MGU 336 Laurel | Writing Your Path

 

In a society of comparison and fitting into a mold, we need more conversation around stepping outside the box to find joy. Laurel Wilson believes in the saying: “write your vision in pen and your path in pencil.” Life throws unexpected curveballs that move us from our original path, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on our goals. In her chat with Whitney Lauritsen, Laurel shares how she’s teaching these values as a parent to her child. Laurel’s world unexpectedly tipped upside down while away in college when she lost her father to suicide with no explanation. Three years later, she lost her brother the same way. She realized that she had a choice in these tragedies: to give in to the grief or to use them as fuel. Listen to their conversation to learn more about how you can also overcome and write the path to your future.

Listen to the podcast here


 

Writing Your Path In Pencil With Laurel Wilson

One thing that the guest, Laurel, shared with me is this wonderful statement that I resonate with, which is that in a society of comparison and fitting into a mold, we need more conversation around stepping outside the box to find joy. I noticed this about Laurel. Joy seems to be at the center of her mission. Who doesn’t want more joy in their life?

I also enjoyed how she said, “During our journey in school, many of us are missing key pieces of education and how to discover our purpose.” Purpose is also at the key of Laurel’s work. That is such an important thing to get into more. Even though it seems like there are a lot of resources on purpose, I agree that we’re not always very educated on that. A lot of us are struggling to reclaim our excitement about the future, as Laurel also said. Some of us feel like we have an absence of vision. I’m looking forward to exploring a lot of this with you, Laurel. I’m so grateful that you came on the show to bring us all some more joy.

I appreciate you having me on. It’s always so cool to know what people pull from what I do, like some pieces of what sticks out to them. You’re one of the first people that’s ever recognized that joy is a big part of why I do what I do. It was because I had experienced what it felt like to have no joy for a long time. There’s a huge difference between being happy and knowing what happiness feels like. There can be moments of happiness even when you’re going through rough things but I know what it feels like to have the absence of joy. When you find it again, you know what that feeling feels like. You’re like, “I know what I’m feeling. It’s joy, a much different feeling than happiness.”

I’m glad that you shared that because I would love to hear more. What do you think of happiness versus joy? How do you define the two?

It can be different for a lot of people. I’ll explain how I’ve experienced that. When you have an absence of joy in your life, you can still have those moments where you’re smiling and laughing but there’s something deep down that you know is missing. A lot of people experience that maybe when they are grieving a loss in their life, whether it be a loss of their journey, a physical loss of somebody or losing something tangible like that.

Being able to redefine that in your life is when you can have that feeling of waking up excited each day, especially too when you do something that you know is within your purpose. You walk away feeling so energized. There’s so much energy from that. The difference between happiness and joy is you can have those moments when you’re smiling and laughing but not being filled up with that energy of knowing, “This is where my joy comes from.” I’ve felt the difference for sure. Living on autopilot is the best way to put it too.

A lot of us end up on autopilot at some point. That also brings me back to this thought process around education. It depends on how you’re educated. Some schools are very formulaic and others feel outside the box. They’re also some teachers in both systems that will sway the experience. It also depends on your household.

There are so many factors that go into education but it seems to me that there isn’t a lot of focus on that level of joy and purpose. Maybe purpose is more like an intention but it’s vague. Kids might think about what they’re going to do when they grow up. There seem to be a lot of cliches like the doctor, fireman or teacher, these roles that we see as more like categories.

I’ve heard a lot of adults say things like, “If only I knew I could do that for work, I would have chosen that.” There are also a lot of fears around creative lines of work, which I feel is part of our purpose. There’s something about creativity that brings it out of us and brings a lot of joy but culturally, in the past, maybe we’re getting to a different stage of this. Maybe our society is shifting but for me growing up, it felt like you were encouraged to do something creative as a hobby but then find something else as your line of work to make money.

There's a difference between happiness and joy. Click To Tweet

I went to film school. My parents and some of my teachers in the last few years of high school were very encouraging about me being creative, but I still heard these messages from other people who would say, “My parents would never let me do that.” Even when I got to film school, I would hear things like, “My parents don’t support me in studying this. They don’t think I’m going to make money from this.” Especially with actors, it was always about the money side of purpose. That gets in our way a lot. I’m curious how you feel about that when it comes to education. Where are the barriers to finding our purpose with how we’re trained or mentored as kids?

I don’t even know where to start. This is one of those topics where we could sit here for hours and talk about it. It’s things that have been uncovered in the last couple of years of my adult life but also fortunately, because I grew up around a mom that very much had that thought process of doing what brings you joy, like your creativity, hobby or seeking what that looks like, what the vision of your life looked like and finding what that happiness was regardless of money or not.

I’m thankful for that because I don’t know that a lot of kids do grow up with that permission, almost that you can do that. Not to knock any teachers, there are incredible teachers around there following a system that’s been around for so long but what I see, at least with my son, is he is so authentically himself that he knows what brings him joy.

I don’t know what he’s going to want to be when he grows up or what his real true talents are, purpose or whatever that is but somewhere along the way, we were that way and got molded into this idea of, “That’s cute. You’re pretty good at that but is that going to sustain this lifestyle?” The thing that I challenged people to think about is, “When you were a kid, you were asked, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Most of us think about what our job is going to be but we’re never asked those questions, what lifestyle do we want to live? What people do we want to be around? What do we want to be remembered for? “What do you do with yourself each day?” We’re never asking kids those questions. That’s where it takes that very authentic little human and turns them into not a robot by any means but into this different thinking person of, “I liked that when I was a kid but then I was told somewhere along the way that I needed to shift my focus for it to be more realistic.”

