Author and Advocate: Activist Spotlight With Hailey Rodgers
Updated: Jan 24
Meet Hailey Rodgers, the third year Commerce student at Queen's University who recently published her first book, See Me, in December 2019.
Above Photo: Hailey Rodgers
My name is Hailey Rodgers, I am a third year Commerce student at Queen’s University, and I recently published my first-ever book, See Me, in December 2019. I have been involved with various organizations since the beginning of university that inspired the formation of my book, including Step Above Stigma and Her Campus Media.
Step Above Stigma is a Canadian recognized charity, a not-for-profit organization formed at Queen’s University. Our goal is to improve the accessibility of mental health care across Canada. Through our fundraisers, sock sales, and other events and initiatives, we work towards educating the public on the importance of mental wellness while donating 100% of the profits to mental health organizations across Canada. Step Above Stigma augmented my passion and love for mental health advocacy. It encouraged me to share my own personal stories with mental health, which ultimately contributed to my healing journey. As such, my goal is to break down the barriers and stigma associated with mental health. I believe everyone deserves to be open about their mental health so that they can heal and live a good and liberating life.
In addition to Step Above Stigma, I have been a writer for Her Campus media since my first year of university, having 25 publications. I wrote various lifestyle articles and a few interview-based articles. It truly exposed me to my love for craft.
As a business student (with a love for entrepreneurship), mental health advocate, and writer, I decided that I want all three things to be a part of my future career. That career, to me, is authorship (and perhaps life coaching later on). I cannot wait to see where my book takes me.
THE STORY OF HER BOOK
Beginning in January 2019, I was approached by one of my best friends, Julia Sun. She told me she was offered to write a book through an organization called, Creator Institute, who was looking for additional passionate writers to embark on this (crazy, insane, unimaginable) journey. She asked me if I wanted to hop on board and write a book in less than a year. At first I was perplexed at the thought of writing a book while in school, working part-time, participating in various extracurricular activities, and overall, being only 19 years old. Instead of succumbing to self-doubt and being intimidated by this daunting endeavour, I thought to myself, “Why the hell not?”
At the beginning of my writing journey I had no idea what I was writing about. I started off writing one story, and then another, and after writing over twenty stories, I was able to string them together into something beautiful and enriching. These stories, despite their incredible uniqueness, all demonstrated the power and art of authentic living. That was what I decided my book would be about.
By September 2019, in my hands were 70,000 words. I had completed an entire manuscript. After writing and editing for approximately 7-8 hours per day for the past nine months, I still never thought I would have gotten this far.
I finally published my first-ever book in December 2019. To this day it feels unreal that I am a published author. But I know that this is what I want to do. The world of authorship is the world I want to be in. Writing makes my heart pump.
In this book, I hope to instill in you the same sort of passion and excitement that I have for authentic living. Ultimately, I want you to see this book as a tool to help you stay true to who you are amidst the pressure to conform to societal norms.
After almost six months of being published, I have personally sold hundreds of copies and have received incredible reviews. My goal with my book was to help and inspire one single person. I believe, based on the ample reviews I have received, I have helped many. The amazing feedback I have received has inspired me to not only keep writing, but build my career around helping and serving others.
What prompted you to get involved in the work you do? What does mental health mean to you in regards to you and your work?
Like many, I have experienced my own battles with mental health. In high school and the beginning of university I experienced various mental health problems including insomnia, severe anxiety and depression, and an extremely bad body image. However, I was viewed in a different way. I was known as the girl who loved academia and always wore a smile on her face. No one knew what was going on inside.
There was also a whole other part of me that assumed that everyone else had it easier...that everything in their lives was perfect. I too did not see what was going on behind their smiles, as they most likely had their own inner battles they were facing.
However, it was in my second year of university when I became aware that there was a mental health community. I came across a Queen’s University-affiliated non-profit organization called Step Above Stigma. This organization was a part of a growing community of mental health advocates who are eager to break down the stigma associated with mental health. This community aspires to educate, increase awareness, and fight for and ensure accessibility of mental health resources. Fundamentally, they want to normalize asking for help and ensure that help is available, as every human being deserves to have access to such resources.
Having gone through my own battles for six years, I was eager to become a part of this community that was so welcoming and open about sharing their stories with mental health. It was a relief for me that others were going to welcome me fully as I am...all my battles, all my struggles, and everything that makes me, me.
Advocacy changed my life completely. All of my successes over the past two years can be attributed to mental health advocacy. Advocacy allowed me to accept myself as I am and to not be ashamed of my past or any battles that I am currently facing. It allowed me to share my own story with the world without shame or doubt.
Moreover, I never thought that I would one day find meaning in these battles. I never thought that my battles could help someone else.
The moment I opened up about my story, I began to receive messages from those who were struggling with their own mental health. They confided in me about their stories and asked me to point them in a direction where they could receive help.
Sharing my story opened the door for someone else to share theirs.
You see, through your struggle, there is incredible strength. Your strength can positively impact the lives of many people. You will showcase that through adversity, something good will always come out of it and that you are never alone.
Storytelling acts as a catalyst for change. As soon as we begin to normalize storytelling and facilitate a community of encouragement and support, then we will break down the stigma. As soon as we break down the stigma and build awareness, we can normalize mental health accessibility and all have the mentality where we know that it’s okay to ask for help.
