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The way Bella found the courage and inner strength to banish depression from her life and become a World Champion is inspirational. Her insights will help us all uncover joy and vitality in our everyday lives. 

— Sam Cawthorn, Young Australian of the Year.

I’ve never been one to read self-help books but I couldn’t put this down. It’s made me want to look at my life and make myself happier and more balanced.

— Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, seven-time World Record holder (freediving).

Smart Girls will learn from their mistakes. That way they can become our next Wisdom Keepers. We all need a road map to navigate life’s mysteries. Bella’s book is a good one! May we all Walk in Beauty.

— Ana Tiger Forrest, author of Fierce Medicine, Creatrix of Forrest Yoga, Medicine woman

Smart Girls reveals with brutal honesty the fact that many woman face considerable challenges and setbacks these days. But this book is not a self-indulgent pitty party — far from it. Bella has a genuine interest in exposing truth — her truth — but then bringing her reflections together with relevant research to produce a practical guidebook for uncovering what matters and how to bring out our potential in life and work. It’s not just for women, either. Men — you will not only learn a great deal about the other 50 per cent of the human race, but many of the key principles and practises can be equally applied to us.

— Dr Adrian Medhurst, author of Meditate on This, performance psychology and wellbeing expert and co-founder of Benny Button.

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The woman you’re becoming will cost you people, spaces and material things. Choose her over everything.

Those two little words

It started with two simple but life-changing words that we’ve all heard at some point in our lives — even if we were the ones uttering them.

‘It’s over.’

Two words. Delivered in that low, unwavering tone reserved entirely for painful truths. Two words that shattered me to my very core as my perfectly planned future — inclusive of dogs, babies, houses, money and marriage — dissolved like it had never existed in the first place.

Who knew I was that fragile?

My new reality was a deepening of my depression. It went from being a low but ever-present hum in the distance that I could cope with if I just kept ‘busy’, to being the deep, grey, sticky kind that takes every ounce of your being to wade through. Because the constant tapes running in my mind — How did I let my life end up like this? No-one understands this. I’m alone and I’m useless. How do I keep going? — were really screwing up my life. I could no longer ignore them because getting out of bed was a challenge. Making the bed was an achievement. And ‘tomorrow’ was a place I hoped would be better but feared would be even worse.

Because I’d tried all the normal bandaids: Tinder swiping, handbag shopping and bottles of pinot grigio. But none of it had worked. Instead, it had all just catapulted me deeper into that vat of sticky sadness and confusion. I liken this experience to a vase smashing on the floor: you can glue it back together, but it’s never quite the same — you can always see the cracks, the chips.

It was as I lay in my mother’s arms in the foetal position that I had my first hopeful thought since it all went down: what if the new version of me could somehow be better than the sleek, activity-based and society-defined version I’d always sought to be? What if there was a way I could turn this into a good thing? Well, this is the story of how I did just that.

But this is not a ‘how to survive a break-up’ book. It’s a book for anyone navigating a life change, however big or small. It’s for women (and men) of all walks of life who want to create a life they want but don’t know where or how to start. Because the ‘it’s over’ moment really just refers to the end of a chapter. For me, that chapter involved the end of a relationship, finding more fulfilling work and recovering from health setbacks like depression, among other things. It’s fair to say I was dealing with an all-out smashed vase. I’m hoping you’re not, but if you are we’ve got this.

Perhaps, though, you’d like to start a business, have fulfilling relationships with a partner and your friends or simply approach your day with excitement versus dread. Regardless, the steps outlined in this book will help you find your way no matter what your ‘it’s over’ moment was.

Because it doesn’t matter what the chapter was — how good or bad it felt — you’re starting a new chapter now and that’s to be celebrated. I can only liken the journey we’re about to embark on together to a practice in Japanese art called Kintsugi. It’s where an artist uses golden glue to reassemble a vase. The result — a work that celebrates a life truly lived. One that acknowledges how our cracks and chips inspire us to grow and challenge ourselves in new ways.

