The first time I came across an Emily Ley book, I was wandering a bookstore. The bright pink cover of Grace, Not Perfection grabbed me, and I remember I held her book and read it standing up for about an hour, while leaning against the store shelf. Inevitably, I bought it and took it home. Her books have a lovely authenticity, joy and simplicity to them that suck you right in. Her newest book, Growing Boldly: Dare to Build a Life You Love (out March 23, 2021), is no exception. It is an honor to share this interview with you. Ms. Ley is someone who has personally impacted my life, and the lives of each of her readers, I am sure. She was beautiful, open, humble, lovely and funny, just as I imagined, when I got to meet her for the interview. I want to send a special thank you to Ms. Ley and the Icon Media Group team for making this interview possible. I know the words shared here and her wisdom in this new book (a soon-to-be bestseller, I am sure) will bless your life. Today, Ms. Ley speaks to us about the importance of getting to know yourself, dreaming big, being stuck, a God who can do all things and the importance of leaning into our faith when the road looks foggy. You can’t miss this. Read, share and get your hands on Growing Boldly.
Emily Ley, everyone… enjoy!
Modern Witnesses (“MW”): You have written a lot about simplifying and focusing on what is essential, in past books. This book is very much about making “something peaceful out of something frenetic.” What inspired this focus, even before COVID-19, as you began writing Growing Boldly?
Emily Ley (“EL”): So, I turned in the manuscript for this book four weeks before COVID basically shut our world down. I really had it on my heart to write something that would not just inspire women to take control of their lives and build lives they love and lives that filled them up and allowed them to be their best selves, but also like, tell them how to do it, you know?
I think there are tons of messages in the world telling us to hustle ‘till it hurts and be a boss babe, and all those things—that’s all well and good, but I think there are two things missing from that message: One is that there is a time and a season for everything, and so we have to balance the work with the rest, and also, the tactics involved in how you actually do this are something that I think we don’t talk about often enough.
MW: You wrote in Growing Boldly, “You have more control than you think, and you get to make choices.” There is a big emphasis on choices throughout this new book. Why was this important for you?
EL: My dad always told me, growing up, that life was an endless stream of choices. There’s a quote from James Clear from Atomic Habits, and he says, “Every choice that you make, big or small, is a vote for the kind of life you want to have.” And so often, we let life happen to us. And of course, some things are out of our control. I mean, obviously, this last year was out of our control, but even within situations that are tough, dry and hard, we have more control than we think we do. A lot of times, we are reactive about life and not proactive in making our lives be what we want them to be.
One of the most fantastic things about this book is I had the honor of sharing stories from [other] women. I was really inspired by those stories and the way that they made big and small choices to get to where they want to go to.
“A lot of times, we are reactive about life and not proactive in making our lives be what we want them to be.”
MW: What triggered you to ask yourself, “Am I building a life I love?”
EL: Well, I started my company almost 13 years ago, and I say my company because building a life I love back then, what it looked like was looking around and saying I am not happy where I am. I was a newlywed—I was happy there—but I was not happy in my career. I had a Master’s degree. I had made all the “right” choice to get to where I wanted to go, but I wasn’t happy when I got there. And so, I decided that I was going to take control, and if my dream job wasn’t out there, I was going to create it. I wanted a job that was going to give me the flexibility to be the type of mom I wanted to be and also allow me to give my best to my family. And so, you know, for me it was just looking around and saying, there’s something better. I know there’s a life for me where I can feel at my absolute best; where I am giving my absolute best; where I am making a difference. My best in my career and my best for my family. When you reach that point where you decide there is something better, and I am going to do something about it, that is a magical turning point.
“When you reach that point where you decide there is something better, and I am going to do something about it, that is a magical turning point.”
MW: I loved that you wrote that it’s perfectly okay to feel stuck at times. Why do you believe we often believe being stuck is not a part of the journey, and why is it essential to our process, as we build lives we love?
EL: I was just telling someone earlier, when I pray for my kids, I find myself often praying, I hope life is easy for them, I hope it’s good and easy. I hope nothing bad ever comes their way and no one hurts their feelings; they never have their hearts broken—but when I look back at my own life, I know that when I went through tough things or difficult things or hard things, that’s where God was shaping me into who He wanted me to be. And even in those times when I felt stuck, I didn’t know what to do, how to get my feet on the floor, those were the times where I was being shaped. And so, even those dry, sticky situations—those seasons matter. Like we said, there’s a season for everything. All things matter. Not just the times when we are on top but also the times we are trying to figure out how to get up from the bottom.
“And even in those times when I felt stuck, I didn’t know what to do, how to get my feet on the floor, those were the times where I was being shaped. And so, even those dry, sticky situations—those seasons matter.”
