Globetrotting storyteller pens probing and hilarious travel and personal growth memoir about coming of (middle) age


CHICAGO – From two-time Moth StorySLAM winner Margaret Davis Ghielmetti comes “Brave(ish): A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist” (Sept. 15, 2020, She Writes Press).

As the wife of an international luxury hotel executive, Margaret Davis Ghielmetti lived on four continents and traveled to nearly 50 countries, confronted with opportunities for personal growth that challenged her assumptions about her life and her place in the world.

Part cross-cultural travel memoir and part midlife coming-of-age story, “Brave(ish)” follows the globetrotting author’s internal and external journeys – around the globe and back home, both literally, spiritually and emotionally.

She discovers that – if she is ever going to express herself fully and make her creative dreams come true – she needs to stop living others’ lives and choose to put her own life first.

With humor and humility, Ghielmetti reminds us that it’s never too late to reconnect with our own authentic selves – if we are willing to let go of the old roles and rules we thought kept us safe.

“Brave(ish): A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist”
Margaret Davis Ghielmetti | September 15, 2020 | She Writes Press | Memoir
Paperback | 978-1-63152-747-0 | $16.95
Ebook | 978-1-63152-748-7 | $9.95

About Margaret Davis Ghielmetti

Margaret Davis Ghielmetti is the author of “Brave(ish): A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist” (Sept. 15, 2020, She Writes Press). She has lived on four continents and has visited nearly 50 countries. She is a Live Lit Storyteller who has won two StorySLAMs with The Moth. She wrote and performed a solo show, “Fierce,” about re-discovering her creative expression, and is passionate about sharing the beauty of the world through her photos. Nothing delights her more than genuine connection. She and her Swiss-born husband, Patrick, can be found in Chicago when they’re not out exploring. For more, visit

In an interview, Margaret Davis Ghielmetti can discuss:

  • Life lessons she learned as an intrepid international traveler to nearly 50 countries – and as a long-time expatriate re-creating her life anew on four continents
  • How she learned to let go of roles and rules she thought kept her safe
  • How asking for help (and accepting it) assisted her on her journey as a recovering perfectionist
  • How midlife (and beyond) can be a transformative time, offering the possibility of setting personal boundaries and reconnecting with our authentic selves
  • The benefits of exposure to other countries and cultures, especially now

An Interview with Margaret Davis Ghielmetti

Your book is called “Brave(ish): A Memoir of a Recovering Perfectionist.” What exactly is a recovering perfectionist?

A perfectionist believes there are no gray areas and drives herself to do everything “just right” – ideally without help and by yesterday (at the latest!) A recovering perfectionist recognizes that one of her greatest strengths is also a shortcoming – and struggles to let go of the behaviors she thought kept her safe (but which instead keep her small).

Toward the beginning of “Brave(ish),” you discuss The Davis Family Handbook, a set of rules that guided your behavior and decisions throughout most of your life. How has your relationship to them evolved?

The Handbook rules I listed are ones my parents inherited and then passed on to my brothers and me. They are part of my moral compass today, but I overused them for much of my life. I didn’t realize there could be nuances and gradations. I had to learn to live not solely in “black or white” but also in gray! Some of the most touching comments I’ve received from readers are how my book made them think about their own Family Handbook: the rules in it, and how these rules (often unspoken) have ruled their lives. I’ve had friends say, “It was just one word: SILENCE.” Or, “Whatever you do, don’t talk about x, y, z.”

I’ve included Questions for Discussion in the back of the book as I’d really like to inspire conversations around the rules each of us may once have accepted unconditionally, but from which we now want some detachment – or total freedom.

My relationship to the rules in The Handbook evolved once I had gained the perspective that I had followed them blindly for decades. Only then was I able to see the kernel of wisdom within each one, and to take them as suggestions. I now have the ability to choose, but I will admit that – under stress – I still lean into the rule of Just Do It. I’m definitely someone whose comfort zone is action. Plus, I suffer from FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. I’ve learned to occasionally Not Do It, but this is still very challenging for me!

Are there any mottos that you live by now?

Each January, my husband and I choose a “motto.” It’s not a resolution, but a short phrase to inspire us. Mine have included “Be here now” (when my mom was dying and I wanted to stay present for and with her) and “Sit. Stay” (when I was struggling to finish my book and needed to keep my butt in chair). When my husband suggested “Me, First” (for me!) it changed our marriage: I could see him putting his money where his mouth was in declaring that he wanted the best for me (even though he recognized the cost to him would be my no longer putting his life first).

Your book is peppered with transformational moments, some where you had to learn to ask for help and some where you had to let go of control. What was the most challenging part of learning those life lessons?

The most challenging part was – and is – having the courage to let go of what worked in the past (or at least what I thought had worked). At first, I was terrified, “Who will I be if I’m no longer The Perfect Wife, Daughter, Traveler, Expatriate? If I don’t offer that value to others, will they still love me? If I’m not there for them 24/7 and 1,000%, will they abandon me?” But I remind myself constantly of the wisdom that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.” If I want to have a different life, I need to choose to show up differently and to act differently. I am still definitely a work in progress, but then who isn’t?