So, in case you’re wondering, the information in this book didn’t just channel its way into my head as I slept. In the early days, before I formally retrained, it came from reading every book I could lay my hands on, watching every TED Talk on self-development I could find (I’m talking hundreds) and finally taking up all the things I’d been told were good for me but had always been too scared (or lazy) to try — simple things like setting boundaries, practising yoga and meditation, and making daily green juice.

And guess what?

These things made a big difference.

So, fuelled by a desire to feel better more often, improve my overall wellbeing and sustain high performance, over a few years I became a self-experimenter and tried hundreds of different things to see what worked (and what didn’t) to improve my wellbeing and to heal my body, mind and spirit.

And after a while I did feel better more often, became excited about the day ahead and became a better friend. In doing so I found the courage to change some bigger things. I retrained and pivoted my career; got vital with my health; wiped six years off my bio age; and reignited my passion for sailing. And after a seven-year hiatus (due to issues of the body and mind), I was crowned world sailing champion — something that had eluded me in eight previous attempts in my 20s. I don’t put this experience here to brag, as most of you have no aspiration to become a world champion, but I share it because it and my other experiences taught me that no matter what your starting point, you are capable of creating the life you want if your desire for something better outweighs your deepest fears to try.

No matter what your starting point, you are capable of creating the life you want if your desire for something better outweighs your deepest fears to try.

So, no matter what it is that led you to open this book, be it a deep sadness of the soul, a break-up or simply that you’ve outgrown your career and want something more — maybe you just want to smile for real again or be a better friend and partner — I really hope it makes your journey to the upside a joyful experience. (I’ll tell you all about the upside in chapter 1.)

That would make it all worthwhile. Because I really didn’t want to write this book: writing a book is hard work and all-consuming, and it requires years of dedication, research and sacrifice. But they say if you can’t find the book you want to read on the shelf, write it. And I couldn’t find another book that provided all the information you need to holistically and sustainably create the life you want in one place. After reading hundreds of books, spending years doing courses to acquire new skills and shelling out thousands for therapy, I mused that there had to be a better way to bring this information together in one place for those who want a launching platform into something better for themselves and don’t know where to start. So, call it karma, dharma (a sacred duty) or just doing the old-fashioned right thing, I knew I needed to write it because every Smart Girl who finds her upside acts as a beacon to others, lighting the way in the dark.

And whether you know it or not right now, that’s exactly who you’re meant to be or you would never have picked up this book.

Bella xx

Why screwing up is a really good thing

So, who is a Smart Girl anyway? Quite simply, she is any woman like you who believes her life could be better and is willing to take the steps necessary to make that happen. Whether that’s in your career; your relationships; or in your mental, physical and spiritual health — or, in my case, all of the above.

When researching the title, I was asked all manner of questions about who a Smart Girl is. Things like:

Okay, so we’ve got that straight. Now, what is a Smart Girl not? She’s not someone who’s never made a mistake, or won’t admit to screwing things up — because if you’re never making mistakes you’re never taking risks, and if you’re too afraid to admit your mistakes and learn from them then you’ll stay stuck, sad and on the downside, and I don’t want that for you. So, that all said, courage and honesty are the only prerequisites for being a Smart Girl.

Now, it’s worth understanding from the get-go that no two Smart Girls screw up in exactly the same way. You have your garden-variety screw-ups, which we’ve all done, like falling for the bad boy, ignoring the signs our bodies give us when burnout is imminent, or staying in a job where bullying is rampant. And then you have your overachievement awards for screwing up — things I best not mention in this book (brushes with death, debauchery and disease … whoopsie, thankfully you’re still here to tell the tale).

But here’s the good news: whatever it is, there’s a way to fix it. You just need the right glue, the Golden Glue.

Oh. And to start using it.

Because dating the wrong people, burning out and being around what I like to call bully cockroaches is not really the issue here. The real issue is the soul sickness that so often results from choices that no longer serve us and, arguably, causes them in the first place. So, when a Smart Girl screws up she learns from her mistakes and uses them as her teacher — a map to a new reality. One she loves.

