge people for business advice because I’m like again, degree in music theater, I really just like learned this sort of on my own and through just osmosing things from people. Let me just tell you how I do it and then, I was on the phone a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. I had a friend that said to me, “Hey, you should maybe just write a blog post about this, just write out the principles about how you make things happen.” You actually worked for me during that time. I remember you-
Emily: That was 2009.
Lara: … helping me with that blog post. It was also the first time that I had shared anything about my faith, which was very fledgling at the time. I did use biblical principles and scriptures throughout my day. Again, my faith was totally in its infancy stages, but I was scared. I remember being very scared to put Bible verses on my blog, thinking, “What are people going to think? I’m not an expert in faith. How can I talk about faith? How can I talk about business?” Maybe you feel that way too. Maybe right now, you’re thinking, “I feel like an impostor.” Are you there right now? Whatever it is, maybe it’s even motherhood or maybe it’s business for you, maybe it’s a project or even volunteering somewhere, you think, “Well, I’m not an expert at this, how can I teach other people?” That was my fear.
Lara: I remember crafting that post and sending you the first draft. I will never forget Emily sent me a verse from, I think it was Timothy, 2 Timothy 1:7, for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind. I remember you emailing me that verse and it actually gave me the courage to post the post. I was terrified. I remember actually shaking as my hand was kind of going near the cursor to hit publish on that post. I was just so scared, probably of being judged, probably of again feeling like I was in this impostor syndrome.
Lara: That blog post was titled How to Make Things Happen Volume 1, which I think is funny because I’m not sure there was ever a volume two.
Emily: I don’t think there was a volume two.
Lara: I had apparently high hopes for a second post, but that was it. Within the first hour, it had just like a hundred comments on it. I, of course was not expecting that but it started something, something about these principles that we were using to make things happen really resonated with people. In that just influx of emails and comments and text messages and phone calls because people used to use phone calls back then, in that I had some friends say to me, “Hey, you should take this on the road, maybe you should go and teach people these principles.” Of course, I thought to myself the same thing. I am not equipped for this, absolutely not, but I did. That ended up becoming The Making Things Happen Conference. We did a 13 city tour that first year, which is just bonkers.
Lara: Out of that something interesting happened. I had always wanted to write a book. Ever since my marriage came back together, I was often emailed questions from women, specifically saying, “Hey, tell me your marriage story.” I just wished that I had some way to hand them my story. I thought, “Well, the perfect thing to do would be to have a book.” For me, writing a book was not about being an author and writing a book. I don’t know anything about that part. I just really wanted a way to hand people the story that I knew, if I could get it in people’s hands would hopefully give them hope. I had prayed a lot about that and I didn’t really know where to go with it. The interesting thing that happened is a few years after I had written that first post, I had started what’s called our Annual Goal-Setting Series, using a lot of those same principles that we taught in The Making Things Happen Conference that I originally had in that blog post too. It became an annual series. My Goal-Setting Series still lives on. Every December, we walk through a five or six part series to uncover our goals and dig into our PowerSheets goal planners.
Lara: I had an email come to my inbox from an editor at Thomas Nelson publishers, who not so coincidentally is the same publisher of the first Bible that my grandfather ever gave me. I remember getting that email and seeing that insignia on the email and just getting chills. She said, “Hey, would you ever consider turning this series into a book?” I thought, “What, me? Yes and can I put my marriage story in there because I would really love to give this story to people.” That is where the book came from. This is before … I mean my book didn’t come out that long ago, 2014, so I started writing in 2012. This is before I think more people that was like a mainstream thing to be writing books. I have so many friends now that have written books, but it was very scary for me. Writing a book and not really having a friend who had done it before or a resource for me to say, “Hey, how do I do this, what do I even write this on, do I use a legal pad, do I use Microsoft Word?” Help a sister out. I really didn’t have any resources. I thought a lot in writing that book. I mean Emily you were here, you remember that period?
Lara: It was a period of wrestling with the page, wrestling with being vulnerable of sharing some of the hardest parts of our story and wrestling with the same things I wrestled with in putting that first blog post out. I am not an expert. My faith journey has not been perfect. My life has not been perfect. How can I teach anything about God if I haven’t been perfect? Of course, you know where that goes? God’s grace is a very real thing and so, even in writing the book, I learned about that gift of His grace and His goodness.
Lara: I’m sensing a theme here. I said yes to doing something that was very unknown that I had no experience in, no like prior anything with because I felt this fire, this passion to pass this story along because I knew that if I could just help one other woman believe that the impossible is possible that would feel so satisfying. Just to know that my story was something that lit a fire in someone else, so I said yes to writing that book through tears and heartache and feeling, I mean literally tears, just banging my head against the desk, crying to Ari, constantly saying, “I am not good enough, I will never finish this book.” I kept saying no to the fear and no to that little voice inside me, which was sometimes a big voice that said, “You can’t do this, you will fail at this, no one will read this book.” I kept saying no to that because I kept thinking about one person. If I could just affect one, one person’s life, it would be worth it.
Lara: We’ve told you about some of the things that we have made happen even through fear and trembling. There are some things that we intentionally decided not to make happen.
Emily: That is number four. When you create something good like we had with Southern Weddings, opportunities often come your way. Many of them are really good, either really good or a lot of them just sound good too, but the thing that we learned very quickly is that you can’t do it all and do it all well. We are still repeating that line years and years later because it’s just truth. You have to say no to say yes to something better, but sometimes you don’t even want to do it all, even if you can or should. This for us is where it’s important to remind yourself of your big-picture vision, where you are headed, where you want to be headed in your life and your work. So many times along our journey, we have circled back around to that to help us decide is this a yes or is it a no?
Emily: Back a couple years ago, we were approached with opportunity to create a TV show based on our work with Southern Wedding, which you know that sounds good, a TV show, like what a huge opportunity, a potential to share our mission.
Emily: What we eventually decide is it the work that would have been required to build that TV show would have taken us away from other things, things that we thought were better and that were more aligned with our mission for our work.
Lara: Yes, I mean the work itself, we were and we are a small team, so the idea of a TV show, I mean it sounds glamorous. You think, “Oh that’s going to amplify your business, why wouldn’t you do that?” These are all things that we considered.
