Episode 62 – Emily P. Freeman, Author of The Next Right Thing

Emily P. Freeman is a writer, creative director, and spiritual mentor who helps create space for the soul to breathe so people can walk in step with their calling. Today, Emily brings her unique brand of steady, thoughtful, reflective wisdom to Going Scared. Sit back and savor Emily and Jessica’s conversation conversation as they discuss how all of us can create space in our lives, gain some perspective, and become empowered to do the next right thing.

Emily Freeman


Hey, everyone! Welcome to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host, Jessica Honegger, the founder of Noonday Collection. And this is your got-to spot for all things entrepreneurship, courage, and social impact. Today I’m excited to offer you the opportunity to win the Noonday Collection Travel Capsule. This is this gorgeous bag that I took with me on my recent trips to Nepal and Thailand—it expands like a Mary Poppins bag—a really cute eye mask, a really great cosmetics bag … everything is hand-loomed in Guatemala. And you can win this, you can also win my book Imperfect Courage, and you can win a book by Emily P. Freeman, our guest on today’s show. The Next Right Thing is the name of her book.

We talk all about it today. So, all that you have to do is, after you listen to this episode, screenshot the episode wherever you might listen to it, and put it in your Instagram stories. Tag jessicahonegger—that’s two Gs and one N—and tag emilypfreeman. With that we’ll be able to see that you shared the love and everything that you learned from the podcast episode. And you will be entered to win everything you need to travel with this summer.

I just appreciate you guys so much. I love my podcast listeners. I love getting to hear what your takeaways are. And, honestly, I just love getting to offer this content to you. So, we want you to spread that, so the more you spread it, the more you talk about it, the more other people will find us. And it would mean so much to me if you could ask other people to give this episode a listen. This episode means a lot to me personally because Emily is definitely changing my life right now. Her podcast, The Next Right Thing, and her book The Next Right Thing—they offer simple, soulful practices for making life decisions, and when I say simple and soulful, I mean it. Emily is so good about just decluttering our souls, helping us to get into a posture of listening, and then practicing really intentional living. I love the conversation that we have today, and I can’t wait for you to give it listen.

So, for those that are listening that might not know your career, I mean, you have such a multi-pronged career like so many people that day. So, I’d love to let you just share the 101 of the various things that you do for a living.


When It’s Time to Write

Emily: It’s a great question, and sometimes it’s like depending on the day, it depends on how I might answer that question. But big picture, my husband John and I have been married almost 18 years. We have three kids, twin girls who are 15 and our son is almost 13. So, middle school, high school, that is our home life. But I am a writer, and so I tend to think of myself as a writer first. That’s kind of how I process the world. So, I’ve written five books now. My first one came out back in 2011. So, coming up on, you know, it’s been almost a decade of writing books, almost. But really, I love … And so, you mentioned the podcast. I host The Next Right Thing podcast and have been doing that. It’s maybe been a year and a half now. And that’s a new medium. It’s interesting even though I prep those episodes because they are short. And so, sometimes it takes more prep to say less words because you have to think of all the things you’re not going to say. So those episodes are usually 10 minutes, 10 to 15 minutes long. But I prep those, and I write them out sort of beforehand, but it’s a different kind of writing when you write knowing that you’re going to speak the words versus when you’re going to just have them be read. And I think I’ve read that our brains process information differently when we hear it versus when we read it.

And so, I think the same goes for creating it. It’s different when you’re going to speak it. But I love hanging out on the intersection of faith and creativity. And so, a lot of what I talk about and write about usually holds hands with one or both of those two concepts. So that’s kind of me writing books, hosting a podcast, and I also co-run a membership site called Hope Writers for writers who are doing the hard work of pivoting from writing in secret to writing for a reader. And so, we exist to help smart, creative writers do their good work forever without losing their minds today.

“I love hanging out on the intersection of faith and creativity. And so, a lot of what I talk about and write about usually holds hands with one or both of those two concepts.” Emily P. Freeman

Jessica: That’s so good. I want to know because you, previous to your career in writing, I don’t know the correct way to say this, you were a sign linguist, how do I say that?

Emily: I was a sign language interpreter.

Jessica: Sign language interpreter. And you did that for almost a decade. Is that right?

Emily: I did do that for quite some time, yeah. And it overlapped some with the writing. But yeah, I went to school, my undergraduate degree is in educational interpreting for the deaf. So, I worked in the public school system and then also at the college level interpreting what the teachers said into sign language for the deaf students. And then I would voice when the deaf students would want to speak to the class, and they would sign to me and then I would voice. So that was … I served as this sort of interpreter between two languages in the classroom for many years and loved it. But then, once the twins were born, that was a more difficult work to keep up because they frown upon you bringing two babies into work, into the school. So that wasn’t really embraced.

