Can I Find New Ways of Living When the Old Ways Stop Working? With Shauna Niequist [Episode 208]

New Ways Living Shauna Niequist

When Shauna Niequist, her husband, and two sons moved from the midwest to an 825-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, adjustment to their new big-city life was difficult! But what started as a family mantra, “I guess I haven’t learned that yet,” became the permission and freedom she desperately needed to relearn how life could be.

Shauna joins us today and shares how to keep going, live lightly, and find healing in the face of major life transitions—no matter what they are. She’ll give you the first steps to uncluttering your heart and help you be okay with saying, “I don’t know!”

If you haven’t heard of Shauna, let me introduce her to you…

She’s the New York Times bestselling author of Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet, Bread & Wine, Savor, and Present Over Perfect. She’s married to Aaron, and they live in New York City with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna is a bookworm, a storyteller, and a passionate gatherer of people, especially around the table.

Today we talk about her newest book, I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet: Discovering New Ways of Living When the Old Ways Stop Working. She’ll give you a fresh perspective on breaking free from old patterns as she answers questions like…

  • How is there freedom in not having all the answers?
  • Are there any old ways of living that I can let go of?
  • What are some practical ways to help take care of myself?
  • How can I become filled with delight?
  • What does it mean to live lightly and how can I do it?

As you listen to Shauna, consider the clutter that fills your heart. What weighs you down and keeps you from living lightly? And what can you do to let it go and make room for something new?

It’s a great conversation, and you’re going to love Shauna, so let’s get to it!

And remember, you can live like a learner because whatever you face—or however you feel—you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.

[Listen to the podcast using the player above, or read the transcript below. Then check out the links below for more helpful resources.]

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Episode Transcript

4:13 Podcast: Can I Find New Ways of Living When the Old Ways Stop Working? With Shauna Niequist [Episode 208]

K.C. Wright: Guess what you did? You did something we are amazed by. You downloaded the 4:13 Podcast over two million times.

Jennifer Rothschild: Two million times.

K.C. Wright: Two million.

Jennifer Rothschild: Two million.

Crowd Cheering: Two million downloads!

Jennifer Rothschild: And it is all because of you. So thanks for trusting us. Thanks for being part of our 4:13 family. Thanks for sharing this practical encouragement and biblical wisdom. We are so thankful for you.

K.C. Wright: We're celebrating two million downloads, but really we're celebrating you, yes, you listening right now. Thanks for growing our family of listeners, and let's keep spreading the "I Can" message together.

Shauna Niequist: We need to find a way through this together and we need to find a way to reframe what's happening to us and to give us a new perspective, and so I wrote that phrase, "I guess I haven't learned that yet." And I said every single one of us, all four of us, we're going to say that phrase every single day, because that's what it means to be a learner, to be a beginner, to be in a new place and figuring things out as we go. It doesn't mean we're failing, it doesn't mean we're dumb, it doesn't mean we've fallen behind, it means we're beginners.

Jennifer Rothschild: Three years ago, Shauna Niequist, her husband, and her two sons moved from the Midwest to an 825-square-foot apartment in Manhattan. What started as this family mantra, "I guess I haven't learned that yet," whenever city life surprised them became the permission and the freedom that Shauna needed to relearn how life could be. So today, author Shauna Niequist is going to share with you how to keep going, how to live lightly and find healing in the midst of major life transitions, no matter what they are. You're even going to discover the magic of saying, "I don't know." Oh, it's some good stuff today, my friend, so here we go.

K.C. Wright: Welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and biblical wisdom set you up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Now welcome your host, your friend, Jennifer Rothschild.

Jennifer Rothschild: Hello, our dear people. We're glad you're back with us at the 4:13. And if you're new, welcome. I'm Jennifer. I'm just here to help you be and do more than you feel capable of as you're living this "I Can" life. And you just heard my seeing eye guy. That's K.C. Wright. I tell you people, it's hard being with somebody who's always "Wright." It is hard.

K.C. Wright: Right on.

Jennifer Rothschild: It is hard.

K.C. Wright: No, I am far from being right.

Jennifer Rothschild: But we're talking today about decluttering your heart.

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: But it reminds me of decluttering our homes, which K.C. and I are both into. We have said that he's the male version of me, and it is true --

K.C. Wright: It is very true.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- because I declutter when I'm under stress. I just love to get rid of things, throw them away.

K.C. Wright: Right.

Jennifer Rothschild: And you were just doing that, K.C.

