Rachel Hollis: ‘You’re Allowed to Want More for Yourself’
She doesn’t quit.
Rachel Hollis didn’t do it when her first five books—a cookbook and a novel series—failed to take off. Not when two adoptions gut-wrenchingly fell through. Not when her sixth book, Girl, Wash Your Face, didn’t make the New York Times best-seller list after launch—a decade-long Washi Tape dream stuck to a gifted bottle of Dom Perignon.
Not even now, in this little Austin, Texas Airbnb, where we’re going on four consecutive hours of interviews beneath two camera lights with the heating power of the sun itself. I’m uncomfortable, shifting my weight every few moments from one leg to the other. Hollis’s bright demeanor hasn’t changed since she walked through the door. It’s not quite noon, but she’s already been awake almost a full workday. You wouldn’t know it from her seemingly endless tank of energy.
“Oh, you’re fine,” she says, flashing a wide smile and flicking away my apology about our dwindling time together.
Her responses are thoughtful and self-assured. She is the quintessential cool mom who wears torn jeans and sometimes forgets to turn off DMX before one of her four kids walks in the room to ask “Mommy, what’s a Ruff Ryder?” She delivers startlingly simple yet poignant advice with a dash of sarcasm. If you compliment her hair or eyelashes, she is quick to mention that they are extensions.
It’s this kind of no-frills honesty that propelled her popular food and lifestyle blog, The Chic Site, into a million-dollar venture that has expanded to offer women all of the tools to upgrade every aspect of their lives, from relationships to careers to style.
In one video shot from an expansive white bathroom in her Central Texas home, she looks directly into the camera and says, “today sucked.” She seems tired. “But if you think no one is looking out for you, just listen to this jam that randomly came on during my ride home.” And then she starts a personal dance party to the 2000s hit, “Tubthumping,” by Chumbawamba. Her drive to show up for her fans every day is apparent if you spend more than 30 seconds on her Instagram story.
Even with a combined social media following of more than 3 million people—almost all of them women—Hollis’s commitment to transparency hasn’t wavered. In March 2015, she shared a bikini photo from Cancun that showed her stretch marks from carrying three sons. “They aren’t scars, ladies,” the caption read. “(T)hey’re stripes, and you’ve earned them. Flaunt that body with pride!” The post went viral, garnering nearly 500,000 likes and 17,000 comments.
She’s not immune to the fear that comes with being that vulnerable on the internet. Later in 2015, Hollis experienced Bell’s palsy symptoms for the third time in her life. The left half of her face was paralyzed.
“I was not going to come in, and then I realized how hypocritical that is. Because I try to be honest about what I’m going through in life. And right now I’m going through this,” she said in one installment of her weekly video series, Rach Talk, pointing to a noticeably sagging cheek.
The thing about Hollis is that her advice—simple, direct and unapologetic—hits home without you even realizing why. If you complain that social media makes you unhappy, she’s going to tell you to unfollow that person or delete that app from your phone for a while. The lesson isn’t always new or groundbreaking, but when delivered with endless enthusiasm and maybe a little Beyoncé in the background, it sticks.
Hollis hasn’t discovered some magical recipe. She’s spent years purposefully and diligently equipping herself with the knowledge and tools to understand that feelings are just that, and to talk about the hard and scary things anyway.
Now, she says, it’s her calling to share what has worked for her with people who might have preconceived notions about personal development, about what it means to grow and improve. In fact, she’s built a business on the idea that you don’t have to be broken to work on yourself, and it certainly doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Personal development, to Hollis, is simply understanding that life is a process of either getting better or worse than your current self, and whatever role you own will determine your level of happiness and fulfillment.
“It kills me when I meet women and life is living them.” She says. “They’re not living life. They’re not in control. They’re not in the driver’s seat.”
Hollis grew up the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher in Weedpatch, California, an unincorporated community made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. There was never enough money. Her clothes from the thrift store never really fit. Her parents’ arguments about the bills were constant. After one particularly brutal spat, they separated for the umpteenth time, and she went to live with her mom in a tiny, rundown apartment. In her adolescent mind, this was rock bottom.
On her 11th birthday, she blew out the candles from an unfrosted box-mix birthday cake with a wish on her breath: Someday, she would be rich. Someday she would have the money to celebrate special moments with decorations and party favors and avoid the sting of embarrassment. Someday she would have the funds to live the life she wanted to live.
She moved to Los Angeles at 17 and got involved in the celebrity event-planning industry, eventually launching her own company. During the day, she worked harder, longer and faster, treating each client—including the ones she took on for free in the beginning—as if they were the most important person in the world. At night, she walked Rodeo Drive to admire the ever-illuminated mansions and imagined herself owning one. To this day, one of her biggest dreams is to celebrate her 40th birthday in the house she buys in Hawaii, “like Oprah.”