How did you overcome “imposter syndrome” – and what advice do you have for others experiencing this?

What helped me get past the fear that I was pretending to be something I didn’t yet believe I was? “Fake it ‘til you make it.” When people asked me what I did, I started to respond, “I am a writer.” “I am a storyteller.” “I am an artist.” Each time I said it, I half-expected the questioner to snort with laughter and say, “No, you’re not! I’m sure you’re a good wife, friend and daughter, but those other things? Nah.” News flash: no one said that – ever. Instead, strangers routinely responded, “Wow, cool!” and old friends smiled – genuinely delighted to support my true self emerging from behind the many masks I’d worn for decades.

Can you tell us about your spiritual journey?

My spiritual journey has been a surprise and a gift. I was not raised in a religious home, so when I finally was driven to my knees in desperation, calling out for help from a deity I was raised to NOT believe in, I was shocked and touched that my calls for help were answered (and still are). I have an understanding now of grace. And I believe that the door to faith was always open to me (once I no longer envisioned myself as my higher power!)

You’ve lived on four continents and visited almost 50 countries – but how did this start? What sparked your wanderlust, and where was your first international excursion?

My mother used to say that I was born with one foot rooted in my hometown and one foot out in the world, exploring. I was always wondering about the lives of others, whether as a child peering out from the back seat of the family station wagon driving across Illinois farmland, or as a young woman traveling by train across Europe after college. My very first international excursion was to London with my parents as a 10-year old. I was excited to experience new things (and equally excited to scribble notes in my little Travel Journal.)

Can you discuss the importance of exposure to and understanding of other countries and cultures?

When I interact with people not from my immediate circle, I inevitably find that – yes – we are different, but also the same: every human needs food and shelter and wants love and happiness. When I learn what makes each place unique, I am richer for it.

This might be an obvious question, but we have to ask: what is your favorite place that you’ve visited and why?

One favorite place to return to is my hometown, Evanston, Illinois. Those are my trees and my lakefront, with Chicago shimmering in the distance like the Emerald City. Another favorite is my husband’s home country of Switzerland: it’s just so danged pretty (and it’s still a shock to me as a Flatlander from the Midwest: are those Alps for real?).

As for where we’ve lived, I’ve gotten joy from each place, but Singapore was a favorite, as – just for starters – Singaporeans are smart with a sassy sense of humor . . . the Botanic Gardens, museums, symphony, food and airport are world-class . . . there’s a fabulous indie bookstore in an Art Deco neighborhood. Singapore is also where we moved once I’d already started to find my own voice, so I spent more of my time there doing things I love (and less on chores that no one had expected of me – but me!).

Is it true that you wrote a book when you were 10 years old and later ripped it to shreds?

Yep, my earliest work was a novel about a tomboy with hazel eyes and brown hair (hmmm…wonder who that was?) She runs away from home to tame wild horses in the wilds – of Wisconsin! Once I realized there was a fatal plot flaw, I didn’t fix it – but instead tore that tiny manuscript (written on notebook paper with a Bic pen) into a million pieces. Even at ten, I was a mini-perfectionist.

How did you rediscover your creative voice, compelling you to write a book later in life?

I rediscovered my creative voice out of necessity: my mother, who was one of my best friends, had fallen gravely ill and I was spending most days helping to care for her. Most evenings, I was exhausted and sad and I needed something – anything – that wasn’t pre-grieving her death. I stumbled upon “Improvisation for Adults” at Chicago’s Second City: the fun of “Yes, And” riffing with scene partners was a lifeline. Next, I took up storytelling and fell in love with sharing my adventures (and mis-adventures) with audiences, basking in their laughter and their sighs. Writing and performing my solo show, “Fierce,” about “growing up with my mom” over the years allowed me to honor her after her passing. Once I discovered Instagram, I was overjoyed to post my photos from near and far, sharing details of the beauty of our world that way.

Then, after the 2016 elections, I was motivated to push back against the political climate of “the other is bad” as that has not been my experience! I started writing a book of travel tales but – as the book evolved – it became clear that I was, in fact, writing a memoir. I had feared it was too late for me to become an author, so it was a great relief to me to realize that you can’t actually write a memoir without having lived some life. Better late than never on my author dreams!

Writing is so often a solitary experience, but you also have quite a performing background, having won the Moth StorySLAM twice and taken improv classes at Second City in Chicago. Did performing change your approach to writing at all?

Storytelling has influenced my writing significantly. For hours (and days) before I tell a personal, true story on stage, I rehearse out loud: it’s how I make sure my words “ring true.”

Performing my solo show challenged me to stand in the spotlight in all my raw vulnerability, so I tried to bring that to my memoir, too.

When I was writing “Brave(ish)” – sitting alone in front of my laptop every day, all day – I kept reminding myself why I was writing this memoir: to share hope with and inspire readers. That kept me feeling connected – and connection is essential to me as an artist.

Luckily, too, while I can be very social, I’m an introvert at heart: I like time to myself, so solitary is not a dirty word for me.