How To Embrace True Beauty

I have such a treat for you today, friends! Sam of LULA Hair + Makeup has been a long-time friend of Southern Weddings and the Cultivate team. She's a phenomenal hair and makeup artist (she spent the day with us for the 2018 PowerSheets shoot making our ladies lovely), but even more than that, she has a heart for helping each woman who sits in her chair feel like the loveliest version of herself. Sam has recently moved into a new season of focusing on encouraging women to “see and honor the beauty in themselves,” and I hope her words are as encouraging for you as they are for me! -Jess

Have you ever noticed that the more someone believes they are beautiful, the more beautiful they actually become?

It’s a pretty incredible phenomenon. I’ve witnessed it over the years in friends, in acquaintances, and in many of my favorite fictional characters. They begin to embrace who they are, how they were created, and decide it is beautiful. Then something happens, something changes. They are transcended beyond cultural standards of beauty, beyond any judgment from others, and are free, vibrant, relaxed, strong, and confident. They are totally themselves, and totally gorgeous.


I have been in the beauty business for many years, styling hair and doing makeup on hundreds of women for all kinds of events. Helping women to see and honor the beauty in themselves is one of my greatest joys! Through all of my experience, I can honestly tell you that great hair and makeup does not equal beauty. Beauty is not skin quality, weight, the perfect hairstyle or makeup look, the absence of wrinkles or blemishes, or being on top of style trends. True beauty is in the most intangible qualities of a woman’s spirit, her ability to celebrate herself as she is and celebrate others as they are. That kind of beauty radiates from the inside out, and can’t be achieved through any product or service.

I love a perfect shade of tinted lip balm and an amazing dry shampoo, and I love using tools and tricks to enhance natural features. But what is more important is to turn our self-talk into what we love about ourselves, and kick out the hiding, fixing, and changing mentality attached to the concept of beauty. Believe me, it’s hard for me too! We deserve to do it for our own sake, for the sake of the women around us, for our husbands, our children, and the next generation of young women looking up to us.

So I want to extend permission to you–when it comes to true beauty, you don’t have to have perfect hair or makeup. You don’t have to look like anything you see in pop culture or celebrity magazines. You have permission to be totally yourself and to celebrate that, because that is real beauty.


Here are a few tips I have used to cultivate a strong sense of true beauty, little by little. I hope some resonate with you!

Embrace who you are

Start small. What do you love? What’s your favorite color? Your favorite book? Getting back to the basics of who you are is a fun and simple way to remind yourself that you are unique and wonderful.

Go deeper. What is your story? What are your gifts? What is a message you bring to the world through your experiences, both good and bad? Write it down!

Decide you are absolutely beautiful as you are - nothing more or less necessary.

Embrace how you were created

Replace “too much” and “not enough” feelings with something you are thankful for about yourself. “I am a strong mother to my children,” or “I am thankful that I can walk, talk, and work” are simple ways to build up loving self-talk!

When you look in the mirror, smile at yourself. You will feel super silly for a second, and then something awesome is going to happen! For me, it breaks down unreachable or unrealistic standards I hold myself to and presents a kindness that I can then share with others.

List something you think is beautiful about yourself every morning, like “I face my fears,” or “My eyes are gorgeous dark brown, and they see the beauty in others.”

Take care of yourself

Treat yourself like you’d treat your dearest friend. Don’t run yourself into the ground. Challenge whatever belief or structure that makes you feel like you have to, or that it’s normal. Even when life is hard, it is so important to take time for self care. What do you need?

Invest into your health and feeling great. When you feel great, it shows! Drink lots of water. Move and sweat regularly. Honor rest times. Get out from behind the screens and outside into nature. Think about how you want to be physically when you’re 60, 70, and 80, and cultivate that health now.

Let go of any burdens that might be weighing you down. Seek out counseling or healing for past hurts or traumas. Extend forgiveness and let go of bitterness. Ask for forgiveness for ways you may have hurt others. Sometimes I will just say “grace for myself, grace for others” in the mirror, and it helps give me perspective.

Celebrate yourself

Paint your nails red. Go get your hair done at the salon. Purchase that gorgeous top that looks amazing on you and makes you feel like a million bucks! You are worth celebrating!

Go do something fun! Have a girls night. Throw a dinner party for no reason. Take up archery. Just have a blast being YOU!

Give and Encourage

Give back. Find a cause you really believe in and give of your time and/or money.

