EP 41: Leading Yourself First with Moorea Seal

What motivates your dreams is just as important as the dream itself.

Maybe even more important.

These dreams for your future inform your daily decisions and where you focus your time, energy, and resources, and they impact how you lead yourself and others.

They fuel the drive that motivates you to get up each day as you do the important–and sometimes tedious–practices that build the future you want for yourself and the world.

They support moving from a vision or idea to action, creating the reality you have always longed for.

The tricky thing about your desires for the future is they require understanding your past and any pain it holds.

No matter how smart the parts of you are that strategize and plan - if you are not clear on the echoes of your pains, losses, and unmet needs then they can become interwoven with your vision for your future.

And if you are not aware of these influences, they can drive you in ways you may not be aware of, setting you up for burnout and dissatisfaction when your dreams are actually achieved.

My guest today realized she achieved the dreams she had been striving for and did not feel how she had hoped. This led her on a powerful journey of self-discovery and deconstruction on how she viewed herself, her work, and her relationships.

Moorea Seal is a Seattle-based author, speaker and multidisciplinary artist, as well as an avid list maker with over one million books, journals and stationery products in print. Her passion lies in helping people of all ages to list out their needs, desires, dreams and goals and rewrite personal narratives while providing resources for happiness, resilience and self-expression. Her latest journal, "My 52 Lists Project," guided self-exploratory list-making for kids is in retailers worldwide now.



Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • How Moorea’s childhood lack of stability influenced what she thought of as success, and why achieving her dream didn’t feel successful or stable
  • Why the performative aspect of having a namesake store and brand-led to overcommitment and burnout
  • How big achievements brought home the difference between love and acceptance and being validated and valued for what she can do
  • Why Moorea chooses to speak openly about mental health challenges, and why she says it’s vital to offer a resolution and resources when telling your story
  • How getting a formal autism diagnosis has impacted Moorea’s relationship to being an “accidental” influencer and what she recognizes as her superpowers

Learn more about Moorea:

Learn more about Rebecca:

Scroll Down For The Full Episode Trancription:

Moorea Seal: I think we all dream up big dreams, and we all seek to pursue them, but when you hit that dream you will learn things that you didn’t expect to learn. Even the dream that you get will be a brutal storyteller of what actually matters.

Rebecca Ching: What motivates your dreams is just as important as the dream itself. In fact, maybe even more important. These dreams for your future inform your daily decisions and where you focus your time, energy, and resources. Sometimes achieving your desired dream can bring with it hard truths and convicting realizations. Now, often, upon arriving at what you've been striving for, you may not feel like you hoped. It's important to operationalize your dreams and look under the figurative hood of what you're moving towards so you're clear on what inner influences are driving the future you desire. Now, no matter how smart the parts of you are that strategize and plan, if you're not clear on the echoes of your pains, losses, and unmet needs, then they can become interwoven with your vision for your future, and if you're not aware of these influences, they can drive you in ways that you may not be aware, setting you up for burnout and not feeling satisfied when your dreams are actually achieved.

I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with leaders whose burdens have inspired their life's work. Our goal is to learn how they've addressed these burdens, how they rise from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.

Your desires for your future impact how you lead yourself and others today. They inform how you use your time and your resources right now. They fuel the drive that motivates you to get up each day as you do the important and sometimes tedious practices that build the future you want for yourself in the world. 


They support moving from a vision or idea to action, creating the reality you've always longed for. The tricky thing about desires for the future is they require understanding your past and any pain it holds.

Now, I know, this does not sound very dreamy, and I hear from many of you that you feel like you've done a lot of work on your story so there's no need to check back on it again, especially because it feels counter-productive to look back instead of moving forward with the life you're cultivating. But the fact is, the echoes of the burdens we all carry influence our desires whether we're aware of them or not, and maybe these echoes are connected to the longing to be loved as you are or to be seen or to feel significant or to have power. If you're not aware of these influences, they can drive you in ways you may not be aware, setting you up for burnout and not feeling satisfied when your dreams are actually achieved. Now, my dreams from my teenage and early 20s years centered around access to power. No surprise I was drawn to public relations and politics, right? An early dream was to become completely self-sufficient, not needing anyone, but being able to have a big impact on the issues I cared deeply about 

Achieving this "success" left me wanting. Not a big surprise, right? The hole I was trying to fill was still empty. I didn’t realize this drive for power and self-reliance was inextricably connected to growing up in a chaotic home where words and fists were weaponized and feeling safe was rare. So maybe you are dreaming of a book deal or that job that would change everything for you, or maybe you hold a financial dream that will offer security and the ability to be more generous. 


Maybe your desires for the future are more personal around family or health. My guest today realized she had achieved the dream she had been striving for and did not feel how she hoped. This led her on a powerful journey of self-discovery and deconstruction on how she viewed herself, her work, and her relationships. 

Moorea Seal is a Seattle-based author, speaker, multi-disciplinary artist as well as an avid list-maker with over one million books, journals, and stationary products in print. Her passion lies in helping people of all ages to list their needs, desires, dreams, and goals and rewrite personal narratives while providing resources for happiness, resilience, and self-expression. Her latest journal, My 52 List Project, guided self-exploratory list making for kids is in retailers worldwide now. Go grab your My 52 List books. I promise you they're worth it.

Now, listen for Moorea's insights into arriving at what she had been dreaming for and working towards and still feeling empty. Notice how Moorea unpacks a difference between being loved and accepted as she is and being valued for what she does for work and others. Pay attention to what Moorea learned about having a store and a brand based on her name and what shifted for her after she started to just be Moorea versus living a divided life. Now, please welcome Moorea Seal to The Unburdened Leader podcast! 

