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!

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.

From Dawson’s Creek to Real Housewives, this camera operator has seen everything, with Carrie Dufresne

Carrie Dufresne started her career as a lowly intern on Dawsons Creek.  Today, she is still in the television industry, but now she is known for her work behind the camera.  You can see her most recent work on The Real Housewives of Dallas which will air in August 2018.  We talk about everything from women breaking into the world of cinematography to seeing reality television not just as a guilty pleasure, but an opportunity to learn about people and places you might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet and see.

 

 

Transcript:

Susan: 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 powers other women to do the same.
Susan: Hey y’all. I am so excited about today’s guest. My guest today is my friend Carrie. Carrie is an artist. It’s an art you most likely consume weekly, but you probably don’t think of it as art. You probably refer to it as a guilty pleasure. Carrie is a camera operator in the world of reality television. She has worked all the way from being a lowly intern on a show you might remember called Dawson’s Creek. Obviously not a reality show. All the way up to camera operator on the latest season of Real Housewives of Dallas. Over the past 13 years she has been behind the scenes of many of the reality shows we have all come to know and love including but not limited to America’s Next Top Model, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of Orange County, Trading Spaces, Bachelor Pad, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Fast and Loud, Street Outlaws, and Little Women Dallas. I am so excited about today’s conversation. It was such a fun interview so sit back relax or put on your walking shoes. Without further ado heres Carrie.
Susan: Hey Carrie thank you so much for joining me today. How’s it going?
Carrie: It’s going really well. I’m glad I could be here to talk. I’m not really good at all this talking stuff. By the way. Just so ya know. Surprise!
Susan: Yes you are. You absolutely are. I’m just really glad you could be here. I’ve wanted to do this interview for a while just because I kind of wanted to hear some of the stuff that I don’t think I’ve ever asked you before. Friends, I think I already told you but Carrie is a camera operator. Is that your official title?
Carrie: Yes.
Susan: OK.
Carrie: Every once in a while I was director of photography, but mostly camera operator.
Susan: Very cool. We all see what happens in front of the camera. But I want you to take us behind the scenes and, but first tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into this role?
Carrie: I kinda fell into it. I went to college. I studied film. I did, I did study film. I learned all about it. I worked with film and cameras. I worked on the last season of Dawson’s Creek as an intern. I wrote a couple of screenplays and I moved to Hollywood. I was like I’m going to be a big time producer, director, screenwriter, whatever. And then you get there and you can’t find a job. And you’re still calling your dad to pay your rent and you’re living five people to a three bedroom apartment. And back ten years ago it was safer to meet people off Craigs List and become roommates with them randomly than today I think. And I just started working in independent movies and I was like this is it. This is going to be my big break. But little did I know it would actually be my big break into reality T.V. because that pays the bills whereas independent movies don’t normally and they don’t pay as much and then they run out of money. So then you’ve worked for like two weeks and their like sorry we can’t pay you.
Susan: Oh wow!
Carrie: Yeah. On one of those independent movies I met somebody from America’s Next Top Model.
Susan: A Ha!
Carrie: Yeah. She was like hey, you’re good at production assistant work. But I hadn’t done camera yet. Cause I still probably wanted be a producer/director. And then I started working in reality and made friends with all the camera people and someone was like you know hey you take really good picture. You’re pretty good at it. Have you ever thought about that. And I was like no I don’t think I’m good enough. I didn’t have a lot of confidence and you didn’t see a lot of women doing it. Like, there were a couple, but there weren’t enough at that point for me to be like this is definitely what I want to do but then I met more camera people more camera women and then a year and a half after working and starting in Top Model you know I was camera assisting on Beauty and Geek.
Susan: I remember that show.
Carrie: Yeah yeah I know a lot of people are like what?! And so I did two season of that and then from there I landed my first long term house reality gig for a little gem you might remember called Bad Girls Club Season 2 where the still infamous Tanisha pots and pans waking people up.
Susan: Yeah.
Carrie: That was my camera operator and I was the camera assistant and I was running around throwing mics on all the girls that morning.
Susan: Oh wow. That’s some pretty fun behind the scenes stuff right there.
Carrie: Yeah. You know half the people are asleep you know you have an audio person with a boom, but then like I’m hiding in a bathroom trying to put a microphone on a girl so ya know they don’t have to boom everybody.
Susan: Yeah.
Carrie: I was ducking behind beds, ya know ducking around corners to avoid all that chaos.
Susan: So you mentioned something that I want to go back to a little bit. And you mentioned that not a lot of women were in the business at the time. So you’ve been in this business for about 13 years. Talk a little bit about that and how that has how it has or it changed for women in your line of work.
Carrie: Ok. This is interesting because there used to be like there were a couple like maybe I wanna say 30. 30 women that were just amazing and kicked butt. And then after I started there was a lot. There are just so many. I’m actually working with a female right now who I’ve known. I actually met her on Bad Girls Club. She was a producer on Bad Girls Club and she was finally able to make her way into camera. Sometimes it does take us a little bit longer to move up in this business. I feel like I might have had it a little easier because I am taller. I’m a little bigger like I’m built a little bigger and I don’t wanna say people/ guys take me a little more seriously. But you know I have the body stature, is that what I’m looking for?
Susan: Yeah. The build, yeah.
Carrie: Yeah so their like you can hold the camera. And one of my friends is like five foot. I used to camera assist for this amazing camera operator who is also five foot. She was phenomenal. She could run circles around all the guys. So this, my friend now she is having a problem making the break from camera assistant to camera operator and I think a lot of it has to do with: one she is amazing at her job and if you get if you are too good at your job in this industry is people hate to move you up. Like the only reason, half the reason, I moved up is cause like I’m not taking any more work. And ya know, that’s where a lot of us get. Where we have to say no to work and if we’re not working we’re not making money. So it’s sort of a double edged sword. But oh, so we were talking the other day. She’s like, you know there’s not as many females or we’re not getting hired as much and we think it’s you know guys are afraid. Which, You know if you aren’t doing anything questionable then you shouldn’t be afraid.
Susan: Oh! That’s just an interesting that’s an interesting concept to think about that in the world that we’re in now that there would be a fear there. That men had not had before. I find that fascinating.
Carrie: But it’s like yeah we work in an industry where there’s a lot of joking around. We’re working with people twelve hours a day you do get close with people and you feel like you can make certain jokes. Which somebody looking on the outside completely looks like sexual harassment. And I think you know I say things and other people say things but like we know each other enough to know that we can say that and it’s not crossing a line. Like I wouldn’t walk up to somebody I just met and make the exact same joke as I would working with my buddy I’ve been working with ya know for eight weeks now.
Susan: Sure.
Carrie: Whereas we spend 12 hours a day in a van together, on set together and then we’re on locations we eat together. We become family. I can say ya know, hey lookin good today you know. It’s so weird. So I feel like, and I’ve talked to guys I work with they know that they can make a joke like that with me and I’m not going to take it the wrong way. But their not gunna like if we had another female for the day, their not going to do that with her. Like I think we’re all smart enough to know what we can and can’t do. And I think people, guys that are afraid now they clearly like they know they’re crossing a line.
Susan: Oh that’s an interesting point.
Carrie: Yeah, and I feel like if you feel like you aren’t doing anything wrong like, I don’t know. I don’t have phrases this. Like if you feel guilty about it then you’re guilty. Right? Does that make sense?
Susan: It makes sense. Like if you have like a gut reaction or a gut feeling about it it’s like it’s in your gut you know or you know you know it’s cool or you know it’s not.
Carrie: Yeah exactly. And then, ya know for a period of a couple of years there people were like we definitely want females. And then, ya know, I read on some message board, well you can’t specifically say you’re looking for this type of person to hire because that’s discrimination. We’re in such a weird era right now where.
Susan: It can be misconstrued.
Carrie: Yeah. And now all the guys are butt hurt. Oh you’re only hiring females. That’s discrimination. Well, I have lost a handful of jobs. Hey, I know we wanted to hire you on this, but this guys bro. Literal words: “Yeah, his bro’s available so we’re going to bring him on instead.” I was hired on. They praised my work. I got a call the next week. Hey you’re b roll’s not very good. So we’re going to replace you. But his buddy. A man it was a man. He’s not available for another week so we’re going to bring you out for another week. And then after that, he’s going to replace you. And in my head if I’m not doing the job you hired me to do, your standard… why are you going to bring me back for one more week?
Susan: That’s nuts.
Carrie: Yeah. And then the same week they brought me out. I’d had more experience than my director of photography who still shoots the show and he’s a great guy, but I’d had more experience than him at that point in reality. But we had like a, not a crazy scene, but my coverage, they said oh my God your coverage saved us. They went from saying ya know your b rolls not that good to oh my God you saved us. To all right you’re being replaced by by our buddy. You know.
Susan: That’s, wow that’s hard. That’s hard.
Carrie: Yeah I never really, like for a while I was kinda down. I was like, oh my God my b rolls not that good. But then I talked to my friend who was on the show and she was the producer and she was like, Carrie, this never should have happened. And I was like ya know what? I’m not going to let it affect me and my work because when it came down to it. It was about hiring a man over a woman at that point. Like they wanted their bro on there. You know their drinking buddy on there and that just wasn’t me. So they had to come up with some lame excuse to fire me. Besides the show with the EP that I argued with and that was like a mutual I don’t want to work with you. You’re fired kinda thing. That’s only happened on two shows. So I feel like in my 11 13 13 years of working in the business for that to only happen. To only be fired twice I feel like that’s fine.
