Rachel the Nag



Rachel Z. Cornell is a nag and she’s good at it. She’s so good that a friend of hers suggested she make a business out of it—so she did. It’s ProNagger. So now people actually pay Rachel to nag them. I’m one of them. I’ve hired Rachel to nag me in February. I want to do a lot of things, lose weight, exercise, get organized, finish writing my book and about a dozen other things I can’t even remember right now. But I’m not good at list or organizing or making long-lasting changes.

I tell myself the same stuff every year, “This year will be different.” And it is—for a while. Then it’s not. It’s the same. Only now I feel guilty and beat myself up for failing to change. I feel like a mouse on an exercise wheel, only I’m just sitting there, not moving. So I’m going to try giving nagging a try.

Rachel doesn’t really nag like our parents used to nag when we didn’t take out the trash or clean our rooms or mow the yard. She simply does what any good coach, friend or therapist would do. She holds her clients accountable in a supportive, positive way—emphasizing and helping them make wise choices. Five days a week she calls at a set time. Consistency is important she explains.

“If the muse knows where to find you she will,” she explains.

For five minutes she checks in, asks about what you’ve done, what you have planned, what’s on your list and then checks for any issues, fears or problems you’re having that day. It works because prior to her calls she works with you to teach you how to make to-do lists that work and how to set goals that you can accomplish in only five minutes a day. She calls it “micro-coaching.” I like it. And she doesn’t use the dreaded “C” word, “Change.”

“Change implies that what or who you were prior to making a different choice was wrong,” she explains. “That doesn’t help you make choices if you think that you are bad or wrong. You are where you are now because you made choices. Now you can make different choices.”

I think she’s got a point about the choices. I made eating and exercise choices that got me where I am, and I can make different choices now. I might make a choice to eat a brownie, or a choice to eat a piece of fruit. Either way, it’s a choice, not a condemnation. That gives me a lot of freedom. I don’t have to say to myself, “This is bad. I’m bad. I should do this, I should do that.” I merely have to choose. When we choose to get up and go to work (and it is a choice!) we choose work because we also choose a paycheck, a house, money for food and so on.

Occasionally we’ll choose not to work, or to take a vacation day, or a “mental health day,” and we’ll stay home. Being a healthy, responsible adult is all about making wise choices. Sometimes you have to make not so great or helpful choices and experience the consequences to help you make better choices next time.

That’s where the critical point in dealing with clients, friends and family comes in. When we give them the freedom to make their own choices and experience (or suffer) the consequences, we allow them the freedom to grow and become stronger, healthier human beings.

That’s a lot to learn from a nag, but then again, she’s a professional because she’s good at it. Rachel was born with a visual impairment and later diagnosed as legally blind. She spent a huge chunk of her life blaming her disability for anything in her life that didn’t work. She dropped out of college, developed some substance abuse issues and then, when she was 30 years old her mother was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.

Rachel had to make some hard choices. Did she want her mother to die knowing the downward spiral her daughter’s life was moving in? Or did she want her to know she made a different choice? Rachel choose a different direction. She got clean and sober, stopped smoking and went back to college, graduating magna cum laude after dropping out years before with failing grades. She later became the first legally blind visual artist to receive an MFA from the University of Michigan.

She’s not someone who wants to be known for her disability however. “I don’t want to be the disabled person who inspires people,” she told me. She wants to be the nag who motivates others to make the choices they need to make to get where they want to go.

In graduate school she taught a course called Creating Your Life. She taught students how to use the creative process to create whatever they wanted. She told them, “if you can make dinner you can make anything, including yourself, into what you want; making the world a better place because of it.”

It’s the same process she uses with her clients. She helps them go from concept to completion with their projects without rescuing them. She said, “I help clients find the “I can” in themselves. I support my clients, but I will not rescue them; there is a subtle but significant difference between the two. When you make things happen for yourself, you own them and the feeling is remarkable. I don’t want to rob anyone of the feeling of soul filled success you get when you make things happen for yourself.”

One of her favorite quotes?

“A set-back or disability will not cripple you. Only your thinking can do that.” — Rachel Z. Cornell

Rachel epitomizes what true choices are all about. She’s proof positive that life is about choices. If we get no other message to our clients, friends, children, family and co-workers this year, the message that “You can make different choices,” is a powerful one to send.

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