Welcome to The Egg Whisperer Show. I have one of my dearest friends, my producer Paula on today’s show with us. Thank you, Paula, for being here and joining us.
Paula Jenkins: Thank you so much for having me. It’s so fun to be on the show.
Dr. Aimee: You’re everything to me. Not to get too cheesy, but you’re almost the wind beneath my wings with all the things that I do and the messages of hope that I’m trying to bring to everyone. So, of course, it makes sense that you have written this amazing book on how to jump start joy in your life. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
For people who don’t know you, and they really should, I want to share your bio and talk about you. You’re on a mission to spread more joy in the world. You’re a podcast producer, including mine. You’re a certified life coach and the author of Jump Start Your Joy: Heart-Centered Ways to Find Joy in the Messy Middle.
You’re also the host of the Jump Start Your Joy Podcast, which launched in 2015 and has been on Apple Podcast’s New and Noteworthy, What’s Hot, and was Player.fm’s podcast of the day. You also hold a Master of Arts in religion from Yale Divinity School. You were a project manager for digital marketing for 20 years, working with big clients like Visa, Clorox, Genentech, Nike, X-Box.
You’re not only producer for this show, but – a lot of people probably know this, and if you don’t, now you do – we’ve known each other since middle school. We were kids together growing up, so we really know each other very well.
Dr. Aimee: Welcome, Paula.
Paula Jenkins: Thanks for having me on. The only thing that I can totally attest to about middle school is you are a singer, and you were in the beauty shop quartet.
Dr. Aimee: That’s right. I was doing my little singing and dancing thing from a young age. Who knew that I would use those talents to sing about sperm and eggs?
Okay. I want to talk about you now. You had an interesting trajectory. I don’t know about interesting as the right word. It’s pretty fascinating and remarkable in your career and business paths. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into podcasting?
Paula Jenkins: Sure. It is one of those loop-de-loop career paths. For a really long time, I’ve been interested in stories of transformation and how people bring their creative vision into the world, so I think that’s one of my throughlines.
As you mentioned, I studied religion in both undergrad and graduate school. I found myself back here in the Bay Area being a project manager during the dot com boom, but also leading retreats out in Danville at San Damiano Retreat Center. I realized there was something going on there where I was talking about what you needed to buy from a philosophical perspective all day, and then I’d go lead retreats on the weekend where I’d tell people how to decompress from this.
Fast forward a few years. I had a kid and then got married. I got into the space of my life where I was starting a family and wanted something really different and was really tired by being in the in-between space of selling but then how do we decompress. So, I started a life coaching certification program, which was very helpful for many things. In that meantime, if I want to market this new business, this thing that I do, how could I talk about this in a way that’s compelling?
I’ve been in love with podcasts since 2004. I really felt like there was something about podcasting that’s intimate. You’re in somebody’s ears. You get to know the hosts really well. That seemed like a really fascinating way to spread more messages of transformation and that kind of thing for people in a way that’s really easy, it’s accessible, it’s fun. That’s where Jump Start Your Joy started, that’s how I got into podcasting.
Dr. Aimee: I love it. What is your show about? I get what it’s probably about, but truly what is it about?
Paula Jenkins: It’s about the stories of people who have found their way to choose joy even in hard times and difficult situations. The cornerstone quote for my show is by a Theologian named Henri Nouwen who is from Yale. That is, “Joy is a choice and we must keep choosing it.” I love this because it kind of aligns with “sparkle every day.” It comes up with this idea that joy is out there, it is something that we can choose, it doesn’t just happen to us, and that we have to actively and mindfully choose it every day, and sometimes more than once a day.
I went through a really long time in my life where I played this kind of game with myself of when I was making decisions, I would ask myself mindfully, “Am I making this decision out of love or out of fear?” If love was the answer, then I could go ahead and do it. If it was fear, for any reason, that could come from fear of missing out, that could come from people judging me, that could come from anything, then I’d be like, “I have to think on this.”
That’s that kind of gap moment decision that I feel like we can make about joy and that this quote also reflects, because there are so many momentary choices in the day, and you can choose joy through almost all of them. That’s not to say that there’s not some things that we need to take care of, like putting out the trash or just day-to-day things, that may not feel joyful that we need to do so that we can have other joy.