Susan: Well one of the things that prompted me to ask you to come on the show was the Academy Award nomination of Rachel Morrison this past year. And you and I kind of discussed that a little bit but for those that don’t know Rachel Morrison was the first woman ever nominated for cinematography in 2018. The first time in 2018.
Carrie: Right. It’s mind blowing.
Susan: It Is. And I also read in a Guardian article that I’ll link in the show notes afterwards that the American Society of Cinematography which was founded in 1919 didn’t even invite a woman to join until 1980. And the argument was was that well this woman was the first woman to work as a cinematographer on a major Hollywood film. But that was only 38 years ago. So in my mind you know so many people think oh well women have been doing you know have been able to do whatever for a long time and we haven’t been discriminated against and we we’ve had these opportunities and clearly what you’re saying and clearly with this article and with what’s happening it’s quite obvious that we’re still new in the game.
Carrie: We are still so new in the game. The Fact that I was born in ’81. The fact that in my lifetime is when the first woman was able to join the cinematographers.
Susan: The American Society of Cinematographers?
Carrie: Yeah, the fact that it happened in my lifetime. That shouldn’t be the case. You know, that should have happened before I was born. So we still have a long way to go. We’re in a couple of …. now, but I think we’ll overcome it. Like you know I was specifically requested…oh we need another female operator. And I’m working wiht a bunch of amazing guys. The DP I worked with on Bad Girls Club 2 that’s when I first met him. And one of the last times I saw him and since then he has won an Emmy. He did a show about the Born to This Way the people with Down syndrome.
Susan: Yes yes yes.
Carrie: Yeah. And then the other guy on that crew. You know were doing a show about Mexican nationals. Women, a lot of Latino women. Affluent Latino women.
Susan: Oh Cool.
Carrie: Yeah. It’s not gunna be a Housewives. But, it’s through Bravo so it could become the Housewives and no one will be shocked. But we are trying very hard not to make it a Housewives. But so you know obviously we’re doing a show about women. You need a woman. You also need…so another guy he’s Hispanic and then my camera operator he’s a little older. He’s a black man and then ya know, a woman. So we have a pretty diverse crew but it’s still like the only females on the crew are me and the other camera assistant. And then our producers are female and our show runner is female. Actually both of our executive producers are female and then all of our segment producers are Latina women. So we do have a nice diverse cast I mean crew on the show with a cast of diverse women.
Susan: So since women like yourself are really starting to find themselves in positions to hire or have hiring influence how has that affected the industry. Or maybe specifically in this case. How has it affected the final product that you’re going to be delivering or do you feel like it does?
Carrie: If we had men running this show about you know rich Mexican ladies I don’t know if we’d have the same show. I think it’s really great that we have you know a female show runner and a female Latina executive producer. I feel like this helps. And then you know all the guys I’m working with are a little older than me. And then there’s, I’m probably the same age as the women we’re shooting right now.
Susan: Wow.
Carrie: Yeah. I feel like that helps. I did a show called Little Women Dallas and our show runner on that was a male and Little Women Atlanta had a male show runner and I feel like when your dealing with an all women cast like that you really need. Well I’m sorry. I’ll back track. On Little Women Dallas we had a female and a male that helped. But I feel like you really need more women on the show about women because what do men know about women? Nothing. What’s a tall guy know about short women and what their going through? Nothing. I feel like I can relate a little bit because I’m a woman and I mean, I’m tall. So I don’t relate that much, but I’ve done that show and now I’m a little more empathetic to what little people go through.
Susan: You Are. I never actually watched that show confession.
Carrie: All good. Nobody did. We got cancelled.
Susan: Sorry friend.
Carrie: It’s all good.
Susan: But yeah that’s that’s a good point that you bring up that there is an empathy there. That happens but you also already kind of have you had an understanding from the perspective of being a woman but being tall. I mean it’s one little thing, ha ha it’s one little thing, but being tall it’s a huge difference. Gosh I never thought of it like that.
Carrie: It is. And people are like how do you shoot the show when you’re so much taller and it’s like well it helps because ya know I’m tall and like can make them look shorter than they are but then I can also I can show the world how they are in the world. But then I can also sit down and show the world from their perspective. I’m able to adjust for that. They unfortunately can’t see the world from my perspective, but I can at least show people how they live from my perspective and their perspective.
Susan: So you are a professional storyteller kind of.
Carrie: Yes. And that’s, that is what I love to do. I love to tell people’s stories. Whether it be a housewife or a little person or a drag racer or you know guy. I did a pilot for this company out of Knoxville. We were in Alabama and this guy 100 year old houses or building and just takes the amazing woodwork and saves it and restores it and sells it and puts it in other houses. And I just love to tell that story. I think he recently just ran for like office in Alabama and he is in the primary now.
Susan: Wow.
Carrie: Yeah. He’s like a nice moderate voice that we all need in the world today.
Susan: We can definitely use more of that.
Carrie: Yes exactly. Yeah, I’m definitely a professional story teller and I just love telling peoples stories. I love learning about people cause everyone, and this is why I can’t get into Facebook arguments with people because no one, when I realized people don’t understand and I will say if it wasn’t for reality T.V. I’d probably would still be in my little bubble of…well if you really wanted a better life you could have a better life for yourself kind of thing. When I realized cause I was born in a very conservative upbringing. I guess you could say.
Susan: Yeah.
Carrie: And now I’m kinda the black sheep of the family. I know my parents love me and their fine with my lifestyle. But, we do butt heads on ya know, certain present day issues but I feel like reality T.V. I’ve definitely learned a lot about other people and that life isn’t black and white and there’s a lot of gray area. And we need to have a lot of empathy and sometimes and ya know, I don’t even know how to say this, but you know there is a lot of white privilege and male privilege and male toxic masculinity and male fragile ego. I know it sounds like I’m male bashing, but I love guys. They’re some of my favorite people to hang out with, but I see that and I see that in these people that I tell the stories of and it’s sad because you know some of these people haven’t had an opportunity and there’s a lot of abused people and they’re just trying to make their lives better and you know they’re trying the best they have with what they have. And I don’t think there is a lot of empathy for that.
Susan: Well, and I think you’ve made me think about reality TV different. You know I think a lot of us will sit down and watch housewives or insert whatever reality show here and it’s more like we see it as a guilty pleasure like an Oh we’re going to watch these crazy women fight about something on television and it’s going to be funny to laugh at. And you do have the individuals I would presume who are on there to totally just make a name for themselves and they will do whatever to be on television. And I think of like Bachelor Pad in this situation.
Carrie: Oh yeah. That’s definitely one of those.
Susan: But I didn’t, I never really thought of it from the perspective of really sitting down and trying to learn about people. And I really do appreciate learning about people and learning about different cultures and visiting different places. And that’s something that you guys in the reality TV world provide is giving us the opportunity to visit these places in pretty close to real time and seeing how people live in different parts of the country and in the world. And I just never truly thought about it from that perspective I don’t think.
Carrie: I don’t think I did either. It took me a while and like in the last five years I’ve started describing it as like I’m kind of a sociologist.
Susan: Yeah.
Carrie: And its so funny because I just saw the Mr. Rogers documentary and everyone is special in their own way. Like he is not wrong because I remember the end of the documentary. There were people like Mr. Rogers was wrong. No one’s special. But, like that was just a bunch of fragile white guys that got rejected a couple of times and like the issue they don’t want to talk about, right. So they are just deflecting on Mr. Rogers and I’m like calm down. But everyone is special, but we’re not because we’re going through the same problems. Everyone’s trying to live their life. And you know we all live it differently, but we’re all the same. We’re all the just trying to live and make a good life for our selves and our kids and our families and our friends. The world is amazing and I think if you can travel it you know, it’s eye opening. I’m also really bummed about the whole Anthony Bourdain thing. Cause I did I worked with him a long time ago on Top Chef.
Susan: Oh yeah.
Carrie: Yeah, one of my dream gigs was just to work on his show. And I really feel like we lost a genuine human being. He just wanted to tell people’s stories and eat good food.
Susan: And what a job.
Carrie: I really hope like some people have changed their views. That’s kinda what I want to do. I want to help put other people’s stories out there and somebody can watch it and be like oh I relate to that they are different than me, but if they can make it through it, I can too.
Susan: So on that note you’ve alluded to it I think in other conversations. But I’ll put you on spot a little bit. You want to keep telling people’s stories and you want to keep what’s you’re next where are you going with this. Are we sticking with camera operator or are we moving on to bigger ideas.
Carrie: Definitely bigger. I’ve talked to a few people in Dallas. I definitely want to make a documentary. I’ve just, I’ve never tackled anything that large before so I’m still working out everything.
Susan: I think that’s supercool.
Carrie: So like working a. It could take 10 years and I’m okay with that because I just have to figure out exactly what I want this documentary to be about, but I just want to tell people’s stories. I wanna get it there. So like, it’s gunna take a lot of planning and a lot of work, but that’s one thing. The other thing is I’m getting a little older. I want to keep telling people’s stories, but I think I have to move into more of a producer role. Because I feel like in the next 10 years I won’t really be able to run around. I don’t know, maybe. I’m working with a 50 year old right now and he runs around. As long as I keep taking care of my body and doing all this muscle stem stuff and cryotherapy and the chiropractor and massages I should be okay.