I'm so happy to welcome Moorea Seal to The Unburdened Leader podcast today. Welcome!

Moorea Seal: Thank you so much for having me.

Rebecca Ching: There's a lot I want to cover today, and so, I want to start by going back in time. 


I want to take us back to March 2020, which was a pretty significant moment in our whole world, when the news of sheltering in place mandates broke out and business as usual fundamentally ended, and we're continuing to still feel the ripples of that. You were running a fairly large brick and mortar storefront along with an ecommerce business on the side that was the culmination of almost a decade of work which you've referred to as a dream. I'd love for you to share with us what was going through your head as the situation came into focus.

Moorea Seal: It was a wild time for me because it wasn’t just the pandemic that was suddenly feeling heavy on my shoulders, I was also going through a divorce and a business partnership ending -- two different people.

Rebecca Ching: Wow. Two divorces.

Moorea Seal: Two divorces and turns out that a business divorce is even harder and more painful and more heartbreaking even than a romantic divorce. So yeah, I had just split with my ex-husband who I'd been with for ten years. I had just left the relationship right at the end of February. At the same time, a business partner, at the very end of 2019, had told me that he wanted out of the business after he had just done a lot of bringing the company back down to brass tax. 

So at one point my company had 14 people on the staff, and at that point it only had 5 people. So I was anxious. I was already kind of running past my limit for a long, long time. I'm recognizing that I needed my company to change in massive ways for my own health and my own well-being. My whole life was changing. So then, to have the pandemic hit at that exact time was just insanity. It was mind-boggling because I was also between homes. 


I was living in a friend's office in her apartment while I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next as a freshly single person, a person who'd never lived alone in her life before. 

Rebecca Ching: Were you at your friend's house when the news broke about sheltering in place and businesses that weren't essential needed to shut down?

Moorea Seal: Nope, even harder. So I was living with a friend at the beginning of March or mostly in February, and she had asked if I could move out for a month for half of March and half of April so that she could figure out her living situation to see if I could move in there permanently or not. So I moved into an Airbnb. I had heard about the pandemic, that things were happening, and people had died in Seattle. I moved into a very expensive Airbnb in Downtown Seattle, about 30 stories up. Then, shelter in place started. So I was living alone for the first time in my entire life in this, like, floating bubble above the city while I watched the world shut down, and the amenities in the building were not accessible. It was like I was paying an exorbitant amount of money to just sit in this little pod in the sky alone. I'm someone who had a very isolated childhood, so I'm used to being alone, but it was just a much more profound alone that I could have ever imagined with the piles of the things I was dealing with personally and in my business and feeling the world also isolate.

Rebecca Ching: It was a vice script. A profound alone 30 stories up in the air, and you're in this kind of fancy shmancy space but you couldn’t use the gym or the pool or the spa, all the fun things that they have.

Moorea Seal: I couldn’t go on the roof.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, you couldn’t even go on the roof? They shut that down too.

Moorea Seal: Yeah, yeah, so it really felt like I was kind of trapped in this weird bubble, and I had had this moment. 


There was this -- one of the walls was just all windows, and as a little girl growing up in rural England in a village of 400 people -- and my parents are American. They're from LA, but they are kind of these esoteric, spiritual, mystic people. We lived in a village of 400 in England, and my dad was a local priest of an anchoring church. I had this dream and a vision for myself that someday I would be a fancy lady living in a pied-à-terre with a big floor to ceiling window, and I will have my cup of coffee, and I'll look out at the world, and I'll feel accomplished. It was the most real moment to be standing at that actual window. It's like I finally got to that window and it was terrible. It was heartbreaking. I stood at that window that I'd aspired to get to my whole life, and it was like, "And what? We're in a pandemic. I have no love. My business partnership is ending. What is all of this for?" It was a wild spot to be in amidst the world shutting down. 

Rebecca Ching: As we have some space from that 18, 19 months-ish, what was it all for? When you look at where you were then and now, what's it for?

Moorea Seal: I can see very brutally and clearly for myself that all along I was just searching for acceptance. All along, I was just searching for a way to survive. I can look back at different interviews that I did for my business, and listening to them now, I realize that all of these things that I would say literally but in a joking way, you know, they got a lot of laughs, but they were still true to me, and people weren’t listening to the behind the scenes message or I was kind of blocking it. 


So whenever people would say things like, "What inspires you in business?" I'd be like, "Survival. I'm just trying to get by," because while I built out a storefront that cost $500,000 and was 4,000-square-feet and had a two-story back office, I was still driving my grandma's car, and the front door didn’t work, and I had to climb out the side. I just had this survivalist way of being from growing up with parents who also had to survive and scrape things together. 


I think I was just always searching for when will I reach my stability? I looked for it outwardly, and I looked for validation outwardly. I aspired to be a leader, but I still had yet to really decide how to lead myself first before leading others, how to put on my safety mask before I put the safety mask on other people. I just had this life of go-go-go and give-give-give and over-commit and be overly responsible, sacrifice. 

So yeah, when I decided to close my store during the pandemic, seeing my name on the window, it was too much pressure for me. It wasn’t actually what I was seeking. I can just see very clearly for myself that all I really wanted was love. All I really wanted was acceptance. All I really wanted was to be seen as I am, and I had to build a lot of things and tear them down to realize that I had to find that for myself.

Rebecca Ching: Building up and tearing down at the core of wanting love and wanting belonging. You touched on your store having your namesake. Do you share often that it was hard to separate yourself from your store because of that namesake piece?


Moorea Seal: Mm-hmm. Yep.

Rebecca Ching: Even in light of what you're saying now, how has your sense of self shifted since closing the store?

