Gretchen Rubin

“The Stories We Tell Ourselves Are What Make Our Dreams Come True.”

“The Stories We Tell Ourselves Are What Make Our Dreams Come True.”

Interview: Sheri Salata

Sheri Salata has had a remarkable career. She served as co-president of Oprah Winfrey Network and president of Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions. In various roles, she worked with Oprah for twenty-one years.

Then she decided to go out on her own, and reinvent her career and her life. Along with her longtime best friend Nancy Hala, she has launched The Pillar Life as a way to create more happiness, success, and abundance.

The eight "Pillars" they explore are:

  • Health and wellness
  • Spirituality and happiness
  • Romance and sex
  • Friends and family
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Adventure and discovery
  • Sanctuary and beauty
  • Money and abundance

Together they co-host a great podcast called The Sheri + Nancy Show. (If you want to hear my sister Elizabeth and her writing partner Sarah Fain on the podcast, that's episode 73.)

Now Sheri Salata has a new book: The Beautiful No: And Other Tales of Trial, Transcendence, and Transformation. It's about how Sheri realized that she'd had the career of her dreams, but not the life of her dreams. And that's what she wanted to create, in her own life transformation.

I couldn't wait to talk to her about happiness, creativity, habits, and self-realization.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

Sheri: Shockingly to me and to my mom who watches over me from “the other side”, my simplest habit that ALWAYS makes me feel better is waking up to a clean, shiny, empty, everything single thing put away…sink. I feel like I have a fresh beginning to a beautiful day filled with all kinds of possibilities.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

For me, happiness is a choice. And not a reaction to external circumstances, the moods of others, the changing tides and blowing winds. In my younger days, I was waiting for happiness to happen to me as if there was an external all-powerful force that would deem me worthy and tap me on the head with the happiness wand. I waited a lot.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

The hardest thing I ever did was quit smoking. It sounds ridiculous to me now—why should it be hard? The evidence is in. Seems like only utter fools would continue down that path with what we know today. But that is one powerful addiction. It took a meeting with a new doctor that said NOT ONE WORD about me having to quit. When I got ready to ask for help, she was ready with her most successful strategy: a course of Wellbutrin and the patch. And that was that. What a relief to have made it beyond.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

I’m a recovering uber-Obliger. Always dedicated and committed to delivering for everyone else, rarely for myself. Now, I am just an Obliger. Helps to have a trainer. A friend for support. And slowly showing myself what magic happens when I am my own first priority. When I am the CEO of my own life experience and nothing comes before that.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

Managing my mood is key. The biggest interference to keeping my healthy habits on track and my choice to be happy solid is when I fail to manage my mood. When I let myself be buffeted about by whatever is brewing around me—in the news, in other people’s lives, in the human condition. Managing my mood requires meditation, spiritual reading and attention to the story I am telling myself in my head. When I remember that part of my recipe for happiness, life is really, really good.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

Several years ago, I was scrolling through Facebook videos and came across a 650-pound pig who lived in the house with her two dads. She has since become an internet sensation, Esther the Wonder Pig. After scanning her photos and watching her videos, I had an earth-shaking epiphany that Esther was the same sentient kind of being as my two English bulldogs, Bella and Kissy. In that instant, my Midwest “meat at every meal” days were over. I had been purposefully keeping that part of my life—loving animals and eating them—very separate and when it finally collided, I was completely transformed.

Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

My business partner Nancy Hala and I founded our company on this mission statement, “The stories we tell ourselves are what make our dreams come true.” It reminds me on a daily basis that this whole life experience of mine is very much in my hands.

Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

I was a seeker forever. I would comb the self-help shelves of every bookstore I could find looking for “truth.” Marianne Williamson’s first book, A Return to Love, was the first time I could “feel” the connection between me and ME. It was the first time I understood that Love is a force, not an emotion. And that force was what I had been looking for all along.

icon emailNewsletterLight

Get monthly newsletter updates from Gretchen.

icon schooled

Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.

The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t actOur Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.

Take the quiz

Get My Monthly Newsletter

Sign up to get my free monthly newsletter. It highlights the best material from here, my Facebook Page, and new original work.