Jessica: So, tell me a little bit about your journey to own … because I love how freely you know you’re a writer. You say that with such clarity, and that’s a big part of your vision and what grounds you and brings you back to what you should be saying yes and no to. What was your journey like? Can you even remember when you began to freely own, "I’m a writer?"

Emily: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And just, I’m glad you asked that question because so many people and maybe people listening right now might have a hunch that they might be a writer, but there’s something about that word that people are so afraid to own for themselves.

Jessica: It is loaded.

Emily: It’s a loaded word, and people feel like that has to be bestowed upon you rather than just owning it, and then living like it’s true. And so, I think for me, what that looked like was, I’ve been writing all my life, and that’s always how I process the world. But I never saw myself as a writer until, I guess I’d been blogging for a couple of years and just enjoying it. The kids were babies and then I saw a, like an advert … Oh no, it was a blog. It was a blog post by another writer, a blogger, about a writing conference. And I thought, "Wouldn’t it be… Maybe I could learn about writing, for real. Maybe I could try to see if there’s things about … Maybe I could take it seriously." That’s kind of what the question was. And it was around that time when I think I was considering going to that conference, didn’t know if I should or not, but I remember very clearly, I think it was in January of, I don’t even know the year, early 2000s, mid or like 2005, ’06. I remember a voice that sounded like my voice but didn’t seem like my idea.

And it simply said, "It’s time to write." And looking back, I feel like whenever God lays things on us or speaks to us in a way, it never really… It’s not like this voice from heaven that sounds so foreign. It really sounds like our voice, and it feels familiar, but it may be, it doesn’t seem like it came from us. And that’s kind of one of those moments for me. There’s maybe a handful in my whole life that I can point to and say, "I think that was not from me, but it was a gift to me." Just that idea of, "It’s time to write." And so, I talked to John about it, I went to that writing conference, and I remember going up to the registration table. I didn’t know anybody at this conference.

“I remember a voice that sounded like my voice but didn’t seem like my idea. And it simply said, ‘It’s time to write.’ And looking back, I feel like whenever God lays things on us or speaks to us … it really sounds like our voice, and it feels familiar, but it may be, it doesn’t seem like it came from us.” Emily P. Freeman

Owning Your Work

And I went up there and it was a conference where you could have one of a few tracks, and one of the tracks was writing. And so, she asked me, she was like, "Oh, hi, what’s your name?" And I said, "Emily Freeman." And then she said, "Well, are you a writer or speaker?" And I was like, "I’m neither one." It was like this moment of identity. Like, "What do you mean, I’m neither one. How could I do…?" And all she wanted to know was which folder am I supposed to give you? She wasn’t really asking me to declare my identity to the world, but I was like, "I’m a writer.” And she was like, "Here you go." And I had to … I mean, Jessica, I had to walk away, sit down, take a breath, fan my face. Because I was red from saying I’m a writer, and it was like this moment.

But that conference was pivotal for me because what I realized was a couple of things. One was, I wasn’t the only person who didn’t know stuff, and that writing could be learned and should be learned. But also, you can be a writer even if you don’t know all that stuff because writers write, that’s what we do. We write. I wasn’t calling myself an author, just a writer, I can own this. And that’s OK.

Jessica: Well, it’s interesting because I am an author and I still haven’t … I still don’t own that I’m a writer. So…

Emily: Well, and it is funny because some people don’t care about that. My sister for example, she’s written two books, but I don’t know that she even calls herself a writer. For her, she writes about home stuff, helping women in their homes. And that’s the thing that’s valuable. I think the thing … But I think where she used to struggle, not anymore so much, but she used to wonder, “Can I call myself a designer? Because I didn’t go to designer school. I don’t have a badge.” It’s like the thing that we most value is often the thing that’s the most difficult to own. And that makes a lot of sense.

Jessica: Yeah. Because I easily own that I’m an entrepreneur and that feels very much like my skin. I can say that with confidence. But when I read your work, or I joke with Shannon Martin, I’m like, "You are a writer’s writer." You can tell there’s so much intention, and beauty, and construction, and now that I have authored a book, when I read now, I’m like, "I wonder how long it took them to come up with that sentence, because they nailed that sentence. Or I wonder if it’s just flowed.” I don’t know, you know?

Emily: Right. That’s hilarious.

Jessica: It’s impossible to read a book in peace now that I’ve actually, yeah…

Emily: I know. It’s so true.

Jessica: OK. And you live in North Carolina. So, as this whole idea that I am a writer, has that emerged for you? Did you have this thought of, "OK, I need to go live in these hub cities for writers like New York or LA," or how did the intentional decision around being in North Carolina sort of parlay itself in your life?