Moorea Seal: So massively. I think some challenges I had in having my name on the store -- you'd think that if your name is on the store that you are the boss, but I did not feel like the boss. I felt like the prop. I felt like the puppet. I felt like I am beholden to my business partners to perform, and that is so not me at all. I prefer to be honest. I prefer to be blunt. I prefer to be straightforward. I love to shift, and I love to morph. That's how I've always been. I love to be challenged and to discover new elements of myself and reveal them, and to inspire that in other people as well, but when you are the name of a brand, you are static, and people expect you to be static. Not only followers and fans, but also the people who have invested money in you.

So I felt a massive, constant tear within my business of okay, I have this platform, but I'm constantly being told -- there are ways I want to use my platform. The reason why I started my storefront was not to sell things. It was because I saw in Seattle that there were beautiful stores, but you were not welcomed in them if you do not look a certain way or have a certain amount of money. I was really upset about that. That is why I opened my storefront. I want to create things that are accessible to people. I want beautiful things to be accessible to people, and I also see in society that things have changed in the last three to five years of beautifully designed things at accessible price points, and wow, now suddenly people are okay with the queer community as of 2020. 


While we're finally standing up for people of color, there's still so much performance happening in that, and I have just been hungry to use whatever I have to create actual significant change. But being a brand, you must perform. You must put on a show, so I just always felt this constant battle of I just want to be honest and blunt and talk about what matters, and I'm supposed to be selling things to sustain this platform. So I have to do the dance and perform the show and all that.

Rebecca Ching: That's exhausting.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: There are a couple follow-ups to what you said about feeling like being a brand made you kind of feel forced to be static, where you're a very dynamic, creative individual. In fact, we all are, but you in particular, your language is almost your creativity. 

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: That expectation of people then being like (these are my words) we want you to be who we want you to be so that we feel good about supporting you. It's impossible to sustain that.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Then I'm thinking about the spiciness. You dropped some serious cash and some serious labor put into a space. It was kind of a F U, like, this is gonna be a space where everyone is welcome, and yet it was hard for you to feel like it was a space for you to be you in it.

Moorea Seal: Yep.

Rebecca Ching: Like whoa, that's just standing out to me.

Moorea Seal: I think we all dream up big dreams, and we all seek to pursue them, but when you hit that dream, you will learn things that you didn’t expect to learn. Even the dream you get will be a brutal storyteller of what actually matters. 


As a kid, I wanted to be an artist and a musician, and I aspired to do hair and be friendly. Those were my things, but then I also had this little voice in me that was very driven and hungry to do something big and different because I have people in my family who have done incredible things. My grandma started the first bilingual schools in the LA area when she saw how Vietnamese refugees were not being served well. My great-grandfather was one of the youngest judges in Texas. He was half Cherokee, and we're really proud of what he could do and what he taught himself. I've been hungry to fulfill this lineage while also just wishing for acceptance and love at the same time. 

So yeah, reaching the big dreams that I hit made me realize, wait, who cares if one of my books hit number two on all of Amazon. How does that actually change me, the person? Not at all, and also where do I go from there? Oh, no, where is the next step from number two on all of Amazon? Where's the next step from my books being featured on Oprah's website 14 times? I went so hard and achieved so much so fast that when I got there, I was like does this even matter? Do I actually feel accepted as I am and loved as I am or do I feel lotted for what I can do? These are two different things.

Rebecca Ching: It's such a tension when you have those ambitions to have a big impact, but in our world, it can shift into the hustle for enough and the externalizing of seeking someone to say we're enough and we're worthy and we belong, right?

You touched on family. I want to shift a little bit. In addition to these incredible people that you mention in your family -- and I'm sure there's more to hear from -- you also have a really painful legacy of loss --


Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: -- especially in your family, related to suicide. What you've shared and written about, I don’t think I've met anyone who's had that kind of loss whether it's with family, with friends, or throughout your life. How would you describe your relationship with grief given the chronic losses that you've experienced in your short life?

Moorea Seal: All of these are tied together: love and loss, grief and happiness, achievement and stagnancy.

Rebecca Ching: Amen.

Moorea Seal: All of them are tied together, and I know it's because of experiencing so much grief and loss from a very young age. Having an awareness of death and its impact on generations, having an awareness of trauma and legacy of trauma along with legacy of grandness, I've just been hyper-aware of these things from a young age. I was aware from a very young age of my mom's mental health challenges, which she has had misdiagnosed, misdiagnosed, misdiagnosed until she finally received a correct diagnosis when I was in college. I remember her falling down on top of the stairs and me, as a three-year-old, trying to help her up and get her to the bathroom alone. Yeah, my mom was suicidal when she was younger. She found out that her grandfather ended his own life via the radio. Also, he was a very successful, driven, talented man, but also had his vices and his trauma and his pain. He was a mixed ethnicity man in the early 1900s trying to build a business while also struggling with alcoholism. Then, he ended his own life. 

Then, also having a dad who was a priest -- when I was a little girl in England, I would just go to funerals just because there was nothing else to do in my village. I would just go sit at funerals and watch people process and be a part of it and be in it. 


Also, growing up in England, I grew up with a different sense of history than a lot of Americans do. In the US, especially white America, it's like, "Everything's new! This is our new country! We got it ourselves," and that's not true. Growing up in a rural village in England, it's like we communed with ghosts. There's the ghost in the bell tower. There's the ghost that plays the organ sometimes at night. There's the ghost in that barn that's just -- that was holding space for people who have passed yet are still here, there's just a whole different story around grief and loss than in the US where everything is kind of like oh, and this is new, and this is new, and this is new. Old is bad, and new is good.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, for sure. You touched on this, and I believe this too, that love is inextricably connected with grief. How was this impacted how you show up with people in your life knowing this deep truth?

