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327. Blooming in Adversity with Carrington Smith

the daily helping podcast Sep 18, 2023


Today, we are joined by Carrington Smith, the acclaimed author of “Blooming: Finding Gifts in the Shit of Life.” Carrington's journey, celebrated in platforms like Forbes and Fast Company, is a testimony to the indomitable spirit of human resilience. Born into the illustrious legacy of the founders of the International Paper Company, one might assume a life of privilege and ease awaited her. Yet, as family fortunes dwindled over generations, so did familial unity, leaving in its wake an undercurrent of resentment and an overbearing pressure to uphold revered family standards.

While her family’s history boasts of prestigious alma maters like Miss Porter School in Farmington for her grandmother, mother, and sister, Carrington’s own educational journey was markedly different. She attended public schools and pursued higher studies at Washington State University. It was here that she faced one of the darkest episodes of her life, a harrowing sexual assault. This traumatic experience remained a silent burden for six years, until the corridors of law school gave her the sanctuary she needed to find her voice.

Carrington's path to healing began when she broke her silence. She found a beacon of hope in “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker, realizing that trauma could be worn not as a chain, but as a medal of courage. This wasn’t a tale of mere survival but of turning pain into power. Carrington's life philosophy, poignantly reflected in her book title, encourages embracing challenges as opportunities for growth. Her candid message emphasizes the importance of owning one’s story, processing every emotion - from anger and grief to euphoria, and especially amplifying the voices of women, who often navigate a world trying to mute them. For Carrington, life's adversities are not about recounting losses but about recognizing the gains that come with them—like the allure of starting afresh and the freedom to carve out a new narrative.


The Biggest Helping: Today’s Most Important Takeaway

“With adversity comes opportunity. That little piece of sage advice has been such an important piece of wisdom that absolutely has transformed my life. I people can just walk away with that and know that how they view an event is going to determine the outcome, and if they can always be on the lookout for growth and opportunity, they're gonna live a much happier life.”




Thank you for joining us on The Daily Helping with Dr. Shuster. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Google Podcasts to download more food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, and tools to win at life.




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Download Transcript Here


Carrington Smith:
How they view an event is going to determine the outcome and if they can always be on the lookout for growth and opportunity, they're going to live a much happier life.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
Hello and welcome to The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Shuster, food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, tools to win at life. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. Whoever you are, wherever you're from and whatever you do, this is the show that is going to help you become the best version of yourself. Each episode, you will hear from some of the most amazing, talented and successful people on the planet who followed their passions and strive to help others. Join our movement to get a million people each day to commit acts of kindness for others. Together, we're going to make the world a better place. Are you ready? Because it's time for your daily helping.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The Daily Helping podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Richard, and I am really excited to share our guest with you today. Her story is powerful. And I can't wait for you to hear it because there's so many things that we're going to be able to take for it. Her name is Carrington Smith. She's the author of Blooming: Finding Gifts in the Shit of Life. Despite being born into a legacy of wealth, life was not so kind to her.

And we're going to talk about what that story entailed, what her journey was. Because today, with a shift in mindset, she lives a life filled with joy, opportunity and purpose. And she's going to show you guys how to do that. She has been everywhere. She's been in Forbes. She's been in Fast Company. She's been on some of the top podcasts. And now she's here to share her wisdom with you. Carrington, welcome to The Daily Helping. It is awesome to have you here with us today.

Carrington Smith:
Thank you so much, Dr. Richard. It is really a genuine honor to be here with you.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
I appreciate that and I appreciate that you have really gotten so very vulnerable to share stories. A lot of people, when challenging things happen to them, they bury those down deep. They don't want to talk about them. But you have been very vulnerable. You talk about that in your book. So what I want to do is, is get right into it. I want to jump into the Carrington Smith time machine. I know you, as I alluded to, born into privilege and wealth, but things didn't go the way that you envisioned them that they would. So let's start there.

