Series / Style

FRIDAY VIBES // The Rainbow Connection

June 24, 2016


Happy National Pride Month! It seems like world news and political opinions, especially here in the US, get progressively more aggressive and tense all the time. While we are in such a weird political space, I’m happy to see support for LGBT rights becoming increasingly more universal. Amidst chaos and tragedy, it seems like a bright beacon of hope that LOVE and PRIDE are also prevailing. As fashion generally expresses the political culture of the times, it’s exciting to see so many designers embracing the rainbow trend. Love and color- two things where more is always better!

Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Edie-Parker-Clutch Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Gucci-Platforms Friday-Vibes-Red-Valentino-Dress Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Gucci-Cat Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Lace-Up-Heels Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Mara-Hoffman-Top Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Tsumori-Chisato Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Jeffrey-Campbell-Platforms Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Street-Style Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Mary-Katrantzou-Pullover Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-YRU-Boots Friday-Vibes-Rainbow-Style-Bubble

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If you saw my behind-the-scenes look at our HOWL collection for AFW, you know that I’ve been loving all things rainbow-colored.

What about you? Would you bring these rainbow bright looks into your wardrobe?



Weekly Roundup 25/52

I feel like I’ve been trying so hard to catch up on my normal life after last week’s fashion show that I’ve been doing tasks at a marathon pace lately. It’s like a constant cycle of reading back emails, doing dishes, responding to so-and-so, writing, more emails, laundry, getting to back to whoever, editing. Lather, rinse, repeat over and over. I do finally feel like I’m getting caught up, but man, I am ready for a break! You, too? Great! Let’s procrastinate on life’s busy work for a while and get to the good stuff. Here are a few of my favorite links from around the interweb this week.


1  I found this elopement (complete with a Katz’s Deli reception for two) to be so endearing. Plus it’s one of the few wedding posts where I can actually see myself doing something similar. Hmmm… (Apartment Therapy)  |  2  Have you heard of “off register” tattoos? I loved these by artist Mattia Mambo because they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before. (Brown Paper Bag)


3  I found this Alice in Wonderland themed editorial so beautiful and so inspiring. Nothing beats fashion with a touch of whimsy. (Shine by Three)  |  4  So I have this weird aversion to holiday decorations. I don’t know, I just never really want to do it. But this DIY American Flag weaving seems so chic and unexpected that I’m actually dying to try it. Maybe this will turn over a whole new festive leaf for me. (The House that Lars Built)


5  Ahhh, I just love these floating cloud hearts. I want to touch them and feel what they’re made out of so badly! (Khmer Cloud Printer)


And a few more…


There were so many great DIY projects this week! I LOVED these Juju hats

…had no clue you could hammer your own floral fabric

…and thought this chair upgrade was brilliant.

Slumber sloths?! These are so adorable.

In drool-worthy food news: these chocolate cake gems and these roasted peach pops.

I want this for my “studio” room.

Heart eyes emoji for this bed.

And the look of the week: a maxi dress/moto jacket combo that couldn’t be cooler from Fashionably Kay.


In case you missed these from FWS…

Trying to just keep swimming.

And be a better friend by acknowledging the reality of people’s feelings.

I shared the looks from our HOWL collection for Alternative Fashion Week.

And posted my ultimate “get creative” playlist.


What links were you loving this week?


Series / Tips & Goals

Our Happiness Project // Tip #4: Acknowledging the Reality of People’s Feelings

June 22, 2016


Zach and I have been working through chapter four of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which is essentially about parenting. Since we don’t have kids I wasn’t sure going into it how it would translate to our lives. Happily, I’ve noticed that the advice in the chapter, while especially useful for parents, is really more about families and loved ones and is applicable for all relationships.

One thing that really struck me, and it’s something I’ve been personally working on for a while, is the importance of acknowledging the reality of other people’s feelings. It seems like a simple enough concept, but it’s much harder to actually apply to real-life situations. Think about it for a minute, how do you respond when someone shares feelings like anger, fear or shame? Do you dismiss them with suggestions like, “Oh, don’t be silly, of course they like you,” or, “You always try to get out of plans. Just go and you’ll end up having fun”?

