Emily Ley on 5 Key Practices for Building a Life You Love

On a car ride back from Christmas in Pensacola with our families, as fresh newlyweds, I told my husband, Bryan, that I was miserable in my career. I’d earned a master’s degree, climbed the corporate ladder, and was helping run a Women in Leadership and Philanthropy program at a large state univer- sity. The female alumni who were members of our organization were incredible. They were making big things happen in business, were pushing social issues forward, and were doing amazing things for our community.

But the environment was stifling, and I felt like I was suffocating. I longed for the freedom to go out and do—like the community women who were part of our organization. More than anything I just wanted freedom to be, do, see, create, and make a bigger impact. I wanted to spread my wings and do work that made me excited. Eventually I wanted a family, and I kept thinking about how I wouldn’t be able to chaperone field trips or even make it to school performances in my current situation, working long hours.

I kept coming back to this quote: “Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive.

I was not alive. I didn’t know what to do, but I had to find a way to become alive again. 

Though they felt few and far between, I started to identify the parts of my current job that made me happy—creating fliers for events, designing logos for different programs, and— oddly—writing thoughtful thank-you notes to our donors. My fascination with design and writing began to grow. On a whim, I told Bryan I wanted to make notecards and sell them on Etsy (I’d always loved stationery and paper goods but could never afford the fancy kind). Etsy was a new platform at that time, where makers could sell their creations. The only problem was, I didn’t know how to use Etsy or make notecards. And I didn’t have a company name, business license, resale certificate, or well, any money. We were Dave Ramsey–ing our way through student-loan and credit card debt, and my weekly envelopes had little to spare for a new hobby. But I felt a little spark, and I followed it. 

I spent more than two years selling as many notecards as I could, putting every dollar I earned back into my fledgling business in the hopes of one day being able to take a paycheck. I’d work late into the evenings, after my day job, creating my logo, learning how to build a free website, and navigating the new worlds of Twitter and Facebook. I’d spend five hours on something, realize I had done it all wrong, and have to start at square one. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times that happened. Some nights I’d get so excited about a project or a new skill I was trying to figure out that I’d lose all sense of time and look up to see the sun peeking through the blinds of our guest room. 

For a season, I worked like mad. And the business grew—fast— because I was willing to put in the work needed to achieve my goals. Now, let it be known, I’m a workhorse. Putting in the work has never been my problem. My problem has been acknowledging that hustle should only last for a season. We weren’t made to go ninety miles an hour nonstop. A marathon runner has to pace herself to catch her breath. A race car driver has to pull in for pit stops. A mountain climber has to find a spot to lay down her gear, eat and drink something, and rest her body.

In Ecclesiastes 3, we see that for every action—to work, to be born, to build, to plant—there is a balancing force found right next to it—to rest, to die, to tear down, to harvest. Without this balance, things get wonky. And we burn out.

No, wonky isn’t in the Bible. But you know what I mean. If we trust God and believe there is a time and a season for everything, we have to honor both the times of hard work and sweat, as well as the seasons of rest and refueling. It’s the same reason we grieve instead of laughing amid a loss. Or harvest in the fall instead of planting. Some of these seasons make perfect sense—even if we don’t enjoy them. But some of them are difficult to honor.

This has been the hardest lesson for me as my business has grown and as I’ve learned more about effort, energy, and the entrepreneurial spirit. I have to know when to set down my gear and stop climbing the mountain—in work and in life—not for forever, because seasons change, but for a while, until my strength is renewed, my spirit is reenergized, and my boldness has been recharged.

Then I can get back to work.

Whatever season you’re in, I know we can discover together what will lead you to the fuel you need to build something beautiful.

You are the author of the book of your life. Only you can build a life you love. God has given you gifts, talents, and skills to use in His kingdom work and is calling you to do something with your time here.  

I believe there are five key practices to building a life you love.

B: Believe in Who You Are (and Whose You Are) Figure out what makes you tick. Own it confidently.

U: Use What You Have

Gather all your grit, learned lessons, supporters, and tools. Discount nothing.

I: Imagine the Life You Dream Of

Decide what you want to make happen and make a plan for it.

L: Love Your People (and All People) Well

Be a good human. Create legacy, not work. Contribute positively to the kingdom.

D: Do What Matters; Forget the Rest

Clear the clutter. Cultivate clarity. Do hard work, and don’t forget to feed your soul. 

build a life

Building a life you love requires action. Sometimes this looks like hustle and hard work, sweat and late nights. Sometimes this looks like rest and reflection, stilling our hands and quieting our hearts to tune in to God’s whisperings in our life, allowing Him to refuel our souls. 

Don’t ever doubt that you have a seat at the table. You belong even before you believe you belong. You have the right and the power to build a life you love— one that is whole, meaningful, and authentically yours. You have the power to propel that business. To cultivate your home. To grow your family. To release that vice. To make that change. To create that book or art or recipe or ministry. To come back. To rebuild. To thrive. 

You also have the power to blame circumstance for your stagnation. To give up when things get too real or too frightening. You can let all those things keep you stuck on the couch. The choice is yours. You can build a life you love . . . if you dare to do the work. 

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Taken from Growing Boldly by Emily Ley. Copyright © 2021 by Emily Ley. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

Emily Ley is the founder of Simplified, a brand of planners and organizational tools for busy women. Her newest book, Growing Boldly: Dare to Build a Life You Love empowers women to think big, plan well and find the courage to go and do. She has been featured in Forbes, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Glamour and Good Housekeeping. Now, as an author, entrepreneur, wife and mother to three, Emily lives in Pensacola, Florida, with her husband, Bryan, their son Brady, and twins, Tyler and Caroline.


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Emily Ley
Emily Ley is the founder of Simplified, a brand of planners and organizational tools for busy women. Her newest book, Growing Boldly: Dare to Build a Life You Love empowers women to think big, plan well and find the courage to go and do. She has been featured in Forbes, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, Glamour and Good Housekeeping. Now, as an author, entrepreneur, wife and mother to three, Emily lives in Pensacola, Florida, with her husband, Bryan, their son Brady, and twins, Tyler and Caroline.