What defines you? It's a big and important question indeed. The answer sets the course for everything that follows.

What defines me determines how far I see myself growing and the boundaries I won't cross in order to get there. I will not do anything that willfully causes harm to another person.

What defines me is answering the call to Truth—capital T—in every moment. That's why small talk makes me jittery. It feels fake, like we're just pretending to have a conversation. I have such an aversion to it, I go numb inside. I can't look people in the eye because the whole time I'm thinking it's so beneath us to be talking about trivial things when our world is burning.

I actively work to make sure everything I do, say, promote or involve myself in comes from a place of resonance and appreciation. All my personal and business endeavors have to be in alignment with what's authentically me.

You can probably imagine how many products and businesses I've been asked to endorse over the course of my career. And how many I've declined. A perfume line, for instance. Why? Because I didn't wear perfume. (Until recently, when I gave Julianna Margulies a hug and said, "What's that scent you're wearing?"—and she sent me a bottle for myself. I now wear it every day. Thank you, Julianna!) And a clothing line. That one I said no to because I didn't have time to actively approve every design and fabric. A furniture line? Pick any sofa that suits you—I can't tell you which is best!

But food, and my struggles over the years with how and what to eat: Now, there you have my attention. Using food to improve your life through Weight Watchers or O, That's Good!—both ventures feel like an extension of me. As is everything I do. The shoes I wear, the jewelry I choose or don't.

I'm defined by my desire for comfort. I like comfortable people who share my values of kindness and treating others well; I notice how the people I hang out with speak to waiters and housekeepers. I like comfortable clothes; pajamas, or any facsimile thereof, are my favorite thing to wear. And I like comfortable surroundings; I enjoy putting my feet up and curling up with a soft blanket at even the hint of a chill in the air.

But I admit that it took me a while to define my decorating style. I had to be affronted to get there. Here's what happened: In 2010, the designer Rose Tarlow came to my house in Santa Barbara and said, "I've never seen such a disconnect. The house has nothing to do with you. It's like you created what you think a person of means should have." I repeated that to my friend Maria Shriver: "Can you believe what Rose said to me?!" And Maria said, "She's right. I've often thought the same thing."

Eventually, I got over being offended and saw the truth: that my elegant living room might as well have been roped off...that I never sat on the matching silk divans...that the pillows were great for display, but swallowed you as you fought to sit up straight...that the chandeliers and antiques were overwhelming...that the art was just too much.

I had to rethink how I wished to express myself in my home. Rose said, "What physical thing would you least like to live without?" Books, was my answer. And I'm now surrounded by books on every wall. They're an art form as well as for reading, and I'm comforted by the sight and smell of them.

My living room now feels like a womb with a view to the ocean. It's cozy, it's styled but comfortable, it's me.

Knowing what defines you brings you closer to being your most powerful."Does this feel right?" is my guideline. Because I've learned for sure: If it doesn't feel right, at some point you'll find out it's not.

Photo: Stephen Simons


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