Jen Louden – Compassionate Grit



In the 1980s, when women were wearing shoulder pads and pumps, Jen Louden gave them permission to remove their professional armor and take a hot bath. Since her first publication, The Woman’s Comfort Book, Jen has encouraged us to pursue our creative work with compassionate grit, while reminding us to take good care by staying connected to ourselves, body, mind, and spirit. I discovered Jen’s book, The Life Organizer, last year when I was exploring different approaches to time management. When I read the following sentence, I put all the other books aside:


What if you could erase your sense of never having enough time or energy by cultivating a constant loving connection to yourself?


During a time when I was struggling with my health, her book helped me shape my days in a way that honored my body’s need to heal–and still get some work done.


What impressed me most during my interview with Jen was her willingness to be vulnerable. As a leader in self-care and women’s creativity, she wasn’t afraid to talk about her sense that she had not yet fulfilled her deepest creative calling. As she pursues her new memoir, she is slowly and surely reclaiming that piece of her work. Jen shares her wisdom and experience in writing, business, and making her own days here.


Saundra: Let’s begin with your writing and the place of writing in your life?


Jen: Well, it’s a fraught place. Also an essential place. When someone asks me, “What do you do?” I say I’m a writer, but it’s not something that’s easy for me. I had a Vedic astrology reading last year, which is the Indian system of astrology. It was fascinating, because one of the things the guy said to me was, “You really angst about writing, don’t you?” It’s so baked into me.


But the thing that I want to say to anybody reading this is that I don’t think that the angst means anything. I take umbrage when I read writing books that say, “If you don’t love it and you don’t enjoy it, then you’re probably not supposed to be doing it. You’re probably supposed to be doing something else.” And you know what? That really pisses me off! There might be truth in it for some, but I think there are things in life that we want very much, but they take a certain amount of suffering. And I think that the new age coaching culture can do us a disservice by talking about ease all the time, and follow your bliss, the often misquoted Jospeh Campbell passage.


So that’s a long, weird answer, but I am a writer, and it’s hard for me.


Saundra: That’s a great message because there is suffering involved. It’s good to know that it’s normal, and it doesn’t mean anything.


Jen: I don’t know if it’s normal, Saundra, but it’s my experience, and I don’t want anyone to pathologize it. That’s one of the things I get sick of in the blogosphere, or whatever we call it now. Anybody can tell you that one thing or one experience is the right one to have, and that it legitimizes or delegitimizes it. I know that I want someone to tell me that what I’m doing is right or wrong. That’s why we have so much fundamentalism in the world, right? But I don’t want to contribute to that because it can be damaging. I’ve worked with so many writers who have been damaged because someone said to them, “You’re not a writer,” or because someone said to them, “You’re so talented.”


Saundra: I’ve read and heard you talk about making the leap from screenwriting to books about comfort and self-care for women. What gave you the courage to make that leap? Leaving what you thought you were supposed to be doing behind and moving into this new territory?


Jen: Total desperation. It’s interesting that you ask me about that moment because I was sketching out the scene for it today for my memoir. I swear I’ve written it a million times but can’t find anywhere. I’ve had so many different versions of that moment, when the title for that book came to me, “The Woman’s Comfort Book.” I had the version of what I remember happening, I have this story that I built over time, and I have this story now that I’ve written a lot about, my creative struggle and my desire to burn things down to find something better, which is the core of the memoir. And I have a different story now of that moment. It’s important to remember when we’re reading interviews like this.


We’re always rewriting our stories. Nothing is fixed and no interpretation is fixed.


But at the time I was miserable writing screenplays, and I surrendered to giving myself a break from writing by telling a friend that I was desperately jealous of that I was going to take a break. It felt like I was cutting something out of myself. There was a feeling of death to it, again, in my memory. But when I hung up the phone from telling my friend this, the title for what became my first book popped into my head as clearly as if you said it to me right now. That was The Woman’s Comfort Book.


I remember at the time thinking, “Oh, that sounds like one of those fun bathroom books that you keep on the back of the toilet.” Right? “Wow, that could be a good idea.” And then I put it in a box. I’m a four on the Enneagram and I love to think, “I have this thing and it’s mine and it makes me somebody.”


