Sometimes Lauryn Hill just says it better than me

I’m not sure if it’s her raspy voice or her slight east coast accent that makes you know she’s awesome… but there’s just something about Lauryn Hill that makes everything she says sound extra true!

I do know that it’s her vulnerability that makes me love her. If you’ve never seen or heard her MTV Unplugged 2.0 video… GET IT! I’m giving you a little clip here, but it’s not nearly as powerful without the music and the rest of her story backing it up. Basically, she went on national television and broke down, laid it out, preached, and just spoke straight up truth… all while being completely unprepared and almost too emotional to finish her songs. In other words, I L-O-V-E it!

In this particular section I’ve chosen for you to listen to,  Lauryn’s talking about how her life of fame, glamor, and beauty fell apart and she began discovering and owning the real her… not the public image of her… but the legit Lauryn, full of flaws and all (as you will even hear in the clip when she can’t find the lyric sheet she needs).

The reason I’m including it here is because it’s so inspiring to hear from someone who’s “made it” and who has achieved an extraordinary life, who is willing to  be open and share the lessons she learned along the way. Most of it has to do with how once she found who she really is and what she’s meant to do she found freedom.

Preach it sister.

Two giant questions to ask yourself

Now we’re going to talk about something that is going to be frowned upon no matter which side of the fence I stand on. So I’m going to attempt to stay in the middle. No, seriously, I promise that is really where I stand on it!

The question of debate here is: are some dreams too big for some people?

If you’ve ever watched the first few episodes of an American Idol season then I expect to hear a resounding “YES” coming from your direction. The other side of this argument is usually something about how Michael Jordan didn’t make his freshman basketball team but he still decided not to quit… or how everyone told grant hill he was too short for the NBA (sorry but for some reason my relationship with sports began and ended with basketball in the 90’s). You could even mention what’s his name who grew in YouTube fame because of his awful American Idol performance. You could point out how no one would know his name if he hadn’t pursued his dream despite his obvious lack of talent (if only I could remember his name now).

I could go on and on with analogies from both sides of the argument, but I think you get it. My point is that while I will encourage you to climb every mountain and swim every stream to reach your dreams, I will also encourage you to choose those dreams wisely. There is such thing as pursuing a dream you are not meant to have, and I think it is much better to decide if you are doing that before you are already waist deep into it.

These are two of the hardest questions you will ever face in your pursuit of an extraordinary life.
1. Is this the extraordinary life I should begin pursuing?
2. Is it time to give up this particular path of extraordinary living and find a new one?

Of course, the tricky part is that only you can make those decisions and only you will find the real answers. But whatever stage you are at on you journey, I think it is very important to stop and ask yourself these two key questions… no matter how difficult it may be to hear the answer.

 

What do you think? Are some dreams too big for some people? Answer by commenting here or on Rare Existence’s Facebook page!

 

A Voluntary Book Report: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

That’s right,  A Million Miles In a Thousand Years: How I Learned Live a Better Story by Donald Miller, changed my life and I don’t think your life is immune to it’s powers either.

It’s a book about his life… about a book about his life.

Specifically, Don wrote a New York Times Bestseller called Blue Like Jazz awhile back and some guys came to him wanting to make a movie about it. So he was like, “sure, that’s awesome”. I mean, what else are you gonna say when someone asks you that question, right?

As they began working on the movie, Don began to learn a little more about the concept of story in relation to script writing. And being the self- reflection obsessed kind of guy he is, it didn’t take long for him to apply the concept of story to his own life…. especially because the story they were currently working on WAS about his own life.

The thing that was getting to him was that they were having to re- write his life a little bit to make it into a better movie. I mean I guess that’s to be expected and doesn’t sound like a big deal. Well, until some guy starts telling you that the way you handled an important problem in your life was wrong or that what you thought was a moving, epic moment is really just a snore fest. I mean this was his life they were talking about! But I guess it just didn’t have enough car chases and naked girls to make it in Hollywood.