I’d love to say I avoid these pitfalls, but the truth is I’m often dismissive and corrective when I’m faced with an emotional scenario. It’s with good intentions. I usually start out being understanding, but then the temptation to fix creeps in and takes over. I’m a researcher, a studier, a self-improvement junkie, and it can be almost painful not to offer my own suggestions regarding other people’s feelings.

This chapter shed light on something I’ve been learning more and more as I get older, that this form of “help,” while coming from a good place, can actually feel disrespectful to the person on the other end of the conversation. It’s important for me to realize that it’s not my place to judge, fix, or dismiss someone’s feelings. As Rubin notes, experts agree that denying bad feelings intensifies them, while acknowledging bad feelings allows good feelings to return. The simple act of listening to someone’s feelings and acknowledging them shows that you appreciate their point of view. This is often enough in itself to bring peace to bad feelings.


My oldest friend (since Kindergarten) is a true living example of this, and thus, she is my favorite person to go to when I did to get the feelings out. Zach and I, many years back, had a period of about six months where we broken up. And to me, this meant done forever and I was devastated. I felt like I had no control over the situation or myself. I called my friend sobbing and she just said, “I know it hurts so much. It feels like you can’t breathe. This is going to be really painful for a long time until you’re through it.” Now, that might not necessarily sound uplifting, but as I was floundering in a sea of, “You just have to get back out there,” or, “I never thought he was right for you anyway,” or any of the other one million well-intentioned-though-very-unhelpful anecdotes I heard during this time, this simple acknowledgement of, “Yeah, that sucks.” felt like I was being thrown a life preserver. I felt understood and supported and, most of all, I felt like I was free from the pressure to feel happy anytime soon and she would be just fine with that. That was the real gift.

I’m definitely not as good as she is when it comes to this, but I’m working on it. For me, it’s easy to be understanding in the midst of some overwhelming, traumatic feelings. It’s harder when it’s the everyday small things. It can be a challenge not to offer up a bright side to a colleague’s gripe or suggest ways to cheer up to a friend in a funk. It can be a struggle not to want to fix the feelings of others.


If you can recognize any of these dismissive behaviors in yourself, here are a few approaches from the chapter that I think are helpful in trying to be more understanding when someone is reaching out for emotional support.

  1. Don’t disagree with someone’s feelings. I would like to make the argument that telling someone about our bad feelings is something that no one really wants to do. It’s hard to be that vulnerable. So if someone is sharing their vulnerability with you, try to respond without being dismissive (“It’s not that big of a deal”), judgmental (“I think you’re over-reacting”), or trying to fix the feelings (“You’ll feel better in no time”). These reactions can cause the person who is having the emotion to feel defensive, like no one is hearing them. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, you could say something to the effect of, “Yeah, I can see that that frustrated you.” As Rubin notes in the book, when talking with children it can be as simple as not using the terms “no” or “stop,” changing a response from, “No, not until after lunch,” to, “Yes, as soon as we’re done with lunch.” The simple switch from negative to positive can help them feel heard.
  2. Admit that something is difficult. Like my story of my friend above, when I was hurting, I really needed someone to acknowledge that it was, I guess, normal or acceptable to be that upset. We need our feelings validated. A simple statement like, “Wow, that does sound stressful,” can be music to the ears of someone feeling overwhelmed at work. While on the other hand, saying something that seems helpful like, “Don’t stress. It’ll be easy for you,” can do the opposite by adding pressure to perform quickly and calmly amidst what feels like chaos.
  3. Don’t feel like you have to say anything at all. Silence, especially in the face of emotional hardship, can be a real blessing.  Zach’s pretty minimal when it comes to his daily word usage, so for this he is a perfect example. Whenever I’m really struggling, I’ll often unload all of whatever I’m stressing about onto him to which he almost always says something super simple to the effect of, “Sorry you’re dealing with that,” and then hugs me or just kind of stays around me. I’ve realized over the years that a lot of times, that was all I needed- to be heard and supported- and then I’m fine. I didn’t need advice or I would have asked for it. I didn’t need him to weigh in on anything. I just simply needed heard. So sometimes if you don’t know what to say, just go with that. Offer a hug, offer your company, whatever. Simply being there is a highly underestimated quality.


