I spend a good deal of my life in chains.

Coffee shops that look the same wherever I am, mediocre restaurants with food we know the kids will actually eat, and a grocery store that looks like every other grocery store. All chains, all incredibly convenient and perfectly fine…but eternally boring.

So whenever I find a store or restaurant that breaks the mold and catches my heart by surprise, it’s a total joy. That happened a couple of weeks ago in California – and it resulted in two quick lessons I want to share with you: one common sense, one possibly life-changing. So…back to the restaurant…

My mom, brother and I walked into The Ivy on the Shore in Santa Monica, just hoping to grab a bite for lunch before walking the beach. I swear to you, we walked in that door and the place took my breath away. It was like a cross between an English garden and a 1940’s beach bungalow. Roses everywhere! Waiters with funky, floral ties! The hostess seated us immediately by the window, overlooking their outdoor veranda, and offered us complimentary champagne. It was like we’d been swept up into another time and place {and reality – what restaurant offers free champagne for lunch!?}.

Every detail was impeccable and unique. Painted plates, pink walls, throwback tunes, quirky art, vivid fabrics, delicious food. Even the bathrooms were awesome, with a seashell mirror and turquoise tile. I wanted to stay there. Like, forever.

Alas, they did not have a “stay forever” option on the menu. But I did leave with two takeaways for you:

Lesson #1: This is the common sense one. If you’re ever in Santa Monica, check out The Ivy on the Shore. Then email me, and remind me how awesome and lovely it was. I will be so happy for you!

Lesson #2: This is the potentially life-changing one. Take a step back and look at your life, your business, your daily existence and ask yourself: have you become the equivalent of a chain store?

I can think of times when I definitely was just going through the motions, when every day looked the same. I dressed and talked and worked just like the people around me – at the office, in the neighborhood, in my friend circles. I felt like McDonald’s, but I wanted to be The Ivy. Vivid. Different. Lovely. The kind of girl who catches your heart by surprise and offers you free champagne out of the blue.

If you could be an independent, deliciously unique, wonderfully authentic shop or cafe, what would you be like? If I saw you laughing in full-blown beauty, what would you look like? Where would you be?

Ponder that. Let it brew. Ask yourself if there’s room to break free of some of those chains {maybe not all…baby steps, people}. And if there is, more POWER to you, love.