So that’s the premise of this book. Don sets out to live his life as if he really is the main character in a story. He talks about developing himself as a character, setting a good scene in his life, pursuing epic adventures, and “the inciting incident” -which is the point in the story that forces the character to progress forward. Like when the main character of a story finds out they’re dying of cancer, losing their farm, or in Don’s case just living a boring life that people wouldn’t want to pay to watch for 90 minutes.

Unlike Don however, I knew my life would make a stunning blockbuster feature!

So I’m sitting there, on a rooftop patio overlooking the ocean, on our summer adventure in Venice CA, reading this book and thinking, “I’m so awesome. Look at me. I took a big risk, have a great setting, I’m living an adventure, and pursuing a dream. I deserve to have a movie made about MY life. And then I deserve to win an Academy Award for it!”And right about the time that I was running low on suntan lotion, I got to the part where he talks about how you can’t have a good story unless your character faces and overcomes conflict. Oh $#*!. Unfortunately, dropping my margarita all over myself when I read that part, doesn’t count as character building conflict (it totally should though because I was sticky for at LEAST an hour after that)!

The Reading Rainbow part (aka why Levar and I think you should read this).

1. Don is real and this book is real.  I should tell you that Donald Miller is one of my all time favorite authors. He is a Christian author so take note that some of you might not agree with everything he says, but this book is so good I don’t even think you’ll mind the stuff you don’t agree with! I like him because he’s gut wrenchingly honest and often incredibly deep,  yet somehow he’s able to do it in a way that’s almost…. well, cute. I’m sure he wouldn’t be too happy that I described his heartfelt writing as cute, but too bad because it is and that’s what I love about it.

2. It’s just really really really good. I honestly sat bawling for hours while reading this book (and I cried when I finished it because I was so sad it was over). I also found myself laughing out loud while reading it despite being in public places by myself and having people scoot their chairs further away from the laughing maniac in the corner.

3. It gives some of the best examples of extraordinary living EVER. I’m not kidding this book gave me several new heroes, and those come very far and few between for me. And if you are trying to figure out how to live extraordinarily with kids, then you DEFINITELY have to read this. Most of the incredible people he knows happen to also be living out some of the most unique family lifestyles I’ve ever heard about. I would type all of those stories up for you here and now if I wasn’t pretty sure that was on the plagiarizing no- no list. And anyways, you should read the whole book to get a better picture of it.

If my description hasn’t given you enough reason to one- click Amazon order this book or to at least check out Don’s magnificent blog, then maybe these last quotes from the book that I’m going to leave you with will…

 

Quotes from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

“Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo. But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful.”

“I realized how much of our lives are spent trying to avoid conflict. Half the commercials on television are selling us something that will make life easier. Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.”

“Nothing against a nice condo, but I privately wondered whether I was a protagonist telling an exciting story who happened to live in a nice condo, or whether I was a protagonist telling a boring story about trying to pay off his nice condo.”

“You become like the people you interact with. And if your friends are living boring stories, you probably will too.”

“While I could not control my happiness, I could control my misery, and I would rather have had control than live in the tension of what if.”

“But fear isn’t only a guide to keeping us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

 

I believe in this book so much that…

I am going to give away a copy of “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” to the first person who shares the Rare Existence Facebook page with 3 people. Seriously, just 3! And they don’t even have to actually “like” the page. For once I’m going easy on you guys and having low expectations… mostly because I really want someone to win this book! So tell your friends and email me once you’ve done it! First email I get, wins!

My Big Demon

So today we’re getting personal. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about bra sizes or that weird toe thing you have – or anything like that, there’s just a little (actually giant) confession I’ve got to make here.

It’s no secret that my extraordinary word is FREEDOM. If you know that, then you are not only an excellent reader, but you also know that I usually follow that declaration with a list of fairly generic things that I want to find or maintain freedom from. Well today I’m going to surprise even myself and get really specific up in here. I’m going to tell you what I want freedom from more than anything in the world. It’s an obsession even stronger than the one most girls have with Ryan Gosling’s seemingly photoshopped abs. So what is this obsession that takes precedence even over Mr. “Hey Girl” himself? The correct answer here is FOOD. I want freedom from food. Not from nourishment, not from cooking, and definitely not from the bliss of chocolate truffle cheesecake. I’m fine with all of that really.

