Like a lot people, Rachel Hollis discovered personal development through need. She had crippling anxiety attacks that increased in both frequency and intensity, eventually occurring several times per week. When self-medication through alcohol stopped helping, she felt hopeless.
“It got to a point where I thought, I don’t want to live this way anymore,” Hollis says.
Already a successful self-taught businessperson, Hollis questioned whether she could approach her anxiety the same way she approached business. She became a self-described “personal development junkie.” That was years ago. Now the 37-year-old author, motivational speaker and founder of Texas-based media company The Hollis Co. is on a mission to equip others with the tools to improve their lives. In other words, she found a way to save her own life and wants to share that with anyone, everyone.
Hollis’s grand entry into the personal development world started in 2018 with No. 1 New York Times best-seller, Girl, Wash Your Face and 2019 follow-up Girl, Stop Apologizing, but she’s been in the business of self-growth far longer.
“When I was a food blogger, my tagline was, ‘Give people the tools to change their life,’ ” Hollis says. “The tool I had back then was a casserole recipe and the tool I have today is books and podcasts and conferences and coaching.”
Her point: The medium of delivery doesn’t much matter. And that shows in the 3.2-million-strong digital fan base that has followed her through the past decade, through stories about food, mom life, personal style and now personal development. The message isn’t really a casserole recipe, or the video about her struggles with Bell’s palsy syndrome, or even the story about that one time she peed a little while jumping on the trampoline with her three sons because #momlife.
These stories are the threads of connection that make Hollis more than a motivational speaker talking to a crowd at one of her Rise events. They make her human. People come for her humor and sarcasm and stay for her ability to share stories so deeply vulnerable that it allows them to see their own stories in hers and feel just a little less alone.
“There are a lot of [personal development professionals] in this space who say one thing and are doing another,” Hollis says. “I think you can only get away with that for so long. Credibility comes from living the thing that you’re telling other people to live.”
Hollis builds that credibility through transparency. Every morning, fans can tune in to her Facebook Live morning show with husband, Dave, to get a glimpse behind the emerald curtain. Often sans makeup, wearing pajamas and holding a cup of coffee, she dishes stories about whatever struggles, triumphs or lessons were learned in the past 24 hours. Tens of thousands tune in. If you follow her Instagram story, you’ll get a near-constant stream of one-person dance videos to Beyoncé, “I didn’t want to run, but I did it anyway and it feels great” confessionals or quick photos of the Hollis family on a movie night at home. It could be anyone’s Instagram. And that’s the point. For every curated post, there is a real life being lived out on the same principles she delivers on stage.
“We are doing every single thing that we’re telling our community to do,” Hollis says.
This specific brand of in-my-living-room personal development speaks to the changing nature of the industry. Many of Hollis’s fans don’t self-identify as personal development enthusiasts. They might not have even heard the term before. They probably don’t know who Dale Carnegie is. They simply stumbled across someone they relate to who is a little less prescriptive and a little more, “This worked for me. You try it.”
To have more than 3 million fans and still be in touch with what they need, Hollis says you have to be “obsessive.” She doesn’t care if she’s categorized into the blogging, speaking or personal development industry. Sure, she wants to reach a wider audience. And sure, she of course wants you to buy her products and attend her conferences and sign up for her business coaching seminars. But at the core, she’s thinking about what she might have needed in this or that season of life, as she calls them, and passing along what she learned during those times.
She’s working on a new book right now about health and body image. And she has more Rise events scheduled for 2020. But she’s also working on a lot of other things that don’t really feel like personal development but feel very Rachel Hollis. And that’s certainly on-brand.
“This is human nature,” she says. “It’s so much bigger than one industry.”
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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Illustration by Hanane Kai
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