Author

About the Author
Every episode of How She Got Here is a celebration of achievement. My hope is that in sharing the accomplishments of everyday extraordinary women you are left feeling inspired to find and share your voice, to be the very best version of yourself, and know that you are enough!

Supporting Women with Your Holiday Shopping

Since the holidays are in full swing, I’m sharing a few of my favorite women-owned brands to shop.  Great products for gift giving or just a fun treat for you.  I share a little U.S. History on women-owned businesses and why I think it is important for us to support our sisters in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Show Notes

The holidays are here!  Have you finished your shopping?  Me neither!  Out of ideas?  Our holiday episode features a few of my favorite women-owned businesses.

To add a little context to why it is important to support women owned businesses I share a little history of U.S. policy and why it is necessary for small business owners and entrepreneurs to advocate for themselves.  If you own your own company or are thinking about your own start up, you will love this segment!

Then, on to the fun stuff.  Shopping!  I share a few of my favorite women-owned companies.  These are all companies I have discovered in the last several years that are truly near and dear to my heart.  The women who started these companies are women we can all learn from.  They are talented and strong.  They inspire and empower me on the regular.  I have even interviewed a couple of them in the past.

We talk everything from bath and body to accessories to sweets.  A fun episode for one of my favorite seasons of the year.  The season of giving!  The season of peace, joy, and love!

 

Episode Links

National Association of Women Business Owners

National Women’s Business Council

Jackie Vanderbrug

Kate Weiser Chocolate

Akola

Link to interview with Brittany Merrill Underwood (Founder of Akola)

Rosa Gold

Thistle Farms

Whatsoever Things on Facebook and on Instagram

Two White Sheep

Beauty Counter with Gina Curtis

Happy Magnolia’s

Art by Genevieve Strickland on Facebook and on Instagram

Link to interview with Genevieve on the podcast

Emily Ley

Transcript

Happy Holidays Pod Sisters.  Today we are talking all about women owned businesses.  The history of women owned businesses, where we are today from a policy standpoint and then a fun segment on some of my favorite women owned businesses to shop and support.  Have a listen and then head on over to our website where everything will be easily linked in our show notes and transcript.

Happy Holidays!  Today I want to have some fun and tell you about some of my favorite women owned businesses. Before that though, I’d like to first chat about the history of women owned businesses.  Crazy enough we are only going back to 1988 (that is right…30 years).  Up until 1988 women who who wanted to take out a business loan could not do so without the co-signature of a male relative.  It could be a father, husband, even a son and he didn’t even have to be involved in the business. He just had to be male.

These practices were changed via HR5050 (Women’s Business Ownership Act).  A bi-partisan effort born out of the 1986 White House Conference on Small Business. “[T]his Act that was decades in the making by smart and driven women entrepreneurs (many of them NAWBO leaders), key stakeholders, advocates and allies who saw a critical need for equal access for women business owners and government support for these business owners.” https://www.nawbo.org/blog/hr-5050-was-money-then-and-now

So what did HR5050 do? Well it did a number of things. Two of the most notable was that it eliminated the requirement for women to have a male co-sign a business loan.  It also established the creation of the National Women’s Business Council – with the purpose to “review the status of women-owned businesses nationwide and to develop detailed multiyear plans in connection with both private and public sector actions to assist and promote such businesses. Requires annual reporting to both the President and the Congress.”

So, where does this leave us today.  Well, it ain’t all bad, but there is room for lots of improvement.

According to the 2017 annual report from the National Women’s Business Council

“The growth of women business enterprises over the last ten years is unprecedented. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of women-owned firms increased at a rate 2-1/2 times the national average (52% vs. 20%), and employment in women-owned firms grew at a rate 4-1/2 times that of all firms (18% vs. just 4%). Women are starting more than 1,140 businesses per day, at a rate of more than 47 per hour.Yet, the comparison of revenue generated by women-owned firms does not reflect similar growth rates; the growth of average annual revenue of women-owned businesses merely paralleled that of all firms and only 1.7% of women owned businesses have average annual revenues of $1 million dollars or more. Equally concerning is that only 2% of women-owned firms have more than 10 employees, while 89.5% of women-owned firms have no employees other than the owner.”  https://s3.amazonaws.com/nwbc-prod.sba.fun/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/05040802/2017-annual-report.pdf

“We are committed to working more closely with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Congress, and the White House to promote and construct policies that will address access to capital and market inequities that women business owners still face. We strongly believe that if we can address these two particular challenges, then women business owners will have the most important tools that they need to successfully scale their businesses and to accelerate their impressive rate of job creation. “ https://s3.amazonaws.com/nwbc-prod.sba.fun/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/05040802/2017-annual-report.pdf

Now, to give you a little background on the access to capital piece (because remember access to capital without a male co-sign is where this all started 30 years ago) According to Guidant Financial and this is consistent with other studies “Both men and women cited obtaining funding as the top challenge when opening a business…[f]indings indicated business loans for women may also be harder to secure. Only 6 percent of women reported they used an SBA loan to fund their business, 24 percent less than men. This is consistent with nationwide statistics, which report business loan approval rates for women are 15 to 20 percent lower than they are for men. Despite this, the top funding method aspiring female entrepreneurs pursue is still an SBA loan.

Without access to traditional funding methods, women are left with less access capital to launch their businesses. Male survey respondents were 19 percent more likely to invest more than $100,000 in their business. And when asked about the difficulties of running a business, 10.7 percent more women listed lack of capital as a top challenge.” https://www.guidantfinancial.com/small-business-trends/women-in-business/

So, by now if you own a small business you might be chomping at the bit to go and check out the National Women’s Business Council’s website (you should totally do that.  It is really cool and has lots of great info and data). I would really encourage you to do this and also check out ways you can get involved even on a local level in policy making.  No matter your side of the isle many of these small business initiatives are bipartisan and advocating for yourself and other small business owners is important.

If you don’t own a small business you are probably asking when is she going to get around to shopping.  I’m getting there.  Patience sister. First, I want to share WHY I think it is so important to invest in women owned businesses.

Now, when I say invest I don’t mean an investment where I see a $ return.  I will point you to http://www.jackievanderbrug.com. For a conversation on investing with a gender lens.  An amazing woman with amazing insight.

What I mean by invest is that I am spending my money on products I need or want in companies that I know are doing the most good.  I am talking about social investment.  Choosing to support women owned businesses because I know that when you invest in a woman you invest in her family and her community.  We know this because the data shows that women have different spending priorities.  According to research done by Goldman Sachs when a woman earns additional income 80% goes into her family’s health, education and nutrition compared to 30-40% of men.  So when you invest in women when you invest in her business you are investing in her family and her community.  These women are advocates of bettering their families, their communities, themselves.

So now we have had our history lesson and you know that supporting a women owned business is a micro impact you can make in your community.  Let’s chat about five of MY favorites in no particular order!  And upfront I just want to say these endorsements are mine and mine alone.  I have not been paid nor have I received any free product.  These businesses have no idea I am even promoting them.  Although I will of course reach out to them and let them know once this episode is released.

Kate Weiser Chocolate

Funny enough you may have already seen Kate Weiser on a few things already this holiday season.  Because after just 5 short years in business (yes she launched her amazing chocolates 5 years ago during the holidays) she has made Oprah’s favorite things list this year with her Carl the Snowman.  I discovered Kate Weiser 3 years ago when someone gifted me with her beautiful chocolates. They look like amazing pieces of art.  Almost too good to eat.  It quickly became my go-to gift for neighbors, teachers, friends…literally everyone!  Boxes start at $18.  Per her website: Kate graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 2005. She then returned to her home town to begin her career.  She worked in various restaurants including Pachamama’s of Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City’s 4 star restaurant, Bluestem under pastry chef Megan Garrelts and James Beard Award winner, Colby Garrelts.

After a brief stint at Stephen Pyles and an Executive Pastry Chef position at Nobu, Kate decided to hone in her skills on one thing: chocolate.

Kate began her chocolate career with an Executive Chocolatier position at Chocolate Secrets in Highland Park. While there, she was able to experiment and create a style of chocolate making that was new to the Dallas area. Her Handpainted Chocolate Collection and artistic style quickly gained attention and excitement through the DFW metroplex.  She opened her own store in August 2014 in Trinity Groves in Dallas and has since expanded to Northpark Center as well as the Shops at Clearfork.  This holiday season you can also find Carl the Snowman in Neiman Marcus and on Oprah’s Favorite things list.  You can also shop on her website kateweiserchocolate.com. Family favorites at our house include Ninja Turtle, Cookie Monster, salted caramel and passion fruit are fan favorites in our home.

Akola

If y’all are regular listeners of the pod you have heard me mention Akola a time or two and you have probably even heard my conversation with its founder Brittany Merrill Underwood.  But I could not do a holiday show without mentioning Akola.  And if you haven’t had a chance to listen to our conversation I will make sure to link that in show notes as well.

As a quick reminder…and I pulled this straight from the website” In 2006, Brittany Merrill Underwood founded Akola when she was a sophomore at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX after she met a Ugandan woman named Sarah who cared for 24 street children in her home. Inspired to action, Brittany discovered that by training and giving work to women who are struggling in crisis and guaranteeing them a monthly income, Akola could care for thousands of children. Today, Akola provides training, dependable living-wage work opportunities and holistic education programs to over 500 women in Uganda and Dallas, TX who care for approximately 4,000 dependents.

Every dollar spent on Akola products is reinvested in our mission to provide work opportunities and training to women in poverty in Dallas, TX and Uganda. Additionally, Akola relies on donations to provide social programs that teach women how to use their income to create meaningful change in their families and communities.”

Akola has also expanded since Brittany was on the podcast you can shop their exclusive line with Neiman’s in store and online.   I have also seen it available at Neiman’s Last Call. You can shop their main line in their holiday pop up shop in Northpark Center, their flagship store in Snider Plaza or online at akolaproject.org and as of now there is also a line available through HSN and I will make sure to link all of this in the show notes.

Rosa Gold

I shopped Rosa Gold this year for a few family gifts after I learned about her last year from the Jen Hatmaker podcast.  They are known for their blanket scarves that are very warm and toasty as well as stylish and fun.  They also have a fun Beret line, bridal line and jewelry line worth checking out!  Straight from their website: “Most importantly though, we’re a company that gives back.  Right from the start, ROSA GOLD baked compassion into it’s business model, so a portion of all profits goes straight to education-based charities (You can find out more about that here).

we enjoy creating each and every piece.  We’re making this stuff for you, and you’re making a difference by wearing it.”

“From the beginning, I knew that compassion needed to be an integral part of the ROSA GOLD business model.  Not only did I want to build an awesome little company, but I wanted to use it as a vehicle to give back.

I TRULY BELIEVE THE FUTURE IS FEMALE, AND BECAUSE EMPOWERMENT IS BUILT THROUGH EDUCATION, A PORTION OF ROSA GOLD’S PROFITS SUPPORTS 2 CRAZY-COOL CHARITIES – PENCILS OF PROMISE AND DONORSCHOOSE.

Pencils of Promise works to build schools in developing countries, giving lots of girls abroad access to a quality eduction.

DonorsChoose helps our amazing teachers here at home by funding requests for supplies, books and technology to use in the classroom. (Did you know that teachers spend an average of 1.6 BILLION dollars of their own money per year on supplies?! That’s crazy and unacceptable to say the least.)

Not only do I want you to feel warm and cozy in your monogrammed blanket scarf, but I hope you’ll feel proud knowing that your purchase is helping to make it’s mark on a child’s education.”

 

Thistle Farms

Founder Becca Stevens is an author, speaker, priest, entrepreneur, founder and president of Thistle Farms.

“Handcrafted with love by women survivors” – natural products for bath, body and home.  Based out of Nashville TN.  Specifically for women who have survived trafficking, prostitution and addiction.

Our 2-year residential program, based in Nashville, Tennessee, provides housing, food, healthcare, therapy and education, without charging residents.

Residents and graduates of our residential program are employed in one of our social enterprises. Here the women can learn new job skills and make a living wage to support themselves.

Similar to an alumni network, after the women leave our program, they still have access to counseling, education opportunities and emergency financial assistance

I am particularly partial to their cool shave gel as well as head to toe body wash and bath soak.

If you are in Nashville they also have a cafe that I hear has amazing food and you can shop their flagship store there as well.  If outside Nashville you can shop online at: https://thistlefarms.org I believe they are in some retail stores as there is a place to inquire about having them in a retail location so if you are interested in adding them to your store or finding out who carries their products I am sure you can reach out to them on their website.

 

Friends Businesses

Whatsoever Things on Facebook and on Instagram – Vinyl Monogramming Fun

Two White Sheep – Traditional Monogramming and Applique

Beauty Counter with Gina Curtis

Happy Magnolia’s

Art by Genevieve Strickland on Facebook and on Instagram

Link to interview with Genevieve on the podcast

 

To close thanks so much for listening today. We have one more episode before 2018 comes to a close and I just can’t believe it!  If you’re enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes and hit subscribe. And while you’re there, I’d really appreciate it if you would rate and review it in order to make It easier for others to find. I also make sure to read every review and email and Facebook posts you leave and I am always, always, always excited to hear your feedback. We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here Community page, and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode as well as any other fun, How She Got Here content. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see you soon.

Finding Your Glow with Saren Stiegel

Founder of the Glow Effect, Saren Stiegel is using her knowledge and expertise to challenge what the words leader and leadership really mean.

Show Notes

What picture appears in your brain when I say the word leader?  Do you see a leader as someone just at the top?  What if you shifted your idea of who a leader is and recognized the leader within yourself?

Through the Glow Effect, Saren Stiegel is redefining what leadership looks like.  Much like my conversation with Nichole from Mommy’s Home Office,  Saren loved the idea of online business.  So she took her knowledge and previous experience and launched the Glow Effect.

Saren has helped women partner across the globe to develop leadership skills horizontally versus vertically.  The emphasis being that a leader is not a hero.  A leader is someone who leads from behind.  Who leads from within.  Recognizing that everyone is a leader.

Horizontal leadership is mirrored in Glow Effect events like Give Growth.  Instead of panel discussions speakers sit at round tables and facilitate discussion with you versus speaking at you creating the opportunity for deeper  and more meaningful conversation.

Through this style of coaching and mentoring instead of being told a path to follow you are given the tools and encouraged to figure out your path for yourself.  Ultimately recognizing the leader already inside you.

In this episode, Saren shares inspiring insights and her professional expertise leadership and starting your own business.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • A true leader makes sure everyone who is participating feels like a hero
  • Micro impacts are vital to society. They also help you build confidence and make a difference where you are already
  • The most powerful thing you can do is create a shift within yourself

 

Episode Links:

Glow Effect – Website

Glow Effect – Instagram

Glow Effect – Facebook

Glow Effect – Twitter

Glow Effect – Book

Glow Effect – Podcast

 

Finding Your Glow with Saren Stiegel – Transcript

 

Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

Susan: Hey pod sisters, I am thrilled to have with me today, the founder of The Glow Effect, Saren Stiegel. Saren is a 30 something retired attorney who found herself burnt out, loads of self-doubt, fear of failure, and playing small with everything she had, a great education the perception of an amazing career, a decent income. She wondered if she felt this way, how do others with her same privileges feel? How did others feel who did not have her same privileges? In our conversation, we talked about starting The Glow Effect and how in the beginning a toxic ego, her words, lost her some of her best people. She shares valuable lessons she learned in the beginning and her definition of a true leader. We discussed the importance of micro impacts, the significance of internal shifts, and how to see our own blind spots.

Hint: You cannot do this alone.

A quick note to those of my listeners who might be listening with younger ears around: at around 35 minutes and 30 seconds into our conversation, there’s a word that’s probably not suitable for younger audiences, so just be aware and maybe lower your volume for a second or two. I would also like to apologize for the lawnmower and leaf blower you might hear in the background. My amazing lawn team came at a different time than usual, so just pretend we’re having the conversation in the backyard this week instead. So with that said, please welcome Saren Stiegel to the podcast.

Susan: Hey Saren, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Saren Stiegel: Oh, I’m doing so well. Thank you for having me Susan.

Susan: I am really excited for you to be here and tell us a little bit more about what you are doing now. Walk us through a little bit how you got on this path. Where did you start and where are you now?

Saren Stiegel: Absolutely, so I started as—wow, how far should we go back? I started in international sustainable development and social justice, and I was traveling a lot, I was working with social movements, I was working with the most amazing organizations and then I decided to go to law school because, you know, we have this thing in our society about all the rules and what we should do, and in my family, you know, lawyer, doctor or medical school is really the path. So I chose the path, the only one that seemed viable for somebody who doesn’t love numbers and I went to law school and I realized in law school that, you know, that wasn’t really my path but I just kept going. And I pursued social justice initiatives and I worked in criminal defense and I did civil rights work, and when I got out of law school I had to get a job really quickly.

So I took a job in family law which means divorce and child custody. And it was absolutely debilitating in terms of my values because it’s all about separating families and it wasn’t aligned with what I believe in and I was seeing women kind of take a backseat to the needs of their husbands and partners and, you know, in the law firm. And so there was a moment where I thought to myself, you know, if I’m feeling so misaligned, if I’m feeling so outside of my value and my worth, how are other people feeling that don’t have an education or have less education or less opportunities than I do? And that’s when I decided I needed to create something different. I had been writing a blog for years, I was also a yoga teacher, so I was really fascinated with the online business seen. So I quit my job and I started The Glow Effect.

And The Glow Effect at the beginning was your average—I don’t want to say average—but it was a coaching company and I was working with powerful women who didn’t really know their power and didn’t know their potential, and so I created programs and I wrote a book. And it was so fulfilling for me and these women but at a certain point I realized it wasn’t as expansive as it could be and it was, you know, when you focus on women, when you focus on one lane of diversity, you privileged the already privileged. So I was privileging the wealthy, whiter lighter women and so I really wanted to expand on that. And at the same time a couple of the international—so bringing back all my international work—a couple of international organizations reached out to me. And so I started partnering the local executives that I was working with, with women in rural communities in Uganda, and together they fund raised and they co-created curriculum and we ended up creating what’s called The Glow Effect Center for Women and Girls in this small village in Uganda. And it was all done what I like to call horizontally, so it was co-created where it doesn’t mean, like, the Western women weren’t doing the work for the Ugandan women. I think that’s a really big problem in a lot of charity and development work where we assume that the West knows better and this was a co-created initiative. So we worked together in creating this center.

And so now that center has been off the ground for about two years and you know, the income levels have risen, children are back in school or going to school for the first time, domestic violence rates in the village have gone down, you know all these amazing things. But what was also really fascinating is what it did for the Western women, their capacity to see that they can go beyond the nine to five, you know, linear path that society prescribes for us. So, you know, I became a lawyer and I thought that’s the way I had to go and that’s my skill level, but sometimes we don’t see how transferable these skills are and really what our talents are because society really wants to put us in a box of lawyer, doctor, business owner, all these things where you can create things that don’t necessarily have a title.

So since then we have a podcast, we’ve created events, but more so I think what’s really unique about The Glow Effect is that we now offer programs that allow women in the western regions: UK, US, and Australia, who are executives who want leadership development to partner with women in rural communities. So we have partners in Nepal and in India, so virtually we connect these women to do leadership development together. You know, again, horizontally, not the top down, you know; Western women are going to be training the other ones or mentoring. It’s that we’re doing it together and it really expands the vision of what leadership is.

Susan: That is really cool. You are the second guest I’ve had that somehow found themselves in Uganda and working with women. What is it about Uganda? How did you end up in Uganda?

Saren Stiegel: Well, Uganda reached out to me—not the country. A woman in the rural community found The Glow Effect. So she reached out to me, but…

Susan: That’s so cool.

Saren Stiegel: Yeah, I’d done a lot of work in Africa: South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Zanzibar and I think because of my familiarity with certain countries in Africa and the work that I’ve done there, I was a little more—I don’t want to say popular, but like I started to build up a little bit of a following. And Uganda is also a country that’s really, really kind, really open to international development, and I think there’s a double edge sword, and I don’t know how much you want on Uganda but they’re so open to development and so eager for development and Ugandan people are just the most welcoming, generous, like, I feel more comfortable in Uganda often than I do in like downtown LA or New York.

Susan: Wow!

Saren Stiegel: Yeah, it’s an amazing country. The challenge is that because they’re so open to international development, there’s a little bit of a complex in terms of like of the white savior. So if, the white savior or if Westerners aren’t well educated and well informed and aware of it, it’s real easy to fall into that hero syndrome and that you can just come there because a lot of Ugandans think, you know, they’ve been taught like white westerners are going to come and save us and that’s the only way we’re going to get out of this poverty debacle. So a lot of the work is training Westerners and training Ugandans in that we can’t be reliant on each other whatsoever.

Susan: Wow. Wow.

Saren Stiegel: Good question.

Susan: So with us talking about how they’re—basically, it sounds like they’re training each other,  is that…? So this brings up a good point that I think you and Monica Marquez from, I think Google had a conversation about this same kind of redefining what leadership looks like.

Saren Stiegel: Yeah.

Susan: Talk to me about that in what you guys were discussing.

Saren Stiegel: Well, I don’t necessarily recall that conversation that was in early February, but what I think is important in terms of redefining leadership is, you know, as a human race, the kinds of leaders that we’ve seen and revered are often the dictator hero-like leader and dictator has a pejorative term–it is a pejorative term whereas like heroes like, “Oh yeah, I want to be the hero.” And I think business and leadership is starting to evolve beyond the hero form of the CEO, and if you’re not aware of that, you’re in for really rude awakening. I mean I can only speak from experience because even running a leadership development organization, I quickly fell into that because, you know, I read somewhere the woman called it the recovering charismatic leader. So I’ve naturally been good on stages. I’ve naturally been a public speaker, that’s come very easily to me, I’ve naturally had charisma. So when you do something that changes people’s lives, it’s really easy to grow a toxic ego. And I did at the beginning of our work in Uganda; I really started to think, “Oh, I know better. You know, like I’ve done this. I know better.” And it’s so toxic.

So what ended up happening is I lost some of my best, best people because I didn’t understand what being a leader really is, even though I was teaching it.          It’s such a, such a common paradigm and archetype in our society to see a leader as a hero, and the leader is not the hero. There’s no such thing as that anymore, and can be a hero in your own life. But if you’re acting that way in an organization or on a team, you’re going to lose your team. So I think what Monica and I were alluding to or speaking about was that this new paradigm of leadership that’s emerging is the leader that leads from behind that leads from within and that everyone’s a leader, you know, everyone’s the hero. And a true leader makes sure everyone who’s participating feels like a hero, and not seeing themselves as singular but operating in a whole. And so it’s a very feminine form of leadership. I think the masculine wants to think power over. Whereas the feminine, there’s an understanding of power with.

Susan: I like that “Power with.” I think there’s a flip side to this and I think as women who are about making a change or who are fed up with where they are, I think something—and I don’t know if men are bad about this or not because I’m not one—but women in making these changes, before you think I know better, before all of that happens, there’s a period I think where sometimes women are asking for permission, like we’re almost looking for that hero like we need that hero and so I guess my question to you would be, are you seeing that in your people? Have you seen that? And then how do you flip that and help them find it within themselves? Because I think that’s a hard thing to do.

Saren Stiegel: Yeah. No, I think that’s a brilliant question and kind of caveat to what I said because, you know, for women to even call themselves leaders in the first place was a huge leap, right? The challenge is that we think that to call myself a leader, I have to be a hero and I have to be on top right? And I think this is what created this wave of like Girl Boss, you know, and we see in social trends for the past however long it’s been, maybe since Sophia Amoroso created Girl Boss and that whole hashtag; it’s become this revered thing to be a boss. I want to be the boss, I want to have my empire, you know. It’s cool. And I think it’s pushing the toxic paradigm. On the one hand I get it, you know, it’s for women that permission is really important.

So that’s a lot of why we do this work internationally, and we expose women to communities where they don’t have the option of being the top dog. They don’t have the option of being the boss, if you will, right? They have to lead from within. And when you’re exposed to that, you start to see where you held yourself back. And also what we do is a lot of the work that we put women through is starting to shift perception. You know, we have so much self-doubt of women, we have so much lack of self-trust and questioning whether our ideas are right, all of it. So the work really starts with shifting that perception and getting those self-doubts out of the way so that you can start to see the everyday problems and challenges that the people just like you are facing that can be solved with a simple shift in perception. But the challenge is that we’re so blinded by the self-doubts that we think, “Oh, if I don’t go and save Uganda, then I’m not worthy. ” or , “If I don’t go and like cure homelessness, I have no value or I’m not making an impact.” and that’s so not true.

You know, micro impact is absolutely vital to our society right now and helping your coworker vocalize her opinion is hugely impactful. So starting to move your self-doubt out of the way and seeing how you can create that micro impact will start to build your confidence and then you realize that there’s so much to be done right where you are. So you start to expose the challenges locally to you, and when you expose those challenges, you see, “Oh, my, gosh, I have so many skills and talents that can solve this right here. I don’t need to go out and cure homelessness. I can create an amazing impact right where I am.” Does that make sense?

Susan: Oh, it absolutely does. In fact, your mission, I think it’s written on your website, I could be wrong, or maybe you’ve talked about this. I found this in your stuff somewhere that “It became making sure every woman and every girl has the resources to access her world changing potential to lead the way for her community,” I think it’s how you have it written or you spoke about it somewhere. So tell me about this. How does The Glow Effect do this? How are you accomplishing this?

Saren Stiegel: Well, we do it in a bunch of different ways. I mean, I think that the most powerful thing we can do is create that shift in ourselves. So we set up platforms, we have programs; we have events that are designed to expose that for you. So it’s not, you know, I’m coaching you to find it. It’s, I’m standing with you and supporting you as you uncover it for yourself. And then the confusion I think there is, “Well then I’m just going to go out and do it by myself.” And the challenge is yeah, you could technically I guess, but we are so blinded by our own blind spots. If you don’t have someone next to you exposing those for you, there’s virtually no way you can see them. So to me that’s like, I don’t love the term coach but technically, I guess that’s what it is. So our programming really creates the platform for you to uncover your blind spot. And by platform, I mean with coaching, with mentorship, with a really strong community. So you know, as other women are going through this training, you gain the skills to challenge each other to find those blind spots. But again, we can’t see our own blind spots. So I need a support system. I don’t feel like I’m better than others, you know, I still have so much learning and growth to do. So it’s really about creating a platform with powerful mentors and coaches that all see the potential in each other.

Susan: Okay, I didn’t prep you for this question but I’m going to ask you anyway, and if it’s horrible, we’ll just delete it so nobody will ever know and I’m leaving that in. So if it stays now, you know my trick.

Saren Stiegel: Okay, great.

