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Moving Forward: A Young Life Coach’s Self-Empowerment Journey & Lessons Learned

“The best thing my divorced parents ever did for ~9-year-old me was send me to weekly therapy sessions which I’ve kept up most of my life (minus ~2 years in high school). Thanks to growing up with a profound mental health awareness, I promised myself that I was going to commit to a healthier lifestyle by focusing on my emotional well-being first and foremost. Deep inside me, I knew that was how I’d improve everything else.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hi there! I’m Emily Guerra, one of the youngest life coaches you’ll probably ever meet.

I’m also one of the few people actually born and raised in the heart of Los Angeles, and one of the few who has gone to therapy for the majority of their life. I still live in LA, and my rescue dog Madonna and I are about to move in with my boyfriend of two and a half years. 

I feel so lucky to have a boyfriend who supports me as I work to build The Productivity Flow – my productivity life coaching business – and keep up with my social media freelancing clients. We share many of the same passions but also share tons of similar goals.

When we met, he didn’t have the same passion for personal development as I do, nor did I have the same love for the film industry as he does. We’ve both committed to indulging in each other’s hobbies, which has opened new worlds and brought us closer together.

Having him encourage and challenge me has been one of the biggest reasons I’ve been able to move forward.

This is by far the happiest I’ve been in years, evident not only through my own awareness but also because my therapist has noticed it, too. She’s helped me power through the last seven years which have been my toughest, so for her to feel proud of how far I’ve come – especially in the past year – means more than I can even say.

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

But it took a lot of work to get here. During the Spring of 2019, I made a promise to myself that I would change.

The years prior felt like an uphill battle, with one attack starting as soon as the other ended. From dealing with the remnants of my parents’ bitter divorce to my aunt unexpectedly passing on Christmas Eve then Alzheimer’s Disease taking my grandma / best friend, family life never felt easy.

In both high school and college, I suffered several dissociative seizures caused by emotional trauma, a really rare form of epilepsy that I have now proudly beat. At first, though, it sucked. 

My medication suppressed my appetite, so I lost ~40 pounds in two months. I obviously knew how dangerous it was, but having been self-conscious for being chubby since little, being skinny felt kind of…good. Getting compliments – or really, feeling noticed – and fitting into clothing styles I’ve always wanted to but never tried led to picking up anorexic habits and beliefs that consumed my life – until that promise at the end of my junior year in college.

After a bad night out with my friends, I realized that my habits were harming them. Every time I drank, especially without eating enough first, they felt the need to watch me in case I had a seizure. My empty stomach often led to overdoing it, which only heightened their anxiety and left them to help with my mess. I guess the guilt caught up to me.

The best thing my divorced parents ever did for ~9-year-old me was send me to weekly therapy sessions which I’ve kept up most of my life (minus ~2 years in high school). Thanks to growing up with a profound mental health awareness, I promised myself that I was going to commit to a healthier lifestyle by focusing on my emotional well-being first and foremost. Deep inside me, I knew that was how I’d improve everything else.

I spent the Summer and Fall of 2019 and the Winter of 2020 really trying to practice what my therapist taught me. I got a job at a restaurant, finished two wedding planning internships – a career path I’d been following since high school – and secured a planner position for post-grad. My therapist also encouraged me to get a dog, knowing that if I had another being to care for I’d work harder to care for myself.

I rescued my dog Madonna, a super malnourished Shihtzu mix who looked a bit like a mini Chewbacca at the time but has really grown into her name. And of course, my therapist was right.

Spring of 2020, I finally felt like I was on the right track. Then along comes COVID-19, and my work fell apart.

Within the five weeks before graduation (that actually happened a year later), I lost my job at the restaurant plus my future wedding planning one, so I could no longer afford an apartment with my best friend as we’d planned.

With my industry on a worldwide hold for who knows how long coupled with the fact I had no real savings, career prospects, or plan (anymore), I felt stuck in a cycle I’d been feeling my whole life: like whenever I move forward the world says, “let’s take you back!”

My brother offered up his guest room, taking the role of parent when my actual parents couldn’t (wouldn’t?). During my 2nd week as a college graduate, Madonna and I moved from a sorority house in LA to a Midwestern suburb, into a home with three kids, all of whom were seven and under at the time. As you could imagine, this was quite the transition. 

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

I’ll be the first to admit that I spent the first month or so of post-grad life sulking.

As I settled into my brother’s guest room, I started to boil with anger. I kept thinking that after everything I’d done for my parents – from being there for my mom after my dad left to stepping up for my little half-siblings and caring for my deteriorating grandma, plus everything that’s in between – they could’ve tried harder to help me when I needed them most. I already had resentment growing inside me over the years, but I now allowed it to come to its full fruition. 

It also seemed like everything I’d worked on in therapy just disappeared. I allowed it to impair my mood and outlook in all of my life.

Loneliness also crept in during the first few weeks of post-grad life. I never ever imagined leaving LA, so living in a Midwestern suburbia was an unfamiliar territory that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself before. I felt out of place, and I missed my friends who were all living within miles of each other, making me feel even more distant than I already was.

