“I’m going to launch this course called The Lifestyle Transformation Guide”, said my friend Jess. “And I want to make a launch video where I’m jumping out of a plane. I’m terrified of it, but it’s all about facing your fears and doing it anyway, so do you and Susana want to do it with me?”
“Um, ok,” we said.
How could we refuse? It was Jess Ainscough, our mastermind buddy, blogging superstar, and friend. And she had this way of asking you to do something so you felt totally happy to do it with her.
Even jumping out of a plane.
Because it was her.
And she was a shining star to be around. A light bubbling brook of enthusiasm and positive energy. Where nothing was impossible and you believed in yourself just that bit more because she believed in you.
And that, is how we all ended up jumping out of a plane in Coolum on the Sunshine Coast two and a half years ago.
Screaming on the way down, while taking in the view of the crystal blue ocean and thin stretch of beach that grew larger until it was our landing strip.
Jess loved it.
We loved it too.
I met Jess Ainscough in 2011 through Bschool.
We’d talked on a group mastermind call a few times, but the day I was going to meet her in person I remember feeling nervous.
She seemed larger than life on her blog.
A beautiful young woman with cancer. And not run-of-the-mill cancer either. A rare, aggressive cancer. A cancer that had threatened full amputation of her arm and taking her life.
What do you say to someone who you think might be devastated about having cancer?
But instead a vibrant young woman appeared, smiling a big, toothy grin, all blue eyes and blonde hair and happy to get out of the house for an hour between her then strict health regime. She’d come out to film a launch video with Susana Frioni and me.
“Oh everyone has their own form of cancer. Everyone has to face something that’s difficult. Cancer’s just my wake up call,” she said.
I remember seeing her eyes for the first time.
They were so blue they made the cliche ‘piecing blue eyes’ warranted. She looked at me without flinching. Taking in every word I said. Present. Precious.
From then we formed a small mastermind group, Jess, Susana and me. We’d meet at Jess’ place every fortnight and reflect on what we’d accomplished in building our blogs, audience and offerings. We talked about giving from the heart and sharing our stories without holding back. Jess was always leading the way with that.
Her beautiful mum Sharyn would serve us lunch. A Gerson Therapy meal of what I remember as cabbage soup, baked potatoes, and a massive (and I mean massive) organic salad. Ellen was always on in the background. It was Jess’ respite between blogging, coffee enemas and the something like 15 fresh juices she had daily. She’d laugh when I had no idea who the famous guests Ellen interviewed were, which was often.
In fact, I remember one day in the car with the radio on, Susana and Jess almost wet themselves when I said I’d heard this really lovely singer the week before… “What was her name… Adele or something?” (She was huge at the time.)
But more than that, we spurred each other on and touched each others’ lives as we expanded our personal goals, visions of what we could accomplish in the world and held each other in a sacred space of encouragement, positivity and authenticity.
My friend passed away the other week.
I’ve never lost a close friend. A young friend.
When my grandparents died, there was time to assimilate their inevitable passing and a wholeness to their long lives well lived.
But with Jess it’s been different.
At first I was overcome with grief and regrets. I’m not usually one to have regrets, so this took me by surprise. I regretted so badly that we never to got paint in my new studio as we’d so often talked about and looked forward to. It had been a building site for so long and by the time it was finished Jess wasn’t well enough to come over. We had still been planning to paint together as soon as she’d recovered enough.
But as the days passed and after talking with Andrew and my mum, I’ve begun to let go of those punishing thoughts that I hadn’t done enough and begun to realise it’s only natural to have regrets with death. It’s so final. And the beauty of it was Jess was still planning for the future.
She never gave up. Never said she wouldn’t make it.
She blessed thousands of people with her story and I count myself incredibly blessed to have known, loved and laughed with her. She truly was a light in the world.
Today, I want to reflect on some of the precious lessons I learnt from my dear, and very wise, friend Jess Ainscough.
In our mastermind group, yes we talked business, we talked marketing, we talked strategies, but we helped each other through more than just business decisions. It was personal. It was life. It was friendship at its best.
Lesson #1: Follow Your Heart
When I met Jess, I was in a less than lack-lustre relationship. He was a nice guy, but the relationship didn’t support us in the way we both really wanted.
On a drive to Montville one day (which is where I ended up marrying Andrew) Jess said she thought I deserved better.
Yes, she was as blunt as that.
She told me she knew what it was to have a man who loved her, wanted to be with her, and wanted to help her shine. And she wanted it for me as well. Not only did she want it for me, she believed I deserved it too.
I was terrified to break up. To step out of the familiar, which didn’t seem that bad after all.
But on our winter retreat in the mountains, my energy and health took a dive. And I knew the relationship wasn’t helping. In fact it was close to an end. But it was Jess who gave me the courage to trust something better would come into my life if I let go of something I no longer truly wanted.