K.C. Wright: Well, yeah, you look at things and say, "Hey, do I really need that? Why do I have that?" I don't like clutter.

Jennifer Rothschild: I don't either.

K.C. Wright: Sometimes I -- I actually helped some people move recently. And, man, I tell you what, there were some rooms in their homes where I could tackle it, and I did, and I was honored to serve them, but then they had this garage that gave me flat-out anxiety.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's my garage.

K.C. Wright: I don't know how people live like this. But I have been flipping my garage into a garage gym.

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, good.

K.C. Wright: So, therefore, in order to have more space for equipment, I've had to really say goodbye to these tubs. We all have these tubs.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

K.C. Wright: Or is that just me?

Jennifer Rothschild: The big Rubbermaid tubs, yes.

K.C. Wright: Stacked against a wall that you have carried around for your whole life --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: -- including that one tub that's filled with wires and remotes that in your head you think, I'm going to need this someday and this will save me money by saving it. No. I can't tell you -- the other day I took it and just dumped the entire thing in the trash can, and it was such a refreshing -- almost --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, that's cleansing.

K.C. Wright: -- cleansing moment for me.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes. That makes me feel cleansed just knowing you did it.

K.C. Wright: Right. So all the Christmas stuff went up in the attic. I've been hauling tubs to the trash. And also, my favorite thing is to haul the good stuff to the corner and see how fast it goes.

Jennifer Rothschild: My mother does that. And then she likes to sit in the living room and just kind of watch when people come by and they take it. It's awesome. It's kind of fun. It's a game. That should be a reality show. That's awesome.

K.C. Wright: Oh, my goodness.

Jennifer Rothschild: But there is something very cleansing about doing that to our physical space. And obviously what we're about to hear, Shauna had to downsize. I mean, you don't move from a big suburban home in the Midwest to a tiny -- just slightly over 800-square-feet apartment in New York without getting rid of a bunch of stuff. And what you're going to really like from this conversation is how she uncluttered her heart, which is even more important. So let's hear from Shauna.

K.C. Wright: Shauna Niequist is the New York Times best-selling author of "Cold Tangerines," "Bittersweet," "Bread and Wine," "Present Over Perfect." And I guess I haven't learned that yet.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. I love that title.

K.C. Wright: She is married to Aaron, and they live in New York City with their sons Henry and Mac. Shauna is a bookworm -- like us -- a storyteller -- like us -- and a passionate gatherer of people, especially around the table. So pull up a chair at our table and join Shauna and Jennifer.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right, Shauna, let's start with the phrase -- that I love, by the way -- "I guess I haven't learned that yet." So tell us why that phrase was something you guys used a lot and why it was so important to you and your whole family when you moved to Manhattan.

Shauna Niequist: So it started off as something that we -- that I wrote on a piece of printer paper and put up on our little apartment wall with blue painters' tape, because we had just made this major move from the suburbs to the city, from the Midwest to the Northeast. We were living in Manhattan from -- you know, moving from a house to an apartment, from suburban schools to city schools. Just everything was different. And our kids were experiencing some of that, like beginner fatigue where you're like everything is new and everything is overwhelming. And I was noticing that they were starting to have -- you know, they had a million questions. We all had questions. But under their questions, there started to be, like, these deeper questions like, "Am I not figuring it out fast enough?" "Am I falling behind?" "Am I dumb?" And I was like, okay, hang on, hang on. We need to find a way through this together and we need to find a way to reframe what's happening to us and to give us a new perspective, and so I wrote that phrase, "I guess I haven't learned that yet." And I said, "Every single one of us, all four of us, we're going to say that phrase every single day." Because that's what it means to be a learner, to be a beginner, to be in a new place and figuring things out as we go. It doesn't mean we're failing, it doesn't mean we're dumb, it doesn't mean we've fallen behind; it means we're beginners. And so we really tried to cultivate that sense of curiosity and that it was okay to make a mistake and figure it out as we go. And I think it helped our kids, but over time I realized it really had a lot to teach me.

I was in a season in my life where I was in my mid-forties, I had lived in my hometown for a long time, I had been in the same career for a long time, and I had, without meaning to, sort of become, like, an expert person, a person you went to for advice or directions or answers. And all of a sudden this phrase gave me so much freedom. It gave me freedom to ask questions instead of have answers, or to try something new instead of kind of stay on the path I had been for so long. So it started off, like so many things, as a question for my kids, but ended up -- or as a statement for my kids, but it ended up being such an important phrase for me in my own life in this season.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, isn't that just how it is? You know, our kids and what they experience, they really are our best teachers and they reveal so much within our own hearts.