I also became quite bored considering I was used to taking classes, working, and socializing every day. There were many times when I truly did not know what to do with myself, which is how I started helping out with my nephews and niece quite a bit. 

Not even a month in, Madonna started getting ill almost weekly, uncontrollably shaking, vomiting, etc. (I’ll spare you the details), causing her to lose all the weight we’d worked so hard to gain. Given she only weighed about 7 pounds – half of what she should be – this experience was terrifying.

Each time she got sick in the house, I held back tears as I cleaned it up; I felt so bad my baby girl was suffering yet I (and every vet in town) had no clue why. I even stayed behind from family weekends at their lake house because I didn’t want to risk another episode. 

Honestly, though, it was also because I didn’t want anyone to think that I couldn’t take care of her. I already felt like I dropped the ball, so I was so scared of failing Madonna. My brother also wasn’t Madonna’s biggest fan, and the kids’ rowdiness seemed to be one of her triggers. With each of Madonna’s episodes, tension rose, making me feel like their lives would be easier if we weren’t there.

Every emergency room visit, sample taken, and blood test cost me hundreds of dollars, completely draining what very little savings I had. Becoming even more broke added a layer of fear that began to suffocate me, which is when I realized that I couldn’t wait for the lockdown to end and wedding planning to return anymore; I had to move on so I could afford life, most importantly the proper care Madonna needs.

A month later (so a little over 2 months in all), a test finally came back positive and diagnosed Madonna with Atypical Addison’s Disease, a rare condition resulting in a deficiency of cortisol and aldosterone. In other words, her immune system’s adrenal gland cannot produce on its own, so instead of reacting to a big event normally, she gets sick.

Ever since Madonna has been on medication, her episodes essentially stopped. She’s had a couple of accidents here and there, but more importantly, has doubled her weight, is full of energy, and even has a different fur color from gaining those missing, necessary nutrients. To say I’m proud of how far she has come doesn’t even come close.

But once again, it took a lot of work for me to get there, too. 

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

When my therapist agreed that moving on from wedding planning was the best next step, I ironically panicked. It dawned on me I had no idea what I was going to do, but she reminded me that I’ve overcome a lot tougher scenarios before. I then remembered that promise I made that I’d clearly forgotten: focus on my emotional well-being first and foremost. 

Knowing that I could kiss moving back to LA goodbye unless I got my headspace right, I recommitted to improving my mental health and, again, practiced what my therapist taught me. She suggested continuing my education to start the process of moving forward, an idea I felt repulsed by at first but eventually saw her point.

So, rather than going to graduate school, I decided to take online courses from varying professional institutions. I figured this would be the fastest and most affordable way to test out other industries and discover a job I’d like to do.

Very eager to reunite with my home, I searched for any job I could get and landed a sales position for roadshows. Truthfully, I didn’t quite grasp what I’d actually be doing, but if I had I definitely wouldn’t have taken the job. 

Selling products in the aisles of Costco was originally mortifying – it takes balls to basically yell a pitch at strangers about products they don’t want, balls I did not have when I was hired. Looking back, the company’s required training program sparked my momentum forward.

They taught the sales pitches, of course, but also outlined business strategies, broke down the psychology behind sales, and – even though I may not have seen it at the time – expanded our view of confidence and success. The culture was professional yet super supportive and empowering since, as I now realize, the leadership focused on educating the whole person in order to deliver profitable results.

I only worked there for ~3 months, yet rose to be one of the country’s top 5 sellers of a specific workout bike. Climbing this far felt like my first success since graduating and was a much-needed confidence boost.

I was also taking online courses while working and earned certifications in a few types of virtual event planning and digital marketing specialties. I could feel a spark starting to light within me, toying with the idea that maybe I can move forward. Then I came across an online university for freelancers. 

I never considered working for myself before, but given the lockdown wasn’t going to end soon and I definitely didn’t want to keep this sales job much longer, I thought why not just take a class and see?

A week later a family friend asked what I’d been up to. I shared my most recent social media marketing certification, which led to him hiring me on the spot as an independent contractor working socials for his nonprofit. So I quit the sales job, my freelancing journey began, and that spark within me was fully ignited. 

The next two months were dedicated to moving myself forward as much as possible. I found more clients through word-of-mouth referrals and saved enough money to move back to LA, which was my main goal ever since I left.

Throughout my time in the Midwest, though, my friends encouraged me to go out on dates using Hinge so I could spice things up. Not long after my friend and I signed our lease, I went out with my now-boyfriend for the first time. I set the clear expectation that I did not want anything serious because I was moving, which was fine at first. 

Then we spent time together every weekend until I moved, forming a relationship that was indeed serious. We managed a long-distance relationship for about six months, then he moved to LA, too, and the rest is history!

Within the first six months of living in LA again, I became certain that I wanted to work for myself forever. My passion for reading self-help books, designing customized productivity tools (like lists, planners, and journals), and creating workflows surfaced from my desire to create the most sustainable, mindful, effective, and profitable freelancing career I could for myself.

I started incorporating everything I was researching myself plus all of the lessons from my therapist over the years into my own processes and client work, which my clients noticed. 