Emily: That’s a good question. An interesting one. I never … Like, for a hot minute I thought, "Oh, if I want to be a true artist, I need to live in Nashville." That’s where all the artsy people live. That’s what it was in my mind. For other people it might be a different city. And there was a time when, John, my husband John and I both realized like, "Oh, wait, the work that we have, we can live anywhere."

We don’t have to live here in Greensboro, North Carolina because we both kind of work for ourselves and we can be mobile. So, we did think about that actually. But over time, I’ve realized that so much of my writing is embedded in my place, and there’s something really beautiful about home and about finding your giftedness, that part of my giftedness is because of my place. And so, Greensboro has become for me an important environment and an important teacher, not to say that we’ll be here forever and ever, but if we were, that would be OK, and it wouldn’t change the kind of writer that I am. I do think that New York, or LA, or Nashville, or some of those places, there are opportunities afforded to you depending on your aspirations and what you want to do that maybe aren’t the same in Greensboro, North Carolina. But I think that might be more true for somebody who might want to act or something where you have to be in those cities in order to get the auditions. Whereas writing, you can write a book from anywhere, which is kind of great.


Emily P. Freeman: A Writer Who Speaks

Jessica: Now, was there a point in your career where—I’m just reflecting back on, at this conference, and this woman said, “are you a writer or a speaker?” And a lot of people are writers and speakers, and a lot of people have to be speakers in order to let their books actually get out into the world and the way they want them to. Yeah, tell me a little bit about that journey. Have you made that decision? Do you speak as well? How did you get such clarity? I just love your clarity, which is basically, you’re a guru on helping other people find clarity, which is why I love that you actually, I experience you as very confident in your calling, which is a beautiful thing. And then from a distance, I see that you mentor other women in that. And I think that’s such so beautiful. So, I’m just curious about your journey on how you got to that clarifying place and the things that you did say no to and was speaking one of those things.

“I experience you as very confident in your calling, which is a beautiful thing. And then from a distance, I see that you mentor other women in that. And I think that’s such so beautiful.” Jessica Honegger

Emily: Well, I think if you talked to my business coach, you would learn the lack of clarity that I have. She’ll be like, "Let me interview with Jessica and tell her about all your clarity."

Jessica: That could be the next podcast.

Emily: Yeah, right. Yeah, that’s good. No, but I do think there are aspects though. I mean, in all of our work, I think there are areas where we’re like, "You know what? This part’s clear." And as we move forward and grow, there’s always pieces that we’re trying to figure out. But as far as the speaking part, I think I have learned, and I am learning, what is most fully me—and I think it changes over seasons—I do see myself as a writer who speaks rather than a speaker who writes. And so, I think that’s an important distinction. But I also have learned over the past several years, especially with the start of the podcast, because the podcast is, it’s an interesting hybrid of speaking and writing because it feels more like writing to me. But there’s something really powerful when we use our voice to speak truth out, even into an empty room, knowing people are going to hear it and receive it. There’s some power in that and there’s something to it that I can’t deny. So, I definitely feel most like myself when I write, but I feel most alive when I speak.

“What is most fully me—and I think it changes over seasons—I do see myself as a writer who speaks rather than a speaker who writes. And so, I think that’s an important distinction.” Emily P. Freeman

Jessica: That’s interesting.

Emily: And I have to make peace with that because there are seasons where I can’t travel or do that kind of work. And I’ll also say that there are ways in which we assume speaking has to look, that I’m learning it doesn’t have to look, but I’m still trying to figure out what that means. So, for example, when you write books, people expect like, “Oh, so you’ll go on tour, and you’ll speak, and you’ll say yes to if you get invited to these giant stages,” and all this type of thing.

And I think as I’ve listened to the heartbeat of my own life, I realized that I could carry a big stage and I have, but it’s not my favorite way to connect with an audience. I probably prefer a smaller room, but then that doesn’t scale as much, so there are things that I’m learning about myself that I just have to let my ego get out of the way and realize, "You know, I’m probably not going to ever be an arena speaker." And that’s OK. And that’s just probably not … that doesn’t necessarily make me feel most fully like myself. But when I can connect with people and see their faces, I feel like that seems more like me. But I think that’s seasonal too, and we have to pay attention to some of that stuff, and not just say yes to stuff because like that’s "what you do." I think we get to decide what we do, to the extent that we’re able, and is financially viable and good for our family, and all the things like that.

Jessica: Wow. Your voice was made for radio, you have like the best voice. I mean, it’s just … it works with your brand, Emily. Like, you’re calm, slightly southern drawl. It’s like, this is … it all works. It all works.

Emily: It all works. That’s funny.