So, if you are less-than-amazed by life as you read this, know that you’re not alone. Buried beneath the worldwide chorus of ‘I’m fine’ lies a global epidemic: depression is now the most widespread illness on earth, three years ahead of the World Health Organization’s 2020 prediction. In Australia, according to beyondblue, in any one year around one million adults have depression and over two million have anxiety. To give you some context, that’s one in five Australian adults. And only 35 per cent of people will seek direct help.

This is despite the fact that on paper we’ve never had it so good. And unfortunately, when we put our head in the sand, keep saying we’re fine when we’re really not and ignore the early warning signs, the downside is where at least one-quarter of us end up — me included.

And staging a Smart Girl comeback from these places isn’t all unicorns and rainbows — far from it. Because, according to the World Health Organization, for near on one million people per year across the globe (that we know of) who don’t make it back to the upside, suicide is their only way out. For many others, a cycle of medication dependency ensues.

To give you a perspective of how serious the epidemic of soul sickness is, in 2014 a study by the Federal Department of Health and Human Sciences estimated that 72 million people in the United States are addicted to illegal and mind-altering psychiatric drugs; and according to a study by Ricardo Gusmão, Sónia Quintão and others, published in the journal PLOS ONE, antidepressant prescriptions have gone up almost 500 per cent in the UK in the past 25 years.

Clearly something is up … but what?

To truly understand the challenges for Smart Girls specifically, I conducted my very own citizen research project, looking at 69 attributes of holistic wellbeing to uncover the root causes of our discontent. Over 2000 Smart Girls between 26 and 45 years of age from 80 countries took part. The findings — alongside my own and clients’ experiences, experts’ opinions and the latest science — have inspired the structure, content and recommendations in this book.

So, while some of my observations and recommendations might seem silly or nonsensical, they are grounded in my experiences and supported by some of the world’s best thinkers — you’ll hear from them as you go through these pages. Some of the recommendations can be explained away by science. Some of them can’t — at least not yet. But at the end of the day, they are the things that worked for me and, more latterly, people who work with me, and so they are what I can bring to the table for you.

So, what’s going on for us Smart Girls?

Three-quarters of us, with all the trappings of our modern lives and careers, regularly feel uninspired and half of us feel bad more often than we feel good. These are the top two symptoms that cause us to make choices that see us pitch a tent or, for some, take a permanent posse on the downside.

Three-quarters of us with all the trappings of our modern lives and careers, regularly feel uninspired and half of us feel bad more often than we feel good.

But why do we feel this way?

According to the National Australia Bank’s quarterly Wellbeing Index in March 2017, women aged between 19 and 29 currently experience the lowest levels of wellbeing in Australia, closely followed by women aged between 30 and 49. The former group of women has lower overall wellbeing than unemployed people and 50 per cent suffer from anxiety. Anxiety involves worry about things that haven’t happened yet.

In my research, women typically mention their top anxiety triggers to be housing affordability; credit card debt; dissatisfaction with their boss or lack of fulfilment in their work; or the biggie: the missing love partner they don’t have time to find because they’re working to stay afloat, and the constant worry about whether they will become mothers. All of these factors have an impact on our fundamental biological needs as women to feel safe and secure. And when we don’t have these things — and society, peer groups and family infer that we should — there’s no wonder we’re in the midst of a wellbeing crisis.

So, despite being totally different people with totally different DNA, raised by totally different parents, one thing is the same: one way or another, we’re silently stuck and above all we yearn to create a life we love.

In my research, Smart Girls typically mention their top anxiety triggers to be housing affordability; credit card debt; dissatisfaction with their boss or lack of fulfilment in their work; or the biggie: the missing love partner they don’t have time to find because they’re working to stay afloat, and the constant worry about whether they will become mothers.

Looking at it like that, one who knows there are some cracks in the vase but has a desire to glue it back together differently has already taken the first step. And that is a really good thing, even though it may not feel like it now. It gives you the opportunity to change some things up and make life really work for you and those who matter to you.

Because, facing that it’s over’ moment is the one time when our disillusionment, overwhelm or not knowing what to do next forces us to sit still for a while and answer some big questions we’ve been putting off too long for another day.

