Since I can remember, Dani Kump has always made things look effortless. She has a way about her—a fierce determination to show up in the world unapologetically. When you are around her, it’s impossible to not get swept up by her allure; she tantalizes you with her creativity and attention to detail.
I met Dani right before I hit puberty . . . hell she may have even taught me the ins and outs of menstruation. Growing up in Phoenix, our families were close friends and as she was seven years my senior, my parents would pay her to hang out with me for weekends when they left town. As I look back at that time in my life, I am overwhelmingly aware of the impact and influence that those long weekends had on me. I was a young and impressionable girl and Dani represented an alternative way of being. In the 1990s she was interested in yoga and vegetarian food, Jewish studies, and art history. She was that stylish female role model that all lucky tweens have. I placed her on a pedestal and damn did she look good up there.
For this episode of Gutted, it was a real treat to connect with Dani in a new way. Although we have been in and out of touch for the last two decades, I had never really heard the frill-free, behind-the-scenes story of what her life looked like from her mid-twenties to her early thirties. Her story was filled with truth and transparency, a recipe that inherently results in someone falling off of their pedestal but who instills a sense of camaraderie and deep understanding. There’s nothing easy about being human. It’s always nice to remember that we are not alone in that experience.
Dani met her husband when she was twenty-one years old and got married at twenty-six. At the same time that she and her husband married, they went into business together. And soon after that she became pregnant. They created a lifestyle brand that grew quickly, taking on multiple investors in order to open storefronts in both California and Colorado within a few short years. When she tells the story of how her family and her company came to be, I feel like I am listening to an erotic novel about new lovers or infidelity. It’s incredibly romantic and euphoric, and it makes my head spin. It’s got that “I can’t sleep, or eat, or think straight” vibe that truly only happens when you are in the thick of something so beautiful, or inspiring, or new that you totally lose touch with reality. Describing this time in her life Dani states, “Now that I am removed from it, I can’t believe we did that. I’m thrilled that we did it. I think it’s really healthy to get yourself out of control. Hopefully rock bottom is safe, because rock bottom can be really valuable.”
In my experience, Dani has always been really good at making things look okay from the outside. And that isn’t a knock or a judgment. I think it’s a deep understanding that for many of us, the only way to survive or cope with the chaos of our lives is to push through whatever is happening and get to the other side as quickly as possible. Life’s painful and messy—why stay filthy in the mud?
I poke further and ask Dani what rock bottom meant for her and her family and she goes on to share that not only were they months late in paying their rent, but they had also taken out their third loan to make ends meet. Their credit cards were maxed out. They had no one left to turn to and nowhere else to go.
As she shared this with me, I felt my heart soften. Dani may be guilty of painting beautiful perceptions of her life experience even when things are wildly out of control, but I am equally as guilty of assuming that everything always came easier for her. This robs both of us from seeing one another as whole amidst imperfection.
In Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements, he notes:
“Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive—the risk to be alive and express what we really are. Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of humans. We have learned to live our lives trying to satisfy other people’s demands. We have learned to live by other people’s points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else.”
When things could no longer continue in the manner that they were, Dani made an executive decision to pull her kids out of school in Los Angeles, move in with her parents in Phoenix, and wait patiently for her husband to join them in the desert. This decision wasn’t a guarantee that life would be easier and it didn’t happen immediately. I can only imagine that time being one in which their family experienced a great deal of suffering and discomfort. Dani’s abrupt decision to turn their lives upside down came from her intuitive knowing that in order to take care of her family things could no longer go on in this way. Everything had become smoke and mirrors and she was desperately looking for the clearing in the glass to re-find her own reflection. Dani describes what it felt like after she made her decision, “I got really calm after that. Once I did decide [to move]—even though it was super painful and it was such a mess to unpack from all of that, it was the right decision. As soon as I was on that path, it cleared the way.”
Three years later, Dani and her family feel settled and comfortable in their new life. Although her husband’s job may not come with the sex and swagger of running his own company, I felt inspired listening to what they have created for themselves. Through developing an infrastructure of routine and security, they are both flourishing personally and professionally. They have a wonderful community of like-minded people, outlets for art, and a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them. As she reflects on the difficult decision that she made to follow her gut, she guides us into the end of our conversation with the following words of wisdom: “There’s a lot of luxury in sacrifice. I don’t get to do a lot of things that other people do, but I get to do a lot of things that other people don’t get to do. And if I don’t compare, it feels pretty glamorous.”