And I'm grateful for this conversation because, Shauna, I think as I was hearing you -- I'm a firstborn and I truly expect more of myself than really is reasonable most of the time. Like, I really think I should know how to do something. I think I should be able to open that box from Ikea and I should know how to fix it all, you know. It's something we come by naturally, and it's almost the dark side of confidence. But I think there's a humility and freedom that comes when you say, "Oh, I guess I just haven't learned that yet." So I'm curious how when you made this shift into this mindset -- which you already kind of mentioned a little bit how it changed you and your family. But I'm also curious, how did it impact your writing?

Shauna Niequist: Well, you know, I have always written not as an expert or a pastor or a person who knows the answer, I've always written as a companion, a fellow traveler, a friend. What I've tried to do is articulate the things that we all feel, as opposed to kind of standing separate and saying, you know, I've nailed this and I'm going to teach you how.

But I think it also gave me a little bit of freedom to write in a little bit more immediate way, to feel less pressure to have an answer or a resolution or a perspective. I just wrote sort of about the very, very messy, difficult middle and offered that as a -- like, I don't have any answers, but I'm willing to show you how hard it's been for me in the hopes that that makes you feel alone if you're in the middle of a season that feels really hard for you.

Jennifer Rothschild: And that takes -- well, I used the words already. That takes a confidence and a humility, which I think are two sides of the same coin, honestly. But it is a freedom to not have to have the answer and to be okay in that very difficult place, that messy middle. And so you've talked about in your writings, you know, this idea of the old ways that just aren't working for you anymore. Okay? So give us an example of an old way of living that you ended up letting go of because you realized it just wasn't serving you.

Shauna Niequist: Well, I feel like there are a thousand examples. But one of them was I had been a relatively healthy person physically for most of my life, and all of a sudden I had several different ongoing issues with chronic pain and illness. And I couldn't depend on the old ways, which were basically like, you know, Advil and hope it goes away. I had to really attend to my health in a new way. I had to advocate for myself. I had to do a lot of research, I had to go to a lot of different doctors. And that was new, and it was something I -- it was a skill set I hadn't had to learn yet, right? But we don't learn these skills or learn how to use these muscles until it's necessary. But I became a person who needed to spend a lot of time and energy in figuring out some chronic health stuff, and it was -- now those are skills I have forever. And I'm not glad that I needed them, but I'm glad that now I have them.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, yeah. And it's made a difference in the way you manage, I would assume, now other tough seasons. Because we go in and out of those tough seasons, and when we're in them -- I mean, Shauna, most women are going to neglect themselves just to get through. Swallow the Advil and man up and move on. But you've learned some ways to take care of yourself. So give us some practical ways that we can learn to take care of ourselves too.

Shauna Niequist: Well, I would say especially if you're in a season of either a lot of loss or a lot of change or transition -- I'm not great at routines, but I learned how important some patterns are. Spending a little more time alone is really -- when everything feels chaotic around you, to really be disciplined about spending some time alone to sort of listen to what's happening inside of your own self. For someone who's just starting out with a practice of solitude, I think writing is really a good way to do it to keep your mind from wandering. Even if it's five minutes in the morning and five minutes at the end of the day, those two little pauses to sort of check in with yourself are really, really important.

Getting outside and being active, even just walking, for me is really important to connect my mind and my body. To move a little bit, to breathe fresh air, that's a really good reset for me.

And then I know that when I'm in seasons that feel tricky, my first impulse is to isolate. You know, I don't want to, like, be a burden to anybody, I don't want anybody to see how messy I really am, I don't feel like I have anything good to bring to them. But that's the exact wrong impulse. What I've learned the hard way is when I'm in real challenging seasons -- and I certainly do not need big parties, I don't need big gatherings, I don't need an army of people -- I need a couple people that I can reach out to, even via text, who need to know exactly how I'm feeling and how I'm doing. And so I would say if you're putting together just a tiny little kind of what to do list in these seasons, reaching out is really, really important.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. And I think when we're in those seasons, it is kind of hard to think with our stressed brain and figure out what to do. So even just kind of a refreshment of these thoughts, you know, spending time alone with yourself, with God, reconnecting with -- a little physical movement, like you said, don't isolate, those are things we need to keep to the front of our minds, because sometimes those tough seasons come as quickly as a phone call and we need to know how to begin to process through it. So that's super helpful.