Emily: Yeah and so, not only did it not align with our business vision and the work we wanted to do, but it also didn’t align with our life visions. Did our life vision include camera crews coming into our homes? No, so for us, even though it was a shiny and a splashy opportunity, it was a pretty easy no because we had such a clear vision.
Lara: I was about to have a baby the next week.
Emily: Yes that too.
Lara: Yeah and this is I think right before I was about to have Josh or was it Grace?
Emily: It was Grace, yep.
Lara: It was Wow.
Emily: Yeah, because I remember it was around Thanksgiving.
Lara: I remember this and they were a lovely production company. They were so respectful and wonderful. They said, “Hey, we have this crew from the network that wants to come out next week.” I said, “Well, I’m having a baby next week.” The timing, I just felt like it all was misaligned. I think it was more about protecting our own lives and our own privacy and as a team, just coming together with a shared vision to say, “This sounds great, it’s not great for right now.”
Lara: I think it would have been a lot of fun though in some ways.
Emily: I mean we would have gotten lots of great memories, and lots of bloopers too, for sure.
Lara: Yes, if we had a TV show today, however, I’m pretty sure Kaylee Hobbs on our team-
Emily: She’d be the start.
Lara: … would be all that. She’d be the star. Kaylee, we love you. Kaylee is our resident 7. All the sevens in the house said, “Yeah, TV shows,” no but I think our TV show right now … Here’s the thing, we are not much drama.
Emily: No. Yes that’s really what we thought about too, like we would have to not only do work, but just manufacture plot lines that we didn’t have.
Lara: It’s funny I remember when they first contacted us, I was like, “What exactly are they going to film?” We do a lot of wonderful work and I think there’s a lot to be learned from the way that we do business and the way we interact together and just start relationships, but I’m not sure if that makes good TV.
Emily: Yeah, a lot of it’s typing away on the computer.
Lara: Yes, so there you go, no TV show for us.
Lara: Another thing we did not make happen is the Making Things Happen Conference, we actually just did our 56th Making Things Happen Conference in March.
Lara: I know, right? It was awesome. I mean it was truly, we’re both kind of shaking our heads, it was really like such a celebration of living out what matters to you and all of the women that joined us there, we love you so much. There will be another conference next March, so you can sign up to be notified about that in the show notes. Something that we decided not to make happen within this journey of doing this conference for soma years, we did a lot of travel in the beginning. We wanted to go to the cities. We still get asked constantly, “Can you come to Australia, can you come to California?” Traveling was fun.
Lara: It was originally Emily Leigh, Gina Zeidler and myself and Natalie Norton did it with us for a little while too. We loved traveling and then, we all had kids. We thought, “Well, this is going really well.” That’s the rub, there’s probably things in your life that you think, “This is going really well though, why would I say no to this, why would I change it if it’s going well?” This is where you have to stop and say, “Who says it’s going well, is it going well on paper, is it going well because the rest of the world thinks it’s going well or is it maybe not aligning with the current season that you’re in?” It might have been good for the season previous and that’s where we landed with Making Things Happen. We decided to not tour with the conference anymore, so that we could cultivate what matters. Now, we only do the conference here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It’s got a great International Airport. We have friends from all over the world that come join us. That’s been a really great move.
Lara: I think that being on the road was good for that season and now, this has been the season to plant roots. Now, we do the conference here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. You can go to makingthingshappen.com to find out more. We do it at the Carolina Inn and I’ll just give you a little inside peek, just pulling back the curtain on something that we talk a lot about is how our days are numbered. Go back and listen to Episode 8 of the podcast, How to Number Your Days? On the first day of Making Things Happen, we dig into your big-picture vision. Maybe you think to yourself, “I have no idea what my goals are, I have no idea where I want to be in the big picture,” or you have goals and you don’t know how to make them happen. One of the first things to do is define where you want to be when you’re 80. We spend some really good time doing that together. We land on this statement and I’m going to let you fill in the blank for yourself right now. Write this down on paper, fill in the blank, my life is too short to … Just fill in the blank.
Lara: This process of unearthing the things that we feel like are not worth our time right now in this season helps you to make decisions moving forward on what you do want to make happen. For us, we thought to ourselves, “Our lives are too short to be traveling constantly and being away from our families and not soaking up these precious seasons with tiny little ones at home. Our lives are too short to not believe that there could be something even better ahead and that we could impact more people,” which we were able to do. Instead of having groups of 20 or 15 with the tour, we were able to have a group of like a 100 attendees, which created more community too. What is it for you, life is too short and your life is too short to what or maybe not to do something.
Emily: Number six was starting our shop and most of you are probably familiar with the Cultivate shop, but this was actually the Southern Wedding shop, our first foray into e-commerce. After several years of running Southern Weddings and honing in our mission, we realized that what we were offering as a business didn’t exactly line up with our mission for the business. We had a once yearly product, a magazine that came out just one timing year, but what we really desired was to be a daily reminder to our couples to value, to fight for, to celebrate their relationships. Based on that why, we made a decision to open a shop and offer prints, so that we could be that daily reminder in their homes of their marriages. It grew so much from there, but it really all started with that very simple why of just wanting to be in their lives on a daily basis.
Lara: Yeah, I remember that meeting too. I very clearly see in my head where we sat down and we thought to ourselves, “Okay, we got this magazine, comes out once a year. That’s great. People may keep it on their coffee tables for a whole year, but how can we, like you said, get in their hearts and get in their heads with these messages of meaningful marriage more often?” Again, this was back before everybody and their mother, literally their mothers had shops. I think we started the shop on Big Cartel or maybe we started on Etsy?
Emily: I think it was Big Cartel and then, we also did Etsy shop for a while.
Lara: Yeah, it really started with the reverse of I think where some people begin a shop. A lot of people begin a shop because they want to grow it into a business or they’ve got a great talent they want to share something with people. They want to make that a source of income and for us, it was about … That’s not a wrong thing, to make it a source of income, but for us, we had a different motivation. We focused on what we call the profit of people. We thought if we could get these messages, these meaningful bits of truth into their hearts and hands more often, maybe we could affect them in a deeper way. What was that first print?
