Jackie Kai Ellis is perhaps best known in Vancouver for creating the gastronomical delight that is Beaucoup Bakery and Cafe. Jackie left a thriving design firm to study at Paris’ Ecole Gastronomique Bellouet Conseil and returned to Vancouver in 2012 to found Beaucoup. Aside from running the bakery Jackie became a lifestyle entrepreneur, putting her passions and talents into food writing and leading intimate groups on trips to the best Parisian patisseries and chocolate shops through The Paris Tours. With a number of awards under her belt, such as Western Living Magazine’s Top Foodies Under 40, and a successful business that was starting to run itself, in June, Jackie sold Beaucoup to move on to new adventures. One new adventure; promoting her book The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris. Behind every person and their success is a story and Jackie’s is full of overcoming obstacles to discover her true purpose and passions. Her Vancouver recently caught up with Jackie to discuss her journey out of depression into living life to the full and the culmination of that story in the writing of The Measure of My Powers.
What do you think is the first baby step you took in discovering or recovering your true passions?
It all started about 10 years ago when I was suffering from a deep and severe depression. Thoughts of suicide had started coming into my head. When I started researching ways to kill myself I realized something was really wrong because that wasn’t “normal.” That’s when I decided to explore other solutions as a last ditch effort because I’m very pragmatic and death is very permanent. I decided to go into therapy. One of the things it taught me over a period of time was that I wasn’t really living the life I had chosen to live. I was living the life that people, society and my parents wanted for me. The first step to realizing my passion was connecting to the small, small, small things that brought me joy: The mug I want to drink my morning coffee out of or what is the one thing I can do for myself that will put a smile on my face? This was during the time I didn’t want to live but those little decisions add up and eventually the more I indulged my joys, the more I realized I had a passion for something.
I was not accustomed to thinking about myself at all. My whole life was crafted to make other people happy, or to impress other people, or get things that other people told me I should have like the house, the car, contributing to your RSPs to the max. It was really difficult for me to know what my emotions were at the time. My therapist would ask, “How are you feeling today?” and I would literally draw a blank. She would have to show me a chart where I had to point at the pictures and say, “I think this is how I feel.” It was a struggle to even understand that I was sad, or happy, or angry or offended. Those words didn’t connect to any emotions I had. I was so focused on what other people wanted so when I did eventually feel a bit of joy I was like, “I think that’s pleasure. I think that’s not for anyone but me.” For example, I just saw this colour; this colour made me happy so I’m going to look at that colour again tomorrow. It was very small. But now actually that I’m very good at following my joy, when you think about what it means to follow joy now, it’s actually comprised of the exact same thing. It’s here and now in this moment, what gives me joy?
Food is one of those wonderful things along with say, music, that’s not cerebral. Our most primary state is pleasure or comfort and so baking and cooking were a way to connect me unknowingly back to myself. It was a way I had known how to do since I was a child because my family loved to get together and showed each other love through food.
It seems like your depression was a catalyst for you to discover what you were really passionate about so would you change any thing? Would you have wanted to avoid that time of depression altogether or are you thankful for that time because of where it’s led?
I would never change a thing. Nothing. I read a quote by John Lennon yesterday, it was so good, “There’s no where you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.”
There’s no mistake. We’re just here. We’re experiencing. At the end of the day we only have so much control, we have our intentions and our desires. Everything is meant to be and this is just the way I believe it is.
The lesson of control is ongoing for me I’m definitely someone who likes to take control, especially now being someone in recovery from depression. You learn that you have a choice in life and this choice actually produces so much joy. Now being out of depression for so long I’m realizing how little I have to do with it. The universe takes care of us and carries us without us even knowing it. We think we’re doing so much of it, we think we’re controlling the situation when it’s just our purest intentions that carry us forward.
A lot of women make career decisions based on financial security. What role do you think that plays in pursuing your dreams?
That’s a tricky questions to answer because there are two types of financial worries, one where you’re actually starving, one where we’re fearing starvation and the fear may be imaginary or real. For the sake of our conversation we’ll just talk about perceived fear of starvation because there are so many people in the world that just really need food and shelter. What it comes down to is we are very blessed. We are very fortunate that we have friends, family, most of us can get a minimum wage job, we have people who love us so if we were ever to lose a job we have people who would say, “Hey sleep on my couch for a while.” We have shelter, we have enough to eat, and then most of us have a little bit of wiggle room with money.
With the resources we have, we choose to include things in our life and it’s all about, within our means, what are we choosing to spend our money on? Do these choices align with the things we really value and really desire? If not we have some decisions to make. Number one, do we really desire that thing because we’re not acting like it, we’re not putting our money there, and if we do really desire it, what kind of sacrifices do we have to make financially in order for it to happen? What kind of sacrifices do we need to make with time, with energy, with friends with all sorts of situations, with reputation and do we still want it? If the answer is yes, then we know what to do. So that’s really it.
It’s just a matter of choices; you can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything. You realize that joy requires choice. Choice makes things precious and purposeful.
That was very sage advice. You put your money where your heart is. How do you personally define success?
That’s such a good question. I try to define what that looks like for myself regularly because I feel like what it looks like changes. And in order to be happy and comfortable I have to live in that space where I know what success looks like for me. Right now I think success is if I can truly be the one to hear me, to see me, and to love me and I don’t need to look for someone else to do this. From the point of me already loving me and taking care of me and nurturing me then I can receive the nurturing of others in a very clean way and I can give it in a clean way. That looks like success to me. Another thing that looks like success is that I am my most authentic, true, beautiful self and by doing so I would see the success if other people felt permission to be themselves because when your yourself, you give other people permission to be themselves too.
If you’re thinking, “I should be loving myself,” and you have a hard day, and you’re down on yourself for being a grump, how do you talk yourself out of that?