Susan: Tell me how you’re finding these women. Are they coming to you? Are you seeking them out? Is there a secret code to get in?

Saren Stiegel: I believe in the law of attraction. And by law of attraction, I don’t just sit on my hands and wait. I mean I put my material and my content out for free, like you can find everything that I do in some form or another online: in a blog post, in a podcast. And when you put it all out there, you will naturally get people coming to you. And so with our events, which are completely different than other people’s events, so I made sure that they’re not a panel of speakers sitting on a platform above everyone else. Our speakers sit at round tables with the attendees and they facilitate conversations. So it’s not about them speaking at you; it’s about them speaking with you.

Susan: Woo.

Saren Stiegel: Yeah, it just completely changes the results of the event right? And so everyone there starts to feel like they could be a leader and they could lead a conversation. And what that does is, you know, some women say like, “Okay, that’s cool, but not for me.” cool, I’ve no problem with that. But you know, I’ve had so much education, and I say that in a good way and a bad way. I think it’s off putting to some people, like they don’t want to go deep—it’s a lot. I don’t sugar coat, I’m super direct, I like to go super, super deep. I don’t like surface level conversations. So if that’s not for you, cool. Totally fine, it’s okay. But what’s beautiful is that it really filters out the people that do want something more and who are ready to make a huge change.

So, I get women from, like I said, all walks of life, all layers—and we have such a tiered society— but all income levels, all a job professions, you know, women in wellness, women in consulting, women in accounting, women in marketing, women in coffee shops. I think these leaders that want something deeper, that want to make a bigger impact are everywhere. It’s about, you know, creating the right call to action that has them say, “Oh yeah, okay, that’s me. I want that,” and it’s not for everybody.

Susan: Just putting people, leaders, speakers at a round table instead of a panel up in front, you’ve literally blew my mind. I mean, I am thinking back to all of those things that I have attended before in the past. And I’m like, “Yeah, the questions are canned, they’re very surface level.” It’s like, great, I’m glad you got there but there never really is a, “How do I do this?” like there’s not real good conversations. You just blew my mind.

Saren Stiegel: Oh, I’m so glad. Well, we’ve been hosting these events. They’re called ‘Give Growth’ for two years. We just had one last week actually in Orange County and they’re super successful. Like I get everyone it, but just like, I’ve never seen anything like this before, which blows my mind because it seems so freaking obvious. Like it’s so easy. It’s not, you know, you just don’t set up the chairs in stadium seating, you get round-tables, like not rocket science, you know. But the challenge, I guess, you know, the way we format the event is that I feel three questions. So over the Course of three hours, you know, it’s a very limited format; three questions. So the first question, you know, I think last week was what kind of impact you currently make? So then the round-table talk for about 15 minutes as a round-table and these featured leaders facilitate the conversations.

So I guide them and give them a ton of material beforehand on how to facilitate and listen and they’re there to call you out, to challenge you, and you go around the table and everybody speaks and then we come together as a large group. So we don’t usually have more than 75 people. And then as a large group, I facilitate a big conversation so everybody starts sharing their insights. You know, and some people don’t feel comfortable to share in that large group and that’s totally fine because they’re going to get the opportunity to share in their small groups.

Susan: That’s so cool. That is such a great idea. I love it. I want to go. So let’s shift just a little bit on some questions and then I’m going to come back to all of that. I want to talk a little bit about you. So you left a firm, you left the real world, if you will, you left a corporate job, even though you were burned out, there were things you were giving up by leaving 401k opportunities, healthcare potential, an income. So how do you bolster your confidence in moments—and maybe your past this, maybe you aren’t asking yourself this, these questions anymore—but what was I thinking? Like how did you get through those first couple of months where it was like or years where it was like, “Am I crazy? Why would I leave security?”

Saren Stiegel: Yeah. I mean I’m not over that, but I will say I will never—like in the beginning I would have urge people to do what I did, you know, like I’m so much more fulfilled. I’m absolutely poor, but fulfilled! You know, and that is poor coaching, and if you’re reading that anywhere, like just disregard it because it is so freaking naive. So I will never coach people to jump out of a corporate job like I did because I did it blindly, I did it without a cushion, you know, I mean I had a relatively—I had a saving because when I was an attorney I literally did not do anything but work. So I spent my money on car insurance and rent so I had money but not a lot and it didn’t carry me very long.

But I think the trick—and this is now what coach my clients to do—is two parts: You have to create an exit strategy. So if you don’t know what you’re jumping into, like don’t leave. If you hate your job, if you absolutely hate it, then get a job at a coffee shop, humble yourself, you know what I mean? Like get a side gig. Get something that’s going to bring you income because if you jump ship and you don’t have some kind of income or some kind of safety, there is no creativity. Don’t think that like, “Oh, I’m going to quit my job and then tomorrow I’m going to start my six figure business.” You know, like I’ve never heard of that. No, you need to know so many way—or being a business owner is not something that you are taught in school and not even if you go to business school, right? Like I’ve heard this from so many MBAs. The real world of business looks nothing like we learn in school. So you need to have a very crystal clear understanding of how whatever you’re going to do is going to bring in income like sooner than later if it’s not already. Like I would only tell somebody to jump ship if they are already bringing in income that is mostly sustaining their lifestyle. So that’s part one: is you need a strong exit strategy.

Part two is, and this is a touchy subject, but stop seeing being a business owner or having your own business as dichotomous with, if that’s a word, with corporate or a law firm or whatever. So I think for the first maybe year or two of my business, I was like, “I’m getting out of corporate. Like I hate corporate.” you know, “I want nothing to do with corporate and I’m just going to own my business and I’m going to make a ton of money and I just want nothing to do with corporate.” that’s so naive. That’s so naive to believe that you can have one or the other.

The reality is 1: 99% of my clients come from corporate, right? So why would I not find a way to partner with corporation, to partner with organizations that may be a little weak in their learning and development and work with them instead of being against them, right? So I think the real, like, my business opened up when I started to see it all as a partnership. Now I’ve never, and I will probably never partner with the law firm that I left, you know, I don’t want to put them down, but they’re not an open minded learning and development geared organization that would be open to this, so I’m not saying that you have to go back to your company and partner with them—that might be really, really toxic, but there is so much you can learn about what the corporations and organizations are looking for. Number one, they have a shit ton of money, not always, but corporate is where most of the world’s money is. So if you can find a unique way to stall their challenges, you will have a leg up in creating whatever endeavor you want to create.

Susan: That’s really good.

Saren Stiegel: Kind of a long-winded answer.

Susan: No, that was great. That was great. And I totally understand not necessarily going back to the place you left.

Saren Stiegel: Yeah, but not as like…

Susan: The enemy.

Saren Stiegel: Yeah, I left the corporate firm or whatever and now I will never go back to any of them. That’s only going to hurt you.

Susan: Yes, I agree with that. That’s very wise, very wise thing to say.

Saren Stiegel: It’s taken a lot of learning the hard way.

Susan: That’s fair. That’s fair. I think anytime you go out on your own that there is some of that figuring you’re always figuring things out, right? I mean that’s just life. So obviously, going out on your own is hard. How do you motivate yourself to keep going when it gets a little overwhelming?

Saren Stiegel: Well, I guess the number one way is rest a lot. And I say that because I learned the hard way. If you’re burnt out, don’t burn yourself out more because you think you should be doing more and you should be motivated. Respect what your body’s telling you and rest. And that’s been a really hard lesson for me. It’s just continually a hard lesson because I think there’s something about us where we just—when I say us, I mean action-oriented type ‘A’ people that I talked to literally every day and drove. I rarely talked to non-type ‘A’ people because non-type ‘A’ people don’t really want to do much of this stuff. You know, it’s type ‘A’ people that want to change the world. So the natural inclination is take more action, do more, do more, do more, and that’s not where we find inspiration and motivation. So much of inspiration come in, the quiet moments comes in the yoga class that you don’t quote unquote have time for and I really resisted that. I need to say that again where I’ve had mentors who say to me like, “You need to take a month off.” and I’m like, “Never! like what? Like that’s a nightmare!”

And when I say take a month off, it doesn’t mean like I cancel my clients, you know, maybe I just minimize and I don’t actively seek more clients, but I’ve been in those times when, you know, maybe I take a course or like I stepped back and I’ll take like an accelerator program, and the learning and the growth is absolutely exponential in those times and it helps you clarify what in your business is draining your motivation because it’s not always the day to day, I mean there’s the day to day motivation, but then there’s the possibly not running their business as a effectively as it could be running a because models need to pivot. They have to and if you are entrenched in the day to day, there’s no way you can get that perspective, you know what I mean, like macro perceptive, but you have to back away from the day to day and it feels like pulling teeth and that backing away but I promise, promise, promise that it’s going to be the best thing that you’ve ever done for yourself and for your business and for the people that you’re supporting so that’s kind of one thing that I do.

But then the next thing is once you have a clear vision, a clear business model, but some revenue coming in, by that time, it’s likely that you have a strong-ish network. It was only maybe like a year ago when I have so many people and mentors and like my network–that is the key to running a business these days is having a strong network. So I have these amazing people in my network and someone said to me, “So you have a formal advisory board, right?” and I don’t have a board and she was like, “But you have an advisory board.” and I was like, “Well, I have advisers.” She’s like, “No, no, no, no, no, no. You need at least three to five people who you get together maybe quarterly.” you know, and so now I have four women. We get together quarterly for brunch and we rotate who hosts the brunch and these women are just the most exceptional people and they hold me accountable. And it’s so scary because when you have random advisers, you know, you may meet with them like once every six months and you tell them about your accomplishments and maybe some of your challenges and then you go on and you write them a follow-up email and see ya! But with an advisory board, no, they’re going to hold you accountable, you know, regularly. And at first I was really freaked out about that, but you know, that they’re not there to beat me up they’re there to, “Okay so you didn’t meet x, y, and z goals. Let’s figure out why.” And before you have a big team, they’re your team and to get a diversity of thought into your business is so vital—so vital. So you know, strategically pick this advisory board and it will work wonders on your entire life.

Susan: I really appreciate that thought process or those words. That’s really helpful. That’s helpful to me and I know a lot of other women listening will find that helpful as well. And I also really liked what you said about self-care and how your body responds to the lack of it because I have definitely, you know, the breakouts, the, yeah, all of it. It’s just I’m horrible about that as well sometimes and when I am, my body tells me so it shows

Saren Stiegel: Totally, and it’ll show in your business.

Susan: Yeah, you’re absolutely right.

Saren Stiegel: If your business is breaking down, it’s highly likely that you’re breaking down.

Susan: Yeah, absolutely, and you’re so right that you’ve got to find your core support people and put them around you advisers or what you need, you need to find because when you’re in it and you’re in the weeds, especially in the beginning, the perspective is definitely something you can’t get on your own. It’s too easy to duck in and get stuck in the muck.

Saren Stiegel: Totally, just know that that is our go-to, like that is our instinct and our natural urge is to work harder, and that is counter intuitive to what’s needed. So if you feel like if I just work harder then I’ll, get out of the muck. Wrong

Susan: You’re getting deeper in the muck.

Saren Stiegel: You’re getting deeper. Mark my words.

Susan: Well that is very good advice. I have one last question and I hope, I hope, I hope you go back to The Glow Effect on this one, but if you don’t, that’s cool. I always like to leave our listeners with an action step. I know these women are hearing this and they think it’s great and it’s much like that panel sitting in front of you, you know, that’s kind of where we’re at a little bit with the podcast. There’s a panel, we’re talking, we’re having a great conversation or somebody’s sitting at the coffee shop and they’re overhearing us talking about life and whatever. What is one action step or a few action steps that you could leave our audience with to roll the ball forward, move the ball forward with whatever it is that they are thinking of doing next especially if they’re thinking about leaving their current role?

Saren Stiegel: The challenge of that question is we’re all at different places, right? So I’m going to say like, you know, for the people who are in a job that they hate, this is such a great opportunity to learn in terms of like, so you have income coming in, then great, get yourself a coach, take a program and I will happily offer up our program and specifically our aspire program. Our aspire program helps you kind of uncover what it is that you are just craving to do and what’s going to create the most value and fulfillment for the world and for yourself simultaneously. So find, you know, and again, like I said, it’s not for everyone, but if what I said so far resonates with you, please, please reach out because this is such an opportune time to hone in on that exit strategy that I was talking about. If you’ve already left your role and you’ve started a business, depending on where you are, I mean I would again say feel free to reach out into our aspire program because it can still help you get that perspective to see where you need to go next and how to shape your trajectory.

It’s not a cheap endeavor, you know, getting a coach or doing these programs, they do cost money. So if that’s not in the cards for you, I totally get it. I would say start learning locally. So go to events, find associations and conferences, and don’t think that you need to pay the $500 ticket price to these things. Get really creative and find the organizers’ information and email them and say, “Can I volunteer for your event?” Because the more you can integrate yourself and ingratiate yourself into the industry that you’re trying to get into, it will explode your business and there’s nothing better than humbling yourself with these organizations and with these organizers. They always need volunteers, they always need support, so go do that. And then once you start to grow your network that way, find your advisory board.        You know, write up a NDA, a nondisclosure agreement, and just write up the requirements of what you’re asking. So you know, to be on our advisory board is going to require you to meet with us four times a year, to have one call with me per month and in return, you’ll receive a network of people. And make sure you identify what they’re going to get out of it too because likely you’re going to be asking awesome people who need to get some value out of it and, and formalize this advisory board for yourself and create your little team even if you can’t afford employees yet or even if you can’t, there’s nothing better than having people vision the macro perspective with you.

Susan: That’s great.

Saren Stiegel: Great.

Susan: That is great and I never thought about the volunteering aspect of behind the scenes because I would think you would even get access to more people that way. Like that you wouldn’t necessarily have access to just as a quite frankly as a paying participant. So I think that’s a very creative idea. I like that a lot.

Saren Stiegel: You get access to the people but you also get access to the mechanics and the operation of the organization. I mean I have volunteered more than I have attended events and people look at me often like I’m crazy and like, “Why are you volunteering? Are you poor?” Like, no, it’s actually like, it was a best way to befriend all the people and you know, again, I’m a speaker or I do speak in engagements, so it’s so much more likely that you will build up your credibility starting at the bottom than trying to email your resume and you’re speaking to the organizer and they’re most likely going to ignore you if they’ve never heard of you, but if you’re humbling yourself and helping them, it just creates the most extraordinary opportunity. We can’t even fathom what it will create.

Susan: That’s great. Thank you so much for joining me today. Before we leave though, I want to ask you to tell us where we can find you: Online, on social media, The Glow Effect. Like how do we get in touch with you?

Saren Stiegel: Well, I mean the best way to get in touch with me is my email: saren@gloweffect.com. So please don’t hesitate to email me. I mean I read and I respond to every email I get. So that’s the number one way to find me and connect with me and get into our programs or volunteer whatever you want to do. And then you know, if you just want to learn more, go onto gloweffect.com and Instagram—thegloweffect, Facebook “/the glow effect” and then on Twitter is “you are the glow” so that you can probably search for the glow effective and find it as well.

Susan: Great. And I’ll make sure to link everything in on our transcript page for our listeners. So don’t pull off the road or try to rewind or anything. Just head on over to the website. It’ll be on the transcript page. All you have to do is click.

Saren Stiegel: Yeah, and again, put my email up there.

Susan: I will do that.

Saren Stiegel: In sharing my email address and please don’t have any shame in emailing me you will reach me, not my assistant.

Susan: Awesome. Saren, thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun and you have some amazing insight and I really, really appreciate your time.

Saren Stiegel: My pleasure. Really, this was so fun, Susan. Thank for having me.

Susan: Thanks so much Saren.

Outro: Hey sisters, so if you were still here, thanks for hanging in there until the end with me today. I know it was a little bit of a longer conversation than normal, but it was so worth it, right? Isn’t she amazing? I’ve learned so much from our conversation and I know you did too. I know you’re going to want to follow up and check her out online so we have made sure to link to The Glow Effect and Saren over on our website: howshegothere.com. I also want to say thanks so much for listening today. If you’re enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes and hit subscribe. And while you’re there, I’d really appreciate it if you would rate and review it in order to make It easier for others to find. I also make sure to read every review and email and Facebook posts you leave and I have always, always, always excited to hear your feedback. We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here Community page, and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode as well as any other fun, How She Got Here content. So with all of that said, thank you from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see you soon.

Follow your passion. What’s the worst that could happen? With Genevieve Strickland

Genevieve Strickland is a full time licensed marriage and family therapist. A full time artist. A Mom!  She reminds us of the importance of doing what you are passionate about.

Show Notes

Do you have something you are truly passionate about?  Do you have something you do for the sheer joy of it?  Have you considered turning it into a second career?  If your answer is yes to any of the questions above you’re in the right place.

Genevieve Strickland grew up on the South Carolina coast in Myrtle Beach.  She says she knew she loved drawing as soon as she could hold a pencil.

At a college fair in high school she discovered Converse College, a women’s college that offered a degree in art therapy.  She decided to try the all women’s atmosphere because, in her own words, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  She not only flourished there, but gained a whole sisterhood.

After earning her degree she got a second degree  to become a licensed marriage and family therapist and moved into private practice.

Always creating when she had the opportunity, but as more people began to ask for her work she was inspired to try being a full time therapist and a full time artist.  So she took two business classes on using Instagram.  After that, it was on!

As both a full time therapist and full time artist, art is still Genevieve’s passion.  It is what centers her.  It is how she cares for herself.

As a full time therapist she recognizes that there is sometimes still a stigma around mental self care.  Although, she says it is no different than going to a general practitioner or OBGYN for a check up.  Brain health is just as important as body health.

In this episode, Genevieve  offers inspiring insights and her professional expertise on both art and therapy.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Don’t be afraid to try new things
  • It’s important to mess up and fail – so you know you can start over
  • Therapy and taking care of your brain is just like physical therapy for your body

 

Genevieve’s commitment to her own self care and the self care of her clients reminds us of our own at How She Got Here. This past October, we committed to 30 Days of Self Care.  If you missed it, it is not too late.  The resources are still available on our  website, Facebook, and Instagram pages. Join our Facebook community and visit our site to download the free printable for self care reminders that are intended to pull you out of the hustle of life (even for just 15 minutes) and provide you time to focus on caring for yourself.

Just like Genevieve emphasizes, we’ve got to take care of ourselves, sister, so that we can go after those dreams of ours! And once we do that, we can start empowering other women and girls to do exactly the same thing.

Show Links:

Art by Genevieve Strickland (Facebook)

GenStrickland (Instagram)

Magnolia Counseling Associates (Facebook)

Magnolia Counseling Website

passioncolorjoy.com    (Instagram Classes)

 

 

Transcript

Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

Susan: Hey pod-sisters, my guest today is full-time artist as well as full-time licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Genevieve Strickland. Genevieve and I went to Converse together, and our conversation encompasses everything from choosing an all-women’s college to graduating and figuring out your career as well as turning a hobby into a second career: A great conversation that I cannot wait to share with you. So, without further ado, here’s Genevieve.

Hey Genevieve, thanks so much for joining me today.

Genevieve:  Thank you for having me Susan, I’m so glad to be here.

Susan:  I’m just really, really excited to talk to you and catch up with you and find out what you’ve been up to but for the audience who’s listening today, I’d love if you would give a little bit about who you are and your background.

Genevieve:  Okay, so my name Genevieve Strickland Y’all know that and I am originally from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina—I  don’t know if your listeners are familiar with that area but it’s just a pretty popular coastal city but I live in upstate South Carolina now. I’ve lived here for about 20 years and I am a full-time marriage and family therapist and I’m a full-time artist so that is a little bit about me.

Susan:  So did you grow up in a family of creators? Like how did you find the passion for both things you do because I know you’re very passionate about both. Tell me a little bit about how you got to these places.

Genevieve:  Sure, you know, we do have a couple entrepreneurs in my family. My dad actually opened his 1st business when I was in middle school and we definitely thought we’re going to be homeless when he opened that because he left a regular job to do that. Thankfully it was fairly successful so we were not homeless thankfully and as far as like creative people, we don’t really have any other artists in the family. His dad actually was an architect but I did not know him as a kid: He died before I was born and—I’m trying to think—Nope: Yeah that’s it so we really don’t have anybody else in health care either so I’m sort of a unique person I think in my family as far as that goes and I got started with art really like as soon as I could hold like a pencil—I know a lot of artists tell that kind of story but I really did. I just always really liked creating things and especially drawing that was really my thing. I didn’t actually love painting until a couple of years ago funnily enough. I was going to go to college to be a Disney artist— that was my dream: To go draw like you know back when they drew movies still. I was going to go to school for that.

In high school, my teacher said, “Hey great dream, definitely do that but just in case, like let’s lay a couple other careers that maybe you could do.” which is a fair question right? It’s hard to be a full-time artist. And so I found art therapy actually in  like back when we had to look at things that were in books like and probably we did not have Google back then so we had to actually look up things in books and I looked it up and I’m like, “Wow, that sounds really cool. I can help people, I can do art it’s a win for everybody.”  and I found Converse—Susan and I went to Converse together: College— and they are the only school in South Carolina that had art therapy as an undergrad and I said, “Well gosh I guess I’m going to go there.” knowing nothing about it— It’s about 4 hours away from my hometown— and I went there like site unseen.

Susan:  Oh my gosh I didn’t know that!

Genevieve:  Yeah, I was like, “Well what’s the worst that can happen right?” and Converse was a great fit for me and I really loved it and the art program there was great and I got to take a lot of counseling classes and I figured out that I liked it a lot and I was about to graduate—and you’re going to like this story Susan—that I was about to graduate meeting with my advisor and he was like, “Hey by the way you really can’t use art therapy like for real as a job until you have a counseling degree your master’s degree.” and I’m like “What!!?”

Susan:  Oh, my gosh.

Genevieve:  I totally thought I could get out and just do that. So very quickly had to switch plans and say, you know, “Okay so the only art therapy program back then we’re all like several states away.” and so I was like, “Okay well what am I going to do?” and then I was walking it down the hall like after a class and there was a Flyer for the counseling program there Converse: The Marriage and Family Therapy Program which is an excellent program—love it to death and I said, “Well I’ll just apply to that.” and I got in and that’s what I did.

Susan:  Oh, my gosh. Wow, that would have freaked me out if I was getting ready to graduate and they were like. “Oh, by the way, this isn’t real. You can’t really do this yet.”

Genevieve:  Yeah, I was a little panicked there for a minute but I just said, “Well what’s the worst that can happen?” you know, “Let me just apply and if I don’t get in then I’ll just, you know, get a job but maybe not as doing that and make another plan.”

Susan:  That was really good and quick thinking.

Genevieve:  Well, I’m just lucky somebody put that flyer up Susan—honestly.

Susan:  That’s awesome though! That’s awesome because I don’t know, I am thinking back to undergrad and I really might have had a breakdown but it’s funny that you say that. You know my— I’ll just go off on a little tangent here for a second—I ended up majoring in business and marketing and so thank goodness the business administration piece was there because we graduated in 2004. So the things I was learning about marketing, I mean you’re right, Google didn’t exist, Facebook was really just launching like we didn’t have Facebook when we graduated. And so the marketing world was literally changing as I was graduating and that degree was not so great. So it’s like thank goodness I had the other aspects of that and I could use the finance pieces of that because the marketing thing was just never really going to happen. I would have had to have immediately gone back to school. It sounds like we both kind of graduated.

Susan:  Right and I couldn’t do it at that point like I really had to I didn’t have many student loans but I knew they were coming due and my parents were very much like, “You got to get out and get a job.” like that’s what—you graduate and you get a job. That’s what you have to do—and that’s just really funny, that’s really funny. Okay so let’s step back just a second because this gives me an opportunity.

Genevieve:  Sure.

Susan:  You came to Converse site unseen. Did you, in fact, know that it was a women’s college?

Genevieve:  I did actually know that. I found out about them and when I saw them at my high school college fair and they did say that and I remember telling my friends like, “I got into this college. Like I’m excited about the program and, you know, by the way, it’s an all-women.” and they were all like, “What!!? Why do you want to go to an all-women school? Like that sounds terrible. You’re not going to meet anybody.” you know all the things that people say about single-gender schools.

I really wasn’t worried about it. I mean I mostly had friends that were girls anyway so I wasn’t panicked about that. I was kind of like you know, “It’ll be in a town. I’m sure there’ll be people.” or “I’ll meet somebody in a coffee shop if I want to date somebody—whatever.” so that didn’t really bother me too much but my friends and even my parents were like, “Are you sure you want to go to a women’s school? Like what?”

Susan:  Yeah, yeah. Do you feel like— I mean obviously, you didn’t have the coed experience so it’s not like you changed and went from one to another— but do you feel like it changed your perception? What impact if any did a single gender piece of that have on your life?

Genevieve:  Well definitely one that gave me the room to, you know, be a little bit more outspoken in class. I don’t know I know you probably can’t tell, I use to be a very shy person in high school, didn’t really talk that much you know it’s sort of the classic quiet kind of, you know, unique kid. I came here and I was like, you know, again “Like what do I have to lose?” like trying to be maybe a little bit more outgoing and Converse was a great place.

Everybody was super welcoming and excited and, you know, a lot of y’all were already like outspoken and exciting people so that was a good atmosphere for me. I really like flourished in that, and two: I really got some good like you know I got some good hair stuff. I hate to say it like that but like I did not come from a family with good har stuff.  You got a cool hairstyle or that fun— and I got like a such a small piece but it did make a really big impact on me like, “Okay, I came out of this and I can look professional, I can feel good about you know presenting myself.” and not that Converse at all expects you to look like that in class because I know you probably just like I did went to class in pajamas a lot of the time.

Susan:  Yes.

Genevieve:  But it was almost like—because I’m an only child— I got a definitely a good like sister experience being at Converse and that was great for me.

Susan:  I love that because that’s exactly how I describe it. It really is a giant sisterhood. I mean I can meet somebody.  in Dallas, Texas and find out that they went to Converse and it’s happened and I was like, “Oh my gosh!” and it’s at an immediate like, “Yeah, we’re sisters.” it’s the weirdest thing that I don’t know that you get that— I know you don’t get that at a bigger university. I don’t know if it happens at smaller liberal arts colleges or not.

But anyway thank you for sharing your thoughts on that I really appreciate it. You said that you were creating, drawing as soon as you could pick up a pencil. You came out of college, you had the marriage and family therapy thing— that’s what you were going to do, that’s what you started doing—when did you realize that art could be more than a hobby artist, you could be like what I like to call a capital ‘A’ artist?