You write, though, in your book -- because -- well, let me pause here. I've sensed in your book there's a lot of gifts that came from a difficult season for you. But you write about the fact that two of the greatest gifts you've been given in the last few years are curiosity and self-compassion. So I would love to hear more about that.

Shauna Niequist: Well, curiosity is really just what we were talking about earlier, about being willing to not be an expert, being willing to ask a question, ask for help, consider a new way, try something new, get it wrong, try again. It sort of takes the pressure off -- the pressure that we put on ourselves to get everything right the first time and to know the answers to everything. So that curiosity has been a real gift. And I think they're related. Curiosity and self-compassion kind of work together.

Self-compassion is just being willing to treat your own self with the same kindness and care that we so often treat other people with. It's very reflexive. If there's someone in your life that you love and you see them struggling, your natural impulse is to tend to them, to make space for them, to care for them, to speak loving words to them. Unfortunately, a lot of us, or at least I, don't have that same impulse toward my own self. When I'm struggling, I make it so much worse because I'm struggling. And then I'm mad at myself for struggling, and then I'm mad at myself for how long I'm struggling, and then I make myself feel terrible for not getting over it sooner. And I feel like I have had to learn how to tend to myself lovingly and gently, and I've found that that changes a lot. I'm able -- and It's counterintuitive. I'm able to move forward more steadily. I'm able to do difficult things. I'm able to be braver when I treat myself with self-compassion as opposed to when I berate myself for my shortcomings.

Jennifer Rothschild: That's powerful. I think a lot of us have that tendency. And that's a super challenging thought. For some of us who are listening right now, I'm sure that is challenging. But I think the way you just explained, just treating yourself like you would -- it's a reflex -- someone you love, and just to pause long enough to consider. Because you are your greatest ally. Yeah, you really are.

Another thing that you write in your book that I really love, because I so resonated with, is that you want to be a person who is easily delighted. Like, I totally agree with this. So would you please take a second here and convince those who are not yet delighted, why is this so important? Why do we need to be filled with delight?

Shauna Niequist: You know, I think all of us have enough challenges in our lives. There are enough serious things unfolding around us and in our homes and in our culture. There is a lot to be troubled about, certainly. And I'm not saying at all that living with the capacity for being easily delighted is to ignore those things. I think delight is the fuel that allows us to engage those things well. Delight is like just an instant infusion of capacity and power and energy in order to tend to the difficult things in our lives. And I think sometimes when we're -- like, I know when I'm at my worst, it's like I think, well, I mean, I guess I could be happy if only I had this enormous, perfect, difficult, never going to happen thing, right?

Jennifer Rothschild: Right.

Shauna Niequist: But I notice I'm at my -- I can gauge that I'm in a healthy spot when tiny little things bring me joy. It can be the sound of kids playing in the courtyard or a really beautiful -- the blooms on the tree right outside our building right now are just spectacular. Or a line of poetry. When something relatively small can just fill up my heart to bursting, I know things are working well inside of me. And I think that's sort of a litmus test for how well I'm doing just in my whole life.

Jennifer Rothschild: It' is a good test. But how do you get there? Like for someone who is just so pragmatic and they're listening to this thinking, okay, well, how would I develop that? How do you, Shauna, develop a capacity for delight?

Shauna Niequist: So this is one of those things that -- Anne Lamott is one of my all-time favorite writers. And she says that people invite her to give a talk about writing or a talk about faith, and she lets them pick. And the joke is that it's the same talk. And I would say -- so this is a piece of writing advice that has become some of my most deeply cherished advice for all of life. So when I'm in a writing season -- you know, sometimes I give myself a break and I'm not writing. But most of the time I'm writing something. And when I'm in a writing season, I challenge myself at the end of every day to write down three glimpses. And what I mean is three sensory moments, with as many details and descriptors as I can manage to scribble down. The way something tasted, the way someone's voice sounded during a particular conversation, the way the grass looked when the sun was hitting when we were in the middle of that picnic. But very sense --the particular smell of this as I was cooking it. And the reason I do that as a writer is because I find that when you try to backfill those really sensory, really, like, gritty, delicious, sense-based details, they never feel right if you didn't -- you can't backfill those in after the fact. You can't be like, "the cake was yummy." You know what I mean? But if you record those things as you experience them, they make your writing so much richer. What I found -- certainly it helped my writing. It helped -- I would use those exact descriptions, and I think it made my writing livelier and more sense based, which is something I really value in writing.