That’s when people want so badly for their purpose and joy to come from this job that they think makes sense but it isn’t always that way for people. There are those people that do find joy and purpose in being a doctor and firefighter but then there are those people whose joy and purpose are something different. They just tried to follow the same path. What I hope with what I talk about, share and challenge people to do is to start changing those questions, especially like being a mom, how can I do better and be better for him? Even looking at some different schooling options for him is shifting too.

I’m curious about that when you’re deciding about the education you want to give to your son. What comes up for you? I’ve heard a lot of mothers say that it’s challenging to find a school that aligns with your vision for your children. Do you find that to be the case? It seems like there are a lot of pros and cons or you have to let go of everything and it’s hard to find anything that meets your perfect vision for education. Are you finding that to be true or are there more options for you that maybe is the opposite? Is it harder to pick one because there are so many great choices? Where are you at?

It’s going to become a lot more available because of the last couple of years. I’m thankful I don’t have a school-age child to whom I can speak about that experience but there’s a lot more controversy happening in schools, unfortunately. Parents are starting to realize that they want to have a little bit more protection over how their kids are being taught and how they are supposedly being raised at school. There are a lot of arguments that teachers and faculty think they should be raising these children instead of teaching them things.

I’m seeing it becoming a lot more readily available. There have always been Montessori schools, which is the focus is hands-on is the best way that I’ve understood. There’s someone who has become a friend of ours that he and his wife have created a school here in Oklahoma that’s a mix of homeschool Montessori. It’s very flexible.

MGU 336 Laurel | Writing Your Path

Writing Your Path: There’s a huge difference between being happy and knowing what happiness feels like.

 

They have a core or mission statement, a better description than what I’m explaining but we’re going to go to an open house and discover that first. As much as it would be cool for me to homeschool, I don’t think I could teach my son everything he needs to know but I do see some of those options coming up and a lot more people exploring what it looks like to homeschool with some like-minded families as well.

It’s reminding me of my friend who lives in Austin, Texas. When I was visiting her in 2021, she took me to the school her kids were at. It was like a farm. It was a husband and wife team that created a school based on outdoor experience. They had all these animals there like a tortoise, goats, bunnies and all these creatures around. They had a mud pit.

There was a month or a few times a year where the kids were encouraged to go play in the mud and do all these enriching things. Their classrooms were all open air. They converted almost garage-type units with these big open doors that they would have for the kids to be sheltered but also exposed to the sun. I loved it. It made me want to go back to school.

As a kid, there’s something about spending time outside that gives you a sense of freedom, creativity and exploration. Hearing you describe some of these things is making me think of that. When I was going to school, especially on the younger end of things, I thought about how fun it was to play on the playground and be at recess. I think about the food that we ate. I don’t remember so much of the education. I remember those more core human experiences.

Kids are at this time where they want to explore. Interestingly, it seems rare that schools offer that. In my viewpoint of the school systems, it seems like they’re indoors, structured and got all these rules, which are helpful for kids’ development as well but growing up, I hated that stuff. I was like, “We have to go do Math and work on our handwriting.” I often wonder, is it important for us to be forced into doing things we don’t like or is it better in what I assumed the Montessori experience to be like when you’re describing this hands-on, maybe letting kids figure things out for themselves? What are you finding as a mother in terms of what works for your son?

Letting them figure it out is so key. It’s even little things I’m noticing and stopping myself on that I feel like it is that Montessori approach, the whole independent plaything. There’s this idea too with parents that we’re supposed to always be entertaining or having these ideas for kids but think about how we were when we were kids. We didn’t have all this screen time and light-up toys. We had to be creative.

I would go out in the backyard with my mom’s kitchen spices and would pretend I was baking with dirt. I see that being lost along the way. It’s almost like we’re needing to simplify their experience for it to be better, which almost is a backward thought process. We’ve done too much to allow them to figure it out and grow along the way. It allows them to figure out what they’re good at.

When we’re putting kids that learn in different ways, all in the same classroom learning the same thing, it’s not going to make sense to kids. I’m the same way as you. Math made me feel so dumb. It created this story where I was like, “I’m not that smart and not good at school.” The truth is I am smart at things that I’m better at and some things are not necessarily my zone of genius.

It’s almost creating this lack of confidence too, instead of finding what it is for each kid that they’re good at, honing in on that, letting them expand and then figuring it out. You can have a job at home and remote. These people are living in vans and using their creativity to live this life is so possible. I see how it’s going to start shifting a lot where people are going to start allowing their kids a little bit more flexibility, potentially, I hope so.

Nobody can give you a guidebook on how to grieve. Click To Tweet

Looking at the different waves of parenting types. I read this book that gave me a lot of perspective on my parents’ generation and how they were raised. I would hear things like, “Our parents never knew what we were doing.” The Boomer fell into that realm of their parents were caring but may be strict. They had to be independent but follow the rules.