Genevieve:  So trying to think of when exactly that shift happened. I mean definitely after I had my second kid. He’s two and a half now and my youngest son and I had been you know painting and like every 3 months, I would sort of make something. When you’re in school and you’re doing art, you have a lot of deadlines, you have projects to turn in but once you get out without that structure unless you’re just motivated it’s hard to like, make time if you’re doing regular jobs or you’re doing regular responsibilities so. I was probably making something every couple months you know painting something fresh for this friend, painting something for a house that we could sell it— that kind of thing— and I started thinking like, “Gosh you know I’m getting more like requests from people like wanting me to paint something. Maybe I should sort of think on that. Like why can’t I do both? You know, why can’t I, be a full-time therapist and a full-time artist. I don’t see why I can’t.”

So I just I took two business classes and they’re both like Instagram business classes because that’s sort of the thing if you talk to any artist right now that’s a professional, that’s what they’re sort  of doing. That’s your own gallery for the whole world and there is a whole system to sort of know how to get like market your stuff to that audience and I said, “Well that seems like a good place to start.” you know, it doesn’t take me anything but time to learn that system right? I don’t have to create a whole website; I don’t have to do anything like that so. Right when I was doing that, a dad of a kid that my oldest son was in class with said, “Hey can I commission like this piece for a local restaurant that’s opening? It’s a big deal; we just want some local artist. You don’t have anything and anywhere else in town. Will you paint something for our restaurant?” I said, “Sure.” but that was really like it. That moment and then like two months later, I had been asked to be in an art show with a bunch of cool artist in town and then it was it with, it was on after that. So I guess that would be about, you know, two-ish years ago I became a professional— capital ‘A’ I would say.

Susan:  That’s so cool. It just kind of morphed into this thing. It wasn’t like it was a planned thing. That’s such a neat, that’s so cool how things have fallen into place. Tell me a little bit about your creative process and your method. I love that you do a lot of time-lapse pictures or time-lapse videos of pieces that you’re working on and so anybody who watches your stuff knows that you paint your canvas is red first. Tell me a little bit about your process why red?

Genevieve:  So I took one painting class at Converse—you know, when you’re an art therapy major, you do have to take studio art classes. I took one painting class and I did not like it but I did learn a couple of things. Even though I don’t paint in oil, I paint in acrylic, one of the things that you do no matter what you paint is have an under painting so that red is an under painting and basically that just gives you another like layer on your canvas—one because when you buy a canvas, sometimes it can take a couple layers of paint for the paint to look not like you can see through if that’s a good way to describe that. So one is for that and two, also the red I feel like pops my colors a little bit more so it’s a warm base instead of that white base and so I feel like that just makes my— and I’m a big color fan. I’m sure if ya’ll look at my work you’ll see that I really do love color so very much and so those kinds of things matter to me and I could, I guess paint on a white canvas but I just I like the way my color looks on that red that’s why I do it.

Susan:  That’s really cool. I know a lot of your stuff. I’ve had you commission a piece but I also know that you just paint it you just create it. Where does your inspiration come from and even in stuff that’s commissioned I mean you still have to have that picture in your head— how does that work?

Genevieve:  So I mean definitely a lot of the inspiration I have because I do a lot of like landscape pieces, are from the places around here. Upstate South Carolina is a great location because you’re near the coast, you’re near the mountains, you’re near farms, you’re near all kinds of just cool beautiful places and you can get them you know in an hour or a couple hours versus like a whole day. So, it’s just useful around here and that is truly where a lot of—I go gosh you know driving, I stop and take a picture because I’ll use that for later and you know as far as like my commission stuff, I just think that I’ve been drawing and you know creating stuff so long that I’ve never really had to like too much trouble just picturing—I’m just a visual person so somebody says, “Oh I want you to draw an alligator riding on a horse in the mountains.” I would be able to come up with something. It may not be a good picture always, I definitely do make mistakes. My work doesn’t always turn out well. I post the stuff that turns out well but that’s not always what actually happens. I think if you’re an artist you have to be not afraid of just paint over stuff—just starting over. I mean that’s just part of the process.

Susan:  Well that segways into a question I always like to ask and that’s, you know, even the strongest of us have moments where we lack self-confidence. How do you deal with that—is it the starting over?

Genevieve:  Yeah I think definitely I mean if you do you any kind of skill and I feel like art is definitely people will say “You’re just born with this talent.” whatever but I really felt like you know it’s just like any skill that you have in the world— you spend a lot of time getting better at it and you have to be able to do that to be a professional. You can’t be stuck in one place doing the same thing the same way— it just doesn’t work that way I don’t think to be professional. So, you know, you just spend a lot of time making mistakes. I think that’s important to experience. Not everybody have to or not everybody is afraid to mess up and fail, and I think that it is important to do that so that you know you can always start over. Like even I had a big commission earlier this year and I had gotten about you know a third of the way through and I was sending her a progress picture and she said, “You know I wanted that actually vertical and not horizontal.” so a third of the way through I don’t know why I didn’t check that— it was a terrible idea but I had for a panic moment for a minute like, “Oh gosh you know I just spent all this time doing this—poor me and then I said, “Gosh you know it’s fine.” I just turn it around and paint it again and it’ll be okay and it really is and maybe that’s just practice failing. I’ve practiced a lot being bad at stuff. I’m not good at math, you said you’re good at financial stuff but a long time being bad at math and so if I just based my whole life on how good I was at that, I would just be sort of stuck. When I have all this other stuff I’m okay.

Susan:  I would like to clarify: I said I did math, I did not say I was good at math. No one called me for math questions. I am very good in Excel— no one call me with your math questions I can’t answer them. Now I thought that was great Genevieve.

Genevieve:  Oh my gosh, Excel is hard.

Susan:  Again, you talk about a skill you can learn Excel. It is a skill, it is not a natural born talent but there is some natural talents you have. I mean it is a skill I think that there are things that you can learn but you really do have I think there are some things that a vision and I think you have a vision and I think it’s a beautiful vision and I really admire that because that’s not something that I have. I mess up stick people so yeah.

Genevieve:  Well thank you.

Susan:  Tell us a little bit about how because you are a full-time counselor which is so cool, you are a full-time artist which is also cool, you also have two children, tell me how do you recharge your batteries and is that art is for you at this moment— is that recharging your batteries or is there something else that does it for you?

Genevieve:  It definitely started out, like I said, I really started painting a lot right after I had my second child like kind of a sickly kid and he just was, you know, a lot of intense he didn’t sleep well that kind of stuff and we’re moving and the thought of change and so I didn’t really feel like I had much time to like go out and do stuff and I’m kind of a homebody anyway so I just started doing it like, “Gosh this is what I loved as a kid. This will be good for me to do my time.” it’s easy to fit in my life right now and so definitely it started out as that and then to kind of morphed into—it’s still that for me I still look forward to my time to do that so I start painting almost every night and I have my stuff just sort of set up in our little it looks like a studio but it’s really just the corner of our dining room, so I can be near my family if they’re awake or be near my husband— if he’s in the living room, I’m right next to him. So it’s my time to do it but it’s still there in my home and now I do more things out. Now I’ll go ride my bike or I’ll go you know out to eat breakfast with friends and I have more space to do that now but art is sort of what I’ always coming back to. I’m not a dancer but I sort of think about I’m not a yoga person but I feel like I think of it as my center I’ve had it so long in my life, that’s just my center.

Susan: That’s really cool. That’s really cool I like the centering aspect of that. That’s really, really neat. That’s really cool and that you’ve turned it into a profession so it can be both. That is such a—I don’t know, it gives me a sense of like peace about things I don’t know and I’m not an artist—that’s really neat. One of the questions I always like to ask is:  With this podcast, my whole goal is to inspire, empower, and encourage women to go out and find their thing. You have found two things that I think you must be really, really good at. One of them I know you’re really good at, the other one I’ve never used you as a counselor. I have been in therapy myself— full disclosure—but not living close by, I have not had the opportunity to use you. So tell me there are women out there who are thinking about finding their thing or how they find their thing and I envision them like, you know doing what I did: getting quiet, getting still like sitting down and really figuring out who you are. If you could leave our audience with like an action step of figuring things out for themselves, do you have anything that you would recommend anyone try or do or seek out?

Genevieve:  So I mean it would be hard for me not to say, “Hey, find a good therapist.” I mean that’s what we’re here for—is to help you walk through figuring out who you are and also we’re very different people than we were at 18 and at 10 and at 25 depending on how old you are. And so you know a good therapist can definitely help you walk through figuring that out like what you like and what you don’t like and how to set boundaries, you know, in your life or with your relationship. I mean I’ve done my own therapy before and I would be kind of a hypocrite if I didn’t. So I feel like that’s really helpful in one place and don’t feel like it’s unacceptable, I mean many counselors take insurance and payments of all kinds. So it’s not just for like people that can afford it. Therapists are in everybody’s grasp for sure.

But if it’s not that, if that’s not what you want to do, you know, again I kind of come back to like don’t be afraid to try stuff. When we’re kids we just go, “Hey I’m going to learn how to ride a bike.” and you just go out and like fall a bunch until you figure out how to ride a bike. One year for Christmas my parents got me a unicycle and I’m like, “Why?” I’m not a very athletic person so I don’t know why they gave that to me but you know I was pretty bad at it for a long time until I got kind of the hang of it. It was never my thing but I did figure out how to ride it where I didn’t fall immediately.

Not everybody in their childhood gets the space to like try stuff out so if you’re an adult and you don’t know what you like or you don’t have your thing or you’re trying to fit it in your life like try it. Take an online class, go get a unicycle and go, you know, find some new friends, go to be part of a group, you know, now we’ve got the Internet. There’s such a wealth of finding people or finding things—it doesn’t have to be costly things and my thought would be like go try stuff out. Don’t be afraid of it. I mean I’m 36 years old this year and you know, like I learned how to ride a bike again this year and that was exciting but it’s okay to be older and try stuff for you. You don’t have to have it figured out and you know just because you have kids so that would be my action step I think for everybody. Hopefully, I was clear with that.

Susan:  Oh, no, you absolutely were and now that you’re talking about this, I would love to just talk a little bit about your business and therapy and what that looks like because I feel like at the first real therapy I ever did it was when you know we did marriage counseling therapy type stuff and that was fine and that was good and I really enjoyed it but then I found myself dealing with some stuff that I just never dealt with and it just kind of all of a sudden popped up and I was like, “Oh what is this?” and I kind of had a little bit of panic attack and the target, it came out of nowhere, it was random and I told Stephen about it and he was like, “Maybe you should go talk to somebody about it.” and I was like, “I can’t do that! Therapy? Who does therapy? Only people who are crazy do therapy.”

So I don’t know if there’s really a taboo around it anymore, I feel like maybe there is so if you’d be comfortable talking about some of that, I would love to hear your thoughts on that and about how— I don’t even know. I don’t know where to start with this. This is something like totally off the top of my head— I have nothing prepared.

Genevieve:  Yeah I can definitely talk on that if you’d like.

Susan:  I would love to hear your thoughts on it from the therapist perspective.

Genevieve:  Yeah I think we’re still battling some stigma of people going to counseling. I think it’s much better than when I started 10 years ago but there is still you know especially— I don’t know about in Texas but definitely here in South Carolina, there’s still a lot of like, “Why aren’t you going to your pastor with that?” or, “Why aren’t you praying more about it?” and so you know not that those things aren’t helpful and not that pastors aren’t— I mean I don’t knock that at all but there is a reason why we have you know science behind why these things work for people and how there are things that you can do that have better-coping skills like when you feel panic and target and that kind of thing so, you know, we take care of our body, we could go to the dentist, most of us go at least once a year but you know that maybe the two that we’re supposed to. We go to the doctor, we’ve got a sinus infection, we take care of our body parts you know when things are wrong. We’ve got an achy knee whatever but we’re less willing for some reason to go when our brain won’t like, be quiet or it’s thinking about stuff all the time or it’s saying I’m fine thanks to ourselves we’re having trouble communicating with our partner or we have things that have happened to us like trauma as a child or a teenager or as a young person so.

I think about it that way like this is just maintenance of your body just like it is if you had to get the physical therapy and it’s a little bit less scary if you think about it. People always bring up like, “Oh you’re going to like lay on the couch and you’re going to cry the whole time.” and wow, people do cry a lot on my couch. Nobody is laying on it though. Nobody has ever done it. Therapy is much different than it used to be and so we’re really here not to judge what you bring into us because people will tell us all kinds of things that we may not agree with but that doesn’t mean that we’re judging them. We’re there to help you figure it out and walk with you.

Susan:  So you are specifically marriage and family is that correct?

Genevieve:  That is correct. That’s my degree but what that means if I can clarify that is I don’t just Marriage and Family Counseling. Some people do but I can see basically anybody that wants to come in for counseling as long as I can feel confident doing it. And honestly, mostly I do see individuals, I don’t see that many couples and families but what that means for you all is that a Marriage and Family Therapist is a system thinker so we think of people and systems:  So what their family system looks like, what their relationship system looks like, what their work system look like and you know, how are those things connected to potentially not helping or helping the person that’s in our office.

Susan:  What is something—I mean my audience is women—so what is something if a woman is thinking about seeing a therapist or maybe her kids need to see a therapist or maybe it is their marriage, maybe she is married and maybe she and her husband or wife need to see somebody and they’ve never seen somebody. What should they expect walking into the door?

Genevieve:  Well you know now that we’ve got the internet, I definitely recommend not actually googling people but you know The magazine Psychology Today, that’s a great place to start because they have not only good great articles about you know different subjects as far as counseling goes, mental health goes, but they have a therapist like search engine and you can search.

Susan:  I did not know that.

Genevieve:  Yeah it’s great so that’s a great place to start. A lot of people get referrals from their doctor, their primary care, their gynecologist—really it’s the gynecologist that refers us to most people but those are good people to ask. If you feel comfortable asking the people in your system, you can ask them like, “Hey, have you seen a counselor? Do you know anybody in town that you’re like?” But truly I like that therapist search because then you can see not only their face, which I feel like is important, and they feel like they’re going to be a good match. I’m not going to probably go see a man counselor cause I just don’t think that’s a good fit for me but that doesn’t mean that’s not a good fit for you. You can also search that by like topics. So if you want somebody that does you know, kids under 10, you can narrow the search down that way but when they come in though, you can expect a kind of experience at least initially, of like you got to start your paper work like you do when you see your regular doctor and then you have to run your insurance and all that stuff if you’re using insurance and then you’re going to come into the room and not tell your whole story but just giving a good like overall picture: What’s bringing you in today? What’s happening in your relationship today that’s causing you distress? Because usually, especially with marriage counseling, things have been bad probably for a while and something has happened like you know, something has gotten to bad and now is the time that we come in and I would say as a marriage— truly go in before you think it is late because when you come in when it’s really, really bad, it’s a lot harder to fix than it is when it’s like, “Oh you know we’re not getting along very well right now.” or somebody is not doing their chores or something like that—it’s easier to fix early.

You know what I help with all the time is—us as therapists, we’re like human beings too so you may come in and go, “you know, Gen’s really just not the right fit for me.” and my feelings will never be hurt. So go in like with the feeling of like, “I’m just going to try this person on. If they’re not a good fit for me it’s totally fine. Generally there’s at least one other therapist in town but usually, a lot more that I can choose from. I’m not committed to this person.” you’re not going to hurt anybody’s feelings if you’re like, “Yeah I probably need to see somebody else.” and usually we’ll help you find somebody else in town. We know everybody that’s in town generally that’s a therapist so that’s sort of what it looks like. Figuring out if this relationship and therapy will work and if we can help you.

Susan:  That’s really cool. I like that. Just backing up just a second: I think it’s interesting that you get a lot of your referrals from gynecologist because I think about that and I think about the doctors that I have and that makes perfect sense to me because 1: she is somebody I do see regularly. That is the one checkup that I’m like, “Okay that one has to happen.” she has seen every part of my body you know the parts that you know most people other than my husband have not seen, she has delivered my child like there’s like an intimate relationship there that you have with a gynecologist that—I mean I don’t have that same relationship with Stephen. I mean he was in the room when Will was delivered but he didn’t deliver my child. So it is such an intimate relationship, I never thought of it like that. That’s really cool. Well thank you for sharing that.

Genevieve: I was going to say you just need to have that trust with somebody. So even if you don’t go to a counselor but you have a good relationship with your gynecologist like you know you just need somebody you can trust and that gynecologist, you know generally if there’s delivering your child you probably trust them okay.

Susan: Yeah, yeah and I like that you said trying a therapist on and that your feelings really aren’t hurt when somebody says, “This really isn’t working for me.” because at the end of the day your goal is really to help people.

Genevieve:  Right totally and we’re not going to help somebody coming in to make us not hurt our feeling like that’s not a genuine relationship.

Susan:  Yeah. I really appreciate you talking about that because I think the more we talk about it out in the open and people are like, “Yeah I’ve been to therapy. Of course I’ve been in therapy. Haven’t you been?” because you’re right, it really is a checkup and I feel so much better after I’ve seen my therapist and after I’m like, “Oh okay, I got that off my chest.” and I can say it however and she’s not going to be offended. You have to be careful when you’re talking to a parent or a child or a spouse because you have to kind of— ‘eggshells’ is not the right word—that’s not what I mean. I feel like its helpful to word things in a way that doesn’t hurt people’s feelings or like cause I’m crazy blow up and my therapist, I mean I’m an open book. I can talk to my therapist however, you know, use whatever words and I don’t have to be careful about, “Oh I don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings.”

Genevieve: That’s great, that’s what you want. You’re not there to take care of their feelings, you’re there to take yours and again, we probably have heard this about anything or anybody and even if we haven’t, we’re definitely not going to go like, “What!!?” you know we have a whole, you know, couple classes of doing that, not doing that. Usually we’re pretty hard to surprise and I think that’s true, you know, we do have to kind of be more careful with like our actual relationship than we are with a therapist and that’s okay, that’s totally fine. You don’t necessarily want to say, “Oh my gosh, my spouse again did this thing that’s driving me nuts.” and it doesn’t necessarily need to be said all the time but maybe you do need to complain about it enough and go, “Well maybe that is something I can address or maybe it’s just like my own.” like my husband knows I’m never going to be on time. If he was going to therapy, he could complain all he wants about that because you know that isn’t worth the fight to bring that up.

Sometimes you just have to love your partner you know the way you bought them. He bought me not on time. I’m not saying I’m not working on it but you know.

Susan: That is such a good point that rarely does people change who they are. In fact, you really figure out who they are afterwards.

Genevieve: Definitely and that’s hard because like we’re definitely full of the idea of like “Well if you love each other enough, you would you what I’m asking you to do.” or  “You would make this better.” and the reality is like we can love each other to death and still be human beings and sort of be imperfect. The things that we do aren’t always because we don’t care but sometimes they can feel like that. I think, you know, going back to the business there for a second, I think having opened up a therapy practice first, like opening that business first definitely made me less afraid to start being a professional artist because I’m like I’ve already done this. Not that it’s the same in a lot of ways but it is the same in a lot of ways of, you know, it’s like the moving pieces part, the marketing part that kind of stuff is very similar with any kind of business.

Susan:  Yeah that’s a good point and that’s a good place to ask you— well first tell you thank you so much for joining us today this has meant a lot to me. I was really excited to talk to you, I really appreciate you taking the extra time to talk a little bit about the counseling side of your life and that business that you do. Tell us and I’ll make sure all this is in the show notes—but tell us where we can find you on social media, the Internet, wherever you’re marketing your businesses?

Genevieve: Sure so I don’t have a Website I’m just purely on Instagram and Facebook right now. So my Instagram is @genstrickland— just my name, not super hard and then my Facebook page is Art by Genevieve Strickland and they’re pretty easily searched and if you got them in the notes, you’ll be able to find—and then my counseling office is Magnolia Counseling Associates. You guys that aren’t in the area probably aren’t going to come see us but we do post often. I’m actually in charge of that marketing too so I do all of our postings of our, you know, visuals or our articles that we share for everybody— they’re just helpful articles about psychology things, mental health things so those are where we’re at or that’s where I’m at and all of those social media platforms and you can find me there and I’m happy to include my email address even to you if you want that?

Susan: Sure that’s great! Yeah absolutely we can put that in the show notes, very good. Awesome! Well thank you so much I really appreciate it and I know you have an appointment to get to so we’ll let you do that. Thank you so much for joining me today. I really, really, really appreciate it.

Genevieve: Thank you for having me again it was really fun I enjoyed it.

Susan: Hey sisters I hope you’ve enjoyed my conversation with Genevieve as much as I did. If you want to learn more about Genevieve and where to find her art as well as her counseling services, that will be linked over on our website: howshegothere.com. Thanks so much for listening today. If you are enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes and hit ‘subscribe’ and while you’re there I’d really appreciate it if you would rate and review it in order to make it easier for others to find. I also make sure to read every review and e-mail and Facebook post you leave and I am always, always, always excited to hear your feedback.

We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here community page and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode as well as any other fun how she got here content. So, with all that said, thank you from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see you soon.

5 Lessons We Learned From A Month of Self Care

After 30 days of caring for ourselves lets discuss what we learned.  What were the take aways?  What matters most? I have narrowed it down into 5 overarching lessons that I cannot wait to share.


Do you ever sit down at the end of the day drained of energy and wonder where the day went?  Do you go to bed exhausted just to get up the following day just as exhausted and wonder why you have no stamina or vitality?  You are not alone!

Today, we are taking a look back at what we have learned over the 30 Days of Self Care.  We talk about the lessons we have learned and the take aways that we can carry with us going forward.

We talk about what it means to truly start caring for ourselves by putting ourselves first and everyone and everything else second.

In this episode we break it down into 5 straight forward lessons beginning with the importance of presence.

We’ve got to recharge, sister, so that we can go after those dreams of ours! Prioritizing self care helps us do just that.  Then, we can start empowering other women and girls to do exactly the same thing.

Show Links

www.howshegothere.com

https://www.facebook.com/howshegothere/

https://www.instagram.com/howshegothere/

https://howshegothere.com/2018/10/how-to-follow-your-passion-and-raise-a-family-with-nichole-nguyen/


Transcript

Hey Pod Sisters!

I’m Susan Long and welcome to another episode of How She Got Here, Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women.  I am so excited about todays episode because, as you know, we have just wrapped up our 30 Days of Self Care.  So, I thought it would be fun to chat about what we have learned over the last month.  From the conversations I have had with listeners, I have whittled down all we have learned into 5 overarching lessons.  The take aways.  After you have had a chance to listen I think it would be fun to share our experiences with each other over on our private FB Group Page.  I’ll make sure to include a link to join that group in the show notes over on our website.  So without further ado, lets dive in.

Lesson Number 1: Presence is a Present

We live in a time where we are over connected with our devices, but less connected with each other.  We “see” each other on social media and we may know what is going on in each others lives, but actually knowing people in real life takes intentionality and is often outside our comfort zone.  We had a few options over the past 30 Days to just that.  To be more present. For example: turning social media and our devices off and having a face to face with someone.  I hope you took advantage of a few of these opportunities.  Taking time to reconnect with those that mean the most to us takes effort, but it is fundamental to our well being.  I hope you were able to focus on those relationships and give them the attention they deserve.

One area in which I struggle is scheduling time with my girlfriends.  I am able to get together for play dates with those that have kids often, but if you have kids you know this is not an ideal situation.  It’s conversations between wrangling 3 and 4 year olds…it is chaos.  Now that the little guy is in school I am making a point to schedule coffee and lunch with friends more often.

When you have the opportunity to catch up, might I also suggest putting away your phone.  Now, this might be difficult if your kiddo is at school or with a sitter.  You might need to be within arms reach of your phone.  I get that.  I am not saying leave it in the car.  What I am saying is be with the person who is in front of you.  Be fully present and listen.

Lesson Number 2: Owning your own self care enables you to care for others

This is about prioritizing.  This is about time management.  Something I am working on getting better at myself.  One thing that has really helped me is writing out my morning and evening routines and then scheduling 3 days a week for yoga.  I find that when I write things down I actually remember them and am more likely to do them.  The first day of the 30 Days of Self Care suggested that you write out your morning and evening routine.  I shared mine on Instagram (so you can still check it out there) and I will also make sure to link it in the show notes of this episode.  There is also a free “routines” printable on our website you can download.  I will make sure to link that as well.

I think I learned this trick from Emily Ley and I cannot remember if it is in one of her books or on one of her social media pages.  At first I thought it was silly and I wasn’t going to do it.  When I took the time and looked at my day, there were things I was missing.  I was bolting out of bed in the morning and literally not feeding myself.  It was (and sometimes still is) easy for me to forget to eat breakfast and or lunch.  I make sure everyone else gets fed…including the dogs.  But I forget myself.  I do not prioritize ME!  It is so easy to let your day dictate you and not you dictate your day.  This is why writing out your routine is beneficial.  Owning your own self care also means taking care of your stuff.  I’m not talking about your belongings either.  I am talking about mental, physical and spiritual and by that I mean your soul.  What did you find most helpful from the past 30 Days? Was it journaling?  Meeting with your psychologist or psychiatrist, a minster perhaps?  Was it finally scheduling that appointment you have been putting off?  Mine was actually becoming more physically active.  Since formulating the idea of this podcast I have thrown my whole self into it.  I love it!  It means everything to me.  However, it is a lot of brain work. I am often sitting and writing or researching.  Not much physical action going on.  Yoga has been a game changer.  It is really helping me care for my whole self in ways I have not in a long time.  It is physically active, it helps me clear my head and it is also really really good for my soul.  I am already seeing results in prioritizing my own self care.  I find I have more patience and just more to give to others in general.  Now that I am making time to fill myself I can better help fill others as well.

Lesson 3: Caring for your whole self

The importance of caring for your whole self and being able to recharge your batteries is different for each of us.  Some recharge by being with other people.  Some prefer solitude.  Believe it or not I am a total introvert.  I love being around those that I am close to, but small talk with those I don’t know that well or strangers takes everything out of me.  So for me to recharge I might take a little time to be totally by myself and then really really want to hang out with my husband or my close friends.

I want us to think about our whole self.  Mind, body and soul/spirit.  What does that mean for you?  What does the perfect day look like for you?  Is it meeting with your counselor, working out and spending time with friends and family?  Does it mean bible study, a walk and a little while alone?  Whatever it looks like take time to do it.  Schedule it!  You can’t care for others well if you aren’t caring for yourself.

Lesson 4: Taking care of yourself is a state of being not doing

It is easy to get caught up in the doing.  The goal over the last 30 Days was not just to add another item to your to do list.  It was to get us thinking about how we treat ourselves.  Are we kind to ourselves?  Are we compassionate with ourselves?  Nichole, the founder of Mommy’s Home Office, talked about that in a previous episode that I will make sure to link in the show notes.  She shared how unkind she was with how she talked to herself.  I don’t think this is unique to Nichole.  I do this and I would bet you do too.  We get so caught up in our “to do” list or what we think we should be doing; what we see others doing or accomplishing – that we forget to be.  We forget to be ourselves.  We are to busy with the doing.

