Rachel Hollis — an author and motivational speaker who has inspired women with her candid advice for 15 years — was three days into editing her latest book, Didn't See That Coming, when her 16-year marriage fell apart.
"I was faced with a new crisis: Do I talk about this? How on earth could I [publish a book] and not talk about this?" Hollis, 37, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. "I've been in relationships with many in my community for more than a decade. I've always spoken truthfully, even if people don't like me for it. And so I thought, 'God, I have to say something.'"
The mom of four was inspired to write the book during the COVID-19 pandemic because she wanted to share ways that readers can grow — rather than be decimated — by life's disasters. Then her life was upended.
Hollis — who came to national attention with her first book Girl, Wash Your Face — was immediately criticized by some people after she revealed that she and husband Dave Hollis had decided to separate in June. But Hollis says that staying in "something that was unhealthy, purely for the optics of how it looked, is the thing that you should be terrified of in a teacher."
"I feel like me choosing to end my marriage — knowing that in doing so I would break the heart of my best friend and break the hearts of my children, I would upset family and friends, I would piss off the internet," she continues. "Knowing all of the ramifications of that, and then me choosing to do it, is a testament to me living authentically in the way that I have talked about for the last 10 years."
The author didn't completely rewrite Didn't See That Coming, which published on Tuesday, after her relationship ended. But Hollis says she knew she needed to address her divorce, so she wrote about her heartbreak in the book's prologue.
Hollis — who is the founder of the lifestyle brand The Hollis Company — is very familiar with heartache. And she's shared her successes and struggles with audiences for years. When Hollis was 14 years old, her older brother Ryan died by suicide. In Didn't See That Coming, she writes about the devastating moment she discovered his body and the aftermath. Hollis writes that she felt that her parents gave up on her after Ryan's death, causing her to leave home when she was 17.
Hollis also opens about up other difficulties in her past. She writes about spiraling with severe postpartum depression after the birth of her first son, the heartbreak of failed international and foster care adoptions and the journey to adopting daughter Noah. (Hollis shares sons Sawyer, Jackson and Ford and daughter Noah with ex Dave Hollis.)
Didn't See That Coming uses these types of personal anecdotes — and humor — to provide life advice for everyone. Chapters range from "Stop Questioning Your Suffering" to "Choose Joy Even When Life Sucks."
"There is incredible peace if you understand that what is different now is your perception of the world around you — and not the world," Hollis says of how she navigates hardships like the pandemic. (Throughout the book, Hollis acknowledges how blessed she is. But she also emphasizes how important it is for everyone to identify and work through their feelings.)
"And I hope that as we navigate back into whatever 'normal' becomes, that we don't forget that," she continues. "Because you can't control the world. So you can only control yourself inside of it."
Hollis turned to this lesson, first during the pandemic, and later when her relationship was ending.
During the first month of the separation, she says she was "showing up, but barely surviving" at work. But Hollis explains that sharing the news with her kids was even more difficult.
"Telling our kids was one of the worst moments of my life," she says. "A moment where you are walking into a room and you know you're about to break your children's hearts. It was so hard and it was so sad."
During this difficult time as a family, Hollis says she's pulled from her own experiences of being a child of divorced parents.
"My therapist has said, 'I want you just to parent your daughter in the way that you do the things that you didn't have. Whenever it is that you wish you would have had from your mom when you were 3 years old, do that with Noah.'" Hollis says. "And I cannot express how healing that is."
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While the kids handled the news differently, Hollis says they're doing well. They're also excited to attend school in-person.
"Maybe the biggest reason that they're doing great, is that no matter what we are going through as a couple, we are so hardcore about the kids and them being okay," she explains.
Hollis says she's also in a much better place.
"I am a different person now than I was nine months ago. Because now I am getting divorced, and I'm co-parenting four children, and I live in a house by myself half the week, and just things are super different," says Hollis. "It's super essential when you go through a life change of any kind, that you slow down and take stock of where you are now."
But the author plans to do this privately. She says she's done sharing information about her divorce on her public platform. "I just think, at some point, it's time to start trying to move on and trying to just have some joy again," she says.
In her book, Hollis highlights the small joys that have centered her.
"A slow cup of coffee, reading a good book, doing my gratitude practice, getting a workout in. It makes me so happy," she says. "[In the evenings,] I love getting home, taking my bra off, washing my face, putting lounge clothes on. Every single day, it feels like I have things to celebrate because I sincerely appreciate little things."
Didn't See That Coming: Putting Life Back Together When Your World Falls Apart is on sale now.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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