Call out the beauty you see in others. Speak it. Encourage it. Someone else’s beauty never takes away from your own; it only enhances it.

How do you cultivate your inner beauty? Please share! Sam's post is full of encouragement and practical ideas that can be added to your PowerSheets Tending List, too. I might try adding one of her suggestions to affirm yourself to my daily goals!

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Saying No Is Okay

How do they do it all?

If you're anything like me, you've probably asked yourself this question about your friend, that inspiring lady you follow on Instagram or the perfectly-put-together girl you see next to you at your barre class. I know it can be easy to make assumptions about people we follow, particularly on social media, but we've learned that every yes is attached to a no. In order to say yes to what matters in our lives, it means saying no to some surprising things. We're sharing a few surprising things we say no to, and we hope it encourages you to prioritize what matters most to you, and say no (or not right now) to the rest!


I say no to painting my nails, washing my hair every day, and switching up my accessories. Wearing the same necklace, earrings, and rings every day means that's one less decision I have to make in the mornings! -Emily

I say no to more than one hang out with a friend each week. This may be my introvert speaking, but limiting my free time available to hang out with friends means quite a few things to me: I have a small (but closer) group of friends who I am comfortable with all of the time, I have to do less manipulating to our meal-plans and dog-walking schedules with my boyfriend, I save money that would go toward food or drinks or gas, and I feel totally refreshed and ready to hang out with them and then tend to myself by limiting my time out. -Nicole

I say no to planning elaborate and meat-filled meals during the week. Not only is it time-consuming, it's expensive to cook a variety of food for a single person. Instead, I have a pretty consistent rotation of small and inexpensive meals that I eat regularly, most of which are vegetarian. I use get-togethers or date nights in to flex my cooking skills and eat some meat. -Jess

I say no to traditional dinners and meal prep (for now). Our family is in a season where my husband is traveling often and most weeks I'm single parenting. I've grown weary trying to fit the grocery shopping, kid pickups at two different locations, making sit-down family dinners, bath and bedtime in the two and a half hour time window that I have between pick-up and bedtime (our kids' school time starts super early, so they have 5:30am wake-up times). I'm leaning on services like Shipt to have groceries delivered. It adds a few dollars to our monthly budget, but it has been such a huge stress relief and time savings that it is worth it for me. I'm giving myself grace that this is just a season for our dinners (I love to cook and have family gathered 'round the table). -Amber

I have been saying no to using my car and choosing to walk instead! For example, it is a 15-minute walk to the grocery store, and I am able to carry two bags of groceries on the way back. Because I'm only buying for myself, I have found it easy to get some extra steps in, save a few dollars on gas, and still be able to manage to carry my groceries on the way home. It also keeps me from sneaking a pint of ice cream into the cart because it might melt on the way home! -Kaylee

I say no to social media on the weekends! I've been taking social-media-free weekends for over six years, and it has been one of the biggest blessings for my heart, my marriage, and now my family. On Friday, I delete the apps from my phone so I'm not tempted to choose them over connecting with the people I love. -Lara

Tell us below: What surprising thing do you say no to? We'd love to hear from you in the comments, and your words could be encouraging for someone else!

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August Goals Round-Up

Happy August, friends! Many of you might be heading into a season of change this month as kids and students head back to school.

It can feel daunting to pick up your PowerSheets and get started in the midst of embracing change in your life. This time last year, I would have been heading back to school, and now I am managing a move into a new apartment. I have caught myself thinking so many times, “how do I possibly have the time to make progress on my goals for the month, let alone sit down and set them.” We’ve all been there, right?

But, PowerSheets aren’t about trying to fit it all in and then make progress on your goals on top of that. Sitting down to do your PowerSheets prep for the month allows you to re-align and prioritize based on what you would like to grow more of in your life. You can then be well prepared for the change ahead!

This month’s August Goals Round Up is about embracing change and being prepared to weather the change ahead by getting back to what matters.

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I always love seeing Amber's colorful PowerSheets Tending List! 

Feel like you still need to make more progress on your July goals? Amanda chose to continue her goal of reassessing her budget/debt pay off plan from July to August. Reevaluating what needs more progress from last month helps you to identify what you can focus on in the month ahead.

If you’re like Amanda and want to pay off debt this year, read Emily’s post on how to pay off debt!

Rachel's color-coded Tending List makes my heart happy! It’s a great way to visually see where you are spending your time for the month!