Emily: I believe it was, “Love never fails,” just in a simple sans-serif gold foil and that’s the thing like our prints weren’t … They were just simple.
Lara: They weren’t groundbreaking, right.
Emily: It was the mission behind them and the reasoning behind them that I think really led to their success.
Lara: Yes and we had quite a few people purchase that first print. I think that struck something in us. We thought, “Okay, well, what’s next? What else could we get into people’s hands?” I had written handwriting piece forever ago, right around the time that Grace was born. Was in my kitchen late one night and I was very frustrated. I was frustrated because I was looking back at the year. I had just lived and thought to myself, “I really, really, really want to read the Bible, like read the whole Bible from start to finish,” but again back to that feeling of inadequacy, maybe you felt like there’s something you really want to sink your teeth into, but you just feel like, “I’m not an expert or that feels overwhelming.” For me, the Bible felt really big. I just felt like, “I don’t even know where to begin, I can’t even focus on a whole paragraph in an email, much less an entire chapter of the Bible. How is that going to work?”
Lara: I wrote a note to myself late one night that said, “You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do, you should go do them.” That handwriting piece has since been shared on the internet tens of millions of times. It really was for me about wanting to read the Bible from start to finish. I put that handwriting piece out as the first piece in the Lara Casey shop. We’d started this Southern Wedding shop and then, we started the Lara Casey shop. Again, it was not about growing a new business. We had no idea that this actually would end up becoming our entire business that we would end up going into e-commerce. Emily, do you remember the first set of PowerSheets that we sold?
Emily: I do. They were practically unrecognizable to those of you who have PowerSheets today. They were a totally different format. They were loosely. If you put them in a binder of your choosing, all black and white, yeah, very different.
Lara: We will circle back to that in just a moment too.
Emily: Yes, okay, skipping back to Southern Weddings, number seven, was our partnership with Southern Living Magazine. This is a big one. Part of that process of honing in on our mission at the magazine was honing in on what made us unique. We were going to celebrate the south as Southern Weddings. We wanted to be living that out. We did and it turns out that one of the most fun parts of our business resulted in one of the greatest opportunities. We were as a team intentionally taking time to go explore the area where we lived to taste the delicious food of the south and see the beautiful sights that are in the south, travel to different places, hear the music, smell the smells. People can tell when you’re living out, what fires you up when you’re passionate about what you’re doing. It just naturally spills over.
Emily: In our case, Southern Living happened to notice. They asked us to partner with them and do a special insert for 400,000 of their subscribers. Obviously, this is a huge opportunity, not only to make relationships with their advertisers that we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, but again like Lara says kind of the profit of people, but to get in front of people, who may never have come across us on their own and exposed them to our mission and what we cared about and what we wanted for their marriages and relationships. That all grew from simply doing what fired us up.
Lara: That thing that fired us up was pies. Emily tell us about the photo shoot that we put in our fifth anniversary issue that Lindsay Bierman, who was the former editor-in-chief there at Southern Living, he saw this and thought to himself and he said this to us, “You do it better than we do.” Tell us about that photo shoot.
Emily: Absolutely, this was just a celebration of southern pie. We had I think 10 or 12 different varieties.
Lara: No, tell us about some of the names.
Emily: Okay, shoofly pie, key lime pie. We had pecan pie.
Lara: Or pecan, depending on where you’re from.
Emily: All the good ones and we just gave each of these pies their own full-page spread, which if you are familiar with magazines, you know like every page is precious real estate and we just blew it out. We’re like, “Yeah, we’re going to give them each their own page and photograph them as the stars that they are.” They saw that spread and said, “Wow, they are passionate about more than just weddings. This is about something bigger, about the south as well.”
Lara: I have a huge smile on my face because I just think to myself “That is the beauty of being a small business.” I don’t think that large publishing houses can do things like that and say, “You know what, instead of selling an ad here, we are going to put a giant page full of shoofly pie.” It was such a glorious spread. It was done so well. Joey and Jessica shot that. We shot it here in my living room. We had of course the best feast of pie afterwards. I remember we had an extra pie from what was that place in Houston that we got a bunch of pies? You know what I’m talking about?
Emily: Three Brothers Bakery.
Lara: Yes, from Three Brothers Bakery in Houston, they sent us a bunch of pies for the shoot. They had this one deep-dish pecan pie with chocolate layers in it.
Emily: Yes, so good.
Lara: I remember and if you’ve read the Cultivate book, you know that one of my dear friends is our mail carrier Walter. I remember the day that he showed up to deliver the mail on the pie shoot day and we gave him this giant deep-dish pecan pie, love you Walter, but it was these experiences. Our unofficial office motto is if you’re not excited about it, no one’s going to be excited about it. You can hear in our voices, like we were pretty excited about this pie shoot. It was glorious. Emily, lets’ just like pull back the curtain a little bit more, like we’re remembering you and I wearing our very best clothes and flying to Birmingham to have our very first meeting with Southern Living. What do you remember about that experience?
Emily: It just felt like we were walking into an institution. I mean they had a huge corporate office there. Again, like we are still working out of Lara’s home, like we are coming from just such different experiences when you kind of put them next to each other. We were sitting around this very formal boardroom table at one point. They kind of asked us like for, “Who are you, what do you do, what’s your role?”
Lara: Give your intro.
Emily: Yeah, we’re kind of like …
Lara: We’ve never done this before.
Emily: We’re telling them about different ways that we did things and even like Lara was talking about like with the page budget, how we decided what content we were going to run and all that. Again, it’s just so different from how they did things and the calculations that they took into account as they made decisions about content and advertising. It just made us really grateful for being small and for being able to respond quickly and nimbly to the needs that we saw in our community. Even as it was intimidating, it was also just a really great reminder of what was special about what we were able to do.
Lara: Yes, it was. I mean we had many more times, where Emily and I got to fly back there and spend time with their team. I remember it was in the middle of July and they were doing their Thanksgiving issue and walking in and Robby, one of their head editors for food and all the food stylists were in the kitchen and cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
Emily: It smelled really good.