Lesson 5: Reconnect with yourself

It is so important to know yourself and have a relationship with yourself.  That is why I included journaling opportunities on days 8, 16, 22, and 27.  If you haven’t had a chance to do this yet it is worth going back and revisiting.  Take the time to think about these things and write them out.  Be still and think.  I find journaling in the morning right after I get up with a hot cup of coffee or right before I go to bed with a hot cup of tea really beneficial.  It helps me be focused and centered.  I think when we take the time to know ourselves it is easier to be ourselves.  When you really know what you are about you will know what your next steps are.  You will know if something is good or bad for you.  You will feel better connected with yourself.

 

To close, Thanks so much for listening today. I am so glad we took time over the last 30 Days to really take care of ourselves.  If you participated in 1 day or all 30 know you did something good for you!  I am going to put all of the days into a calendar and e-mail it out to our subscribers.  So, if you haven’t had a chance to subscribe head on over to www.howshegothere.com and do so.  If you are enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes and hit subscribe. And while you’re there I’d really appreciate it if you would rate and review it in order to make it easier for others to find. I also make sure to read every review and email and Facebook post you leave, and Instagram comment you leave.  I’m always excited to hear your feedback.  And finally, one last announcement, we have finally created a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here Community Page, and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode, as well as any other fun “How She Got Here” content. So, with all of that said, thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you soon.

How to Follow Your Passion and Raise a Family, with Nichole Nguyen

In this episode Nichole Nguyen, Founder of Mommy’s Home Office, shares how she has married her love of online business strategy and her enthusiasm for supporting moms who have a passion for working while raising a family.

 

Show Notes

Do you ever get so caught up in your day-to-day hustle that you lose sight of your vision, your dreams, your goals… even yourself? If so, you’re not alone and you’re in the right place.

Today, we’re inspired by Nichole Nguyen , who created Mommy’s Home Office after realizing the first business she created, although profitable, wasn’t something she was passionate about.

Nichole is on our podcast talking about how her love of online business strategy coupled with her enthusiasm for teaching other moms how to have an online business, drove her to create Mommy’s Home Office.

She’s empowering other moms, like herself, who don’t feel whole as a stay-at-home-mom.  She is lighting a path for moms to follow their passion in work and raise a family.

In this episode, Nichole offers inspiring insights and her strategies for staying motivated and recharging her batteries. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Importance of outsourcing and not trying to do it all yourself
  • Moving from negative self talk to positive self talk
  • Filling herself with inspiration through audio books and listening to podcasts

Now that last one is something we can get on board with!

Nichole’s commitment to self care reminds us of our own at How She Got Here. This October, we are committing to 30 Days of Self Care with resources on our website, Facebook, and Instagram pages. Join our Facebook community and visit our site to download the free printable for daily self care reminders that are intended to pull you out of the hustle of life (even for just 15 minutes) and provide you time to focus on caring for yourself.

Just like Nichole emphasizes, we’ve got to recharge, sister, so that we can go after those dreams of ours! And once we do that, we can start empowering other women and girls to do exactly the same thing.

https://mommyshomeoffice.com

https://www.facebook.com/MommysHomeOffice/

https://www.instagram.com/mommyshomeoffice/

 

Transcript

 Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

Hey, Pod Sisters, my guest today is the founder of Mommy’s Home Office, Nichole Nguyen. Nichole started Mommy’s Home Office after realizing the first business she created, although profitable, wasn’t something she was passionate about. Her love of online business strategy, coupled with her enthusiasm for teaching other moms how to have an online business, drove her to create Mommy’s Home Office. Her goal is to help moms who don’t feel whole as a stay-at-home mom. She wants women to know that you can have a passion in work and have a family. So without further ado, here’s Nichole.

Susan: Hey, Nichole, I’m so excited for you to join me today.

Nichole Nguyen: Yeah, me too. Thank you for having me. I was excited when I got the invite.

Susan: Yeah, yeah. So, friends, Nichole owns an online business called Mommy’s Home Office, and I kind of found her through a friend – actually your sister. And I’m just going to let you take it from here. Tell us a little bit about yourself and Mommy’s Home Office and how all this started.

Nichole Nguyen: Okay, yeah, great! I own Mommy’s Home Office. I’m an online business strategist, and I help moms build their businesses online while raising their families. And it just kind of started by accident or evolved into what it is today. I had a local service-based business in the Dallas area that I started about six and a half years ago, and it wasn’t doing as well as I wanted it to do initially so I decided to take it online. And when I did that—oh my God, it opened up this whole new world of online business to me that I fell in love with. And totally then listened to every podcast I could, every webinar I could get on, and I totally found the thing in life that I love, which is online business strategy. So, I decided that it would be so much fun to teach other moms how to create a business online that works for them. And that’s how it kind of started with Mommy’s Home Office.

Susan: That is so cool. And you have your own podcast as well that’s all part of all of this. You are producing a lot of content.

Nichole Nguyen: I have the Mommy’s Home Office podcast pretty much everywhere online. I’m @mommyshomeoffice. And the podcast was—because I’m a podcast junkie and listen to it all the time, I thought that could be a good medium for me. When I went to decide on the different types of content that I could produce, I tried a Facebook live show, I tried the YouTube videos, I tried all of those things. But let’s be honest—oh my God, that’s a lot of work and prep and editing. So, putting on makeup every day to your video and then reshooting 50 times because I didn’t like the way my eyebrows lifted and that kind of thing, wasn’t my thing. It was really annoying, and it got to the point where I just didn’t want to produce content anymore so I decided that I could do a podcast because I could record any time of the day or night when the kids weren’t around or not bothering me, maybe they’re sleeping already, and it wasn’t something that I had to get dressed for or put makeup on; I could just sit in my closet in my little hole and talk away, which I like to talk so that is another positive, too. So, that’s how it all started; it was the content format for me that just worked best.

Susan: Now…Why moms?

Nichole Nguyen: So, why moms? Well, because I’m a mom of three boys; they’re eight, five, and four. And it literally has changed the person that I am. I know everybody says that you change when you become a mom but your identity literally changes, and you are no longer doing anything for yourself; you’re doing it in betterment for your family, for your kids, for everybody else. And I feel like along that path somehow a lot of moms, especially myself, kind of lose themselves and forget that they have all these amazing talents and things that they can bring to the world in their own unique way, and they kind of get stuck in their mom loop where either they are working at a job and they’re just doing it so they can get by and go home to see their kids and be with their families or they quit working altogether, which is a lot of the moms that I know, and they have these wonderful professional degrees, maybe they’re an attorney or to do something like that or they were in online marketing for a big, huge department store, like my sister, and then they have kids and they quit and they don’t feel whole…I mean kids, yes, kids definitely make you feel alive and they are huge part of my life, but my personality is not the kind that can be a stay-at-home mom. And I wanted to share with other mom that it’s okay to have a passion and work and do things that light you up because that’s going to make you a better mom. So, I felt I needed to get that message out there and that’s why I chose moms.

Susan: I love it, and I love how on your website—and I think even in a lot of the content you produce you call yourself and you call other moms “work-at-home moms.” Did you come up with that concept yourself because I just love how you presented that?

Nichole Nguyen: Oh yeah, well, I didn’t come up with that phrase; there’s a whole subset of moms that work at home and it’s all over the web. But, yeah, I write all my own content, I produce it all, I do it all because I’m kind of a control freak and I can’t really let that part of it go yet.

Susan: Yup, yup.

Nichole Nguyen: And I feel like it’s my voice. This is my words that I want people to hear. I don’t want it to be necessarily somebody else. And maybe down the road that’ll change when I find a copywriter or I find somebody who can really sound like me and I can add my own stuff to it, that could change but right now it’s all me.

Susan: I love it. You are speaking my language, and it is a lot of work.

Nichole Nguyen: Oh my God, I did not realize how hard it would be to do a podcast. I thought; “Oh how hard could it be? I’m going to be super real and raw and not edit it very much.”

Susan: Right.

Nichole Nguyen: And it doesn’t work that way because you actually want people to listen and enjoy their listening experience, So, yeah, each podcast episode probably takes me anywhere between four and six hours to get it all written produced and edited, and then up on the site or scheduled.

Susan: Yeah, because your podcast is much different than mine; and mine is a lot of interview so I’m sitting here researching the individual that I’m talking to and writing questions, which in itself takes a lot of time, but you are actually writing a script, per se, correct?

Nichole Nguyen: Yeah, so I have this…I’m an ENTJ in the Myers Briggs personality, and I saw this hit the graph and showed exactly kind of how we think. And it basically showed my brain like a ping pong ball where I skipped a lot of steps, and I have this whole story that people can’t really follow it because I’m jumping ahead and I’m thinking too fast in my brain, so I decided that didn’t work best for a podcast because I wanted to actually have a good story for my listeners and I wanted them to be able to take actionable steps with every episode. So what works best for me is I actually go through and write the whole blog post or show notes first in a way that I think sounds like how I would speak it, and then I record it. And I change it sometimes when I’m talking just because it doesn’t flow as well as I thought it would or whatever, but I have to say that has sped up my podcast editing like crazy, crazy fast now compared to what it used to be.

Susan: That is awesome .Well, I am a podcast nut as well, and I really particularly love–I am all over your podcast right now. Starting my own kind of thing, it’s been really helpful for me. And I want to talk a little bit more about getting into Mommy’s Home Office itself. What is the goal of Mommy’s Home Office, and how your services help take moms to the next level? Because I know myself, I was really great at working for a company and then going out and doing something on my own is a whole other animal.

Nichole Nguyen: Oh, I 100% agree. I never actually wanted to be an entrepreneur, I actually at one time in my life I worked for this woman in a home health agency and said, “I can’t believe you want to own your own business, it’s so much work. I just want to work and go home and not think about.” But fast forward ten years later – or not even—fast forward five years later when I had my business. And Mommy’s Home Office was set up specifically to help take some of that guesswork and trial and error out of moms starting businesses because it’s extremely overwhelming when you first start, and you don’t know what you don’t know. So, you have all of these tiny, little components that go in and that are really crucial to the building blocks of a good foundation for your business, and a lot of times they get skipped over or miss and then you don’t have the result that you want, and you see a lot of businesses fail that way because they didn’t start with a big, strong foundation. And those foundational pieces are like the whys and the customer avatars and your online platform and all of those big things, and they can be so daunting and feel so cumbersome, and you don’t know what to do because this person says one thing and that person says it’s not important and the other person says you need to do it this way.

Well, I wanted to be a clear voice on what has worked for me, what I have liked, and what I have tried out because I love to try a million different things. And I’ve tried a lot of stuff so I know what has worked and what hasn’t at least for my business and what I can put out there to help other people. And so that’s how Mommy’s Home Office can help the business owner. I also work with local service-based businesses too, and I help that really meld the two worlds together for your online marketing and getting your online presence known, and then also to do your in-person gorilla marketing tactics to get your clients on the ground and in person. So I kind of have two ways, but most of it is about bringing your business online and how you can really make an impact in your family’s life and your business life by having the online business. And I do that with strategy sessions.

So a strategy session is basically like a 90-minute call where we get down and dirty with your business and we come up with a plan. Now, this could be somebody who is just starting and needs help coming up with an idea or maybe they have a little bit of an idea but they need to really like flush it out and see where it can go and figure out what they want what their next steps are. Or it could be somebody who are already have a business but they didn’t set up some of those crucial steps in the beginning and now they need to scale it a little bit and be able to set up a system that works for them and really can take it to the next level of productivity and getting more revenue and more clients in. And that can happen in the strategy session with me. And then after that, if they are someone who is like me who have to have the accountability piece, I offer accountability plans which are 90 day accountability plans that we set your goals in the strategy session and then after that we have weekly check-ins and weekly meet ups so we know that we are moving forward and that we are accomplishing the goals and we can make changes as needed but it’s really there to set up as a cheerleader, as somebody to motivate you and somebody to hold you accountable because you are your own boss and that is really, really hard to be. Because when you want to sit home and watch Netflix all day, there’s nobody stopping you, there’s no clock to punch, there’s nothing to do that’s going to keep you from doing that. Or if you want to spend your whole three days doing something, going down some random rabbit hole, which, oh my god, it is so easy to do, you need somebody sometimes to keep you on track and that’s what I do for moms.

Susan: Yes, the rabbit hole and getting stuck in the weeds is something I’m very familiar with.

Nichole Nguyen: I’m really good at it, too.

Susan: It’s just when you’re on your own it’s like; “Oh, I can do this or I could do this…”and sometimes it is hard to rein it in so that’s really cool that you offer that. And for my listeners, I just want you all to know I will have all of this linked in the show notes to the Mommy’s Home Office website, Facebook page, everywhere else you are. I will make sure it is all linked and we’ll talk about that before the end of the show for sure. So don’t worry about trying to write all this down now you can obviously go to the Mommy’s Home Office website and find all of this wonderful information. Back a little bit to you as an individual. You are putting this entire thing together yourself: your content, your web page, all of that fun stuff. So tell us what you’re not doing on your own because I think we all know that we can’t do it all all of the time, so who is the team behind you? What do you as an individual…What has been good for you to outsource—maybe it’s personal stuff, maybe it’s other business stuff. Tell us a little bit about that.

Nichole Nguyen: Okay, yeah, perfect. So, honestly, the very first thing I outsourced is house work because when you work at home and you have mountains of laundry and mountains of housework and all of that sitting around—I am a huge productive procrastinator where I will procrastinate hard things or business things that I have to do because my surroundings aren’t clean or my laundry needs to be done and instead of writing that email or putting out a podcast episode or making a call to speak somewhere or do something like that, I will fold 18 loads of laundry and find a pantry to clean out. So, I, first and foremost, outsource all of my house keeping. I have a weekly housekeeper that comes, and really, really my goal is to get someone to come Monday through Friday for about an hour every day just to do the chores and the straightening and the clean up. Like I said, I’ve got three boys so the bathrooms are always disgusting, there’s always something wet on the floor, there’s always a ton of laundry so it’s not my favorite thing to do and it’s something that I outsource. So, most of what I outsource is through my house because I…Even though I like some of it, it’s not the best use of my time and it’s not what I feel I need to be spending my time on.

So the next thing that I outsource is grocery shopping, actually. I use Instacart and Shipt and Amazon for every thing. So, Instacart is an online ordering groceries thing where I get online, tap a couple of buttons, have it delivered and I pay a yearly fee and then I tip on top of the total when they come and deliver it. Oh my goodness, you guys, this have saved me so much time. And I actually love grocery shopping, but when I look at the time that I save not going to the grocery store, and not to mention the money I save when I don’t go in the Costco and I just have my list and the shopper buys what’s on the list—oh my gosh, it was so worth it. It pays for itself in gold every single time I use it. So, I outsource all my stopping, I don’t do it anymore, just by clicking the button to buy it.

And then next one was childcare. This one was hard for me because when I first started my first business I had a nanny – I only had one kid at the time, and I had a nanny who came to the house every day. Well then he got to the point where he needed more socialization so we went to a daycare, and that worked out great. He was about a year old and he was out of the house and I was able to work. Even though I have only started my company six or so years ago, I always worked remotely so I was always either at home or in my car. And I got to tell you, working from home with little kids—little, littles that know that you’re there—is almost impossible.

Susan: Agreed.

Nichole Nguyen: It’s hard. When you need to be on a phone call…Because I was working with senior living so I was helping people find senior living, so they would call me crying because their mother needed to move or something like that and my two-year-old was banging on the door screaming bloody murder at me. And the nanny can only do so much, guys; it wasn’t an ideal. I even thought about going and getting an office down the street somewhere because I just needed some time and quiet to work, and it’s really hard to do that with a little kid. And when you have something like that business that I set up that I didn’t fall in love with the model I set up, but it was dependent on when they called me and it wasn’t something I could do after hours, it wasn’t something I could do on my own time. I was tied to my phone and dependent on them, and that’s why I kind of had to outsource the childcare part of it but I also had to change my business model, and when I started Mommy’s Home Office I knew it had to be something that I could fall in love with and actually do and not be tied to my phone constantly and just waiting for someone to call me; it had to be on my terms. So, that’s how I decided on that model. But childcare was a big one that I outsourced.

Susan: I was just going to say it sounds like you have really found your passion.

Nichole Nguyen: Yeah. Oh yeah. I have. It took me a while and it made me realize that I had to stop the successful business because I created a business that I hated. I didn’t love it anymore. I did, I had to stop, and it was profitable. It was actually more profitable than Mommy’s Home Office is at the current moment, but not for long. And I had to stop it because I could not…First of all, I was emotionally drained because listening to those story constantly—and then a lot of time not being able to help was just exhausting. Being tied to my phone the time was exhausting, and not knowing where the next paycheck was going to come from, you know, what was I going to have a big month with five, six, seven placements or was I going to have no placements that month? And senior living is kind of seasonal, which is weird, but it is kind of seasonal and I would go through drought and famines and you know….And what’s it called? I would go through famines and I would have then all of them have tons of clients and be so busy that I couldn’t figure out how to make it all work, and it just wasn’t something I loved any more. I got burned out on it, and that’s part of how I decided to switch. But switching was so hard because taking a business that was making enough money to cover my salary working and then going to zero….was so hard.

Susan: Yeah.

Nichole Nguyen: Really hard. But it’s all worth it in the end because I have so much more fun with this path that I’ve chosen, and feel like I’m making a difference and it’s all on my terms, so I’m loving all about. So, back to the outsourcing, that’s really all I outsource: the childcare, the housekeeping and then the shopping. And then in my business I do have a VA – she’s on a break right now, but I do have a VA that did all my Pinterest and tagging all the Pinterest stuff, and then I have a sound engineer which happened to be my cousin’s husband and he would just…He wouldn’t edit my podcast, I would to do all of that but I would send him the audio and he would clean it and make it sound really good. And before I moved into this little hole in my closet, my podcasting studio, I had a lot of background noise from the windows around me and different things so he would take all of that out for me, which I didn’t know how to do at the time but I do now. But, just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean it makes sense for you to actually do it.

Susan: No, I totally agree. In fact, one thing that I have found really helpful, and I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, it’s called Fiverr.

Nichole Nguyen: Oh, I love Fiverr.

Susan: Okay. I wanted to make sure you know about Fiverr because that has been a game changer for me.

Nichole Nguyen: It has been. Some time you have to get multiple people to work on the same project. But yeah, it can be really, really helpful when it comes to creating graphics or editing graphics or doing any of that stuff. For me, I found that’s where it works out the best.

Susan: Yeah, and also…This may sound really silly but I have a vision board, and one of the things that I put in it was I wanted to be a job creator. And obviously, this podcast isn’t that big yet so it was like I can’t hire someone full time, but oh my gosh, I can find fabulous women on Fiverr who can help me produce this amazing podcast. Oh, and by the way, I can you know contribute to their income, which has been a really neat thing to be able to do. So, I don’t know, I really enjoy finding people on Fiverr, I guess.

Nichole Nguyen: That sounds really fun, and I feel the same way when I pay my cousin’s husband, the sound engineer, and when I pay my VA. Sometimes it can feel very hard to pay them because I’m like; “Oh my goodness, I haven’t made that this month,” or something like that, and you have to step back and look at it like you’re contributing to their monthly income, they are able to put their kids in ballet or do something like that because you’re paying them so yeah, it does help with that mindset shift.

Susan: Yeah, it’s really cool. So, tell us real quick – I want to respectful of your time, but I have three questions I always like to ask all my guests, and one of them is, you know, even the strongest of us have moments where we lack self confidence, I presume you have that as well. How have you dealt with that?

Nichole Nguyen: Yes, I have that a lot in the struggle because I do have a lot of negative self-talk that goes on in my head. I did an episode all about this, and it was really hard for me to start overcoming that but I heard a quote from somebody that said “How would you feel if you heard someone talking to their child like that or to someone that they were coaching like that the way you talk to yourself ? How would you feel if you heard that? Would you feel like it was a good thing or a bad thing?” And I had to start thinking to myself, like, how would I feel if I heard someone saying this to somebody? The way I talk to my self is horrible so I had to start changing the story and the narrative a little bit and really start looking at the positive aspects of what I have accomplished and what I have done because I set lofty goals and I’m a high achiever kind of person, when I don’t hit those, oh my goodness, I can spiral into to a depression almost and really get down on myself. So I’ve had to turn those conversations around and really be cognitive of the way I talk to myself because I’m a really big believer that your words are powerful and your words create your reality, so when I’m talking really negative myself and saying really ugly things, whether it’s for work or for diet goals or whatever, it’s not helpful it’s actually creating more of that instead of creating the positive energy that I want to come out of it. So that’s what I’ve been doing. My self confidence has gone up some because I do talk nicely to myself, I speak nicely to myself, I try to say nicer things. And when I catch myself being ugly or negative, I try to take a deep breath and reframe to a positive situation.

Susan: Yes, I totally understand that, I totally understand. I don’t know if you’ve ever done the Enneagram, but it’s the same idea as a personality type thing; it’s been around for a long, long time and I’ve read a couple of books on it now and I have no shock to myself. I’m a one on the Enneagram which is a perfectionist so it’s really weird, it’s weird where I’m a perfectionist, like, there are certain aspects of the house that I don’t care about but if the dishwasher is stacked not what I deem correctly then I’m freaking out; it’s stupid stuff sometimes. And then especially when it comes to the podcast, I’ve had to really talk to myself differently about what success looks like and how I motivate myself. So I like how you have tamed your self-confidence. It sounds like you have found a way to motivate yourself through a different way of talking to yourself.

Nichole Nguyen: Yeah, that does help. And when I do get into those funk, because we all do, I feel like the biggest way to motivate and get back on the horse is just by taking action. So, if I feel like I’m having one of those funky days, the first thing is to realize that you’re not having the best confidence or your motivation is waning, recognize that it’s happening and then drink a big cup of water, get some fresh air, go want to walk, listen to some Abraham Hicks or James Webmore or whoever you listen to that gets you pumped up, and then take action. Make it some small actions. So I’ll make plans or I’ll make a goal and be like; “If I can just get these three little thing done today then I’m going to consider today a win because I really, really just want to lay on the bed and watch The Handmaid’s Tale or something like that, but if I can get these three things in, I’m going to call it a win.” And once I get those three little things in, I mean I’ve given myself permission already to quit and be done for the day and call it good. But, 99% of the time I get on a roll and I want to keep doing a little bit more and a little bit more, and I feel like the biggest way to get out of the funk is just to take action and action builds on itself.

Susan: Oh, for sure. I totally agree that. So since you’re a go-go-go person, and I love that about you and your personality, tell us how do you put it all down at the end of the day? How do you let it go? How do you recharge your batteries?

Nichole Nguyen: So, this have always been a struggle for me, and then a few years ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis which is an autoimmune condition, and it also means that my thyroid is basically attacking itself and attacking my body. And then I also have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PCOS, which can cause a lot of issues for me, but self care has to be number one priority on my own with because of those diseases because when I don’t take care of myself or I push myself too hard or I don’t eat right for a longer period of time, oh my gosh, I will crash and burn for a long time. So, I’ve had to make it a priority and it’s been super, super hard. But, I find sleep has to be my number one goal, that’s how I recharge if I focus on getting at least seven and a half hour’s sleep, getting about 60 ounces of water a day, and then trying to eat fairly balance with a really colorful, vegetable full diet—oh my God, my life is a million times better than if I don’t. But, you know, it’s taken a long time for me to get there and really know that this is what works. And I’m not always perfect, but that really does help me, and then just listening to podcasts or audiobooks; that’s my jam.

Susan: Yes, also helps with motivation, I think.

Nichole Nguyen: It does, it really does. So, I will listen to some good podcasts, I have my list of like 15 podcasts that I love and I can’t get enough of, and that’s part of that. You’ll see me washing dishes with my ear buds on, cleaning up or doing something like that, folding laundry, if I have laundry to fold with ear buds on, so…

Susan: Yes, I am right there with you. Okay, one last thing; I always like to leave with an action step. I feel like in sharing other women’s stories in sharing what other women are up to I love the empowerment of that, I love the inspiration of that but until as individuals we decide to take that next step it’s all just talk, so if you could leave our listeners with one action step at the end of our conversation today, what would that be?

Nichole Nguyen: Well, that’s a good question, I guess the biggest thing I want the listeners to get out of this is that you guys are enough, you truly are exceptional. And the action that I want you to take out of this is I want you to give yourself a pat on the back and know that you are doing everything you can to be the best person, the best mom, the best wife, whatever, the best partner you can be—and really give yourself some grace, cut yourself some slack and know that balance is a dirty word it does not exist, it’s a fairy tale so banish that idea from your mind and give yourself some grace.

Susan: “Balance is a dirty word,” I love that. Love it. it’s so true. Okay, Miss Nichole, tell us where we can find you because everyone should be calling you.

Nichole Nguyen: Thank you. Okay, so you can hear me every week on the Mommy’s Home Office podcast on any podcast player that you like, and then also everywhere online at Mommy’s Home Office, so Instagram, Facebook and the website, mommyshomeoffice.com. You can find me there. I’m always, always producing content weekly and then daily on Instagram. And if you guys love you know what I have for lunch or where I’m going today, then check me out on my Instagram stories because I’m kind of addicted. Thank you guys so much for having me. It’s been a blast.

Susan: Awesome. Thank you so much, Nichole, have a great, great afternoon. And I look for talking to you soon.

Nichole Nguyen: Of course, thank you so much.

Susan: Thanks. Bye-bye.

Outro: Hey, sisters, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Nichole as much as I did. If you want to learn more about Nichole and where to find Mommy’s Home Office, that will be linked over on our website, howshegothere.com. Thanks so much for listening today. If you are enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes and hit subscribe. And while you’re there I’d really appreciate it if you would rate and review it in order to make it easier for others to find. I also make sure to read every review and email and Facebook post you leave, and I’m always excited to hear your feedback. If you are listening to this podcast and it is still October, I’d also like to invite you to join us for our 30 Days of Self Care. You can get more information on that from our website howshegothere.com, as well as our Facebook page and Instagram page. And finally, one last announcement, we have finally created a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here Community Page, and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode, as well as any other fun “How She Got Here” content. So, with all of that said, thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you soon.

She lost her mother; now she mentors motherless daughters, with Michele Feyen

Michele Feyen is a woman on mission.  At the tender age of 16, she and her younger siblings lost their mother to a battle with cancer.  She not only took on the role of caregiver for her siblings, but she continued to work hard in school, earning a full ride to college.

After 30+ years as a physical therapist, Michele retired and, along with her siblings, founded the Bettie D. Gonzalez Foundation of Hope.  Named for their mother, the mission of the foundation is empowering motherless daughters.  The foundation enables these young women to tap into a much needed network.  They are connected with a mentor and scholarship money to college.  They learn that they can find courage through struggle and great loss and that with hard work and perseverance they can be successful.