Carrington Smith:
Yeah. So I do come from a really interesting family background, and that is that my great, great grandfather founded International Paper Company. And because of that, I mean, my grandmother in particular lived this life of, I mean it was like The Great Gatsby. I mean, they had these homes on Long Island and in New York. My grandmother, she went to school in Switzerland, finishing school in Switzerland, had her debutante ball at the Ritz Carlton in New York. It was really quite a life that they lived. But what happened is, is somewhere along the line that money was lost. And because of that, the one characteristic that stood out the most for me anyway as a child in that family was that my family was extremely resentful.

And so there were a lot of really high expectations to try to continue to keep up with the lifestyle that my family had used to lead by going to the same types of schools, which means all Ivy League schools, still remaining members of all the very, very upper crust country clubs. Most of the people in my family were very athletic and played a lot of tennis and golf and things like that. And there were just expectations to be able to continue to compete at that level. But I was the baby in my family and any money that was left went to make sure these things happened for my brother and sister. And as the baby, I pretty much got the leftovers.

And to kind of help the listener understand how that worked. So my grandmother, my mother and my sister all went to Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, which is a private all girls school that, you know, the Rockefellers, DuPont's, Oprah Winfrey sent her niece there. And it's a very, very elite boarding school. But I was not given the opportunity to go there. Instead, when my sister went to Miss Porter's, I was asked to go to public school and to kind of draw the stark contrast while my sister was hanging out with the private jet crowd, going to debutante balls, I was hanging out in a vacant lot, drinking beer from the keg.

So, I mean, I was at a public high school in a very industrial seaside town in the Seattle area. So growing up like that, I mean, my sister and I are 18 months apart, but we couldn't have had more different opportunities given to us. And so, yeah, that's the beginning of that. But after, as part of that difference, my parents asked me while my brother was at Stanford and my sister was at this point in time attending USC, my parents asked me to stay in state and go to Washington State University.

We were again living in the Seattle area at the time. And so I was basically told if I was going to go to college, I had to go to the state school. And so I went to Washington State. And while I was there, I was raped. So that kind of -- that is the opening chapter in my book is talking about the rape that occurred when I was at Washington State. And it wasn't just the horrific nature of what happened, but it was how my family and friends responded to it. That really was the worst part of this.

And that is after I was raped, I confided in one of my sorority sisters what had happened. And because another girl had been gang raped the year before and decided to press charges and then was later kicked out of her sorority and labeled a whore because she decided to press charges, my sorority sister cautioned me, you really need to be careful about saying something. Likely it's going to blow back on you. And so I decided to keep it a secret.

And I went home, and I shared this with my mom. And her response was one of anger. She said, I'm so disappointed in you. We had hoped that you would remain a virgin until you were married. And you must never speak of this. And you must never tell your father. So as you know, dealing with trauma victims, the very worst thing you can do is to stuff something down. And so I did not speak about what had happened to me for six years. And it wasn't until I got to law school that it just, I had a breakdown. And I sat down at my computer, and I wrote the story of my rape. And I shared that with someone. And I received compassion in return for sharing that story. And that began my healing journey for that particular experience.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
It's so interesting. What you're describing is very common that those, that survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault who don't have that resource, to have that compassionate person to help them guide them through this. It sits under the surface until one day something totally unrelated, a stressor that otherwise wouldn't be that big of a deal just triggers it. And it's like a mountain falling down.

Carrington Smith:

Dr. Richard Shuster:
And so when you experience that compassion that you didn't get from your mother, that you didn't get from your sorority sister, talk to us about how that flipped a switch for you, how that really sparked what I think is why you're doing what you're doing today.

Carrington Smith:
Yeah. So my mother had shamed me, right? She had shamed me. She said she was disappointed and that I couldn't speak of it. And so -- and I'll speak for myself. But having been raped, I was ashamed of what happened to me. I mean, you tend to sort of blame yourself or there's a lot of self-criticism that goes into evaluating that experience. But the compassion was my first experience in relation to that event where somebody was kind, and I was able to maybe be a little more loving towards myself and realized that this wasn't my fault and that I deserved to actually heal. And so, it was a very first step in a long process of getting better that involved years of therapy, self-help books, all kinds of things.

But the real moment of total healing with regard to that event was when I stumbled across this book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. And the book is about, in the opening chapter of that book, he talks about a rape, and he goes through, and he dissects how all the signals that this woman missed that led to her getting raped. But she does that to help people recognize these signals so that they have those labels available to them to recognize behaviors and to avoid having these things happen to them.