Lara: I mean it was like a dream come true, going through their prop house, the whole thing. They were very gracious, so you can imagine, it was a wonderful experience. Okay, so I’m going to back up a little bit more because another part of the story was the day I got the email from their publisher. I get this email, saying, “Hey, I’m so-and-so from Southern Living. We are interested in discussing a partnership with you.” I just about fell out of my chair.
Lara: Then, before I told anybody like I’m totally the person that … I mean Emily knows this, where if something exciting happens, I’m going to text you immediately to tell you about it. I did not because I thought for sure someone’s pulling my chain here, for sure someone is pranking me This is like too good to be true. I remember googling it and I was like, “Oh, this is real.”
Emily: Oh, actually, this is the person, yeah, okay.
Lara: You remember, I probably had you help me draft an email.
Emily: Oh yeah, absolutely, yeah.
Emily: 100% remember.
Lara: Yeah, 100% remember that. They said, “Hey, we’d actually like to fly to your office.”
Emily: To you, yes.
Lara: I was like, “Well, my office is in my house.”
Lara: We very quickly got to … I mean I got down with a toothbrush and cleaned windowsills people. It was that intense and they showed up on the rainiest day. We had our amazing friends at Farrington, which is a beautiful like resort community here. One of their chefs is a dear friend that has done a lot of Southern Weddings work with us. He came over to my house to cater. We tried to do it right.
Emily: Yes, we rolled out all the red carpet.
Lara: The epic story is that I really hope this gentleman is listening right now.
Emily: No, you need to save this until the very end. We should make them-
Lara: Really? Okay.
Emily: … listen all the way to the end and then, we’ll tell them.
Lara: I won’t tell you. We will tell you at the very end. It’s good.
Lara: Cliffhanger, okay. Moving on to number eight, which is PowerSheets used to be only in black and white.
Lara: Let’s just pause for a minute to take that in. PowerSheets and our whole brand used to be just black and white, maybe-
Emily: And red.
Lara: … some red.
Emily: Yup and some gold.
Lara: Some gold, yeah. If you are new to Cultivate and you haven’t heard any of this story, I’m sure you’re thinking what we’re thinking-
Emily: Is what?
Lara: … which is cultivate with no color. Nicole, who was our art director at the time, I remember she and I having multiple conversations about how we really like the idea of color, but our fear was that if we put color into our products, we were going to be cutting out a whole host of people that maybe didn’t like that. Now, let me tell you, this is probably one of the biggest lessons in business is if you try to be something for everyone, you will soon lose your impact. Again, if you’re not excited about it, no one’s going to be excited about it. We took a huge risk, I think it was 2015, I could be wrong. All of our PowerSheets enthusiasts out there, you probably know the date better than me. We took a really big risk one year, was the first year we had done the coil bound planners. We put color in the PowerSheets, not only color, but just a lot of color and stickers.
Emily: We went from zero to 100.
Lara: Yeah, zero to 100 that’s how we roll. I just remember being so scared to do that and that was definitely one of our biggest sales years, just a huge jump for us and a huge marker in our brand too.
Emily: That is so true in life as well as business too. I mean if you try to be everything for everyone instead of staying true to what’s true for you, you will end up spreading yourself thin and really kind of appealing to no one.
Lara: Yeah, it’s true and I think that you can kind of feel it. I think especially for us in business, we can kind of feel when, “Oh, we’re not really excited about this anymore.”
Emily: We’re just doing it because we think we need to.
Lara: Yeah, it’s time to take a leap of faith, it’s time to grow, it’s time to take a risk and that’s what it was. It was a big risk. We thought, “Either this is going to completely bomb or we actually have no idea what the alternative would be.” We’re very grateful that so many of you want to live a colorful cultivated life just like us. If you’re out there and you’re thinking, “Okay, I’m not sure about this, I’m not sure about stickers, I’m not sure about color,” just give it a try.
Emily: Hop on board, you’ll love it.
Lara: Hop on board, we’ll bring you over to the colorful side. It’s good here, it’s good.
Emily: Yes. Okay, speaking of big risks, number nine is another one, which again it’s funny to look back on these things because on the other side, it feels like, “Oh, like why we were worried almost?”
Lara: Why we were so worried?
Emily: At the time of making these decisions, they were huge. Number nine is changing the name of our shop and business. Again, many of you all know that we used to be the Lara Casey Shop. We chose it because it was easy. The shop kind of started just with a few small prints and of course-
Lara: It’s mostly my handwriting, right?
Emily: Yeah, we’re going to call it our fearless leader’s name, but after a few years, it just didn’t seem to fit. Again, as we honed in on that mission, I feel like I’ve said that phrase so many times but that’s where these big-
Lara: It’s true.
Emily: … moments of transformation and risk have come from is getting clear on our mission and our why. We just really felt that our mission was to celebrate and encourage other people’s stories. It wasn’t just about us. It wasn’t just about Lara. We knew that we needed to change our business name to reflect that but it was so scary. We had built something successful and we had this feeling that we should change it to something that sounded kind of weird and different like Cultivate What Matters, is that even a thing?
Lara: I wish I still had the list of all the names we considered.
Emily: Yes, I know.
Lara: I know that cultivate was always at the top of the list. It was just a word that we really latched onto. We thought, “Well, this is what we’re doing, we’re helping people to break up the soil of their lives to be able to grow good new things.” I’m trying to remember what else was on that list, I don’t know.
Emily: I honestly don’t remember either and again, like that makes sense because now that we are Cultivate, it seems like, “Oh, of course that’s a perfect name.”
Lara: How can you be anything else? A big part of that the dissonance that we felt was the word shop in the name because we were not here to sell things to people. We wanted people to know that there was a different way to think about life. Every time we would get on Instagram, for instance and use the Lara Casey Shop handle, the Instagram name along with posts, it felt like we were selling things, even though we weren’t trying to sell things. It just started to feel like, “Ah, this sweater doesn’t really fit anymore.” Like Emily said, I think the hardest thing to do that we have, I wouldn’t say we’ve always done it well, but I can note times we’ve done it and it has led to great opportunities to help people in big ways is to know when it’s time to change and to be willing to consider another possibility. We had grown something really good. It was really profitable like you’d think on paper, “Don’t change it.”