It’s tough. And sometimes you go down that road and you stay there for a few months. I was talking to a really good friend recently and he said, “Jackie, just choose. Just choose it.” This was a guy who used to be a severe alcoholic and drug addict and is in recovery and he’s like you just choose whatever it is you want. I understood it more the next day when I was sending an inspirational quote to him from the guy who wrote The Prophet, “We choose our joy and our sorrow even before we experience it.” I realized that we actually choose our joy. It’s so arbitrary. People will say, “You’re so lucky, you get to go on vacation all the time. But they don’t realize that’s just my life. It doesn’t feel like how it feels when they’re on vacation. They choose two weeks out of their entire year and they’re like, “This is it. I’m going to be really happy, I’m just going to be in the here and now.” And they are, and they’re like, “That was amazing.”
Or they aren’t and then they’re so disappointed for a whole year.
Exactly. But then I was like the only difference is we’ve chosen to be in the here and now for two weeks and we’ve given ourselves permission to be joyful for two weeks. We can apply that to anything. We can apply that to every time I go to this restaurant I’m going to enjoy this meal and be in the here and now. Can’t we just extend that to every time I’m in my car, every time I’m in my shower and I feel the hot water running on my back? You just make a decision and you choose it. But yeah, when you’re in a shitty mood… You just choose joy and that’s so hard but it’s so simple.
Do you feel pressure that you’re supposed to be taking on more traditional female roles at this stage of your life?
There’s always pressure and when I feel the pressure I sometimes unconsciously try to live it. It’s so embedded into who we are but then it starts not feeling good. It starts to feel like sadness, or anger, or frustration and then whenever I have these negative moments I have to check in with myself and ask, “Where am I not having integrity with myself?” My emotions don’t have anything to do with anyone else, no one else is annoyed at me, I’m annoyed. In the past few years I haven’t lived a very traditional life at all and people kept on saying, “Jackie don’t you want to be in a relationship? Don’t you want one person to love?” Yeah, of course, wonderful, but it’s not here so what do I do? Everyone was saying maybe you have to settle down, maybe you need to not travel so much and the list went on. And then I spent four months going, “Okay are these things that are keeping me from finding someone I do want to spend time with?” I went out of my comfort zone, it was really scary and I tested these theories, and I did every thing I was supposed to do and in the end I didn’t find someone that I really liked. I just don’t want to settle. It was a very useful exercise.
I think the idea of waiting around to experience life is so false. You need to enjoy your life now because time flies.
For a long time I waited to buy a home, I buy properties to rent, but I wasn’t buying a home for myself. I was waiting for someone to buy a home with and then I’m like, no; If I’m craving home, I want that for me. And if someone comes along who wants to build a home with me, we’ll figure that out then. I’m not going to wait, I’m going to enjoy my life, exactly the way it is now, because it is beautiful right now.
I’m married and I have three kids and sometimes when speaking to, especially younger women then me, that’s all they want. I say, “Yeah it’s great, but so is so much of what you can do right now and what you can do in the future if you don’t have that. You have so much to offer and it’s not dependent on those things.”
Yeah, I mean it’s tough. We’re trained from a very young age to want this and I’m still mulling around with the idea. I recently read this book called the Happiness Hypothesis and it went through all the different things that are supposed to create happiness and that actually relationships and connection end up being two of the only things that create true happiness. So to discount that yearning for connection is also not good, we’re created to connect. But to think that we can only connect with a soul mate is false.
Who would you say are the role models in your life?
I had a really hard time finding female role models when I was younger so I read a lot of books about women with qualities I really enjoyed and admired. Maya Anjelou was one of them. She was a renaissance woman: a singer, a dancer, a poet, a writer, a spiritual guide. That woman was so many things and she wrote some of the most profound pieces of poetry. I really admired Eleanor Roosevelt. I thought she was a wise woman, very pragmatic. I really loved Martha Stewart because there was a woman that changed the way the average North American viewed aesthetic and beauty and the ways that it interacted with everyday life. She’s also a very, very good businesswoman. Except for the insider trader thing.
She persevered pretty well. I mean she still came out on top and that wouldn’t be the case for every one.
True! Oprah was one person I really admired because she could take anyone and interview them in such a way that even if you felt you had nothing in common with this person, it helped you understand humanity. And you understood compassion and that we’re not very different from each other. She would interview a white supremacist and in the end you would understand, not necessarily agree, with where they’re coming from and understand that they too are human. What a gift.
Why did you feel now was the right time for your book?
Random House had approached me around three years ago to write a memoir. I said no at first and the whole idea behind saying no was: My story’s not done. And then we looked at what type of book I’d rather write.
I have criteria by which I use to cull what I want to spend my time on:
1. Is it something I feel passionate about. Really, truly passionate about.
2. Is it a good use of my unique skills and talents?
3. Will the process make me a better person to do it?
4. Will it in some way help the community or the world even if it’s small?
I didn’t feel passionate about doing a cookbook and that it would make me a better person and then I realized the only reason I didn’t want to write the memoir was because I was still so scared and ashamed of some of my own story and that I hadn’t truly forgiven myself or some of the people involved. I was reading Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and I realized the only reason I didn’t want to write the book was I was afraid to be vulnerable and that was reason enough to do the book. It was a big decision because I thought of all the ways that writing this book honestly would affect my life and I was ready to do it. I was ready to give up all the stuff. I knew it would make me better to do it.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
My one hope for the book is that people who can relate to some part of my story will know that they are not alone. Especially people who have gone through depression or eating disorders or feeling alone will know that it doesn’t end there and it doesn’t end up defining who you are and your story and your future.
If they can see themselves in my saddest moments, maybe they can see themselves in my greatest moments too.
Thanks Jackie! The Measure of My Powers: A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris is available for pre-order now.