Doing the Next Right Thing

Jessica: So the reason I think that I just jumped on to your podcast and your book is because in the years that I did spend in therapy, I actually went into therapy a little bit more around body image and food and wanting to learn how to intuitively eat and approach myself from a more gentle way. And out of all those years in therapy, one of the biggest concepts I walked away with was one day when my therapist says, because I think a lot of people that struggle with eating, disordered eating, it is around perfectionism. And so, it’s this idea that like, "I screwed up yesterday and now I need to not eat anything tomorrow." Or "The diet starts Monday so I’m going to do whatever I want this weekend." And I remember she just said to me in one of our sessions, "Do the next right thing for your body. Like, when you leave this session, what is the next right thing?" And I thought, "Wow, that’s a really powerful concept." It was very sticky for me. And then lo and behold, that is really what you are podcasts and your most current release, The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, your latest book is all about. So, tell us a little bit about your journey to arriving to this concept and why it has been so sticky for you as well.

Emily: That phrase, I mean, the way you describe that with your therapist is, I think whenever we hear that phrase for the first time or at a pivotal time, it stays with us. And for me, that was in college when I was a commuter student at the college where I ended up graduating from. I had to find a parking space really early because commuter students … It’s like they sold more parking spaces than they actually had. So, we had to fight for a space. So, I would get to school really early and then I would have to park and wait, and this was before podcasts, before cell phones, I didn’t have a cell phone, it was just … So, I would listen to the radio. And there was a radio show called Gateway to Joy. And it was a 15-minute show, Elizabeth Elliot, author Elizabeth Elliot hosted it.

And on that show, she would always start the show with in her like deep alto voice, and she would say, "You are loved with an everlasting love and underneath are the everlasting arms." And I remember that phrase and it stuck with me. And then another thing she said often was, she quoted a poem. She credited to anonymous, I think a lot of times, or she saw it somewhere but she didn’t know who wrote it. But later I found the author, it was a woman named Minnie Paul. And she wrote a poem called “Do The Next Thing.” And it was like, "You know, do it reliantly, do it with care." It was like, had a nice sing songy way to it. It’s a very old poem. But she would quote that a lot and she would say that phrase, "Just do the next thing," a lot.

And as a college student, you know, that was meaningful for me because everybody was always asking, “What’s your plan for your whole life? It felt like, and what’s your major? And what are you going to do when you graduate?” And so, it was a powerful concept to think about just doing the next thing for me way back then. And so that’s kind of stuck with me over the years. And so clearly, I did not come up with the concept of doing the next thing or doing the next right thing. And I’ve seen it quoted by Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Brennan Manning, Anne Lamott, lots of great writers and world changers. And I think there’s a reason for the … it’s so profound, but it’s in its simplicity. And so, for me, when I’ve had big decisions to make, I’ve been paying attention, and what I have found is that my tendency is to not look at the next right thing, but it’s to look at the next right 25 things.

And that’s when the overwhelm comes. But when it comes to big decisions, rarely do we just have a big decision and we make it right away. It’s a lot of tiny steps towards something. It’s a lot of paying attention to arrows rather than finding an answer. And that’s where I started to realize like, "Oh, this concept is powerful, not just for decision making, but also for our spiritual formation and how we might be listening to God in the midst of our decision making." And this is a real opportunity for us to not just make a good "good decision,” but to actually become people who can move into the world paying attention in ways that we might not if we didn’t have these decisions to make.

“When it comes to big decisions, rarely do we just have a big decision and we make it right away. It’s a lot of tiny steps towards something. It’s a lot of paying attention to arrows rather than finding an answer.” Emily P. Freeman

Soul Minimalism

Jessica: Well, I love your addition and I actually, in the book that you so graciously gifted me with the little hand-drawn canvas and it says, "Do the next right thing in love." And we’re actually moving into an Airstream. Tonight’s my first night to sleep into the Airstream. And let me just tell you, I’m not a minimalist at all in any way. OK? This is why I love you and your sister because I need more minimalism in my life. That is not how I describe myself. My husband and I are moving into the Airstream because we’re remodeling our kitchen and our master, and so the kids get to stay in their rooms because we’re not touching that side of the house. But John and I moved into an Airstream. And so, I found the perfect little spot for that canvas. And so, it is going to be what guides me, and I love just the gentleness. You can tell you’ve been walking this journey for a long time. So, I appreciate knowing that this was something that sort of awoke you or found you in college and that you’ve been really fleshing that out for so many years because there is a depth to how you speak to it.

So, I wanted to talk a little bit about being a, what you call a soul minimalist. I would say I would like to be a soul minimalist. And I love what you say in your book. You say, “The difficult conversation, the suspicious glance someone might give us, the thing we said we wish we could take back, these things are constantly happening every day all day. Where’s the output? How are we letting them go?” And then you say that “Becoming a soul minimalist does not mean that you should hold on to nothing, but rather that nothing should have a hold on you.” And you quote Joshua Becker saying, “Is that it’s not enough to just declutter. We have to de-own." I just wanted to know what … for those of us that are on this journey of soul minimalism, how do we even begin? What is the next right thing? What does it mean to de-own our souls?