Do you agree that having your bad feelings acknowledged helps you to feel better?


Art & Design / Style

STUDIO DAYS // HOWL at Alternative Fashion Week

June 20, 2016


You guys!! I got to live out one of my lifelong dreams last Sunday and I’ve been dying to share these pictures with you! I was so excited to not only get to flex my design muscles creating a Howl brand collection for Columbus’ Alternative Fashion Week, but when Shiree Houf (my co-designer on this collection) and I arrived at the venue, we found out we were closing the show! It was SUCH a cool experience!


The opportunity itself was really exciting, but I felt especially thrilled to get to share it with some super-talented family members. My li’l sis, Brooke, came along as my assistant because she’s a crafty godsend and just the best ever. I love having her at these types of things because no matter how high-stress a situation, she always keeps it cool, which is just exactly what everyone needs. Zach’s li’l sis (and my future li’l sis), Madison, was one of our models. She’s pretty new to the modeling world and it’s just been so cool to watch her grow. You can see her stomp it out for us in this video (and like her modeling page while you’re there!). Also, my brother-in-law’s sister (that’s a mouthful), Dominique, and her stylist friend, Rachel, came and rocked out our hair and makeup. Dayton-area friends, if you need a stylist, I’d definitely recommend checking these ladies out. Not only is Dominique the only person who ever gets my platinum just right, but both the girls were just a complete blast to be around! It was a sisters’ and extended-sisters’ weekend! Go team!


After a lot of fun backstage, it was time to hit the runway! We had a couple of major themes in this collection. First, and most importantly, is color! We went heavy with the white and denim, but made sure to throw in lots of pops of rainbow colors! Silver was tied through as a glam touch. Seriously, how major are those pleated pants?!


We also added lots of athletic touches, using quilted sweatshirt material and classic sporty trim. The white dress with the rainbow buttons over the sweatpants was one of my favorite looks. Paired with the silver turban, I think it gives a really great sense of the overall vibe of the collection.


We also put a lot of time and effort into hand-crafted details. In this image alone, we’ve got the sporty cropped cardigan, which was made out of hand-woven velour, a quilted vegan leather top with custom-dyed fringe over a patchwork skirt, a hand-embroidered denim top, and, while you can’t see much of it here, the white skirt and pants were painted and embellished by (you guessed it) our own (tired) hands.


Closing out the show was so cool! And I was SO proud of the models! Overall, we just wanted this collection to be a total explosion of happiness and fun, and that’s exactly how it came out! The girls danced and spun on the runway to Mika’s Grace Kelly (I could be brown, I could be blue, I could be violet sky- a perfect compliment to our rainbow collection) and it was one of the most purely happy moments of my life.

image credits: Emma Parker  |  Ian C. Powell  |  Robert Berry


I’ve gotten many questions about purchasing pieces and the wheels are in motion! The silver turbans and some other accessories will be available VERY soon! I’m still working on the details regarding clothing production, but I hope to also have some of these pieces available in the near future. You can show support for the brand and stay up-to-date on the latest collection news by following HOWL on Instagram and Facebook!


Art & Design

The LISTS // Art in my Heart

June 18, 2016


If you keep up with the blog, you know my outside life has been a little crazy lately with design (more on that tomorrow). And because life-imitates-art-imitates-life, that’s basically the inspiration behind this month’s lists: art, design, and getting creative! I’ve got some finds I’ve been coveting lately as well as my ULTIMATE playlist. The one I put on when I want to get lost in work. First up, all the things!…