Hollis began blogging in 2008 at age 25, sharing event-planning tips and snippets of her life. Her conversational tone and snarky humor were so well-received that she eventually left event planning to run The Chic Site full time. With five employees, a Los Angeles office and sponsored content income from big-name brands, it seemed she had built the life she promised to her 11-year-old self. But she still battled with severe anxiety and work-related stress. Tear- and wine-filled nights were futile attempts to dull the edges. To manage her anxiety, Hollis turned to therapy, addressing the childhood trauma of her brother’s suicide, a difficult relationship with her father, and the out-of-control feeling that often accompanies poverty.
She learned about the importance of identifying what triggered her anxiety and developed methods to see the smoke and take action to avoid the fire. To her, therapy is just another tool to become better than she was the day before.
“[Entrepreneurs] will get the greatest CRM software, go to the conferences, get all of these other tools that will help make you and your business better, but you won’t get the most fundamental fixes to your brain and your mindset,” Hollis says. “That blows my mind.”
More and more, she began sharing her raw and real self on the blog. The stories were met with an outpouring of positive responses from her audience—often women who had never really considered therapy or personal development, but who relished Hollis’s honesty and no-nonsense advice.
It was then that The Chic Site transformed from a lifestyle blog into a space where she could share her stories of struggle, and subsequent growth, with people who hungered for something more that they couldn’t quite identify.
“I am passionate about the belief that we are all called to something more,” she says. “What is incredible about the idea of more is that your more doesn’t look like mine. It doesn’t look like hers.”
Her husband Dave Hollis wasn’t always on board with Rachel’s commitment to daily growth. When she began waking up at 5 a.m. to have time for herself before the kids woke up, he complained. It wasn’t an easy time in their relationship. He responded by retreating inward, spending most of his time at the office or playing video games.
“I was in that strange range between 30s and 40s were I was getting good grades without having to study.” Dave says. “It produced a version of me that I wasn’t as happy with, proud of, or frankly who my wife or kids deserved.”
After a family trip to Hawaii, Rachel approached Dave, describing what their life might look like in six months (no more date night), nine months (no real communication), and three years (divorce) if nothing changed. In the meantime, she persisted, arming herself with knowledge, challenging her limiting beliefs, and growing her company.
Dave is one of those people who initially didn’t believe personal development was for him. Then the couple attended a Tony Robbins seminar together, and it sparked a change that eventually led him to leave a 17-year career with Disney to join The Hollis Co.
“I think something happens when you pull yourself out of regularly scheduled programming,” Rachel says of the Robbins seminar that changed her marriage. “When you remove yourself from all of the distractions in your life, you are able to consider things you maybe haven’t before.”
Along with a daily live stream, two top-rated podcasts, the well-followed social media accounts, a documentary and more offerings for women like her, Rachel now puts on her own Rise seminars. They sell out in minutes.
I’ve been waking up with the Hollises for the past two months. At 8 a.m., along with about 150,000 other people, I get up to watch Dave and Rachel’s live stream, which is usually a mix of playful banter, inspiration, confessions and sometimes a dance cameo from their adopted daughter, Noah. It’s Chip and Joanna Gaines, Oprah and The View all rolled into 30 minutes.
Rachel is usually makeup-free. Dave sometimes hasn’t brushed his teeth. It’s this kind of intimate, unscripted, day-in-the-life view that allows her audience to have a new level of personal connection with her. I know what Rachel’s bathroom looks like. I know the last time she was sick. I know that she can quote Oprah, Robbins and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in her sleep.
She cares about her audience, her “tribe.” She’s grown her fan base from the digital ground up and often spends the first few minutes of every morning asking herself, “What do these women need today?”
That might be a heartfelt video about staying strong in difficult times, or a quick jam session in the car because she’s obsessed with Queen Bey’s newest hit and wants to share it. Sometimes her tribe requires more care than a quick video. When a shipping company failed to manage the influx of holiday orders of her line of journals, she enlisted friends and family to respond to each customer complaint individually, and covered nearly $20,000 in shipping costs, according to a video she posted.
For Rachel, this public life is not a sacrifice, but the natural way that she shares of herself to help others. The result is an extremely loyal following—one that shares and recommends her work with friends and family who might not otherwise have discovered it. When it debuted last February, she believed that Girl, Wash Your Face would finally complete her dream of becoming a New York Times best-seller, the occasion for which she had been saving that bottle of Dom Perignon. But the cork stayed on a while as the word of mouth gathered steam. After 11 weeks, she cracked the most prestigious list in the business. The book’s success made her personal development’s undisputed breakout star of 2018.
“I’m so grateful that my journey has never one time been an overnight success,” Rachel says. “Girl, Wash Your Face was the first time [some readers] had ever thought maybe I should (fill in the blank). If what it took to get them to consider that was me being silly on Instagram and showing pictures of my baby, and you feeling comfortable enough with me to have this conversation, then it’s worth it.”
