Turtles and Gratitude

Vanessa Broers
6 min readJun 16, 2021


[A preview of my upcoming book, We Are One: How one woman reclaimed her identity through motherhood — Preorder Now!]

I was sitting on my couch with my eyes closed, trying to connect to myself to write, when Sibe walked in and asked, “You didn’t let Opi out?” I felt the tiniest contraction in my body, slight irritation. It wasn’t anything he said, it was that he said anything at all. I’ve noticed that writing in the morning feels most effortless and enjoyable when I’m alone, uninterrupted.

“I need space.” I thought, “I can’t wait to get out of this apartment, we’ve completely outgrown this space.” I started to think about all the frustrations that have been mounting about our place. “There is no space for me to just be by myself. The traffic is so loud on Butler Street. We have no storage space. The dining room is such a weird, useless space.”

My mind started to trail off down a familiar path. I was trying to figure out where we’d go next, bumping into all of the familiar objections. Not knowing what city we wanted to live in, how we’d afford what we really wanted, who would help with Pepper, how we would make friends… The contraction in my body intensified.

I thought about my friend’s turtle. I walked into my friend’s house one day, the same house I’d been walking into for 32 years. I walked into her dining room and, very surprised, asked, “When did you get a turtle?!” I was even more surprised when she said, “15 years ago!” Laughing. The turtle was in a tank, sitting on a shelf behind the dining room table. She told me that she’d won the turtle when she was a kid, and that it used to be the size of a quarter. I was reminded of a story that I’d heard that a turtle will only expand to the size of its tank, but no further.

Lately in our apartment and in our city, we’d been feeling like that turtle. We’d expanded to the size of our tank, and we couldn’t expand any further until we found our new one, next to the ocean. Inside this apartment, it felt like I was swimming up to the sides, pressing my nose against the glass, continually paddling my feet but just pushing my nose harder into glass.

My attention wandered back from my thoughts into my physical space. I looked over at the french doors separating my living room from our loft-style bedroom. I remembered that just a few years ago, I would wake up in my bed, and I would stare in awe and be filled with gratitude. I loved waking up to the view of the morning sunlight coming through the back door, through the kitchen, straight through the living room where it met the light coming down through our skylight. I loved the way our tree, which was growing toward the top of our 12 foot ceilings, looked extra green as it leaned over to peak across the glass of the french doors. I loved how the green looked against the white of the french doors and how the white looked so beautiful lit up by the morning sun against the brown, cherry hardwood floors. It was such a beautiful space, such a beautiful view. I was filled with so much gratitude every morning when I woke up to that view.

But I didn’t see that view anymore when I woke up. Now, I saw what I didn’t see. I didn’t see a writing space, I didn’t see a beautiful backyard or the ocean. I wondered if maybe I couldn’t figure out where our new space will be because I could no longer see this one.

I googled, “Do turtles only grow to the size of their tank?”

It was a resounding ‘no,’ a myth. Turtles grow to their full size, regardless of the tank they’re in.

There was something I learned about expansion this year. You feel the presence of expansion first as tension, as your nose presses up against the glass. As fear, when love is trying to push its boundaries. And again here, as desire for more, pushed up against what I had.

It occurred to me in that moment that if more love is the key to expansion in a relationship, then more gratitude is the key to expansion in life.

I revisit the complaints I have against our current environment. “There is no space for me to just be by myself.” Then instead, I think, “I love how connected we’ve become in this space, the fact that we love to be with each other all of the time and that we’re always together.”

“The traffic is so loud on Butler street.” Instead, I think, “I love the immediate access we have to our neighborhood, and walking downstairs is walking into one of the best artisan pizza shops in the country. I don’t really even want to lose that access.”

“We have no storage space” shifts to, “I’m grateful that we’re challenged to avoid accumulating unnecessary stuff and hope that, as we expand, we maintain that sense of minimalism.”

“The dining room is such a weird, useless space.” It actually is a weird space. More of a really wide hallway than a room. We never use it. I laugh as I realize that there is a space in our apartment that I can go to be alone.

I remember the first time we walked in to see the apartment. We’d barely made it to the top of the steps and I turned to Sibe and said, “We’re taking this.” I remember the week we painted the entire thing. We listened to the Robyn Schulz album like ten times that week, and Sibe climbed a ladder to pretend to swing on the original antique french chandeliers singing Sia’s “Chandelier.” And I remember Sibe telling me not to brag by posting videos on social media that highlighted the beautiful space we’d just moved into.

Recalling all of this, I feel gratitude for the dozens of holidays and family gatherings we’d had here, the dinners with friends, and the disbelief we’d felt that a place like this was our home.

I feel different. The contraction I felt before is gone. I feel expanded. Sitting here writing, on my couch next to Sibe, in the same tank the day started in.

I just feel a little bigger than my tank.

“We Are One” available Fall 2021. Preorder Now!


In greatest gratitude, with every preorder, I am sharing a preorder bonus bundle that includes:

- early access to the first four chapters (both digital and audio)

- invitation to an intimate, virtual ‘Behind the Pages’ event with me (and Pepper!), that will happen live before your book arrives

Register to receive your Preorder Bonus Bundle here.

This book is not about motherhood. It’s a book about identity. It’s a book about using life’s unexpected circumstances as a lever to open you up to the most authentic, alive, powerful version you can create yourself to be. In my case, motherhood.

Motherhood, for those of us for whom it was never in the cards, can do no less than shift the tectonic plates of your being. In the process, it can feel like it levels the life built upon them.

Embracing this will rock you, shake you to the core, and catalyze an expansion that would swallow the life you left behind whole — and allow you to live the full richness of life, heal the deepest parts of you and emerge anew, not redesigned, but renovated. Brought back to your true essence to create magic in your life in a way that you never anticipated, and arguably, could not have accessed without this massive ‘disruption.’

Our culture teaches us that it’s about balance. Finding time for yourself, making sure you take care of your own needs.

I call bullshit. Balance isn’t going to cut it. While logistics play a major role in the daily challenges of parenthood, for the kind of women this book is written for, it’s not about time management.

It’s about energy management, soul management. It’s not about balancing your checkbook and budgeting your time, it’s about creating a radical shift in who you are. Shedding your old identity and shifting who you are at the deepest, most expansive level.



Vanessa Broers

Vanessa coaches high achievers and coaches to create beyond what they imagine as possible. She believes in CREATING clients vs finding them. Ask her how.