Emily: Just don’t yeah.
Lara: “Don’t fix what isn’t broke.” That’s where we come back to like Emily has so beautifully reiterated, the mission. The mission is how can we help women to cultivate what matters or how can we help women to live intentionally, how can we help more women to get this in their hands? We wanted to be able to not just tell my story, but tell your story to allow you to see yourself in our work, in our pages and to not feel like we’re just being all salesy unintentionally.
Emily: In the end, we were building towards this, building towards this. We were all aligned to this, was the right thing, but I mean true, making things happen fashion, we eventually just felt the fear and did it anyway. The point at which we did that was the point at which the pain of staying the same was worse than the pain of changing. Yes, it was still scary, but it was more scary to stay where we were.
Lara: Yes, yes, we risked more by staying where we were than we did by moving forward. On that note, number 10 is closing the chapter on Southern Weddings. This is of course the biggest transition we’ve ever made. You heard so much of that story. If you haven’t already listened to it, go back listen to the last episode of the podcast, which is Episode 16, How to Let Go of a Dream. That is essentially what we did. It is very hard to think about letting go of something that’s good. I think that you and I have even experienced that just personally and throughout our business journey, you’ve seen this theme of letting go of something bad, here we’re actually deciding intentionally to say no to one thing, so we can say yes to something better.
Lara: Since I got to share so much of the story in the last episode, I’m going to turn it to you Emily. Tell us about your thoughts of going through that transition, why we said no to that and then, where it’s led us.
Emily: Yeah, well, I guess where I’ll start is the day we actually finally made the announcement, which was months and months after we had started talking about it as a possibility. We were met with shock from a lot of people and sadness, also excitement of course, but it was interesting because all of these people were hearing about it for the first time. For us, it had been again like a gradual process over-
Lara: Like a year and a half.
Emily: Yeah, many, many months as a team of talking about what was next for us. All of those conversations, we were going back to our why and our mission. We knew that we only have so much time, each of us individually and our working days, even in our big picture sense in our lives, on our team, we only had so many efforts that we could make in every day. We wanted to be using them to the highest and best use that we could. That is something we were all aligned on and we all kept coming back to. In the end, it was where can we make the biggest impact on the most women. We decided that that was with Cultivate. In order to do that we needed to say some hard nos to other things, even really good things like you’ve said.
Lara: I mean even just talking about this, I still have a pit in my stomach. It’s still bittersweet and that’s because saying no to something doesn’t mean that it erases the history that you’ve had. It was such a beautiful … When I say beautiful, I really mean that in the full sense of the word, it was such a beautiful, life-giving miraculous time for us over that decade. Of course, we had our hard things too. When I think about the impact we were able to make as a tiny team with very little formal experience in any of this, we always say, “We didn’t have a lot of experience, but we had more passion than a hen has feathers.” That is just true, it’s just true. That was such a beautiful season that even now it’s bittersweet to talk about it.
Emily: I think it’s also because as you’ve heard just even in this episode, all of the history of Southern Weddings is tied up with our personal history. I think it’s always personal to us. It’s tied up in Lara’s story of her marriage. It’s the history of Southern Weddings was unfolding at the same time as our histories were each unfolding as a team. It wasn’t only closing that chapter of our business, but closing a season in our lives too that had held so much change and so many good things. It was also saying goodbye to that as well.
Lara: Yes, so something that we wrestled with a lot and when I say we, obviously the whole team, but I think Emily and I in particular had the most conversations about it. Obviously, we’ve been here for a long time, but something that we wrestled with a lot is, “All right, we’re making this decision, but we actually don’t know what’s ahead, we actually don’t have a guarantee of what’s going to be next.” We do know though that running two growing businesses at the same time is not like you said the highest and best use of our time and our gift we want to, but that would have meant we would have had to hire a whole new staff, grow, grow, grow and just like the decision of deciding not to do the TV show that was going to … If we did move in that direction of growth, it would have affected our personal lives in a very profound way, in a negative way. It would have meant spreading ourselves thin for an extended period of time to essentially like spin off a whole another company to keep these things moving.
Lara: I think that was the trickiest part was saying goodbye to something that is so deeply ingrained in us and so good. When I say good, I mean impactful. We were affecting change in people’s lives every day, doing great work, great respect in the industry, a profitable business. How could you say no to that? Sometimes, you have to open up space before you even know what’s going to grow there. I mean it was truly a leap of faith for us. Take us back to that time and then, tell us where has that led us now.
Emily: Yeah, I mean there were definitely tears, a lot of tears-
Emily: … and lots of different meetings because it was so personal to everyone. Now, we are almost a year out from that announcement. As you all have heard and will continue to hear, like it wasn’t the easiest year. It wasn’t like, “Oh, you made this decision and it was hard, but now we’re going to reward you more.” It was more like, “Okay, here’s a couple more hard things.” In that we have seen so much fruit and so much growth as a team and also, we’ve seen come to fruition what we had hoped for, which was to open up more space to drive forward the mission of Cultivate, which is one that we just so deeply believe in.
Lara: Yes, yeah and I remember just so much fear of the unknown. That’s what it is and maybe you’re there right now too. You think, “Okay, there’s this thing I want to make happen or this decision I’m considering, I don’t have a guarantee though of what’s going to be on the other side.” We did not either. I think that’s the tricky thing about obedience, like we knew that. We all as a team came together and felt like, “Okay, the Lord has confirmed this in all of us, it’s not easy. We want to walk into whatever He wants us to do.” I think like you said, obedience does not have a bow wrapped up in it or wrapped on it. I wished that the next day, we would have felt light and airy and wonderful, but it’s just like clearing out my garden. There’s actually more work ahead once that garden is cleared out. I don’t have any guarantee of what’s going to grow and what’s not going to grow. I think if I were to put our garden metaphor on it, we’re in the stage of seeing those seedlings sprout. It’s been a really sweet season for us.
Lara: There you have it, our 10 things we have made happen/some things we intentionally decided not to make happen. Don’t think I forgot that we have a story to tell you.
Emily: Oh yeah.