We held a sacred ritual on the last night of our retreat. Susana suggested we write down where we wanted to be in six months time, making a point of releasing our fears, recognising anything that wasn’t supporting us and being gentle with ourselves to let it go. We then placed the scraps of paper in the wood fire and put our arms around each other as we watched them burn away.
I wrote that the relationship had served its purpose and we had both moved on, it had been safe to move forward. I wanted to trust I would be ok and I’d find something better.
Of course, if you’ve followed my journey, you’ll know I did. Within two years I met, fell in love with, and was married to Andrew.
Now, when I look back, it’s lovely to see Jess was woven through the story from the beginning. You see, when I first joined eHarmony I visited Jess one day and showed her Andrew’s photo, profile and our email exchange. “Look chick, he said he likes to take photos of trees! Trees!!! I LOVE taking photos of trees. Who does that?”
She was so excited and happy for me when we got engaged. Not long after she came over to paint one day I did a parade of my wedding dresses (I’d bought three online) and she and Andrew laughed telling stories in the kitchen in-between dress changes.
I felt very proud and blessed to introduce the two of them, my bold, delightful friend and my rock-solid, delightful man.
Lesson #2: Be Brave & Dream Big
I’ve actually never met anyone who’d dream as big as Jess, and then make those dreams happen, in like, six months.
During our first mastermind meeting Jess was barely earning any money from her blog and yet when we talked income goals she said “I want to earn six figures this year, pay my parents back and buy a house.”
Good luck with that, was my initial thought. I’d worked and saved for ten years before I bought my house.
But in fact, she did just that. She took action on her dream and intention every day and low and behold, she made six figures, paid back her folks and bought her beautiful home.
During another mastermind catch up she said she wanted to write a book and get published by Hay House. This time I was becoming a little more flexible in my thinking. I’d seen Jess at work and thought she might be able to pull it off, but I had no idea how. Sure enough, she put her laser focus on pitching to Hay House, flew down to their conference, and came back with a book deal.
Then she put her head down to work and wrote a book in between speaking events, following her demanding health schedule, and blogging every day. And playing with us mastermind buddies, her long term school friends, devoted mum and dad and beloved Tallon.
Jess was the master at being brave and dreaming big. And making it happen.
Her successes always spurred me on, as I’m sure they did thousands of people. She helped me see we don’t have to play small or allow fears and doubts to crowd out our dreams.
Be brave. Follow your heart. Dream big.
Lesson #3: There’s Strength in Vulnerability
Sitting on the couch with Jess one day I asked, “But what if people don’t trust me? What if they think because I’m sick I can’t take care of them and don’t believe I’ll deliver value on my ecourses?” I had tears streaming down my cheeks as I faced yet another bout of chronic fatigue. Some weeks I didn’t leave the house until it was time for our mastermind, and that week I was facing a fear I’d grown up with; keep upbeat, be positive, and don’t be seen as sick or else you’ll be left behind.
“It’s not a failing to be sick, Nic,” she said. “You haven’t failed. Share your story. It just might touch someone’s life who needs to hear it.”
Now, I’ll be frank. I don’t take advice from many people. Seriously. But this advice came from someone who was living what she preached. And after her words had settled in my system, I began to weave the story of my health challenges into my offerings, writing and bio.
And do you know what happened? No one ousted me. No one called me weak or a fraud or unreliable. Not even one of my fears came true.
Instead, I found I connected with readers and clients more. I found more love, more acceptance and more courage by sharing my health journey, much more than the shame I’d felt trying to hide it.
Jess showed me the gift we give to others, and to ourselves, when we find the courage and bravery to be vulnerable and authentic, even when it feels incredibly scary to do so.
Lesson #4: Be Generous
“What if people have had enough of me? I don’t want to bombard their inbox,” I asked Jess privately on another occasion.
“But what if what you have to offer is exactly what they need that day?” She said. “Think of all the blog posts, videos and stories you’ve heard that have changed your life or encouraged you when you’re feeling down. Think of how they’ve affected you. Now imagine if the people who wrote them had thought to themselves ‘I don’t think I’ll put this out there today, I don’t want to bombard people.’ You wouldn’t have gotten the benefit of their story. Share it Nic, people want to hear from you.”
I’m still getting better at this one.
But after losing Jess this past week, it’s reignited my dedication to sharing emails, blog posts and videos with the world. Because I can see how easy it is to think “This isn’t good/interesting/important enough to share,” but seeing what a difference she made in so many people’s lives, just by showing up with a whole heart, and being herself, she inspired literally millions.
Did you know she had 4 million unique visitors to her site?
And that goes for all of us. We can all so quickly diminish our light, fearful of what other people will think. But a life lived worried about upsetting or challenging others, and allowing it to affect our decisions, is a life half expressed, half explored, and half shared. It is a life half lived.
By sharing her journey, Jess enjoyed a much higher quality of life than if she’d hidden herself away. She met amazing people, found principles and practices that revolutionised her life, was invited to travel and speak from her heart, and not to mention inspired millions. She was blessed by being generous, just as we were all blessed to be in her circle.