Emily: It’s a great question. And I think that that concept of minimalism, especially for those of us who that doesn’t come naturally, I am the opposite of a minimalist in my house. But I listened to Joshua Becker talk about the concept of actual minimalism like in your home. And he talked about how we have regular seasonal input of stuff into our houses, especially at certain times of the year. But where is the regular output? And I think those who practice minimalism, they probably have a fairly robust output practice where they bring something in, they take something out, or they’re always aware. It’s like they’ve woken up to the clutter situation and they are actively … they are active participants in keeping the clutter at bay.

And when I heard him talking about this in our homes, I thought about how … what would it look like to have that same posture when it comes to our inner life, the level of our soul? Because in the same way you just said, there is constant input in all of these different interactions with people and with work and all the things we interact with on a daily basis. But there is no regular practice of output, at least not for most of us. And so, the question becomes what might it look like then? In the same way that I want to keep the clutter at bay in my physical environment, how might I keep the emotional and relational clutter at bay on the inside of my soul? Because we can’t shut everybody up for a day. We can’t keep the input from coming in.

But what we can do is once it’s in, we can practice releasing it. And for me, in my experience, decluttering in my soul is the same as … can look like stillness, and silence, and solitude. So, I think stillness is to my soul as decluttering is to my home. And there’s something that’s very simple about that, but it’s also not easy. It’s simple but not easy. And practically what I have discovered helps me is in the morning or at some time when there aren’t people around, even for five minutes, I’ll set the timer on my phone and I will just allow myself to sit in the presence of God without an agenda, which I think is the hardest part because I think we can say, "I’m going to prayer, I’m going to ask … write down three questions or I’m going to…" We have all these things that we want to do, but the idea is to sit in silence and let the silence seep into us in a way that does not come natural and will not come at all if we don’t purpose to make it a practice.

“In my experience, decluttering in my soul … can look like stillness, and silence, and solitude. So, I think stillness is to my soul as decluttering is to my home.” Emily P. Freeman

And at the end of those five minutes, when the timer goes off, let me tell you that rarely do I have an answer to anything. But I don’t necessarily do it for the sake of an answer, but for the sake of love, to remember that I am not alone, that all the world can keep spinning without me. And that I can then at the end of that five minutes, sometimes a little more clearly release those things I no longer need, acknowledge that they’re there, and then ask myself the simple question, "OK, now what is my next right thing?"

Where Are You and What Do You Want?

Jessica: OK, I love this chapter in your book. And I was really struck by it because it’s a little bit unexpected and it’s a concept that I’ve been sort of chewing on for the last year, but it’s really about this journey of desire and want. And it was around a year ago, I did a spiritual retreat with about eight other entrepreneurial women and writers. And my friend Kurt Thompson led it, he is a psychiatrist. He wrote a book called The Soul of Shame and The Anatomy of The Soul that deeply transformed me. And on these two days with just a handful of women out at my parents’ ranch, he posed these questions to us that God asks in the Bible. And the first question is, “Where are you?” Which is the first question God asked about Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” And then the second question he posed us is, “What do you want?” And it was the question that Jesus asked when his first two disciples began to follow him. He turns around, he’s like, "What do you want?" And for some reason that is one of the most challenging … I can tell you what I don’t want, but to really actually know what I want, it’s just a question that still … it’s been a year since this retreat happened and I’m still trying to kind of get to the bottom of what do I want? So, I’d love to camp out on this a little bit. Would you be our teacher today around this whole idea of desire and want?

Emily: I love that you brought up those questions that Jesus asked in the Bible because it’s not something that I learned in Sunday school growing up. It’s not a question … I didn’t pay attention to what kind of questions Jesus asked. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve thought it’s been very interesting to see what Jesus, not only what he does when he interacts with people in the gospels, but also what he doesn’t do. Not only what he says, but also what he doesn’t say. And when he encountered people, he seemed to ask a lot of questions. And like you say, one of them is often, “What do you want?” He asked the blind man, Bartimaeus, "What do you want? What do you want me to do for you?"

And it’s interesting to me that he didn’t say, "What can you do for me, Bartimaeus?" He said, "What do you want me to do for you? What do you want?" And that question is so hard to answer because I think we’ve been conditioned to think that question is selfish. And I will say that, on the one hand, the answer can be a selfish one, but I think when we hear, what do you want? We’re afraid to answer for a couple reasons. One is, we’re afraid if we admit what we want and we don’t get it, then we’ll be so disappointed. We’re also afraid we’ll sound selfish or egocentric, so we don’t want to say it. But just to point out a distinction that knowing, and admitting, and confessing what you want is not the same as demanding what you want.