Lara: We’re going to come back to that story, but first, here are three tips to avoid failure in this. Again, whether this is in business or in a life for you, how do you avoid getting off-track and making the wrong decision? Number one, first of all, it is really easy to get off track and get distracted by shiny things. There have been many other things in our business career. There was, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say this.
Emily: No, what?
Lara: There was the day Oprah emailed us.
Emily: Oh yeah.
Lara: Yeah, there have been many other things. I won’t tell you those whole stories, but there have been a lot of shiny things that have come our way. How have we however stayed on this path, it is always coming back to our mission. Something that Emily and I work hand-in-hand on alongside our leadership team here at Cultivate What Matters is we use what’s called the traction system. It’s a great book called Traction. It’s the entrepreneurial operating system. It’s a fancy way of saying, “A way of doing business,” and something in that operating system is called our vision traction organizer, which is kind of like seeing our PowerSheets on one page, our mission for the next 10 years, our vision for the next three years, our goals, the issues we think might stand in our way of achieving the things that we feel like the Lord has set out for us to do. Emily, tell us a little bit about that. How do we use that every day?
Emily: Well, we literally use it every day. At a minimum, we take a hard look at it every week as a team and even the simple act of just reading through it and again, basically each person confirming, “Yes I’m on board with this, this is the direction I’m going alongside all of these other ladies,” that is so powerful as we make all of those little tiny decisions in our work days each day.
Lara: Yeah and that’s really the power of PowerSheets is that it’s so easy to forget. I think it’s one of the biggest frustrations we have is coming to the end of the year and feeling like, “I could have made progress on this if I just would have remembered the things that matter to me,” because let me tell you the rest of the world wants you to forget. They want you to look at their stuff. They want you to buy their things. They want you to listen to their story or whatever it is. It’s not to say that everything out there is bad, but you really do have to keep that mission front and center.
Lara: Number one is always revisit your mission. Let’s just talk about that. Maybe you’re out there, thinking, “I don’t have a mission, I don’t even know what that is.” One really easy way to do this is to ask yourself, where do you want to be when you’re 80 years old? Also, I prefer asking the opposite question, which is where do you not want to be? Let that be your guiding compass.
Lara: Number two, give it to us Emily.
Emily: Yeah, we touched on it little bit, but it’s to be aligned on your mission with whoever it’s important to be aligned with. In business that is our leadership team and our full team. In a marriage, it might be your partner. In another setting, it might just be the people in your organization, but whoever it is that needs to be moving in the same direction, make sure that you are continually checking in with each other and making sure that you’re still aligned on what matters most. We use our PowerSheets to do this. Again, this is the way that we take that mission and make small steps in the right decision daily.
Lara: Yes, absolutely. I think it can feel so big, like you might hear us talk about mission, you’re like, “Oh that’s a businessy thing.” No, it’s really it’s just like the daily like why do we get up and go to work? Why should we be here?
Emily: Why do I treat people a certain way? Why do I choose certain foods to eat or things to do, ways to spend my time?
Lara: Right and believe it or not, even if you haven’t formally defined something, you have a mission statement, there is some reason why you get up every day. I think honing in on that mission statement, intentionally crafting in the way that really does point to where you want to be in the big picture allows you to then break it down, allows you to then say, “All right, if that’s where I want to be, what am I going to do about it today?” I love that so much, so being aligned on it.
Lara: Number three is and as Emily and I were talking about, okay, we really want to pull back the curtain here, what do we actually do? This is just what we do, we pray about it, we do. As a leadership team, we get together once a week and Emily and I, even for the last year and a half or so, every week, we have met to pray over the business, pray over our decisions, I mean everything. There’s really nothing-
Emily: Too small.
Lara: … too small that goes on that list, but we do. Of course, we try to mix in praise in there too.
Emily: Yes, absolutely.
Lara: We kind of have to be, but we do. We pray about it and we just know that our plans can only go so far. We have to have God’s leading in everything that we’re doing. If you don’t stick to what matters to you, to where you want to be in the big picture, you’re going to get spread thin. We’ve been there. We of course could list you probably 50,000 things on this list of things we have either made happen that were not the right decisions or haven’t made happen, we’ve learned just by experience. If you don’t stick to what matters to you, it’s really easy to get spread thin. You’ll make the wrong decisions, you might chase your tail, you might get distracted. Maybe you’re thinking that right now, you’re thinking, “I’m so there, I’m so there right now, I feel like I don’t even know what end is up,” there’s hope because if you do just even answer that question of where you want to be when you’re 80 years old, where do you want to be, you will be more effective in the right things.
Lara: Emily has an unofficial …. Well, it’s kind of an official title for you. We call you our word crystallizer. Emily is very good at … I like tend to spew off all these big-picture thoughts. I’m the visionary here at our business and Emily’s like, “Let me put that in words, people can understand.” One thing that I think we’ve done over the years is we did not start with some perfect mission statement for our business. That has evolved over the years. Don’t feel like you have to have a perfect mission statement in order to live something out. It could be two words. It could be, “Yes God.” That’s my mission statement or “Live intentionally,” or whatever it is, start somewhere and that’s one of the beautiful things for us about using PowerSheets as a business too, we do use them as a team. Every week, we revisit our tending list. Every month, we do our PowerSheets prep together as a team. We just kind of modify a couple of the questions. Just that process of revisiting it allows us to refine where we’re going. I think it’s constantly growing and changing.
Lara: Okay, you have waited very patiently. Friends, this has been a lot of fun, but we must tell you the story.
Lara: Where to start Emily?
Emily: Okay, well, you know that where we last left off, the Southern Living gentlemen, a couple high-level executives from their team were coming to “Lara’s house/-
Lara: It was pouring rain.
Emily: … our office.”
Lara: Yes /office.
Emily: We were going to serve them this wonderful southern breakfast, which the chef had put together all sorts of things, biscuits and fruit parfaits and eggs benedict because that sounds delicious. Yeah, let’s do it. We’re all sitting in the living room and we have these little plates of food on our laps.
Lara: We didn’t really think through that.
Emily: Yeah, hadn’t really thought about how people were going to eat this delicious food we had prepared. One of the gents had this put on his lap with a fork and knife in each hand.