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Seriously, how much fun is this list? I don’t know why I love that astronaut or those hand curtain tiebacks so much, but I do. I’m also loving the fun shapes on this Gorman necklace and Poketo planner. And don’t you love how some retro things just never go away? Case in point: Converse shoes, a forever classic. I especially love them in this photo print called Motel Pool. Plus, how great is it that mood rings are a thing again (and again and again)? I thought this one from Olivia Kane was gorgeous. And in a real twist of retro-made-new fate, is anyone else dying for a Polaroid camera, mainly to make cool photo layouts like this one for Instagram? It’s a little ironic, isn’t it? Printing photos for a digital IG image? Regardless, I’m all about it. I’m still crazy about mud cloth prints, and thought this throw was extra lovely. I’ve also been dying for a letter board for my home. The possibilities for endless amusement are just too tempting. I think I’d use mine for rotating Kanye tweets, because why the heck not? The man is a comedic goldmine. Speaking of word art, how great is this candle? It’s fig and tomato scented, which sounds so weird that I’m entirely intrigued. And lastly, have you all seen these lettering videos on IG by @kellycreates?! They put me in a trance and are major #lifegoals for me. So obviously, I’m going to need a set of brush pens, like these from Kuretake.

Now for the music! This is a snippet from my work.create playlist on Spotify and it’s what I put on ALL. THE. TIME. It’s pretty random. Some songs are new and some are old favorites. Some are slowier and moodier and some are full-on dance party songs. The only real premise for this list is that the songs have to make me feel something. I need to literally be inspired. On the full playlist, through this link, I’ve got over 70 songs and 4 1/2 hours of “get creative” music. And if you like it, let’s connect! I’d love to hear what’s on your radar!


What are some of your favorite artists to listen to for inspiration?


Art & Design / Series

FRIDAY VIBES // Keep Swimming

June 17, 2016


I have a very draining creative cycle. It basically involves having big events and deadlines, like Sunday’s runway show for Alternative Fashion Week, and working kind of obsessively for weeks, not sleeping nearly enough, you get the drill. Then the event or deadline passes and I’m in massive recovery mode for a couple of weeks, needing to catch up on rest and all the self-care that I neglected the weeks before, until the next big event or project is on the calendar and it’s back to the cycle. While I have definitely been resting up this week, I’m trying not to fall too deep into recovery mode. I instead feel like I just need more structure and balance at all times, looming deadline or not. This is the constant creative struggle for me.

I love these swimming images because they’re basically how my mind feels right now. Or, I suppose, how I aspire for my mind to feel. I’ve never been much into swimming myself, but I love how swimmers seem to have this perfect balance of zen mindlessness and focused purpose, kind of like meditation. The repetition of motion and pattern in these images is speaking to my quest for routine while the overall vibe is reminding me not to obsess or shut down, but to patiently and continuously keep pushing into the next phase. Just keep swimming.

Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Formation Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Lanes Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Blue Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Beach Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Diver Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Red Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Black Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Stripes Friday-Vibes-Keep-Swimming-Float

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Happy weekend!



Weekly Roundup 24/52

June 15, 2016

Hey friends! Do you remember me? Sorry that my posts have been few and far between the past few weeks as I was finishing up our Howl brand collection for Alternative Fashion Week. The show was this past Sunday and it was an absolute blast! Here’s one of my favorite photos from photographer Emma Parker

LOVE this shot from @eparkerphoto1 of our @howl_brand collection for #alternativefashionweek. 💜💗💚

A photo posted by Ashley Wills (@freewillsstudio) on

I’ll share more about the collection this weekend as more of the photos are released. In the meantime, I’m super excited to get back to blogging and have a lot of ideas and plans lined up for the summer! For now, let’s check out some of the coolest things that have been happening with the rest of the blogging world. Enjoy!


1  I’m terrified of bugs, but I would kill to have one of these massive macro images from Levon Biss‘s exhibit, Microscuplture, on my wall. Isn’t it weirdly beautiful?! (PetaPixel)  |  2  I was completely fascinated with this studio tour of Craft Boat, a paper goods company that hand-pulps, marbles, and block prints recycled fibers into beautiful stationery. (Design Sponge)


3  Considering that Jennifer Aniston truly does not age, I’m thinking this recipe for her daily Chocolate Cherry Collagen Smoothie is definitely worth trying. (Hello Glow)  |  4  I recognize a lot of my own childhood in this hilarious post. Plus, isn’t this tank perfect for the 4th of July? #DreamTeam4EVA (The Daily Tay)


5  Beck’s new single has gotten mixed reviews, but I’m pretty crazy about it. I’ve listened to it a couple of times today and I totally get lost in the beat. What do you think?