It also made me more attuned to my senses. I found that at first it was hard to find those three glimpses. I'd be like, What was it? What did it taste like? But the more I did it, the more easily those descriptions came, and I could do, like -- I don't, but I could do, like, 20 little glimpses from my day. And so what I find is whatever you train your mind and your heart to observe and look for, you'll find it, right?

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah.

Shauna Niequist: That's true in writing and it's true in life. If you say, like, I just can't find it, I would challenge you, write three glimpses of delight at the end of every day. And at first it'll be hard. You'll be like, nothing is delightful. I see nothing. It is a blank. Pretty soon you'll be able to find one. Then you'll find two, then you'll find three. And then you'll anticipate your little homework assignment throughout the day and you'll be like, oh, there's one, there's one, there's one. And pretty soon you realize you're living with an eye for delight, or an ear for delight, or a heart that's oriented toward delight. What a beautiful way to live.

Jennifer Rothschild: Oh, yeah. Talk about living lighter. It reminds me, you know, how C.S. Lewis talked about maybe someday you'll be old enough to enjoy fairy tales. It's like developing that capacity to recognize and just press into delight.

Well, and I just said the phrase "living light," and that brings me to my last question. Because you use that phrase "living lightly" in your book. And, of course, you're talking also about downsizing your home and your stuff, moving, all that. Okay? But you also use this in terms of, like, relationships and unforgiveness. So let's finish up with you telling us what does it mean to live lightly, and how can we do it?

Shauna Niequist: Well, I mean, you encapsulated it beautifully. You know, first it was a phrase that we talked about like, you know, we lived in our last house for ten years. You can accumulate a lot of stuff in ten years. And all the baby stuff and all the little kids' stuff. And we entertained or gathered people all the time, and so there was all the hosting stuff, all the various cooking things, whatever. We had accumulated a lot of stuff. And both because we were moving to such a small space relatively speaking, and because we didn't know how long we'd stay, it felt like we were bringing just what we needed just for the space, just for the foreseeable future. And some of that -- you know, it's hard to get rid of stuff and it's hard to say goodbye to things.

Also, for me, there was something really energizing about living with so little stuff. We have just what we need and nothing more. Our apartment can be, like, I think -- we always say it can look like someone ransacked our apartment, and 20 minutes later the whole thing's clean. And so from, like, a mental space standpoint, there's something -- our stuff doesn't weigh us down because we don't have very much of it. And I really like that in terms of stress and capacity and feeling like our stuff doesn't control us. It doesn't require a lot of upkeep, we're not constantly managing it.

But then on a deeper level, in the same way that I had accumulated a lot of possessions, I had accumulated a lot that I was carrying inside myself. A lot of anger, a lot of regret, a lot of unforgiveness. You know, if our house, before we moved, was sort of overfull with stuff, my heart was sort of overfull with stuff, too. I was holding a lot, I was holding on to a lot. There was a lot I was unwilling to let go of or release. And I realized in the same way that I want that feeling of lightness, of just having, like, 12 plates and no more, or the exact right amount of shoes for this season and not a bazillion that I'll never wear. Whatever that exact right amount of stuff, I wanted that on my insides too. I wanted the right amount of -- I wanted forgiveness. I wanted to not be carrying around all this regret. I wanted to let some things go inside myself. And that was hard work, and it's ongoing work, but it's really valuable. The feeling of getting to live sort of lightly in your heart, of not harboring resentment, regret, fear, not always living in the past and rehearsing different situations over and over again that could have been different. Letting them go and saying I'm willing to create space inside myself for what's to come, not just clinging to what's already happened. That process for me is what I mean by living lightly.

K.C. Wright: It really makes you ask what do I need to unclutter in my heart? Oh, man, I thought she was just talking about, you know --

Jennifer Rothschild: The kitchen?

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: Hmm-mm.

K.C. Wright: What weighs me down and keeps me from living lightly? Boy, that'll preach.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, doesn't it? I mean, seriously, that last part really made me think too, K.C.

So 4:13ers, do not speed past that if that hit your heart also. Okay? Just sit with yourself and God and consider what would it look like for you to live lightly.

K.C. Wright: Well, I know you want to read her book, so you will find it at the show notes right now at And you'll also, of course, see a transcript there of this entire conversation.

So, our people, let's be willing to live like a learner and live lightly. Until next week, that is a good To Do list, by the way.

Jennifer Rothschild: It really is, isn't it?

K.C. Wright: Remember, whatever you face or however you feel, you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. I can.

Jennifer Rothschild: I can.

Jennifer and K.C.: And you can.


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