Moorea Seal: Yeah, I am someone who is brutally honest, and I think people know that they can trust me with their stories. I'm someone who a lot of people open up to whether they're a close friend or an acquaintance because they can kind of see I've been very open in my life and very vulnerable. I see the strength and the power in vulnerability, and I've practiced it my whole life. That is my source of power and a source of power that I hope to instill in other people.

I've practiced vulnerability my whole life, I think, because of the environments that I grew up in, the experiences that I had. We learn things because we seek them, and then we learn things because they happen to us. We learn things because they just exist in us. There are so many different forms of learning, and I was learning very quickly lots and lots of things from a young age when it came to awareness of death and loss and life and grief and joy. 


I'm a very observational person. I'm introverted but also have learned to be very social. I like to feel into experiences, to be aware of what's going on around me. That is a strange thing that also kind of ties into a late in life diagnosis of autism. There are little superpowers that I hold while also having major deficiencies and disabilities in other ways. I think the awareness of loss was palpable from a young age.

When I first moved to the US, a girl that I knew died eight days later. Then, the girl who sat next to me in my class drowned in a hot tub, and there are things that she told me that are still so vivid in my mind that made it feel like a very surreal, spiritual, almost destined situation that is uncomfortable to hold, but I heard it. Then, also, the next year, my best friend's older sister was hit by a car and died. So I just had this childhood of hyper-awareness of loss, and when you're aware of how short life can be, what are you going to do with your life? That has been my drive. 

So when people ask, "What drives you in your career," and when I say, "Survival," I really mean it in so many ways. Not only I need to survive in a capitalist system, but also I need to emotionally survive in a world that's not set up to support people with mental illness and neurodivergence. I'm also surviving because I want to make the most out of every second that I have, because I don’t know how long this is going to be. I will go, and I will do, and I will fill my life whether it's sitting alone and exploring my mind or creating things or communing with people. I'm hungry for the life that I have because I know it could just end.


Rebecca Ching: There seems to be, to me, a difference between living a life of survival and living a life with a radical awareness that it could go at any moment. I hear you kind of bouncing and toggling between the survival parts of it but also this acute awareness and even gratitude and maybe a sense of urgency?

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: I want to have you unpack the difference of how you see surviving and an awareness that life can be or can potentially be short.

Moorea Seal: Yeah, I think that my brain toggles between the two. When it's unhealthy, it's functioning in survival mode of fight or flight, freeze or fawn, absolutely, but then when it is functioning in a healthy way, it's extreme appreciation, extreme gratitude for exactly what I have at every second, no matter if it's a space of abundance or nothingness. I've kind of never attached that word of abundance or seeking to fill abundance because I know for myself, the moment in my life that have felt most full are really sweet simple moments like observing my mom craft this perfect Barbie tent out of straws and plastic bags and then sewing me clothes for my Barbie. That felt like abundance of love and care and creativity and inspiration versus an abundance of having a ton of Barbies.

So yeah, I think my brain just toggles between the two when it's going into a survivalist mode. It'll go into fight or flight, hurry, hurry, hurry, anxiety, depression, spiral, but when it's in a healthy place it's extreme gratitude, extreme appreciation, and recognizing I don’t need to go hard. I get to value every second. So more mindfulness. 


Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and presence which is part of mindfulness too.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Absolutely. That's powerful. Thank you for deconstructing and unpacking that a little bit more. You've talked about mental health here, and you were one of the first leaders in the entrepreneurial, influencer space who I saw was unabashed about co-mingling this platter of yes, let's talk about sustainable fashion and really cool home décor from these awesome artists and mental health advocacy all in the same smorgasbord. Right there.

Moorea Seal: Yep.

Rebecca Ching: And you did it beautifully.

Moorea Seal: Aw, thank you.

Rebecca Ching: It felt so natural. I think what struck me, though, is wow, this person isn't doing it for any other agenda other than this is so important to you. It's your truth, and I was like okay. I wanted to meet you.

Moorea Seal: Thank you.

Rebecca Ching: I'd love for you to walk us through your decision to speak so boldly about your mental health journey and work in the same spaces. 

Moorea Seal: I think probably having a parent who is a spiritual leader, a priest, and also a counselor, observing him speak -- I'm not religious, but there are great things I learned within that brain that I have and some not so great things. Observing my dad speak every week, observing how he spoke, not only about a scriptural thing but also setting it in history, bringing it back to his own lived experiences, connecting it with stories of people within the community, I think I've just always had an awareness and an openness and an awareness of how it's important how you tell a story, and maybe even unawareness about how I speak, how I talk. 


I spent a lot of my childhood late at night just talking with my dad for hours about philosophical things.

Rebecca Ching: So for you, speaking about this just felt natural.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Did you get any pushback from folks who were following you or investing in you like, "Ope, we don’t mix this with business." Can you tell us more about that?

Moorea Seal: Oh, yeah.

Rebecca Ching: You're like, "Oh, yes." [Laughs]

Moorea Seal: [Laughs] Yeah, let's get into it. Before I had my own store, I had a little Etsy shop and I also was doing blog design and illustration and some web design. When I had a boss for blog design, she would tell me it's not good for our business if you talk about your mental health. It's not good for our business if you talk about…

Rebecca Ching: Let me be clear. The people that were hiring you to do work for them wanted you to not talk about your story because they felt like it impacted their business.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Am I hearing that correctly?