We had a wave of children where there were a lot of latchkey kids whose parents were so busy working that they weren’t even around, so the kids had to be super independent. There was also a wave of parents that were a little bit mixed of both where maybe one parent stayed home and one worked and was more hands-on. Something I’m hearing is parents tend to be super hands-on where they would never let their kids go and play without them knowing what they were doing. That’s an interesting thing to think of.

How I was raised and where I grew up were considered to be very safe in my hometown. It was a small town, so there weren’t a lot of incidences of violence, even robberies. You could leave your door and car unlocked. My friends and I could do whatever we wanted all day long. It was like, “As long as we checked in with our parents, that was cool.”

After school, for maybe three hours, I could disappear. My parents would be comfortable. I would go off with my friends and they wouldn’t know what we were doing but I would come home at a certain time. That was amazing because I did have a lot of that flexibility to self-discovery and explore but that also opens up the possibility of danger depending on where you live and the people that you’re around. A lot of things can happen in three hours.

Now it seems like we’re in more of a realm of what people call helicopter parenting, where they know where their kids are at all times. We have tracking devices, cell phones and hyper-scheduled children. I’m curious about how you feel about that. How is that shaping the way that you parent? Given that you’re a newer parent with your son, are things still in the helicopter parent mode? Are they shifting? What direction are they going in? How are you approaching it?

With the helicopter parents’ situation, in 2022, I only have two years of experience to speak to it. I try to never come from a judgmental place by any means, but I grew up the same way too, where I’d ride my bike all around the neighborhood. My parents didn’t have to worry about that because it was a very safe environment. I remember even being 12 and 13, babysitting other people’s kids. I’d be over at their house until midnight. I would ride my bike back home up the street. We didn’t have cell phones at the time. It was what it was.

Unfortunately, I wish there could be more of that. I do think unfortunately there is that level of safety that has shifted a bit, but then there’s the other piece of like, “Do we need to be tracking our kids constantly?” It’s funny, I track my mom. She’s not old by any means but she travels a lot alone. I’m like, “I’m a helicopter parent to my parent. This is terrible.”

I’ve realized with my son and something that I don’t know if some people necessarily agreed with that I did is that my husband and I have traveled often in the two years of his life without him. We’ve left him with grandparents and friends. I wanted to make a very strong effort of leaving him, not all the time but to the point where he understood that it was okay for us to not be with him and vice versa, that he could have his time alone, go and do his thing. I was trying to create that balance with him and that flexibility.

I had some friends that had kids right around the same age as me and have never traveled without their children yet. It’s fine. It is what it is but I knew I would get almost to the point where I was becoming a little bit too protective. I was like, “I have to let him come into his own, even though he’s so little.” We left him at three months. Everyone was like, “What? You’re leaving him?” I was like, “We’re going to take a little weekend trip. It’s good for him and us.”

MGU 336 Laurel | Writing Your Path

Writing Your Path: When you do something that you know is within your purpose, you walk away feeling so energized.

 

He’s gotten better in terms of social skills with that too. I’m seeing that a lot with little kids. I’m hoping that creates a little bit of independence in him. I think he already is independent, so I don’t know that we needed to worry too much about that but I can tell that has helped him be confident going into new situations. He walks into a room, knows who he is and what he’s bringing.

I love that you’re focused on independence and confidence because that does tie into our purpose. It’s allowing children to figure things out for themselves, have the confidence to do so, not depend so much on what other people want for them. I’m a people pleaser. For most of my life, I’m trying to change that about myself. I don’t know if I can, to be honest. I feel like I go through these waves of being very self-aware about people-pleasing but other times, it feels like it’s happening without control.

I wonder too, how all of these little decisions we make as parents and educators impact people. My parents seem to be very supportive of me. For both my sister and I, they were like, “Whatever you want to do, if you enjoy doing this, go do it.” They would support us financially with things, which I was so grateful for, let us choose whatever careers we wanted and encourage education. When my career path changed, they were fine with it.

I know that not every parent is like that. Some are very overbearing and opinionated. It’s interesting that even with supportive parents, I still was a people pleaser. All these subtle things happen too in our education the way that we’re parented and we parent kids. It’s not just about letting them do things physically but also the emotional side of it and the messages we share with them.

I imagine you’re very intentional about the words that you say. Do you think about that in terms of education too? When you have a child go to school, you have no idea what they’re going to hear from other people like teachers and other kids. What is that like for you with how much intention you put into raising your son?

It’s something that my husband and I have talked a lot about. We grew up in very different households when it came to communicating as well. We both did have very supportive parents as well but sometimes, even along the way with that, there was a miscommunication in terms of some conversations that maybe felt a little bit more uncomfortable or things.

There are going to be things that he hears that are maybe new to him or confusing. He’s not going to know what to do with that. I can’t stop him from hearing those things, hearing different opinions or anything like that. We talked about it, saying we want to be parents to where he’s never uncomfortable coming to us and discussing something.

I can’t protect him from what the world is going to show him and what he’s going to see. I can only protect him so much from that at home but I want him to be able to come home and then that’d be a discussion where we can figure out where we stand on that as a family. I want him to decide his opinions on a lot of things as well but also talk through that stuff.

I don’t know how prepared I am for that. It also terrifies me because there are things too with amazing parents but there were things that I realized as an adult where I’m like, “There was some stuff my parents did that stuck with me and not in the best way.” It was not that they intentionally did that. I think all the time with my son, I’m like, “What did I do? Is that going to mess him up someday?”