Check out these incredible work-of-art scarves.

And these gorgeous tech wallpaper downloads.

Loving the color combo on these DIY tassel earrings.

Have you seen this new graphic tee line?

A boho glam home tour that needs to be seen.

Decision fatigue and the wardrobe, or why Steve Jobs wore the same thing everyday. As a designer who lives in the same 2-3 outfit combos, I can tell you this struggle is so real.

Speaking of outfits, Karlie Kloss wore a really cool one.

This IG account makes me laugh.

And my favorite site of the week: The Design Network. I was talking to my sister the other day about how I miss all the interior design shows that used to be on TV. You know, shows where they actually decorated and did projects and stuff. Now it seems like all the shows are only about real estate and renovations. Enter The Design Network! This is where all my favorite designers, like Genevieve Gorder and Thom Filicia, have been hanging out. I’m so happy to see you, old friends!


What were your favorite links this week?


Tips & Goals

Our Happiness Project // Month 3 Recap: Reach for the Stars

June 6, 2016


Another month, another attempt at changing habits and improving our overall happiness! If you’ve been keeping track, you know that Zach and I have been making our way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, reading and working on one chapter each month. Last month we worked through chapter three, which was all about aiming higher at work.

Happiness at work is incredibly important because the majority of us spend most of our days working. Not to mention the fact that happiness is proven to improve work performance. As noted in the chapter, happy people outperform the less happy. Also, even though they tend to work more hours, both at work and in their free time, happy people tend to be more cooperative, less self-centered, and more willing to help other people. The work/life happiness cycle is basically on a never-ending loop, each continuously contributing and strengthening the other.

We’re both very work-focused in this stage of our lives, so this was our favorite chapter yet. Today we’re sharing a few things that stuck out to us and the tools we’ve learned to continue bettering our work/life balance and overall happiness.


Work Dare #1: Try Something New

Z: Reading this chapter made me feel energized and motivated. In the book, this idea of trying new things at work was manifested through Rubin launching her own blog. When I read about this, I realized I had really missed writing for fun. I’ve been trying to set aside time in the morning for creative writing and, although it doesn’t happen every day, it has helped me to feel more calm and focused throughout my work day.

A: To this same idea, I’ve also been trying to illustrate in the morning while Zach writes. This has been a long-standing goal of mine that I never seem to prioritize, but I’ve found that sharing the time with him has helped me to make it more of a priority. I think expressing myself in another medium has also helped me to feel freer in all areas of my design work. Again, there are a lot of days that our schedules have gotten in the way and we haven’t been able to have our creative morning time, but I hope it’s something we continue to improve upon in upcoming months, because I do really love it and I agree that it sets a calm and focused tone for the day.



Work Dare #2: Learn to Enjoy Failure

A: Oh boy, did I embrace failure this month! I was excited to be asked to interview for Fashion Week Columbus and, even though we weren’t even close to ready, my design partner, Shiree, and I worked around the clock to get sample pieces ready to show the judges. After the interview, we found out we had placed in the top ten out of all the designers who interviewed, so that felt really great. The bad news, however, was that they would only be choosing seven to actually show at the finale runway show. So we took to Instagram and participated in a “likes” race against other designers, some of whom were way more established than us and had thousands more followers than us, in hopes to get that coveted 7th spot. We campaigned our faces off and some days were in the lead, but ultimately we ended up losing to a Fashion Week veteran. This seemed fair to me. He’s been building a brand for years, whereas I am still a week away from the official launch of mine. And as much as I believe that, losing was still a bit of a bummer. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever put myself out there quite like that, especially when I had a good feeling that it was going to end in a loss. It was a totally valuable experience for me because, for one, I made some great networking connections and gained new followers and supporters of the brand. But more importantly, I realized how much support I already had in my life. I had so many people sharing posts and tagging friends and really working hard for my dreams. This, cheesy as it may sound, was actually way more valuable than winning that last designer spot. Plus, I’ve still got Alternative Fashion Week coming up (so soon!) and as far as Fashion Week Columbus, there’s always next year, right?!

