"FEAR LESS, LOVE MORE."
“WHAT ELSE IS THERE IN LIFE BESIDES BEING WHO WE ARE AND FINDING THE FULLEST EXPRESSION OF OUR TRUE SELVES?"
MeiMei Fox is a published author, co-author, ghostwriter, and freelance editor of hundreds of non-fiction health, wellness, spirituality, and psychology books, including New York Times bestsellers Bend, Not Break with Ping Fu and Fortytude with Sarah Brokaw. She has edited books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Columbia professor Robert Thurman, and was Expedition Writer for Alexandra Cousteau's 2009 Expedition: Blue Planet. She blogs weekly for the Huffington Post, and her articles have been published in Self, Stanford magazine, MindBodyGreen, Forbes, and numerous other publications.
In addition to writing, MeiMei has a BA and MA in psychology from Stanford University and works part time as a life-coach. As well, MeiMei and her husband Kiran Ramchandran write, produce, and direct short films and documentaries. They have also produced two beautiful twin boys together and their most recent endeavor is a blog about this experience called Adventures With Twins. In short, MeiMei is a multi-talented hybrid-career rockstar, and I couldn’t wait to interview her about how she does it all!
MeiMei is also the first woman I interviewed for this website, and I credit her with giving me the confidence and encouragement to pursue my vision. She really believed in my idea, and in turn helped me believe in myself. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to be my first interview subject, or my first mentor along this journey. MeiMei’s answers sent my heart racing and my spirit flying, I felt like I could do anything and be anyone after hearing about how she had set things in motion in her own life. My inspire-aspire intention was off the ground and running, and I was the first reader to be hooked.
- How did you get started on your career path?
It’s a crazy story. I was working as a management consultant with McKinsey & Co. in San Francisco after graduating from Stanford. It was a prestigious job, and most of my colleagues were psyched to be there. I found myself a fish out of water. I just couldn’t get excited about the business world or working to make huge companies more profitable, even though I was learning a ton and working with really amazing, brilliant, inspiring people.
So after my two-year stint there was up, I found myself at a loss. Just then, a friend who was an MD approached me about writing a book with him. He knew I loved to write, and he knew I needed a job. I had no idea what writing a non-fiction book on health and wellness entailed. So I went to the bookstore and bought a book called “How to Write a Book Proposal.” I followed the instructions and wrote a book proposal for our book, “Sexual Fitness.” It offers an all-natural approach to improving your sex life – totally clean and out of the bedroom – mostly health and fitness tips, a diet and exercise program. I loved writing. It was so fun!
Then I wrote an email to all my friends asking if anyone knew anyone who worked in publishing. One of my friends wrote back that she had a friend at Penguin Putnam who’d be willing to look over my proposal. A few weeks later, that woman, Nikki, wrote me an email saying, “I never do this… But we’re actually going to buy your book!” So there I had a book deal with a major publishing house for my very first book proposal.
I had such a great time writing that book! I also became close friends with the senior editor at Penguin Putnam who published it, Amy Hertz. She became my mentor. She was incredibly generous in offering me advice and guidance. She also connected me with my literary agent and got me my next few ghostwriting and editing projects.
- How did you transition from that starting point into the hybrid career you have today?
I got a BA and MA in psychology from Stanford, but I did not know what I wanted to do with my degrees. I just knew that I loved the coursework. It really stimulated me. I felt passionate about understanding what makes people tick, why we do the things we do, and how we can learn behaviors and cognitive processes to make our lives better.
Later in life, in my early 30s, I got an MA in counseling psych because I wanted a career to compliment writing that was more social. Writing is so lonely… It’s just you and your computer for hours and hours. Plus I was writing all this health and wellness stuff to help people make their lives better. I was eager to see it in action in the real world, how my ideas and practices might actually influence people. I now work part-time as a coach, and really enjoy it.
Likewise, my background in psychology definitely contributes to my work as a health and wellness writer. So much of our life satisfaction has nothing to do with our external circumstances, but rather boils down to how we perceive ourselves and our situations. “Life is 10% what you make it, and 90% how you take it”, someone famous once said. I love how psychology teaches you to replace negative thought patterns with positive ones. To realize that happiness and life satisfaction come from within. To be generous and compassionate with others rather than obsessing over what’s wrong with your life. To be grateful and appreciate the gifts you do have rather than always fantasizing about what MORE you need in order to be happy.
- Your career is multi-faceted and you play many different roles (author, life-coach, yoga instructor, etc.). Can you briefly describe the importance of each one and why it resonates with you?
Each one is about finding joy in connection to myself and others. I simply see these as different avenues for accomplishing that same goal. Writing allows me to reach many people at once, including total strangers. However, I don’t get the in-person connection that I do working one-on-one with coaching clients or leading a small group of people through a yoga class.
- How did you turn your career into a lifestyle rather than just a job? Was this a conscious decision?
Absolutely. I was unfulfilled at McKinsey. I realized I needed to do work that was meaningful to me. I was lucky to stumble into writing the way I did, but I was very conscious to choose a path that allowed me to set my own schedule and make the world a better place.