 

Transcript:

Episode Links: 

Bettie D. Gonzalez Foundation of Hope Website

Bettie D. Gonzalez Foundation of Hope Facebook Page

 

Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

Susan: Hey, Pod Sisters, my guest today is Michele Feyen. Michele is the founder of the Bettie D. Gonzales Foundation of Hope. At the tender age of 16, Michele and her siblings lost their mom to a five-year battle with cancer. Being the oldest, Michele took on the responsibility of helping raise her siblings. Along with this new responsibility, she was determined to go to college. She not only did that – but she earned a free ride. Her first career was being a physical therapist, but after 30 plus years, she wanted to make a change, and that change was the foundation named after her mother with the goal of empowering, serving, and mentoring motherless daughters. So without further ado, here’s Michele.

Good morning, Michele! How are you?

Michele Feyen: Hi! I am great, thank you.

Susan: Good. I am so glad to have you on with us today and to share a little bit of your story.

Michele Feyen: I am happy to be here.

Susan: I am just so excited for you to be here. It’s been so nice getting to know you through the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and I’m just excited to have you on and share a little bit of your story today with us. We’re going to get going on your new role in just a moment but first, would you share a little bit about yourself with us and what brought you to this moment where you found yourself.

Michele Feyen: Sure. It was a long time coming getting to this point in my life, quite honestly. It was many years of hard work, many experiences of good bad and some traumatic, and many relationships. But I feel all the good and bad together have got me to this point in my life that I will call very blessed. I feel that life doesn’t always go in the direction we think it should. At age 16, my mother passed away after a five-year battle with cancer, and she left behind six children—and being the oldest, I was responsible for caring for them during my junior and senior year of high school, but I was determined to go to college. Financially, my father could not afford to help me with college so I had to work very hard to get some scholarships.

I ended up choosing my college based on the one that gave me a full ride four year scholarship. But I also received a smaller scholarship that paid for all my books, and that one was awarded to me not just because of my grades but because they believed I had a great chance for success. And I mention it just because it was the first time that anyone ever honored me or told me that they believed in me and my dream, and I’ve never forgotten it and how it made me feel. And I feel that it gave me the courage to do something that no one I personally knew had ever done before.

I ended up going to college and becoming a physical therapist. And long story short, I’ve been married for 36 years, and I have had an over 30-year career in physical therapy. Just a few years ago I started my second career as the founder of a nonprofit organization, and I feel that this is what I’m called to do in this season of my life.

Susan: That is just such a beautiful story. I didn’t realize that you had gotten a full ride and then on top of that your books have been paid for; that’s not — you’re really smart. You’ve got to be really smart if somebody is giving you a full ride to college – or not giving, you earned a full ride to college. That’s really, really cool.

Michele Feyen: Well, thank you. I did work very hard. And in addition to making dinners and getting kids ready for school in the morning and doing everything a mom would do for five younger kids, I really don’t know how I did it but it’s by the grace of God.

Susan: Yes, ma’am, I really can’t fathom them. I just can’t. You’re a true hero. I mean that story alone, just that story; forget everything else, that alone is just phenomenal to me – a true inspiration.

Michele Feyen: Thank you.

Susan: So I would love to hear a little bit about your mom and the foundation that you’ve named after her. What do you want people to know about your mom?

Michele Feyen: Well, my mom was a beautiful person – beautiful inside. She was so loving, and she had a heart of gold. Even with having six children she volunteered and she always was helping others. The neighbors and the neighbor kids just loved my mom and they loved coming to our house to play. So, we always had a lot of kids around. And even though we only had our mother for a short period, relatively speaking, we all knew, all six of us knew without a doubt unconditional love. She taught us compassion and what a servant’s heart looked like. And that’s why it is so appropriate and we are so proud to name the foundation after her, Bettie D. Gonzales.

Susan: What a tribute? What a tribute?

Michele Feyen: Thank you.

Susan: I love it that you say your mom was always helping others and gave you the “servant’s heart” because that’s exactly what you’re doing now; you’re moving forward in a second career and with this foundation you’re really doing that, and that’s just so inspirational. Tell us a little bit about the foundation itself, its mission, where it is now and it’s vision for the future.

Michele Feyen: Okay. Our mission is quite simple “it’s to mentor, serve and empower motherless daughters” and whether they’ve lost their mother due to death or whether their mothers are just physically absent, we don’t make a distinction. And what we do is we offer scholarships to high school seniors who are motherless. We have an application process and a whole process to be able to get the scholarship. And we also mentor girl ages 14 through college, all the way through college. So our first year, which was just last year – we’re very new in the nonprofit sector – our first year, being last year, we gave six scholarships and we are currently mentoring those girl who are now going off to their sophomore years in college. And this year, our second year in business, we were able to give 12 scholarships. We’ve expanded our mentors and we are mentoring all 12 of those girls as they go off to their freshman year in college. So we are just trying to expand. We’re growing in the mentoring program and have mentors increase financially so that we can add some more programs. Next year we’re hoping to give 18 scholarships and mentor those girls. My vision – well I have a lot of things in my vision but basically, our vision is that all motherhood girls will have a way to tap into our resources and have a mentor if needed. We also would like to see every motherless daughter have a nurturing advocate in her life to set goals, teach life and leadership skills and reaffirm her ability to reach her God-given potential. And that’s basically our vision.

Susan: I love that. It matches up so well with my vision for this podcast, of women truly figuring out what it is that they’re supposed to do. And I’m so thankful to have you here today because sharing your story is really empowering, inspiring, and encouraging.

Michele Feyen: Well, thank you.

Susan: Tell me how you find these fabulous girls?

Michele Feyen: Well, since last year was our last year, that was a very good question, how do I find these girls? And so we are currently in the greater Dallas area and we are in the greater Detroit area in Michigan, since I have three sisters who are there, and there are two…Well, I have one sister and myself here in the Dallas area and what I did is I went into all the high schools in Denton, Collin and the far north Dallas counties and I told the counselors about myself, about our foundation, I sent them all applications for the motherless girls and basically, they reached out to any girl that they knew that were motherless and they filled out the application and then return them to me. They’re able to do it online; we have it through our website. And then after that…And we did the same thing in Michigan in the greater Detroit area in Wayne County. So that’s kind of how we’ve been finding them is through the high schools, and I just keep expanding every year into more schools. Well, I’m always looking for ways also. I’ve been volunteering in different areas and so I’m always, you know, word of mouth. And I’ve had some girls that have sent applications from different states but we’re just not there yet but we’ll just keep on expanding the best that I can.

Susan: I really appreciate the grassroots effort behind this. It’s such a see a fascinating story.

Michele Feyen: Thank you.

Susan:I mean you seriously have to have some serious tenacity to just go up to a school and say “I have something I want to do and I want to help,” and I just wonder if more of us were willing to maybe go outside our comfort zone a little bit what we could make this world look like. It’s so inspiring. And I’m so glad to have gotten to know you. Tell us a little bit about how you motivate yourself, because you must have so much on your plate right now. I’m a person who would get really overwhelmed with some of these things, I think pretty quickly. Tell us how you motivate yourself and how you maybe deal sometimes with struggle when things aren’t going exactly how you had planned.

Michele Feyen: Oh, that’s a good question because when you start with such a grassroots effort and you hear a lot of negativity, some days it is difficult to get up and say “No, this is my vision; I’m  going to work every single day on what I believe is right and the vision that I have.” So that is a great question. One of the things that I do – and I do it every morning – is I try to make positive declarations over myself. And I do that usually before I even get out of bed. I say things that I believe to be true: “I am a beautiful child of God. I am a daughter of the most high. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and on and on. And that’s before I even get out of bed. Some other things I do; I try to be around positive people. I call them energy producers versus energy drainers. I’ve learned at this stage in my life that it is not helpful to me to be around toxic people or negative people. And sometimes I have to and I will try to stay positive but I can’t be around that for any length of time. And some other things that I do I love to read and learn new things. So if I’m not learning something new reading, listening to a podcast….I have quite a few emails and daily emails from motivational speakers that just feeds me, that just gives me motivation. I love listening to motivational pastors, motivational speakers, whether it’s in person or on the internet, and that just motivates me. I love setting goals and working towards them. And I just have to go back to, as far as motivating, I write down all my goal and sometimes I have to go back and look a “Okay, well, what were my goals?” And I don’t just do goals on January first, I try to reassess every three to four months, and I just love seeing the goals that I set three or four months ago and it just motivate me to “Okay, I’m kind of on track. I’m going to keep on going” or “You know what? This isn’t working for me; I’m going to do something else.” I guess those are probably the main things that I do to keep me motivated.

Susan: That’s really cool. I want to go back to what you said a second ago “energy producers versus energy drainers” I never have thought about that term before, but those are two very distinct kinds of people in this world, aren’t they?

Michele Feyen: Yes, they are. And I think I learned that through my 30 years of physical therapy. Just working with people that are in pain; it’s no fault of their own but it drained me. I was putting everything I had into them. And that was my job and I did it beautifully but then I had to go home at the end of the day and recharge or I would not be good the next day for my patient. But then after I left that career I realized I don’t need to be around that anymore, I’m not a physical therapist anymore. So that’s kind of, I guess how I label – I don’t really label but that’s how I feel about certain people but, you know, some people just give me energy and then there are others who nothing is ever right.

Susan: Well said. Tell us a little bit – I don’t know if you have to do this so much anymore because it sounds like you’re really in a place where the Foundation gives you energy on a regular basis, but one thing we talk about a lot on this podcast is women finding themselves in a position where they haven’t taken very good care of themselves mentally, physically, you know, just the art of self care itself. And I know from you being a physical therapist, you may have seen this more than anybody else at least that I’ve talked to yet. How did you go about yourself? How did you go about recharging your batteries? How do you do that now? How has that changed from one career to another?

Michele Feyen: That is very good because I’ve been there where my battery needed recharging. And I guess as I’ve gotten older and maybe just a little bit wiser, I’ve felt if I was out of balance in any one area then I was just out of balance and then I did not feel good, I wasn’t my best self. And so what I try to set goals in and the areas I try to keep balance in are: physical, spiritual, relational, and emotional. And if any of those things are out of balance, I tend to just not be my best and so I have to look at all of those areas to recharge myself.

Physically, you know, I try to get exercise three to four days a week. I do Yoga. I recently just started back playing tennis at age 60. Relationally, if things aren’t going well between my husband and I or my kids or my grandkids, you know, that has to be in balance. Or if I haven’t even seen them in several weeks—if I haven’t seen those grandkids in a couple weeks, I need to see them…Yeah, I feel out of balance. Spiritually, you know, how I have to feed myself. I read my Bible every morning but I love hearing pastors and also I get several things via email and that kind of recharges me. And if I’m not being filled spiritually, I will feel out of balance. Emotionally, we can become very stressed, and stress management is a very important thing. So if I’m doing think something that I feel is really somebody else wants me to do it and it’s not really who I am or what I need to be doing, I will feel stressed. And so a lot of it is just self-awareness and knowing that I’m being true to myself on the emotional part.

I’ve always try to teach balance to my patients, and I always said one of my life rule is to develop your core. And I think it’s important to develop your core value, develop your physical core, and core stability, which can be both physical and all these other things that I mentioned before. But your core stability physically would be just to have a strong core; it will help you walk better, it’ll help you move better, you’ll have less stress on all your joints, and that will keep you in balance. But then, also being in balance core stability with the physical, relational, and emotional area I think it’s so important. So I believe it’s just having a good balance. And sometimes you just have to go back to step one and kind of reassess and ask yourself that question “Where am I out of balance?” if you’re feeling stressed.

Susan: I love that you had this first career in physical therapy because it sounds like you weren’t just a physical therapist but you kind of helped people there with the mental aspects of things too, and I would guess that would translate very well into what you’re doing now.

Michele Feyen: Yes, I think it does because I tend to use a lot of physical therapy terms with what I’m doing now and with the girls that I mentor, and even in helping other mentors. So yeah, I think it has because I really think in life in what ever you do you have to balance everything. And like you said from that first question, everything that I’ve – all my experiences from way back when I have all made me who I am today. So, I think you’re right, you know, that has been a large part of it. And I’ve dealt with people with their physical but after 30 years you realize that I’m not just treating the physical; I’m treating the emotional and their whole emotional well being, and it’s very much many injuries and overcoming injuries. It’s very much a mental thing. And that’s something I use with the girls today, it’s we don’t define our path by what we’ve been through but we like to look to the future. And so, yes, I think you’re right, I tend to use a lot of physical therapy terms but it works.

Susan: That was beautiful; that last statement you made I won’t bungle it but I’m going to go back and highlight that for sure. I want to leave us with one last question, and that is…Normally, I like to end with an action step of asking you how you think other women can change their lives and all that, but I really want to just change things up a little bit this time and ask how people can get involved in your new foundation. I know it’s new and I know it has a lot of startup going on and it sounds like you are well on your way to 18 girls next year which is phenomenal. Because the first year you start off with what? Six, right?

Michele Feyen: Yes, six.

Susan: So you’re prepping for year three and you’re talking 18 girls this school year, is that correct?

Michele Feyen: That’s correct. We did 12 this year and so I’m prepping for 18 for next year.

Susan: Tell us how we can get involved with your foundation, either locally, even if we’re not local, how can we give? Where can we find you online? Give us all of that information because I really think this is something that my listeners will want to get involved with.

Michele Feyen: Well, the easiest way is just go to our website, and that ‘s www.bdghope.org. And that gives all the information, you can donate online, you can send me an email, you can call me and get more information but I think that’s probably the best place to go is www.bdghope.org. We also have a Facebook page, and that is under Bettie D. Gonzales Facebook. So those are the probably the two main ways that you can get it. I could give out my cell phone number and you could call me.

Susan: No, that’s okay. We won’t make you do that. But I will make sure all of that is linked on our transcript page. At the end of this podcast, people can go there and check if they didn’t have a chance to write that down. I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule today to share your story with us and a little bit about your foundation. I really look forward to seeing where this goes. I really see this taking off. I cannot imagine a better person for the job.

Michele Feyen: Well, thank you so much. It was my pleasure speaking with you and talking to you.

Susan: All right, I will see you soon.

Michele Feyen: Okay, thank you. Bye-bye.

Susan: Bye-Bye.

Outro: Hey, sisters, thanks so much for joining me today. I will have links to the foundation and their Facebook page over on our transcript page on the website. I hope Michele’s story and the other stories you have heard so far on the podcast have inspired, encouraged, and empowered you. If they have, please share it with a friend or two or three or four or ten. I’d also appreciate it if you would head over to iTunes to rate and review it, as that makes it easier for other women to find. Y’all, I am so looking forward to everything coming up through the end of the year and even into next year. Yes, I’m already planning. It’s going to be so much fun. Thank you all so much for your support and for listening. I’ll see you soon!

My journey with faith and religion, with host Susan Byrnes Long

Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

Intro:  Hey Pod Sisters.  How do you feel about Pod Sisters?  I’m trying it on for size.  Let me know what you think.  Anyway, today I don’t have a guest.  It’s just me. I find myself at a point where I have been through some stuff.  A faith deconstruction.  Sometimes faith comes up on this show.  Not because I bring it up, but a guest brings it up and I feel like you should probably know where I stand on this.  The belief of God. Beliefs of faith. Where I’m coming from when I say things sometimes. So today, I am sharing my faith journey.  It’s a deconstruction journey.  I hope you enjoy it. I hope you learn something from it. I really hope this is helpful to you.  I think a lot of people go through these journeys and they feel alone.  I don’t want you to feel alone.  I’ll link everything in the show notes, but there are some private groups that have gotten me through this over the years.  So if you are a person who is going through this please do not hesitate to reach out.  Contact me via e-mail, Facebook message me, tweet me, whatever.  I am very happy to put you in touch with some of those people and some of those groups.  They have been a lifeboat sometimes in this crazy ocean.  So if that is something you need, please feel free to reach out.  I hope you enjoy today’s podcast.  I hope you get something from it.  Thanks for joining me.

I grew up with a foot in two faith traditions.  One steeped in ritual, scholarship and practice.  The other caught up in perceptions of right and wrong.  Heaven or hell.

On my mom’s side, the church culture was very much fundamentalist.  Ministers did not shy away from sermons about “the end times” or “the apocalypse”. The only way to avoid hell and go to heaven was to ask Jesus into your heart.  You did this by “Saying the Sinners Prayer” or “Walking the Roman Road to Salvation” This was done, by most kids, in the middle school years and it is pretty straight forward.  You confess you are a sinner because you are a human and born with sin and you deserve to go to hell, you repent of your sins, you ask Jesus/God to forgive that sin and to come into your heart” and tada…you are saved.  Made new.  Your old self died and now you are born again.  As long as you really meant it.  There was constant fear over this “did I really mean it when I said it the first time” or “I have sinned again and need to prove to God/Jesus that I really want to be saved that I am worthy of saving” and I surely didn’t want to go to hell…so I’d just do it over and over out of fear of the alternative.   Jen Hatmaker episode referencing church campJen Hatmaker episode referencing deconstruction with Rachel Held Evans.

On my dad’s side the church culture was Catholic.  One of the stipulations my Dad had was that he was fine with Mom picking our Sunday denomination, but he wanted my sister and me to attend Catholic school.  I learned that faith practices and beliefs in the Catholic Church were incredibly different.  There was no emphasis on heaven and hell.  Who was right and wrong.  There was ritual and practice and education. I say all this clearly understanding the issues with The Catholic Church. I know it is far from perfect.  Yet, in a weird way…it felt safer than the other faith practice.

I remember the rejection of the Sunday faith I grew up in, but really could only pin it down recently.  I was in the second grade. It was the Sunday that the minster at my parents church stood in the pulpit and told the congregation that Catholics weren’t real Christians and were going to hell.  I remember looking at my Dad with wide eyes like “what the hell” is this guy talking about.  My Dad just patted my knee and said don’t worry about it.  We can talk later.  To my recollection, we never did.

I have had many many issues with the capital C Church over the years.  I quit church all together in college because I could and I didn’t know where to turn.  I had no problem with God or even at that point Jesus.  It was the Church that I took issue with.  It’s treatment of women.  How I was personally treated just because of my gender.  It’s treatment of minorities and in particular the history of the denomination I grew up in and how and why it was founded. It’s treatment of the LGBTQIA community and what that did to friends I grew up with.  I wanted to believe that God was bigger than all of this.  I wanted to believe that God created us all.  Wonderfully different with all kinds of perfectly perfect imperfections.  That it wasn’t something to fix, but to love.  What I was taught growing up didn’t mirror how big I thought God’s love could be.

After college and two years in the real world, Stephen (my husband) and I got married and moved to NYC.  Stephen had grown up a Presbyterian and I was willing to give it a whirl because, why not?  We did not attend regularly, but the first Sunday we attended I found fascinating. It was the end of Summer and the church was clearly on its last week of “the summer church” season, before everyone got back to the business of real life and everything that comes with a Fall schedule.  The minister, a woman, and a grammy award winning saxophone player gave the most interesting musical sermon I had ever heard.  This place was different and I was hooked.  There was no hell, fire and brimstone.  There was peace and grace.  We attended off and on throughout the Fall and into the Spring.  We found ourself in church that year on Mother’s Day.  There were so many baptisms.  Not that surprising for the holiday.  However, the one thing I found so surprising and very much refreshing that Sunday was that there were two Dad’s who were baptizing their daughter into the church.  I had found in this church what I wasn’t sure really existed in the Christian faith.  A place where everyone belonged and everyone was welcome.  Just how I imagine God would want it.  There really were Christians out there living out the “Love Thy Neighbor” command.

I have found it easier over the years and, in particular now, to have a personal relationship with Mary rather than Jesus.  Although I talk to both. I think because I know the historical Mary was very much the mother of Jesus of Nazareth…and is considered a saint in the Catholic Church…I’m comfortable with this.  Being a mom and a woman…I feel like we would relate to each other better and she would understand what I am going through.  I also try to see God more from the feminine than the masculine which I think stems from the overbearing maleness of church that I grew up in.

This past year, I was introduced, thanks to a close friend, to an inter faith group of women who meet monthly.  It is a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women who get together once a month and discuss their faith.  Not from a goal to convert.  That is not allowed.  We go strictly to learn about each others faith experiences and traditions.  It has made such an impact on my faith.  I simply went to go and meet amazing women who worshipped God in their own amazing traditions and I have done that and I have made some amazing friends!  The one thing I didn’t expect was my own spiritual growth.  In addition to going to different churches I have been to both a mosque and a temple and have felt God’s presence in both.  I also have a much deeper appreciation of how the three Abrahamic faiths fit together.

For me, belief in God is easier.  I have seen evidence of God. Christianity is my hang up.  I see how perceived leaders of the church have molded their flock through fear.  This fear has created quite a split between me and family and friends over the years.  They are not sure what to do with me and on more than one occasion concern for my salvation has been expressed.  This fear has also created an us vs. them mentality that I see play out often.  It is something I do not want to be a part of.  It is not something I want for my son.  Do I identify as Christian?  It is something I struggle with.  For me, there is so much baggage wrapped up into that word.  For now, I find the Progressive Christian label to be a better fit for me.  But I’m still not sure where I will end up.  In many ways the deconstruction is complete, but the rebuilding is not yet finished.

I have learned that if you are a person who has gone through a faith crisis.  Be it Christian or something else.  It is okay!  You are not alone.  I think you are most likely a better person for it.  You have thought through some hard stuff.  The journey of self discovery is not easy.  I think a deconstruction of faith is even more difficult especially if you grew up in a tradition where if you end up not believing on the other side…its hell.  I get it.  I maintain the belief though that the Creator of the Universe is bigger than that.  That the creator created me and you from a place of love. That you and I are WANTED and that you and me are perfectly imperfect.

Outro: Hey, Pod Sisters. I’m still trying this on for size.  Again, tell me what you think.  I hope you enjoyed todays episode.  I really hope you got something from it.  I really appreciate the opportunity to share my deconstruction story with you.  Like I said at the top.  If there is anything you need when it comes to faith deconstruction or anything else on this podcast.  Please feel free to reach out to meTweet me, private message me, e-mail me. I am here. So many of these things I have been through.  This, in particular, has been on my heart a while.  It’s not easy.  There will be people who hear this on this podcast who may or may not have heard this whole story who are pretty concerned who will reach out to me because they are worried about me.  So that will be fun.  Anyway, I will link everything in the show notes.  If you have any questions feel free to reach out.  Until next time, I’ll see ya soon.

Women finding power in financial self care, with Diana Bacon

Diana Bacon is one of the co-founders of Financial Strategies Group, a boutique financial planning firm located in Dallas, Texas.  Shortly after having her first baby, she determined that “big firm life” just wasn’t the right fit.  She wanted to have more control over what she could offer her clients.  So with a new baby and an awesome “can do” attitude, she founded her own boutique financial planning firm.  We talk about everything from starting your own firm to the importance of financial self care and what that means for women of today (and their families)!  It was a great conversation and I learned a ton!

 

Transcript

Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

 

Susan: Hi Friends, my guest today is Diana Bacon. Diana is one of the co-founders of Financial Strategies Group, (Financial Strategies Group on Facebook ) a boutique financial planning firm located in Dallas, Texas. I am so excited to share our conversation today because we discussed two very important topics; one, leaving a large service firm to go out on your own; and two, the importance of financial self-care. Even if you aren’t thinking about owning your own business, make sure to stick around for the financial self-care piece; I’m positive you’ll learn something.

 

Hey, Diana, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

 

Diana Bacon: I’m great. I’m really excited to be on this call today.

 

Susan: I am very excited that we are finally doing this. I know when I first started talking about even launching this podcast you were one of the first people I called and talked to, not even to come on the show but just to, you know, tell “Hey, I’ve got this idea, what do you think?” You’ve always been an inspiring woman to me that, you know, you’re one of the women that I look to who I think have already accomplished the world. So for you to come on and talk with us this morning, it means so much to me. I know when we first started talking about you coming on the show all I was thinking about was how fantastic you are and in your business and how you do all of that but you quickly brought up the fact that women really don’t talk a lot about financial self-care so that’s something that we’re definitely going to get into today while you are talking with us. But first, I just want to start off—and tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do you and how you got started and how you got to where you are now.

 

Diana Bacon: Okay, well, that’s a big one.

 

Susan: Yeah.

 

Diana Bacon: Well, I started in the financial planning field a little over 20 years ago now. So, I was in my mid 20’s trying to figure out what to do with a math degree, I decided I didn’t want to go into academia and be a professor so what to do with my life. So, I got in to fee only financial planning at the recommendation of a friend. I loved the idea that I didn’t have to sell anything—that I got to work with people. And I started working for a company that had a great training program. The company was not a good fit for me but they put me on definitely the right foot. They also moved me to Dallas, Texas, which I’ve been living in upstate New York and I’m from Southern California so that was quite a change for me.

 

So I’ve been in Dallas doing financial planning since the beginning of 1999. And I met my husband here. I went through several firms kind of looking for the right fit, you know, I was at one of the big four accounting firms and they didn’t really know what to do with financial planners. And then in 2004 and 2005 I left the big firms, tried a smaller firm; that wasn’t a good fit either just because of the differences in client bases. And so in 2006 I actually founded my own firm in my living room with a newborn baby next to me—well, she was at daycare so not technically next to me, but I just knew that I wanted to do things the way I wanted to do them, I didn’t want someone else telling me what’s best for my client. I wanted to work with nice people who were living their lives and doing the things they wanted to do and help them and not try to create this boxed product that I just ran everyone through.

 

Three years ago now I merged with another small firm—so two teeny tiny firms became a slightly larger small firm. And my partner, he’s in his late 70’s. He’s been doing this for 45 years, he loves it but he’s obviously at the end of his career, and merging with me gives him the chance to work with clients he loves but really let go of smaller clients or people who don’t need as much help, and you know he gets all the resources of my firm.

 

Susan: Wow! That’s really cool. Let’s step back just a second. So, in 2006 you’re telling me you had a brand new baby that you had just birthed and you were birthing a new company in your living room?

 

Diana Bacon: You know, I really wouldn’t recommend it, but during my maternity leave it became really apparent that the firm I was at was just a mismatch. We had, you know, I was working with a woman that I really respect and admired and she’s brilliant but it wasn’t a great fit and you know, it’s really important in life that we embrace those things that you’re like, “Wow, I tried this! This is a terrible idea and it’s not working, I need to cut my losses.” So I did that. Now, quite honestly, trying to go on job interviews while you’re carrying around a breast pump, it’s a little different—and not so surprisingly I had fewer job offers. I could have went into commission financial planning where you’re selling products.

 

Susan: Sure.