I had to do things differently, or I was not going to be ok. Click To Tweet

I think about it all the time being so careful about that. I don’t think any parent can ever do it correctly but I want it to always be an open conversation, especially with the emotional side too. No emotion and conversation are off the table, that is shifting a bit to it. You mentioned some different generational things. That in itself has come a long way. My parents’ parents or grandparents and beyond, I feel like there was very little discussion on different topics or things outside of their opinion. I want to shift that as much as I can.

Speaking of shifting, I want to shift over to you growing up. A lot of things have shaped you and you’ve gone through transitions in terms of your passions and purpose. You were working in the wedding industry. First of all, how did you get into that? What were you doing? How long were you passionate about weddings?

I went to Oklahoma State University wanting to be a corporate event planner. Always along the way, as a kid, I knew that I was always the one that brought people together. I was very much a planner. I remember being a kid always wanting to plan summer parties like, “Can I plan your birthday party for you?” I love being the glue of a friend group. That’s always been my identity.

I did grow up with a mom that was very good about helping us create a vision for our life. I thought, “What am I good at? What do I like?” For some reason, corporate events were where my head went. I don’t know where that came from, but I went to Oklahoma State, and halfway through college, I lost my dad to suicide. This was the first time that my world shifted.

After I lost my dad, I lost my hope in creating a joyful future. That was where I felt an absence of joy because that was the first time I had experienced outside circumstances drastically changing my life. I thought, “That plan that I had had up until then is not possibly going to happen because all these things are changing.” That was where I was living on autopilot for a while.

When I left college, I took my first job, which was terrible. It was the worst job for me to have. I’m very social and I worked alone. I was traveling half of the month alone, working for my apartment alone and had one roommate. That’s when I started to realize I was lacking all joy in my life and not feeling a whole lot of happiness either.

I sat back down in this. I was at one of my mom’s workshops that she was doing with a bunch of entrepreneurs about vision. I was there to support her and thought, “Maybe I need to dive back into writing a vision, even though I don’t see much for my future at this moment.” What came back around was, “You’ve always wanted to work events but why not do weddings?” Those are a whole lot funnier than corporate events. They’re not as black and white.

I got involved in the wedding industry for over four years. What was funny is that I had no idea where to start because I was not working events. There’s this big magazine here in Oklahoma called Brides of Oklahoma. It’s like the Bible for weddings. When you get engaged, somebody brings you this holy grail of wedding planning.

I was flipping through this book and started emailing these wedding venues and event planners saying, “Can I shadow? I want to see what it’s like to work weddings.” I got involved with someone whose title technically is a luxury wedding planner. I worked these insane weddings. There was one where Rascal Flatts, Pink and Chris Stapleton were there. I’m like, “This is incredible.”

MGU 336 Laurel | Writing Your Path

Writing Your Path: It’s almost like we need to simplify their experience to be better, which is almost a backward thought process. We’ve done too much to allow them to just figure it out and grow along the way.

 

Weddings were where I needed to be at the time. That was the first time that I started experiencing joy again because I felt filled up. Before that, I left my job and was energized after working fifteen hours. That’s when you know that you were where you’re supposed to be. It was awesome. Life also shifts again too and takes you away from that position as well.

I want to come back around to your father. To clarify, you had already been working in this field before you lost your father or you lost your father and then you started doing this work?

I was only two years into college. It was the summer before my junior year. I picked a major that was not as defined as it is at the school. Hotel and Restaurant Administration was the exact title. It’s cool where you can define if you want to be in tourism, events or go to culinary school but at the time, we did all of the above.

I got a little bit of a taste because it was a lot of outside-of-the-classroom work, which I loved as we talked about the whole classroom Math, all that stuff was not me. We had to work a certain amount of hours. I was working on some events in the college town and had a good idea of what it was going to look like but when my father passed, it took a huge shift and I did not know what to do with myself at all.

I imagine. That’s a pretty pivotal moment in your college experience. Were you close to your father? What was that like for you emotionally? Did you take time off? How did you navigate losing someone that crucial in your life? I’d love to know a little bit more about your relationship with your dad too.

My dad and I were extremely close. I don’t know if we’ve ever heard this and who knows how true this is but there’s always this mother-son bond and father-daughter bond, that special little something. It was the four of us, my mom, my dad, my older brother and me. My dad and I have that father-daughter bond. He was that person that when I was growing up, instead of my mom, I would go to him for gossip or boy help. My friends were like, “You talked to your dad about that stuff?” I’m like, “Yes.”

My dad and I are much more similar in that way that he talked a lot like I do. My mom and brother were a little bit more on the quieter side. There are a lot more similarities. My dad was an Oklahoma State alumnus. When I told him that I was planning to go to OSU from Colorado, he was psyched because my brother stayed in Colorado for college. When I got my OSU acceptance letter, he had it delivered to me with orange flowers and I was like the golden child. That was a cool bond. He came down as often as he could those first two years.

A very big misconception sometimes about suicide is that there are these signs. I don’t know if this was me not fully being present because I was away in college but it came out of nowhere for me. A lot of what I dealt with after he passed was trying to put together and make sense of anything. The biggest piece was there were so many questions and trying to understand how did it lead up or get to the point where this was happening. There’s a lot of confusion.

