Published at age 19, Hailey Rodgers advocates for mental health and authentic living through storytelling

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20-year old Queen’s University student, Hailey Rodgers, is going full steam ahead on her mission to advocate for mental health and share the values of authentic living with today’s youth.

By Fiona Lam

How do I become happy?

This is a question Hailey Rodgers sought to answer in her book, See Me, a collection of intimate stories and insights from her personal experience on the importance of being fearlessly authentic and why it is crucial to living a happy, successful life as a young adult. 

Published at only 19, the third-year Queen’s University commerce student has dedicated much of her university career to mental health advocacy. Her love for business began since Grade 2 when she would sell items to her friends during recess, donating all proceeds to the humane society. “I really liked this idea of creating something impactful that benefits someone else,” Hailey reflected. 

“I really liked this idea of creating something impactful that benefits someone else.”

Currently, Hailey is making an impact on campus as the co-president of Step Above Stigma, a non-profit organization that aims to increase mental health accessibility and end the stigma. Hailey works with the team to share resources on campus and host fundraisers, like sock sales and Smashing the Stigma: Car Smash, for mental health organizations. This advocacy work has encouraged Hailey to be transparent about her own mental health struggles. The more she shared, the more liberated and authentic she felt. 

As co-president, Hailey Rodgers led Step Above Stigma’s Car Smash event where students are encouraged to smash the car as a symbolic gesture to smashing mental health stigma

While advocacy can take the form of attending protests or petitioning for the law to change, Hailey advocates for mental health through storytelling which she describes as, “a catalyst for change.” Her story has inspired countless others to share theirs. This network effect of storytelling can break down stigma and create a community of advocacy that brings about real change. “In high school, mental health was never talked about. But when I came to university, the conversation began to increase. And along with that, I saw [Queen’s] get a few more counsellors, expand our health department, all because we’re voicing our stories,” Hailey said. 

“Storytelling is a catalyst for change.”

Just two years ago, however, Hailey was facing one of the roughest periods of her life. “I felt I had no purpose in life and didn’t understand where I fit into this world,” she recalled. Right around this time, she received the opportunity to author a book through the Creator Institute. With nothing to lose, she said yes, knowing something needed to change in her life. 

“It was kind of an opportunity that just presented itself. When I was offered to write a book, I thought to myself: “I’m only 19. How can I write a book?” I had no idea what I was even going to write about. But I have this philosophy of ‘why not now?’,” Hailey said.

“I have this philosophy of ‘why not now?”

With the guidance of Professor Eric Koester, the founder of the Creator Institute, Hailey discovered her passion: teaching young adults how to be authentic through storytelling. She experienced first-hand the detriments of conformity. With pressures to achieve high academic standings and subscribe to social expectations, Hailey struggled with depression and anxiety through her high school and early university years. 

This experience is not uncommon for many of today’s youth. Growing up with social media, many young adults bury themselves in an unhealthy cycle of social comparison and identity distress, resulting in a wealth of self-esteem and mental health concerns.  “We’re experiencing information overload and we don’t know how to cope with it. During this confusing time, the only thing we know best and can cling to is a label—that’s why a lot of us are drawn to that idea,” Hailey commented. 

Many self-help books address this concern but none discuss how to stay true to yourself as a young adult. With this book, Hailey wanted to address common issues this generation is facing and show them how to overcome them through authentic living. 

Hailey Rodgers published her debut self-help book on authentic living, See Me, at age 19

“Many of the existing self-help books are reactive books, geared towards people in their mid-life crises. I wanted to be proactive with this book. Every person is born an original. If young adults spend their entire lives trying to be someone else, they’re not sharing their gifts with the world. And that’s what really scares me,” Hailey said. 

“If young adults spend their entire lives trying to be someone else, they’re not sharing their gifts with the world. And that’s what really scares me.”

She began writing reflections from her own life and stories of youth who constantly aspire to live authentically. “Within 4-5 months, I had all these different chapters that all somehow interconnected,” Hailey said. From tales of addiction and eating disorders to striving to compete at the Olympics, Hailey picked 20 diverse individuals who value non-conformity.

Woven through these narratives is the idea that happiness precedes success, and happiness necessitates discovering your authentic self, an anthem Hailey is spreading to more young adults through her entrepreneurial projects including her newly launched podcast, See Me Show, and blog.

Hailey Rodgers’ podcast, See Me Show, seeks to help people become fearlessly authentic.

Even though these new projects fell out of her comfort zone, Hailey’s passion for sharing the values of authentic living overrides any fear of failure. “If I fail, that’s just a free learning opportunity—it’s not a sunk cost,” Hailey added, “I think the beautiful thing about craft—whether it’s music, art, writing, podcasting—is that you’re continually learning and growing with it. Creativity allows you to grow and learn constantly. If it were perfect from the start, you wouldn’t keep doing it.”

“Creativity allows you to grow and learn constantly.”

Hailey hopes to apply her commerce education to eventually start a life coaching business, helping more people improve their mental health and live authentically. Now that she is at the tailend of her university career, Hailey offers this advice for those just starting their journey. 

“Every single experience you have in university is an incredible learning opportunity. Be prepared for the most difficult but also most rewarding period of your life. Don’t rush the hard days because you’ll look back and see how invaluable those learning experiences were. You can be successful in whatever you do as long as you’re passionate about it and put your heart and soul into it.” 

Fiona Lam is the Associate Digital Marketing Analyst at Pearson Canada.

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