 

Diana Bacon: I have no issue with commission planners; it’s just not what I do and what I wanted to do. So instead I took that very naive approach which was, “How hard can this be? I just delivered this baby.” So I mean, simple things like getting registered with the Texas State Board of Security, I just called them up and got this great man who sat on the phone with me for, like, an hour, I took four pages of notes and that’s how I started doing my own compliance. I just did it and didn’t think too much about it because I wanted to keep working, I love what I do and to me it made sense so now I look back on it and just, “I can’t believe I did that,” but I made it work.

 

Susan: It’s amazing and I don’t know what it is about that period in life where—and I don’t know if it’s age, I don’t know if it’s because, you know, by the time you get your career going or where you think it should go, you know, you’re having children, or how that happens, I don’t understand it but it seems like so many women I talk to—be it friends or people on the podcast, whoever, there’s something about that time in life when you are six, eight months pregnant or you’ve just had a baby and all of a sudden here is this opportunity that’s in front of you and you’re doing them both at the same time and you are literally in the weeds, and it’s like you just have to go and there’s not a perfect answer and there’s not a perfect solution, you just do it, and it sounds like that’s what you did and I admire that, I really admire that.

 

Diana Bacon: I think it’s something about that period of time because your life, your sleep schedule, everything has been totally upended…

 

Susan: Your hormones.

 

Diana Bacon: Yeah, I think there is this thing or you’re like, “Everything is so different now anyway, I’m in a new body, I’m in a new life, like, what could possibly go wrong? And if it does, I already know that I can make it up because I am adapting,” that’s all I’ve been doing.

 

Susan: That’s a good point; you’re right, you have been adapting so you just keep adapting and just going with the flow. That’s a really good point. Tell me what success looked like at that time. Tell me how you were able to prioritize stuff. I know you said—you mentioned you had childcare at the time which is huge. That is of the utmost importance. I could do a whole podcast on how women need to have that available no matter what line of work they’re in, no matter what they’re doing. That’s a whole other issue. But tell me about how you did that time, how you prioritize that, how you how you had time for yourself, time for your family, built your business. I know it’s a lot of questions at once but kind of just give us an overview of how that worked.

 

Diana Bacon: I mean first—and I do want to touch on that point you just made about childcare.

 

Susan: Yeah.

 

Diana Bacon: I mean I want to make this very transparent. I was only able to do this because I had a spouse—well, I still have that spouse—but I had a spouse at the time that could support us and we could pay for child care. We had some financial help from his parents. Without any of that—if it was just me, if we were just struggling through I do not think that my firm would be where it is today, I think I would be in a very different spot. I had great childcare that I could trust my baby with, and that made all the difference. And then in terms of what that looked like in terms of taking care of me and everyone else, there were periods of time where I wasn’t great at self care, there were periods of time where I probably wasn’t the best spouse, there were periods of time where probably even my parenting…. My business maybe I wasn’t on top of things as I could have been but everything ebbs and flows and kind of just keeping in step with life and allowing things to happen and not beating myself up too much let me keep going.

 

You also asked about success at that point in time, and I believe in attainable goals and continually measuring against them. My undergrad is in math.  I’m in personal finance, I mean I love measuring things, looking at numbers, to me it’s just how my brain works, but the first thing I wanted to do was get in the black. That was my number one goal because I did have to pay for like filing fees with the state and setting up my business and buying a lot of software and all of those things. So the first thing was I wanted to be in the black, I wanted to be making money and making a profit. And then it was the next, you know, I wanted to be covering child-care with my income. And then I was able to look at, “Okay, I am getting clients, I’m not spending a ton of time marketing my business because I can’t take in a ton of new clients,” I mean it was just me for the first three years so I couldn’t do everything so I was slowly adding clients I started thinking about, “Okay, what sort of revenue do I need for each client? How do I want these clients to grow so that my business is growing with them?” And just I kept setting these smaller goals, and as I got closer to each goal then I would look at, “Okay, what else should I be looking towards so that I can quantify that and set in my measurable targets.

 

Susan: I love how methodical you are, and I know that’s your math background, and I love how you clearly had a method and I just find that so…I am a creative so I’m way on the other end of the spectrum and I need somebody in my brain like that to, say, pull it back and say. “Okay, this is how you need to proceed.” I like the planning aspect of that. So let’s switch gears just a little bit. We’ve talked a little bit about self-care. One of the things we really want to get to that you want to get to that you want to talk about, and this is what you do on a daily basis, is helping people with self care, with the financial aspect of self care. Tell me as a woman now you know me, I’m married, I have one kid, but what do women maybe…Is there a general thing women need to be thinking about? And I know one of the things that I’ve heard you talk about before and I want to get to is women finding themselves on their own. Whether they found it, whether they started out that way or they ended up that way, and I definitely want to touch on that and I don’t know how you want to frame this conversation of this piece but let’s think about that, let’s talk a little bit about that.

 

Diana Bacon: Okay, so I do work with a lot of women. My industry has very few women. It’s about one in five women and, you know, it’s what you’d expect, it’s white men, older white men. And it’s tough for women. A lot of my clients will say, “I really want to work with you because I know you’re not going to speak down to me. I can ask you any question.” And if you don’t understand your finances you’re just going to keep living your life like your money isn’t yours. And that’s the first thing I do with a woman is make sure that she really gets her head around that her finances, her money is hers. It seems so simple and it’s something that I just see women struggling with time and time again but we do this with our time as well you know we give all of our time and attention to our children, our spouses, our friends, we just give and give, and I see the same thing with people’s money.

 

So, you know, the typical client I feel like I’m seeing right now is a woman, you know, married or single but definitely in that she’s in her 50’s and she’s like, “Wow, I don’t want to work for ever,” and it’s just dawning on her that she’s been caring for everyone else and can she retire? Is she going to be able to stop working? And I’m seeing so many people, not just women, who are in their 50’s and have raised kids and poured everything into these kids: time, energy, and money. So it’s not uncommon that I’ll sit down with someone and they’re telling me about the college possibilities for their kid and the great private school they’re and how their kid is excelling, and all of these extra curricular activities and then when we look at, “Okay, what assets do you have that you could retire with? What does your savings plan look like? How do you go about investing?” And there’s just this blank stare because no, no, no, all the resources are going to the kid. Well, a lot of times the kid’s in high school, they still have to put the kids through school, they’re like, “No, I don’t want them to deal with the stress of student loans.” I mean the student loan issue in the country is really horrendous…

 

Susan: No kidding.

 

Diana Bacon: …And holding us back, our country, but you know they don’t want to saddle their kids with that so they’re looking at even more expenditures which means they’re going to hit their late 50’s and really not have much. So I really talk to women, men and everyone about, “You know what? This is really like we’re on that plane together and you got to put your oxygen mask on first and then put it on your kid. If you’re not taking care of yourself…And it’s just that thing, I mean you’ve mentioned a multiple times, like, you and I have a conversation but if you’re not going financial self care, how are you going to help your family? You know if you’re putting some accountability on your kid, whether it’s the student loan, whether it’s them working during a gap year or you know them pursuing scholarships, whatever that is but if you’re putting some of this on your kids and taking off your plate you can do so much more for yourself. So maybe your kid is going to spend a while in college and getting a grad degree and you can support for a longer period of time in different ways, that’s generally what I recommend to clients. Now, obviously, they’re living their life, I’m not living it so if they’re adamant in saying, “No, that’s not what we want,” I help them in advice but I just see so much giving and giving and giving. Even, you know, new parent in their 30’s and I’m saying, “Well, we’re not saving for retirement we have all this money in a 529 plan.” “Okay, well, look at that toddler…You’re going to have braces come up first but gosh, at least you already have money saved for college which they may or may not go to,” like, there’s just this disconnect. And then you know what? I’m broadening this to men and women but I do want to hold this back a little bit women and typically, you know, we’re not that involved you’re seeing a lot of times that if someone is staying home with the kids or scaling back their career it is the woman. And what that means is—especially if she’s going to wind up alone, whether widowed, divorce because she has taken that time out of the work force because she’s focused on her family, her earning potential is so diminished.

 

So, you know, men after a divorce, they get back to their previous standard of living pretty quickly because they haven’t had the hit to their earning potential. But women, because we’re either out of the workforce or we slowed down our career, worked part time for a while, we take something with maybe less responsibility, or as I also see, sometimes those opportunities just kind of go away when you have an infant or a toddler and elementary school kid so because we don’t have the earnings potential that means that post-divorce, women take a substantial hit to standard of living and most of the time will not get back to the previous standard of living, they just won’t. Women are more likely in their retirement years, A, not to be retired, and even if they are there, they’re living in poverty. Women are much more likely than men to be living in poverty in our elderly years, and it’s really because we have given our whole life and we didn’t take care of ourselves, we didn’t stop, look at what’s going on, look at our income and start saving because you have to start saving before you start investing. And investing really is this magical thing because it allows your money to make money for you so it’s not just what you’re earning through your effort, your blood sweat and tears, but your money works for you so all of your efforts are exponential but that’s really if you don’t start with the savings you can’t invest and then you don’t have a good plan.

 

Susan: Well, you can just drop the mic and walk away. And I say that because…

 

Diana Bacon: [Laughs]

 

Susan: I’m not kidding because I have been very involved within the past couple of years in the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and the research that has been done that I have seen talking about women growing older. And one of the other things is women often—even if you stay married your whole life—women tend to outlive their husbands, statistically. And so when he passes for one reason or another—and I don’t know if this is a generational thing because so many things are still in their husband’s names or whatever but you know, there’s a lack of like basic things like they didn’t have credit in their name. I mean it’s small stuff like that. And I mean obviously there are things like you know your house you can go back and through probate you can fix and things like that, but if you don’t have a lot of the savings and stuff on the front end, or if he had a pension and for some reason you know I don’t know how that works if that goes away or VA benefits or whatever… I mean you know my grandmother is a great example. My grandfather passed a few years ago and I think a huge…Now, obviously, she doesn’t have a house payment anymore and things like that but one of the things that her—a large chunk of her income is social security. And our generation is not going to be able to—that’s not even going to be…You should even be thinking about that so it’s you’re absolutely right, it’s one of those things women find themselves in this spot and it’s something we need to think about. Tell me if you—this is something we haven’t discussed but tell me if you see this; I have seen women, Diana, my age who’s husbands handle the entire financial everything and they have no idea how much money they have, no idea what investments they have if they have any, they have no understanding of their financial situation. Do you see that?

 

Diana Bacon: I do see it, and I have seen it as I worked with baby boomers, I don’t see it as much with Gen X, and then I’m seeing it again with millennials where they don’t pay the bills or if they do you it’s out of a household account that’s really separate from savings, from the investment. I’m really seeing that shift back to, “Well, he makes the money so he takes care of it,” and then something comes up where, you know, they’re splitting up, they’re divorced, or tragedy and the women are really unprepared, and not only does that set them up for financial missteps, you know, if you don’t know who holds your mortgage, how are you going to make sure that the mortgage payment is still being paid.

 

Susan: Right.

 

Diana Bacon: But it also opens up women to what I call a “financial predator.” So for an elderly woman, this could be that salesperson at the bank who now sells her an annuity, which I’ve seen too many times and it shouldn’t be allowed, or for younger women I’m seeing them take loans that they don’t need—just making decisions that if they had more comfort and confidence in managing their own financial affairs, they’d take a step back and not go that direction. So by the time I see these women a lot of time their personal balance sheet is a mess because they weren’t working with a degree of confidence.

 

Susan: It just breaks my heart. It’s just something we don’t think about and we need to.

 

Diana Bacon: You know I get that when you’re part of a couple you’re a team and one spouse takes this and one spouse take thats but I have a very difficult time with new clients when they say, “Oh no, he’ll be at the meeting, if there’s anything I need to know he’ll tell me.” No, especially when sitting down with your tax preparer, your financial planner, any additional investment advisers, your family attorney both spouses should always be there, always.

 

Susan: Yeah, if for nothing else that basic understanding.You don’t have to understand all the ins and outs; people can walk you through that but you just need to have the basic understanding for sure. Let’s switch gears just a little bit and go back and talk a little bit more about your business and how you have developed your client base and where you’re finding your ideal clients and how you’ve managed to grow that because I know that’s something that you’re really passionate about.

 

Diana Bacon: My client base has really changed over the years. When I first started I was working entirely with corporate executives. As they started in the early 2000, as those huge reduction enforced programs were going through with huge layoff, I start working with some small business owners because honestly, if you were laid off and you were 56 you’re not finding a job, you’re just not, no one’s going to hire you. So I started working with small business owners and really seeing some of them have an entrepreneurial spirit, which is really fun. I hesitate with entrepreneurs because the people who just start one thing after another never really become financially secure. I mean it’s very rare that it does, and that that’s one thing I want to see for my client right for them to reach financial independence you know I typically say I don’t really do retirement planning, I don’t care when you retire, I care when you’re financially independent because your decision process is going to change greatly once I tell you, “Hey, you know what? Your assets can now sustain your standard of living for the rest of your life so go to work tomorrow… don’t… I don’t care this is what you can spend, and so go live your life and make any changes you want,” and people do, they will start a business or start a foundation, or it’s probably one of the best things about my job.

 

But as I started my own firm, I really thought about who I wanted to work with and who I wanted to help.You know one of the things I do tell people and they’re like, “What do you do?” If I have just one sentence, I’m like, “I help people,” because I do, that’s all I do. I don’t make anything, I don’t build anything, I don’t sell anything; I just help people. Now, it is much more specific than that; I help people with their personal finances, I give them investment advice, you know all of that. But initially, when I started my practice I, you know, because I told you, I wanted to be in the black and so if someone wanted to sit down and talk to me and they wanted to sign my engagement letter and contract with me and as long as they weren’t doing anything illegal or unethical I was happy to take them. Now over the years as I’ve had clients leave because it wasn’t a good fit, either they decided that or I decided that, I’ve had more time to really cultivate good clients. So to me, a good client is A, someone that I can help and B, someone who sees the value in my help.

 

You know, when I do talk to people new to feeling financial planning, the first thing I tell them is don’t ever work with a client who doesn’t see the value in what you do because when you send them an invoice they’re not going to want to pay it. I don’t have clients push back on fees because they see the value I’m providing them and quite honestly, I don’t have a problem with reminding them of the value I’m providing them, but I really like working with people. And I don’t have a typical “I work with a woman who is this far in her career and she makes this…” my client base is a little diverse. And looking at the current division in America, I mean my clients are all over the board. I work with some very conservative families, I work with very liberal single women, I do work with every everyone, but the one thing that I keep coming back to is, you know, are they doing good in their little corner of the world? Am I providing value? Am I helping them, and do they do they see that value?

 

Susan: That’s awesome. That is just a cool way to think about building a business is really—you really seem to put your clients first, and I love that. I think that that’s not always an easy thing to do because in the day you’re trying to provide for your family as well. I find that very admirable; you don’t hear that a lot in big business, and maybe that’s why big firms weren’t the best fit. I really…I just love that. That just kind of warms the heart a little bit.

 

Diana Bacon: Yeah, I do think that that is a big part of the reason why I’m currently running the small boutique firm; I just don’t know that I would ever be back at a big firm because I just want to keep living my life, including what I do professionally but the way I want to do it which, you know, probably wouldn’t be in line with most of the bigger firms.

 

Susan: Yeah, one or two more questions because I want to be respectful of your time today. Tell us…You work a lot. I know you probably have a lot of hours you put in on the regular and I’m sure you have times of the year that are more busy than others. I think when we first started talking about this you were coming out of a busy time, so tell us how you, when you have the ability to, how do you recharge your batteries.

 

Diana Bacon: I really focus on the things that I know you know reinvigorate me, get me excited about life again. For me, I do need some quiet moments, but what really recharges me is people, being part of a community, feeling like I’m changing the world in some small way. I really love working out, being physical, you know, keeping a strong body but I actually also do that in a way that I’m part of a community. And being part of a community just speaks to my soul. I’m very involved in my church and that—yes, the church part of it you know I find very comforting and I do think it helped me be a better person, all of those things, but it’s that community, it’s having the people, it’s walking through the church playground on a Sunday and talking to several friends and the hugs and all the things that go along with it.

 

And then also I do, you know, I’m pretty busy, I work out, I have two kids, I have a husband who I adore, I have a business but I also make sure that I do give of my time. The best conversation I had with my mom was right when I was finishing my MBA and I had been working 50 to 70 hours a week and doing my MBA at the same time, I was exhausted. So mom’s like, “So, what are you going to do now?” And I was like, “I want to buy a television.” And she laughed a bit but then she said, “You need to figure out pretty quickly where you’re going to go volunteer.” She’s like, “You have this extra time…” she’s like, “You need to keep investing in yourself but invest in the world that you’re in,” and I constantly replay that conversation in my mind is investing in my community, investing in people around me. And especially now that I have kids, like, if I’m not investing in the world, I’m kind of dropping the ball because I’m not investing in them.

 

Susan:  And I’ve seen you doing some of your some of the stuff that you volunteer with and one,  it’s amazing, it is just amazing things that you that you found to get involved in; but two, you are investing in your kids but your kids are also seeing you do this, and I didn’t grow up—I  don’t know, it sounds like you did—I didn’t grow up in a family that was very philanthropic, they were with church but that was pretty much the extent of it, and so somehow that became a really important thing to me after graduating college is getting involved in giving back time, talent, finances. And I think one of the other things you’re doing is you’re instilling that into your own children so that they will have that to go forward with as well, and I think that’s really important, and I think that’s really cool.

 

Diana Bacon: Thanks.

 

Susan: Yes, one more question before we go, and that is the feedback that I’m getting on this podcast and the types of listeners who are finding us, they’re inspired, they’re empowered but sometimes they don’t know which next steps to take so I always like to ask the guest that I have on for an action step, what is it that if a woman is, for today, if a woman is seriously thinking about her financial situation and taking that next step towards financial independence, where should she start? What is one action step she can take today to move that ball forward?

 

Diana Bacon:  I mean, honestly, the most important part of this is don’t be afraid by your finances. Get to know your finances, get to know your spending, make sure you understand everything that’s on your paycheck, really take a look, make sure you understand at least most of what’s on your tax return but don’t be afraid of that. And then, you know, what I would hope every person listening to this would really focus on starting to save so that they can invest and have a bigger plan because that’s what really going to take someone so that ten years from now hopefully they are in a much more solid financial place.

 

Susan: Awesome, that is great advice. Thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it. I appreciate you taking the time and I appreciate you sharing with us, your thoughts.

 

Diana Bacon: Oh, I appreciate the opportunity. This was really fun.

 

Susan: Thank you so much.

 

Outro: Hey, y’all, thanks so much for joining today; that was such a fun conversation Diana. If you head on over to howshegothere.com, you’ll be able to find the full transcript of this episode. The transcript page is a great resource because it is not only the interview written out in its entirety, it has links to some of the things we discussed. Y’all, this podcast is truly one of my favorite things to do and bring to so thank you for listening and for sharing it with your friends. And, if you haven’t yet, you can go on over to Apple Podcasts and subscribe. I’d also really appreciate it if you would rate and review it. You can also follow “How She Got Here” on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Thanks again, friends. I’ll see you soon.

 

 

Building a career out of a love of writing, with Marisa Klein

Marisa Beahm Klein started writing at a young age.  It began with a journal her parents gave her and she has been writing in one form or another ever since.  She expresses her talent for writing through poetry, prose, and journalism.  Currently, she is the creative content manager at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., where she helps share the stories of Holocaust survivors.  

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

Susan: My guest today is Marisa Klein. She has had a love of words her entire life. She loved reading at a very early age and started journaling in the third or fourth grade and just never really looked back. We talk about everything from her college slam poetry team to how she parlayed a love of journalism and storytelling into her current role at the United States Holocaust Museum. So without further ado, here’s Marisa.

Well good morning Marisa. Thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Marisa: I’m great, Susan. Thanks for having me on your podcast. I’m thrilled to be talking to you.

Susan: Well, I am so excited to be talking to you. I know one of the reasons – and I haven’t really talked to you about this beforehand – but one of the reasons that I originally thought you would be perfect for this podcast, I think it was back in January you posted, or maybe it was… I don’t remember where you posted it, but you posted a poem that you wrote on Facebook, and I think you even talked about just how vulnerable that made you feel as a person to be putting yourself out there and putting your work out there. So I don’t even know if I ever told you that but that was one of the reasons that I was like, “Wow, that’s so open and honest and a really cool thing to just say out loud,” and I appreciated that as a human being and as a person and as somebody who is trying to do it podcast. So that was one of the reasons that I asked you and I don’t even know if I ever told you that.

Marisa: Thank you.

Susan: Yeah, I love your poetry and I love your work and you’re just such a good writer so I’m just so excited to talk to you today. A quick glance at your resume indicates a clear thread in all roles that you’ve ever had. You have a passion for writing, and I would love it if you would share a little bit about that passion with us and where it comes from.

Marisa: I’d be happy to. So to kind of think back to where my writing passion came from, I think it really blossomed first with just an absolute love of reading. I can’t recall a time in my life where I didn’t just have a book in hand and always been a voracious reader and my parent’s rule for me going up was no reading at the dinner table because I would try to bring a book with me everywhere and my parents really had to reign that in — they encouraged it of course, but within reason. And I’d say, of course, I always loved to read. And then one of the best things my parents ever did for me is when I was really young, probably third or fourth grade, my parents gave me a journal and really encouraged me to try to write every day in it. That just became a routine for me so I learn to just communicate and process what my life was like through words. So from the time I was in elementary school to today I still journal regularly, nothing as routine as I used to unfortunately, but it just became so natural to me to communicate through words, and as I got older I just tried to pursue as many writing opportunities as I could. I was on my school’s literary magazine, I was a editor of my high school paper, and then I studied journalism in college. And I love journalism and I love interviewing people and storytelling and I also love poetry so I always try to carve out space to write poetry and started going to open mics when I was about 15 or 16 here in Colorado where I grew up and performed for my college slam poetry team and so it just became such a big part of who I am. And it’s been a little harder, I think, as I got older to find open mics, to find the community that I had when I was in college or high-school to be with other writers but it’s something I’ve always sought out.

Susan: Wow! No reading at the dinner table and you’ve been journaling since third or fourth grade? That just blows my mind, just blows my mind.

Marisa: I also had a…Well I have an older sister who’s a really good athlete and she was on the traveling competitive soccer team so every weekend as a kid, too, I was thrown in the car and taken all over Colorado. So wherever my sister’s tournament would have been was that week. So thankfully, I don’t get carsick so I could just read all weekend long too, at her game. So she still teases me to this day that I never watched her play, I would just read my book on the sidelines. Actually, that paid off.

Susan: Yeah, obviously, no kidding. And the journaling from such a young age, I’ve never been a great at journaling, I think I think a lot, but I’m bad about writing stuff down. And I tried to get better at it over the years because I found it to be a calming thing for me. It’s a good outlet, even though I’m not always great at articulating myself. But that is fascinating that you were doing that from the third or fourth grade. That is just too funny. One thing it was funny when you were talking about reading all weekend, it made me think about something that I haven’t thought about in years. Did you ever read those Sweet Valley High books? Do you even know what I’m talking about?

Marisa: I didn’t but I knew of them.

Susan: Oh my gosh, this is so embarrassing, but I remember being in the fifth or sixth grade – I can’t remember – and we had gone to the library as a class that morning or something and I checked out one of these books, and I got so involved in it. And somehow between reading during class, which I wasn’t suppose to be doing or, you know, whatever, but at the end of the day, I had finished that book. And I’ll never forget that as long as I live, and the teacher was like, “I really appreciate that you like reading so much but you cannot be doing this.” That’s just something I hadn’t thought about in years. But tell us for our friends who are listening who don’t know what slam poetry is, would you tell us a little bit about what that is?

Marisa: Oh sure, so slam poetry evolved from an open mic in Chicago. There is one man attributed to kind of starting it, and so he was kind of sick of going to your boring coffee shop poetry reading so he decided to turn it into a competition. So slams are fairly formulaic wherever you go for them, but usually, everybody who performs has a three-minute time slot… roughly. I mean the time to perform a poetry piece typically it’s preferred to be memorized, and I think slam poetry kind of have more of a rhythmic musical element to it, maybe a little bit more, especially in some circle, hip-hop influence to it. It’s a lot…At least when I write it, I write it more for not thinking so much about metaphor or try to be a little less high brow, a little more accessible and engaging. So you really you want your audience to respond because after you perform then your audience rates you. There is judges randomly selected from the audience so they give you a score from 1 to 10. So there’s usually two or three rounds, so whoever performs best in the first round gets go onto perform more and more poetry. So at the end, somebody is actually a winner. And I’d say overall my style is not geared exactly toward poetry slams, but it’s certainly fun to try to write in a different style and really think about not just the language you use, but how you perform it. And it was just a great opportunity for me to get some experience on stage and conquer my fears of going before crowds in that manner. It was just a lot of fun. And I haven’t done slams in a long time, but doing it with a group in college too was great because writing can be very solitary so to have groups that you practice with and perform with was just a lot of fun.

Susan: That is such a neat idea. I have seen it performed but I’ve never actually written poetry or performed poetry. And I didn’t realize so much kind of went into it behind the scenes, I guess. I think I guess I saw it more – when I have attended something like that it’s been more of a spectator, so that’s fascinating. I didn’t even know that, so thank you for sharing that. I may have to try to find one to go listen to.

Marisa: And I think the great thing about… I’ll bet you can find some great ones where you are. And what’s fun about it is that it wants to engage that audience and I think it’s a little bit more accessible than most people think of standard poetry reading. So you get some purists in the poetry scene that don’t love it but I personally love it because it brings people who wouldn’t normally go to poetry events out to see that, and I am a huge advocate of any accessibility in art so I loved it.

Susan: Yes. And I want to talk about your views on art in a minute, but I think we can work it into maybe something, because I remember you said you specifically want to talk about everybody having the ability to be an artist. But I think maybe going into the next questions you kind of talked about that a little bit, you have had the opportunity to be a journalist on the international stage. So could you tell us a little bit about that experience and maybe how it’s different from journalism in the United States?

Marisa: When I was fresh out of college with my journalism degree, I bought a one-way ticket to visit the man who is now my husband who was living Budapest. And I kind of had the intention that I would go for a month or two and then come back and pursue a full-time job at a newspaper in The States, but I got really fortunate when I arrived in Hungary and I was able to connect with a few English-speaking journalists there, and I was able to find freelance work very quickly. And so I was working for two different English language magazines during my time there. And it’s not a straight timeline but in total I was over there for multiple years.