I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t know how to grieve. I don’t know that anyone ever has a great idea of how to grieve, but I don’t think I wanted to, so I was very much in denial. Luckily it was summer, so I stayed in Colorado for about a month with my mom and my brother taking care of some things. I questioned going back to college, to be honest. I didn’t know if that was the right thing to do.

True colors come out when you go through loss. Click To Tweet

I did decide to go back and lie to a few people about how my dad passed. It wasn’t people that I ever thought I was going to see again or it wasn’t worth diving into but I didn’t want that to be a part of my story. I went back to the normalcy of college and didn’t deal with it. It wasn’t a thing almost. I put it on the back burner, which I would not recommend. Dealing is avoiding is not the best way. I had to realize what that was doing in my life and come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t going to change. That took me a while.

The more I learn about grief, the more complex it seems. That ties into what we were talking about. Much in our lives is not something that we can put into a little box with a bow on it and say, “This is the right way to do it.” It’s this idea of coloring outside the lines. I don’t know why our education systems are set up so linear and defined because the older we get, we start to see that life is very complex and nuanced. We even have the five stages of grief or something.

I was hearing how even that is made up but not everybody goes through it that way. For you, did you feel like there was a right and a wrong way to grieve? With your specific situation of how you lost your father, there are so many misconceptions about suicide. It’s a very uncomfortable situation or topic for people to discuss.

Especially in college, where it’s a vulnerable, intense time for many of us, I don’t blame you for lying to people because maybe you didn’t want to talk about it or you didn’t want people projecting their beliefs or questions onto you when you were still navigating something so raw. I also know part of your story is losing your brother three years later. Is that right?

Yes, I did also lose my brother almost three years to the month of my dad’s passing. It’s a very different time in my life. I’ll dive into that piece and how it was a bit different. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about the whole five stages thing until you’d mentioned where I’m like, “Nobody can give you a guidebook or have this blueprint of, ‘Here’s exactly how we’re going to grieve.’”

Everyone loses people in different ways. People lose different relationships. There are different paths and elements to it. There’s that piece too of losing somebody to suicide. There’s a lot that comes with it. The best way to describe it is that somebody is in a car accident and died because of it. If somebody dies by suicide, you think, “What were all the things that happened leading up to it? Why was that their decision?”

One million questions are going through your head where you’re never going to have closure. That’s the biggest piece about it. It’s this ongoing question that nobody can answer for you. Trying to think of a good way to grieve or say there’s a right or wrong way is so hard because there’s not. When my dad passed, the biggest thing for myself is that I thought that there was a way I should be doing it. I had to learn to give myself a lot of grace.

Another piece was that being in that time in my life, having a place to escape to being college, coming back and being away from Colorado, pulled me away from the environment where I had to talk about it. I lied, so I wasn’t talking to anyone about it. My college friends were great but they didn’t bring it up if I didn’t bring it up. It wasn’t until, honestly, the year after college that I started realizing I wasn’t dealing with it at all.

When this time came around too, it was three years after my dad passed that I started to notice some things going on with my brother. I was a bit more aware that he was struggling with anxiety and having some depression. To be honest, I was very open with him about my concerns because I was feeling almost guilty that I didn’t see it with my dad.

MGU 336 Laurel | Writing Your Path

Writing Your Path: Nobody can have this blueprint on how to grieve because everyone loses people in different ways.

 

I was having these conversations with him like, “What is going on? You’re scaring me. You’re acting like dad.” There was so much reassurance in it where he’s like, “I’m fine. I’m taking care of myself.” He was going to counseling and all this stuff. He was in Arizona and I was in Oklahoma at the time. I was in another state again when I’m getting this phone call letting me know that my brother’s passed by suicide.

It was this whole other influx of emotions thinking, “How in the world am I going through this again? How am I even going to be able to move forward?” It’s this massive confusion. Anyone that’s gone through losing somebody to suicide I’m sure can relate because there are one million questions. That’s the other piece that makes it hard to start grieving because you’re not even sure what to start grieving for. There are so many different feelings happening.

I knew though, that when my brother passed almost immediately that I had to do things differently or I was not going to be okay. With the mess that it was, I even noticed a time after dad passed. Being in college, there’s a lot of partying. I didn’t think twice about drinking. There was a night that I had way too much to drink. I was with my now-husband at the time and was very intoxicated. I could not control myself. I was uncontrollably sobbing.

My boyfriend at the time, which was my husband, was like, “I don’t know what to do.” It was freaking him out. All of these emotions I was not dealing with came out when I was drinking. Thank God he ended up marrying me one day. I almost lost him at that point. The next morning, I looked at him and said, “I have got to get a grip on this. I should not be drinking until I start to figure out what is happening.” It wasn’t like anything even triggered that.

When I lost my brother, I thought, “I need to tread lightly with this because I did not do that well last time.” Being out of college, almost two years at the time, I was a bit more mature and didn’t have that environment anymore. I realized I should figure out how to start taking care of myself and know how to move forward with this instead of waiting until it’s too late. It was quite a journey.