And it’s not the same as getting what you want. And so, this idea of admitting what I want is a vulnerable place and position. Which is why I think one reason I think a lot of us avoid it. But also, it is a … Jesus told Bartimaeus when Bartimaeus answered that question, "I want to see." Jesus said, "Your faith has made you well." Which tells me there was something about Bartimaeus answering the question of desire, there was an element of faith in that. And that when I confess and admit what I want, that too, for us, can be an act of faith, an act of trusting God with my desire. Not because I’m demanding to get it, but because knowing what I want is so important because the truth is, what we want is what we want.

Knowing, and admitting, and confessing what you want is not the same as demanding what you want. And it’s not the same as getting what you want … answering the question of desire, there was an element of faith in that. And that when I confess and admit what I want, that … can be an act of faith, an act of trusting God with my desire.” Emily P. Freeman

Whether or not we admit it, but if we refuse to admit it, it will always come out. But it will come out in ways we might not plan for, prepare for, or want. Because I think that when I want something deeply but I stuff it, or don’t admit it, or don’t recognize it, or don’t look at it in the face, then it often will come out sideways in the form of frustration, resentment, jealousy, comparison, anxiety, worry, losing sleep at night and being short with my family. Desire, unmet desire, and I would say unconfessed desire, unadmitted desire, it doesn’t go away. It’s still there. But recognizing it, and naming it in God’s presence, we might not be any closer to it than we were before, but we are closer to who we most deeply are. And there’s something really beautiful, and there’s a gift that we give to ourselves and our families when we admit what we want, because that’s the first step.

And then if we don’t get what we want, we can more easily release it into God’s presence and trust him with it because we remember that the Lord is our shepherd and he is everything that we need. And so, we can remember that, "OK, if I don’t have this, then God knows and He’s with me. He’s on my side, He’s not trying to trick me. So, I can trust even if I don’t understand.”

Jessica: Oh, and I love the list that that you so eloquently just said, if you’re being short with your family, if you’re, all of those things. I think those are the things often that needs to be our little signs that point us to … not all is right within when we’re in these places, it usually means that there is maybe unsaid desire and when we are disconnected from ourselves, we can’t ultimately experience connection with other people because then you’re just putting forth a version of yourself that isn’t truly you.

“When we are disconnected from ourselves, we can’t ultimately experience connection with other people because then you’re just putting forth a version of yourself that isn’t truly you.” Jessica Honegger

And I don’t know, it’s like, it’s interesting though that it’s … I can identify those times when I’m irritable, or when I’ve had this low grade kind of discouragement, or seasons like that, but actually asking the question in the positive is I think because as a business owner, I’m like, "Well, I want what’s best for Noonday? And I want what’s best for what’s going to change the Artisans’ lives. And I want what’s best for my family." But it’s, I don’t know why that question, what do you want? Do you have any sort of tips on how we can get clarity around that question? How do we get in touch with our own desire?


Revelations in Reflection

Emily: It’s such a great question, and it’s a journey I’m still walking, because I think as we grow, it becomes … it changes, what we want changes, but also our ability to get in touch with it changes. I do think asking curious questions and letting … having people in your life who can ask curious questions to get beneath maybe the obvious. I think one simple way to do it is to spend a little bit of time reflecting and looking back over specific periods of time. Sometimes I’ll do this, I tend to do this every 90 days. I’ll look back on the previous 90 days and say, "OK, what was life-giving and what was life-draining in that period of time?" The goal is not to get rid of everything that was life draining. It’s not because that’s not possible as grownups in the world. But if they…

Jessica: Thank you for saying that, I always appreciate … There is such a practicality in your book, I find oftentimes people that are right about spiritual disciplines, are like men who might be often a commune or something. But I’m like, Emily is a mom, and she’s a businesswoman. And there is such a beautiful practicality in your book. So, I just had to say that, but…

Emily: I’m so glad because you’re right. I mean, I think there is, sometimes when we talk about spiritual formation and when we talk about all the things that we’re talking about today, there can be a compartmentalization that we think has to take place, or there can be a stiffness, or a way about it that I don’t think is necessary. But I think that question of desire and framing it in the form of, “Well, just when I look at my life in the last period of time, different aspects of life, work, home, things I enjoy, things I did enjoy. What was it that brought life? What was it that drew me close to God and what are the things that pushed me away from God? What are the things that felt life-draining?”