Susan: Well that leads into my next question. I can imagine as we were just talking about your job can be pretty stressful at times and physically exhausting. One of the things that I like to mention in every show is that you can’t run on empty all the time. So I know what your secret is or some of your secrets, but tell us how you take care of yourself and how you recharge the batteries.
Carrie: Well, I agree it’s super important because I do work with a lot of people who don’t take care of themselves. I’m friends with this one, used to be an executive producer and I’m not sure she’s completely out of the business now but she was sick a lot and overworked and now she’s like a mindfulness teacher and she practices Reiki and I think she teaches people how to be more mindful of themselves and their bodies. But I definitely like I stretch every night, almost every night. At least four times a week I stretch before bed. I’ve recently gotten into cryotherapy. Thank you, Dallas Housewives. We did a scene there and the lady let me try it for free. Now I go almost every day.
Susan: Is that the freezing thing?
Carrie: Yes. It’s amazing.
Susan: I’ve always wanted to try that.
Carrie: There is a place in Uptown that I’m going to try when I get back and there’s a place in Deep Ellum that I’ve been to a couple of times and it’s just there’s a world of difference on my body. I’m actually going at 3:30 today.
Susan: That’s cool.
Carrie:Yes. And then I get, I try to get, monthly massages. I know I should go more than. I go to Kinetik Chain in Dallas and I get the dry needling and the cupping and the scraping and I do that once or twice a month. And then CrossFit. I CrossFit at least three times a week. Depending on my schedule, like I didn’t go Monday or Tuesday cause we were on a cast trip at a resort and I worked a couple of 16 hour days and I just didn’t, there was no time.
Susan: Sure.
Carrie: So then I soaked in a bath last night when I got home. I worked out this morning. I gunna do cryotherapy. I’m probably going to hit a yoga class tonight and this is all on my day off.
Susan: Gosh.
Carrie: Yeah. I try to eat right. It gets hard on the road. I probably put five pounds on, but ya know. It’s late at night. Ya haven’t eaten in six hours. They have pizza and your like, I’m starving. And I can’t not eat because then I don’t have energy for the next day. I did the low carb thing for a while and I was cranky and grouchy. And then I went gluten free for a while, but I don’t have celiac. You know it does help you lose weight and I think I’ve noticed a little bit of a difference in my joints for inflammation, but you know when you’re in the middle of nowhere and all they have are like hamburgers I’m not going to be super picky so I just have to eat as healthy as I can. And when I get done with this show I’m probably going to take a week off. Because I definitely need to recharge completely.
Susan: That sounds good to me.
Carrie: Yeah. And then, I wanna take a vacation. I need to get out of the country. I need to go to a beach and drink margaritas for like, a week.
Susan: That sounds like a pretty good vacation. Pretty good vacation.
Carrie: Yeah. Because even though I do tell people stories like, and even though half their problems aren’t my problems I’m still around it and it is very mentally draining sometimes too. So I meditate every night as well.
Susan: I never thought about that aspect of your job. I never did. I never thought about taking on everything and taking on the weight of those as someone else’s issues. Because it’s not like you’re their therapist but maybe sometimes you are because I presume there’s like some confiding there that’s happening. You’re getting to know these individuals as individual people so you actually know these people these individuals which is kind of cool but that’s a lot to take on. Never thought about that aspect of your job.
Carrie: It’s a lot. That’s another thing. We are in their lives. And you know whenever ends up on T.V. ends up on TV but whatever I shoot is true to their life. So I don’t want to say whatever happens in editing you know you know I shoot 12 hours a day. Well I work 12 hours a day and I have a camera on somebody for an hour. An hour on somebody with two cameras so that’s two hours and they’re going to cut it down to like a two minute scene. So we’re with people and we need them to trust. You know we need to have a relationship where they trust us so that when they are in their most vulnerable state they don’t ya know they can’t let it out you know?
Susan: Yeah.
Carrie: If they’re going to cry and have a breakdown, I want them to know that they’re safe with me and that it’s okay to do that. That way I get the best story and they feel like they’ve been taken advantage of. Like, I’ve been in, ya know I had a cast member we tried to do in vitro fertilization. I was in there when she was getting probed and you know trying not to see anything. At the same time but also you know trying to show the procedure as true as it can be. I’ve been there when people have been sick when people find out, ya know, someone has just died. You know, they want to cry like, I’m in their lives and then I worked on this one show last year. And one of the women on it super reminded me of an ex like, and this was like a very psychotic ex.
Susan: Wow.
Carrie: It brought me to like a PTSD place and I drank a little bit more on that show cause I was like I don’t know if I can be around this. Like, this really brings back some memories. She was always yelling at people, yelling at us. It’s a lot. It’s a whole lot. Yeah. We get yelled at by a lot of people and I’ve just learned to tune it out a little bit.
Susan: These are aspects behind the camera that I never ever thought about. I guarantee you this audience has never thought about this either.
Carrie: Yeah. Oh yeah. No, like everyone’s like you have the coolest job. Like, you’re such a rockstar. And like, I mean it’s true I have a really awesome job and I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I get to meet so many people and have so many experiences and a lot of them. I mean I’ve been on a private jet recently, like I don’t have the money for that. You know, but yeah. I’ve been on a private jet. I go to all the nicest restaurants. I mean, I don’t eat there, but I meet the people and I could probably go back and splurge on a meal every once in a while. Yeah, it’s a rockstar thing, but like when people are in fights and all this other stuff, I’m going through it too. And I know that people aren’t yelling at me. But I’m listening to people yelling all day and so I get home. And every once in a while when I am dating somebody I’m like I need 10 minutes to myself. I’ve just had you know walkie talkie chatter in one ear and then listening to microphones in another ear and you know I just I need like 10 minutes to myself with just my voice in my head. So, it’s a lot and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but and it is glamorous, but, you know sometimes I’m standing in the middle of a swamp trying to not get eaten by an alligator like yeah I’ve got a rockstar job.
Susan: So I have one more question for you before I let you go and do your therapy and all that fun stuff that you get to do on your day off.
Carrie: Oh, but real quick. I forgot to mention about Rachel Morrison.
Susan: Yeah.
Carrie: She got her start in reality T.V. so.
Susan: I didn’t know that.
Carrie: Oh Yeah yeah. The Hills. And she worked on, a lot of my friends have worked with her. The Office. The last two seasons of The Office had a female DP who I was a camera assistant for on Beauty and the Geek. So she got her start in reality TV and there’s another DP camera guy that i worked with on Beauty and the Geek, who now. He had been the camera operator for that Girls Trip movie.
Susan: Yeah.
Carrie: And a couple Marvel things. Oh! Rachel Morrison was also the DP of Black Panther by the way. I don’t know if you knew that.
Susan: NO! I Didn’t know that. Holy cow.
Carrie: Yeah. She DP’d Black Panther. And my friend, Sarah Levy who I haven’t seen in a long time, but she was a b camera operator on that. So there’s hope. Like you know eventually through who I know I could somehow maybe hopefully wind up on a Marvel movie one day. Yeah.
Susan: That’s good because that kind of segues into my last question. I kind of like to end every show with some sort of an action step. And so we talked a little bit about positions of power and the opportunity when it comes to hiring people and you’re seeing a lot of this I think in your field right now. And I know that I have a listener. Probably multiple listeners who are in that same position today. She has the opportunity to advocate for women in her own field. We all know a rising tide lifts all boats. So as she rises or as you rise what is action step she can take to lift other women alongside with her.
Carrie: That’s a good question. Well I know that I, um. I guess I’ll just say what I would do. The friend that I’m working with. The camera assistant. You know we’ve had talks lately and I was like. I told her I didn’t know that you’ve been trying to transition from camera assistant to camera operator for the last year or so and I was like from now on I will only recommend you as camera operator. I make sure there are women on set who are like production assistants. So you know whatever. Like what are you interested in? Do you want to learn camera? If they do then I say I will teach you my ways because I know when I was coming up there was a lot of people who were like I’m not going to teach you that because I don’t want to take my job. Oh! I’m about to drop some really great wisdom. I just realized. I’m not like that. I will teach you everything I know because I’m not scared your going take my job because I know how good I am. But I want you to be as good as me so we can work side by side so that we can all together. All of us women like be amazing and when guys are like oh women can’t do that. I’ll be like look at us over here doing everything so back off. I’ve never understood that “I’m not going to teach you what I know so you can’t take my job” Like no. I’m going to share everything I know this because I know amazing things. People should want to know and I know.
Susan: Carrie, you can just now drop the mic and walk away. That was the most thing I’ve ever heard.
Carrie: Nice! Yay! Well, mic dropped.
Susan: Awesome. Well listen dude. I appreciate this. Thank you so much for coming on today and talking with me. This has been awesome and I love catching up with you and using it as a work excuse.
Carrie: Well you know I remember. It’s nice to talk about what I do and shine a light on it cause a lot of people just think we’re making guilty pleasure TV. And well, for some people we are, but for me it’s so much more than that. So it’s nice to be able to share that and get the word out and give people more of an understanding.
Susan: Well very cool my friend. I appreciate it.
Carrie: Well thank you very much. And hey, I’ll be back in town in a few weeks if you wanna grab a drink.
Susan: Always my friend. Always. I don’t get to travel as much as you do.
Carrie: Well, you can live vicariously through my photos.
Susan: Oh yes! Fo Sho!
Susan: Hey Y’all! Thanks so much for joining me today. That was such a fun conversation with Carrie. If you head on over to howshegothere.com you will 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 as well as fun pictures of my guests. Y’all this podcast is truly one of my favorite things to do and bring to you. So thank you for listening and for sharing it with your friends. You can also follow How She Got Here on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. 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. Thanks again friends. I’ll see ya soon!