But it took quite a while to actually develop that book. I kept going back to what I had said no to, something we all do in times of change. Those times are liminal space and very dangerous, because we can go back to what is known. And sometimes that’s fine, sometimes we’re not ready to go forward, and we need to go back and redo something or try one more time or make sure we gave it our all. I certainly did that with my first marriage a number of times. I certainly did it with screenwriting during this two-year period.


But there was this siren call of redemption and learning how to be kind to myself. And then for my ego, it was, “Oh, you’re going to be somebody if you publish a book.”


I think from a zeitgeist point of view, the timing of that was exquisite. The zeitgeist speaks through all of us, and we can grab those moments and benefit. And we miss those moments lots of times. I’ve missed a ton of them.


Saundra: But you hit on something for women at a time when they were burning themselves out trying to prove something.


Jen: Yes, coming out of the eighties.


Saundra: And it’s still pertinent now, I think.


Jen: It’s true. I could have kept going with that and probably made a lot more money sticking with the one theme. But I got tired of it.



Saundra: You’re working on a memoir now. What brought you around to writing in that genre?


Jen: I’ve always had a fraught relationship with being a self-help person. I started off wanting to write fiction, and working in theater and in film. I went to film school and was writing screenplays, and when that fell apart, I went on the self-help track. It always sat with me a little uncomfortably. I had so many stories about that, like what a shit head I was to not thinking, “Oh my God, look, I’m doing something of worth in the world.” There was a part of me that really loved that and there was a part of me that worked hard to deepen my ideas and my research, and to be someone of merit and depth.


Even though I look back at some of my books and think, “Oh God, I can’t believe I said that,” or, “Oh, that’s kind of new age,” that’s okay. We grow and change. But meanwhile, deep in my heart and sometimes very close to the surface of my heart,  was a desire to become what I would consider a real writer. And by real writer I mean someone who is practicing the craft.


Photo by Heaven McCarther

Photo by Heaven McCarthur


One of my barn burnings, about sixteen years ago, was to turn back an advance for another self-help book, and within six months to have sold our house in Santa Barbara and move to Bainbridge Island, to greatly simplify our financial lives, and start writing fiction. And then to make a living I was in coaching school and I started coaching.


That was one of the points in my life when I was trying to choose this other path. And I did complete a novel, but I never rewrote it, and I still don’t understand what happened. I kept being the Comfort Queen. I kept being Jennifer Louden, and not rewriting that novel. And I started another novel and got bogged down in that one and out of that was this other idea of writing my own life and about a period of time I’d gone through being mired in regret over the death of my father and my divorce.


I started of on a lark after a talk that I gave about my life, and I’ve been slowly knocking away at it for the last two years, and this year it’s taking shape and I’m terrified, absolutely terrified.


Saundra: That’s a big deal. It feels like you’re reclaiming something, or maybe just bringing the two things together.


Jen: I think that’s a beautiful way to look at it. I think maybe bringing the two together is exactly right. Thank you.


Saundra: Thank you. That’s generous of you to share that.


You’ve been teaching and leading retreats for almost twenty-five years, and then since 2000, you’ve taught and fostered communities online. Could you talk about how you began each of those activities and how they’ve supported you both financially and emotionally?


Jen: I started teaching because I was asked to. The first time I was asked, I laughed. I could not imagine. I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight when the first book was published, and I had never done anything. My professional life had been nil at that point. I remember I was in my publisher’s office and I laughed. But then I started being the businessman’s daughter – I have a very practical side – and started to research what I needed to do to promote the book. This would have been 1991 – the book came out in 1992 – so it was pre-internet.


That book was published by Harper San Francisco, a new division of Harper then. Harper & Row had just become Harper Collins and Harper San Francisco was only a few years old. It’s still kind of an ugly stepchild. Then Harper New York got excited about The Woman’s Comfort Book and they were talking about a huge print run and putting a lot of money into it, and then they decided it was too new age. “There’s too much candle lighting,” they said, and basically dropped the book.