Lara: Tell us about his briefcase, like all the fancy things.
Emily: I mean he was very beautifully dressed, his full suit, nice like leather briefcase, some very fancy brand, sitting on his feet. He’s got his plate, got his fork and knife about to trying to cut his eggs benedict. He slices into it and it squirts off his plate and drops right into his very fancy leather briefcase. The best part-
Lara: The best part.
Emily: … is that he looks at it for about two seconds, looks up at us and just continues on talking without saying anything about what just happened. And just like, “Okay, we’re just going to keep having this conversation, we’ll worry about that later.”
Lara: I tell you what, you learn by observation my friends. I think that year, we sent him cookies.
Emily: Yes, Christmas cookies in the shape of an eggs benedict.
Lara: We had many laughs afterwards.
Lara: We didn’t get to laugh at it, but he was trying to keep it together. This was just what you do.
Emily: Yes that definitely goes down in the history of the business as one of the funniest moments.
Lara: I’m going to have to send this episode. This is great.
Lara: Well, now you know don’t eat eggs benedict off your lap. Really, now you know that small decisions made with great intention can change the world. From starting that first magazine, just to create beauty in a broken world to getting our photographs back from the pie shoot and thinking, “These are so glorious, yes we will print them in full-page, full color,” to the decision not to do the TV show to deciding to close the door on this chapter of Southern Weddings.” I have to say in that too and you might have heard this in the last episode that at first, we thought, “Okay, this is closing a chapter.” Then, as we got closer and closer to that announcement, we really felt like, “Actually, I think we’ve completed the work we were given to do.” I really felt that confirmation from the Lord. That it wasn’t that this was ending something, it was closing the chapter on something that was meant to be just that chapter, so that you can start a brand new one. Now, you know that endings can be new beginnings, even if you don’t know exactly what’s going to be ahead, even if you have no idea how those decisions are going to pan out. Now, you know that obedience does not always have a bow wrapped up on it and that good things can come out of hard things.
Lara: Now, you also know this lovely lady that I have had the joy and the pleasure of spending the last decade with, I’m going to give you a shameless plug here. The blog that I first read millions of years ago when I first left that comment, it actually used to be called Peach and Pearl back in the day. Now, it is emformarvelous, which is just beautiful wordsmithing, our word crystallizer. If you have never read Emily’s personal blog, highly recommend, spelled emformarvelous.com. Something I love about your blog is you do share how you are using your PowerSheets, how you are using even right word and these tools in your life to grow a legacy.
Lara: Friends, where do you start? Where do you begin? Maybe there’s something that you have been considering making happen, not just in a business, but in your life. Maybe there is a decision that you’re just not sure about and you’re thinking, “How do I even discern this decision?” Where do you start? You start where all good things begin with one small step and the step I want you to take right now is to write down the answer to this question, the golden question, where do you want to be when you’re 80 or 90 or a 100 years old? Where do you want to be in the big picture? If that is something that is tricky for you to answer, which it is for me sometimes, I tend to go to the opposite, where do you not want to be? A lot of people say, “I don’t want to be dead.”
Lara: Good answer, but really what’s going to matter to you then and what won’t matter to you then? Write down the answer to this. Here’s why I tell you to actually write it down, as you know from episodes two and three of the podcast, there’s power in handwriting. It’s one thing to just think something and then, it kind of goes puff outside your brain and never returns, but when you use your own handwriting, it actually does something in your brain. Just physiologically, it helps you to start making decisions about the information you just wrote down. You start to problem solve. You start to live that out. The best tool that we use for not just business, but for our lives is the PowerSheets Intentional Goal Planner. It helps you to know what matters to you in the big picture, make an action plan and then, live it out. In other words, it helps you to say yes to the right things and no to all the rest, simplifies our work. It simplifies our lives and you can get your set for 10% off using the code cultivateyourlife. Go to cultivatewhatmatters.com, grab your six-month set of PowerSheets now. Use that code cultivateyourlife for an exclusive 10% off.
Lara: Emily, thanks for being on the podcast.
Emily: Thank you for having me. This was a joy.
Lara: I know. It’s always nerve-wracking to do it at first and we’re actually like six inches apart from each other right now.
Emily: Yeah, we’re close.
Lara: We’re real close, but we have known each other for a long time.
Lara: It has been truly a joy to have you on the podcast, like what a neat milestone marker in your 10th year to be able to share all of these amazing stories of God’s faithfulness. Friends, if you want to know more about the things that we shared in this episode, go and get the show notes at cultivateyourlife.com. Thank you so much. Something Emily and I do every week, like we share is we review what’s happening in the business and a big part of that it’s not just about numbers or big projects. We listen, we love listening to your stories. We love stopping to read the emails that are sent to us. So many stories of transformation that we have truly been humbled by, I mean I think every time one comes in, we just think, “God, you’re so good, we have nothing to do with this. Thank you so much that we even get to have a peek into people’s lives.” We just have to say thank you, thank you so much for how you’ve supported us through so many transitions.”
Lara: Also, thank you so much for leaving a review. This helps to get this free encouragement into the hands of women, who really need it. If you haven’t yet, go over to iTunes and leave a five star review. That just helps to kick up the algorithm or something for people to see it and we’re just really excited to meet so many new friends through the podcast.
Lara: In fact, I have had people stop me recently. I was just telling Emily, one in the Garden Center yesterday.
Emily: I mean, of course, right.
Lara: Of course, if you want to know where I’m going to be, just go to the Garden Center, who stopped me to say that the podcast has really impacted her and her marriage.
Lara: Yeah, I mean there’s nothing better than that. I think my jaw was on the floor when she told me that. It’s just such a joy, so thank you so much for your generosity in sharing this podcast. I’m glad that you’ve had so much fun because I have, we’ve had a lot of fun.
Lara: Okay, we’re going to do a rapid-fire round of questions now to end our time together. We’ll see how this goes.
Lara: Emily, favorite color?
Lara: Favorite meal?
Emily: My mom makes something called beef nuggets, which sounds super gross, but it’s delicious.
Lara: Okay, great. Favorite type of dance that you used to do when you were younger?