A local advocate creates change for refugees and immigrants, with Meghan Blanton Smith

In this episode, Susan talks with Meghan Blanton Smith about her advocacy work with immigrants and refugees.  They talk about her approach from a faith perspective and how that motivates her to keep going.  They discuss finding your passion, getting involved and how getting involved on a local level just might be the most impactful way to create change.  This is a great and timely episode you won’t want to miss.

Transcript:

Susan: Hey friends I am so excited to share the conversation I had with Meghan Blanton Smith with you today. We had a fantastic conversation centered around her work advocating for refugees and immigrants both documented and undocumented. We also discussed what moving the needle in a favorable direction looks like both from a policy standpoint and a personal standpoint I’d like to also note that this interview took place the Friday of just hours before we learned what was happening with families being separated at our borders which is why it was not discussed. So without further ado here’s Meghan.

Susan: Good morning friends. I am with my friend Meghan this morning and Meghan and I grew up together in the same town. The only difference is is that we when we both moved away she moved back and I have yet to do that. It might happen one day but not anytime in the near future.

Meghan: I like that word yet.

Susan: Yeah you just you never know.

Meghan: You never know.

Susan: You don’t. Anyway so she is huge in her involvement with refugees and immigration advocacy and that’s what we’re here to talk about this morning is her work in that. So good morning Meghan and thank you for joining us.

Meghan: Yeah. Thanks so much Susan for having me. This is fun.

Susan: It will be. We will get through it with or without our coffee intact. So share with us what inspired you to get involved with refugees and immigration advocacy.

Meghan: Yeah. So I actually grew up overseas in Ecuador spent almost 11 years there and then moved to South Carolina when I was 15. And so I spent you know the majority of my childhood around Hispanic people and their culture and the Spanish language and just always loved you know loved Ecuadorians and then moving to the states. I kind of had an experience similar to what I think a lot of immigrants experience when coming to the United States. You know that culture shock. That feeling of being misunderstood under appreciated all of those kind of things. So part of my own story seemed to jive with a lot of experiences that immigrants go through. Obviously very different because I am an American and a native English speaker and all those kind of things. So not trying to draw too close of a comparison there. But then also you know my my faith is is largely what compels me. You know I feel like God commands us over and over again in scripture to welcome the stranger to love the foreigner among you and all of those kind of verses that tell us to show hospitality and that you know our citizenship is in heaven that we’re called to love one another all of those kind of compelling things but then really the main impetus to getting involved with this was when my husband and I went to seminary in Massachusetts and then we moved back. Like you said move back to South Carolina. And we were going to plant a multi-ethnic church. The people in our congregation were everyone from you know people Americans who have served overseas before and are now coming back to international college students to undocumented families. And as we got to know each other and live life together and help carry one another’s burdens. That issue of immigration kept coming up over and over and over again whether it was people trying to get their citizenship or an undocumented single mom who was afraid to you know drive her family to Wal-Mart. And so it almost became a we can’t help but speak up on this issue because people that we love and care about deeply are impacted by this. So how can we with the privilege really that we have as Americans how can we use that in this arena to help bring about change.

Susan: Well that’s a big undertaking for sure. I mean that’s such a cool calling I guess. But that’s that had to be difficult. And I say difficult because I’m guessing it hasn’t always been easy. Doing what you’re doing in the town we grew up in. I know I was back recently and I was excited to see that you have found your people that those people exist our people that those people exist but I’m guessing you had to do some digging to find them. Would that be a fair statement?

Meghan: Yeah yeah I think it would. And you know you’re right. South Carolina and especially the upstate in the congressional district that we’re in we are a very conservative Republican area and just the times that we’re living in immigration reform and all of the stories and you know things that go with that is not necessarily one that is embraced by a majority of the people that live here but it has been difficult in some ways but it’s been really encouraging in others that we’ve been able to see people who’ve never really thought of this issue before or considered it critically or considered it from a personal standpoint. You know we’ve we’ve seen people move along the spectrum and go from either apathetic to caring or even hostile to maybe apathetic and then hopefully we can move them to the caring or involved. But you know this is a deeply religious area. And so when people are open to considering this issue from their faith lens you know and hear the scriptures and hear God’s heart for the vulnerable and the immigrant etc etc. Then people can kind of have that aha moment of oh this isn’t necessarily a political issue this is a faith issue for me and I engage them. But but you’re right I have found some people here. And I’ve been surprised you know how many of us there are that see these issues the way that we do and it’s been really encouraging.

Susan: And I only bring that up just to say that if you’re somebody who is out there and you’re in a smaller town or you feel like you’re in a bubble that is not your own. Your people are there you can find them. You just may have to look a little harder than in other places. And that’s the only reason I brought that up. So you talk a lot about your work with both refugees and immigrants. So can you kind of explain to us for people who out there who aren’t who aren’t in this world who don’t you just hear the words on the news. Can you kind of just explain the difference between a refugee and an immigrant and how that status. What that looks like.

Meghan: Sure. That’s a really good point because there are terms that are just kind of thrown around that are really misunderstood. So an immigrant would be a larger term to describe anyone from another country who has you know moved to the United States. A refugee is a very specific class of person that has been who has undergone you know close to 15 different steps to be approved as a refugee who could resettle in the United States. A refugee is someone who has fled their home country with a reasonable fear of persecution or death because of a variety of different things your ethnicity your race your religion your sexuality all of those kind of things. And it’s a classification under the U.N. to be considered a refugee and so when someone comes to the United States as a refugee they are invited by the U.S. government they have undergone biometric tests medical tests background tests all to verify their story to prove that yes this person has a well-founded fear. And we believe that their story is legitimate and we’re going to give them a new home in the United States. So under under what we were talking about illegal immigrants which is quite a derogatory term so I’m going to use the term undocumented. No one is illegal. Like my existence isn’t illegal. I just don’t have the right papers. So when we’re talking about immigration there’s a whole bunch of different statuses that someone can have. So it’s it’s really a much more nuanced issue than I think people often realize they want to just paint everyone into one category and not understand all the different levels that are at play there.

Susan: And I think, remind me, tell me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure in our hometown we probably have a good mixture of both refugee, undocumented, documented. We pretty much run the gamut the spectrum on this, yes?

Meghan: Yes that’s true. So in 2015 Spartanburg became a World Relief Refugee Resettlement Site. So starting in 2015 we had refugees coming to this area to Spartanburg and to Greenville and now World Relief has their office in Greenville. But you know since the beginning of the year we haven’t really been admitting many refugees at all. And I don’t know the exact number now. I think last year we had about 60 65 refugees resettle here in this area. And you know they’re coming from countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, Myanmar. There were two Syrians who resettled in South Carolina not through World Relief. We haven’t had many many Syrians. There was a man from from Iraq. So we’ve been able to meet many of them and the first refugee who came actually lived with our family for a few weeks while his apartment was getting ready. They were going to they were going to put him kind of out in the country in a trailer by themselves. That’s probably not the best welcome to America. So why don’t you stay with us. And so it was an interesting experience that turned out to be such a blessing for our family we didn’t know what we were getting into. He was from the Congo and thankfully he spoke a little bit of English and my husband speaks a little bit of French and he speaks French as well and so he kind of became an uncle to the kids and we love him very much and still see him now. And this has become you know this has become his new new home. But you’re right. And with all of the colleges that we have here we have hundreds of international college students coming every year with all of our international businesses. We have other professional immigrants are coming and working in the businesses here. And we also have a large undocumented population and the fear you know is very real for a lot of them right now. I work with my my paying job, this is my not paying passion job. But my paying job (SC Test Prep) that I’m also passionate about is I work with high school students who are low income are going to be first generation college students and their families kind of preparing them for the the college admissions process. So one of my students earlier this year was telling me about how her parents she’s American she was born here with her parents are undocumented and how her parents had to sign custody over to an uncle so that if something happened to the parents you know her kids would would be able to remain here with a guardian and she was telling that to me with her mom right there and they were both just in tears. You know both of us are moms and you’re talking to moms every week and like the thought of giving up my child so that they can remain here in this country continue their studies and their you know their dreams just the sacrifices that that demands that I cannot even imagine.

Susan: I cannot either. But you’re paying job sounds pretty darn amazing. That is such a cool opportunity. And I know you guys started that and I just think that’s phenomenal. So tell us more about your what your day to day work looks like. With immigration and advocacy and the refugees you’re working with that what does boots on the ground look like right now for you.