Now, obviously we can’t avoid them all, but I guarantee you when you spend a little time in reflection, you’ll discover some things on your life-draining list that you can eliminate, and you forgot that you could eliminate them. Because so many times, we go through life on … because of this whole concept of decision fatigue, we make so many decisions every day that to zoom out and make some decisions upon reflection, that’s already passed. Why would we look back? We got to move forward. We’ve got stuff to do. But if you just give yourself, put it on your calendar and give yourself some time to reflect, then you can take some time, say, "OK, the last 90 days, these things drained life out of me. I’m going to make it so that as many as of them as I can that are practical, that we can change the way we do things in order so that those things maybe aren’t so life draining in the end on my family, on our time, in our schedule, and things like that."

And I think that can be one step towards accessing desire in your own … in different areas of life. And for me it helps to ask that question regularly to make the list, actually write it down. There’s something that we think, "Oh, I’ll just do this in my head." No, write it down. Just take 15 minutes, and write it down because a month from now, six months from now, a year from now, you might look back at that list and see things have changed a lot because you’ve been intentional about moving towards those things that are life-giving, and maybe as much as you are able, away from some of the life-draining stuff.

Jessica: I love that. And we can all do that. We can all sit and reflect back on our last, you know, even 30 days to say what brought me life? What drained? And that does feel a little bit more concrete than this whole concept of like, “what do I want?”

Emily: I know. It’s such a hard question.

Jessica: But it’s a great … that’s such a powerful exercise. I participated with a group of CEOs of direct sales companies. A few months ago we had a sort of a, I don’t know, a CEO Summit and the facilitator of the retreat was really talking about learning like how we learn, and she says, "You know, typically, direct sales companies, we spend billions of dollars on training, on coming up with like, here’s how to sell, here’s about the product, here’s, here’s all of this." But she’s like, actually the way we mainly learn is through sort of this participatory learning which she described as like peer groups. So, getting feedback, which you talk about that, asking people for input, and then reflection.

How often does, let’s say a Noonday Ambassador come home from a Trunk Show and go, ”How did that go? What did I do well? What could I have done better?" We actually don’t … It’s like doing little surveys on ourselves, and we don’t take the time to reflect even though reflection is actually … it is such a powerful activity.

Emily: Yeah. We don’t live in a culture that places a high value on reflection. We live in a culture that places a high value on forward movement. And reflection feels like going backwards when really it’s not. Reflection, it so informs. It can inform our future if we let it, but we’re not taught that. That’s not … we have to learn that kind of on our own, and sometimes the hard way.

“We don’t live in a culture that places a high value on reflection. We live in a culture that places a high value on forward movement. And reflection feels like going backwards when really it’s not. Reflection, it so informs. It can inform our future if we let it, but we’re not taught that.” Emily P. Freeman

Jessica: It’s true. I’m having an aha moment right now about how much more time I want to spend in reflection, and I’m excited. I think listeners today are going to, that’s going to be a big takeaway from today. OK. I want you to talk about your hate relationship with the pro-con list because I loved this, I loved this whole framing of how, like, you can have this pro-con list, but then what if one of the things on your … the one thing on your pro list or the con list can outweigh everything that you put on the pro list. So, tell me a little bit about that.

Emily: I dedicated this book to anyone who’s made a pro-con list in the middle of the night. Because it’s kind of what we do. When I have a huge decision to make, I’m laying there in the bed like, “All right, here’s the good things about it. A, B, C, D. OK, here’s the, oh, but this one …” and then before I know it, I’m wide awake, and I’m literally making lists. And that’s not the best way for me to make a decision because it assumes or it presumes, whatever the word is, that each line item on your list weighs the same amount. And while that can be a helpful, even a useful fact-gathering tool, I don’t know very many people who, except for Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Gills, when she was deciding which college to go to, I don’t know very many real-life people who have made an informed nuanced life decision based off of the results of a pro-con list. But I still make them, I mean, when I feel like … And I usually make those when I’m faced with a decision that has a deadline, I don’t know what else to do. I’m making a list because it feels productive, and it feels like I’m doing something. But that life-energy list of asking myself two questions, what is life giving? What is life draining? If I am in a regular practice of doing that, not necessarily just when I have a decision to make, but a regular practice of life, that’s part of my rhythm of life, is asking myself those questions about the life I’m living. That can be a great alternative to that last-minute sort of frenetic pro-con list habit. Because now I have a list of things in life that are life-giving and life-draining.

That’s a running list that’s regular and that I can look to that actually reflects my actual life, not an imaginary thing that I’m deciding whether or not to do. And so, I think that life energy list, was is life draining? Was is life giving? That can help inform for when we do have a decision to make, we can remember we’re more … it’s like we become well versed in our own life, and we become a little bit more self-aware of what things feel like me, where I feel gifted, where I feel called. Now, obviously, again, that’s not every day … Lots of life decisions are not about calling, not necessarily about gifting. They’re just like there’s stuff we got to do and got to decide, but don’t discount where the life is and where the energy is. I think there’s a lot to be said there and that can be a great alternative to sort of the kneejerk, "OK, I’ve got to make a quick pro-con list because that’s going to help me." I mean, it could help a little, but I don’t know that it’s ever the deciding factor.