Z: I didn’t really put myself out there in quite that way this month, but I definitely feel like I rode that ride with Ashley. She has to put herself out there all of the time with work and it always makes me really proud of her. I think this was the first time she’s done that and had it not work out in one or another and, really, in some ways that is even more impressive, because she had a good attitude about it and has put even more into her other projects since then.

A: My main takeaway from all of this was that I want to try and remember the good feelings that came with trying and failing. It makes it easier to think about pitching to a brand or publication or other things I want to do but make me nervous. When it comes to professional networking, even the rejections can lead to positive connections or opportunities for the future.



Work Dare #3: Work Smart

Z: One of the challenges this month was to try and work more efficiently, which for me involved putting my phone down. Between reading news, checking social media, and playing Madden, I realized that screen time was killing my productivity. Ashley’s been on me about this for a while, but I didn’t really notice that it was such a problem until I forgot my charger one day and was phone-less for the entire workday. I was so productive that day that it made it hard to deny the impact it was having. Now I’m more conscious of it and try to limit phone use only to breaks and put it out of sight when I’m working on other things.

A: For me, I put some extra attention into managing my time throughout the day. I have been working on a collection for Alternative Fashion Week in Columbus and the finale show is THIS SUNDAY (Agh!), so a lot of my days lately have been eaten up by things I absolutely have to get done at that moment for promo events. But on days when I have had more time-management options I’ve been trying to utilize block scheduling. I can have a really hard time focusing on one thing for very long, but I know that if I can actually push through and just work on one thing for the set amount of time, my block, my productivity is like night and day compared to when I bounce back and forth between projects. After the show this weekend, I hope to really commit to this for a while and plan to share a bit about the process here soon.

Have you read The Happiness Project? What did you like about this chapter? What tips help you stay happy and productive in life and work? Let’s chat it out in the comments! 🙂




For June, we’re focusing on Chapter 4, which is all about lightening up, specifically when it comes to parenting. So parents, if you want to join in, you can pick up your own copy and work through the challenges with us, or simply make sure you’re subscribed to blog posts to stay up on tips, tricks, and what we’re learning. We obviously do not have children but it’s hopefully down the road at some point, so I’m still looking forward to this chapter. And fortunately, as I’ve been reading, I’m realizing that this is a good chapter for all relationships in general. So whether you’re a soccer mom or a bachelorette, we’ll be wrapping up next month’s chapter with kind of a different twist to hopefully relate to everyone.

Happy reading!



Weekly Roundup 21/52

May 26, 2016

Hey guys! It took me foreeeeever to get this week’s links compiled because I was just loving everything on the internet! Bad news for me, I spent way too many hours of my life surfing the web. Good news for you, you are in for some tasty treats, my friends. Let’s dig in!

1  While we’re on the topic of tasty treats, how amazing do ice cream-filled doughnut holes sound?! I can’t even eat them (I’m gluten-free) but still I’ve been thinking about them non-stop. Gluten-friendly pals, do me a favor: make and eat these in my honor and tell me all about it. (Tasty on BuzzFeed)  |  2  I really loved this post on Broad City’s costume designer, Staci Greenbaum. I mean, obviously I love the show, but for those interested it also gives great insight into breaking into the costume biz. (Fashionista)


3  How gorgeous are these rainbow marbled wood slats?! I’m not even sure I knew something like these existed, but now that I’ve seen this mesmerizing behind-the-scenes post, my brain’s pretty much exploded forever. (decor8)  |  4  I love these clever film-themed flat lay posters from Jordan Bolton Design as super-affordable (and super-cool) wall art. Other pieces include Moonrise Kingdon, The Royal Tenenbaums, Amelie, and more. (Etsy)


5  I love that all Adele has to do is sway a little while she sings and it’s completely captivating (of course, wearing a gorgeous Dolce & Gabbana gown and having the best face in town helps, too). Seriously though, isn’t this video great?