Meghan: Yeah that’s a good question. Every day every day is different. You know I’m involved with the Hispanic Alliance here in town and I’m on the steering team for that. And so we have different projects throughout the year that we work on whether that kind of offering some underground legal clinics or monthly meetings to help foster communication and collaboration among those who are working with Hispanics here in town or gosh. I mean there’s really no consistency. But like last week I went down to Georgia with a group of people from Clemson to visit the Stewart Immigration Detention Center. So this is the largest detention center in the U.S. It has almost 2000 men that are detained there and they are either awaiting deportation or they are appealing a court case or they’re waiting for their asylum to be determined. And so like last week I took the whole day and drove down there. And then since coming back I’ve been talking to people about it and I’m going to try to write something up some kind of little article (see May 20th entry) or something to talk about the experience. So it’s a lot of like trying to experience things first hand talking to people who are either you know either a refugee or undocumented themselves and then trying to take their story to either another group or another person who can help move the needle on the issue. So sometimes that’s just staying on top of the quickly changing landscape in Washington and you know emailing other people in town who have questions about it or trying to rally people to call our congressmen and ask them to sign on to something. So every day every day is different and that is not even every day. It’s very responsive to what is happening and what needs to be what needs to be done. But one of the things I was most proud of that we were able to achieve was I believe it was earlier this year our Spartanburg City Council we were able to push them to issue a resolution that just said we support the Dreamers that live here in Spartanburg and we urge Congress to fix this problem. And there was no you know teeth to it but it was a very public and symbolic statement that our city government recognizes that we have Dreamers which is another term that’s thrown around a lot and what that means is a younger person who was brought here to the United States by their parents they’re undocumented but they received DACA status so Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. So with that it meant that they could go to college because in South Carolina you cannot go to a public college if you’re undocumented but with your DACA status you can or you were able to get a work permit or a driver’s license. And so I was very proud when when our city council passed that because we’re still the first the only in the state to do that. So for that come out of here was a proud moment for a lot of us. I had a Dreamer who was involved. She’s actually from your alma mater Converse College and she when they passed that she said to me she’s like you know for one of the first times I’m proud of Spartanburg because they see me and they recognize the value that I contribute to this place. So that was really special.

Susan: See me and recognize my value. That makes my heart melt yes.

Meghan: And isn’t that what we all want?

Susan: Yes. That just that just melted my heart. All right take a moment there. So what has surprised you most in your work do you think, good or bad?

Meghan: Different things. Yeah. So I was I was genuinely surprised at that city council resolution at how open and easy it was. There wasn’t really much pushback. So I was surprised at how willing our city leaders were to to make that message. But then I’ve been really surprised by in a bad way by others who either have the same faith background as me or who know other undocumented immigrants personally yet still not compassionate not understanding of their plight and the need for some kind of reform. That that’s been discouraging as well or surprising for some people but you know in this in any kind of advocacy work you have to remain focused on the individual stories and relationships or else it’s just too overwhelming and there have been times several times sometimes it feels like more often than not that it’s like what is the point. What are we even doing like for each step forward that it feels like we might take in the advocacy community. It feels like three or four steps back you know on a national scale. And so, just remembering to you know really invest in people and and here locally is what keeps me keeps me going.

Susan: Well I’ll share a little bit real quick and I can’t talk much about it. I don’t even know a lot of the specifics but I have seen firsthand how lives have been changed through this advocacy work. And this wasn’t your work specifically. But Stephen my husband is an attorney and immigration court is not his thing. He does not do immigration work. He is a very fun tax attorney very fun job very exciting work in tax law. He does do some pro bono work. And I remember when everything happened. Everybody was going to the airports last year and like protesting and stuff. I remember seeing attorneys getting involved in that. And first I was shocked. I was like I never thought the lawyers would be the heroes. And second Stephen saw that happening and he saw people advocating for others and so he used some of his pro bono hour work this year and has actually done some immigration work and been in immigration court. So don’t think that just because. And there is a young person who he has actually helped get out of a pretty bad situation. I think it’s pretty much cleared up back can’t talk too much about it but just know that people are watching and people lives are being changed because of the work that you’re doing because of the work that the advocates are out there doing. Other people are seeing it and things are happening behind the scenes. And you’re right it may not make CNN or MSNBC or Fox News or any of those other stations or any of those other news channels but lives are changing and it’s because of the type of work that you’re doing behind the scenes. So just know that I know there are discouraging days but know that people are looking to you and the type of work that you’re doing and things the needle is moving albeit slowly but the needle the needles moving.

Meghan: Yeah it’s my that’s my hope for sure.

Susan: I know it’s tough right now. I know it’s tough right now. So I guess that’s a little bit about success is there any way you I guess in your advocacy work do you have any goals that you set. Or is there any what does success look like to you. Is it a day by day thing. Can you talk a little bit about that with us.

Meghan: Yeah that’s, that’s another good question. Gosh Susan, you’re full of great questions.

Susan: Sorry I know this is hard right now because we’re talking about this today. I don’t know when this will air yet but today’s May 25th or 26 and see I don’t even know the day. And I know there’s a lot happening as we speak. So it’s hard.

Meghan: Yeah yeah. I mean there’s there’s a variety of levels of success to me like the ultimate goal is a total culture shift you know and that really hard work. A culture shift where immigrants and people from other countries as speakers of other languages are welcomed and seen as people who have traits and stories and passions and dreams that better to contribute here and know that dividing line between us and them is erased. I mean that would be like a major success. Right now you know in Washington is like legislative policy successes that we haven’t quite experienced yet. So seeing some sort of congressional permanent solution for Dreamers. That would be a success. And you know what does that look like and what is left off the table and you know there’s a spectrum of people in the advocacy world some who are you know who want more and others who would be happier with less. That’s probably unfair to say but then personally like you know a success would be having a family here in Spartanburg know that there’s a community of people who have their back. You know that’s like a microcosm of what a success would be. So it’s there’s a bunch of different things and thankfully you know nationally there’s a bunch of different people working on all sorts of those issues. One thing we tried last this past year that happened in South Carolina was passing a new law called the South Carolina Dreamers Act that would give instate tuition professional licenses and access to state scholarships for Dreamers. That did not pass in this past legislative session. But you know what. In the Fall we’re going to start back up. So it’s a lot of you know kind of learning from, not your mistakes because I don’t think we made mistakes, but learning from the past figuring out how you can tweak your message. Who are some other people that you need to sway. And then you know dusting yourself off and starting back again.

Susan: Yeah. Wow. It’s hard work. It’s hard work, huh?

Meghan: Yeah it is.

Susan: So that kinda segues into another question that was going to ask you at some point that even the strongest of us have moments where we lack self-confidence. And you guys experienced a bit of a setback. So how do you deal with that in your work and how do you how do you deal with that personally.

Meghan: Yeah for sure. And I think you know as women in whatever area we’re working in we encounter that. I Don’t know maybe men do too but they don’t. I don’t know. I know women better than I know men. Yeah that lack of confidence that second guessing myself that desire to be a people pleaser is all very right under the surface for me. And you know thankfully I have a supportive group of friends and family who encourage me along the way or who help provide perspective if I’m losing it. So I think I think that’s really important is to surround yourself with people that you trust and people who love you and people who are willing to kind of speak that encouragement and confidence in you when you don’t have it yourself. But then also sometimes I just try to give myself perspective. Like if it were you know say try to write different things you know whether that like I don’t know an article for a blog or op ed for our newspaper that kind of stuff but writing does not come natural to me at all. You know it’s like a labor to get something out and just sound intelligent to hearing everything. But like when I’m you know getting frustrated with that I think OK I’ve already done already done this like a couple of handful of times and I can do it again. One thing that we say to our kids is you can do it. You already did it. Yes you can. You know I don’t know. Find your shoes in the morning. Because goodness. Isn’t that what. Because you already did it. You did it yesterday. You know you did it last week. You’ve already done it. You already have proven it to yourself. Do it again.

Susan: I love that. That’s really self motivating too.

Meghan: Yeah, we have a little song that I’ll spare you of. But you know that helps with the kids and really like one thing I’ve had to learn in just life is the importance of self care. You know and so today I’m going to go get a massage and it’s going to be nice and it’s going to be 50 minutes of relaxation. And I think another tendency that a lot of women that I know have is to just keep giving. Keep pouring out, keep investing until we have nothing left to give. And so I like to think of it as like a water pitcher. You know if water isn’t being poured into our pitcher and we’re pouring out then you’re dry and you can’t do anything for other people. And so taking that time whatever that is. Whether that is going on a run or eating ice cream or taking a massage or having a girls night out whatever it is for you that’s going to breathe that life back into you. Really crucial in order for you to keep breathing life out on to others.

Susan: Well I love that you added that.

Meghan: And I’ve learned that the hard way.

Susan: Oh Sure.

Meghan: Yeah we always learn these lessons the hard way. I’m trying to be more cognizant of that. Now in my life.

Susan: Yes. I identify with that. I love that. I love that you answered the next question that I was getting ready to ask you and I love how you segued into that. I’m getting ready to do a whole episode on self care because I have been really bad about that in these last two years really bad about it and my body finally said enough and told me so so I’ll save that for that episode. Thank you for bringing that up. I appreciate that. I have one more question.