What I want is freedom from my addiction to food.

I know that it’s totally normal for most people to daydream about food and spend lots of time looking forward to their next amazing meal. Being in the extreme foodie culture of Los Angeles has taught me that much. What I’m talking about is different than that. I’m talking about when you go out to eat with a friend and you literally can’t even hear a word they’re saying because all you can think about is the dry loaf of bread on the table that is causing you to use every ounce of energy to be socially acceptable enough not to chow both your portion and theirs in one swallow. I’m talking about when you are so full your stomach hurts because you’ve eaten everything tasty in the fridge, and yet you still start looking in the back to find your year old frozen pie crust or baker’s chocolate because even though it’s disgusting… it’s all that’s left.  I’m talking about not wanting to go to parties because you know you won’t be able to stop eating after one…two…three… make that four cookies, and people will notice and even though you’ll be mortified, you’ll reach for another and another after that.  I’m talking about when you spend 30 minutes weeping in shame over how much you just ate, only to eat that same amount 30 min. later when you’re stomach has stretched… which of course leads to another 30 minutes straight of crying. I’m talking about waking up in the morning, almost wishing you didn’t because you know you won’t be able to stop eating today any better than you did yesterday. I’m talking about just about every waking second of your life being devoted to food in some way… scratch that, every second in general because you dream about binging too.

Overeating isn’t the captain of the eating disorders football team or anything. It doesn’t really get the attention that the homecoming queen and king (anorexia and bulimia) get, but it can still bully any of us average Joe’s just as much as the popular kids can.

So now you know why I want freedom.

I can’t imagine how beautiful life could be if I could only find a way to never again eat to the point of almost being sick, or eat even though the food is disgusting and I’m not at all hungry, or leave a social scene because I want to go gorge myself away from my skinny friends, or give up the fight because it just feels pointless. If I could only find a way to escape living under the cloud. I live in a place that is covered in a grey fog, and no matter how much I squint or try to see above it, I just can’t get a clear vision of anything anymore. Either the thoughts of food or the thoughts related to the consequences of my constant thoughts of food, are with me through about 95% of my life. I am at all times hyper aware of where the closest Oreo is or isn’t, how long it will be until I will get to eat my next 98% sugar meal, how tight my jeans feel, how much lesser of a person I feel, how much I hate myself, and how I am just going to go eat more because I hate myself. This is the cycle of shame, addiction, and consequences…. and for me, it all revolves around what goes into my belly (and now my thighs and my butt too).

All the things I described above have been true throughout most of my life.

When I was a cute little, baby fat ridden 6 year old, I began the first page of my diary by describing how I couldn’t wait until I was “16, pretty, skinny, and hanging out at the mall with my boyfriend”. Turns out, I was not skinny when I was 16. I did not get asked to hang out at the mall (but this was partly because AOL browsers had brought the beginnings of online shopping to the world) and boys didn’t ask me to dances, football games, or anything else that Saved By the Bell promised me. When I was 18, I began the painstaking work of finding freedom from food thanks to a great class I took that I’ve since found out has evolved into a cult… hail broccoli, right? By the time I was 19 I was pretty far along the path to Skinnyland and almost wearing a size 6 (I bought a lot of Gap clothes back then because what they called a 6 fit a little more like a 7 and a half). But when I was 20, I broke up with my boyfriend (who, by the way, had fulfilled some of my girlhood fantasies by taking me to the mall sometimes)… and the layers of both fat, and muffin top disguising clothes, came piling back on. Since then, I’ve just gotten worse and worse and felt more and more trapped and controlled by food.

Now the same issue is back to haunt me in a different way.