It’s remarkable to me. I can’t help but wonder what I would do in that situation. We would never know. Part of the lesson too, is there’s truly no way of knowing how you would feel unless you were in the moment. Everybody handles it differently and there are so many different circumstances and nuances to this. It sounds like you have decided to reevaluate things. I’m curious how much that shaped the next stage of your life. At the time that your brother passed, were you still working in the wedding industry? Did you go through a shift because of that? Where did the timing line up with these two big experiences in your life?

Fortunately, at the time, I was working in the wedding industry. If I would’ve still been with that sales job that I first took right out of college, where there was zero joy there, it would have been a whole other story. I was thankful I had that to go back to. The people that I was working for were incredible and gave me as much time as I needed. It was a safe place to go back to where it was fun to work at weddings again and have that environment.

There were two big things that I noticed. I had to protect my energy when it came to who I was around. I did not do that in college, mostly because it was an environment that I went back to and was trying to keep as normal as it was those first two years. When you’re in the adult world, not in college and there are different responsibilities and a different vibe happening, I started to notice that I had to make some big shifts with family members and friends that were a part of my life.

Even though I was working in the wedding industry too, I was doing multiple different things, getting my exact footing on it. I ended up doing more full-time with those people that were a bit more understanding than the other little side job that I had. Even shifting that a bit to be like, “I need to be extremely protective of where my energy is going because I didn’t have a lot of it.”

There's something to this vulnerability thing. Click To Tweet

I didn’t have a lot to give, so I needed to be around people that realized that. I talk a lot about boundaries as something that I would never call myself an expert on it but I’ve had to learn them the hard way. Even with family too. When I talk about this with people, they think, “You’ve cut some family out.” That’s the most dramatic situation but there are times where when you go through hard things, grief and loss, people’s true colors come out sometimes, both good and bad.

Some people showed up for me that I did not think were going to be those people and there were some people that it was extremely hard to be around them. I couldn’t do it anymore. I started to physically realize that my body was reacting to even preparing to be around them. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this too, but there are some family members that even if I think about being around them, I get extremely anxious because I feel like I have to keep them calm when I’m the one that’s going through something. I’m like, “I cannot do that.”

Even with my brother’s funeral, we did things a bit different than we did with my dad’s because at most traditional funerals, at least, after they go through the ceremony or whatever it may be, there’s that time where you can greet or talk to the family. At my dad’s service, I went into the bathroom and started panicking because I’m not a big hugger. With my brother’s service, we didn’t do that. We had to leave and some families were so upset about that. I’m like, “It is not about you at all at this time.” It’s surprising that comes out. My point of this being is that I had to protect my energy and be strict in that. It’s easier said than done.

I love that you brought that up because protecting our energy and setting those boundaries are important when it comes to our happiness and joy, which are these big themes for you and are not discussed often enough. When people talk about joy and happiness, it’s so much about what to do versus what not to do. Understanding what you’re going to say no to and what makes you feel uncomfortable in a way that doesn’t serve you. Being willing and having the confidence to say to somebody, “I’m setting a boundary because I need to.” That’s something I’m still learning.

I think about this a lot because of my people-pleasing nature but also, I feel like culturally, many people are people-pleasers. We are raised in a way of putting ourselves second. Women struggle with this, especially as nurturing types or anyone who’s in a more feminine role or identifies with more of a feminine role starts to take on this, “Let me take care of you first and put my needs aside.”

I’m curious how that shows up for you as a mother. I imagine there’s this interesting balance where you have to constantly say, “What are my needs, my son’s needs and my husband’s needs?” Sometimes they’re going to conflict. I hear this all the time about sleep. It’s something that I think about. “If I ever become a mom, how would I handle not getting a lot of sleep,” which feels so important to me. You put that need for sleep aside to take care of somebody who’s going through a stage where they need your support.

This is a big jump because after losing your father and brother, you were looking at it through the lens of how to handle it for yourself and starting to learn these boundaries. You start to shift your lifestyle as you become married and then have a son. When did you marry your husband? You met in college before your brother passed, it sounds like.

I met my husband six months after my dad had passed. We met in college. I remember thinking this was the worst time for me to be dating anyone because I was a mess. He was a godsend. What’s funny enough is the first night that we ever hung out, I dumped it all on him. I’m a very upfront person. I said to him, “I lost my dad to suicide. You’re aware that we had some mutual friends. I want you to know that I don’t necessarily feel like I’m in a place to be dating anyone. If you don’t want to call me tomorrow or never talk to me again, that is okay.”

I permitted him because I felt like I was not a person that you would want to date at that point. He’s never left since then. He always jokes about that. He goes, “You gave it upfront.” I said, “I felt like that was fair to do at the time and filling you in on what all was to come.” He and my brother were very close. We, unfortunately but fortunately, had each other to go through that with and he experienced it similarly.

MGU 336 Laurel | Writing Your Path

Writing Your Path: It’s important for you to set that boundary early.

 

When my brother passed, my husband had bought a ring and was going to ask for my brother’s permission. That was something that I didn’t know for a long time that we had to deal with. Another thing as well of putting ourselves forward is that we got engaged a month after my dad had passed. That was a bit confusing too for some people like, “You’re about to start planning a wedding when you had your brother’s funeral.”

That was what we needed to do for both of us and for my mom to be involved in saying that we needed to celebrate this joyful moment, expanding our family, welcoming my husband into it and everything. We got married almost a year later. He came in at a rough time but he’s never left. I needed him a lot through those times.

