Occasionally, a bad day is really an opportunity in disguise. And Caitlin Boyle was having a very bad day.
It was the summer of 2009, she was unhappy in her job as an urban planner in Orlando, and her company was going through massive layoffs. Boyle tried to be proactive; she started taking classes at a community college to work toward a new career in physical therapy.
But chemistry was a requirement, and it was not Boyle’s strength. She was struggling through the course, feeling stressed and tired from juggling a full-time job with extensive studying, when her professor discreetly returned an exam face-down on Boyle’s desk. The score was so low that all of Boyle’s frustration boiled over.
She fled the room and sought out a deserted public restroom, where she stared at herself in the mirror and flung insults at her reflection. She felt stupid. She questioned why she was wasting time and money on a class she seemed destined to fail.
She stood there for a long time, tearful and dejected, until she reached into her bag, pulled out a pen and a piece of paper, and wrote three words: you are beautiful. She stuck it to the mirror and forced herself to recognize that she was more than just a bad grade.
It was only a simple note, but it helped, so Boyle snapped a photo of it and left it there, thinking it might help someone else feel better about themselves, too.
Boyle shared her experience on a blog she writes about healthy living, and reminded herself and others just how damaging negative self-talk can be.
Within three days, Boyle had received nearly 100 emails from her readers with photos of encouraging messages they’d left in restrooms, on gas pumps, and in grocery store aisles around the country. She called it Operation Beautiful, and it quickly took on a life of its own, attracting so many responses that Boyle secured OperationBeautiful.com and used it to share the pictures she received, as well as the personal narratives that often accompanied them.
A media outlet in Orlando did a story. Then the Associated Press picked it up, and Boyle started getting some interesting phone calls, including one from a book editor.
That phone call launched Boyle on a career path she hadn’t even considered: author. She signed a book deal, quit her job, and committed herself to compiling images, stories, interviews and writing commentary to complete the project in less than three months.
Her book, “Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-it Note at a Time,” was published in 2010 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. It received plenty of attention, garnering Boyle interviews on “The Today Show,” the Oprah Winfrey Network, and in Glamour, Self and Fitness magazines.
“It’s been a really incredible journey,” said Boyle. “Operation Beautiful just grew because of the nature of the Internet, and I’m just a small part of something that’s gotten so big and means so much to so many other people.”
Boyle and her husband, Kristien, both 28, moved to Charlotte about three years ago to open their own business: The Holistic Wellness Center of Charlotte. They settled in the Matthews area and had their first child, son Henry, this summer.
But in spite of the major life changes, Boyle continues to write and inspire others. She is a fitness and nutrition advocate and she shares her daily trials and triumphs in her blog HealthyTippingPoint.com, where she stresses that “health looks different on different people – there’s no one size to ‘healthy.’ ” That blog was the impetus for her second book, “Healthy Tipping Point: A Powerful Program for a Stronger, Happier You,” which was released in May.
Operation Beautiful is still going strong and growing. Boyle says she’s received messages from every continent with images of notes written in many different languages and discovered by recipients as varied as soldiers in Iraq to teenagers in China.
She’s noticed that the website has become really popular in middle schools, and she’s targeting that age group with her latest book, “Operation Beautiful: One Note at a Time.” It uses the Operation Beautiful messages she’s received to address issues like bullying, cliques, puberty, body image, and more. The book comes out Dec. 27, but is already available for preorder online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and IndieBound.org.
Boyle still has a hard time believing the path her life has taken after that fateful moment in the public restroom, but she is incredibly grateful for it.
“This whole ride has just really shown me that opportunity knocks, and you have to listen for the knock, and be willing to open the door.”