As I now head down the path towards my extraordinary life, I find myself sort of hoping that many of my nearby dreams will actually wait a couple of years to come true. Wait, what?! Yep, it’s true. The thing is that some of these dreams involve me being in the public eye, so of course I want to wait that extra year since I will FOR SURE have lost 45 lbs by then!  I once heard that when Oprah was nominated for another Emmy in 1992 she actually prayed she wouldn’t win because she was the heaviest she’d ever been and was too embarrassed by her weight to go on stage and accept the award. Her dreams were coming true and her weight was slowing her down (probably both literally and figuratively). And now I’m beginning to feel the same way. The consequences of my obsessive addiction have found a whole new way to tear me down… they are getting in the way of my extraordinary life. In some ways they’ve always put a ceiling on the things I was capable of. But I’m beginning to realize that the chance of me achieving my goals are being significantly diminished, not only because fat people aren’t necessarily a favorite in American culture (despite many of us being huge), but also because my insecurities and wasted energy spent on this will hold me back from even doing something worthy of public attention in the first place. I can really only go so far in obtaining the life I am meant to live if I allow this weakness to control me.

But now, I’m moving on.

Now I’m in sunny southern California, the land of tofu, tummy tucks, and Tina Turner (what? sorry, I couldn’t think of a good T name). And I live right on the beach, which is of course the land of skin, skin, and more skin.  And no matter how many boob enhancing, waist minimizing swimsuits I order online from Victoria Secret, when beach day comes around for my friends, I still feel like a 13 year old girl on her period during Swim Party Saturday who suddenly comes down with small pox or some other previously eradicated disease to avoid attending. I am now surrounded by people who spend their lives eating only organic fruits and vegetables before and after their daily “surfing-yoga-kick boxing-spinning-Pilates-px90-hip hop dance-jogging” combination class. So far being here has still refused to magically turn me into a fit Californian, but I still have high hopes that the Jessica Biel Body Bug will come bite me one day. Not really, I actually am trying to do something about all this. So while I’m spilling all the beans here, I will tell you another secret, I’m in therapy for this now. There is obviously some degree of emotional eating here (notice the boyfriend break up trigger) and I just can’t seem to wrap my little head around the problems of my big body. I’ve also stumbled upon a great group of friends who happen to be in the fitness industry so there’s been lots of bartering going on between photography needs and fitness needs so hopefully giving a few photos will equal losing a few pounds. And really there is something to say for living around healthy people. It’s not as fun to eat a greasy Big Mac while everyone around you looks like they’d be less grossed out if they were watching the cow being slaughtered that made your Big Mac. I’ve also been getting great recipes and tips from some of my Jack Lalanne-esque friends. Those are all a few of the small things I’m doing to get started, and there’s plenty more where that came from. So here’s to California rubbing off on me a bit.

I’ve lived long enough to know by now, though it’s still hard to believe most of the time, that everyone has their thing.

Everyone has something that if they let take control, will threaten to hold them down until they lose their breathe and the life is sucked out of them. I always used to think it was just me, but it’s not. So what is it? What is it that is really holding you back? This is important because if this thing is still controlling you, not only is it stopping you from living a truly extraordinary life, but it’s actually forcing you to live an even less than ordinary life. You’re surviving in the negatives here, my friend. What is it? And what are you doing about it? It’s time for this to stop. It’s time for us to take control of this once and for all. If we’re living with constant and unnecessary fears, insecurities, shame, sadness, hurt, etc, etc, then we’ve done nothing more than waste our lives, regardless of how many of our dreams we’ve accomplished throughout it. Even if it is possible for us to have success while being torn apart by our weaknesses, I don’t believe any amount of it will make us happy anyways if we’re still being eaten away on the inside by something.

So there you have it folks, my soul, laid out bare on the operating table.

Now that you know I’m a real person with cellulite and all, I’m hoping you’ll love me in the same way you love Emma Stone- it’s that special place where you can truly appreciate her talent and really relate to her because her pasty white skin and ginger hair make her less threatening and more adorable to you.  I am very VERY scared to put this out there for all of you to read, but also very VERY excited because I believe it will be a major part in me finding support and eventual healing. Secrecy breeds shame, and shame isolates us from people. And as it so happens, the last thing we want is what we most need because people and healthy relationships are a major part of the treatment for breaking the shame cycle of addiction. So find some support, tell your secrets, make a plan, and join me as we overcome. Join me as we find freedom. Join me as we find a power we never knew we had that strengthens us to push through the seemingly impossible challenges. Join me so that when we find the life we are meant to be living, we can say that not only is it an extraordinary life, but that it is truly the best kind of life possible, full of more freedom and joy than we ever imagined possible. Join me.

