Meet Meredith Baird: chef, food stylist and author. After leaving her role as Creative Director for raw food maven Matthew Kenney, Meredith has published a book—Coconut Kitchen—and has another in the works, is the food editor for just-launched Poppy & Seed, and is developing a skincare line (using avocado and coconut oil, naturally). Perhaps Meredith’s most valuable success is the realization that you can’t force gratitude: “I now understand the difference between feeling genuinely grateful versus feeling like I should.”

“I’m originally from South Carolina. I became a vegetarian when I was young, and was always reading cookbooks and doing research. This was in the mid-90s—it wasn’t like it is now. Even though I was the quirky vegetarian, the plan was always to go to law school. I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was. So when I got into raw food, I thought, am I crazy? I went to this super hippie culinary school in Northern California and was blown away by all the like-minded people I met. I felt like I’d found my tribe, and realized I could actually make a career out of this. Looking back now and seeing how the industry has expanded—I feel like my life is a testament to following your passion. That abundance will come to you and doors will open. Following school, I was fortunate enough to work for a company that gave me a lot of valuable experience and creative autonomy, which I’m really appreciative of. I think a lot of young people come out of the gate with a know-it-all attitude, but you can’t underestimate the value of learning from others—the good and the bad.

Going out on your own is scary at first when you don’t have that secure paycheck, but I was ready to take the leap. I’ve had so many amazing things happen to me since I’ve stepped out on my own, which has shown me that it must have been the right thing to do. I recently launched a book called Coconut Kitchen, and I’m working on another called Avocado Kitchen. I’m the food editor for a new site called Poppy & Seed, and am also in the early stages of developing a skincare line which I’m excited about. There’s a lot of health and wellness information out there that’s completely exhausting—I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do that, I’m going to wake up at 5am every morning and do all this stuff before I go to work. It’s not realistic. My message is really simple: just keep things in balance. Have your cup of coffee, have a glass of wine or two, but don’t go overboard.

When it comes to the wellness scene, while I appreciate what everyone else is doing, I never look around to compare myself. I trust that going my own way is going to work out. It’s so easy to go down the Instagram rabbit hole, looking at the beautiful family who appears to have everything. But we all know that’s not the full picture. I think I’ve always had a healthy relationship with drawing the line between inspiration and jealousy.

You can admire someone without thinking, their life is better than mine.

Personally, the challenges I faced before going out on my own were more difficult than those I experience now. I had feelings of uncertainty, and just a general lack of confidence in my own capability. I think that often affects women in relationships of all sorts. You think, maybe this is the best it’s going to be. You tell yourself, this isn’t so bad. I started meeting with a homeopath and would say to her all the time, ‘I’m grateful. I have this, I have that, I have a nice life.’ She said to me, ‘Meredith, you don’t have to be grateful for everything. If you’re not happy, you don’t have to be grateful.’ It was a big wake up call for me. I mean, you have to check yourself when you’re being a brat. But now I understand what the difference is—feeling genuinely grateful versus feeling like I should. Am I in a good mood all the time? No. Am I grumpy sometimes? Of course. But it’s definitely not that deep feeling of: this doesn’t feel right.

I’ve been working for myself for about a year now, and I’m still learning how to balance work, life and money. I do know that I want to approach any business I do with integrity and honesty. Especially when it gets to the point where I might hire employees—that if you’re overworked or need a break, you can tell people. That there’s no need to pretend to be working at midnight on a Sunday to try and impress anyone. I don’t want to create that kind of culture.

Life’s too short to pretend to be productive all the time.

Going out on my own has helped me grow. It’s given me confidence in my own decisions and my ability to overcome challenges. Somebody who’s never had any challenges in life is going to be a little boring. I have a supportive loving mother, but my dad died when I was 12, and things could have gone a lot differently for me. I could easily still be in South Carolina doing the expected, but I always had a vision for myself that was bigger than that. I’ve hustled, worked really hard, and I’ve created this life for myself.”

Meredith’s #OKREALTALK Tips

  • You can’t force gratitude.
  • Know when to draw the line between admiration and jealousy.
  • Don’t be a midnight-weekend-emailer.

i. @me_baird

t. @me_baird

As told to Amy Woodside, June 2015