Madeline's use of stickers is totally appropriate this month - Happy Birthday month, Madeline!

I love Jennifer's advice for those who may struggle with goal setting. She suggests meeting regularly with a friend, family member, or spouse to discuss what your priorities are for the month ahead. It is, after all, our best PowerSheets tip!

Karyn's plan to keep track of her progress this month involves checking in every #TendingListTuesday! I'll be doing the same since it can be hard to remember to check in every day.

Remember, keep sharing your goals with us each month so that we can cheer you on! Whether you're posting in our PowerSheets Facebook Group, leaving us a comment on social media, sharing your progress with #TendingListTuesday, or using the #PowerSheets hashtag, we love seeing what you are working towards each month!

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Cultivating Habits in a Season of Transition

One of the greatest parts of my job is the ability to cheer the Cultivate family on as they make progress on their goals each month. On the flip side of that, I am consistently blown away by how encouraging everyone is to me as I make progress on my goals. One of my 2017 PowerSheets goals (and hardest because I kept it a secret from you, sorry about that!) was to transition to working remotely full-time as I prepared to move to Atlanta, GA.

I'm a month in, and by no means does a month make me an expert, but I wanted to share something I've been learning over the past few weeks in hopes that it encourages someone else in the midst of a transition.

Is it just me, or does the word transition often gets a bad wrap? I knew when thinking about and planning my transition, I wanted to reframe the narrative in my head. It's simply a matter of a perspective shift to go from "Gosh, I'm moving to a new city. I have to start all over." to "I have a unique chance to start fresh and create new habits!" Don't get me wrong; I know this is easier said than done at times, and I'll be the first to admit there were tears and nerves galore! Similar to starting a new journal or having fresh school supplies, there is something exciting about having a blank slate.

I've used the past month to focus on cultivating three healthy habits: Exercise, Organization, and Healthy Eating Habits. You've likely seen some of these on my PowerSheets goals on Instagram, but I wanted to share a bit more about them here in hopes it encourages anyone looking to cultivate new habits–no transition needed!


Exercise: Before transitioning to Atlanta, I was traveling almost every weekend. Whether it was going out of town to visit my boyfriend, heading home to see family, traveling for Southern Weddings editorial shoots, or celebrating friends' weddings, my suitcase essentially stayed packed. It was wonderful in so many ways, but it disrupted all my healthy exercising habits, too. Now that I have a central home base, I've found a local barre studio that is within walking distance to my new home, and I'm ending most of workdays with an exercise class.

  • Find what you enjoy, and do that!
  • Hold yourself accountable. I have exercising in my PowerSheets, and a more customer plan printed out and hung on my fridge. I mark off my progress in both places each day, and it's quite gratifying!
  • Create an incentive for yourself! I've created an incentive structure for my exercise plan! If I meet my goal for my summer plan, I'm allowing myself to purchase one new article of exercise clothing I wouldn't normally purchase. (Send me any suggestions you have!)


Organization: I went from a six-bedroom house with my own room to a 250 square foot apartment, and let me tell you, it's been one of the greatest things that could have happened to me. Why? I was forced to sort through my things and decide what was worth keeping, what was worth storing, and what needed to just get tossed, donated, or sold. A lot of my stuff went into storage, and over the past month, I've kept a list of what I need to grab on my next trip home. Guess what? That list is a lot smaller than I thought it would be.

  • Ask yourself "Would I pay money for this again right now?" If the answer is no, it's probably time to part ways with the item.
  • Throw stuff away! The craft supplies you've been keeping just  because? Toss them. The old  birthday card from someone you kind of know? Trash. My best advice here: do this right before trash collection day so all your full bags get picked up right away!
  • Sunk costs are always sunk. As you're going through your clothes, it will be tempting to think about how much you paid for something and decide to keep it on that factor alone. Don't fall into that trap! Think about if it's an article of clothing you love and wear often. if not, donate it, give it to a friend, or try to consign it. But don't hold onto it for that reason alone!


Eating healthy: In my case, there is a direct correlation between the number of my roommates and my eating habits. I shared my home in Durham with five other ladies who would often bring home leftover treats from work or decide to bake something yummy. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not shifting the blame to them by any means! While these things are great in moderation (I'm all about food freedom), having the ability to walk to the kitchen and cut off a slice of pound cake whenever my heart desired (including breakfast!), was not the healthiest thing to do. I moved very little food items, so I was essentially starting over with my fridge, freezer, and pantry. My first grocery trip may have been a bit more expensive than normal, but it was completely worth it. Now that I live alone, I have complete control over the food that comes in my house. Therefore, if I don't buy cookies at the store, I'm not tempted to eat them. It sounds elementary, but it works!