(If you want to hear more awkwardly honest stories like this one, or just more about how to find and live an extraordinary life, follow Rare Existence on Facebook!)

A true story about Extraordinary Living (Kelli Freeman: Part 2)

Kelli Freeman has done some crazy things in her life… and many of these things were all in her pursuit of an extraordinary life. The following interview will make a whole lot more sense if you go back and read Part 1 of Kelli’s story here.

(All the photos here were taken by my husband and I during a “just for fun” photo session we did for Kelli and her sister… and it was definitely fun!).

Now that you’re caught up, let’s dive right on in!

B: OK, so WHAT?! You made the decision to dedicate your life to helping foster kids and then you gave up your apartment AND quit your job only two weeks later to pursue that dream?! What?!

K: (laughing) yep. I’ve always been the kind of person who dives in head first.

B: OK, but still… how did you do that and make it work?

K: Well I needed time to research and learn about the foster system, and I knew that not having to go to work everyday would help with that! I’m a firm believer in not having debt and I’m a big saver so I had quite a bit to live on and I knew that not having to pay rent every month would help that savings go much further! I did get a mindless part time job that allowed me to still dedicate all my brainpower to thinking about my next step, while making a little bit of money at the same time. I also am very grateful that my search for house sitting jobs paid off quickly and I found one that gave me a place to stay 3 weeks out of every month, and actually provided me with some extra money to live on at the same time. And when the house owner found out why I was doing it she spoiled me a ton, so I was very blessed! (smiling).

B: Yeah, but you never would’ve found that perfect housing situation if you didn’t just sack up your faith and dive in head first, right?

K: Exactly.

B: I LOVE that you just did what you had to do! So did all that pay off?

K: Definitely. I spent all my time learning, networking, and volunteering in the non-profit world of foster kids to find out what the needs were, how I could help, and what areas I was gifted in.

B: Given your history of struggling with major self-confidence issues, did you even believe you were gifted in certain areas at this point in your life?

K: Actually yes. My experience at that first camp was huge and totally changed my view on life, my identity, and my quest for meaning in my life. I was still absolutely terrified, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt this was what I was supposed to do so I knew it would happen even if it ended up being in spite of myself! I really didn’t know everything and I did as much as I could to prepare myself but I still made lots of major mistakes along the way and things I would do differently knowing what I know now. But oh well, pushing forward even through my imperfections is what got it all started!  I spent most of my life trying to figure out what I should do and once I knew, I really knew, so I dove in regardless of whether or not I was “perfect” enough for it.

B: Awesome. So tell me how the next few years went down for you.

K: About a month after that first camp I went to in 2004, the person who is now the co-founder of our non-profit, came to me and said he had an idea for a charity. I agreed to help him at a very minimal amount. We decided we needed to have a place for the 12 year olds who had grown up going to the camp for younger kids and were now too old to keep going. These kids were graduating the program and were completely crushed to find out they had nothing to go to next year, many of them were losing a major source of stability in their lives and they were only 12 years old! So our initial goals were to create two things for them to go to, a summer camp for kids ages 12-15 and a Christmas party for them. Within 3 months of deciding that, we had our first Christmas party and about a year and a half after that (in summer of 2006) we had our first camp.

B: Having been to camps myself, I know putting one on is a lot of work, that seems really fast!  Especially considering you had to coordinate with the state to get the kids there and everything, that first year couldn’t have been easy!

K: Oh it definitely wasn’t easy! I had to raise $20,000 for that camp and I had absolutely no fundraising experience! I actually had many panic attacks that first year. The stress, worries, and fears were piling up and really getting to me. I was falling apart personally. I started really battling self-doubt about whether or not I had what it takes to be a leader.