Gavin de Becker's background is somebody who lived in a very, very violent childhood. And instead of being ashamed about what happened to him, he took what had happened to him, and he embraced it as part of the fabric of who he was. And he used it to propel him to greatness because his business, and he's since retired, but the business still exists is to advise CEOs, presidents, VIPs, celebrities on whether or not they need to be in fear of something. So it's basically -- I'm trying to think of the term he uses, but it's like a threat assessment tool that he uses. And he learned about how to assess whether or not someone was going to be violent because of his life experience.

So for me, not only was the dialogue about the rape in that book important, but even more so, his life experience was important because I came to understand that these horrific events and there are many in my book, that rape is just one of them, are things that instead of pretending they don't happen and being ashamed of them, we really need to come to a place where we can embrace them and understand that they are part of the fabric of who we are. And once we claim that traumas, failures, horrors, negative experiences in our life, then we can also find the treasures within them.

And for me, understanding that like years later, people would tell me I have a quiet confidence. And I came to understand that quiet confidence was because I was a survivor. I can walk into a room and be like, yeah, I got it because I've been through so much. It's not cockiness or arrogance. It's a quiet confidence of knowing I've already been through so much, I'll get through this too. So I don't have the same fears or anxieties that some people do about certain new events in their life.

And I also came to realize I was incredibly emotionally resilient because of everything that had happened to me in the past. I have that grit, that emotional resilience that some people don't have. But I wouldn't have those things if I hadn't had those experiences. And by adopting and claiming and understanding those things, I could somehow now use those very things to propel me forward as opposed to using them as a tap that drained me. So coming to that realization was probably one of the most pivotal moments in my healing.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
It's interesting. You've been through some things, and there's a therapeutic technique that's often used with cognitive behavioral therapy where you would ask the patient, what's the worst possible outcome? You've already been through the worst possible outcome. So whatever else is going to happen to you, you know you can nail it, you can handle it. But we've all had challenges happen to us. Nobody is quite gone through what you've gone through. And everybody's story is unique. But so somebody listening to this, and I know your book is about mindset blooming, it's about mindset. So talk to us about some of the steps that somebody would want to go through, if they're hearing this, like, yeah, I've had some stuff that happened to me too, Carrington, but how can I start to really grow and overcome that?

Carrington Smith:
Yeah. Well, first of all, let me go back and reference the subtitle of the book, which is Finding Gifts in the Shit of Life. And so I use that title, it was actually a very deliberate word choice because shit is actually a double entendre. We refer to all the shit we've got going on. Oh, this shit happened to me. But shit is also fertilizer. And it is in the traumas, the failures, the difficulties of life that we find the nutrients we need to bloom into our greatness.

And so the first step in getting better and healing and moving forward is to actually claim ownership as opposed to hiding the things, actually owning them. And then the other part that I think is so important, and in my journey, one of the worst parts of it was when people would minimize my feelings and tell me, oh, it wasn't that bad, you know, about all my different experiences.

It's so important to not only claim your experiences, but then to also go through the emotional journey that you need to as far as grieving the loss, feeling -- I like to say, for me anyway, I had to get to rage before I could get to forgiveness. So I had to feel that anger work through it before I could heal and then forgive. But if you're constantly suppressing the anger, suppressing the rage, the grief, whatever it is, you're not going to ever get better. And so you have to allow yourself, give yourself permission, and I think for women, it's particularly important because we're told we can't get mad at anybody. That's something that's considered a negative. If we're mad, we're a bitch, but we're not. We have to feel and work through those emotions.

And after I did that, then I was able to look at my experiences differently and begin to harvest the good things. And I'll give you an example of one of the things that happened to me later in life that kind of helped me again move from this negative space to the positive. But after my second divorce, I literally was on the floor of my closet, curled up in the fetal position, just sobbing when one of my friends called me and said, you know, Carrie, you may not want to hear this now, but with adversity comes opportunity.

