Let’s start with the first question on your mind: her name. No, Gala Darling was not the name the cheery woman sitting in front of me was born with; it came to her in a dream, and she had it legally changed.
In fact, looking in from the outside, a lot of Darling’s life seems to be her dreams made real. For the last (almost!) decade she’s made her living running a sequins-filled blog to help women love themselves more—both inside and out. Her days are spent doing the things she loves most (writing, dressing up in technicolor clothing, jet setting around the world), she gets to work and collaborate with fascinating people and some of her best friends, she has the freedom to work on whatever projects excite her the most—and she just generally always seems pretty thrilled about her magical life. (If you think I’m exaggerating, go spend five minutes on her Instagram feed.)
But it wasn’t always that way.
Like most of us, this New Zealand native found herself a little lost when entering university. She decided to drop out and proceeded, as her parents said she must, to “get a job.” So, Darling went to work for a bank. And then worked as a fiction buyer for a university bookstore. And then worked at LUSH Cosmetics as a manager. And then—well you get the picture. “I always found that I was trying to fill some sort of creative hole with another job,” she shared with me. “I would always think, well maybe this new job will make me feel good. The thing was it was always the same kind of work, so it was never going to fulfill me.”
But she knew she liked writing, so she decided to give blogging a shot. (This was in 2006, mind you, when nobody was really making money from blogs.) She wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but she knew she couldn’t keep on like she had been.
It worked big time. And now, she’s on a mission to help other women do work they love, too. Partnering with Ellen Fondiler—who has been a death penalty attorney, started a bakery, started a nonprofit, raised millions of dollars for said nonprofit, and now gives career advice based on her wealth of experience—Darling is setting out to create a road map for women who want to ditch the conventional “get a job” wisdom and pursue truly meaningful work.
Miracle Worker, launching May 4, is an eight-week e-class consisting of thought-provoking workbooks, inspiring interviews, motivating playlists, and a Facebook group full of supportive women—all in the name of helping you create a career you’ll really love.
I’m taking the course, but I couldn’t wait until May to get started feeling inspired. So, I sat down with Darling to get some insider tips on making magic in your work.
Your new class is all about helping people find meaningful work. What does that mean to you?
To me, meaningful work is about making a contribution in some way. So when you go to bed at night you feel like you helped somebody else, you helped to affect some change, you were able to express yourself. It’s really an individual thing—I think everybody has a different idea of what meaningful work means—but generally it’s about feeling like you’re contributing in some way, or like if you weren’t doing it something would be missing.
I think that people get stuck in these boring careers because they don’t know what else to do and they’re worried about paying their bills, which is understandable. But I also think it’s important to follow your passions and see if it works—at least if it doesn’t work, then you know and you tried it. There’s always going to be a million boring safe jobs to go back to, if you really want one or need one, but in the meantime, try something new, try something cool—why not?
What can someone expect to come out with at the end of the Miracle Worker class?
I mean, Ellen and I can’t say for sure at the end of the course you’ll know what you’ll be doing for the next 10 years, but we’re forcing you to take steps toward making growth in your life and contacting some new people and changing some stuff. It’s really easy to feel stuck and stagnant and get kind of lost in your own head a little bit. So what we’re doing with this course is giving you questions to help you figure out what you really want to do—not what you think you should do, but what really lights you up—and I think that’s crucial.
But also we’re putting you in a community of 100+ other women, who are the most interesting and diverse group. A lot of them are people who have already accomplished something but are like, “Well, now what do I want to do?”
You know, it’s so much easier to tell someone else what they should do or how you can help them rather than yourself. So we’re putting you in this community of people so you don’t feel like you’re doing it alone. It’s not like you’re given a workbook, and then that’s it. Everyone’s going to be completing them together and can support each other. That teamwork—the group aspect—is so important.
So give us a little preview. What’s your favorite tidbit from the class?
My interview with Danielle LaPorte was amazing, and I keep thinking about it and referencing it in everything I do. It’s just a really non-bullshit conversation.
The thing that really stuck with me was, she talks about how she was going to start a magazine a year or so ago. She talked about it online, everybody had seen what the cover was going to look like, we were really excited, I kept checking her site to see if there were more details. And she was telling me she woke up one morning and was like, “How fun would it be not to do this magazine?” And the answer was, “It’d be really fun.” And she was like, “Okay, I’m not going to do it.” And she had spent $90,000 on this magazine that never came out. She had hired all these people, done all this stuff, and she just closed it.
And that’s the thing: Only do it if it’s fun. Obviously that was a very expensive lesson to learn. But I love that she had the conviction to say, “This doesn’t feel good to me anymore, so I’m not going to do it.”