B: So how did you get through that time?

K: There were a few things that helped me, my friends were huge to me during that time. I had a really supportive community who kept pushing me and encouraging me through the hard times. The second thing was that I read an amazing book called “The Dream Giver” by Bruce Wilkinson that is an allegory about a Nobody named Ordinary from the Land of Familiar who faces down all kinds of opposition on his journey to his Big Dream. The book was a huge encouragement to me, and still is because I re-read it all the time!

B: Yeah, I know thanks for that gift by the way!  It’s been super encouraging to me as well! You’re SO lucky you had such a supportive group of friends, not everyone has that!

K: Don’t get me wrong, I had PLENTY of people who told me that even though my ideas were great, they were just too big to be realized… and even more people who thought I was plain crazy for quitting my job and doing the things I was doing.  And actually those kinds of comments pushed me more than anything to be successful!  I rise to challenges! I’ve had to do a lot to learn about how to shut down negative feedback and manage it in my own mind.  That’s a very hard thing to deal with and it still comes up from time to time.

B: So has there ever been a time you wanted to quit?

K: Oh yeah, lots of times. I even had to take a break for awhile to pull myself together. It takes a ton of hard work and oh so many sacrifices to follow your dreams. I mean, I haven’t really dated anyone for 9 YEARS!!  I lost a lot of my friends because I was just too busy to keep up relationships (thankfully, I also gained new relationships through my charity work), and I went through SO much self doubt. I’ve had MANY tears and many failures. From the very beginning I found myself doing things I was not at all qualified to do. And I soon found out that when you make one bad decision, it makes you question everything about what you’re doing and who you are… but when you make multiple bad decisions, watch out, you’re about to crumble! Following your dreams is one of the hardest things in the world, but it is of course, so very VERY worth it!

B: Tell me a little bit more about what you have going on with the organization now.

K:  Well we still have those first two things we set our minds too… we have a girl’s camp and a boy’s camp every summer. And we still have the Christmas party every December. The new things we’ve added are the Princess Program for girls and The All-Star Program for boys. The point of both of these is to help build the kid’s confidence, break down barriers during the summer camp, and teach them the great things about themselves and what they have the ability to do in their lives.  These are the kinds of messages that most of these kids don’t hear often enough… especially from people they really trust.

B: My husband and I have gotten to be the photographers for multiple Princess Program events and my most memorable moment was when one of the girls put on her fancy prom dress (The Princess Program features a prom for these girls who are not very likely to ever get to go to a high school prom) and then as soon as she turned around and looked at herself in the mirror, she broke down crying immediately. It didn’t seem like it would help for her to see me crying too! So I did everything I could to hold it together as her counselors quickly put their arms around her and gently whispered encouraging things to her about how beautiful she is.  That moment to me, said so much about what you do. (I want to encourage everyone to go read the blog post I wrote about our first experience with the Princess Program because the pictures in it really help tell the story about what Kelli’s organization does). I know the Princess Program is about much more than physical beauty and you guys do a good job encouraging the girls in their inner beauty too, but it is absolutely amazing to see how those girls’ attitudes change the second they put on a beautiful dress!

K:  Oh totally, the princess program is one of my favorite things about camp each year. One of the reasons I started it was because I felt like I really know what it’s like to struggle with self-worth… and I have parents!  I absolutely can’t imagine what it would be like to struggle through that if you don’t even have a family of your own! At one point in my life, I had someone come alongside me and help instill some self-esteem in me so I wanted to try to pass that on.  I also sat down and thought about what little (and big) things would go into a night to make a girl feel truly special… and those are the kinds of things I’ve tried to incorporate into the program.

B: So tell me more about the 2 newest programs you guys have going on.

