Writer Laura Whitfield's Self-Discovery Lessons on the Importance of Defying Small


How do you take time to care for yourself in your busy life?

These days, people are constantly on the go - always busy with multiple priorities. I know the feeling. Yet in the last while, I keep getting reminded that life is short and that our dreams really do matter. Sometimes, we need to slow down; we need to take time out to reconnect with who we really are.  So every weekend, I am going to post either an interview or a personal story that will fuel each of us to lead a healthier and happier life. We can all cheer each other on!

The mission of this global beach retreat, The Self-Discovery Retreat, is to provide each guest with the space, encouragement, and tools in their busy lives to develop their unique voice, confidence, and sense of purpose. We are gathering from various parts of the world to support each other through the process of rising to our platforms and shining! By connecting with others and ourselves on a deep level, not only are community members developing the courage to express their thoughts and discovering their purpose, but they are taking action on their dreams. They should be celebrated – that is why I showcase individuals who are rising up and empowering the world.

Today the featured speaker at The Self-Discovery Retreat is Laura Whitfield, a writer and traveller who blogs at laurawhitfieldwriter.com. She is the founder of Defying Small, an online community of visionaries worldwide. She is also writing a memoir, called Defying Small, Embracing Small: How Defining Moments Can Help You Live a Bigger, More Passionate Life. Join Laura on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Click here to read her free, downloadable Defying Small Manifesto.

(c) Laura Whitfield
(c) Laura Whitfield

Laura is a hardworking busy wife, mom, and career woman, passionate about making a positive difference in the world.  She is a role model to me and I know many of you can relate to her experiences.  Through reading Laura’s story, passions, and life lessons, I hope you will be empowered to keep moving forward on your dreams too.

Thanks, Laura, for being here.  Let’s dive in.  What is Defying Small?

Defying Small is based on the Nelson Mandela quote, “There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” It’s about gathering the courage to overcome obstacles that keep you from your biggest life.

Defying Small is about defying negative thoughts like, “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have the talent to succeed.” It’s also about defying the naysayers. Brené Brown calls them gremlins and critics. They sit on the sidelines and say things like, “Who do you think you are? If you try that, you’ll fail.”

Why should we Defy Small? Because none of us wants to end our life full of regrets about not doing the thing we were created for.

Many of my readers are recent graduates who are navigating their career paths. I’d love to hear your professional journey. Tell me, how did you turn the idea for Defying Small into a reality?

That’s a great question. Truthfully, I think I’ve been trying to defy small all my life. First, let me say that I always knew I was born to write. I considered majoring in English but went to college during a recession and majored in Economics because I believed it was more practical. I graduated with hopes of being a stockbroker, but that never worked out.

So I went into advertising working as the assistant to the president of a successful mid-sized agency. I tried to get a break as a copywriter, but the doors closed. So I quit my job and worked as a freelance advertising copywriter for eight years before starting my family. When my children were young, I was hired as a staff writer for an international relief organization for two years and that was fascinating. But I missed my kids and quit my job to home school them. While I was at home, I was also the personal assistant to a New York Times bestselling author. That’s where I learned a lot about the publishing industry and what it means to be a published writer.

Several years later, I was hired as a kindergarten teacher at a private school. But it was my dream to teach for a few years, then quit and write full-time. Fifteen years later I retired. I guess you could say I defied small by never letting go of my dream, even though it was delayed many years. I retired last June, got married, and am just now settling into a writing routine. However, while I was teaching, I continued to write and hone my public relations and social media skills. I started my blog, worked as communications director for an Atlanta-based non-profit helping kids aging out of foster care and a national church-planting organization, and was a travel writer for a company in the UK.

My professional life has truly been an adventure. As an Economics major who never used her degree, I always tell people, “Just do the next thing” and doors will open that you can’t begin to imagine. At least, that’s been my experience.

How did you develop the courage to stand tall (i.e., get the courage to share your story)?

As for standing tall, I’m doing some deep work on that right now. I hit a wall of fear last year while writing my memoir and needed help breaking through. This spring I enrolled in Brené Brown’s “Living Brave Semester” and we are going through her books, Daring Greatly and Rising Strong (which is all about standing tall!) Telling your story, especially your life story, can be terrifying. It’s so personal—it’s like opening your chest and letting your heart fall out. You don’t know what people are going to do with it.