I remember being afraid and thinking, “Oh, what am I going to do to promote this book?” And somehow, I don’t know how I found it, but about Wayne Dyer. I have never read one of his books. I can’t say that I’m a fan from the encounters that I’ve had with him in different ways, but it was something about Wayne Dyer. I read that he drove around with copies of his book in his trunk and did anything he could. And I thought, “Okay, that’s what I’m going to do.”


So I found an adult education service that did a newsletter and they also had a mailing list that I could buy. So I bought a mailing list and I sent out a proposal to all these adult education places, any place in the country where I knew someone I could stay with. Now get this, I had not yet taught a workshop, I had not given a speech, but got a bunch of yeses back and I planned a little book tour. In the meantime the book started to get some buzz and they gave me a publicist, so I did stuff that would come with a publicist like radio interviews or a newspaper things.


In the meantime I had a three-month crash course in teaching, and it was incredibly painful and I was full of self-doubt, and my God, what I wouldn’t have given for a few friends or mentors, but I didn’t even think to ask for them. And then I got asked to lead retreats, and Omega was the first one I believe.


I gave keynotes, and every time I was thought, “Okay, I have no idea what I’m doing.” And it became a way for me, very slowly and very painfully, to grow up and claim that I had some abilities and gifts and things to say. But it took years to do that.


It also became an important source of income, and now it is most of my income. In the first ten, twelve years of my career most of my income came from advances and royalties, with some nice extra income from speaking and spokesperson jobs, and then in the last twelve years it’s almost all been speaking and teaching.


Saundra: That’s what everybody says. It’s pretty much flipped.


Jen: Yes, and I’m so glad that I was smart enough or lucky enough to make that switch early on, understand the online world early on.


Saundra: I know some successful writers who had to reinvent the way they earned a living when the bottom dropped out of publishing.


Jen: I know. I spend a lot more time marketing than I do creating, and that’s the tradeoff for that.


Saundra: When you say you spend more time marketing, you’re talking about your blog and newsletter?


Jen: Yes, writing the blog, which you know also goes out by email. Writing, email campaigns and social media for the different courses I launch. Showing up on social media, trying to stay engaged in a way that feels authentic and relevant. All that takes time. And thinking about and planning all of it. I do have a business with three part-time employees.


It is flexible and I could say, “Okay, it’s going away this year.” I’m not trying to build something I’m going to sell or anything. I have friends who have real companies, even though they are virtual as well, that are trying to build and have built multimillion dollar companies. But that’s not me. I’m in this for my creative expression, for sure, as well as to pay the bills.


Saundra: You mentioned before, you said you were a businessman’s daughter. Could you elaborate on that?


Jen: I think the religion I was raised in was business. My dad was a successful businessperson in small town Indiana, and left there and retired very young. He was in his forties, but then got bored and started another company in his early fifties, which since I’m in my early fifties now, I’m impressed with. That took some energy.


I was immersed in these conversations at home. My parents were not intellectuals. There weren’t a lot of books in the house. It was a pretty traditional suburban upper middle class home. But there was that entrepreneurial spirit of people saying, “Why would you ever work for anybody else?” I remember I got out of college and I got a job and I called my dad and I was so excited, and there was this dead silence on the other end of the phone. And he said, “Why’d you do that?”


But full disclosure, I had a little bit of money from the sale of his second company. It had been a tax strategy during the 50% tax rate in the seventies. So I could live very basically for a while, and he thought that’s what I should be doing.


Saundra: Wow.


Jen: I know. Good dad. He was a good dad.


Saundra: You were also an early adopter, bringing your business online and teaching online.


Jen: I was. I was stupid and smart. The stupid part was I spent a shitload of money on my first website in 2000, and it had a lot of incredible bells and whistles. But it was at the height of the first dot-com flash, and I thought, “Oh my God, I’m going to sell this for a couple million dollars in no time at all.” And truly, if I would have done it a year or two earlier, I think that would have been possible, and I think if I would have stuck with it and been more of a visionary, it would have been possible.


But as it was profitable over time for me, and so there was a lot of good, but I could have done it for a lot less money. That was, which was so much fun to create. And that was before WordPress, so everything had to have somebody hardcode it and then I had to learn some html. But what was really cool was I had a designer who set it up so I could do a lot of stuff on the backend myself. So there was some benefit to spending all that money.