Meghan: Yeah well thanks for talking about it.

Susan: Well I think we to start talking about these things as women we have to start. You’re absolutely right we have to start taking better care of ourselves because it’s like the mask that drops from the plane and they always tell you you know put yours on first before the other person’s next to you. You do have to take care yourself. Anyway one last question for you. I know a woman listening today has heard your story and is inspired to find her own way to get involved maybe it’s a refugee or immigration advocacy group or maybe it’s another group that’s standing up with the marginalized. And don’t we have a lot of that today. But you know I think a lot of us are finally saying enough but we’re trying to figure out how to get involved. So what action step would you recommend she take? Do you have one?

Meghan: Yeah that’s a great question. And I think all of our passions are different. And you know sometimes, I heard somebody else say this once that like whatever kind of wakes you up in the night or when you wake up in the night and you think about it that that’s kind of what your passion could be. So I mean I think there’s a lot of people who like you like you said have said enough. But where do I start. How do I get involved. And so I think first you have to identify what that issue is for you you know is that are you a mom and you have kids in your school and you’ve seen other kids maybe who don’t have lunch you know maybe that’s working on food issues and sustainable help and all that kind of stuff. Or maybe I don’t know there’s a whole variety of different things. And so I would say you know look at your local community. How can you invest locally. I think it’s locally that we can have the most impact. I think it’s where you know the most collaboration can happen where we can be the least divisive because it’s you know a friend of mine likes to say it’s neighbors helping neighbors. So look and see what’s going on in your own community. Are there initiatives already that you can get involved with. Does your community have a United Way or another kind of community foundation or organization that’s already working on some big issues. You know go there go their website, e-mail they’re volunteer coordinator. Just see what opportunities are there for you. And then like you said at the beginning find your people and that’s not always a quick process. Sometimes it takes showing up over and over and over again and putting yourself out there in a way that might be uncomfortable for you. And I kind of went through that myself of showing up in like literally saying Here I am. What can you use me for. And it’s awkward. And I’ve kind of had to just swallow some of my introvertedness with some of that. So so you know do your research show up make contacts with people. You know we live in an age of information and you know access to that information is really quick and easy and so educate yourself on the issue whether it’s a federal policy thing or state issue. Do your research become expert at it and then also kind of recognize that we’re women we’re moms we’re wives we’re sisters we’re friends we’re busy people but also realizing that if you take on something new that might mean that you have to let something else go. And so being okay with that and doing ending something else in your life well I think it’s really important. You know when I started on this issue I stopped being involved in a moms group that I was a part of for several years and loved it. You know I had to kind of put that down and walk away from that in order to pick this up but it was important to me that I left those relationships intact and that people understood what I was going to and as I started working full time just didn’t have the time for all of that. But recognizing that adding on also means letting go and that might mean a grieving process or making sure that you have someone else to fill your shoes for something else before you move into another area of involvement. So yeah that would kind of be kind of be my advice to someone listening.

Susan: Well I thought that was great advice and I really liked that adding on sometimes means letting go. That’s that’s hard to do. Thank you for sharing.

Meghan: Really hard. Yeah. And you know that’s a lesson I’ve also learned the hard way like I can try to do everything, but I can’t do everything well. And everybody suffered along the way including myself and so I where I’m at now is I would rather do a few things really well and feel proud of my work and feel like I’m giving it all that I can. And that means both letting go and saying no to new opportunities as they arise and that that can be hard.

Susan: Well speaking of opportunities I know you have massage to get to but I’m going to ask you before I let you go. You say you do a lot of writing on this topic and I presume on other topics that are similar to advocacy and all that. Is there a place where we can find you where we can find your articles. Do you post them to your Facebook page or Twitter or anywhere like that and somebody might be able to follow you publicly if they’re interested.

Meghan: Yeah I don’t write a lot. I speak a lot about writing and then I usually write. Let me clarify that. Yeah my twitter. I do all my Twitter basically all dedicated to this kind of work. And so I am at @megitasmith and then my Facebook I also post some stuff there as well. Meghan Blanton Smith and Meghan with an H, The H is in there and that matters.

Susan: Well, we will link that. Yes we will link that over on the website. So make sure to head on over there and check that out folks and you’ll be able to find all the links we talked about and I may add some fun stuff that we talked about that we didn’t talk about linking but Meghan I really really appreciate you taking the time to do this today. You squeezed me and and I just really really appreciate it. I appreciate you talking about this issue. I appreciate all the work that you’re doing so thank you so much for joining us today.

Meghan: Yeah thank you, Susan. I’m proud of you and the empowering work that you’re doing for women both where you live and you know podcasts you can listen anywhere. So I think it’s awesome how you are helping tell stories. Bravo.

Susan: Well thank you very much and I will talk to you soon.

Meghan: All right. Bye.

Susan: Thanks so much for joining us today. I hope you took away as much from that conversation as I did. I also hope it encouraged you to think about things in a way that maybe you haven’t thought of before. And something somewhat related and yet very related is I am slowly learning just how black and white I can see the world sometimes. I think I’m finally realizing there’s a lot more gray out there than I thought and sometimes it just really helps to hear things from the perspective of others. So if I could I’d like to humbly encourage you to have a conversation this week a safe conversation to be sure but a conversation nonetheless with someone who has differing views than you. You just might learn something from each other. And maybe perhaps move each others needle just a little. Thanks again friends. I’ll see you soon.

Giving every girl access to “marvelous,” with Shanterra McBride

Susan interviews the founder of Marvelous University, Shanterra McBride. Shanterra and Susan talk about everything from the importance of believing in yourself and having purpose partners to trash can choices at Home Depot.  They talk about what makes young women and girls marvelous, and what that means when it comes to being the kind of friend you want to be, loving your body or having sex for the first time.

 

Transcript:

Susan: I’m so excited to share today’s episode with you. I had the great fortune to sit down and chat with my friend Shanterra McBride who is truly a force in this world. Her laugh and her light are infectious and just good for the soul. Her company and vision Marvelous University is exactly what girls of all ages need. There are so many takeaways and so many nuggets in here. She is truly among the best of the best. So sit down with your cup of coffee or laced up your walking shoes and get ready to be inspired.

Susan: Good morning Shanterra.

Shanterra: Good morning, Susan.

Susan: This is so fun and I’m so excited. Friends Shanterra is here with me in person. We are meeting before meeting and I’m just so excited to have her here and share her story. Shanterra and I have not known each other very long but when you meet Shanterra she’s a person who just has a light about her. And she started something amazing. And when I heard it it was before this podcast ever started. And I said I’m going to be your friend. I need to know everything about you. And whatever you are doing is fantastic. And it turns out it was marvelous and it’s Marvelous University. So here’s Shanterra. I want to hear your story. Tell us about yourself.

Shanterra: Here’s a story version. Born and raised in Dallas left Dallas. Born and raised in Dallas went to SMU graduated from SMU and then lived here a year and then left and moved to D.C. worked at work. I was a volunteer in service to America. So I was with AmeriCorps worked at a high school in D.C. had no idea what I was doing. And I was there to get the community involved in the school and the school involved with the community did it for a year. It changed my life and then decided to stay in D.C. and what I thought would be one year ended up being 13.

Susan: Wow.

Shanterra: And was all in the nonprofit world. Met different people did different things and then got a call I was speaking around the country got a call to be an assistant principal at a school in northern California. So you know why not, I’d never done that. So I packed up my stuff and moved to California. Did that for about four years and then felt this calling to move back to Dallas. So I left California and came back home and I’ve been back for three years.

Susan: What did you do when you got back? Did you take a teaching job here?

Shanterra: I did not. I did not. I felt I didn’t feel like I was supposed to go back into a school. In one school in the traditional way. So I hired a business coach and I was really wanting to understand what this thing inside of me what it was I knew it was with young people I had always been attracted to being an advocate for young people I’ve never looked at young people as our future. And people used to, always you know like Whitney Houston, had her song, I believe, and I was like nah. Something about that didn’t sit well with me. And I always viewed young people as the now. And I felt like even when I got back to Dallas. I was like, not one school but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. So I hired a business coach. And from that Marvelous University was born. Isn’t that crazy?

Susan: Yes. That is wild. So what did your business coach. What was his or her role in that process? Was it a discovery like what made you go I think I need a business coach?

Shanterra: Well first of all I knew, I knew I loved working with young people. I knew I especially loved working with girls and young women from middle school and high school to college age women. I knew that I knew I also didn’t want to be in a traditional set up like I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher in one school one. I didn’t feel like I had mastered any subject well enough that I could teach. But I also didn’t want the box. Right? So I just kept thinking I need somebody to help work this stuff out that’s in my head. Because also when it comes to working with young people people tell you oh go start a nonprofit. And I didn’t want to do that either. I worked in nonprofit for years and I didn’t feel… and I’m big on feeling. Like, if it doesn’t feel right. I pay attention to my intuition.

Susan: Yeah. Women have that.