  • Don't go grocery shopping when you're hungry. You'll be much less tempted to buy those dark chocolate peanut butter cups. I'm looking at you Trader Joe's.
  • If you do buy a treat, but the smallest container of it. There is part of me that says "Jess, but if you buy 36 bagel bites you're saving money!" (Yes, I love bagel bites. No judgment!) But if I buy 36 bagels bites, I'm going to eat 36 bagel bites. If I buy 9, I'm only going to eat 9. I know that sounds so simple, but I have to remind myself of that often!
  • Keep a list of healthy and easy meals to plan and prepare ahead of the week. Knowing I have a meal to eat when I finish work fights my urge to go grab something quick or order out.

I'd love to hear from you! How do you cultivate healthy habits in the midst of a transition? Leave a comment below, and share your wisdom with me!

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How to Pay Down Debt in 2017

When I look back at my twenties, one of the goals I'm most proud of accomplishing is paying off my student loans. Paying off debt is kind of a classic PowerSheets goal: it takes planning, little-by-little progress, perseverance when it seems like you're not getting anywhere, and a strong connection to your "why." That last one is especially important because it's easy to lose heart when you're slogging through the often long and tedious process.

For me, in addition to reducing the amount I'd spend in interest over my lifetime, the real WHY of paying off my debt was to move one step closer to financial freedom—because when you're financially free, you have more independence, more security, and more options in almost every part of your life.

If you're facing down debt, whether student loans, credit card, a car payment, or a mortgage, what's your WHY to get rid of it forever?

Got your why? Good! I also wanted to share a few of the tips and techniques we used as we paid off student loans, car payments, and our mortgage (ongoing!)


1. Stick to a budget. Without a doubt, following a budget is the number one reason we were able to make progress on our goals. Without giving every dollar a name, we easily would have frittered away money we could have been putting toward our payments.

2. Schedule payments in advance. Sign up online for a monthly auto-debit for each of your accounts so that you’re never late with or forget a payment. Make it automatic – you won’t miss it as much as you think.

3. Feel the pinch. Every time our budget expanded, we chose to allocate the extra dollars toward debt reduction. Raise at work? Going toward debt. Bonus? Going toward debt. Sometimes in the last few years we looked at each other and were like, why do we feel poor?? But then we reminded ourselves that we were living at a lower standard of living by CHOICE. If you’re paying off debt and are not feeling the pinch in your lifestyle, you almost certainly have room to cut back and increase your payments.

4. Get a little crazy. My sister is working with "gazelle intensity" to pay off student loans from her physical therapy degree, and to help reach her goal faster, she started picking up PT shifts at a local hospital on the weekends in addition to her full-time job during the week. Does she love giving up that free time? No way! But for a season, she's willing to trade freedom now for much greater freedom in the future. Consider working extra hours, starting a side hustle, downsizing to one car, or something else "extreme" in the name of moving the needle a little faster.


5. Pay more than the minimum amount. If you’re feeling the pinch you are likely already doing this, but it’s worth stating again: pay more than the regular monthly amount. At times, we were paying more than twelve times the required monthly payment on certain debts using the debt snowball. Which leads us to...

6. Roll the snowball. The debt snowball is simple, but it is by far the most important technique we used to pay off our debt early. The basic idea is to pay the minimum amount on all of your debts except one and then throw all of your other available resources at that one. Once that debt is paid, immediately move the payment for that debt toward another and so on until all of the debts are paid. Dave Ramsey suggests starting with the debt with the smallest dollar amount and moving toward the largest dollar amount; other experts recommend starting with the debt with the highest interest rate and moving toward the lowest interest rate or considering the taxability. We used a combination of these strategies. As long as you’re working aggressively toward your goal, I don’t think you can go wrong.

7. Track your progress. I kept a Google Doc spreadsheet that listed our debts, the current amount we paid per month on each, the outstanding total of each, and the month the last full payment was scheduled. Every time a payment processed, I’d go in and update the spreadsheet. It was extremely motivating to see everything shrink over time!

I would love to hear: Is paying off debt one of your PowerSheets goals? Where are you in the process? Are you using the debt snowball?

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