Saundra: I don’t love the term “thought leader,” but you’ve certainly led a conversation about women’s lives based on what you live and what you believe. Do you have advice for other women who want to do something similar, who want to lead that kind of conversation online, through teaching and writing?


Jen: The biggest thing I wish I had figured out a long time ago, which I believe would have led to a lot more success and a greater sense of peace, is making a choice about what you stand for, and showing up that way consistently. Any idea that you have that you are passionate about, that you’re willing to suffer for, and you’re willing to pay the price.


We have so much fantasy encouragement out there. Oh my gosh, when people show up in my world and they’re like, “Yeah, I want to find out how to make a million dollars a year working three hours a week.” I think, “Really? Do you think that’s what I’m doing? Because it’s not. I haven’t had a shower today.”


Saundra: I imagine that you work hard.


Photo by Heaven McCarthur

Photo by Heaven McCarthur


Jen: There has to be something that can sustain you through that. There’s something out there that you see that hooks up with something that people you care about really want, and you’re willing to figure out a way to build that bridge, and then build it and show it to people consistently, even though you get really, really bored with it. Because you will get bored with it, because most creative people get bored. I’ve gotten to the point now that I’m making enough money that I can afford to have people do some of the stuff that I absolutely can’t do, because I’m dyslexic and detail-adverse.


But you can’t ever give it all up. That’s another myth, right? That you can just give up your business to someone else. No one will do it in your voice, no one will do it the way you do it. I made that mistake, so don’t make that mistake.


So I think it’s that consistency, and then within that consistency, you get to play and you give your people what they think they need, but then you slip in the things that keep you interested. So that’s one piece of advice.


The other piece of advice is to find a sweet spot between your minimal viable product — getting shit out – and not doing it so crappy the first time that you might not be able to get a permanent product out of it, or the second time get a permanent product that you can then sell again and again.


Teach Now is one of my examples of that. I minimum viable produced it, we did it a second time and recorded it, and then I have offered it with a live component that keeps me interested and engaged and gives it some excitement for people and help learning and being accountable over and over again. But the main body of teaching was done a long time ago. So I don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel, and you can’t reinvent the wheel and make enough money.


Saundra: Right. I’m coming up against that right now. It’s what I’m working on.


Jen: You could do a minimal viable product the first time and take shitloads of notes and get lots of feedback from people, and then teach it, offer it again as soon as you can, and then package that and then have a life component. That’s a really time-tested way. You get a couple of those things in over a few years and you can build up a good base of income, and give yourself time to be inventing stuff or writing the books or building your platform. And building your platform is a job. It’s got to be one of your pots on the stove.


Saundra: That’s very useful, thank you. I’m taking notes.


Jen: I wish I would have learned it a long time ago. And then that consistency, it’s hard. Everything out there is bright and shiny and you see someone else doing something. I was having a conversation with a close friend last night and I was talking about something I want to devote myself to. And you could have heard the whine coming out of my mouth, “But everybody else is doing it, too.” But he said, “You know, everybody else is doing what I’m doing, and I don’t care. I set out to do it the very best.”


And he is blowing it out of the water. He actually decided to create this offer, because he saw that so many people were doing it because there’s a need for it, a desire, data that’s saying this is a huge area of growth. And so often we turn away from those things and then keep sabotaging ourselves.


Saundra: In addition to being an author, teacher, entrepreneur, you’re a mom and you accomplished a lot of these things while you were raising your daughter. How did you manage work and family? Any advice you have for artists, writers, entrepreneurs, those of us who still have our children at home?


Jen: I think the most important thing that I was really good at was not trying to be the mother of the year. I have no desire or interest or comprehension of people who put everybody else before themselves, or make these elaborate projects out of stuff that they don’t really care about instead of their own work.


I have a friend who would put on the most incredible Christmases and the most incredible Thanksgivings, and it was beautiful. I would have loved to have done that, but I wasn’t about to trade that for the work that I was doing. It was so essential to me that I did my work. It was never a question.


That said, I was also the primary breadwinner for most of the years in my first marriage. This wasn’t a hobby. I had a mortgage, I had health insurance, I had the whole kit and caboodle. And some years he worked more and it was great, and I certainly wasn’t entirely alone in that, and he was a fantastic co-parent. And that’s probably the third thing is that we did a lot of tag team parenting and we were very supportive of each other’s work.