One of the types of writings I did a lot of business reporting so I was writing for the American Chamber of Commerce publication. And this was a really interesting experience because I wasn’t fluent in Hungarian so the events that I went to were typically done in English or things would be translated to me. And I was very young so I was 21 when I arrive to there. And a lot of the events I would go to, especially for those business communities, were very male-dominated. So I was very limited in that I wasn’t fluent in the language, I was very young and one of the only women. So I think I did hit some walls in which I didn’t feel like I was being taken as seriously as I wanted to be. I remember being very cautious about my clothing; trying to dress very businesslike, trying to kind of play up your age in that way. So that was hard. And certainly, that was something I would have faced whether I was in the United States or in Hungary, but kind of using the ability to articulate yourself easily is very challenging when you’re working with multilingual audiences.

And also a big difference of journalism in Hungary versus the United States is the press freedom in Hungary deteriorated while I was there so I did a little — just to put it in context, there is an organization called Freedom House that ranks freedom of the press internationally, and in Hungary when I arrived, the data for press freedom are currently — Hungary only gets a rating of 44 out of 100. So 100 means you have no press freedom so 44 is fairly high, and by contrast, the US is at a 23 level. So when I left there was still free press in Hungary but it was really under attack. And in terms of government I could go — that’s an entirely different discussion but I saw newspapers getting pressure and journalist being very divided, and even the business magazine that I worked for, received more and more political pressure and they doubt, myself included, I really started to transition to more tourism travel writing just because of that environment. So I would say Hungary is a struggling country in terms of press freedom. So to see that firsthand experience was very interesting, and unfortunately, it has only gotten worse since I left.

Susan: Really? That makes me sad.

Marisa: Yeah, makes a lot of us sad.

Susan: That’s just… I mean I think as Americans there are just so much that we take for granted, and when we see just a little bit of it touched we freaked out. I mean there’s no other way to say it; we just freak out. And to think that there are some countries that are fighting for it every day more so than hopefully than we ever will. I can’t imagine, and I can’t imagine being a journalist in that situation. No wonder you kind of shifted things around a little bit.

Marisa: Actually, it’s just hard to see places backslide; you just kind of hope that things progress and then the press gets stronger and more freedom and more ability to report on any story. And it’s very challenging and it’s disheartening to really see that backslide. Unfortunately, it’s not a case just unique in Hungary. It’s nothing you’d ever want to see or experience.

Susan: Yeah, wow. So kind of turning a little bit towards what you’re currently doing, you are currently the creative content manager at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. You also have – I would argue some serious expertise in not just online content but social media content and campaigns. I’ve seen some of the stuff that you put out, it’s pretty phenomenal and fun, and if you haven’t checked out their – even their Facebook page is pretty amazing, which I think you are in charge of, is that correct?

Marisa: I am not in charge of it. I do contribute or help our social media team, and you’ll see some of my videos and content on there occasionally. We’re a huge staff so our marketing staff works very collaboratively. So I do not run very social channel but I do work and share content. I’m a little bit more focused on the email side. We’re a very collaborative team there, too.

Susan: I guess what I saw, I’ve seen some of the videos at that you guys did. I think I remember seeing your first Facebook live video and I think you were in it.

Marisa: Yes. So I did launch our Facebook live pilot series. So we did a 10-week series that was aligned with another campaign we were doing. I was given a great opportunity to be kind of guinea pig that’s launched the weekly Facebook live series, which, of course, doing anything live is very nerve-racking and I had wonderful staff around the museum and we got to give behind the scenes access to people who may never get to come to DC so it’s a great project. So that on Facebook, yeah, I was very active, and I did kick off the whole series in the museum. It was the videographer I work hand-in-hand with; we were trying to get a perfect shoot and book the talent and I was like, “You know what? This one I’ll just to throw myself in and be on camera for the first episode and for the first teasing of it,” like, I’m asking people around the institution to take on this project and get in front of the camera and, like, I guess I can do it myself first too. So that was like good opportunity.

Susan: Yeah, it was so cool just from, again, the spectator side of things. It was fascinating because I have never been to the museum myself and just being able to see it from afar was so, so inspiring, just everything that is there. And what you guys can, I guess, bring to the public and what you guys do on a daily basis is really inspiring. But, tell us a little bit about how you were able to parlay a love of writing into your role, because it is content so you’re doing a lot of writing, I presume at this point, but tell us how this works for you on a daily basis.

Marisa: To back up a minute from how I kind of got to where I am from the journalism world is after I left Hungary I decided to pursue my master’s degree. So I had a great mentor in Hungary who was a professor of Arts Management, and it was a field that I’ve never even heard of prior, and he encouraged me to learn more about it and get some graduate school. So I got my masters in arts management at American University in DC. And this is a natural marriage to me because I was always covering business and I was covering the arts so that really fused those two together and gave me the knowledge I needed to transition from covering the arts to working with intercultural institutions. So I loved my grad school program and it allowed me to pivot my career into something more marketing-focused. And I worked for a couple years at a performing arts center called Wolf Trap Foundation of the Performing Arts, and that was a great opportunity and very fun. I got to see a lot of concerts and write about music for a living so you can’t argue with that.

Susan: Right.

Marisa: Yeah, so that was great, but I was ready for something new and I saw the job come up at the Holocaust Museum, and it really peaked my interest because it was I believe the mission of the museum and it was really a dream for me to get to work on the National Mall that I come everyday and get off at the Smithsonian metro. I’m four years in there, and that still is a great opportunity every day to do that and be around some of the best museums of the nation. And  so I came on as a writer/editor. And I would say even for people who love writing and especially people who are interested in journalism, think there’s a lot of doom and gloom around the industry, but I would say even if you struggle to find a job at a traditional newspaper or radio station or TV station, the skills you glean through journalism training are highly valued in a lot of fields.

So I studied print and broadcast, so the fact that now in my job today I get to do such a wide variety of writing that my journalism degree set me up for, which is just fantastic. So I mean on any given day I’ll edit a social media post, I’ll write radio copy for an ad for NPR, I’ll write for magazine articles, and then I’ll do video interviews with Holocaust survivors. I think it is hard for me to find a job in which I’ve been challenged in so many different ways of writing, and also get to do things to a cause that I care a lot about. So I like that I can — I still feel like I’m a journalist in a lot of way for the institution and I still get to use those skills, but I also just appreciate the ability of my job and the mission-based focus of it.

Susan: Well, share with us a little bit about that, if you would like. I would love to hear more about it.

Marisa: Yeah, so when I was in Budapest, I lived in the Jewish quarter there so that got me more interested in Holocaust history and covering the Jewish Community there. And so when I saw this job come open in DC, I was really kind of shocked that I would actually get to use any of what I learned while living in Hungary, especially historical content, and apply to a job in the United States. And of course, that really made me kick myself for not getting better at the Hungarian language because I interact with Hungarian speakers on a regular basis. But, I’ll say that I believe so strongly in the museum because really at it’s core it’s trying to preserve the memory of Holocaust Survivors, and I think that’s hugely important. And I’m entrusted to tell the story of survivors and victims of the Holocaust, and that’s a huge honor, and especially getting to work with Holocaust Survivors who volunteer at our museum.

We have about 80 survivors who are at the museum regularly meeting with visitors, doing translations for us, they travel around the country for speakers bureau, but I get to meet with them, I edit the essays that they write, I do video interviews, do some ghost writing for them, and the fact that I’m trusted to tell their story and just ride that really delicate balance of getting to reflect on this history and not sensationalize it but also really turn it into a teaching tool, because we teach the history not to just know the facts of it but to help people to act differently in the face of hate but to just learn about the dangers of hatred and where that can lead and where prejudice can lead so we’re of course showing the most shocking example of that, but it’s rewarding. I think a lot of us — it’s a challenging time right now and we’re seeing issues of xenophobia and other reoccurring  refugee issues in our nation. And this is me very much me speaking on behalf of myself and not the museum, but I think for me it’s important that I feel that my day to day work is doing some good and seeing the museum full every single day of visitors, and I just hope that they come and learn something at the museum that they can take to their own lives; that’s hugely important to me.

Susan: Yeah, that’s really powerful what you just said because I am in like-mind with you that we are struggling right now as a nation with some of these issues. And certainly, there are debatable things that can be talked about, which I’m not even getting into. But really thank you, thank you for sharing that and thank you for doing that work. I didn’t realize — wow, you guys have 80 Holocaust Survivors there on a regular basis.

Marisa: Yeah, it’s remarkable; just the willingness  of these individuals to share some of the most difficult periods in their life in the hope that it will carry on the memory of loved ones that they have lost and hopefully improve the future for other generations. I’m just in awe of their resilience and their openness. It’s been such a good example of me to get to work like this with them.

Susan: Well it sounds like it has become their life-work as well. For so many reasons that makes sense, but for so many reasons I’m impressed and just wowed that somebody could do that after going through something that is so unimaginable to me that I can only think of through images in a history book. I cannot even begin to come close to putting myself in that situation. And for them to share their stories and to do that on almost daily basis, I would guess, it just…I can’t imagine that. And I never really thought about it, but I really appreciate them doing that. And I appreciate the work you’re doing, it’s so important. I don’t know, that just really touched me in a weird way. Anyway, sorry about that, I might have gotten a little emotional..

Marisa: Part of my job.

Susan: So in that vein, even the strongest of us have moments when we lack self-confidence in what we’re doing, and you don’t ever appear to do that. I presume you do, I presume you hide it well, maybe I could be way off base maybe you don’t have these moments, but if you do, how have you dealt with that?

Marisa: Well that is a very kind assessment of me, but of course, I have moments where I lack self-confidence, really, like, everybody does. And I guess I do have a really outwardly view of…One of my high school teachers used to always just call me very self possessed and I think I of course try to exude confidence in what I do, but certainly, I have moments of self-doubt, and I have a really wonderful team of editors who work with me who always help each other out and putting our best work forward. I’d say one thing that’s always helpful – well, there’s a couple of things that has helped me and one is I really have the joy of surrounding myself with people who have far more faith in my skills and abilities than I do. I really could not speak more highly of my family and core circle of friends. I have a lot of cheerleaders and I cannot emphasize how important that is to have someone to… I just texted a friend right before this, I was like, “Oh, I am about to be interviewed for a podcast’ I’ve never done this before,” and she’s like, “Oh, you’re going to be great.” And just to have people who don’t ever mean it insincerely but just really kind of telling you that self-confidence or the affirmations that you want for yourself.

On this podcast you talk about seeing professional coaches, and I’ve been seeing one as well who I just adore and she really good at showcasing, making you see things through a new lens. And things that I struggle with is I worry a lot about how my decisions affect other people and the way that they make those people feel, sometimes then the way they make me feel or how my actions help or hurt me. And having other people just kind of to refocus how I see myself and my actions is so helpful. So I love that aspect. And then also I think something that helps me in self-confidence which is very funny is I am a total dabbler. I am very curious, I love learning new things but I like to take on new hobbies and projects — and I wouldn’t say I don’t see them through, it’s not like I’m building a house but I kind of like start doing one thing and then switch to another so. So for example, for the last couple of years I’ve been taking guitar lessons but I also have not picked up my guitar for many months. So I like to jump in these projects and try new things but never attained or frankly really try to an expert level. So in my life like a willingness to be a novice or very mediocre at activities is really healthy. And I don’t think enough people are willing, especially if you’re older, to just take up a new hobby, like, knowing that you’re not going to be any good at it, and it might just be fun for a little while.

Susan: Yeah.

Marisa: I try to do that and I think it’s just nice to just be humbled by something that, like, I’m not a good guitar player but this is really fun and it gives me a creative outlet that’s not writing and gets me to think about things or just try something new, and I think that actually really help people build up their confidence to intentionally fail at new hobbies and it’s fine to see that there aren’t always consequences and nobody in my life expects me to be a superstar at anything I take on. And the same with exercise, I love to work out but I’m not a world-class runner or swimmer or anything that I do but I still do it because it’s healthy and I like it. So a very long answer to your question but that’s something I’ve found and I encourage other people to do around me as well.

Susan: And within your answer I think you answered one of my other questions which I always love to ask is how do you recharge your batteries, but it sounds like that’s one way you do it. And those are several little ways you do it which sound awesome and fun. What’s your favorite? What is the one thing that you’re doing right now that you’re just loving?

Marisa: Right now?

Susan: If you had to pick a favorite.

Marisa: I’ll pick one that I’m not doing immediately but in the last year one of my good friend Amy and I and my husband all took beginner ukulele classes at a community art place in Washington and that was a blast. We have a very quirky teacher who is a brilliant musician and gives no pressure at all in the class; you just kind of show up and have some fun and play some music, you go home. And it’s doing that with friends and just having a good time and laughing a lot. It’s just wonderful so we’re going to try to pick that up again in the fall.

Susan: Well, that sounds fun and awesome at the same time. And I want to mention something because you said something a minute ago, you said you had called one of your friends to say you’ve never done a podcast before, and I just want you to know you’re a natural, and I think it’s because you are a good storyteller but you could do this all day long so, you know, in your spare time if you feel like starting one up, you go for it, just do that.

Marisa: Well this is very fun, and I hear it and not only my interview but the ones you’ve done previously that you really put guests at ease so you are also a natural.

Susan: Well thank you. I  just think it’s fun. I think it’s fun and inspiring and it inspires me to tell other people stories and in a day and age where I just feel like we need to give women a platform who otherwise may not have one. I mean you are certainly somebody who works at a world-renowned museum, you know, some of my guests are just next door neighbor’s who are doing some really cool stuff as well and I just want to make sure that there is a platform available to share our stories because I truly believe that it inspires, empowers and encourages others to figure out what their passion is because I feel like we were all born with one, I really honestly do. I feel like we were all born with some sort of something that we were put here to do, and if we all can somehow figure that out then we just made this world a better place. And so that’s what I’m hoping to encourage and inspire and empower other women to do. So, that’s my goal. But anyway, I want to go back to something that I kind of started to talk a little bit about earlier and then I dropped it but I said we’d come back to it, and I’m going to mess this up because I can’t remember your wording exactly and you worded it so well and it was so beautiful. You talked to me before this interview about how you want to make sure everybody understands the artists within themselves, or something to that effect. Can you share a little bit about what you were trying to convey to me in that conversation.

Marisa: Sure. I can’t certainly remember exactly what I told you but throughout my career, and I just talked a little bit about that was just trying my own artistic pursuit, but I believe so strongly in the power of creativity and expression and the finding a way, and I really just like our culture that people are dissuaded doing activities that they aren’t really good at. So I think we have a tendency to pigeonhole people of, “Oh, you’re a great drawer, that’s fantastic, do that.” And I myself is a terrible drawer, like, nobody want’s me on their team in family Pictionary, like, terrible at it, but it doesn’t mean I can’t try a bunch of other activities or still draw. And I am such an advocate for the amateur artist that I want people to go to community festivals, to go try their hands at creating something. It’s really healthy.

When I was in grad school I worked at a organization called the National Center for Creative Aging, and the project I got to work on was pairing graduate students in social work and healthcare and art with older visual artist. So they would help the visual artists set up their studio and help teach them to document their work and build on their legacy. I loved that project, and within it there was a major research project going on as well from Joan Jeffri who ran the project called Art Cart, and this is a long way of telling you this, but the study that she’s doing, anecdotally, I could easily tell you that doing arts or creativity can extend your life, but there’s actual science behind it and rigorous studying too to show how healthy it is to have something to express yourself through. And I just want more and more people to be willing to do that and there’s a Moto that I’m completely stealing from an organization called Creative Mornings that post lectures on creativity all over the world for free, usually once a month in every city. I’m certain that Dallas has them as well. And their whole motto is “Everyone is welcome; everyone is creative.” And I just think that is so brilliant and so succinctly put, that everyone should be welcome to create, not just top world-class performers and everyone should be welcomed.

So that’s one thing I just love that you’re doing on this podcast is not just focusing on people who are already recognizable but who are doing wonderful work. And certainly doesn’t have to be in the arts, that’s just what I’m passionate about, but just thinking how important each of our work is and we can create. It don’t have to be hanging up in a museum or some amazing published work, but I just want my work to encourage other people to be creative and tell stories and share things about other people’s lives.

Susan: Well, I think that it is, and I just appreciate you sharing it. I appreciate you sharing your creative talent through your poetry that you’re willing to put up online. I appreciate you writing amazing content for the museum or doing the Facebook live which I know is nerve-racking, or at least it was for me because you don’t know how many people are going to see this and you’re like, “Ahhh!”

Marisa: It is hard.

Susan: There’s no editing, there’s no edit in here. But yeah, thank you for sharing that because I think you’re right, I think people are often so many times either told no, don’t do that, or that’s not your outlet or whatever. And it’s important, it’s important to share anything if not for someone else then just for yourself to just to see what you’re made of sometimes, I think. So, I always like to leave with an action step, but it seems like you kind of already gave us one to find our creative outlet. And I don’t know, do you have anything else to add? Am I missing anything?

Marisa: I’d say I really of course encourage people to journal. I think that’s really healthy, and yeah, I think action steps of trying to find a creative outlet for everybody or to try something new is what I would like to encourage people to do. And it certainly doesn’t have to be in the arts, like maybe try running or walking or something, but I just love getting people out into the community and just taking part. So those are my simple action.

Susan: Well, I don’t think those are simple at all; I think those are things that we all need to think about and do, maybe, especially the journaling thing, that has been really, really helpful for me trying to do more of that. When I do it, I feel better. But tell us — one more thing before I go because I always forget this — tell us where we can find your work, either through the museum or if you have like a…I don’t even know if you have like a public creative outlet or anything at the moment, but if you want to share some of your museum content with us or anything like that, tell us where we can find you or where we can find your work.

Marisa: Sure. I don’t have a website at the moment. I’ve been kind of dabbling in and out of that. That’s a great action step for me to get back to that so I can say, “To read my work, go to…” And, you know, as someone who works in marketing you’d think I’d be better at that but I’d say that, I do have a book of poetry that you can get on Amazon called Opened Aperture, so that you can read; that’s some of my older poetry that I wrote mainly based on my time living in Budapest. And then for the museum, if you subscribe to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum email and I’m usually leading the content on a lot of our storytelling emails so if you read those you can see my work. And I also was the copywriter for a book at the museum published last year called The Last Witnesses. And that book is, every page is a picture of an item that’s in our collection, so personal artifacts and our designer, Mary, did a beautiful job laying it out, and then with the visuals I then tell the story of who the object belonged to, what the story behind it is. So that was one of the biggest projects that I worked on at the museum that I’m very proud of. Also, you can buy it at the museum or you can buy it online as well.

Susan: That is awesome, and I will make sure on our website to go and link all of those things so that people can easily find them. So you guys can just head on over to the website and check those out. Marisa, thank you so much for joining us today and taking time out of your work week and out of your vacation/work week. I really appreciate you taking the time to join us today and to just share what you’re doing, and just your thoughts on life. I really appreciate your time today.

Marisa: Thank you so much. I love doing this. It was very fun, and thank you for making this podcast.

Susan: All right, friend, I’ll talk to you soon.

Marisa: Bye.

Outro: Thanks so much for listening today. I hope you found just as many good nuggets in our conversation as I did. Y’all, I will make sure and have all the links to the things Marisa and I discussed over on this episode’s transcript page on the website. So if you didn’t have a chance to write something down, you can be sure to find the link at www.howshegothere.com. Y’all, seriously, thanks again so much for listening and for sharing this podcast with your friends. This show is truly a great love of mine and I really appreciate the opportunity to bring it to you. Y’all, your feedback has been overwhelming and I really cannot believe how many subscribers we have. It’s so exciting. I’m just so thankful that so many people have been able to find it and that it has resonated with so many women. One way that it makes it easier for other women to find is if you rate and review the podcast on whatever platform you listen to the podcast on. So I would really appreciate it if you would rate and review it so that it makes it easier for other women to find it. Y’all are my people and y’all are just the best, and I love, love, love sharing this work with you. Thanks again, friends, I’ll see you soon.

Akola founder Brittany Underwood shares her journey from undergrad to Top 10 CEO

Brittany Merrill Underwood is the Founder and CEO of the Akola Project. In 2006, Brittany, a Southern Methodist University sophomore, spent the Summer on a trip to Uganda with a few friends.   After meeting a Ugandan woman named Sarah, who was caring for orphans in her home, Brittany was inspired to roll up her sleeves and help.  It started with a proper home for the children and quickly grew into creating a sustainable work opportunity (The Akola Project) for other women like Sarah so that they could provide for themselves, their families and these children.  Today, Akola provides training, dependable living-wage work opportunities and holistic education programs to over 500 women in Uganda and Dallas, TX, who care for approximately 4,000 dependents.

 

Transcript:

Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations With Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.

Susan: Hey, friends, I am more than excited to share my guest with you today. Brittany Merrill Underwood is the founder and CEO of the Akola Project. Akola is a full impact brand which means they reinvest 100% of their profits to support work opportunities, training, social programs, and the construction of training centers and water wells in impoverished communities throughout the globe. Akola has a social impact throughout its entire supply chain and offers women opportunity through the creation of their raw materials, assembly of their product, and their distribution center that acts as a second chance job program. Akola has created a new high impact model for social business that is paving the way for high impact millennial run businesses that seek to have an impact on the world. In 2017, Brittany was named among the top “The World’s Top Ten CEO’s” in Inc. Magazine, the best person in the world by Yahoo in 2014, and was honored by clothing manufacturer, Levi, as one of 50 women around the globe who have changed the political, cultural, and spiritual shape of the future. She was awarded the Emerging Leader Award from SMU in 2013, the Young Leader Award from the Dallas Women’s Foundation in 2014, and was awarded a Silver Medal from the Business and Inner Faith Peace Award given by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation in Rio.

Brittany has been featured on the Katie Couric Show, CNN’s Young People Who Rock, Fox Business, and Modern Luxury. In 2014, she was asked to join a mentoring class for the Laura Bush Women’s Initiative, and joined the Faculty of Southern Methodist University as an adjunct professor in 2015 where she teaches a new course on social innovation. Brittany continues to devote her life to creating a brand that empowers women through economic and holistic development as CEO of the Akola Project. According to Inc. magazine, “Underwood is a clear example of a servant leader practicing conscious capitalism to transform the lives of impoverished women and families.” So without further ado, here’s Brittany.

Susan:  Well good morning, Brittany. Thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?

Brittany: I’m fine, thank you.

Susan:  Well, it is so good to have you here. I know I shared in the opening with my listeners kind of a little bit about Akola and your story and what you did, but I would love to hear from your mouth a little bit about yourself and where you’re from and how you got to where you are now.

Brittany: Sure. I am Brittany Merrill Underwood. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia and went to SMU, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas for college, and spent most of my 20’s back and forth from Uganda, which I’ll talk about that a little bit more later on in the podcast. And then I married my husband – he’s a Dallas native – in 2012, and moved back to Dallas, have two little boys, a three-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old and so balanced that with my work as founder and CEO of Akola Jewelry. And we are a full impact brand that’s devoted to empowering women to become agents of transformation in their families and communities and grow a business. And so it’s a busy life, it’s exciting, but a lot there. In addition to that, I teach a course every spring at SMU now on social innovation and do that as well.

 

Susan: I did read you have started that; you just keep adding to the empowering and inspiring of women and I absolutely – that just warms my heart. You go girl! So tell us a little bit about how you got to Uganda to begin with. Tell us a little bit about that story.

Brittany: Sure. So I was a sophomore at SMU and I was not involved in any community service activities and  didn’t grow up in a culture of philanthropy in Atlanta; that just wasn’t part of – yeah, wasn’t part of our lifestyle so I had really not done anything for others, which is true. And, you know, was 19 years old and had promised two of my friends in college we would have a summer adventure and I thought we would teach somewhere in Europe and I kind of tuned out of the conversation for a second and they picked the boarding school in Uganda. I didn’t know where Uganda was at a time on the map, and I just had no desire to be in East Africa or had never been to a developing country and sort of got dragged there by two of my friends.

So two weeks into being in Uganda, we were working with a group that was taking us to different villages to help us understand the culture, meet Ugandans, understand more about their lives, and I just – I was sick, I was tired, I was completely disengaged. And a local pastor that we were working with kind of noticed my discomfort and he said, “I want you to meet a local woman in our village who I think will inspire you.” So I said, “Okay,” and I followed him up this dirt road to a shack outside of Uganda’s capital city Kampala, and I met a Ugandan woman named Sarah. And it’s funny, there is not a lot of stories like this, I can trace this entire journey back to that single moment and it was that powerful. And I met Sarah and sort of didn’t know what to say and she had these sort of bamboo mats rolled up in a corner so I casually asked her what they were for and she said, “Children, children sleep on these mats,” and I thought, “Children on these mats on the floor. I mean, it was the size of my closet.” And 24 children slept on her floor every night and they didn’t have anywhere to sleep; they were street children, and she had shelter so she’d roll out these mats and they would come and sleep.

The problem was they didn’t have food, they didn’t have school fees and medical care, they didn’t have any of those things. And Sarah couldn’t afford to give them many of those, she was in poverty herself. So I saw this woman who sacrificed everything she had. I mean she would go hungry to feed these kids so others could live. And here I was, a selfish college student who had never done anything for others and it just shook me out of my complacency. So, that sort of began this what has been a 15-year journey for us. I kept up with Sarah after that summer and just kind of started sending her money for food or school fees for the kids and just wanted to help and it turned into a project to build a home for the children who slept on her floor. That was the beginning of the Akola journey.

Susan: So, the orphanage that you were building, that is where Akola started, was there?

Brittany: It was. I mean, it was just a one-off project; it wasn’t anything that I was trying to start for the long haul, I just wanted the kids to have a place to sleep. Beds and a bigger room. So this initial idea was just to build a small building for Sarah and her kids so they would have a place to sleep. And around the same time I met Sarah, another woman did and  started  a sponsorship program for the kids who slept on her floor. So six months after I met her, the kids were eating, they were in school so what they really needed was this building. So it started out as this tiny $10,000 project, started raising money for it. I was a journalism major so I figured if someone could just see the story and see what I saw, surely they would want to help in the same way that I wanted to help. So I filmed a promotional video and edited it in the halls of SMU and started these grass roots fundraisers to raise $10,000 for the small home, and we ended up raising over the next several years a million dollars which is just incredible. It developed a three-story orphanage for every kid.

Susan: That’s awesome!

Brittany: Oh yeah, that’s just being young and idealistic you’re 20 and you’re like, “Why wouldn’t we just build a building for everyone?”

Susan: Absolutely!