I think we get really hung up on, I said I was going to do this thing, so now I have to do it. Even though I don’t really feel it anymore, I don’t want to let down my family or my partner or my friends or my workplace or whatever. That’s such a trap, and it really leads to people feeling dissatisfied and resentful and hating their shit, because they said they’d do it.
And that’s different than honoring an agreement—you should honor your agreements—but if it’s just a project, don’t kill yourself trying to do it. Don’t worry so much about what other people are going to think of you for changing your mind. Life works best when we’re flexible.
You’re very big on having goals and dreams and vision boards and really keeping the thing that you want in mind. What do you recommend for people who feel like they don’t even know what they want?
I think the first thing is to stop telling yourself you have no idea, because the more you tell yourself that, the more you’ll believe it. It’s better to tell yourself “I’m exploring what I want right now,” rather than, “I don’t fucking know!” because that’s very disempowering.
Tell yourself a different story—and then actually go and explore what you want! Leave the house five nights a week, take a class, go see a friend, go for a bike ride, read some books, watch a documentary. When you do these things, you can’t help but be drawn to certain things. And you’ll find yourself drawn to those things over and over again. That’s a really good place to start.
In this class we have so much guidance. We are using these amazing workbooks that Ellen wrote and developed for her Unlocked Academy series that are filled with challenging questions, worksheets, and templates. So, for example, in the first week, about what makes you really happy, we help you delve into what’s the most satisfying thing you’ve ever done work-wise, what you loved doing when you were a child—all these little questions that get you thinking. The older I get, the more I realize how much I knew when I was a kid. There were things I intrinsically knew that were so true, and the older you get, the more you talk yourself out of them. But when you actually look back, you’re like, “Man, five-year-old me, she knew her shit!”
The other thing is, it’s very common to feel like you have to make a decision now about what you’re gonna do and, firstly, it’ll be that way forever and, second, you can never change your mind. Both of those things are total bullshit! You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and you can change your mind on a dime. I could shut my blog down tomorrow and be like, “I’m going to India.” Why not? It’s my life—I can do what I want! Ellen and I are both great examples of that. Between the two of us we have launched seven different businesses, from bakeries to landscaping firms to online academies!
Don’t feel like everything is forever. It takes a lot of pressure off. Think, “I love this thing, and I’m going to try it for a year.” Isn’t that so much less terrifying than, “I’m going to this thing, forever?”
I think the other fear is that veering of the course will throw off the long-term plan. What would you say to people who are worried about that?
I mean, when you make plans, God laughs, right?
I’ve never been a super long-term plan kind of person. I think taking risks is not necessarily going to throw off your grand plan. And I also think that whatever is meant to happen will happen.
What advice would you have for people who take a risk, who take a leap, and are going through a period where it’s not necessarily going as planned?
The first thing is knowing that everybody fails. It’s inevitable. In that interview with Danielle LaPorte, she talks about how, no matter what you do in your life, there are certain lessons you have to learn and you have to fail to learn them. So it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re still going to fail in those areas, so you might as well do it quickly and get it over with.
Secondly, I think it’s important that you have people who you can talk to about it—people who are non-judgmental, people who are going to support you unconditionally. And if you don’t have people like that, make an effort to find those people. Our life and our expectations of life are really dictated by who we spend time with, so it’s really important to spend time with people who you admire and respect. Why do you want to be friends with someone who has a shit job and hates his or her life? That’s not inspiring!
You know, I’ve done a million things that didn’t really work. And that’s okay—life goes on. I think those things only define you if that’s what you believe and that’s what you tell yourself. So stop telling yourself shitty things, and you’ll feel better about it!
It makes me think of your big movement for “radical self love.” How do you think radical self love translates to this career journey?
Having work that is meaningful is the pinnacle of radical self love. It means you respect yourself enough to take a risk, you respect yourself enough to do something that challenges you, and you respect yourself enough to recognize that you have something to give.
I don’t think it’s self love to take a job that you hate, I don’t think it’s self love to have to drink 10 cups of coffee a day just to stay awake at your desk—all of these things take a toll on you and eventually will grind you down. You spend so much time at work that you might as well enjoy it. It should be fun and stimulating and great.
If you could summarize your career mantra, what would it be?
My career mantra would probably just be, don’t get hung up on trying to please other people. Because it doesn’t work. You’ll never please everybody. So you have to do things that make you happy. And you have to follow your impulses. It’ll make your work interesting and different from everybody else’s.
Miracle Worker begins May 4. I’ll be taking the class—if you want to join me on the amazing adventure to help you find work you love! If you do, make sure to say “hi” on the Facebook group!