Emily: Oh, Irish dance.
Lara: I had to let people know, she’s very good at Irish dancing. You should ask her to demonstrate if you ever see her in person. Favorite song?
Emily: Gosh, Beyond the Sea was my wedding song and so that always holds a special place in my heart.
Lara: I love that. Favorite photo shoot that you’ve ever done for Southern Weddings?
Emily: Oh gosh that is like choosing a favorite child.
Lara: I know.
Emily: It’s truly like so many, but I have to say we did a couple shoots at Serenbe in Georgia, which is some magical place. We had one that we finally call the chicken shoot, which was just like the most beautiful day-
Lara: It was magical.
Emily: That’s one of the favorites.
Lara: It was pretty great. Okay, I’m going to ask you some business questions, favorite memory on the team the last year?
Emily: This is like, I don’t know if this is cheating, but I have to say the dance party at the end of Making Things Happen, which just happened a few weeks ago was definitely up there, if not my favorite memory.
Lara: Yes, most challenging thing that’s happened to you in your first year of working here? This is a leading question.
Emily: Okay, well, there are a number of them truly, but one that definitely sticks out over the years is one of the very first photo shoots I went on, we borrowed a suit, a very expensive suit.
Lara: Yes, we did.
Emily: We returned it to the store and it was a little wrinkled because it had been worn by a model, but not dirty or anything.
Lara: It wasn’t like they didn’t know we were using it for a shoot.
Emily: No, yeah, you’re right.
Lara: They knew we were using it for shoot.
Emily: We get a call a few days later, telling us that the suit was returned wrinkled. Yes, we know and telling us that we would need to pay for the suit in full because it was no longer sellable.
Lara: Because it was wrinkled?
Emily: Yeah. I was like, “There’s things called steamers,” but whatever. Yeah that was a $850 mistake. Yes that was a tough phone call to take.
Lara: Yes, but it grew you.
Emily: It did, it absolutely did.
Lara: It grew all of us. It was good. Okay, favorite dessert?
Emily: Anything chocolate, yeah.
Lara: Very nice. Favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
Emily: Oh gosh, well, France has been on my mind a lot. We went to Paris and Provence and the coast and that was just magical.
Lara: So nice. Okay, last question would be favorite thing about working here?
Emily: Oh gosh, so many things. One is as a five for all my enneagram friends, you know that we fives just like to kind of go it alone. I’ll do it myself because that’s the way I want it to be done, but working on this team is really the first time in my life that I have felt like I can trust other people to do the work better than I would do it. That is just the neatest feeling to work with a group of women that are passionate about what they do and do it with excellence. That has not gotten old even after 10 years.
Lara: Well, I think someone paved the way with that too. You might have had a hand in that. Okay, my turn, go.
Emily: Okay, favorite color?
Emily: Favorite flower?
Lara: Zinnias and gardenias. I’m sorry, I have to have two.
Emily: That’s okay. Favorite breakfast food?
Lara: I have had the same breakfast for the last 15 years and that is Vega protein powder, oatmeal and chia seeds.
Emily: Okay, first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Lara: I read the Bible.
Emily: Okay, best business moment from the last year, I’ll turn around on you.
Lara: Oh, best business moment from the last year, I am going to choose the hard one, but I think that it was the day we announced Southern Weddings transition. The reason I choose that as a favorite is because it was such a difficult moment. I just knew that “Okay Lord, only you could have led us here,” like truly. Like we would never have made this decision on our own. There was no like horrible thing that was happening in the business that would have caused us to do this. I’d say that just knowing like, actually you’ve got to be real because we wouldn’t be here on our own.
Emily: Favorite class in college?
Lara: Oh, I had a class … This maysound crazy, well, you know I have a degree in music theater, so I could choose a lot of interesting things, but I had two favorite classes. One was my accents and dialects class, had a great instructor Don Wadsworth, who I just think the world of and who has actually since helped me when I’ve recorded audiobooks-
Emily: Love it.
Lara: … to do some pronunciation on things, very helpful. Did you know the word forehead is actually pronounced farhead?
Emily: I did not know that.
Lara: Farhead, I’m not saying it right right now. Anyway, the other class I love was my rhythm class and in rhythm class, we jump roped.
Emily: Love it.
Lara: I know and so the reason why we had that class is it taught you instinct. If you think too much when you’re jump roping, you will fall, you will trip yourself up, but if you get in rhythm, if you go with it, there’s like a you get in a zone with it, where you’re kind of not thinking too much, not too self-aware. That’s really the place where I think our best work comes from is when we’re not thinking, “Okay, someone’s thinking I’m looking crazy, bouncing up and down here in the jump roping,” or “Oh no, I’m going to fall,” it’s when we’re just trusting the process that good things come.
Emily: Favorite thing to do with your kids?
Emily: What PowerSheets cover are you using this year?
Lara: Oh, I thought you were about to ask me about next year.
Lara: Emily, you can’t ask me that question. We can’t reveal that information. I’m using the multi-cover this year, the one year PowerSheets. It is also known as funfetti in our office.
Emily: Okay and a throwback favorite Southern Wedding shoot for you?
Lara: Oh, well, the pie shoot was a big one just because it was such a turning point for us, but I have to say it was not a shoot that I was on set for, but the Yellow Rose of Texas shoot, shot by Ryan Ray. Our two models, some of you may know who they are, Robert and-
Lara: … what’s her name, Taylor, they were our models for the day. They were just ridiculously in love and just have a really great love story. Those images, they just embodied and I remember getting the box of images. Ryan had sent us this box with prints. I cried and I just thought, “This is everything I’ve ever wanted in a shoot. This just shows the heart of marriage and the heart of what we want to encapsulate with joy.” There were so many cute kids in that shoot. It was beautiful.
Lara: All right, thanks friends, until next time get out there and cultivate your life.
Ari: Cultivate Your Life with my wife Lara Casey Isaacson, we’re not quite done. This is the outro in case you didn’t know. Now, don’t forget to rate it and review it, rate it and review it. You can do it. Tell your friends to listen in and subscribe to be notified when a new episode drops. Now, Cultivate Your Life with my wife, Lara Casey. Was that okay, babe?