And more…

Have you seen the #QueenofTumbling? Just…whoa.

This is super cute: adults explaining Tinder to kids.

How to write a wedding speech in 10 minutes or less.

Loving this moth pin and this metallic trench.

NEED these shoes.

And I never thought I would want a post-dorm-room mini fridge, but this one is seriously cool.

For bloggers, a list of game-changing blog and biz tools and ideas for beating burnout.

Stella & Dot is having a crazy good sale this week and they’re offering Dot Dollars! I’ve got a trunk show open if you want to shop my link. My favorite sale pieces are these earrings and this necklace. What are yours?


What links are you loving this week?


Series / Tips & Goals

Our Happiness Project // Tip #3: The Importance of Self-Knowledge and How to Gain More of it

May 23, 2016

Zach and I are in month three of Our Happiness Project (we’re following along with Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project) and this chapter is all about aiming higher at work. In addition to our monthly recaps, each month I also like to share one tip or piece of information that really sticks out to me and has helped to either change a habit or perspective in regards to improving happiness. For me this month that was reading about the importance of self-knowledge over self-esteem. I have been working on my own personal theory about this for a while and was just talking about it with my sister last month, so reading it from Rubin with expert wisdom to back it up was like a giant “Hallelujah!”


Throughout The Happiness Project, there are regular references to Rubin’s Twelve Commandments of Happiness and right at the top of the list is “Be Gretchen.” Not to be the best, or smartest, or fastest at anything, but just to be herself. To be perfectly honest, in the past I have sometimes fought with the concept to just “Be Ashley.” I grew up the middle child, and as all you middle’s know, you’re basically born into a role of mediator, appeaser, and overall compromiser. Being agreeable becomes sort of a survival skill for yourself as well as a necessity in a larger family to avoid constant chaos. Anyway, because of this I was often considered “the shy one” or “the nice one,” and neither of those categorizations made me feel particularly great. It’s not because those qualities are inherently good or bad- in fact I love Zach for being both shy and nice- I just didn’t really feel like they described me very well. Though I do tend to be pretty reserved and don’t require much attention, I’m actually quite outgoing. And while I like to consider myself thoughtful and caring, “nice” isn’t really horribly accurate either. To me it implies someone who is sweetly modest, but I’m a bit of a rule-breaker. I’m also sarcastic, opinionated, and very direct, so there’s a bit of disconnect with that term as well. These are small problems in the grand scheme of the world, but still, I felt like I wasn’t completely being seen for who I am. It was kind of a 2-D representation of myself.

As a teen I totally rebelled against those inherited personas. I worked really hard to prove people’s ideas about me wrong. I became the life of the party, I tried to act fearlessly, and decided I was unaffected by the cares or concerns of people around me. I dressed loudly, lived loudly, and basically wanted to be anything other than “nice” and “shy.” From an outside perspective I may have seemed confident, and in some ways I was, but I wasn’t very authentic or self-knowing or even whole.


Here’s the point where you might be thinking, “Who cares? Every teen feels like they don’t know who they are.” And I get that. But the problem is, a lot of us carry that into adulthood. As referenced in the book, Erasmus observed, “The summit of happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is.” Simple as that. However, our society is so invested in social extroversion or status masked as self-esteem that some of us go through our entire lives under a veil of false self-esteem without really understanding the depths of who we are, without ever really reaching authenticity or happiness.

Self-esteem is a result of self-judgment. It is literally a self-estimation, an appraisal, of our personality traits against a perceived standard of value. Because of this, self-esteem is conditional and unstable. If we meet a certain condition of worth, we have self-esteem. If we don’t, we have a lack of self-esteem. According to Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. for Psych Central, “This dichotomous, dualistic, conditional view of self cuts us apart and fragments our wholeness.” Self-esteem is conditional and always changing. If I get a promotion, my self-esteem will soar; however, if I get laid off, my self-esteem will plummet, even though I remain the same person.

