Ep. 44: Squeezing the Juice out of Life with Lauren Chiarello

When you are faced with challenges, it can be really difficult to embrace happiness and joy. I mean, what’s more difficult than people saying, Oh, just pick your chin up and keep going — while on the inside you’re thinking, Oh my gosh, will you please just go away?

Today, we’re talking about squeezing the juice out of life even after facing a hurdle because even when things are challenging — there’s always hope and something to look forward to. I am super excited to have guest Lauren Chiarello. She is the founder of New York City based Chi Chi Life, which melds her passions: fitness, event production + fundraising, corporate wellness + cancer advocacy. She has a degree in Accounting and Marketing and has over 13+ years of experience fundraising and producing events for nonprofits, for-profits, and for agencies. Her mission is to inspire others through movement.

Lauren, welcome to The Gutsy Podcast

cancer survivor

Laura: So, fun fact, on the guest submission form you sent stated that you have completed several half and full marathons and have raised over $125,000 for cancer charities.

Lauren: Yes, I know, right? It’s hard to believe. I will say that it was over a long period of time — pretty much over eight years. So it definitely took time to work up to that. But yeah, I mean I fell in love with running and marathons. Taking on those challenges both physically and mentally with something just really energizes me. And the whole community around running was and is still so incredible and just felt like it was really life changing for me. And I don’t run as much any more these last couple of years. I’m sure we’ll kind of get into all that. But it’s such a special community, so it’s been a gift to be able to be a part of that.

Laura: Wow. Absolutely amazing. And I also want to congratulate you on being in remission for over a decade. So two-time cancer survivor. I mean, I could literally just stand and give a round of applause. That’s incredible.

Lauren: Thank you so much. So yeah, these are big milestones for sure. I mean, I was 23-years-old when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and went through treatments pretty much from the ages 23 to 25. And the second time when I relapsed, the treatment was a lot more intense and more chemotherapy, radiation, STEM cell transplant. Um, but running, fitness, and movement were such a huge part of my recovery.

So I was 25 around that time when I was finishing up those treatments. I celebrated five years cancer-free and my 30th birthday, which the five years cancer-free, is a huge, huge milestone because you’re really considered cancer-free at that point. So we had a huge party at my parents’ and celebrated with all sorts of yummy goodies and music. Such a great celebration. To kind of then hit these next five years and now looking back that now I’m 35 and 10 years cancer-free . . . it’s kind of a big milestone. A decade is so special and has been really meaningful this year.

So, yeah. It’s fun to celebrate that throughout each year and each month.

The start of chi chi life

Laura: Oh yeah, absolutely. I  love just stopping and celebrating, right? There’s so much going on in life all the time that it’s easy to just kinda pile through those things. But really, when it’s truly like your life — this is your entire being to celebrate those things. I love that you have big festivals.

Lauren: Yeah. Thank you so much. I think that going through something as challenging as cancer twice that young helped shape the whole entire trajectory of my life. And it’s really the reason why I went off on my own five years ago to start Chi Chi Life.

It’s sometimes hard to explain, but I really am grateful I went through that experience because there’s just, there’s no way I would have become the type of person I am with my values and just how I live my life every day. Having not gone through that, I don’t want to say there’s no way, but perhaps it would’ve taken me a little bit longer. And I think just learning those life lessons so young, even though they’re difficult ones, for me has just been a way to live my life with purpose and meaning.

The idea of squeezing the juice out of life every day and understanding not every day is easy — it’s not like I’m in denial and think everything is perfect, wonderful, and magical, but it’s really about my perspective. And we really can choose how we react and how we see things. So even when difficult situations do come up, you know, what are the tools you have to manage it and then move through it and move forward?

find the right tribe

Laura: The people you surround yourself with is so important. We talk about that a lot, but it’ll never get old because it’s so imperative. I don’t think a lot of people even realize sometimes how negatively relationships can affect you.

So tell me a little bit about like squeezing the juice out of life while maybe there are some toxic relationships around you. What were some things you did to move through and really surround yourself with all these amazing rock-stars?

Lauren: I think setting boundaries is really important, and letting go. I know that, looking back, there are friendships and relationships from childhood and growing up that we’ve really outgrown. It’s heartbreaking, to be honest, because you just have so much history and don’t always understand maybe what went wrong. So I think that piece of acceptance and understanding that relationships have a life cycle.

I’ve never really had like super toxic people in my life or anything. So I feel grateful for that. But I think just understanding friendships are a two-way street. You’re supporting your friend and your friend is supporting you. I think sometimes when it does become a one-way street, understanding that I’d rather spend my time and energy supporting others that are also supporting me. It’s this sort of give, take, give, take type of relationships.

