Grow Your Value finalist Emily Reeves never planned to publish a book about losing her younger brother, a Navy SEAL who served in Afghanistan, when she began privately writing about her experience with grief after he was killed in 2011. In the month following his death, Emily wrote her brother deeply personal letters describing her feelings and what happened that day. In a fog of confusion and pain, she turned to the writing process to feel the deep connection she had with her only sibling. The series of letters eventually became a memoir detailing Emily’s experience with grief and the aftermath of losing a sibling, particularly a military hero. Last month, on the fourth anniversary of her brother’s death, her book Stay Safe was published – signifying what Emily calls “a major milestone in her grieving process.” The satisfaction, comfort and peace she felt after sharing her story ignited her passion for writing.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of career advice, what would it be?
Don’t hold back and choose the safe option. Go for what you really find interesting and want to do. I feel like I made decisions based on what I thought was the right thing to do and what I was supposed to do rather than what I really wanted to do. Eventually I found my way to the things I wanted to do, it just took longer than it should have! I don’t regret any decisions I made because I have learned so much, met wonderful people and had great experiences along the way.
Tell us about the people who inspire and motivate you.
I admire Jenna Lyons of J.Crew because she worked her way up from entry level at J.Crew to the very top. She dedicated her talent and showed loyalty to a company that rewarded her for that. And she seems to be an individual thinker with her unique style and approach to leading that company.
I admire Mika Brzezinski for countless reasons. I love her fortitude to stick to what she believes in on the show. I appreciate that she talks about topics that often make people uncomfortable but that need to be discussed. I am in awe of how she has created her own brand and created her own opportunities.
I admire Karlie Kloss, someone who has flipped the stereotype of supermodel on its head and has become a brand in her own right. She advocates for ongoing education, bakes cookies, keeps up with technology and social media trends, and seems like a genuinely nice and fun person.
I admire Michelle Obama for showing her personality, her intelligence and her strength in her role as First Lady. I think she is another example of flipping a stereotype and making her position her own rather than something it has always been.
I admire my dad for disagreeing with me and still supporting me. For showing amazing strength for our family when things get really hard. For his huge heart, practical thinking and giving spirit.
I admired my brother for his quiet intelligence, his ability to make others laugh and his loyalty to family. The fact that he followed his passion in life and embraced every experience to learn something new is definitely something I will always hold up as an example of how to live life well.
What guidance would you give to an aspiring writer who fears negative feedback or the judgment of her readers?
As trite as it sounds, my advice is: just do it! I am currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic and it is all about getting past fear to do the creative things that you want to do. I highly recommend it to anyone who fears judgment. I wish I had this book four years ago.
Why do you think writing can be a therapeutic process for us?
The writing process allows your brain quiet time to reflect while at the same time clearing it of the clutter from your internal conversations. I am not always sure how I feel until I have taken all my thoughts out of my head and put them on paper where I can see them and sort through them. The paper doesn’t judge us, so using paper as the channel for absorbing emotions is a wonderful first step to processing what you are feeling.
Why would you encourage other women to enter the Grow Your Value bonus competition?
The experience has been so amazing. The Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, the people that I have met and the things that I have learned have changed me in a positive way and I know I will value all of that forever. If you have any feeling that the Grow Your Value competition is right for you, do not hesitate to enter.
What do you hope to gain from the Know Your Value movement?
I have already gained so much from defining my mission in life to feeling confident that I have made good decisions towards fulfilling that mission. I want the Know Your Value movement to help me and women across the country define our own rules for success.
You can catch Emily and the other Grow Your Value finalists compete for $10,000 at Chicago’s Know Your Value event on Friday, September 25 at msnbc.com/knowyourvalue where we’ll be livestreaming the event. And if you want to attend in person, you can still snag tickets. See you in Chicago!