How did you see yourself being shaped by this marriage and then becoming a mother? You’re stepping up into another stage of your life over and over again. You’ve done so much of that in the past years. Did you see a lot of shifts within yourself as you became a wife and a mother? How did that start to shift these boundaries and your decisions around your needs versus other people’s needs?

I’ve never thought of it that way that I’ve had to step up to different levels along the way. Getting married and being a mom especially brought out a very protective nature in me. I had created those boundaries for myself when it came to some family and friends but when you get married, you want to protect your marriage as well.

Bringing those two families together, there are different dynamics, opinions and things. We had to figure out being the two of us at the time, what we wanted to protect with our marriage in certain things, even an example, Sundays are family days. That is non-negotiable. That is our time together and is going to be what it is across the board.

It wasn’t ever that there were conflicts with that. That was what we put a stake in the ground. That was our sacred time. When you become a parent and any parent can understand this, you become extremely protective over your child. My husband and I were like, “We’re becoming a family. We have this tiny human that’s ours.”

In all honesty and vulnerability, there were many discussions and some arguments along the way about things that each of our family members wanted to do or had different opinions on what we were doing with our son. My husband and I had to talk about that like openly, “I don’t agree with that. This is for us to decide and protect what we want for our family.” It’s taken years, with our son, for us to realize that it is okay to do that. Especially with parents, it’s hard because you are still their child but then you are now a parent yourself.

We’ve overcome that a bit for sure. We are so thankful to have family close by and helpful but there were times that we had to put a stake in the ground and say, “That’s not how we’re going to do things.” It’s a little uncomfortable at first but then you have to navigate that and know that it’s important for you to set that boundary early.

I’m so impressed. You exude so much confidence. It ties back into one other word beyond joy, happiness and hope, which are some keywords in your work but vision is another big one for you. It’s pretty remarkable how you speak about these things with that clarity, to go back to this focus on purpose and what it means to have a vision for your life and the work that you’re doing to help others with that.

Writing your path in pencil. Click To Tweet

How did you see your vision evolve as you went through all these different changes as a person? We also didn’t fully come back around to the shift you took out of the wedding industry. Maybe we can start there. Going back to a year engagement, were you still working in the wedding industry then because that was shortly after your brother passed and then you got married? I’m very curious about your actual marriage and how your wedding planning experience was. Did you plan your wedding? Were you also simultaneously in a transition out of that industry?

There were a lot of big shifts in those couple of years. Looking back, I’m like, “That was a fun but crazy time.” I did not plan my wedding. I’m very good at delegating, which is not always been a strong suit but because I worked for wedding planners, I knew that they were going to take my vision and run with it. At the time too, I was going through a lot of grief and healing. I wanted it to be a fun and relaxed experience.

Wedding planning is not always that way for a lot of people. Here’s a small wedding planning plug that always hires a coordinator. There are so many times when people want to do it themselves, which is amazing. Some people are good at that but having them holding my hand and being those experts in it, even though I had worked with them, was amazing. It was so nice that it could be just that where it was a joyful, super fun time.

At the time, I was still working alongside them, planning it, healing and also processing a lot of my brother’s physical items and dealing with his condo at the time and stuff. A lot of that was going on. I stayed put career-wise for a little while, still working alongside them. I had a slow year, which was good when it came to working. It was nice.

We got married at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, I went a different way when my brother passed. I talked a lot more openly about it and started finding some more people near me and a group that I was in, people that have lost people in a certain way. I went about it differently in that aspect. I started realizing that there’s something to this vulnerability thing. Other people are going through things. This is not just me.

There’s this loneliness aspect that I was almost holding onto. I was allowing myself to be super lonely, which was not healthy and realizing I wasn’t alone. I went about it differently but at the beginning of 2019, I said to my mom, which I always remember, “We need to talk to more people about what we’ve been through without talking to more people.” She was like, “What do you mean?” I was like, “We need to write a book, get our story on paper and offer people some tangible things that have helped us the last couple of years.”

We’re no experts but we want to offer something that people can use. It’s not a blueprint of grief. It was stuff that had helped us and also for helping other people through grief. That was incredibly important because a lot of people were like, “We want to help you but we don’t know what to do.” We’re both decent writers, I would say, but it’s hard when it’s that personal.

We hired a ghostwriter. For six months, every single Monday, we met with her and talked through different chapters, edits and all that stuff. We had decided that we were going to launch the book on November 11th, which was my brother’s birthday, 11/11. It is a very special number. It’s an angel number that I’ve come to learn.

When the book came out, it was super cool. We had this big launch party. We did three of them in Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma. We did this little book tour and all this cool stuff. I remember thinking, “This is awesome. I hope this book gets the right people. I’m going to let it go and do its thing.” I got asked to speak 1 month or 2 later after the book came out. This woman reached out to me and said, “I want you to speak on this virtual summit and talk to young adults about what you’ve been through.” I thought, “You want my mom and me to come on and talk about the book?” She was like, “No. I want you to share your story.”

MGU 336 Laurel | Writing Your Path

Keep Looking Up: Transforming Grief into Hope After Tragedy

That was the starting point of my speaking career. There was that feeling again of being incredibly energized because it went so well. I got off of that and said to my husband, “I want to do that more.” I started thinking, “How can I turn this into my career?” I stayed in the wedding industry for a little bit and stayed put with where I was at but started exploring what that looked like to speak. I decided right before my son was born that I was going to leave the wedding industry and start speaking full-time.