The thing that I wish I hadn’t done was feel so guilty when I wasn’t keeping clear boundaries between things. I wish that I would have honored that. This is the same wish I have for my life now, so nothing’s changed. When you’re playing, play. When you’re with your kid, be with your kid.


Set up for yourself in writing, very clearly, what’s possible day-by-day, what’s enough, and accept the pain that it is never going to feel, or rarely going to feel perfect or right, and then let it go. Because you’re going to really regret all the times you didn’t let it go and you tried to be in three places at once.


Saundra: That’s very useful. Thank you. Thank you for saying all those things. That’s going to help a lot of people.


Jen: I hope so.


Saundra. I read on your website that you decide what you’re going to accomplish the night before, but in your books you emphasize tuning into your body and your emotional state, letting that guide you. I’m wondering how you move between planning and being?


Jen: That is such a good question. How do I do it? Mostly badly. It really does help me tremendously to plan my day the night before. But I often fail or I don’t plan enough of it, and so then it degrades as the day goes on.


What’s difficult is the self-trust to both stick with the plan and leave the plan.


Sometimes it’s clear, “Oh, this is so not going to happen,” or, “This was too ambitious,” or, “I’m just pushing the river with this. I need to put it aside for a while.”


The really clear moments aren’t the problem, but a day like today when I was sick Monday and Tuesday, is harder. I slept all day Monday, and all day Tuesday I watched TV. I have never done this in my life I don’t think, maybe since I was a teenager. I don’t even know if I did it when I was a teenager. So today I thought, “Okay, this is it. I don’t feel great, but I’m going back to work.”


I believe in the whole habit chain, looking at what your habits are and where can you take out and insert little by little ones that help you cultivate the life you want. But that can become super rigid and masculine.


This is optimal and it probably doesn’t even happen 50% of the time, but if I follow the habit chain of getting to meditation before anything else, then I can feel into that loving awareness, creative radiance, whatever we can call it, and rededicate myself to my intentions and check in and see what’s feeling too much, what’s feeling too rigid, what’s feeling like, “Oh right, I don’t want to do that, but that’s only because I’m scared and I’m being a weenie.”


If I don’t do that, if I just go into, “Oh come on, I didn’t sleep well. I’m just going to sit at the kitchen counter with my computer and check email while I drink my cup of coffee. It’s okay, because I didn’t sleep well.” That’s when I get into trouble.


So I have to prime myself to be on, and then I have to give myself the weekends off, and let myself have times of being a little wild or a little bad, drinking beer or watching stupid TV or whatever it is. I think it’s important to have that built into our lives.


Saundra: So setting things up, having a practice that’s going forward what’s important.


Jen: Yes, a way to check in. I think it’s that back and forth that’s so important. What I see gets in my way is that I I either get too rigid and too ambitious and I’m not checking in with my heart and my intention and with that vast loving awareness, or I’m just like, “Ok, let’s just play.” And it’s what the Jungians are always going on about. It’s about holding the tension of opposites.


Photo by Heaven McCarthur

Photo by Heaven McCarthur


Saundra: That’s good. About this time last year, I was reading The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller, and reading a lot of men, because men know how to work. They get things done. And those books were helpful. But that’s alsowhen I picked up The Life Organizer, because I realized I needed to balance it out. I was getting a lot from the men, but they operated with different assumptions.


Jen: Women’s lives are often interrupted. How do we learn to flow with interruptions and not be cowed by them overly shaped by them, but live in a way that’s accepting?


The male model is very linear. It’s not parenting and making meals and things like that. Those are an extra special thing you do, not the main thing. Even my child was young and I had a equal partner, and he did all the cooking we shared everything equally, parenting still was in my mind and in my heart in a very different way. Even though I was clear when we got married that I would never write a Mother’s Day card for him to his mother, it still held me and affected me differently than it did him.


Saundra: You talk and write about compassionate grit, and your work is so much associated with taking care, but The Comfort Queen is pretty gritty. You didn’t accomplish what you accomplished by accident. And so I was wondering if you could talk about that part of your personality.