In my book, I advocate for storytelling. My book has twenty (well I guess 21 if we include mine) stories that are about incredibly unique individuals who have embraced authentic living. Although not fully explicit in some stories, each individual in my book has struggled with their mental health in some way or another. Nothing in my book is sugar coated, as myself and the 20 other amazing individuals share our stories with great detail exposing everything that makes us who we are (including our greatest battles). My hope with this book is that these stories act as a catalyst for change. I have had many people read my book and various stories resonate with them in different ways. The result of storytelling has allowed people to open up not only to me, but also to those around them. I truly believe that as soon as we begin to normalize storytelling and facilitate a community of encouragement and support, then we will break down the stigma. Breaking down the stigma and building mental health awareness not only encourages us to get the help we need but to be okay with our battles and challenges we have faced. The problem we face today is this whole idea of perfection. As soon as we stop masking who we truly are out of fear of societal judgment and share our true stories, then the stigma will begin to disappear.
What advice would you give to aspiring youth activists?
Keep showing up. Activism is a courageous endeavor. There are days where you will struggle and question the meaning of your impact (I have experienced this for sure). However, if you choose to keep showing up in spite of struggle is the moment when you will change the world. When you decide to never give up is the moment you will enact change. Keep showing up for YOU and the world because your actions DO have meaning. Embrace the journey and have faith in your impact.
"Keep showing up. Activism is a courageous endeavor." - Hailey Rodgers
If there is anything else you would like to add:
ABOUT MY BOOK (back cover)
A study by Collage Group found that the number one trait that young adults value in living an ideal life is happiness. So why is it that so many young adults identify themselves as unsatisfied or unhappy with their lives? There is a misconception that in order to be happy you must be successful first. In fact, the opposite is true: you must be happy first in order to be successful. This raises the question: how do I become happy? The answer: discover your authentic self.
See Me is about the importance of living authentically as a young adult. While young adults tend to talk about authenticity, it can actually be the hardest time in your life to feel confident in yourself. This book is a tool to help you stay true to who you are amidst the pressure to conform to societal norms. It aims to inspire young adults through guiding principles and the incredible stories of others who comprehend the value and consistently work to live an authentic life.
Since my first year of university, authenticity has been my biggest value. In high school, this was a trait I lacked, as I always felt compelled to be someone I wasn’t. At the time, I experienced significant mental health problems, which I’m sure many can relate to. The main thing I experienced was unhappiness and this hopeless craving for success. Midway through my first year of university, I started writing for Her Campus as a way to express who I truly am. As soon as I began writing authentically it began to translate into other aspects of my life, and suddenly I was living authentically. As I started to live authentically, I became happier and began achieving my goals. I realized that there was a gap that I was missing during high school. In order to feel successful and happy, I had to be authentic. I am fortunate to have been able to realize this at such a young age as I see so many young adults experience this struggle until they are perhaps in their forties or fifties. So I asked myself, “Why not now? Why can’t we be authentic now at this young age?” My goal with this book is to inspire authentic living in young adults because we all deserve to feel confident in who we truly are.
WHAT AUTHENTICITY MEANS TO ME
One of my favourite quotes is: “Be fearlessly authentic.” I think the fearless element is a significant component of authentic living. To be authentic, is to feel confident in who you are as a whole, and to be able to express that in all facets of life. It’s one’s uncanny ability to go against the norm and to remain true to who they are. It’s one’s ability to love who they are, flaws and all. It’s one’s ability to pursue their values, goals, and dreams regardless of what anyone else tells them. Ultimately, being authentic is to be unapologetically yourself.
In high school I excelled in English and Writer’s Craft, both being my favourite courses. I didn’t think much of it when I got to university as I’m pursuing a degree in Commerce. However, midway through my first year, I was exposed to a platform called Her Campus, where university students can publish articles on a bi-weekly basis. I began writing for them to involve myself in extracurriculars but I ended up absolutely LOVING it. As an introvert, Her Campus opened up the opportunity for me to express myself in ways that I cannot define. As I continued writing for them, my writing improved exponentially and after one year on the club, I was presented with this opportunity to write a book. After writing my book, I decided to launch my own blog. If you can’t tell, writing makes my heart pump.
WHERE IS SEE ME AVAILABLE?
I am currently selling paperback books and eBooks on Amazon. I am hoping to get into some local mom and pop shops in the Ottawa Valley and Kingston region as those are areas where I grew up. As of right now, I plan to sell at The Book Nook and Backbeat Books and Music in Perth, Ontario. I hope to also have my book be available in libraries to ensure accessibility.
MY GOAL WITH SEE ME
My book aims to inspire young adults to stay true to who they are through guiding principles and the incredible stories of others who see value in authentic living. I wrote this book because I believe every human being deserves to live an authentic life and as a young adult, it is the hardest time to be confident in yourself. I have discovered key principles throughout my journey as a young adult, along with the incredible stories of others on how we can all embrace our inner weirdness and be inspired to live an authentic life. My hope is that, in reading this book, you will discover the value in staying true to who you are, and embrace yourself as a whole. In this book, I hope to instil the same sort of passion and excitement that I have for authentic living in you. Ultimately, I want you to see this book as a tool to help you stay true to who you are amid the pressure to conform to societal norms.