It takes courage to walk into the arena (for me, that arena is my writing my blog and my memoir) and tell your stories and know that you might fail. But when you come to believe that even if you fail you are enough and that you also have the courage to get back on your feet and stand tall, it makes all the difference.

How important is social support in overcoming obstacles?

I couldn’t do what I do without the support of my husband, children, and a few close friends. One of the exercises we had to do with Daring Greatly was to write the names of “the people who matter” on a post-it note. Brené says that they are the only ones whose opinions matter. That was such a freeing exercise. There will always be critics who have their opinions about whatever it is you’re trying to do. But at the end of the day, it’s only the people who have your back that really matter.

How has blogging empowered you on your journey?

Starting a blog was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was a great creative outlet for me while I worked full-time as a teacher. It opened up the world to me and connected me with lots of interesting people, like you! As I wrote, I discovered new things about myself. Blogging became an outlet for documenting that journey.

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What did your experience in modeling teach you about self-worth? How did you learn to love your body?

Modeling in New York City as a 20-year-old was brutal and it took a toll on my self-esteem. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I began not only to accept my body but to love it.

I was 45 when I went back to modeling (ironically, with Wilhelmina, the same agency I modeled for in New York), and the second time around it was all about having fun. I finally felt confident in who I was as a person, and that made all the difference. But that didn’t happen overnight. I did a lot of soul work to get there.

For many people, starting is the hardest part of following their passion. How can we all overcome this and move forward?

I have dreamed for many years of staying at home and writing full-time, and that happened last year. But I have to tell you, it was terrifying. When your hand is on the doorknob, and you’re about to step into your arena (follow your passion), the voices that tell you “Do Not Enter” can be deafening. Those voices can come from within (self-doubt, fear) or from others (critics, naysayers).

I recently listened to a life-changing TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert called, “Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Going.” Link:


She talked about all the years of rejection slips before her success with Eat, Pray, Love and how when she wanted to give up she would tell herself, "I'm not going to quit, I'm going home." Then she went on to explain what “home” is: “Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself. So that might be creativity, it might be family, it might be invention, adventure, faith, service, it might be raising corgis, I don't know, your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.” That was profound for me.

What has been the best moment in your life so far?

Wow, I have had so many incredible moments it’s hard to think of just one. But I have to say the moment I held each of my daughters in my arms for the first time. That was the best.

What has been your biggest obstacle? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?

Fear has been my biggest obstacle. That’s because it can stop you right in your tracks. Fear and I are intimately acquainted. I’ve even blogged about it. This is what I’ve learned: If you ever pursue your passion, fear will be right there with you. It’s like the elephant in the living room that won’t go away. I’ve found the best way to deal with fear (and I have Liz Gilbert and Brené Brown to thank for this strategy) is to invite it along for the ride. As Liz Gilbert says, “You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote . . . and you are absolutely forbidden to drive.” Not letting fear take the wheel is what will help you push through it.

What advice would you give others about goal setting?

I recently wrote a post about this called “The Power of Three.” In it I talked about goal setting and how doing the following three things can help you achieve your goals:  1) Write your goals down and keep them where you can see them. Most people don’t ever achieve their goals because they don’t have a written plan. 2) Be specific. Instead of saying, “Exercise more,” write down a specific goal like, “Work out at the gym for an hour, four times a week.” 3) Set a deadline. I know I always work better when I’m on a deadline. Open-ended goals are rarely realized.

What life lesson have you learned that you would like to pass along to others?

It may seem cliché, but here it is: Life is short. Each day is a gift, so be fully present. Live and love with your whole heart.

you rock!

Thanks so much, Laura, for this powerful conversation and for shining your light globally. I’m so grateful that we connected and empower each other. Your passion for empowering others to defy small and live the life they were created for shines brightly!

Thank you all for reading and for your presence at The Self-Discovery Retreat. You rock!

I’d love to hear from all of you, how can we help you life a healthier and happier life?  Share your insight in the Comments section below.

See you at the beach!

If you know of someone who might benefit from this interview, please share it with them.