Jen: It’s a huge part of my personality. I’m actually trying to learn not to let it run the show as much. I was talking to an old friend, about my daughter and how responsible she is and how competent, and my friend said “You know, one of the things that I always admired about you is you get stuff done. You make things happen and money, and you’re kind of relentless about it.” Although she probably didn’t use the word relentless.


Again, I think I got it from my dad. I also think it’s part of my makeup, if you look at it astrologically, or the different sort of typologies that we could look at, there’s a pretty clear picture of somebody who’s driven. And for me, just like for all of us, we have to bring in the part of us that’s in the shadow. For me ,that’s my creative, joyful, create-for-the-sake-of-creating self. And it gets stamped on and stomped on and pushed aside a lot.


Saundra: Role models or mentors?


Jen: Oh, gosh that’s a great question. I’ve been part of a mastermind group for nine or ten years now. We call ourselves, “The Brain Trust,” and the participants have all been incredible mentors for me. We’re all coachy author types, but in different areas. Being seen over and over again by one another, we know our patterns. That’s what it’s all about — somebody who can bust you with a lot of love and no judgment. But you have to show up to be seen. You have to keep risking, and you have to keep going, “Oh fuck, I did it again.” But that has been probably one of the greatest mentorships for me. We give each other lots of ideas about our businesses and such, but mainly it’s been being seen. And then getting to see other people who I admire, who are really smart, good people trying to live good lives.


A lot of times books are my mentors because I’ve been shy to reach out to real people. It’s one of the things I’m trying to change, although I’m not doing very well at it yet. But there definitely have been books that woke something in me, poems that woke something in me, that mentored me in some way.


I had a writing teacher a few times when I lived on Bainbridge, Priscilla Long, who wrote a book called The Writer’s Portable Mentor. It’s my favorite writing book. She was an incredible mentor to me. I didn’t study with her more because she wasn’t super available and she was focused on mostly short nonfiction at the time, which wasn’t interesting to me. But the classes I could take from her – at the time I was trying to write fiction – were incredibly helpful to me.


I have a writing teacher now, her name is Mary Carrol Moore, and she’s mentoring me well. And I have a meditation teacher, Richard Miller, and he’s somebody I’ve been studying with a lot and learning from.


But I need more mentors! It’s hard to find good mentors that you can learn from, especially at this age.


Photo by Heaven McCarthur

Photo by Heaven McCarthur


Saundra: I have one last question. Could you speak to the practices that have supported your life and work? You spoke a bit about meditation. Any advice you have for someone who wants to build a practice?


Jen: The most important thing, and everybody says this, but it’s so true: You have to start small. Everything in you, especially if you’re at all ambitious or want things to be fixed yesterday, is going to want to start big. But all the research shows that’s the kiss of failure. So start small and have a way, and in this case a community, to celebrate with you and track it with you.


I can’t get over how isolated we are and how many of us choose isolation, because it’s safer. You’ve got to have community and you’ve got to start small, and you’ve got to pick one thing. You can’t pick five, you can’t pick change your diet and meditate and write and then you wonder why you fail again.


What is either the linchpin habit, the linchpin practice in this case, that’s really going to unlock other things for you? And so this is the bizarre one for me right now –it’s doing my squats before I leave the bedroom every morning. I do squats for my back, and I hate to do them. It becomes the thing that is like the rock in front of the tomb. Because I didn’t do my squats, I’m screwed for the day. But if I do my squats, the next thing is I walk down have a big glass of water right away. Because then that’s the other thing. “Oh, I didn’t drink water, I’m so bad.” They become these little narratives. “But just screw it. You know I’ll eat whatever I want today because I didn’t drink water.” Not quite that bad, but like that.


It’s the same if I check emails before I go into the meditation room. Sometimes if I haven’t been meditating because we’ve been traveling or I’ve been sick, I’ll go in and put my butt on the cushion. I stay for a few minutes and meditate a little bit, maybe four minutes. But it’s okay. I got there.


And then from there I’m building the new habit of making coffee, which is a new habit for me and very exciting. I go right to my office to start working, giving myself an hour on coffee, and then going from there.