Jessica: Right. Right. And you’re right, it just gives us a sense of control and we think if we can know something enough, then we can control it, which you talk about that in your book as well. So, it’s just another way that we’re grasping for control, basically is what we do as humans, grasp for control.

Emily: That’s so true.


Moving Through Life Heart First

Jessica: Oh my goodness. OK. So I want to do a whole another episode on this, but we don’t even have time but, like, the Enneagram in decision making because I’m a Seven on Enneagram, which means I love optionality and I in particular feel like decisions can be draining for me, and I’m in a position at my job that requires so much decision making. But I’m just curious about you, you said that your life coach would describe … your business coach would describe you a little differently as I was describing you. Tell us a little bit about you. How would your business coach describe you and how did you sort of become this sort of Ninja or guru who’s leading us on how to make decisions? Where does that come from in your own life?

Emily: Well, I think we all approach our decisions probably from one of three areas. You mentioned the Enneagram, and I think there’s those of us who are heart-centered, head-centered, and gut-centered. And I am in the heart space. And so, when I move, I move through the world heart first, feelings first. And that doesn’t mean I cry my way through the world. All it means though for me is, when it comes to a decision, I tend to feel it first. And I can’t always describe why the feeling is the way it is, but if a decision comes across my plate, I’m aware of a feeling first. And that doesn’t mean that I make my decision based off of that only, but I think it is something to pay attention to.

“And I think there’s those of us who are heart-centered, head-centered, and gut-centered. And I am in the heart space. And so, when I move, I move through the world heart first, feelings first. … That doesn’t mean that I make my decision based off of that only, but I think it is something to pay attention to.” Emily P. Freeman

And then there are those who, when there’s a decision to make, the first thing they’re going to do is they’re going to start doing some research. They’re going to figure out the facts, they’re going to ask all the questions and figure out. I do that too, but that’s not always my first initial, most kneejerk response. And so, we all have that way that we move through the world, head, heart, or intuition. I think I’m learning how to honor that feeling space, that heart space, but not without dishonoring or forgetting that I am a whole person. And that though I lead with my heart, I still have a head and an intuition I can trust, and learning how to integrate those because the Enneagram is a starting point, but it’s a not a place to finish.

It shows us who we are, but also who we’re not. And it can help us know what are my tendencies? And then where can I look to other people or to other aspects of my personality or depend on God in ways that I can’t access without him? And I think that understanding what we lead with, which by the way, if you go to nextrightthingbook.com, I have a quiz that helps people know, do they lead with their heart, head, or intuition. So really short, stupid, fun quiz. But that’s one thing … one place to start is knowing, "OK, what do I naturally lead with?" And then knowing that your most soulful decisions are going to come when you’re able to integrate those three spaces. And that’s the journey. That’s the learning that I feel like I’m on.

And so, speaking of my business coach, I don’t know how she’d described me, but I do feel like I’m constantly saying to her, "All right, this was said in this meeting, and I feel a certain kind of way about it and I don’t know why, but here’s all the things I think it might be." And I’m rambling and I’m … She kind of helps me find the through line of where … She helps me discover where are these feelings telling us the truth? And though they might not always bring us the facts, they do tell us something that’s true. And that’s important to find what that is. And I always feel such a sense of freedom and release when I can name, there’s something in decision making when we can name the thing that we’re feeling, or the fear that we have, or the hunch that we have when you can finally name it. There’s a lot of power there. And often that’s all we need to move on to the next right thing.

Jessica: I’m going straightaway to take that quiz. I think it’s so interesting how we all approach decision making from a different attitude, whether it’s from our head, our heart, our gut, and Emily is just really, really such a good mentor and coach helping us all to know how to make those very next moves. If you have trouble making decisions because of either chronic hesitation you’ve always lived with, or more recent onset of decision fatigue, this book offers a fresh way of practicing familiar but often-forgotten advice. Simply do the next right thing.

I can’t wait to hear what you are going to share about this episode today. If you missed the first part, if you go on and take a screenshot of this episode and share it in your Insta stories and tag jessicahonegger—two Gs and one N—and you tag emilypfreeman, you will be entered to win the entire Travel Capsule by Noonday Collection that’s all handmade in Guatemala along with my book Imperfect Courage and along with a book that we talked about today, The Next Right Thing. You spreading the word about the podcast is how the word gets out. We don’t have any advertising on this podcast, we are not paying for any placement anywhere. It really is a word-of-mouth movement. So, I would so appreciate if you shared this episode today. Can’t wait to see you again next week.

Today’s show was produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and the music for today is by my friend Ellie Holcomb. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep Going Scared.