Self-knowledge is different because it is unconditional. Where self-esteem is measured through comparison of others, constant evaluation of oneself, and other always changing variables, self-knowledge is the acceptance of who you are at any given time. It is an acknowledgment of the reality that you are a full person, with strengths and weaknesses, living a life that is in progress. Your evaluation of worth, therefore, is circumstance-free.


Why does any of this matter? Well if you want to be happy in work and in life, you have to understand who you are and what you’re meant to be, perceived flaws and all. Not who you wish you were or who you think you should be, but who you actually are. For me this means accepting everything I am as much as the things I am not. I am empathetic, though I am not very sentimental. I am driven and adventurous, but I am also a worrier and I don’t care for the outdoors. I am funny and friendly, but I’m definitely not one of those people who is just naturally charming or always “on.” I love books, art museums, thrift shopping, and “bad” tv. I have realized that I really don’t like politics or sports all that much and I’m much too picky to ever be a foodie.

I spent a lot of time and effort throughout my 20s to get to a place of understanding who I am. I sought counseling in college when I couldn’t pick a career path. I loved going to my counselor, where I was given tasks like creating a mood board about who I am and what makes me happy. I was also given the task of asking five people close to me to assess my biggest strengths and weaknesses. That exercise was a little unnerving but also eye-opening and informative. If you, like I was, are in a place where you would like to seek more self-knowledge, here are a few places I would recommend starting.


1. Seek Out Feedback (and Listen)

Much like the strengths and weaknesses task above, understanding how you are perceived is a powerful step towards understanding who you are. Asking people you trust questions like, “Could I have handled that situation differently?” or “How do you think I could improve in this area?” can shed some light on how people view you. When doing this, be prepared to be surprised and potentially hurt, but try not to be defensive. If you can take this criticism productively, you can help remove limits that may hold you back in the future. That being said, we are talking about judgments made based on the value system of others, so some thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, if someone thinks I’m insecure because I don’t like taking photos, that doesn’t necessarily make it true. I’m just simply not great at it, so it’s not my favorite activity. However, I can choose to look at that as something that I need to work on so that I don’t appear insecure to others who might have an influence on my career and potentially miss an opportunity in the future.

2. Seek Out Personality Assessments

While I don’t think taking Buzzfeed’s “Which Dead ‘Game of Thrones’ Character Are You?” quiz is going to give you any information actually useful to life, there are several online tests that are worth looking into for gaining self-knowledge. The acclaimed Myers-Briggs test is my favorite because it gives very detailed, and in my opinion very accurate, information into how to most effectively use your personality type in the world. The official test can be pricey ($50-$100), but there are lots of free abridged options online. Other free tests that I like are the Princeton Review Career Quiz, the RHETI tool based on the Enneagram concept, and the Keirsey Temperment Sorter (which, by the way, told me I am driven by a quest for self-knowledge- ha!).

3. Test Your Limits

Once relationships are established, human beings are very adept at morphing their behaviors to fit the situation. This is an important social skill, but like my middle child story above, adaptation can cause us to lose sight of who we are at the core. It can be as elaborate as solo overseas travel or as simple as training for a 5K. Anything that pushes your limits, mentally or physically, will help you to realize that your boundaries aren’t fixed but temporary, and that your situation does not encompass the sum of your being.

Finally, I just want to state that increasing self-knowledge is not about changing who you are. If you’re becoming increasingly aware that a personal blind spot may be causing you to make bad decisions, feel depressed, etc., that’s a good signal that it is in fact time for a change. But for the most part, it’s more about making realizations or shifts in perspective that allow you to be more understanding and accepting of yourself so that you can have true confidence. As always, I hope this offered some insight into the things I study and work on in my own life, but please know I am coming to you as a continuing work in progress. I don’t presume to have it all figured out, these are simply some of the methods that have helped me to make progress. If you have any other input in ways that you’ve increased your self-knowledge I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Make sure you’re subscribed to keep up with the series! Zach and I will be back with our monthly recap on Monday, June 6th!