MW: There are sections for reflection and journaling throughout the book. It’s gorgeous, by the way. What was your thought process when thinking about including these write-in sections? Did you know from the beginning that you wanted this format?
EL: Yeah, for sure. At the end of the day, I wanted people to walk away and feel like, Here I go. This is where I am gonna start, and I have done work throughout the reading of this book. I haven’t just listened to someone else’s story or stories. I have really done work; I have dug in; I have visualized where I want to go; I have gathered tools that are going to help me on my way to get there. So, yes, there are lots of worksheets. It’s extremely interactive, and I hope people will really take their time as they go, working through each section and really getting to know themselves again.
MW: We also believe every person has a “glory story” and that it is essential to share this glory story to glorify God. A huge part of this website is making women bold and giving them a platform to share what God is doing in and through them. Apart from your books, what are other ways or methods you use to share your “glory stories” with others or ways you would encourage other women to share?
EL: I would say in my books, I share those there, but I think also being vulnerable with people. Inviting other people around you. Community– that’s so special. We moved to Pensacola almost three years ago, and I have found so much freedom in meeting women who are willing to be open about where they’ve been and struggles they’ve been through, and I feel really encouraged knowing that I am not alone in hard times. I think it’s about finding community and people you can really share with, you know?
MW: I am a Florida Gator.
EL: Are you? That’s awesome!
MW: I am in New York now, but you can’t take the Florida out of the girl, so…
EL: It’s true!
MW: You have a beautiful chapter on how God doesn’t take the hard stuff away from us, but He meets us in the hard stuff. What do you believe this says about who God is and who we are?
EL: I can think of some things I’ve been through in my life where I’ve been really mad at God. Like, why would you let this happen to me, you know? Why do bad things happen to good people? My oldest son– we just prayed and prayed for a baby—went through infertility stuff and then, at 18 weeks pregnant, our high-risk doctor told us that he could be born with an array of health issues. I remember being so mad, sad and disappointed. A helpless feeling. But God worked on me, and I leaned into my faith in that season like never before. God just kept saying, Trust me; Trust me. My story ended up with a happy ending; he was perfectly fine. It was all an anomaly. But I know not all stories end that way, and I remember lying on the operating table having a C-section and turning my palms up, and knowing that was the moment that we were going to find out if it was going to be anything. And turning my palms up and thinking, Okay, God, okay. I am ready for this baby and whatever his story is and whoever he is, you’ve made me ready, and I am ready. He was born, and he was fine; nothing wrong at all. But no matter who he would have been or what his story would have been, God prepared me. I was ready, you know? And so, what I think I have learned about God through things like that is that God wastes nothing in our lives. No awful thing or tough thing that has happened to us defines who we are, but God uses that in the shaping of who we become.
“No awful thing or tough thing that has happened to us defines who we are, but God uses that in the shaping of who we become.”
MW: That’s beautiful. You speak very candidly on your IVF journey. I personally know friends and people who are struggling with this. What would you tell a person who is in the middle of that struggle in their story?
EL: We did IVF to conceive our twins, who are six now, and I remember feeling so forgotten in that journey. Like I was alone and no one was talking about if they had gone through anything hard like that. And I just wanted a baby. I felt like I had a baby-shaped hole in my heart, and I firmly believe that God puts a baby-shaped hole in our hearts with the intention of filling it in one way or another. I don’t know what that looks like—it’s different for everybody, and the way that He uses that in us. I would say lean in. Just lean in. There is no right pathway forward. Lean in because He is going to use the baby-shaped hole. One day it will make sense.
MW: There are so many powerful stories of strength and resilience sprinkled throughout, featuring women on your team. What steps did you take to cultivate and attract such an extraordinary team of people? It’s clear to me that they are amazing people, and so I commend you for the team that you’ve built, and also, I want to know your secret…
EL: Thanks. I think we have taken a different approach to hiring. I always knew, even with the first person I ever hired, I always said hire for integrity not résumé. And so, if I hired a really good human– someone I could trust that cared deeply, then I knew that I could teach them whatever they needed to know about whatever job they were going to have. When you do it the other way around, it’s really hard to teach somebody integrity, you know?
EL: So, I have always hired for integrity first, and I’ve come across these women that I work with in very varying ways. Very rarely was it a job posting. It’s like, when my twins were tiny, Hannah, who is our director of digital marketing, I hired her to be our nanny; to come into our home two days a week to help with our twins, so I could work. And then the business grew, and I was like, Well, if I trust you with my twins, I trust you with my business. And so she came on and started helping out, and now she is totally full time with the business and an incredible director of digital marketing. She has taught herself everything along the way. So I have kind of come across these women in all of these random ways. One of them is my sister-in-law who was ready to retire from teaching. One of them was a professional proofreader. Just so many different ways. Hiring for integrity first has always been a good choice for me.