That’s where the show started and what it’s about. I’ve been really lucky to be able to speak to some very interesting people, yourself included, Danny Wood of New Kids on the Block, Alison Arngrim of Little House on the Prairie, she played Nellie Oleson. It’s just been fascinating because I find that a lot of people have had a point in their life where they hit something that’s really hard. They may not realize it in the moment, but they are choosing a proactive way to get through it.
This brings me to a quote that’s one of my favorites by Meg Cabot, who wrote The Princess Diaries. It is, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but that there is something more important than the fear.” People encounter that all the time. Fertility patients encounter that all the time. It’s that thing.
For Danny Wood, he lost his mother to breast cancer, and his decision through a hard time was to start an organization that now is Remember Betty, that’s his mom’s name. He takes money into the foundation and then he helps people pay for expenses that are related to cancer treatment. It was important to him to focus on creating a non-profit that addressed the issue he felt was the most pressing t he was solving the problem that he saw in the hurt and the angst and the trial that he lived through, which is, “How could I have supported my own mom through this thing?” I get a little emotional just thinking about it because it’s so beautiful. But that’s the thing.
I’ve found that those stories were super prevalent. Everybody at some point in their life has hit that moment where they felt like, “This is it. This thing that I’m in is no longer acceptable to me and I want to find a way through it.” I feel like that’s when joy, or the universe, whatever you want to call it, is calling to us. So, I often call joy a wayfinding emotion because it helps us see our way through to what is more possible beyond what the hard thing is right now.
Dr. Aimee: You know what I’m going to ask you right now. What was your moment?
Paula Jenkins: I had a very long labor, it was 56 hours, and then I had an emergency C-section, and then my son was in the NICU for a week. I went home without the kiddo and it was highly traumatic. After he was home, he’s fine. He’s a great kiddo, he’s 10 now. But I could feel that in the moments after he was home and things were getting back to normal that things were not normal and that I was having a really hard time.
You can tell I’m a naturally happy, joyful person, but I could not connect to that. That disconnect for me was really upsetting. I really went through the process of trying to figure out what’s going on here, how do I get help for it, and how am I going to get back to being that really happy person that I want to be for this kid and that I want to be as a mom. It took a long time to figure out the right person to speak to. I think that’s important to note. If you’re going through anything similar, find the right person. Then I went through therapy and things got easier. I was diagnosed with postpartum PTSD.
That was my moment. That’s kind of the nugget that I try to find in the show is this; How can I help inspire someone if they are in that moment of this is the hardest thing that I’ve ever been through and I want to find my way to the other side and I don’t know how to do it?
It’s really important to share those stories, because that is the hardest thing when you know you need help, or you want help, or you want to get through it, and you don’t know how. That was my story. That’s the nugget inside the show. I don’t talk about it every week or anything, but that’s why I wanted to make the show, that was my moment, and that was my transformation.
Dr. Aimee: Is that where you’re pulling a lot of your inspiration from when you’re talking about jump starting your joy?
Paula Jenkins: Yes. It really is. I think there’s a lot of compassion around anybody that’s in that moment. When they’re ready and want to tell their story, which is interestingly what my therapist at the time said, she said, “Someday you’re going to talk about this story, and I want you to.” At that time, I was like no, that’s ripping the band-aid off. But, I’m ready now, so here it is. But it helps to understand the really hard place that somebody might be in.
I think then I can listen for the things when I’m interviewing someone that makes it unique and it’s like, “Tell me more about that,” but in a way that’s really compassionate and that can help them and help other people.
Dr. Aimee: A lot of my patients deal with PTSD from fertility treatments that don’t work, but also traumatic experiences with pregnancies that end too early or delivery stories like the experience that you’ve had. What are some things that people who have experienced trauma can do to heal?
Paula Jenkins: I think some of the best things are actually pretty simple. One of them is to acknowledge that whatever you’re feeling is real. Oftentimes when you hit a space of trauma there’s a lot of fear that comes up because it feels so unusual and different. What you’ve been through is traumatic, so there’s the actual experience of it, and then there’s where you’re at after the fact.
