meQ Talks with Cass McCrory, Creator of Subtraction Project

Welcome back to our Cup of Calm interview series, where we feature interesting people and experts, their journey to resilience, and their wisdom on well-being.

With her marriage behind her, a wall of debt in front of her, and her daughter in tow, Cass McCrory knew she needed to draw on every bit of resilience she had to get her life back on track. Around eight years ago, she decided to do just that.

Now a marketing and digital consultant for Fortune 500 companies and creator of Subtraction Project—a program all about subtracting what you have, from clutter to self-doubt, to make room for what you want—Cass went from five-figure credit card debt and a tiny rented cottage to a packed roster of clients, a full house, and an abundant life thanks to her inner resilience. Here, she shares how she made it happen.

Q: Tell us about the day when you realized you had a choice.

A: I had just pulled into the driveway of a house I had rented, sight unseen, in Rochester, New York, where I had grown up. I had left my entire life in Connecticut. My three-year-old daughter, our dog, and our cats were in the backseat. It was not a quiet moment. It was, in fact, very noisy. And in that moment, I realized that what happened from that point forward was completely and entirely up to me. I had to decide, right then and there, the kind of life I wanted to create.

Q: So what did you do?

A: I had to make some serious changes to get out of that hole, so I started expanding my business, growing my client base, and hustling hard to make it work while keeping my priority of being a mom at the top of the list. I learned who I could count on and leaned on my family and lifelong friends to figure out who I was again. It was difficult. There were tears and really hard days but the focus was always on the life I wanted to create.

Around the same time, I felt like something was missing; life just wasn’t adding up. I was working hard and I could see the progress I was making on the career front and finances but I was still carrying a lot of “stuff” around. Physical stuff, negative self talk, relationship baggage, weight…life just felt heavy.

And so I did what a lot of women do: I went to Target to buy throw pillows. Fresh from the trip to Target I recognized that while the living room does have a completely freshened-up look, I didn’t feel any more complete.

So I started to consider that maybe it’s not more that I am craving—it’s less. I decided I’d do a little “Subtraction Project” to remove the excess. It wasn’t about being a minimalist. It was about cutting out the excess that made life harder. I invited a few friends and family to follow along via email and Subtraction Project was born. In the last eight years, Subtraction Project has grown (slowly, steadily, and without financial gain—it can’t ALL be about the money) and over 7,800 people have taken part in this project, where together we take action on short easy-to-do prompts to remove what isn’t working in our lives.

Q: What makes you the most stressed and how do you handle it?

A: The idea that there’s so much to do and not enough time. All of my own scarcity issues stem from this sense of feeling rushed. I taught myself to rethink time. Whenever I feel that old anxiety creeping in, I simply say, “There’s plenty of time.” I choose to believe I am going to have a long life. So if something doesn’t happen now, it will. Not everything is for right “now,” and that’s okay.

Q: What advice do you have for people who struggle with work, getting things done, and making it count?

A: I start a timer for 15 minutes and commit to working for that entire time on one task. Once I get over the inertia and procrastination it’s easier to keep moving. I do one thing and then the next thing. And here’s the key: I look for the meaning in everything I do, even if I don’t love doing it. I seek the meaning of each moment the way I compose an image through the camera lens, which is to say you find what’s working and focus on that.

Q: How has being and staying “open” changed your life?

A: I believe it’s critical to be open to the goodness that can come to you. About four years ago a friend said that I should meet this guy she’d been on a date with. He wasn’t right for her but she thought I might really like him. I did—a lot. We fell in love, became a family, got married, and Lexi is now a big sister to her two little brothers.

In the same way I was open to goodness in my personal life, I took opportunities to grow my business by leaps and bounds. It’s not an accident. I have created the life I really wanted. And I didn’t wait or hope; I asked.

My advice is to ask for what you want, a seat at the table—whatever table you most want to be at. Find a way to be of service to the people you want to work with and be around. They may say yes, or they may say no—but as long as your intention is good, there’s no bad outcome. I am always looking to be of service. I might ask if I can help someone, say, with their LinkedIn profile. If they say no, that’s okay. If they say yes, I have a wonderful opportunity to connect with someone new. Think: “How can I lift others up and elevate the people around me?”

Q: Is there anything you say no to?

A: I say no to things that don’t bring me happiness. I say no to screen time for my kids (seriously, this is what I say no to more than anything else!). I say no to situations where I’m not being of service. I say no to towels that are too small or sheets that aren’t REALLY amazing and any t-shirt that has a stain on it is an immediate no. Decaf coffee gets a big old no. I say no a lot. I say yes more. But all of those yes’s and no’s are all aligned to create the life I most want to live.

Terri Trespicio is a New York–based lifestyle writer. For nearly a decade, she served as a senior editor and radio host at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, XOJane, Marie Claire, Prevention, MindBodyGreen, and DailyWorth. Find her on Twitter @TerriT