MW: What if someone feels like they don’t have a dream. Where would you recommend this person begin before they can embark on the BUILD philosophy and journey you lay out in the book?
EL: This is a question I come across a lot. Your dream doesn’t have to be to build a business. That was mine. It can be to build a family, to run a marathon, but if you don’t know what it is, what your calling is, what you are meant to do, or maybe you are in a transition in life, and the road is out in front of you and you aren’t sure which path to take, I think often back to this book I had when I was a little kid. It was My Book About Me. My mom gave it to me when I was little, and it had all these questions for me to fill out about who is Emily? Who is 8-year old Emily? I remember just thinking, Look at me. I am so interesting; I’m so quirky. And I still have it, and I love it. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was something like that for grown-ups where we could get to know ourselves again. Like, who is Emily Ley outside of the office, the wife to Brian, the Simplified Planner girl? Who is she? And so, we lay out this really good chunk in Chapter 2 of worksheets, of Q&A, multiple pages for you to think through to get to know who you are again. When you do that, I ask you questions about your favorite meal or the hardest thing you’ve ever gone up against. The really nitty-gritty type things and the really big picture things because when you do that, then you are able to gather all those bricks you need to build a life you love or a life you can thrive in. I think there’s a lot of discovery that happens throughout those pages.
MW: What is your favorite product from your Simplified line?
EL: Obviously, the Simplified Planner is my favorite. Everything was born out of that. I would also say another favorite is our baby books. I was pregnant with our twins, and I wanted a baby book that was simple to fill out. So many moms buy baby books and end up not filling them out because they have newborns at home, you know? And so, I got the idea to make a Simplified Baby Book, and it’s really special and sweet to see people complete it and fill it out and make it their own.
MW: You launched The Simplified Podcast, this month. Congratulations.
EL: Thank you!
MW: What are you excited to explore in this medium and what is next?
EL: People have been asking me to do it forever, and I just kept saying no. I just didn’t have the bandwidth, and it was just not the right season. I just had too many other things going on. And then, this year we promoted someone on our team to be our Chief Operating Officer, to manage Simplified, and it gave me the bandwidth to explore something new. I know that in this season of my own life, I love to listen to audiobooks when I am emptying the dishwasher or going for a walk or whatever, and I thought, What if we made a podcast that gave women a brain break during the day that gave them just some simple story, tactical tip, blessing at the end, and just make them feel like, ‘Ugh, that’s great, I feel a little refreshed and like someone understands me. I had coffee with a friend, in my ears.‘ *Laughs* I am so excited about it. It is a mixed bag, for sure. There are deep dive episodes about everything from how to talk to your kids about “the talk,” stuff about decluttering, an upcoming episode and a series we are going to do with my best friend Kristin where we talk about everything from hot rollers to spin mops, so you never know. *Laughs*
MW: I love that. You mentioned books. Is there anything that you are currently reading right now?
EL: I am in the middle of reading The Vanishing Half, a fiction book. I always have two going at any given time. I am also in the middle of Jennie Allen’s book, Get Out of Your Head. We started a book club, so that has been really fun, on Facebook. And then I am working on another book of my own, at the moment, so all kinds of fun things.
MW: Wow. So this is our last question. It’s something we ask everyone who comes on. If you had to define Christianity in one sentence, it would be:
EL: It’s relentless love. That’s what it is to me.
MW: Ms. Ley, thank you so much for your time. We are so excited to be featuring you and Growing Boldly.
Go get Growing Boldly!
For more Emily Ley:
Emily Ley is the founder of Simplified, a brand of planners and organizational tools for busy women. Emily has been featured in Forbes, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Glamour and Good Housekeeping. She has been recognized with numerous awards, including Best New Product at the National Stationery Show, Small Business of the Year, Female Owned Business of the Year, and Entrepreneur of the Year by Studer Community Institute. Emily and her team collaborated with AT-A-GLANCE to create gift and planning collections carried in Office Depot, Staples, and Target. Emily is the author of national bestselling books Grace, Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy, A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living, and When Less Becomes More: Making Space for Slow, Simple, and Good. Now, as an author, entrepreneur, wife and mother to three, Emily lives in Pensacola, Florida, with her husband, Bryan, their son Brady, and twins, Tyler and Caroline.
Website: Simplified by Emily Ley
Podcast: The Simplified Podcast
Until next time, keep witnessing!