One client suggested that I create a business that helps entrepreneurs organize themselves and their work. I sat with this idea until I realized that I could help shift the toxic culture around productivity by showing others how mental health is the necessary, missing piece to moving forward.

Over the past two and a half years, I’ve improved my emotional well-being so much that I no longer have to take my epilepsy medication, and am not considered at risk. I’ve gotten more freelancing clients and projects, earned my Productivity Life Coaching certification, created a website to start a blog and coaching business, and have become so excited for the future that I see.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

The biggest lesson I learned is that whatever has got you stuck, don’t wait for something to happen but do what you can to move forward. Because so much of why I felt stuck was out of my control, I started by focusing on what I can control: myself.

How I managed to let go of that resentment I had towards my parents was by being more intentional with what I said about it in my head. Whenever I heard a negative thought or felt my body tensing up, I’d stop myself and rephrase whatever that thought was into something more positive, and literally breathe or walk out the tension.

I also started talking kinder to myself. When I hear that critic in my head rudely say those self-limiting beliefs like, “No matter how hard I try it won’t work,” I tell the critic it’s wrong. I also often flip it into a question, and ask, “How can I make it work?” to start thinking in a more solution-oriented way.

Another step I took to get unstuck is adapt my life vision to fit my new life circumstances. If I had not come to the realization that my wedding planning dreams were on hold and I was literally just losing money, then I never would have started freelancing or eventually become a coach.

On the flip side, only once I could actually picture my future self running The Productivity Flow did I become genuinely excited about life down the road. Especially for those who have to see it to believe it, showing yourself is a powerful tool.

One of the most crucial steps, though, was relying on the support of others. Doing so also comes in so many forms. I absolutely would not be where I am today without my brother and his wife’s generosity and willingness to take in another mouth to feed. They gave me the foundation to rediscover myself, and I’m beyond grateful.

I also wouldn’t be this far forward if that family friend hadn’t put his faith in me, almost blindly, and offered me my first freelancing gig. I don’t even want to think about where I’d be without the guidance of my therapist, as well as her unwavering belief in me.

Without my boyfriend, I don’t think my sense of purpose would be as strong. Part of my life vision is creating a family and for my kids to learn a mental health-conscious life by example, yet that only surfaced once I saw a future with him. The point is, you don’t have to actually be supported by someone to feel their support.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

Oddly enough, I find it more comfortable to talk about my journey with those who don’t really know me. I think many in my family still see me as a struggling teenage girl or a lost college grad, and are a little too close to see how far I’ve come.

My friends don’t really understand what it’s like working for yourself and spending money on business investments like tools or courses instead of on a night out, but they are some of the most emotionally aware people I met which is the reason I think we were drawn to each other.

My boyfriend has been helping me grow comfortable with the discomfort I feel sharing my struggles. I admire how in touch with his own feelings he is, and have learned that I am allowed to reveal my weaknesses to those I love.

I often had to put on a face growing up, only telling my therapist what was really going on inside, so it’s taken effort and patience to let go of the mask but I feel improvement every day.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

The one thing that I wish I saw more clearly before is that there really is always a way forward.

Sometimes I allowed my negative thoughts and feelings to consume my energy, deplete my motivation, and ruin my mood. I often felt that once I was in that cycle, I was stuck with no real way out.

The way I let go of those limiting beliefs now is by practicing meditation, something I am brand new to doing that I even struggle with saying I practice. I grew up thinking meditation was a hoax and silly, but once I learned it’s been scientifically proven to improve your mindset, I became curious.

If you think about it, it’s fascinating how just breathing, saying the words, “in,” and, “out,” or counting to 10 repeatedly sends signals to the brain to calm down, focus, and orient yourself. And by doing this enough, you create new neural pathways that help you stay calm, focused, and oriented more often. The more you use those pathways, the more natural it becomes.

So if I had started meditating years ago, I would have had the skills to cope with my struggles in a healthier way. It’s been super helpful particularly with rebalancing my relationship with food and improving my eating habits, not to mention letting go of any leftover anger from before.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • Everything is Figureoutable: This book introduced me to Marie Forleo and gave me my 1st example of another super young female coach sharing my goals. It also helped me better understand how to get out of a bad headspace to figure out a solution.
  • Mind Your Mindset: This book is a very easy-to-understand breakdown of how your thought process works, and helped me rewrite some of my most limiting stories I told myself to be more empowering.
  • Uncommon Accountability: This book is a new way to think about how to hold yourself personally accountable (and others accountable), and shows why the current understanding of accountability and consequences does more harm than good.
  • Cubed timers: My favorite productivity tool!! Since I time block my schedule, I use my cube timers for everything, like reading, answering emails, doing client projects, and creating content. I recommend this set of 2 because it costs the price of the average single timer you see on the Amazon search page, and comes in tons of different colors.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can read more about me on my website here, more of what I have to share in my blog here. And here is where you can schedule a free chat to see if coaching with me will be the right fit, or shoot me an email.

You can also reach out to me on LinkedIn and/or Pinterest!

And if you want to learn more of my tips and tricks to go from feeling stuck to unstoppable, check out my online course “How to Get Unstuck and Move Forward” that also comes with a free, one-on-one coaching session!

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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