I picked up Jewel’s memoir Never Broken: Songs are Only Half the Story on the strength of its reviews, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t know anything about Jewel, except that she’s a singer-songwriter, and I loved — still love — her song ‘Foolish Games.’
I didn’t know that she had been raised by an abusive father, moved out at 15, was homeless at 18, made millions in her 20s, and lost her wealth in a devastating betrayal at 30. Today, at 41, Jewel is a single mother of one, who has received four Grammy nominations and sold 30 million albums.
Born and raised in Alaska, Jewel Kilcher (yes, ‘Jewel’ is her real name) grew up to the sound of her parents singing. She was five when she first joined her parents onstage, eight when her mom left. That was when her dad started to hit her, and “It felt like suddenly my whole life was submerged and I was living underwater.”
Jewel and her dad continued singing for a living in restaurants and bars. That’s where she honed her street smarts, and began to observe people, watching them with a young poet’s eye.
I saw men and women in those barrooms all trying to outrun something, some pain in their life — and man, they had pain … I saw that no one outran their suffering; they only piled new pain upon their original pain. I saw the pain pile up unto insurmountable mountains, and I saw the price people paid who buried all that pain, and along with it their hope, joy, and chance at happiness. All because they were trying to outrun the pain rather than walk through it and heal. Jewel, Never Broken
Slow Growth Meant Thoughtful Growth
Jewel resolved that she wouldn’t use drugs, drink or sex to run away from her pain, but to face her suffering as honestly as she could. She bared herself in her journals, where she swore “ … to try to tell the truth about myself when I wrote — not the version of myself I had to learn to be in order to keep my dad’s temper from flaring, nor the version I had to be in bars to stay unseen, nor the persona I was onstage … I was confused, scared, hurt, but I was alive in there.”
Jewel also found a source of relief in nature, where she would ride her horse and escape to Alaska’s wild outdoors, “ … sleeping in the mountains by a stream until my heart mended enough to go back home.” Nature was her teacher, and one of the most significant lessons she learnt — and my favourite line in the book — is that hard wood grows slowly.
To this day, I calibrate my inner life to what I have observed in nature, and one of the most significant lessons it has taught me is that hard wood grows slowly. I know, not the flashiest phrase, but a profound one. I watched soft wooded trees shoot up in the spring and rot only a few years later. The harder woods became friends of mine …
Slow growth meant thoughtful growth. Thoughtful growth meant conscious choices. It was a ladder of thought that pulled me up over the years until I arrived at one of the mottos I try to live by: hard wood grows slowly.
If I wanted to grow strong and last, and not be brittle or broken easily, I had a duty to make decisions that were not just good in the moment but good for long-term growth. Jewel, Never Broken
‘Grow slowly’ isn’t the flashiest phrase, but I find it a refreshing refrain from the popular quick-fix mindset that’s sprung up around personal growth. Meaningful change can take years to take root, and remembering that “hard wood grows slowly” can help you stay the course for the long run.
An Imperfect, but Honest, Jewel
As she grew into her teens, Jewel kept writing, and that writing blossomed into song. She would play for years, singing in the streets and cafés for cash, before being discovered by label executives. She promoted her first album, Pieces of You, for two years before it took off, and she became “an overnight success.” Pieces of You would eventually sell 12 million copies.
Even though Jewel had achieved success, she suffered a terrible heartbreak when she discovered her mother, who was also her manager, had spent her entire fortune, and gotten Jewel millions of dollars into debt. After working so hard to escape poverty and homelessness, Jewel had to start all over again.
Today, Jewel is estranged from her mother, and on good terms with her father. Never Broken is a chronicle of how she overcame her struggles, of the lessons she learned, of the fight to redefine herself, “So that I could avoid becoming the statistic and instead become the architect who tried to consciously draw the lines of her own life, free of the heartbreak that birthed me.”
I enjoyed the book, and I appreciated her honesty writing about the less noble parts of her life, like when she became depressed in her teens and turned to stealing, or her struggles with overeating when she studied at the Interlochen Arts Academy. They’re the hardly glamorous parts of a rags to riches story, but sharing her imperfections made Jewel so much more relatable, and her later success so much more meaningful.
I originally bought the audio version of Never Broken on Audible, which I recommend over the book. Jewel reads Never Broken herself, and it was a pleasure to listen to her musical voice narrate her own story of heartache, strength, and victory.
Personal growth, fulfilment, success, and even happiness — be it personal or professional — are not for the lazy, for the faint of heart, for the victim, for the one who passes the buck. Change is for the warrior. If you look in the mirror and say, I am willing to be the one who is accountable and take responsibility for my own happiness and the shape of my own life, then I welcome you as a friend on this journey. Jewel, Never Broken
Jewel, from her 2015 album Picking Up the Pieces.