So I think that’s been important for me to look at with a little bit of a bird’s eye view because it can be easy to get bogged down with the emotions of maybe realizing these dear friends you had aren’t your friends as much anymore. And so that acceptance piece has been big for me.

display gratitude

Lauren: And then, in terms of squeezing the juice out of life every day, I was saying earlier that not every day is perfect, but having that sense of gratitude when you start your day, throughout the day, and when you end your day is huge. It can be something as simple as creating a practice of writing down three things you’re grateful for. This could be done morning, noon, night — whenever. But it is helpful to actually write it down.

Cultivating gratitude really improves our quality of life and it helps to strengthen our relationships. Overall, we gain a sense of contentment and tend to be happier because when we look at our life from a place of abundance, it really allows us to feel that deep connection both to ourselves and to our relationships.

Again, there’ll be some difficult things going on. There’s no denying that. But every day is really, truly a gift. So look at it from a place of what am I grateful for today?

release your grip on control

Laura: So I think the closer you get to the light that’s intended for you, the more you inspire people. I think one of the challenges with getting into that place is a lot of times being truly authentic and asking for what you want means letting go of some other things (whether that’s beliefs, relationships, behaviors). It’s scarier to make that change in transition.

So I’m curious, have you always known how to work with difficult people, as you mentioned earlier, or was that kind of a muscle you’ve had to grow over time?

Lauren: Definitely had to grow over time, I would say. I have been a people pleaser most of my life. I’m just like, can’t we all just be happy and get along?

I definitely still look through that rosy disposition, but also realizing and teaching actually really helped me with — this teaching fitness — that not everyone’s going to like you and you’re not going to make everyone happy. You can try your best and just be yourself. And that is the biggest lesson I’ve learned when I started teaching.

I’ve encountered like some really nasty people. I mean, I’m sure I will continue to. I’ve left crying. I’ve had hard times and it’s hard to sometimes not take it personal. But then you realize you’re giving the best you can give and are pouring your heart and soul into the work you’re doing. And, for me, a lot of times it’s teaching and if it just doesn’t resonate with someone, then that’s just how it is, right? That’s on their end. You’ve done everything you can to be true to yourself and let your voice sort of come through and your personality. If it’s not their jam, that’s okay. That’s not within your control.

So I think understanding that, which again took time. I was in therapy for about five years (especially with my cancer diagnosis), and we did a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy, which I think really allowed me to take a step back and look at things rationally. Which, again, just takes time and practice to be able to assess situations. Like what goes down? And then, you know, what are the things that you think and what goes through your mind? How are you processing it? But then really what’s the reality? And then how can we move forward to that place of reality and understanding that not everything is within your control.

Strengthening the mind

Laura: So I love what you’re doing at Chi Chi Life. So I want to transition into all about strengthening the mind. So tell me a little bit about what that means to you?

Lauren: Sure. So, I believe fitness and movement are so important and in my recovery they were just so integral. I was really depleted physically, mentally, and emotionally. And it took a while to gain that strength back. And for me, finding bar classes, specifically at a studio called Exhale in New York, really gave me my strength and confidence back.

I had grown up an athlete playing sports and kind of nothing on this level though. I didn’t really fully understand how important it was to connect both the mind and body and really find a practice that you can stay consistent with and see the progress. I think what was so impactful for me was that I saw my body get stronger. And the teachers helped inspire me to find strength that I really didn’t even know I had.

I was a student for five years before I started teaching. It allowed me to just find that passion to inspire others to do the same. So, with my business, with Chi Chi Life, I teach people in the studio. I teach privately. I go into companies and teach. And I help to develop corporate wellness programming. So oftentimes we’ll bring in health and wellness experts within my community to lead panels and workshops and they’re just so needed.

There are all the excuses in the world, which I understand — I’m not going to discount the excuses — but I think it’s really important. You can’t take care of other people until you take care of yourself is really the reality. And so physical fitness and movement is really integral in my life.

confidence to do it

Laura: I think sometimes exercise is intimidating because people feel like, well, I’m not athletic or somehow I look stupid. So what’s kind of a quick tip on shifting away from the intimidation and just doing what your body needs?

Lauren: Yeah, no, I hear you. I would start with the community piece. So find someone that you know who’s already active and see if you can kind of tag along with them, whether that be daily walks in the neighborhood or maybe catching a class with someone. I think just that sort of low barrier to entry. People feel comfortable with asking their friends. So that community piece is really important.

I would just encourage people to have an open mind. It can be easier said than done, but just try to push passed that and push through it. I often will say like, get out of your own way. It’s just so true. I think oftentimes we really are the ones holding ourselves back. So if you can try to dig deep to find the courage, find the strength to ask. Again, maybe it’s a friend who is active or even just like having the courage to go to a local gym.

We won’t know until we try. So I think that open mind and trying to just take that first step because more often than not we’ll surprise ourselves.

What Does Gutsy Mean to You?

Lauren: Pushing passed the resistance and just leading with your heart.

connect with lauren

Website | Facebook

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