K: Well, our teen camp was filling the gap for the kids who were looking for a place to go after they turned 12, but then we found ourselves having problems figuring out what to do after the kids turned 16 and graduated the teen camp!  So we developed the Life Skills Program which is there to help kids from 16- early 20’s learn to do essential things that many never had a chance to learn as they were passed from home to home. They learn things like how to budget, cook, dress for a job interview, fill out college application forms, etc. I mean, one of our kids is only 16 and he’s moved 42 times in the 14 years he’s been in foster care!  Who’s ever going to sit down with that kid and teach him conflict resolution skills or how to find an apartment on a budget?

B: Seriously, a child with that much school system fluctuation is probably just lucky if he can read, let alone function in society! I was shocked when I heard that at 18, foster kids are required by law to leave their foster home even though most were never prepared for the real world!  I had no idea how many of them just end up on the streets!  It totally puts your Life Skills Program into perspective!

K: Exactly, we saw a great need for it and we also wanted to provide another place for the kids who graduated from our teen camp to continue going where they could build more constant relationships with adults who were willing to invest the time into helping them. In addition to that, we developed a scholarship program to help some of these kids go to college!  And we actually recently received a call from our first recipient who needed help moving into his dorm! That was huge for me because it really made me realize that we truly are his family… we’re the ones he calls when he needs help moving!

B:  Wow. So when did you realize, “this is it. I’m here”, I ‘m definitely doing the right thing with my life”?

K: There’s definitely a part of me that knew from the beginning back when I first quit my job, but that has really been reinforced through the fact that I’m lucky enough to get to see very tangible results working with these kids. I’m constantly getting amazing reports about various people’s interactions with the kids throughout different events… and I especially love when these stories relate to how much the kids have changed since they first began attending our programs. It’s truly amazing how much these kids bloom as soon as they feel “safe” to be vulnerable and let down their defenses. Both the kids themselves and the volunteers have beautiful stories about their experiences together and the things they remember from the events. And every time I hear a story about someone’s who’s life was changed through something in our program, I’m like, “yes, this is it. This is where I need to be”. Of course I have other things I want to do with my life, but they will most likely fit in around working with foster kids. Whether I go back to school, have my own family one day, or whatever it may be, I will still always be doing this in some capacity for the rest of my life.

B: Do you have any advice for others out there who are seeking to uncover and live out their own extraordinary lives?

K: I can’t stress enough the importance of having a support system in your life. Encouragement is so vital because even if you are the most motivated, self-confident person in the world, you WILL doubt yourself at times and you need people around you to help you push through that.  I also think that having a mentor is an important part of a successful support system. Finding someone who has ventured off and tried it before you so they can walk you through some of the challenges is a major tool in trudging through the hard parts.
Another major thing is to be OK with failure.  That’s a hard one to wrap your arms around… but it’s necessary. Failure is a way to learn and you have to be OK with just giving it all you’ve got and stepping back in hopes it will work. And going along with that, it’s very helpful if you can recognize that you don’t have to start off perfect, you can always change it later.

B: Sorry to interrupt, but I can’t help but laugh because I can’t tell you how many people told me that when I was getting ready to launch Rare Existence. I was really struggling with the design and functionality of it and everyone was like, “Breanna, just do it already!!! It doesn’t have to be perfect! You can change it later, just get it up!!” It’s good advice but so hard to listen to!

K: Tell me about it! But the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be! It’s also important to have short term goals and celebrate your small successes along the way. Like you can celebrate that Rare Existence is up even if it doesn’t look exactly like you might want it to eventually!
And finally, one of the biggest things I want to stress is that the balance between work and life is so important!  I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this area and I paid the price for it. Boundaries are very important and if you ignore them, you’ll get into trouble.

B: I’ve been there myself, and am in fact still digging myself out of the hole that comes from an unbalanced life, so I second that piece of advice for sure! Self-care is VERY important in order to continue to thrive and have the important things in your life continue to thrive as well.

Thank you so much for being so vulnerable here, Kelli. I think your honesty will really help to encourage people wherever they’re at in their quest for a Rare Existence.  Your story is incredible and very inspiring, it’s such an honor that you let me share it!

(if you liked this story and want to hear more true stories about Extraordinary Living join the  Rare Existence Facebook community)!