And I was like, I'm so upset. Like, yeah, whatever. But her words stayed with me. And as they sank in and I started to think about them more, I came to realize that instead of focusing on all that I had lost in this divorce, if I could instead shift my mindset to all that I was gaining, and that is I had a blank slate, I could do things the way I wanted. I didn't have anybody else telling me what to do anymore. I had this -- basically, the world was my oyster. I could change careers. I could do whatever I wanted. I didn't have a ball and chain anymore.

So when I moved my mindset from what I had lost to what I had gained, it absolutely changed my life. And understanding that, I began -- and I like to say mindset is a muscle that after that experience, every time I came across an obstacle, I began to look for the opportunity in it. And it got to the point where now, I mean, like the minute something happens, I'm immediately like, okay, what's the good in this? And what am I going to find? What is the new opportunity or the growth opportunity or what's the lesson I need to learn to move past this. I don't get into the, this is the worst thing that ever happened to me and waiting in my misery. I immediately try to find the good in it.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
I think that's that's excellent. And it's something that anybody can do today because it's a very easy challenge to say to yourself, okay, today I'm only going to focus on what our positive outcomes. And so mindset, I like that you said mindset as a muscle. So I'd like to talk more about that.

Carrington Smith:
Yeah. Well, so once I kind of learned and understood and grasped that saying, with adversity comes opportunity, I started reading more and learning more and started to really use that sort of mindset trick more often to the point that I came to understand, one coach told me like nothing is either good nor bad. It's how you view it that makes it so. And I came to understand the story that we tell ourselves is absolutely pivotal to the outcome of our lives.

And I'll give you an example, and that is, I went on a trip with a girlfriend to Las Vegas and we had dinner reservations at the time, it was called Olives Restaurant. This was many years ago. On the patio of the Bellagio. And we were watching the Bellagio fountains. And just as our dinner ended, I stood up to leave the table and a gust of wind hit the fountains just right. And one of the fountains came over me like a tidal wave. I was soaked from head to toe. There were literally like inches of water on the patio.

My friend, of course, was dry because she was still under the umbrella over the table. So she looks at me with expectation, like, is our night ruined? Like, is she going to spend hours getting ready again? I mean, she just had like this look of frustration on her face. And I understood in that moment that I had a choice. And that choice was how to view what had just happened to me. I could say this is going to ruin our evening.

Or what I did do was I asked one of the waiters, I said, has this ever happened before? And he said, no. And I was like, oh, my God. The odds of me getting hit. I got baptized by the holy water. I am going to win tonight. And took that positive outlook. It ended up being one of the best nights I've ever had in Vegas. Quickly dried off, was like, this is a great start to the evening. But it was that micro decision in that moment how I was going to view that event that determined the outcome of that day, that trip. And it's that -- once you understand that, that when these things happen, you can say to yourself, how am I going to choose to view this event? And that will determine the outcome. It's your choice.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
And there's power in that. There's power by saying it's your choice, you bring it from something that's happening to me.

Carrington Smith:

Dr. Richard Shuster:
And you're shifting it to where it's something that I can respond to in whichever way that I feel I want to.

Carrington Smith:
And the great author, Viktor Frankl, is the person where I came across this mindset shift. And he talks about being in a concentration camp and how he was able to find both empathy and pity for his guards. And by changing how he viewed what was happening to him, I mean he talks about they could take everything from me, but they could not take from me the story that I was telling myself about how I viewed these events. And it was his determination. He never lost control of that. And that took him from being a victim to having power. And in any event, that happens to us, that's how we get our power back.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
Yeah, I think that anybody who reads Man's Search for Meaning will come out of that with a very different perspective on the struggles of their daily life, for sure.

Carrington Smith:

Dr. Richard Shuster:
Carrington, I want to ask you a question. One of the things that I know that's a focus for you is to be able to shift your mindset with something that you're calling a gratitude project. I'd love to know about that.

Carrington Smith:
Sure. So we created this gratitude project. Actually, it happened organically. What happened was one of my girlfriends was being really negative and I got to the point where I had a choice to make. I was like, am I going to stop hanging out with this person because she was Debbie Downer. Or am I going to try to figure out a way to help her shift her mindset? And so I really, I thought about it, I prayed about it, I really noodled on it.