Moorea Seal: Yep, and then within my own business as well, my business partners -- I had plenty of times, when my business partners would take me aside and sit me down and tell me off and tell me how it was bad for business for me to talk about mental health. It would be bad, I'm gonna lose the potential of investors if I talk about mental health challenges. I can probably say the word emotional abuse within that world because when I still listened to my intuition, I just thought but you guys deal with mental health challenges. Everyone deals with mental health challenges. No one is perfect. Everyone needs to be reminded to invest in their mental health. As much as they are spending on clothes and shoes and whatever stuff. Though I am someone who's very -- I appear woo-woo, it's all grounded in logic for me. I am only poetic because sometimes speaking it in a poetic way makes more sense to me than trying to translate something that is logical.


Though I've had lots of people tell me, "No, you shouldn’t. No, you shouldn’t talk about this," in 2012, 2010, 2013, especially during those years. I self-shamed and was like why can I not stop talking about these things? Well, because I feel alone and I assume that all of us feel alone, so I will speak.

Rebecca Ching: The common humanity.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Again, I think you really started this conversation -- now it's super trendy. Now, everyone's sharing all the things.

Moorea Seal: It's trendy. Oh, it's trendy and almost dangerous, I think.

Rebecca Ching: It's a tough one, yeah.

Moorea Seal: Yeah, it's tricky because, in the past, when I got critiques about how I spoke about mental health and mental illness, maybe in 2011, it then made me think okay, if people are going to -- now I understand the word projection. You are calling me volatile because you feel emotionally volatile because you don’t talk about or don’t face your inner pains, whereas I'm actually very rationally talking about these things in a calm, concise way. I realized whatever I'm telling a story about in my mental health journey, there must be a conclusion, there must be a takeaway, there must be some sort of resolve, because it's just venting if you are just barfing out your emotions and then not offering any resources at the end. The most important thing is I am so open, I can be very vulnerable publicly, but it's not out of a space of me impulsively sharing these things and seeking someone to save me. Not at all. It's that I can only share these things because I have already saved myself.


Rebecca Ching: You've worked through them.

Moorea Seal: Yeah. I've already found my resolve. I think that is the challenge of today. Everybody feels so good that everybody feels like there's space for them to open up about their struggles and what is its purpose? What story are you telling? Are you telling the story because you are screaming for help or are you telling the story because you have seen that you need some help, you have sought the help, whether it's within or outside of yourself and you have found some sort of message to bring and to conclude because of that.

Rebecca Ching: Since last year, 2020, this conversation around mental health now is even seeping its way into corporate spaces, social emotional learning in the schools is the buzzword now. I'm curious what you would say to those who run small, medium, large businesses in different levels of leadership. What would you say to these leaders that are still like, "Okay, I know this is good, but A, I'm kinda scared that if we talk about it, we're gonna make it worse or B, so many people are gonna just rush us with all of these problems and no one will get any work done." What would you say to those objections to bringing more mental health awareness to the workspace?

Moorea Seal: Yeah, this is why I write exactly the journals that I write. We are scared about controlling what's outside of us when we don't have control of what's within us.  

Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh.

Moorea Seal: [Laughs]

Rebecca Ching: Yes, I'm cheering right now. You can't see me but I'm pumping the air!

Moorea Seal: Yeah, and that's how we get into spaces of projecting onto other people or trying to solve problems before the problem even arises is because we feel the problem within ourselves, and we're scared to address it, we're scared to look at it because what happens if we address our own problems? 


I don’t know, so let me try and manage everybody else and manage every other situation. So, for those leaders, I would say okay, you call yourself a leader so do your own damn work first. Harsh? Maybe, but you're a leader so you know how to be harsh towards others too to try and further some growth, so be the leader to yourself first. Be your best friend. Address your own mental health issues. Name them. Put them on paper, and recognize that yeah, it's going to be weird. It's just going to be messy. The era that we are in right now is a mess. It is a huge, huge mess that I expect to go on for another four to five years because we are in this weird culture of people trying to overhaul systems. Some of them can't be overhauled. They must be burned to the ground to start again.

Rebecca Ching: That's scary.

Moorea Seal: It's so scary! That is what I've already experienced within myself as well. This feels like a very weird, very annoying, maybe a little talent and skill is, I feel things in society that are happening, and then I recognize oh, no, I have to do that for myself. I have to address that for myself, but we're in a time of really needing to figure out what bravery is, not just as companies but as individuals because if you don’t figure out what your mission of brave is, then managing the shit that's gonna happen that just comes when you're doing big, scary things, it's a lot easier when you're figured out your brave and your business's brave. 


Rebecca Ching: No question, because then if you are aware of your stuff and you're not afraid of it, then you're not afraid of others' stuff and the ish.

Moorea Seal: Yeah. 

Rebecca Ching: The ish that comes up. Thank you. Thank you so much for that. I want to shift gears because you touched on this, and this is something that is personal to me, too. You mentioned you recently were formally diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I'm curious what led you to pursue getting diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and how has that information impacted, not only your relationship with yourself, but your work and how you work?

Moorea Seal: Mm-hmm. Oh, this is a life-long thing. From a young age I was like I'm different, and I'm not saying that to try and feel special. I just feel a little bit different, a little bit odd, a little bit strange, and people are pointing out to me your entire life, "You're weird. You're that weird girl. You're that artsy girl with big boobs. You're that strange girl with big boobs." These qualifiers that people apply to each other.

Rebecca Ching: Strange and your anatomy were always put together?

Moorea Seal: Yeah, oh yeah. Like here's your body. We see your body, and you're weird.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, jeeze.

Moorea Seal: So it's like oh, so the body is good but the brain is strange, and I've always thought screw you, I love my weird brain, and my body is just a body, and it will morph and change over time. So you don’t get my body until you get my brain. That has been my attitude in dating. That has been my attitude also in uncomfortable friendships and relationships. I just think that the annoying thing about being neurodivergent, the annoying thing about being autistic is that you are hyper aware of things that nobody else is aware of. It is so annoying and beautiful, yes, when it's respected. Autistic people, it's like we have an ability to just kind of sense things that are happening. 