Saundra: I keep trying to encourage people to keep it simple, one small practice. But then they want add another one, and do it for an hour.


Jen: I know. You’ve got to show them the data. Look up BJ Fogg at Stanford. He’s got some great data and Charles Duhigg’s book on habit. And Gretchen Rubin. I don’t read her, but I’m sure she’s a good researcher.


Saundra: Oh, that’s a great book, actually, the one about habit. She talks about linchpin habits, or foundational habits, the one habit that you can form that’s the foundation for everything else.


Jen: Oh, cool. I just made that up, I’m glad to know it’s real.


Saundra: I wondered if you could speak to what I assume is a practice of self-inquiry. Your books and especially my favorite, The Life Organizer, are full of wonderful questions to sit with. How did that come about? How did you start asking questions, and how did that become like little flashlight for the mind?


Jen: It developed from a conversation I had with someone who’s been a bit of a mentor to me, Christina Baldwin. She’s written a number of books including Storycatcher. She was one of the mothers of journaling with Life’s Companion, and we’ve been friends and I studied with her a little bit over the years. I called to interview her when I was writing The Woman’s Retreat book, and so this is probably about 1996/1997. She’s a no bullshit kind of person, and basically challenged me on my ideas about what I thought a retreat was.


Right off the top of her head, she said, “A retreat is about asking the right question,” which is a bastardization of what she said. But that lit a fire under me, and I wrote that whole chapter in the retreat book about intentions. What if your intention is a question? What if your retreat is about exploring that question, not answering it?


I think it all started there. I also think that my mind doesn’t love questions. I really love answers, so I’m trying to grow that part of me, and awaken that creative, joyful, part of me.


I believe that the deep currents in our work come out of something essential we’re trying to heal and explore and live in ourselves. Questions for me are like that. I want answers, and I’m trying to learn to be somebody who loves questions.


Jennifer Louden is a personal growth pioneer who helped launch the self-care movement with her first book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She’s the author of 6 additional books on well-being and whole living: The Couple’s Comfort Book, The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book, The Woman’s Retreat Book, Comfort Secrets for Busy Women (The Comfort Queen’s Guide to Life in hardcover), The Life Organizer, and A Year of Daily Joy. There are about a million copies of her books in print in 9 languages. Learn more about Jen and her work here.

9 thoughts on “Jen Louden – Compassionate Grit

  1. Suzi Banks Baum

    Oh my gosh, Saundra, I am going to be picking in to this and taking notes for days. What a wonderful. compassionate and sisterly discussion you and Jen have had here. Really. Today, as I open my first online teaching this evening, inspired originally by the work I did with Jen in Teach Now, I find this phrase so compelling,
    “Set up for yourself in writing, very clearly, what’s possible day-by-day, what’s enough, and accept the pain that it is never going to feel, or rarely going to feel perfect or right, and then let it go. Because you’re going to really regret all the times you didn’t let it go and you tried to be in three places at once.”

    I take this quote and this whole interview is a Comfort Koan…if I am using Koan correctly. Doing the work, putting it out there while stepping around the yen for perfection and aiming at the heart of this present moment, discomfort and all with the tools i in my hands.

    Okay. I have work to do. And room to breathe because of this. Thank you both.

  2. Barb Buckner Suarez

    Saundra: This was a GREAT interview! Lots of things to chew on for sure. “I think the most important thing that I was really good at was not trying to be the mother of the year.” Oh, this is a good quote for me to reflect on again and again. It’s something that my own Mom would say to me often as a kid growing up – “Well, I guess there went my nomination for ‘Mother of The Year.'” I remember thinking, “But she really IS the mother of the year!” but it was so helpful for me to have this in the back of my own mind when it was my turn. It’s important that this message get out there more. I also really loved how down-to-earth Jen seems in everything she does and this was evident here in her interview with you. You ask great questions, Saundra. Thanks for this!

  3. Lesley Riley

    As usual, Jen has been inside my head again. This interview came at just the right time – new things to ponder, old things to remember, insight, guidance, prodding and pushing fee to be my best self, do my best work…especially on a dreary winter rainy day when I’d rather stay in bed and watch TV (House reruns are my current escape favorite).

    Thanks, Saundra and Jen!

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