And I went to her, and I said, look, I have this great idea why don't we do what I'm going to call the gratitude challenge where you and I hold each other accountable. And so, I put myself as part of this. I said, you and I hold each other accountable, and each of us has to come up with one thing that we're grateful for each day and then do one act of service or kindness every day. And this was so incredibly powerful because first of all, we kind of set the ground rules. And we came to realize because we were both doing a lot of volunteering at the time that we weren't giving ourselves as, again, a lot of women, we do a lot of stuff for other people and we never give ourselves credit.

So as we took stock of that, I was like, okay, this day I volunteer with the Junior League. And this day, I volunteer at the food bank. You know, I was like, oh, okay, well, I have my acts of kindness or service for those days. But then we also realized because we made it a set goal for every day that there were days when nothing happened. And literally we said if it means holding a door open for someone or letting someone in, in front of you while you're driving, when you're at that grumpy mood, you're like, nope, this is my act of kindness for the day, I'm going to let that person in.

Over 30 days, it absolutely transformed both of our lives. She went from Debbie Downer to so incredibly positive. She went from being so angry about her job to finding her dream job, which is what she does to this day. And it literally changed her life. The way that she talks to, deals with people, the positive influence and impact she's had. And for me, it was such a great honor to be able to share that story in my book and then to recreate what I actually come up with.

On our website, I have the gratitude challenge. It's a 30-day challenge and I have 30 different days of gratitude prompts because one of the things we came to realize as we were doing our statements of gratitude back to each other is we were often times saying the same thing. And I found that by actually doing these prompts where I make suggestions like listen around you and what do you hear? Birds chirping, dogs barking, babies crying, what are you grateful for?

Suddenly, maybe you have an appreciation that you can hear your dog or your baby because you realize how precious they are to you, or walk outside with your feet in the grass, look up at the trees and the sky and what are you grateful for? So it's creating that sense of wonder and understanding there's so much to be grateful for. And so there's 30 days of different prompts so that you're not just always saying, oh, my family, my kids, my health, that you kind of creates a sense of wonder about all there is in this world to be grateful for.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
I love this. As you know, one of the foundational pieces of The Daily Helping is we encourage everybody listening to this to go out and commit acts of kindness every day. So here is just more evidence. And you gave the story of your friend who was a negative person, and now it's transformed her life. So if you're listening to this, whether you're a long-time listener and you've been with us for years or you're just hearing this now, gratitude, gratitude is so powerful. There is no physiological way to be grateful and to be angry at the same time. Those two emotions can't occupy the same space.

And again, Carrington has taught us today that we choose how we interpret the things that happen to us. So what an opportunity. So, Carrington, I've loved our conversation today. As you know, I ask everybody who comes on this show one question. That is, what is your biggest helping, that one most important takeaway you want somebody to walk away with after hearing our conversation today?

Carrington Smith:
Well, that one's easy. And that is with adversity comes opportunity. That little piece of sage advice has been such an important piece of wisdom that absolutely has transformed my life. And so if people can just walk away with that and know that how they view an event is going to determine the outcome. And if they can always be on the lookout for growth and opportunity, they're going to live a much happier life.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
Beautifully said. Carrington, tell us where people can find out more about you online and get their hands on your book.

Carrington Smith:
Yeah. So my personal website is and all my social is @CarringtonATX which stands for Austin, Texas. You can find my book Blooming: Finding Gifts in the Shit of Life on and it's also available on Audible.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
Perfect. And we'll have links to everything Carrington Smith, the show notes at Well, Carrington, I loved our chat. I admire you for overcoming all of the adversity you've gone through and for sharing that with everybody so that their lives can be improved, too.

Carrington Smith:
Thank you, Dr. Richard.

Dr. Richard Shuster:
Absolutely. And I also want to thank each and every one of you who took time out of your day to listen to our show. If you love what you heard, go give us a follow on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star review, because that is what helps other people find the show. But like we talked about earlier, go out there today and do something nice for somebody else, even if you don't know who they are and post it in your social media feeds using the hashtag #MyDailyHelping, because the happiest people are those that help others.


There is incredible potential that lies within each and every one of us to create positive change in our lives (and the lives of others) while achieving our dreams.

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