At the memorial service last week this quote from Marianne Williamson was shared. And while I’d heard it before, it took on a more potent meaning than ever in such a setting. I want to share it with you, because I believe it from the bottom of my heart; that we are all equally valuable and have so much to offer, so much to allow to shine, and to give.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
Lesson #5: Living in the moment and embracing the idea that “This is it!”
Jess could have easily locked herself away and put off blogging, writing a book, going on a speaking tour, or jumping out of a plane until ‘later’.
And no one would have judged her for it, particularly given her situation. But instead she took the bull by the horns and took action towards her dreams and heart’s desires right were she was at, with the resources and tools she had available.
When I went to visit her at home the first time, I remember seeing her vision board and thinking how amazing she was, interviewing experts from around the world over Skype in her bedroom. For two years she could hardly ever leave the house, because her health routine was so demanding, but she did what she could with what she had and where she was at.
None of this “I’m not good enough, I don’t have the right camera equipment, I can’t even leave the house, who am I to approach these people, I’m too busy, too tired, too small.” She didn’t play small. And she didn’t complain. Instead she listened to her heart and took action.
Last week I looked at her current vision board and the list of names under her section of Interviews To Manifest. Kelly Slater was at the top, Russell Brand, Miranda Kerr, Jamie Oliver followed. She was so bold. I have no doubt she would have interviewed all of them if she’d been given more time.
Every time I heard her goals and dreams it challenged me. Because I guess I didn’t want her to be disappointed. But instead she proved me wrong again and again by making it happen. I think she was able to do things that seemed so ‘out there’ because she didn’t give in to fear and let doubts stop her from asking, making offers, and creating opportunities.
When she didn’t know how to do something, she hired coaches and invested in programs to learn how to be a great public speaker, how to build a successful and authentic online business, or she brought in experts who were great at what they did to look after her videography, event management, and customer service.
But she wasn’t some fearless warrior either. I remember the day when Susana and I said she needed to hire someone to take care of answering emails, because it was taking up too much of her time. That was years ago, and when she looked at where she was at and what she had, it was scary to step up and hire someone.
But that was how I saw Jess grow her audience and business so fast, because instead of letting fear control her, she looked at where she wanted to go and took the leap, trusting the funds would flow in to hire a team.
Which of course they did.
Every moment Jess was looking at where she wanted to go and aiming towards that place, using the resources she had available – money, time, energy, health, mobility – as it was in that moment, to build towards her longer term dreams and visions.
Make the most of what you have, where you are, now.
Lesson #6: Be Yourself
In her short life, Jess challenged the health establishment. She had more influence than the vast majority of people in the world will ever have, and yet when criticism came her way, she just soldiered on. She didn’t let other people’s opinions stop her from being herself. She didn’t let criticism or people’s judgements stop her from sharing her journey and being real.
She used to say “I’m not here to be liked. I’m not here to be popular. I’m here to share my truth.”
When I had some odd criticism come my way, Jess would say they were crazy and to keep going.
Don’t worry about them.
Don’t listen to them.
Lesson #7: Embrace Others and Share Your Journey
I could easily be someone who stays at home in the garden, walks her dog, and paints in the studio for 80% of my time. But finding Jess and Susana at that point in my journey changed my life. It changed the way I understood friendship.
Being friends with others who have a passion for making the world a more compassionate, loving and better place spurs us all on.
Sharing the journey together makes us all stronger, more inspired and bolder than if we’d tried to build blogs and businesses alone.
Along the way I’ve met more wonderful women who continue to inspire me. We are pulling together during this time and cherishing the lessons we learnt from our beautiful soul-sister Jess.
Jess had more friends than anyone I know. She loved people and was naturally inclusive and so warm hearted. I’ve had friends tell me in the past week, “I only met her once, but I loved her right away. She made me feel so special and so welcome.”
I encourage you to seek out your tribe and cherish your friends on this journey. It’s such a short time we get to be together, and it’s so much richer when the ride is shared.
Painting with Friends
This past week my friends Susana Frioni, Melissa Ambrosini and Amanda Rootsey have been coming to the studio to paint and be together as we process our grief at losing Jess.
It’s been healing to be together, and painting has been therapy for our souls. I only wish I could have painted with Jess once more, but I did feel her with us, dancing to the music and laughing her unbridled laugh as we played with colourful paints.
I do feel Jess truly is with each of us.
Everyone whose life she touched and heart she opened wider.
Andrew said the other day, when he studied for his boiler certificate his teacher said energy can never be used, only transformed. Water into steam, into water, into ice. It’s science.
I believe Jess’ energy lives on in our hearts and inspiration to live boldly, with kindness and joy.
Thank you for all your messages of love and support last week.
It meant so much to me and I know Jess loved her readers like friends,
So thank you.
In her honour, and with so much love and appreciation,