Shanterra: Listen. And and I pay attention. And so I didn’t feel like. One I didn’t feel that the world needed another nonprofit. No shade to any nonprofits. I just knew, for me, that wasn’t the lane. So a friend of mine in D.C. a roommate called and said hey I saw tis speaker you need to go to her seminar. I was like what? Okay, fine. Because my friends know me. So her name is Marshawn Evans Daniels. And I went to see her in Atlanta and I thought I’m just gonna hear her speak and then leave. Listen. After the seminar I was like I need a coach. I need her to help me work this thing out within me. And I signed up for her coaching from there. Like I truly went to Atlanta just for this seminar. I had no intentions of then having her be a part of the next year of my life. She helped me one. Be confident in the calling that was. She also listened to me which is where Marvelous University came from because I really always said young people were born to be marvelous. That was my. I kept saying it every time I had a conversation with people. I was like, well you know they’re marvelous they’re developing and they’re marvelous. And people used always say, Marvelous? And I would say, absolutely. Because I saw a scripture once that said thank you for making me so wonderfully complex your workmanship is marvelous.

Susan: I love that.

Shanterra: That sold me. One I believed for myself.

Susan: Well, yeah. Buy into that immediately.

Shanterra: Listen. And then I was like, huh. If young people, if girls and young women could believe that they were born to be marvelous that affects everything. When I said this to Marshawn she’s like your business is Marvelous University. I said, no it is not. I did. I said, I’m not starting a school. I’m not trying to start a college and I didn’t want that. You know there are a lot of businesses quote unquote that have this for profit school thing, right? I didn’t want that. And she said to me she said. So is it just going to be you for the rest of your life are you going to be the only person who will ever only do the work you do. And I said, I hope not. She said, are you building an empire or not? Are you building something that other people would want to come alongside you and work this thing with you or not? Are you building something that could be in different parts of the world or not? And I was like, huh.

Susan: My eyes are like, wide open.

Shanterra: Changed everything for me.

Susan: Yeah. What a different perspective.

Shanterra: So that that is what she helped me to see and helped me do.

Susan: So that is the start of Marvelous University. Tell me how you birthed this baby. Because it is like I am learning it is this is like birthing a child starting something from scratch.

Shanterra: You know that from experience, I don’t.

Susan: You are a great aunt.

Shanterra: I’m a godmother, right? I tell people all the time. I honestly it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And the hard part is, well it wasn’t hard you know getting the paperwork done right. Right. It wasn’t hard once I believed in the name. Not hard. Wasn’t hard to even get the web domain right. Easy right. The hard part is the every day believing in it. The hardest. Every single day I have to decide whether or not I’m going to be committed to the vision that is inside me. And that is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Susan: What is vision?

Shanterra: The vision is to make sure that every girl and young woman knows that she was born to be marvelous. That is the vision. It is not every young girl or woman in Dallas. It’s not even every girl or young woman in Texas. Like it is not even in the United States. I see this in different parts of the world like when I close my eyes and I think about it. I want girls in Morocco, which is where I’m going this summer and I can’t believe it. You know in Morocco, in Kenya, in Syria, In Libya. Like every girl in Beijing. I truly believe that when every girl knows this and believes it. Cause belief changes your action. Right?

Susan: Yes ma’am.

Shanterra: So my vision is that every girl should be. They need to be told. But to do that every day. To wake up and decide like OK you still believe in this because it is hard. It’s hard, when you are trying to get to every girl. It is hard when you are a speaker and an author and you want to partner with parents to help them raise their girls. It is difficult for people to invest in young people. That’s hard. So battling those bricks. Battling those walls every day. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hands down. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I have worked for people. So that’s what’s crazy. Like, you go to work everyday and you help other people build their dreams. Every single day. Right. Every single day. But for your own dream, your own vision. That is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’m still doing it.

Susan: Yes you are.

Shanterra: But, it’s tough. It’s tough. You um, it’s tough because you have to be self-motivated. There isn’t a boss telling you what needs to be done. There isn’t someone patting you on your back because you turn something in.

Susan: I will pat you on your back. You just call me. I will do that.

Shanterra: The dances that I do.

Susan: Because we need those. We have to celebrate. I used to be so bad about that and that is one thing my coach has told me is Susan we have to celebrate. Like you have to.

Shanterra: Yeah yeah.

Susan: Otherwise you just get stuck in the…

Shanterra: Cycle. Yeah yeah yeah. And you you wonder is this making a difference? You know so it is hard I feel like I should be more encouraging, but it’s hard.

Susan: That’s reality.

Shanterra: Oh my gosh.

Susan: But you’re doing it and that’s the thing.

Shanterra: Yeah I mean I’m doing it.

Susan: You’re doing it because you feel like you’re supposed to.

Shanterra: I have to. When I really think about because I mean I think the the beautiful part about working for someone else is all the other stuff is taken care.

Susan: Oh yeah. At this point you’re the janitor and CEO.

Shanterra: I’m the everything. I’m the the the H.R. person, I’m the healthcare person, the vacation time off person. I’m all of that and you don’t really think about it until you no longer have it.

Susan: Trust me when I was writing website copy. I had to outsource some of that stuff.

Shanterra: That’s what I’m saying. Yes. So when you’re doing it and and all the pieces that it takes to stay motivated. It is really hard. And I feel bad. I feel bad. I feel guilty sometimes because I want I want somebody to just just hire me.

Susan: The overnight successes?

Shanterra: That or just a job. Can I just get a regular job?

Susan: No you can’t. Because you have to do this.

Shanterra: But that’s the guilt. That’s where, because every time I look for just a regular just something I feel so convicted. I feel so bad because either I’m not believing in the vision anymore or I’m taking the easy way out. And I always think about girls around the world. So tell us about it. Keep at it.

Susan: So tell us about, it. Tell us about Marvelous University and what are you doing. Who are these girls? I mean obviously girls around the world, but who are these fabulous women you have found?

Shanterra: This is the beautiful part. So Marvelous University. It is truly a business. A company designed to inspire young people to be more than what’s expected, more than what’s required, and more than what’s modeled. We offer life coaching and success planning for young people. But we specialize in leadership development for girls and young women. So all of that means when I say more than what’s expected more than what’s required more than what’s modeled. We put so much we have so many unspoken expectations on girls and they’re unspoken until they don’t meet those expectations that we’re thinking about them and when they don’t meet them we are quick to criticize we are quick to judge. We’re quick to correct. But not with love. When I say more than was required we often put limits. It’s weird we have expectations but then we put limits on what girls can do. We don’t expect.

Susan: Yes. I mean I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Shanterra: But we put limits on that. So it’s like wait. So either you have expectations of the thing you don’t require them to either follow through or we come up with these excuses. More than what’s modeled. I often think about we lack. I don’t want to say role models in our communities but we. I think we, say for example what’s happening in our in our country right now with the with young people truly spearheading a movement. Gun rights. Just advocating for themselves right. If y’all adults won’t do it. We’ll do it. I often think about how young people leave everything. They are the ones who will take those risks that adults. Oh I don’t want to do that because there are sacrifices, right? Adults are like I don’t want to lose my job. I don’t want to lose where I live. Things like that. Young people really feel like they have nothing to lose.

Susan: They’re naive.

Shanterra: Right? Or, they just feel like so?!

Susan: Right. They have their whole lives so it doesn’t matter.

Shanterra: And so when I say you know I’m watching them and I’m like more than what’s modeled I don’t want them to feel limited. So when I think about girls and I heard years ago that especially in underserved communities underserved countries when you educate a girl you educate the entire village.

Susan: Oh absolutely.

Shanterra: Right? Because we’re going to share. We’re going to share the information that we receive. We’re also the child bearer. So everything that happens to a girl to a young woman that affects everyone and so the marvelous girl is every girl. It is she is not. It is not about race. It is not about socioeconomics. It is not about region. It’s the every girl. But I also believe that every girl isn’t getting the same information. So when I say girls were born to be marvelous this is not you are marvelous if you live in a certain community or if your parents have certain income or if you drive a certain car. This is you are marvelous because of who you are, period! And I believe every single girl needs to hear it. Now some people will put it in well because you’re a black woman. You need to be telling this to black girls and you know. And I’m like yeah I do. And I need to tell girls who don’t because we don’t we don’t hear that we hear go to school get an education and yeah our communities. Yeah certain girls get better education all that kind of stuff but I’m talking about basic you were born to be marvelous so that to me that is every single that’s every single girl. No limits. And that’s why that’s why when I close my eyes and I see the world I see every single girl.

Susan: That is, that just makes me want to cry. I love every word of your vision. I love every word of your organization. And friends, Shanterra hasn’t just started this university this Marvelous University this organization. She also wrote a book. And I picked it up cause Shanterra is my friend. I knew it was written for young girls. And I thought it was great. It wasn’t long it was an easy read and I thought well this will be great I’ll tell my friend I read her book I bought her book and I’m supporting my friend and Shanterra, I read your book and it’s not just for girls it’s for women. And I need to know why you didn’t write this book, ya know, 20 years ago. Because I needed this then.

Shanterra: Oh me too.

Susan: And hearing this now. I mean I feel like as women there’s a lot of history behind you know feminism and that movement and all of that. I’m hoping I pray that we are getting to a point where we’re coming together as women.

Shanterra: I mean, Yes. You said you are hoping and praying. So I’m joining you with that hope and prayer.

Susan: Because what your book says just… I heard growing up… I grew up in South Carolina and I didn’t hear a lot of these messages. In fact I heard the opposite messages until I found myself at a women’s college where women are in the top leadership roles there is no 50/50 there’s no 80 20 it’s 100 percent women. All day long.