I think acknowledging that this is real and then looking for the right person. I think that comes out in a couple of different ways. Share what you’re feeling with someone as soon as you are able. I mean that being a partner or a spouse, family, a sister, a brother, someone that you feel like you can share and that you know is going to hold the space.
I know you talk about sometimes, I don’t know exactly how you put it, but that you need to find someone who can really listen and not need to interject too much or give you advice. A lot of times it’s just getting that first telling out. Then maybe find a few more of those people, so you have more people to talk to around you and that know your story and they kind of know how they can help support you.
Then find your right therapist. That was one of the really hard parts of my own journey. I actually was invited to join a postpartum depression group as an outpatient person. In my gut – and I know you talk a lot about intuition as well – I knew. They even said and I knew it, I was like, “Okay. Here we are. This is serious. I’ve just been admitted to this kind of group. But I don’t think is the right thing,” so I kept going.
I ended up, and maybe this is a possibility for some people, you often get connected with a social worker as you leave the hospital. I didn’t know who to call or what in the world was going on, and I called the social worker. They started giving me some of the information. That might be a place to go. I know there’s also Postpartum.net, which I think has some resources on it. You could also call places that offer birth classes or whatever, and they also have a lot of resources, they’re really well connected.
Or call your doctor. It was also really important to me to talk to the person that helped deliver and do the C-section, because I really needed some sort of closure. I think when you’re ready, if you’ve had any kind of traumatic medical experience, I know that I had a really hard time remembering the actual events. Part of me needed to know it. I don’t know if everybody will be that way, but it’s helpful to at least speak to the doctor and ask them about what happened and ask what you need to know and have a discussion about it, especially if you’re going to continue care with them, to let them know where you’ve been and what you’ve experienced.
On the flip of it, I’ve done a lot of really interesting conversations with people about grief, because I feel like joy and grief are bookends of the same kind of extreme emotions. It’s been so fascinating.
I talked to Dr. Julia Samuel, a psychotherapist out of Britain who was, interestingly enough, best friends with Princess Diana. One of the things that she shared in our conversation was about how when she’s working with people that are in deep grief that she encourages them to go find things that are easy and that bring them joy, and to reconnect with the things that are joyful to them, because you can’t be in the state of grief and hardship all the time, it’s too much. She was even talking about some of the things she’ll do, like she just goes and binge-watches TV. The things we all do, but we have to remember to make time for it.
I think those are some of the ways.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you for sharing that. Now you have this amazing book. Your book and this last season of your podcast have been all about finding joy in the messy middle. What is that about, and what drew you to this topic?
Paula Jenkins: I love the messy middle. The messy middle, just to define that because it might not be a term. I didn’t invent it. I’ll own up to that. I first heard it on a blog that was all about home improvement. I think it was Young House Love, and Sherry talks about when you’re redoing your kitchen and you are in the middle. It’s transformation, so it’s an apt metaphor here.
You start, you plan, you have all these great ideas about how this thing is going to go. Then near the middle you’ve probably torn out everything, the floors are gone, you realize there’s something that didn’t go right. You’re in the messy middle, you can’t really remember what it looked like when you started, and mentally you can’t quite visualize what this mess is going to look like when you have everything ready for the big reveal.
It’s that space. We find ourselves in that space constantly in life. We even see it in the great works of The Bible, going back to my religious studies roots. Like when Moses leads them out of Egypt for 40 years out in the wilderness, there’s the messy middle. I think we find ourselves there, and that’s probably why it’s included in these great texts.
That’s the space. What do we do when we can’t right now? Here’s the nod to why I wrote it right now. That we can’t see or recall, we can’t do the things that we did in December 2019, and yet we don’t know what on the other side this is going to look like getting through a pandemic, when it’s all said and done what this will look like. So, we’re in the messy middle right now. We don’t know what this is going to look like.