It was a huge leap of faith, but it was one of those things where I didn’t believe that I was lacking in living out my purpose in the wedding industry. That was where I was supposed to be at the time. My vision for my life and what I thought that joyful purpose was and what my lifestyle looked like was taking a shift in what the actual title of it was.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Write your vision in pen and your path in pencil.” With all my vision, I knew that I wanted to be working this joyful job and I also wanted to help people. At the time, that was weddings. That’s what that looked like. When I was starting to see how that was shifting by speaking, it was still filling what I had written in my vision but it was a different path of doing it. We don’t have to put this box around exactly what that vision means but allow the past to unfold for itself.

That is a great quote. I love the visual of it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. I am so grateful that you shared that. You’re still new to all of these. It’s only been a few years that you’ve made this big shift. You’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg not because you’re new but because you started something right during a huge shift in the world with the pandemic. As things are shaping in your life, they’re shaping throughout. The speaking opportunities are going to continue to expand, especially as you can do more things in person. That’s amazing.

I love hearing how you’ve evolved. It’s been years since all of these major milestones and experiences have occurred. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter is, pun intended, because with the book and all is a huge accomplishment. To see that as the beginning stages of something new for yourself is so beautiful. Your story is so compelling on so many levels. I’m grateful that you shared it. What is your book called?

It’s called Keep Looking Up. On Amazon, you’ll see a picture of my mom and me, so you can’t miss it.

Is there an audiobook version of it?

Yes. It’s coming out on Audible on April 1st, 2022. It’s a weird story. When COVID happened, I’m not sure if that was the reason that Audible got affected, but we had our book waiting in the queue and something happened. The guy that was helping us with this explained it. Long story short, it has taken this long from 2019 to get it onto Audible because they were backlogged.

Somebody else read it, not you.

It was us. We got to read it, which was cool. It took a minute. It was challenging. It was almost like acting. What’s crazy is I was pregnant at the time. We recorded it in February of 2020, right before everything shut down in LA. We came to LA to record it. My son was doing somersaults in my stomach because the booth was so confined that I was echoing so much that he heard my voice. I joked that he was listening to the book but he was rolling in my stomach. It was pretty cool.

What a great experience to have, the power that was in your body at that time and how your son has been along for this journey in so many ways, I’m so drawn into your life. I imagine others have been too. I’m thrilled that you have a book where people can dive in more. What else are you working on? As we’re in the spring of 2022, what are you feeling most passionate and excited about?

What’s been super cool is that I got asked to speak at my alma mater, OSU, where my dad went as well. I spoke there on March 1st, 2022. She found me on Instagram and was like, “I’ve heard your story about your book. I know you went to OSU.” To be honest, at the time, I’d been speaking a lot more to the young adult category of 25 to 35-ish. I thought, “Are college students going to be receptive to this?” I don’t know why that even crossed my mind because they’re trying to figure out what they’re doing with their life. She wanted me to come in and talk about vision and how it’s shaped my life.

I left with that massive energized feeling. I ended up having a call with her again. She wants me to come back in the fall of 2022 and start working with some of her leadership teams. I’m starting to see how I’m going to be doing a lot more workshops at colleges, helping students on that next journey when they leave that very traditional setting of school.

College across the board is somewhat traditional. They’re about to enter adult life and how to navigate that. I’m seeing how I’m shifting almost to a little bit younger audience than I’ve normally talked to and start offering some more of those workshops. I do have a coaching program but it’s been mostly with people closer to my age. I’m thinking, “I need to create a product that’s offered to college students that’s a little bit different and a smaller take.” That’s been my next project and something that’s organically come about. I’m excited about that.

I’m excited about that too, because I feel like people of all different ages have opportunities to hone in on their passion, purpose and develop their vision. The path is constantly shifting. Even if you have that vision, you might need to rewrite it, modify it and erase parts of it. Anyone can learn from that. I’m thrilled about your passion for helping other people’s passion. We need more people like you that do it in a way that feels open, fluid and accepting. The grace in which you guide people through things is so lovely. I could feel it before we even talked to each other, like through email. You have this power within you to make people feel good and bring out that joy. I imagine that the reader feels that way too. Thank you so much for being here.

I appreciate that. This has been awesome. I knew I either needed to do something with my story and figure out what that purpose was behind it or I was never going to be able to move forward. I’m thankful that I get to do this and share. There is a place that wants to talk about this, which is amazing.

I’m happy to provide that for you. For the readers, I hope that you reach out and connect with Laurel.

 

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About Laurel Wilson

MGU 336 Laurel | Writing Your PathLaurel Wilson grew up in a loving home and family life with mom as a successful Entrepreneur and dad a corporate salesman living the typical American life. Laurel’s world unexpectedly tipped upside down when away in college she lost her father to suicide with no explanation and three years later she lost her brother the same way. Laurel realized that she has a choice with these tragedies, to give in to the grief or to fuel her own reason to live. She since has become a Speaker, Best Selling Author and a Life Strategist Coach. Laurel’s mission stems from her own experience with loss and adversity using these tragedies to bring some good into the world by creating a positive guide for those who are facing adversity themselves.