Rachel views life not as a chronological series of milestones, but as a collection of countless failures and accomplishments, brush strokes that add up to a masterpiece. But, of course, in order to see the final picture, we have to show up to live out those moments each day, every day. It’s the acceptance of this dogged persistence that separates her from other authors and speakers.
For The Hollis Co., she envisions a media empire, yes empire, that has the reach to affect the lives of millions of people. She has made fans out of many of the genre’s most impressive names.
“What I love about Rachel—and what everyone loves about Rachel—is her steadfast refusal to give up on herself,” says John C. Maxwell, the SUCCESS columnist and legendary leadership author and speaker. “She’s relentlessly invested in her own growth, teaching herself how to make her dreams work. That tenacity, that determination to not allow her purpose in life to fade into the background, is not only endearing, it inspires people to pursue what matters to them.”
Rachel’s refusal to give in comes down to a few core beliefs that she has honed over time.
When Rachel approaches something new in her life, she gives herself “toddler status” as a way to relieve the pressure to be instantly good or to give up before trying because of the anticipation of failure or mediocrity. She has a non-negotiable daily routine, beginning each day by writing down her dreams, both short-term and long-term. This helps her focus on the most important things to handle immediately.
“When everything is important, nothing is important,” she writes.
Her persistence is also aided by the steps she takes to avoid burnout. She has two nannies and a housekeeper, and isn’t bashful about admitting it. Finding people who can help, even by trading favors with friends or family, can allow you the space and energy to keep going.
Another strategy allows her to handle naysayers: She doesn’t bother. Rachel used to read and respond to every private message she received on social media. She developed a thick skin, but soon realized her time was better spent engaging her audience in ways that reach the greatest number of people who need it most.
The final core belief that has allowed for Rachel’s persistence is to appreciate and acknowledge positive results as they come. “Often, the only time you’re going to see results is if you have consistency,” she says. Persistence begets more persistence, she has found.
“Determination makes the difference between where you are and where you want to be.”
Without a college degree, and armed only with knowledge that is accessible to anyone with an internet connection, she built two successful companies. So she’s not here for your excuses.
“In the absence of experience or knowledge, determination makes the difference between where you are and where you want to be,” she says.
When Rachel’s son Jackson expressed interest in musical theater, she encouraged him to audition for the school play. He promptly bombed the audition. And then the next one. And then the next one after that.
“I am obsessed with the idea that they will be growth-mindset kids,” Rachel says of her children. “I’m obsessed that they know that anything they want to know how to do, they can teach themselves.”
She encouraged Jackson to continue working hard, growing and practicing. One year he landed a part with a single line, and then another line. In 2018, he landed a leading role in Peter Pan.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel says, pausing our interview with tears in her eyes. “I care so much more about their hearts than I care about their grades.” (They do get good grades, she assures me.)
After the performance, she reminded Jackson of his first audition years ago. She told him to remember that feeling of failure, of continuing to get back up, and finally, of the benefits of hard work and dedication.
Rachel doesn’t particularly care if Jackson’s love of theater affects his choice of college, or even whether he attends college at all. She believes that the constant pursuit of something is in our DNA as humans. It doesn’t matter what we do or why we do it, as long as we are moving toward some form of growth.
“All living organisms, relationships and businesses are either growing or they’re dying. Period,” Rachel writes in her highly anticipated new book, Girl, Stop Apologizing, due out March 5.
Rachel has massive dreams for her life. You might not, and that’s OK, she says. The point of personal development is never to reach some nebulous destination, but rather to enjoy the process of learning about yourself, about your partner, about the world. And then, in five or 10 years, when you’ve grown and changed and developed even further, you learn again.
“I can only try my very best with what I know how to do right now, in this season,” Rachel says. “Five years from now, I hope to look back on these books and be like, ‘Oh my, that was garbage. Now I’m really somewhere.”
Rachel has always been introspective. Even as we sit here, she takes time to consider my questions before answering. Sometimes she glances up to the ceiling and purses her lips in thought. The right answer doesn’t come to her immediately, and she says, “Great question. I’m going to let that simmer.” She is thoughtful about her responses and the way she delivers them.
Unless she’s really excited, and then she speaks in unbroken paragraphs, with her eyes locked on you. She seems to surprise herself with these logical streams of consciousness, and notes each conclusion with a quick chuckle and “I hope that answers your question.”
She’s got another bottle of Dom Perignon stashed in a forgotten refrigerator for when The Hollis Co. hits 100 employees. (She’s at 18 right now.) But she’s also talking about a nonprofit venture, a 2020 book on physical health, more conferences, more reading, more writing. This entire story could be a giant list of all the things Rachel Hollis wants to do. Her drive and enthusiasm strikes me as both beautiful and overwhelming at the same time.
“You’re allowed to want more for yourself,” she writes. “If for no other reason than because it makes your heart happy.”
No need for apology.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE HOLLIS CO.