I love the stories that come out of this time. One, because I’ve been through a messy middle myself. I think transformation is possible when we lean into what happens in the messy middle. I think oftentimes it’s very hard for you to find joy when you’re in this because you’re so preoccupied with the very real things of living a life during this time. Some of them are the very basics of how we get food or water or toilet paper. All those things became very real. Now we’re probably easing into it a little bit more, but how do we find joy right now when so many of the things that we love aren’t really possible? Those might have been our go-tos.
Dr. Aimee: What are some of those ways that people can find joy in this messy middle?
Paula Jenkins: It’s interesting. I have over 280 episodes on the show and some of the ways that come up. My first question is, “What were your earliest sparks of joy, what brought you joy as a child?” I think one of the easiest ways to find joy right now is to think about that for yourself, if you haven’t, and find the current version of it.
If you’re stuck right there and thinking, “I don’t know,” because some people actually don’t recall what brought them joy as a child, here’s the top five answers on the board.
Reconnecting or connecting with friends in some way. Obviously, you could do that over Zoom or a phone call or a distanced walk if you wanted.
Reading. So many people said reading. I think it’s so beautiful, because it can take us away to The Secret Garden or to Prince Edward Island with Anne of Green Gables.
Animals. That one might be a little bit harder if you don’t own a pet, but there are webcams. This is joyful. You can go look at Sophia the Hippo in the Cleveland Zoo. You can go watch an animal for a little while and just enjoy them.
Creativity of any sort. People really enjoy creativity and trying something new.
I don’t think I said this last one, but it’s taking a walk, being in nature. It’s been studied that taking a walk in nature, they even call it a nature bath, it helps reset your entire nervous system and for you to be more open to the good vibes and all of that.
I think you could try one of those, or all of them.
Dr. Aimee: I love it. You can take your dog on a walk in nature while watching a hippo on a webcam, read a book when you get home, but you can also call a friend at the same time. You can do it. I love it.
You talk about a couple of different kinds of joy in the book. It’s hard for me, I’m always thinking about fertility, so when I see bed-in-a-bag, I’m like, “Can someone get pregnant in that?” Can you tell me about bed-in-a-bag, what does that mean, and how is that a version of joy?
Paula Jenkins: I love this one so much. When the pandemic hit, I realized that some of the things that I was missing were the things that we go to that are the prepackaged versions of joy. I want to be super clear, I am not judging these. We need them and they are really popular for a reason.
When I say prepackaged versions of joy, those are the things that are easy, like when we go to a movie, you might go to Disneyland or an amusement park, or a cruise, or a vacation that you’ve planned, or you just get away for the day. These are the bed-in-a-bag versions of joy because you go, everything you need is provided, it’s neat, it’s prepackaged, and you can enjoy the heck out of it.
It is a total delight when we go into Target and we’re like look at that bed-in-a-bag, you bring it home, you put the pillows and the shams, the bedspread and dust ruffle, and it’s like a little mini makeover. It’s the best feeling. I think we do that, too, with these bed-in-a-bag versions of joy.
The thing that I’ve noticed is it’s great, we love going to the movie, we love going to Disneyland, but we don’t always reintegrate those things into our lives. We go on the vacation, but we don’t always bring the pieces of the vacation we love home. How do we do that?
It got then to be in the messy middle in the pandemic where we can’t access those things. So, what I started doing was I was thinking about I wish I could go to Disneyland, or I wish I could go wherever, what do I love about Disneyland? Kind of similar to how did you find joy as a child, but what do I love?
I love feeling like I’m pampered kind of, because customer service there is they just love the heck out of you there. I love being able to find gluten-free food (because I’m gluten-free) wherever I want and feeling like I can eat whatever I want. I love just feeling like it’s an adventure. How can I bring those things into my life right now and support myself in a way right now that would make me feel a little bit more joyful?
I think it’s an interesting thing because then I’m reintegrating. We talk about that in retreat work; How do we integrate the things that we have learned and that we love into right now? Instead of just leaving it at the retreat, how do we bring it back into our life?
I don’t think it’s just the bed-in-a-bag versions of joy that we hold outside of ourselves. I know you even talk about this, too. Planning your pregnancy and all that is like planning a really great trip. It’s that same kind of thing. How do we plan it and enjoy it, everything, in the now, and take joy from what we can do now instead of just letting it sit out there?