Questions like:

And as the Zen masters say, ‘Knowing the question is the first step to knowing the answer’.

Now, many of you reading this probably feel stuck much like I felt several years ago when those two little words — ‘it’s over’ — rendered me businessless, dogless, relationshipless and homeless in a single moment. (Is ‘dogless’ even a word? It is now.) And that’s okay. My role in writing this book is to help you find your way to you again.

It’s time to fess up …

You know the drill: the first step to fixing a problem is seeing there’s a problem in the first place. This is where we get started and you get to write down a list of all the stuff you wish was different — all the things you want to change.

I feel safe telling you all that because I know I am anything but alone. However, unlike some other self-help books, this book is not a guided tour through my screw-ups. I may make reference to them occasionally when it serves to illustrate a point, but mainly it’s the series of steps I followed to get out of the downside — and a map to help you get the hell out too.

We’re also not going to focus on your screw-ups beyond what you’ve already written about what you want to change. Nor are we going to go on and on about why your relationship sucks or why you’re still single. Focusing on that stuff once we’ve fessed up to it will only serve to make it stronger and all we need to know is what’s not working anymore and that we’re moving on to the upside.

Golden Glue it!

These pages are about concrete steps you can take to make your life the way you want it to be. Together we’ll run through everything from how to believe in yourself to uncover your vision and how to get inspired, to how to get control over your hormones and how to get strong in your body and mind, to what to do when your career doesn’t feel right anymore. We’ll look at your life and examine it piece by piece and I’ll help you ask the right questions. Then I’ll hand you the Golden Glue and help you use it to create your life so it’s better than it’s ever been. Seriously, even if it’s just a chip you’re dealing with, not an all-out smashed vase, this book will help you.

So, I ask you to please put down your armour (and excuses) as you flick through to chapter 1 and work through this book with an open heart and an open mind, perhaps even with the help of a therapist if you’re really stuck on the downside. I’ve learned it helps immensely to have someone to talk to.

PS: Now, you may not like me every step of the way. That’s okay. I’m not here to make you like me — I’m here to get you to the upside.

So what the f*ck is ‘the upside’ anyway?

Read on, Smart Girl. Let’s get started.

How to get the best out of this book

There are two ways you can approach this book; please choose the one that feels like it will serve you and where you are in your life right now in the best way.

Approach 1: cover to cover

I recommend this approach for those of you who have had a major ‘it’s over’ moment and are questioning everything. You regularly ask yourself ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What do I want?’ Part I will lay the foundations for the rest of the book. It will get to the root of any problems and help you understand yourself and your choices better. Part II is about your inside world and as such is called ‘The Inside Job’. It’s structured to help you become mentally, physically and spiritually healthy. Part III, ‘The Outside Job’, is structured to help you become the person in the outside world you most want to be.

Approach 2: choose your own adventure

This is for those of you who have a few cracks or chips but are transitioning in one or two areas of your life. For example, your work is great but your love life needs TLC. Or your love life is rocking but your health is screwed. In these cases, just head to the chapters you feel will serve you best — you can always read through the book cover to cover at a later date.


Part I:
The foundations

Who am I and what do I want?

The first part of the book sets the foundations for everything else. As such, I’ve found with people I’ve supported along the way that it’s a tad confronting. Why? Because we’re working on making changes at the very core of what has made you who you are and challenging what no longer serves you, and sometimes this can feel like part of you is dying because, frankly, it is — and hallelujah to that!

This is where we uncover your autopilot settings and show you how to shift them. We’ll help you make better decisions by uncovering your touchstones. We’ll examine all the beliefs you’ve been operating from, why they’re there and how they can be upgraded. We’ll find out what your vision is and show you how to build it in a way that can weather a few storms. Essentially, these chapters are where you get to uncover the authentic you. The tools we will use will help you confidently answer these questions:

Who do I want to be?

What do I (really) want?

Once your foundations are firm, you will:

Bottom line

When your foundations are solid you make better decisions more in line with what you really want and who you really are. Part I will teach you how to do that.