by Emily Brooks
In 2010 Cheryl Rice was 45. She was living the ideal life she had always imagined, or so she thought. Married, with two stepchildren, a successful career as a professional speaker and coach, a loving and supportive family; she seemed to have it all. But then came news that Cheryl says shook her to her core.
Her mother, Linda, a vibrant and healthy 68-year-old woman, was diagnosed with lung cancer, and in the span of just six months she was dead. “My little world turned upside down,” Cheryl recalled. “My mother had been my best friend and my greatest champion. When I lost her, I lost so much more than a mother.”
Mired in grief, Rice, a Glenside resident, came to another realization: all those things that her mother had been to her, she now had to be for herself. “I honestly didn’t know how to be my best friend or my own champion,” Rice said, “and I realized there’s truth in the cliché that life is not a dress rehearsal. I could no longer defer my dreams.”
In her dreams was a 20-year desire to write a book. “It was always one of those things I thought I’d do someday but never had the courage to do,” Rice said. “I’m not a professional writer, but I come from a family of professional writers, and I never had the confidence to do it myself.”
Rice has been a speaker, leadership coach and founder of the consultancy “Your Voice Your Vision,” which offers seminar and coaching programs to help women become leaders in their own lives. She works with both individuals and large organizations such as AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, CIGNA, Citizens Bank, Campbell’s Soup, Professional Women’s Roundtable and the Wharton School. She has also done research on emotional intelligence and team performance, and her essays have appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, among other publications.
After her mother died, however, Rice began seeing a therapist to sort through her grief and to examine anything that was getting in the way of her living authentically. It was a challenging time, she admits, but through the journey, Cheryl’s dreams were realized. Her first published book, a memoir titled “Where Have I Been All My Life” (She Writes Press) will be released on Oct. 7.
“Where Have I Been All My Life” is what Rice calls an artistic memoir. Composed of a series of interweaving essays, the book follows Cheryl as she explores and reflects upon the ways in which she had disowned and betrayed herself along the way. “Through my therapy I realized how I had been too dependent on my mother, how I had been obsessed with pleasing others and how much I had been absent in my own life,” Cheryl explained. “I literally had to ask myself, ‘Where have I been?’ This book is about including myself in my life conversation.”
The book reveals candidly that Rice was plunged into tumultuous grief and bewilderment by her mother’s death, which propelled her into therapy, only to find herself falling desperately in love with her therapist and her world crumbling into a series of crises, from marital unrest to a dangerous brush with self-starvation. According to promotional material for the book, “With searing honesty, Rice lays bare her journey, both raw and heartbreakingly humorous, from unraveling and the shattering of long-held assumptions about love and longing to the discovery of what it means to be whole.”
Rice’s book also points out that many people, particularly women, are chronic “people pleasers,” giving others the power to approve you and shape your choices. But by catering to others, she cautions, you wind up ignoring your own needs. Rather than earn the acceptance you crave, this leaves you feeling drained, anxious and disconnected from others and yourself.
“It’s like a mid-life coming-of-age story,” Rice said. “How do middle-aged women reconcile our past, understand why we are the way we are and learn to honor and value ourselves? It all weaves together into what I am hopeful is an affirming message… I found a home within myself.”
With the book release quickly approaching, Rice is looking forward to finally sharing this passion project that has been two years in the making. “Through my practice as a coach and speaker, I ask women to take risks, and this is my way of taking my own risk and being vulnerable. This experience has given me a greater appreciation for the vulnerability that’s inherent in growth and more respect for the men and women who are trying to do this in their own lives. Because now I do know how hard it is.”
Rice has planned two upcoming book readings and signings for “Where Have I Been All My Life”: Nov. 8, 7 p.m., at Big Blue Marble Book Store in Mt. Airy and Dec. 6, 7 p.m., at Musehouse Writing Center in Chestnut Hill.
“Where Have I Been All My Life” is available for pre-order at amazon.com or indiebound.org. For more information about the book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.