- What practical advice do you have for other women about turning their talents and passions into a career?
You have to be fearless. It’s much easier to take a corporate job with a regular paycheck and health insurance. I find the creative path, in particular, is a war of attrition: most people just give up. Keep believing, keep working hard, keep connecting and reaching out to others for help and mentorship… That’s what it takes!
- Your mantra is “Love more, fear less” – can you elaborate on how you live this through your work?
My work is all about service, which is to me the true meaning of “Fear Less, Love More.” I write blogs about social entrepreneurs and change-makers who inspire me and others to make the world a better place. I also write very openly about my journey and the obstacles I’ve faced, finding happiness, and expressing gratitude. In my coaching work, I help my clients tap into their talents, skills, and passions, to find the courage to live the lives they’ve always dreamed.
- What kind of fears/obstacles have you had to overcome to get where you are today?
It was scary to leave the world of regular paychecks and health insurance. I am not a trust fund baby. I don’t have backup bank accounts. But I also felt compelled to live an authentic life aligned with my values. I had to have faith that things would work out. Let go of my fear, and simply trust that if I followed my heart, I would get paid and appreciated. Fortunately, it worked out! For the most part… There were times when it didn’t, and I ran out of cash. So I took part-time or temporary jobs to make ends meet. I’ve worked in advertising and in social media. You can’t get too egotistical or proud. Being a freelancer keeps you humble!
- What have you learned from these challenges, and what advice can you give from this?
I think we’re all inclined to throw up obstacles to our own happiness. We make excuses to NOT follow our heart paths because it is so very scary, first to take risks and leave the comfort of corporate America, and second, to be vulnerable in the world about who we really are. But… but… but… What else is there in life besides being who we are and finding the fullest expression of our true selves? Looking back, would we ever regret trying to do our own thing and failing? Never. We only ever regret not taking risks. I always ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” On my career path, I’ve realized the worst is that I fail, have to take a “real job,” and look like an idiot. I’ve done all of that and you know what? It’s not so bad. If anything, it’s made me a stronger, more compassionate, wiser person. And hopefully, it’s allowed me to inspire a few others along the way with my life lessons.
- As someone who is so giving and compassionate, how do you draw the line between giving of yourself and being taken advantage of?
Tough question. I don’t think I’m very good at that, to this day! Maybe it’s something I’ll continue to improve on over time. Right now, my husband is my line of defense. He’ll always ask me, “Are you sure that’s the right thing for you?” He’s a great reality check.
- It’s obvious that you practice what you preach – you say “if you aren’t finding fulfillment, joy and balance through your own life then you won’t be as capable of spreading those qualities to others”. How did you come to find this sense of self-confidence? How did you discover the importance of putting yourself first?
I didn’t put myself first for many years. I put others first, especially my first husband! It took six months of therapy to extract myself from a very unhappy marriage. In that process and the years of recovery that followed, I came to see how subverting my needs not only made me miserable, but it made me far less capable of making a positive impact on others. I became weirdly sort of a narcissist, because I just had so few resources left after all my energy was drained from the marriage. Once I started taking care of my own health and happiness, I found that I had exponentially more love and energy to give to others. It’s kind of counterintuitive until you do it. Then it makes complete sense.
- By following your dreams and living your passions, you’ve also helped countless others. You’ve shown through your career that selfish and selfless can really be one in the same. What does this mean to you?
Why, thank you! I think I’ve addressed that question above. You have to be selfish first. You have to take care of your own needs, finding happiness and purpose within yourself. Then you can reach out and help others. If you’re miserable, you can’t really be of service. The whole point in my “selfishness” was to become more selfless.
- How important is independence to you, both spiritually and financially?
Both are extremely important to me. No matter how much you love another person or feel you can rely on them, you never know what will happen in life. You have to be able to rely on yourself. And knowing that will give you a deep-seated sense of security that no other being can provide for you.
- How does your spirituality fit into your life and career? How do you feed your soul every day?
Spirituality is my life and my career! All my work as a writer and a coach and yoga teacher is about connecting to myself, to others, and to God. I practice gratitude every day by saying prayers of thanks for all the blessings I have. I meditate, either sitting or walking quietly while clearing my mind of thoughts as best I can. I also believe that my relationship with my husband Kiran is a spiritual practice. I practice adoring him, not letting things that bug me get under my skin, making him feel appreciated and proud… It’s wonderful.
- You’ve described yourself as the bad girl of the spiritual club, saying that part of "living the life out loud" is celebrating your wild side with gusto – flaws and all. I love how unapologetic you are. What advice do you have to fellow women about celebrating the messy part of their lives?
I think a real trap we get into on the spiritual path is feeling that we have to be “perfect.” Well, there’s enough pressure out there already to improve, making ourselves better… Instead, the key to a spiritual practice, in my opinion, is starting by accepting things as they are—including and above all, ourselves. That doesn’t mean we can’t strive towards self-improvement. But we need to be understanding that all human beings are flawed. If we can have compassion towards ourselves, then we’ll also have more compassion towards other people. As for advice, the best way to celebrate messiness is to simply accept it with a laugh. Say, “Oops, I screwed up. Isn’t that funny?” You can apologize, too, when you really make mistakes. I find when you lead with your vulnerability – saying, for example, “I’ve been going through a rough patch lately, I’m sorry for being so inconsiderate.” people really respond well.