Brittany: Next thing we knew it was this massive project. And I graduated from SMU in 2006 and thought, “I’ve got to move over to Uganda to make sure this project actually happens,” you know, a lot of people just entrusted us with their money and I need to personally oversee this. And that’s what led me to Uganda. And during the construction of this building, my three friends who kind of we all thought we’d be there for 6 months to oversee the orphanage project and go on with our lives, and it took about three years longer than we expected, and we were just making construction payments but we had so much time to just listen and get to know the community and to learn. And we knew we were so young that we just didn’t know anything so we didn’t come in with any assumed knowledge. So, again, I think we listened in a way that was really special and learned in a way that was very special, and what we kept on hearing as we met more and more women  like Sarah is that what they actually wanted was not an orphanage, they wanted the ability to care for orphaned and disadvantaged kids in their own home. They had the heart and the vision; they just didn’t have the resources.

So it was pretty humbling as we were building this monstrous orphanage that in the end you know it’s better than a kid sleeping on the street but it’s not what they needed or really even wanted. And so I started Akola in 2007. Akola means “she works,” and as we were building the orphanage, I wanted to create a model to where we wouldn’t have to continue to build orphanages that supported women headed households to care for up to 10 kids in their home. And so we needed a way for the women to generate an income, and that’s when we started the jewelry business because we thought if we could create a product, sell it in the US, all the money would go back to the women, then they would be able to support their kids. So Neiman’s Marcus laughed, cause our jewelry is in Neiman’s now,  and when we tell them how little thought went into our initial product, it was easy to ship, I had some friends who owned boutiques and voila we had a jewelry business. And what’s funny is, you know, this is before Tom’s and before FEED, this was 2007, the social business movement didn’t exist. There really wasn’t a playbook for this, we just thought it was a better way to meet the needs of disadvantaged children, and so that’s how Akola began.

Susan: You were a woman with a mission and vision.

Brittany: That’s definitely true.

Susan: So tell us about these women; they’re taking these orphaned children – some of them are probably their own but others – orphaned children into their own homes, how did you identify who would be a fit for Akola? Was it every woman in the village? Tell us a little about that.

Brittany: Yeah, we have a pretty rigorous process where we figure out women who have the most dependents and the least support. So initially, our goal was how do we kind of fund women who are starting these home orphanages, like, how do we have those women in our program? And then we quickly realized that there were other women who had just as many dependents that were related to them as the women who were taking in street kids. So we sort of created a model where if women had an average of 9 or 10 dependents and they didn’t have much support from their husband or didn’t have one, then they would qualify for our program and the support.

So we would go through an interview process with their local leaders to kind of identify these women headed households and social mapping, we worked through a church, I mean everything you can imagine to really identify the women who needed this program. And that’s how we build out our Akola woman space, and we worked with an average 4 to 500 women every year in Uganda in seven different communities now. We started with 15 women under a mango tree in front of their church and now it’s a pretty full of blown operation. And we realized in 2010  as our business began to grow and we went from 15 women to 200 women making jewelry, that we wanted the women to have a dignified place to work and they didn’t really have that in their villages. These were remote agrarian villages in Northern Uganda and Eastern Uganda along the Nile River and they didn’t really have an infrastructure so we started building these manufacturing facilities and training centers; we call them hope centers in Uganda where the women could go and work and create these products, and also realized pretty quickly that what we were doing was not effective unless we created educational programs around the women’s ability to generate income.

In 2010 we had one year I think it was I mean close to five women die in childbirth in our program in their homes, and we thought how in the world was this happening? They’re earning a living wage, why aren’t they going to the clinic? And we realized when we did a little digging that they either had superstitions around going to the clinic or they didn’t even know that there was one five miles down the road. So there was an education gap, and it was sort of this aha moment that it didn’t matter if they’re earning four times the wage in their village if they don’t know how to use it to create meaningful change in their lives to address their maternal health, to address the needs of their children, to strengthen their families, to combat domestic violence, to save and loan and start small businesses, it didn’t really create long-term change. And so that’s when we created Akola Academy which is our suite of holistic services that kind of wrap around our work opportunities at Akola. And that’s really set us apart. I mean that’s something we do. I don’t think there’s any other social brand that puts as much into that kind of programming as us. And it’s allowed our women to really find a pathway out of poverty versus just receiving, you know, living wage work opportunities, which is great, but it’s not enough to pull their families out of poverty.

So built that, went to grad school to kind of understand what model to build and how to build it in 2010/2012, and launched Akola Academy with our chief impact officer, Erica Hall, who is the sort of architect of our development programming and that really took off. And what’s interesting is that people assumed that it was our jewelry business that took off first and it was actually our development model and social services that sort of gained notoriety and through that we were presented these amazing opportunities to create product lines for very special retailers and began to grow the retail brand. So that happened in 2016, and that’s when we expanded to Dallas – which I can talk about in a second – and launched through Neiman Marcus which is really when the brand really took off.

Susan: And that’s when I heard about it. I actually heard about it in 2016 through the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and we can talk about that at some point as well and your involvement there, but I always feel like I’m never, like, on the front end of fashion or hearing about fashion and when I heard your story as it was then, I was inspired and empowered and I said I have to go buy everything that they have. Hearing what you have had added and understanding the Akola Academy and what all that new how you have transitioned even into that, how did you – you said you went back to grad school, how did you surround yourself with the right team, with the right people, like, how did you find the people in order to create this?

Brittany: A lot of it was blind luck and just grace, just God’s grace. I mean we had the right people at the right time who just kind of fell in our lap, and also a lot of it is just learning. I mean I think I just – throughout this entire process, I mean at each point in our development there is something new that we have to learn and develop and I’m a creative, and I like to do that. So when we knew we needed to develop our social service models, I knew I didn’t have the tools to do that, I didn’t have the expertise. I had the experience in Uganda but not the learning to make this  sort best in class, which we strive for at everything we do at Akola.

So I studied under some of the top development practitioners in the country, the vice president of programming for World Vision, who is one of my mentors and professors [inaudible 12:11] and worked with him to develop this very unique model for our women. So a lot went into it. And then had just the luck honestly of having our chief impact officer apply to work at Akola, and she had worked for Jane Goodall for a while and sort of  established her women’s empowerment program. And she was looking for something new, she stumbled across Akola, reached out to us and came on in 2012 and she’s still with us today and she was able to really build out on the ground what I helped sort of create the lines for in grad school. So it just was a great partnership, and it’s something that we’re so proud of today just everything we built in Uganda and what that model looks like. And what’s fun is when we had a chance to bring it to Dallas.

So that happened in 2016 actually through a partnership with the Dallas Women’s Foundation. Roslyn Dawson Thompson, the president, I was lucky enough to meet her through some work we were doing at the Bush women’s initiative at the George and Laura Bush Presidential Center, and we met and she learned about our model and said, “Why in the world is this not in Dallas?” You know and I said, “Well, because this is an agrarian community in Uganda, I don’t know if this is something that can work,” and she said, “Well, we’ve got women in Dallas who are falling through the cracks, you know prostitution, poverty, incarceration sort of women who are in crisis and they come out of those situations and they’re growing through these non-profit programs where they’re being rehabilitate but they can’t get a job because they’re not stable enough yet to even go through a Workforce Development Program. So the door is kind of swinging in their face and then they end up going back to what they know and go back to prostitution, poverty, jail, you name it.

And there really wasn’t anything in Dallas that offered women like that, women in crisis a living wage flexible work opportunity, and she knew that our model could probably do that. So she said, “Why don’t we figure this out?” So we began to kind of do some diligence and try to build what a model would look like here. And what we realized is if we were going to do manufacturing for our jewelry, we needed a more elevated product line to pay women an average of $15 an hour which is our goal. We really stand for a living wage. And so we pitched this product line – or I pitched it to the CEO of Neiman Marcus kind of through a series of events, got a connection to her, she gave me a 10-minute meeting at Neiman’s, and I just as quickly as possible just told her what we were doing, what we had done and that we really wanted to help women in poverty in our own community and we needed a partnership with a major retailer like Neiman’s to sell an elevated jewelry line to ensure we could offer these women work. And she was amazing I mean, she said, “This is intriguing, design a product line at that price point, come back in a couple of months and we’ll see what we can do.” And so, you know, we didn’t have any retail infrastructure at that point, we were selling to boutiques around the country, we had no one on our entire team with any design expertise or any retail backgrounds, and I was six or seven months pregnant at the time and had friends come over who were jewelry designers to help me put together  this line for Neiman Marcus and had beads all over my house and had a one-year-old who was stepping around in a diaper and it was just total chaos, and came back and presented this line to Karen and her team at Neiman’s, and she was so impressed, she said, “We’re going to launch you in every single store nationwide and in our catalog and online and by the way, you’re our fantasy gift. Oh my gosh, we have a national roll out from Neiman Marcus and no retail  infrastructure to support it. And we had not really started a program in Dallas.

We’d run a pilot with about 15 different women but we hadn’t really built the program yet. So in a span of – I will never forget this time – it was in 2016, the summer of 2016 and in span of two months we produced a product line for every single store nationwide over, you know, a million dollars worth of product, we gave over a hundred women in Dallas work opportunity and partnership with, like, 13 different nonprofits who referred women to us in their program who went through a hard time and couldn’t get a job. We popped up in the Dallas Housing Authority for production, we popped up in Buckner Salvation Army, their domestic violence unit sent us women to work in the back of our store.

Susan: That’s awesome.

Brittany: Full out community effort to get these women work opportunities and make sure we could deliver this product in time, and we did. Even the financing end of it, we had Northern Trust, one of the most wonderful banks in the world take a huge risk on us and financed our entire product line and pour money into the infrastructure of our business with just incredible terms, and without them taking risk on us we wouldn’t have had the money to pull this off. I mean the banks came together and the community came together and nonprofits and it sort of took a village to work, but we launched our product line in Neiman’s and in our first season became a top 10 jewelry brand at Neiman Marcus.

Susan:  Wow, that’s the craziest story I think I’ve ever heard.

Brittany: It sounds crazy [inaudible 22:48] I mean at the time we had five people on staff in Dallas, we had 30 in Uganda, but I mean Dallas was just the support office for the work that we did in Uganda. We didn’t do manufacturing here, we didn’t do anything until suddenly we went from five people on our team to having to build out a retail infrastructure that could support our brand that was three months later competing against Oscar De la Renta. I mean our earrings sit right next to Oscar De La Renta’s in every Neiman Marcus store, and we had to do that in a span of about three months. I mean we kind of emerged from the fog, the spring of 2017. And what’s so funny too to add to the craziness of that story is I was pregnant with my second son. I had a one-year-old and I was pregnant again and I was due at the end of October and we launched through Neiman’s at the end of September. So I was literally I mean going to – up until I had my second son, going to these launch events in different cities. I had him and two weeks later I was flying for day trips to kind of launch Akola Jewelry at Neiman’s in Palm Beach and in Atlanta, you know, pumping on the plane under my sweater, like, saving the milk for my child in a little storage case that I bring on the plane. I mean the whole thing couldn’t have been crazier, and it just aligned with the birth of my second child who was only 16 months apart from my first so it just was like complete chaos .

But yeah, so we emerged from sort of the fog of it all in the spring of 2017. And that’s when we decided we had to get real serious and build a real team around this product line at Neiman Marcus and an infrastructure to support it. So we had incredible banks like Triumph Bank in Dallas, through their Community Reinvestment Act, and the money they could deploy from that as an impact investment along with Northern Trust who continue to invest in Akola in partnership with the Dallas Development Fund through their emerging tax credit program was able to get us the financing we need to build this infrastructure to compete. And so we did that in the spring and just staffed up our team and sort of just wanted to take it to the next level so we could ensure that we actually stayed in Neiman Marcus. Because it’s one thing to, you know, to be a top brand in your first season but you’ve got to put in a lot of work in to stay in the game and competing and just wanted to be around for the long haul.

So we did that, and at the same time we were still growing our social services and having donors fund those activities, and so it was just like another crazy season of building. And what we wanted to do was to build enough of an infrastructure where we could grow through other accounts as well, because once you set up a business that support an every store account at Neiman Marcus, that same business infrastructure can take on at least five times that business with the same team which is pretty expensive to build but we’ve got to grow really fast. And so that’s really fun to tell you over the past year what we’ve done to do that.

Susan: Wow, you were birthing a child and a part of a business at the same time.

Brittany: I know. It’s so funny. I don’t remember anything, like, there’s no [laughs] don’t remember what happened during that time but I [laughs]

Susan: Yeah, you would block out, I mean there’s no way you could remember all of that.

Brittany: Yeah, and actually just to add to that, my husband and I moved twice that year. We bought a house and then his grandfather passed away and he wanted to buy that house so we also moved twice during that year as well. You know it’s one of those things where you’re just going so fast and your life is just so out of control and so crazy that you don’t even know how crazy it is until you come out of that and then you look back and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, how did I do that. I don’t know.” So, I mean it was insane. I’m still apologizing to friends because I just didn’t return text messages for a year, I didn’t return calls, I missed my families birthday parties, like, I just couldn’t, I had no margin. And you can’t go like that forever but I think there are seasons that kind of require your full focus and that was one of those where it was just crazy.

Susan: Oh, absolutely, there are seasons that require your full focus but you had full focus plus.

Brittany: Oh yeah, I mean I got pulled in all different directions absolutely, yeah, I mean it was nuts.

Susan: So there had to have been – and maybe this is just me – but there had to have been a moment in that season where you were like I can’t do this, like, totally lacking self-confidence.

Brittany: Oh, I mean I was so burnt out that I literally, I mean I think there was a point I was just laying on my floor sobbing, I was so hormonal breastfeeding, you know, just coming off of the hormones of having two kids in a row, I mean I got pregnant when my first son was only 7 months old and so I don’t even think the hormones from that pregnancy had left my body, and I just was out of my mind and I had no time, I wasn’t sleeping because I had a newborn and with launching that I knew how much succeeding in Neiman Marcus, I knew how that would build our business in the future and I knew that it was imperative that that happened because that would set us up to grow the way we wanted to grow to make or mission come alive in a way that it hadn’t before, and so I knew how significant it was and we were moving and it just…

Yeah, I was so burned out, and I think I had – again, my friends gave me and my family gave me so much grace during that season but I didn’t have margin, I couldn’t work out, I couldn’t see friends – all the things that make you a person besides having children and building a business, like, I just didn’t have the bandwidth for, and so I just…Yeah, I remember laying on my bathroom floor and had a couple of key relationships as well within Akola that just got so burned during that time because I just didn’t have the bandwidth to give them what they needed during that time. And so there were consequences to growth as well, and it all hit at the same time really late in the Spring in 2017. And again, I was laying on my bathroom floor sobbing and my husband came in and he was like, “What is going on? What’s wrong? Like, are you okay?” And I just was like, “I can’t do this anymore, like, I’m dying, like, I literally… I can’t do this anymore,” and I just hit a wall, and I needed to hit that wall because my life was so out of control. But from that point, probably to this point where we are now in 2018 that next year was okay, how do I do this but also figure out a pace that’s manageable where I can have a full life and also grow this business and be there for my kids and my friends and my family. And so that was sort of the past year trying to figuring out how do we grow because we knew we had to grow really fast it just because again it was so expensive to build what it took to even pull off Neiman Marcus that we knew we had to grow. So I had to figure out how to grow Akola as fast as possible to keep up with our spend as well as kind of dial back and create balance in my life so that’s kind of in the past year. I’m excited to share with you how I’ve done some of that. I’m still kind of in the middle of it but we’re in a really good spot.

Susan: Sure. So, how are you doing that?

Brittany: Yeah, so I hit the wall, I’m on the floor crying realizing, like, this is not sustainable and I can’t, you know, I’ve got to slow down but also Akola has to speed up so how do I do that? And so what it was was just having a great team and getting the right talent. So at that point, I knew, you know, I’ve got to get some people in our business that can start taking stuff off my plate. And you know I’m a huge visionary, I’m a very big picture person, I’m very right brained. So the good news about that is I’ve never put myself in a position where I’m managing more than two people or I’m in our finances figuring out and crunching the numbers or I’m doing our manufacturing, like, that’s just not my skill set, and anytime I’ve ever been in that position, I’ve messed everything up.

So the good news is I’m really gifted and in one area and really not in other areas so it’s pretty easy for me to figure out, “Okay I need to not be spending my time in these three buckets, but I need to be spending all of my time in this one bucket because that’s where I create the most of value.” I read this book called Present Over Perfect.

Susan: Shauna Niequist.

Brittany:  Yeah, she’s amazing and there was certain antidote in the book where there was a pastor and he had this church that was growing so fast and he was in a conversation and he was like, “I’m so overwhelmed, it’s crazy.” He’s like, “The growth is out of control.” And someone said like, “You have control over that,” and he’s like, “No, I don’t, “and they’re like, “Well you’re putting up the chairs,” and he’s like, “Shoot, I do have the control.” So in our case, it’s a little bit different because we knew if we didn’t grow we weren’t going to make it. We built this business that needed to grow to survive and we had this window where we were a top brand at Neiman’s and we needed to grow the retail business. And so we didn’t have the luxury to not put up chairs because we probably wouldn’t have been around a year later, so we had to grow. But the question was how do I do that while taking care of myself and my family? And something else in that book that was so helpful, saying yes to something is a no to something else, like, it’s not just a lot of yeses. Like anytime you say yes to anything you’re saying no to something else; you only have amount of time and bandwidth and resources, like, that’s just the deal.

And so I started realizing anything I was saying yes to at Akola was a no my kids, my two baby infant children. And my husband runs a company so it’s not like he is able to fill in the gaps, so just to make it even more complicated. So I started getting laser focused and said I’m only going to say yes to things that that brings value to Akola and I’m going to delegate everything else. So I just got really good at that and had an incredible luck and just God’s grace and having some exceptional team members fall in our lap during that time. Brennan Lowery who is our COO now, she sort of built Kate Spade’s On Purpose program in Rwanda. She has been working for Kate Spade and they wanted to set up some sort of manufacturing facility for bags in Rwanda, and they’re one of the only groups like ours that actually built those facilities and built sort of this vertical operation. And they don’t own that, did it under another entity but they really built it. And they sent Brennan who had been working for Kate Spade, they send her over there and basically said figure it out. So she built that over two years and had just kind of come back from Rwanda and met with one of our board members who said, “Wait a minute, this is exactly what we need.”

So we’ve had these positions, and it’s so funny how just like the world works and God works in this way, but we’ve had incredible recruiters like to find the perfect talent for Akola and we’ve gotten it wrong. And then we’ve had someone just meet with a board member, kind of fall out the sky and they’re exactly who we needed, and that’s fine. So Brennan came on in January and what she needed to do and what we needed to do really quickly was to take sort of all of our production processes and calendars and manufacturing processes. That we sort of just organically built, like. We basically made them up. We just created them. They were not best in class. But it didn’t matter, we just retailed to  boutiques, like, we were on our own time schedule and it didn’t need to be best in class. But suddenly, you know, we’re retailing in one of the most prominent retailers in the country where we have to, you know, we needed an upgrade in our system the process that we just didn’t know how to do it. So she came in and because she had built this On Purpose program for Kate Spade in Rwanda, she built what we built but with a major company backing her with all the best processes and procedures kind of behind her. So she came in in January and started kind of transitioning us from sort of our mom and pop we figure it out on our own operation to actually building a supply chain that could support growth. So she came in and did that.

Around the same time we knew, like I told you we’ve got to grow fast, right? Because we’ve just spent all this money building a retail infrastructure to support Neiman’s Marcus but it’s really expensive and we’ve got to have, you know, probably 3 or 4 more account at least over the next year to make that spend make sense. And so we started looking for new business and to make everything more complicated, we had a verbal exclusive with Neiman Marcus through the end of this year so we couldn’t go into any other retailer at that price point and really any other retailers through the Akola brand at that level. We could do boutique but not other big stores, so we thought how in the world are we going to grow if we can’t compete with Neiman’s? But we wanted to honor that because they really built our business. What was so cool about Neiman’s too you know, their whole team came around us, their CEO, Karen Katz, their GM, their department manager, they all helped us figure out how to build this which is so cool. I mean they basically created our brand for us in partnership with us.

Susan: That’s really neat.

Brittany: Which was really cool and Neiman’s never gets the credit for that and people don’t understand kind of all they put into any of their brands, but especially one like ours that give back so they were helping us build it, but we wanted to honor that verbal exclusive with them but we needed to build the business so we created this idea of sort of a sub brand called One Bead One Hope. And our thought process was we could kind of create inexpensive jewelry at a low price point that anyone could afford that has our same impact made in Uganda but sell it through a different brand. And so we created this One Bead One Hope brand and they have these beautiful cards that have a picture of one of our women on it and you write down your hope for someone that you care about and you get to give them the product and kind of think about it as you where it and support a hope for women in Uganda through our program. And it was really successful and so we started testing these products and we thought, “Gosh, I mean we’ve got to get this quickly into some volume retailers,” so I met the CEO of Walmart through the National Retail Federation – we won one of their awards as one of 25 groups kind of reshaping the future of retail and Walmart was a part of that and met Doug McMillon and went up to him and said,”Hey, we’ve got this great product line and we’re in Neman’s with our Akola brand and we really want to create volume product at a lower price point that anyone can afford but through another brand to support our women and he did the same thing that Karen did at that meeting and he said, “Okay, shoot me an email and explain a little bit more,” and I did, and the next thing I know his entire team is coming to Dallas to learn about and what we do at Akola. And we’re test launching through Walmart this holiday which is really exciting so we’ll start in 30 stores and see how they do and 30 road shows and go from there. So that happened and then we secured another account with a volume retailer that I can’t reveal because it’s coming out in two months, and then another one with a major department store which also comes out in a couple of months.

So we’re able to build the business that we needed through this sub brand without having to compete with Neiman’s and we’ve done that, and that’s all launching this Fall which is really exciting and now we’re talking to some other retailers about the Akola brand as well. So it’s been an exciting season of figuring out with no playbook ever how to do this and how to be successful, knowing that what’s on the line it’s or women’s lives and their livelihoods and their ability to provide for their kids which gives anyone on our team the momentum to figure out whatever we need to to make this work. So it has been an exciting time and we’re looking at a lot of different structures that would allow us to grow like we want to grow in the future to support more women so we’re going through a lot of corporate planning and structural planning to even understand how we can do this kind of moving in the future. So yeah, busy, crazy season but I think I’ve learned in the past year to allow it to be busy but not to take over my entire life. And so that’s something that’s been fun is realizing you know I can make my family a priority and rely on other amazing members of our team to pick up some slack and we can still grow but grow in a way that’s sustainable for my life as well.

Susan: Brittany, I am so excited for you. One of my questions was going to be like where are you guys headed next and you’re on this whole crazy train to all these other different amazing places and I am so excited to hear what is to come, I am so excited what you guys are doing for these woman and for the brand in general and just for awareness, you know, what women are going through around the world and providing jobs. To me, that is something that if you can provide a job for a woman, you can change a whole family, and I think that’s one thing you even talked about before. I could ask you a million more questions, we could be here all day, I am not kidding, but I want to respect your time and I really appreciate you coming on.

I do have one question that I like to ask every guest before they leave, and that’s this, your story to me is just so amazing overwhelming, ambitious, and I really am a person who believes that there is something inside every woman that she is supposed to do before she leaves this planet, and I think you were really lucky and you found it at a really early age and you went from zero to like 900 miles an hour and I don’t even know if that’s possible but you seem to have made it possible. Tell us, if you could give a woman listening today just the one actions step – she’s had this thing in the back of her brain, maybe even since college that she knows that she needs to do one day before she leaves this planet, what is one action step that you can leave her with to take today so that she can take another step down the road?

Brittany: I think the advice would be take the step because here’s the thing, I think we all, you know, I totally agree with you, I think every person and this is something we believe at Akola and is fundamental in or mission, you know, every woman is created, any person, for so much more than they can imagine or dream, and unlocking that is the whole point, like, what is that? Why are we here, and what can we do with the one kind of precious life that we have? And our goal is the kind unlock that for our women and we have been able to do that, but what’s funny is through the journey I’ve unlocked that in myself. I mean I’m so much more than I ever thought. I never thought I could do any of this, like, I wasn’t a great student, I wasn’t involved in community service, like, there was nothing about me that was above average in any way, and it started out with one step of faith, you know, taking the next step and staying yes to something which at the time was very small, it was this little tiny home for these kids and then I took another step and another step. And I think sometimes people get so overwhelmed when they hear stories like this because especially if they do want to know the whole story because they’re like, “Well I could never do that,” and that’s not true at all, like, no one starts out, I think very few people, thinking they’re going to do these big great things, it just starts with one step of faithfulness and you continue to take those steps and fight against the disillusionment and failure and the fear and you keep on going and keep on taking those steps and you don’t give up and something amazing happens. So my advice is take that first step, and if you’ve already taken that first step, don’t give up, keep on taking those steps because eventually it will end up being what it’s supposed to be and you’ll end up being who you were created to be which is even more of the point, I think.

Susan: Well, Brittany, that was the perfect answer. That was flawless, I really appreciate that. There were a few times I kind of teared up a little bit myself. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your story. Thank you for sharing the Akola story. And I just really, really wish you luck. We’re coming up on the holidays quickly and I know that you are getting stuff in there because I’m sure September, October is really when you guys are really pushing that stuff out so good luck with that and thank you so much for sharing the story with us today and keep us posted on who you’re launching with through the holidays because I’m excited, I want to share that on our website and on our Facebook page.

Brittany: We’d love that. Yeah, we’re so excited about the One Bead One Hope line. And again, for anyone here who wants to buy more elevated jewelry they could do that through our Neiman Marcus account and we have a mass market line at akolaproject.org so that price point is really under $100 but the One Bead One Hope line that is launching in the three retailers this Fall, products will start at $7.99 so it will be a special brand, an incredibly affordable product where you can have an impact at a very low price point and be able to give great gifts through that. So maybe you go and buy the Neiman Marcus necklace for yourself and maybe for a very special friend or for a teacher’s gift or stocking stuffers you could buy from our One Hope line at these retailers. So I will definitely pass that information along when we’re launching and hope that everyone comes to see what we have in store.

Susan: Yes, and I will make sure to link all of this on our show notes and the Facebook and the Twitter and the Instagram and all of it so nobody fear that they’ve missed anything, it will all be there in the show notes. Thank you again, I really, really appreciate it, and I will talk to you soon.

Brittany: Thank you so much.

Susan: Bye-bye.

Susan: Isn’t she great. I just love Brittany and how she took an opportunity and literally ran with it. Through Akola, she is changing the lives of women around the world. I am a huge fan of Akola, the brand and the mission. Thanks so much for joining me today. I will have all the links Brittany and I discussed over on the transcript page on our website. So check that out for a link to their website as well as links to their Neiman Marcus line. As more retailers come online, I will try to remember to link them there as well. Thanks again for listening and for sharing this podcast with your friends. This show is truly a great love of mine and I appreciate the opportunity to bring it to you. Thank you for your feedback. Thank you for subscribing and thank you for rating and reviewing it.Y’all are my people and y’all are just the best. I’ll see you soon.