When I meet people, I always meet the child inside of a person before I meet the outer shell that society has said, "This is how you present yourself. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." I don’t care about that shell, and I never have. I care about the person inside and the selves that you have been, and I want to hold space for them. I think that's a strangely autistic thing, and I didn’t know that was a thing that connected to autism for me. I just thought, "She's weird. She's woo-woo."

So I had started going to therapy in my mid-20s, and I recently graduated which is so strange, but, you know, I'm sure I will revisit again. I had been going to therapy every week for five years with the same therapist. The same sort of things kept coming up of I don’t feel like I have space to exist. People don’t get me. I understand people really well, but then they're freaked out by how well I know them and understand them and see them. My intuition is crazy strong, and yet my cognitive abilities are low. My therapist wasn’t trained in diagnosing autism, and the current system for diagnosing autism is specifically catered to little white boys who do not speak, and there are so many more people than that. 

Rebecca Ching: So many.

Moorea Seal: So many more people. So yeah, there's this idea on TV of what an autistic person is, and it's always a little, white, non-verbal boy. So, of course, I didn’t think that I was autistic most of my life. I just thought that I was wrong, strange, weird, didn’t make sense, couldn’t adjust to what society's expectations are of me, couldn’t force myself to play a role that I didn’t care about. 


In high school, I would come home and just cry to my parents and be like, "I can't not be myself. I don’t understand how all these other kids can get the same haircut, wear the same T-shirt, do the same thing, have the same hobbies, like the same music as each other." I can't do that because I'm ridiculously sincere, and existing that way can be jarring for people, when they meet someone who just is sincere. 

Rebecca Ching: Jarring because we're not used to authenticity right away.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: You're a truth-teller, and being a truth-teller is -- like, we say we want the truth, but then we're like no.

Moorea Seal: No, we don’t. Never mind. No, no, no!

Rebecca Ching: Wait, wait. Not that truth.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: I'm gonna ask you something on a personal note. My daughter was diagnosed on the autism spectrum when she was three. She had an incredible bunch of people around her that just got her, and I'm just so grateful. And so, we had a lot of early intervention for her, and I knew that if she could communicate with words, whether it's written or spoken or both, that she could do anything. And so, that was such a big focus to get that support, but she's 13 now. Thirteen's just a beast no matter what.

Moorea Seal: It's so hard.

Rebecca Ching: It's so hard. She's working through a lot of emotions, especially through owning her story and her unique nervous system as she grows up in a world that's geared towards those who are neurotypical. It's hard to feel different, especially at 13.

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: Lately, she's been saying, "Mom, why did you get me diagnosed? Why did you want to? Why did you tell me? I wish you wouldn’t have told me."

Moorea Seal: Oh, I want to talk to her.

Rebecca Ching: I'm curious what you would say to my daughter knowing what you know now about your own nervous system and seeing the impact of not knowing you were on the autism spectrum growing up.


Moorea Seal: It's very hard being so aware of yourself. It's really hard actually having the answers. That's something that she's probably dealing with that is different than her peers without names for whatever their struggles are. They can all commiserate in this "I don’t know" sort of state, whereas it's really hard owning what you lack or owning a struggle. At the same time, I know for myself what I lack I also have skills and talents that are kind of beyond a lot of my peers. I don’t want to be beyond a lot of my peers; I want to be equal. That's, I think, the pain point. I didn’t ask to be really talented in this way and severely suffering in my ability to remember things or to comprehend. I can comprehend things in this kind of weird poetic way, but, for example, if someone says a joke to me that sounds like there's truth in it, I get really confused and I don’t take it as a joke. The way that autistic brains interpret things is just slightly different and it just sucks sometimes.

Rebecca Ching: I think you're right, though. That awareness, even going back to what we were talking about earlier with leaders, that awareness's can be exquisitely hard. It can be a tender space, and especially when you're 13 trying to figure out who you are -- 13, 30, 60, whatever -- in a world that's always assessing, but there's still this stigma and misunderstanding around autism.

Moorea Seal: So I think that's the scary thing about autism. People are afraid to be diagnosed as autistic because they think of -- I mean, I think of the kids who were bullied in my high school. The kids who were autistic, I loved them. The kids who I knew were autistic, I was just so excited to listen to them tell me about that one thing that they're so hyped about. 


Yeah, tell me about giraffes for an hour. Go for it. You are in the zone.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Moorea Seal: I felt so accepted by autistic kids. I felt so understood. I felt I wanted to hold space for them, but I also saw how they were treated. I, now, also look at the ways that I was bullied, and it was a different type of bullying because I didn’t have a name for my weirdness. I think people are afraid of having a name to something that they know will make them marginalized. If you take it back to the awareness thing, racism in America, the people who are very obviously, blatantly racist, it's usually because they're unwilling to have an awareness of someone else's life experience. When you finally seek to and continually seek to educate yourself on someone else's life experiences, it means you have to be more responsible with yourself and how you treat others.  

Rebecca Ching: Our community is very much aware, but when I see inclusion as someone who will sit and listen to her talk about Jim Morrison and 1970s Sting (because she won't listen to the new stuff) -- 

Moorea Seal: Aww!

Rebecca Ching: -- 1970s Sting is where her heart lies right now, and she's probably gonna be mortified that I shared this here. She'll be like, "Mom!"

Moorea Seal: You can tell her that the '70s are a thing for me. So she and I can chat. We can banter about it. It will be really fun.