The other kind of joy is the joy that we notice every day and that we can sink into. It might be noticing a truly beautiful flower. Or I have a ridiculously large artichoke plant right out this window. Just soaking that goodness up. And when you notice it, take the moment to take a mental snapshot. Where am I? What does this feel like?
You can go back to those moments anytime you want. I have a few that if I’m in it and it’s a hard day, I can shut my eyes and I can be back in Italy with my mom, or I can shut my eyes and think of that artichoke plant. It doesn’t have to be big. It can be whatever, and you can revisit them.
Dr. Aimee: Do you have suggestions for easy ways people can bring more joy into their daily life?
Paula Jenkins: We talked about the five ways you could do that based on what you know from being a kid. I think a lot of it just takes being super mindful and getting into the practice of noticing joy. Also, defining what it means to you. Since joy is one of those things, it’s an extreme emotion, a lot of people kind of back off on it. We as a society are not really good with the extreme emotions. We don’t like grief sometimes, and we feel a little intimidated by joy.
I think part of it noticing when you feel joy and letting yourself feel it. I think that’s really important, especially when you’re in overwhelming situations. I imagine it’s that way with a fertility patient as well. Where am I seeing joy? Then leaning in to do more of that, however you can bring it into your life, is super important.
I think experiencing joy and having worked with it over six years – it’s so funny to say, some sort of joy expert, that seems really silly to me. Once you start to notice joy, you can’t help but notice more of it. It’s like anything where you put your attention to something, it really does become easier to spot it everywhere, it becomes easier to acknowledge what is joyful to you. I think that’s a really important thing to notice, too.
Some people call it a joy practice, but I don’t know if it’s really a practice. It’s just getting really comfortable with experiencing it. And inviting other people into it, too. Maybe you could plan out something that you can do that’s physically distanced, and you can look forward to it on your calendar and get your family or friends, whoever is dear to you, involved, and then that’s a fun day out.
Dr. Aimee: I also think joy has a lot to do with gratitude.
Paula Jenkins: Yes.
Dr. Aimee: Saying thank you and being mindful of recognizing how appreciative you are. I am so appreciative for you each and every day, and I just can’t say thank you enough, but I have to make sure, “Am I thanking Paula enough? I need to make sure she knows how much I adore and appreciate her,” and how your joy is also contagious. You help me bring other people joy through the podcast, through the shows that we do, then I have just so much gratitude for you, and then I can continue to be joyful. I know that sounds like I’m going round and round, but it truly is contagious.
Paula Jenkins: Yes. It is contagious. Thank you, because I adore working with you and I adore that we both exude this kind of appreciation for joy. In your words, how can we sparkle every day? I think those energies are so similar.
I think when people start to set that as the precedent of how they approach things, it shifts everything. When you can come from a place of gratitude, like between us, or for patients, or for clients, it changes everything and people can feel it. If people can start to do that in their own lives, they’re also going to see the people around them notice and they want to be more involved and it’s a whole thing.
It really is choosing a different way, it’s choosing to be really open and really loving, and it’s a different way of being.
Dr. Aimee: It is. You’re like the match to my sparkle, or you’re the spark to my sparkle.
Where can people find your book and your podcast?
Paula Jenkins: The website is JumpStartYourJoy.com. The book is right in the top navigation. The podcast itself is everywhere you can find a podcast, so Apple, Spotify, or Amazon. The book is on Amazon, too, if folks want to order it there. You can get it with Prime if you want it.
Dr. Aimee: I love it. Thank you, Paula, for being on the show, for sharing your message of joy. I love everything about your message. I hope that people will follow, listen, and learn from your podcast so that they can not be afraid of being joyful. I think there’s this like joy-guilt or joy-shame where it’s like we are made to feel guilty almost by being happy right now. I get it people are really suffering, but I think for our own mental health it’s okay to be joyful.
Paula Jenkins: Yes. It really is. That was so well said. Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Aimee: Thank you, Paula. I love you.
Paula Jenkins: Love you, too.