- Why is giving back important to you? What are your thoughts on incorporating philanthropy and career path?
Giving back is just one way of living my mantra, Fear Less, Love More. Studies also show that volunteering makes us healthier, happier people. It’s not purely selfless – it’s selfish, too. It feeds our souls. I serve on the board of a non-profit, HOPE Foundation, that works with street kids in Calcutta, India. I also like to take regular volunteer trips, like to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and to Uganda this past August. I always feel that service gets me out of my head and my own problems, restores a deep sense of gratitude for all my blessings, and gives me an incredible life experience.
- One of your quotes is, “Don’t go into autopilot – do something every day that makes your heart sing." How do you live this through your career?
I get to write and coach people about it! Just sharing my own wisdom brings me such joy.
- What advice do you have to women about how to blur the line between work and play?
If you follow your bliss, as Joseph Campbell said, and do what you love, then – most of the time, at least – you will love your job. I think that is so critical to happiness in life. After all, we spend the majority of our waking hours at work. Why not spend the time, energy, and care to make your career something that gives you real pleasure and fulfillment?
- If your career is any evidence, it seems that you have a knack for doing many things at once and balancing them all. However, you’ve said that you despise balance and the elusive seeking of it. If not with balance, then how do you juggle everything while staying sane?
The reason I don’t like the word balance is because it implies that there’s some perfect state of being we’re trying to achieve. I view life as a seesaw – we’re constantly in motion, swinging up and down. Rather than striving, impossibly, to rest at that perfect midpoint, instead, I say, embrace the ups and downs! That’s the reality of life. If we can accept that, then we’ll cut ourselves a lot more slack. There are times in my life when I’ve been happy to work super hard, long days, every day of the week. There are other times when I need a vacation. No matter what, I make time nearly every day for exercise, because I have to be physically in alignment or I start to go nuts. But that may not be the case for you. For you, maybe you need time to cook or watch TV. Find that thing that gives you the most joy and commit to doing it every day. Then allow yourself the messiness of life, knowing that sometimes you’ll be working too hard, sometimes you’ll be partying too hard, and it’s all just a grand and delightful dance.
- It sounds like your willingness and ability to take on any task is what has propelled your career into so many forward directions. How important do you think it is to say yes and remain fluid?
True. I am very much willing to take risks. I think the key is asking yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” You’ll realize that 99% of the time, all that you’re fearing is running out of money and embarrassing yourself. Get over the ego, because no one will judge you as harshly as do yourself. Anyway, some of the most inspiring people we know – like Churchill and Lincoln – were “failures” for many years. Failure teaches us to be humble and compassionate. The great thing about life is we can always pick up and start over again. As for running out of money, you can always get a job at Starbucks- with health insurance! So don’t let that be an excuse.
- You’ve traveled many places. Through your world travels what has resonated with you most as a common-thread key to happiness?
Everywhere I go, people struggle with the same issues: relationships and love, career, happiness… It gives me great comfort to see that we are all fundamentally so connected, so similar. In spite of fascinating cultural, linguistic, ethnic differences, we are human. What I’ve seen is that people who are connected to others, following their passion, and grateful are happiest. Everywhere in the world, no matter the circumstances.
- Can you talk about some of your travels and how they affected your career/life path?
Travel is a wonderful way to step outside yourself and your problems. It reminds me of how grateful I am. It inspires me to connect with other people authentically. AND it super stimulates my creativity – just my taking in new places, flavors, sights and sounds… Many of the fictional worlds I’m creating now are based on places I’ve traveled and experiences I’ve had while on the road.
- What advice do you have to women who are trying to emulate a career such as your own?
My career is all over the place and I’ve had such a non-traditional path getting here. I wouldn’t suggest emulating me, per se. However, I would advise you to take risks, be daring, don’t fear failure, spend a lot of time connecting to yourself, and make your driving force helping others.
- This website is intended to be a source of inspiration. What fellow women have inspired you?
Alison Thompson. I edited her memoir, “The Third Wave,” about volunteering all over the world. She inspired me to dedicate more of my life to service. I have tapped into such joy as a result.
My mom. She is my heroine. She selflessly gave of herself her whole life – to both of her children, and to her amazing career for the Nature Conservancy. She never asks for or needs recognition. She is truly motivated by her own desire to make the world a better place. She has endless amounts of energy, and she is always so much fun!
- If you had to list 3 core values to live by what would they be?
1) Love. Life is all about love. Love is all that matters in the end.
2) Creativity. I believe that we are each given a gift to create something in our lives – whether that be art, music or writing, a company or a nonprofit, or a child. We are so blessed to be human in that we have this gift of imagination and creation. It’s a shame not to use it.
3) Compassion. It’s so easy to judge – ourselves and others. But life is tough. We are best always starting from a place of compassion. Forgive yourself your flaws. Put yourself in other people’s shoes before you judge them.