Rebecca Ching: But her friends are like, "What?" So she's seeking out teachers, but they're busy. She's like, "Mom, I'm just so lonely." It's just working through that, but the good news is that she's talking about it. That's my cue. As long as she's talking about her struggles, I know that's the juicy one, a juicy space and a healthy space for her. Thank you for sharing a bit about that.


I want to shift a little bit to something else I saw in prepping for this interview. I saw someone referred to you as an "accidental influencer." 

Moorea Seal: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: You do have a lot of impact, and I just am grateful of how you talk about what you talk about and the commitment to that, but I'm curious what that term means to you, and what values guide your work as someone who has influence over a community that has faithfully followed you for years?

Moorea Seal: Yeah, I am very grateful. I would definitely say I'm an accidental influencer because, probably of autism. I really think it's because of being an autistic person. There are things I won't shut up about, and I just must keep going because I feel, and I sense, and I know it needs to be spoken.

Rebecca Ching: I get that.

Moorea Seal: So I've had people tell me before the autism diagnosis, "You're very divisive." I'm like, I do not seek to be divisive. I'm just saying things that I know in two years you will accept, and society will accept, but right now, I'm just saying it because no one else is talking. I'm not doing it to be divisive. When I think about my business, launching my online site, I saw things in society, and I was like this is stupid. Why are we not changing things? I saw how all models, basically, until last year we prioritized skinny, white girls. So I made sure there was diversity in my first photoshoot in 2015. I think I can also come off as a savior or have a savior mentality, but truly what it is it's just practical to me. I'm like this is stupid! Why are we doing that? Do something different! 


I'm not trying to save the world. I am not trying to be divisive. I'm just pointing out things and then executing. That's it. I think a lot of leaders are on the spectrum because of that thing in them. 

Elon Musk is also autistic. Do I agree with a lot of things that he's done? No, I don’t, but he has that thing in him that's like I see it, I must do it. I see it, let's try it. There's potential here. There's a vision. He just goes. I'm similar in that quality of being. So it's like I never sought out to be an influencer, but I did, from a young age, feel inside of me, like, oh, I just kind of am a leader. Even when I don’t want to be, I am a leader or fall into that leader position because I sense things around me that need to be shifted.

Rebecca Ching: I was gonna say, frankly, we need more reluctant leaders. We need more leaders who aren’t looking for just the spotlight. We need folks that are just gonna get shit done and are gonna lead with integrity and commitment. It's so funny. I'm sitting here thinking my daughter's a gourmet chef, like, literally a gourmet chef, and so she reads cookbooks every night and magazines. She won't look at a recipe. She's so stubborn. She won't look at a recipe, but then she'll make it from her mind. She has to get the recipe out of her head, so until she cooks it -- let's just say our grocery bill is pretty high.

Moorea Seal: Yeah, she has to do it.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] But she has to get it out, and I do see that with a lot of leaders when there's just something they have to download and create whatever that is, however that is, whatever their thing is. I really appreciate that. We call that driven or maybe we call it obsessed. Maybe we criticize it or maybe we kind of look at it and go that's them, not me. 

Moorea Seal: Yeah, people will tell me, "Oh, you're really neurotic." I'm like, "No, I'm just autistic, and I'm just getting the thing done so I can get over it and move onto the next thing. 


That's not neurotic. That's just -- it me. It just is me." At 35, I can accept and know, like, meh, you're never gonna fit in, but you are gonna fit in with just the right people who like you in your uniqueness and you're gonna love them in their uniqueness.

Rebecca Ching: And you're gonna belong here. You've gotta belong to you.

Moorea Seal: Yeah, I went through that after closing my business and going through a pandemic and crying a lot and ending a marriage. I had to do all of the things that society said were what make you successful and give you purpose, and then I had to tear them all down to then say, yeah, none of that matters. It's me liking myself, me being my best friend, me greeting the child inside and saying, "You're welcome here, and you are stay here with me." That's the good stuff, but that also, getting to that headspace when you're so used to being driven by anxiety and self-shame and self-criticism and other people trying to box you in or rebelling against that your whole life, now that I'm in this beautiful grounded space I'm like ah, who cares. There's so much I just don’t care about now which is so what do I do next? 

It's a wild thing to be in that space of acceptance, because there aren’t many leaders who talk about actually being there.

Rebecca Ching: It's always a destination, always going. Yeah, that's a really good point. I can't end this interview without talking about your books!

Moorea Seal: Yay!

Rebecca Ching: You are now the author of multiple books based on the concept of 52 Lists. How did your passion for making lists turn into a multiple book deal that cultivated repeat best sellers?


Moorea Seal: Thank you. Yeah, so it started with I have a need. I recognize there's a need in me. I have so many thoughts going at all the same time. How do I distill those thoughts down so I can actually see what I'm truly thinking about and contemplating, and then can analyze those thoughts and move forward and on from these thoughts? So I started writing 52 Lists, a guided list-making project on my blog in 2013, again, before talking about mental health was okay. It just kind of took off. Journaling is a powerful tool, and it's also not cool. I tried to just make something that would be easy and helpful for over-thinkers like me to just get their thoughts onto a page so they could see them and use them. Then, I would say most neurotypical people are very avoidant of addressing their inner-thoughts, avoidant of addressing their inner-feelings, because they just want to stay in the box and do the box things, the list helps those people get some things onto a page and make it very practical so it's not so emotionally charged. Just get some thoughts onto a page, list what you're grateful for. Then, from there, at the end of every list there's a question or a prompt for you to take what you have written and integrate it into your life in some way. 