If you want to learn more about some of the things mentioned in Kelli’s story see the links below:

Hope and a Future: The non-profit organization to help foster children that Kelli co-founded (also see info about The TRAC camps, The Christmas Party, The Princess Program, The All-Star Program, The Scholarship Program, and the Life Skills Program).

TRAC: The organization that helped train Kelli to launch her own camp for foster kids. They are still training camp directors if you’re interested in starting your own camp!

Royal Family Kid’s Camp: The camp Kelli initially went to for foster kids ages 7-11. This is a nationwide organization that holds camps all over America.

A true story about Extraordinary Living (Kelli Freeman: Part 1)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

(Kelli on the left, her sister on the right. All these photos were from a “just for fun” photo session my husband and I did for the two of them!).

While most little kids would prattle on about grandiose dreams involving fame, firetrucks, and princess dresses, young Kelli would hide in the corner hoping to avoid the awkwardness. Even as a very young child, this question made Kelli very uncomfortable and upset. The truth was that she had absolutely no idea and she knew this was the wrong answer.

Throughout high school Kelli battled deep feelings of insecurity.

She never felt like she quite measured up to the standard of perfection that was continually held over her by her extremely traditional culture that told her the only option in life was to be a mom and nothing more. She found herself continuing to fight to stay in the mold- all the while feeling like her efforts were futile- which only perpetuated the cycle of her not feeling good enough and trying harder. She was being crushed by feelings of failure and worthlessness. At this point she was pretty much convinced she would never amount to anything.

Of course her pressure for perfection did lead her to great things…

…no matter how negative she still felt about the things she did and herself.  She moved from working her first job at McDonald’s, through tons of other positions, all the way up to maintaining a great, high paying, corporate job. She was officially a “success” to the outside world, but inside she still didn’t feel good enough.

Since Kelli was used to high pressure and challenges, she got bored very quickly. Which is probably the explanation for the MANY jobs she had before as she tried to uncover “what she wanted to do when she grew up” (she even worked for a temp agency for awhile where she was able to experience over 50 different types of positions!). She was starting to feel very dissatisfied with the corporate game because she was beginning to feel a great desire to do something that would truly help others. She was again faced with all her insecurities beating up on her and telling her that she wasn’t good enough to do anything else. How could she? She didn’t even have a college degree, which was just one more thing to make sure she felt less important and capable than everyone around her. So she settled into her corporate job trying to believe that the money was enough, because she also still firmly believed that she wasn’t good enough to do better with her life.

And then everything changed…

Kelli was invited to attend a week long camp for foster children ages 7-11. This was a very intense camp. Many of these children have severe emotional and relational problems due to their volatile backgrounds. So spending a week with them trying to love them while they are doing their best to put up their walls so they don’t get rejected again, really challenged Kelli and resulted in her doing quite a bit of soul searching. For many of these kids, this week of camp is the most stable thing in their lives. They can move from home to home throughout the year with new foster parents, new schools, and new everything and then they get to go to camp where they see many of the same kids and adults from last year. Even having the same rules, expectations, etc. is very comforting. So the importance of this camp on these kids cannot be understated, and of course Kelli was feeling the pressure to make it perfect for them.

But this time she was feeling a lot more than the pressure to be perfect…

She fell in love with these kids and responded very well to their plight in life. It was barely 2 weeks after returning from camp that Kelli decided to quite her job, give up her apartment (essentially becoming homeless– no kidding) for the sake of dedicating ALL her time and energy to finding more ways to help foster kids.

And that was just the beginning.

Everything you’ve just read is the intro to the actual interview I did with Kelli.

See the real interview here which goes deeper into her story and why I’ve chosen to feature her here. Kelli has decided to be super honest and real about her insecurities, challenges, etc.- more so than she is comfortable with actually- all in the hopes that it will benefit those who read it. So make sure you check it out to help make her vulnerability really worth it and to allow her story to encourage you on your own path to extraordinary living (as I know it will).  See you in part 2!

To see more stories like this along with other things related to extraordinary living, like Rare Existence on Facebook!