So if it's list what you're grateful for, it would be how do you, then, take a moment each day this week to really meditate of your gratefulness for that one thing, and how does it change your attitude? How does it change how you treat others? How does it change how you treat yourself? Then, there are bigger questions like list the hardest things from your past that have shaped you for the better. Through all of the lists I really just try to help people reframe their personal narratives. This is emotional development. We are all building our own story and I really care about people getting access to trusting themselves, to listening to themselves, to feeling self and taking time with themselves. 


This is my joy. This is my life's purpose. This is my autistic, exciting thing that I love to obsess over. People tell me all the time, "Moorea, you know yourself so well." Then, they start self-shaming about it. I'm like, "No, I wrote these things that are very simple, but you too can get to this headspace if you just write some lists. It's very simple. It's intimidating at first, but when you get into it, you will start to see how wise you are within the pages." 

That's also an important element to me of my work. Sure, in this space I'm gonna blah, blah, blah and tell you my thoughts, but within my books and my journals, I want you to talk to you. I want you to realize that you have so many chunks of wisdoms waiting inside of you to uncover if you just take the time to be curious about you. You're allowed to be fearful at the same time as curious. It's not that you have to be in this total space of self-acceptance to start. No, no, no, you're gonna be freaked out to see what you find. You're gonna be scared, and you can be curious because some beautiful things are gonna pop up within your own mind alongside those little things you're afraid of addressing and seeing. Those beautiful things will become louder.

Rebecca Ching: Beautiful. What are you working on right now?

Moorea Seal: Right now, I am kind of taking a lot of pivots. I just wrote My 52 List Project which is a journal for kids. 


That just came out in September, and it's geared at eight to twelve, but you can be older or younger because I notice that when I look at the education system I think people really need to consider this: you are challenged every day when you go to school to learn intellectually. It's uncomfortable, and it's scary, and it's confusing, and you can feel stupid, but you're still learning. Why are we not offering the same sort of educational tools for emotion? That is what I'm trying to do with the My 52 List Project for kids is to help kids from a young age, while their minds are still mushy, process the things that are happening in them and around them so that they can, then, become grown-ups who don’t have to deal with as much crap that we deal with, because a lot of us grown-ups are realizing, "Oh, I didn’t address that from my childhood. I didn’t figure that out." 

This is where your daughter is going to be so powerful as a grown-up. She has to address all of these hard things right where she's at right now, and a lot of other kids aren’t doing that, but whoa, she's gonna be such an emotionally intelligent person when she's older because of that, and she will be in a place like me where she feels relief in recognizing, "Oh, my gosh. Yeah, I already addressed all that stuff. I already have the tools for that stuff. I already built all my tools. I have my tool set." That is the goal with My 52 List Project is to help kids really harness their own power from a young age, and trust, and know they have got themselves so that there's a little less work when you're older like we've had to do in unpacking.

Rebecca Ching: Thank you for those words. Yes, it's a lot of work, but it's important work, and I do think the sooner we do it the better. I've seen that in my own personal life and in my professional work too. Moorea, this has been a joy today. Thank you so much for your time.

Moorea Seal: Thank you.

Rebecca Ching: Thank you for sharing your heart and your life, and I'm really looking forward to more people getting to know you and having access to your story and your wisdom, so thank you so much for joining us on the show today.


Moorea Seal: Thanks so much. It was so lovely.

Rebecca Ching: What drives your dreams is often influenced by the echoes of your pain. Now, it's important to not underestimate the impact the burdens of your story can have on the incredible things that you're striving for and working towards. Getting clear in your values, the meaning and motivation behind your passions, requires some inner work. Now, it may feel tedious and even inefficient to keep checking in on these inner influences, but I promise you it's actually a powerful practice so you can recalibrate and reassess what you're working towards with your life and work. Then, sometimes the lessons and learning just come with arriving and receiving the unexpected learnings and disappointments that achieving the dream you’ve been working towards is not as fulfilling or aligned as you'd hoped. I know that was the case for me, and it was also the experience for Moorea.

Moorea shared with us some deep wisdom when she saw how achieving her dream brought with it unexpected learnings that led to the beginning of major shifts in her work, relationships with others, and herself. Let me ask you, are you clear on what's driving your dreams? What support do you need to help you get clear on any burdens that may be fueling your dreams in an unhealthy way, and what have you learned from arriving at some hard-earned dreams that felt disappointing or wanting? Moorea did not let the realization her dreams, her work in life, that did naturally fulfill her take her out. Instead, she stepped into courage and curiosity and began the work to heal and deconstruct, modeling beautifully the work of an unburdened leader.

Reading is hard. Reading is also, often, controversial as you navigate staying aligned to your values, your mission, and your boundaries. 


Navigating the inevitable controversy can challenge your confidence, clarity, and calm. Now, I know you don’t mind making the hard decisions, but sometimes the stakes seem higher and can bring up echoes of old doubts and insecurities during times when you need to feel rock solid on your plan and your action.

Finding a coach who gets the nuances of your business and leading in our complex and polarized world can help you identify the blocks that keep you playing at safe and small. Now, leading today is not a fancy title or fluffy bragging rights. It is brave and bold work to stay the course when the future is so unknown and the doubts and pains from the past keep showing up to shake things up. Internal emotional practices and systemic strategies are needed to keep the protector of cynicism at bay and foster a hope that is actionable and aligned. When the stakes are high, and you don’t want to lose focus, when you want to navigate inevitable conflict between your ears and with those you lead, when time is of the essence and you want to make hard decisions with confidence and clarity, then Unburdened Leader coaching is for you and where you deepen the capacity to tolerate the vulnerability of change, innovation, and doing things differently than the status quo. 

To start your Unburdened Leader Coaching process with me, go to www.rebeccaching.com and book a free connection call. I can't wait to hear from you!

Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can find this episode, show notes, ways to sign up for the weekly Unburdened email, and other resources along with ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com.


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