Shanterra: So women have to lead. Yes.

Susan: Women have to lead. So you’re you’re in the top. So when I read your book I was I needed this 20 years ago. I can use this now and it just it astounds me. So tell us about your book and how that came to be.

Shanterra: So I wrote a book called Love Your Jiggle: The Girl’s Guide to Being Marvelous. And I wrote it to truly inspire girls. It’s basically five rules to help every girl be marvelous. So and let me just say this so jiggle is how I talk about self how I talk about body. It’s not just the thing that moves.

Susan: Although it does that too.

Shanterra: Yes there are things on my body just. No control of my own just moves. But it was really and I thought it was a fun word that girls could like giggle when they hear it but but also disarm girls and so when I say the girls guide to being marvelous. It’s describe what you want in a friendship and be that kind of friend. And so when I think about girls in middle school and high school and first year of college and then when they graduate college and then first year at work like friendship. So big deal you know it is a fabric, a foundation it is women in friendships is so important. So when we talk about what do you want in a friendship. And then how do you also how do you show up in friendship. So describe what you want in a friendship and be that kind of friend. Love your jiggle. So loving your body. Being kind to your body. Not criticizing your body not allowing other people to criticize your body. I talk about my family in the book a lot because I come from a large family a large family that is very opinionated and we are the ones that you know there is no lack of conversations around our bodies. I just remember being a, being young going shopping and going in the dressing with my mom and her ability to pull and tug and comment and you know and there’s a certain age especially middle school where your body is changing without your consent. Right? So how do we speak to that and what, based on the images and the messages that society gives us. What are we saying to our bodies? You know. So really wanting girls to love their bodies. Another rule is to decide when you want to have sex and stick to it. Yeah and that scares parents because parents first of all never want their daughters to have sex. Ever. Even at 35.

Susan: You didn’t have. It was a miracle.

Shanterra: Yes!

Susan: There was a stork involved.

Shanterra: Jesus Jr. Listen there is no, so but asking girls to decide when. For the majority of girls if you ask them when they want to have sex. It is not like tomorrow they won’t say next week. If you give them permission to first of all think about it, cause we don’t allow girls to think about it. Boys get to think about it and it’s expected that boys are thinking about sex. We do not expect girls to think about sex. We don’t give them permission to think about sex. So in this book I’m asking girls to decide when they want to have sex. Stick to it. Where do you want to be. What do you want to be changing out of. Do you have to love them. Do you have to like the person. If the answer is yes how would you know especially with love how would you know that your in love. So basically asking girls to think. Write it down and then stick to it because the majority of their answers. I would like to be married. That’s the majority. If you give girls the chance to think about it first to think about where they want to be. Most of them will say somewhere nice somewhere beautiful. I always give it the thought of you know being in the penthouse suite in the Ritz Carlton overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Susan: That sounds pretty amazing.

Shanterra: You can’t get there if you’re 16 though. But when you think. Where do you want to be. Do you want to be in a car? Do you want to be in the gym at school? Do you want to be in your school uniform? But asking girls to think. Giving them permission to think so they can decide for themselves. So if they are in a situation like wait I don’t want to be here. They get permission to speak for themselves. I didn’t want to be here. Now, for parents I try to get them to understand. That may not mean that she will wait till she is 32 to have this experience. But it does mean that she gets to think for herself. And isn’t that what we want is women and girls to think for are ourselves.

Susan: And the women’s health aspect that plays into that. I mean hello.

Shanterra: Seriously!

Susan: That’s one of the biggest things is just women’s health and it goes back to that body thing. Taking care of your body. It all plays into that.

Shanterra: But women’s health its mind, body and soul. It’s being able to make my own decision. And being confident in that and not asking someone else like will you still talk to me if I say no and don’t want to be here in this car having sex. And if the joker is like no I won’t talk to you. Then he’s not worthy of you anyway. But giving girls the permission to think is really important. It’s really really important. So decide when you want to have sex and stick to it. Learning how to save serve and give and not just when it comes to finances but when it comes to serving our community. Giving my full attention to the people I’m sitting with at the table learning how to be present. And then finally risk saying I don’t know because I find so many times girls and young women will give an answer and not even really be sure about it but they’re afraid to say I don’t know or I need to find more information about that, or you know that’s interesting that’s something new I’ve never heard before. I would love to learn more. So that’s what, Love Your Jiggle: The Girls Guide to Being Marvelous is about.

Susan: That is phenomenal. And I’m telling you we will have a link up on the website to this book. You need to order it. And you need to order more than one copy because there is a friend you need to give it to. Every woman out there needs to read this book.

Shanterra: I loved writing it. It was one of those things where I felt like, and thank you for saying that. I mean it’s one of those, it was, that was my baby and it was something that I thought about years ago and wanting girls to have just a little guide. Just something that they could put in their bag or put in, you know, just something, a crossover they could put it in and take it with them ask questions to themselves ask their friends questions. I saw girls having a discussion about it and just like what do you think. OK so where do you want to be or when you say you know love your jiggle like what are the things you’re saying to your body? Things like that where girls would have conversations. So it’s encouraging to hear that you know that you see it more than just middle school or high school girls. That was, that was part of my vision.

Susan: Yes. So a few minutes ago we were talking about times where you lack self-confidence and you just wanted to throw your hands up. How do you get back to that place where. How do you motivate yourself and get yourself back to the place where this is who I am and this is what I am supposed to be doing. What does that self-confidence look like? What does that motivation look like?

Shanterra: I have amazing purpose partners. I have purpose partners. I have two people who I mean whether it’s a text or a phone call that I am so extremely vulnerable and transparent with. And you need that. And when I say vulnerable I am like butt naked just like this is what I’m feeling and not afraid to share. I don’t feel qualified to do this. I don’t feel like I should still be doing it. I’m very very very transparent with them and so when I’m lacking self-confidence which is probably every other day I reach out and I share and I don’t and I even share you know whether I need a cheer like rah rah rah or a ask me the hard questions but they really help me to keep going. And you know and truly remember that this is a brick by brick process. Like it is an every day decision. You know it’s just like a marriage it’s like every day you decided to be in this marriage. It is not based on circumstances. It is not based on the weather. It is not based on whether or not you got flowers or you know someone put the seat down or what. It’s not based on that stuff. It is an every day decision that you’re going to be in it. And that is what I have to realize. That’s just the same way in having this. It is an everyday decision. And when I’m struggling with that decision I reach out to my purpose partners and that vulnerability to reach out is very hard but I trust them to see the vulnerability. I trust them to see the lack of self-confidence. And then when they build me up I’m not embarrassed when we get off the phone. I am not ashamed. Right?! Because I think sometimes when you when you have to be vulnerable. This world has a way of making you feel ashamed and guilty for your needing support. And I trust them completely that when I get off (the phone). That was good. I’m glad they were there. And I get to go back to building. But I need that and I really rely on them and then I mean I’m a I’m a post it person. So there are post its around my office space and there are post its in my bathroom. There are post its on mirrors in my space that remind me to keep going. Whether it’s, I have a post it that says 20k by 2020. I plan on reaching 20,000 girls by the year 2020.

Susan: Love it.

Shanterra: There’s a post it in my bathroom that says I am marvelous and I say it out loud. There is a post it in my office that also says keep going brick by brick. You got this. Don’t stop. And I think some people would say gosh does it really take all that? Do you really need that much encouragement? And I’m like, uh-huh. I do.

Susan: We all do. If we’re realistic.

Shanterra: Right. But we get embarrassed. I think we feel like if we need it then something is wrong. And for me, I’m like, we were made to be relationship with people and we need to encourage other people. I know I’m an encourager. At least I hope I am. I need it. And that that’s truly what I mean, the self-confidence is hard. But I reach out to them. I’m like remind me why did this again. What did I say about the vision? Tell me again. What did I say? Cause I got another no today or I didn’t get a callback today or I sent out all this information and not one school called me back. I did this or I did that. And their like yep. Keep going or let’s go another route or, you know. So that that’s how I get through. My purpose partners. I’m so thankful. So thankful.

Susan: And I think your purpose partners are a fantastic idea. I never thought about that language and I love that language because when you see people especially today we have the world of social media and we have these overnight success stories. Because you know they started this yesterday and they woke up today and were billionaires. Cause that’s how it really happens.

Shanterra: They don’t tell you the steps.

Susan: You don’t see the steps behind the scenes and that’s one that’s one thing I want to highlight with this podcast is I know there are women out there who have things or have dreams or have a vision and if it didn’t happen yesterday or if it’s not happening fast enough. There is a lack of confidence there or a lack of drive or I can’t do this on my own. And I want you to know you don’t have to. You don’t have to do this on your. No one is doing this on their own. For heaven’s sakes Oprah has a team of a lot of people behind her at this point.

Shanterra: Absolutely

Susan: It is not her doing this. I am not running this by myself.

Shanterra: And when she didn’t have a team she had Stedman and Gayle.

Susan: Yes. I mean, hello. From the beginning.

Shanterra: I think the hard part I think for women is that we if you look at…cause “comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt

Susan: Yes it is. That has come up on other podcasts of mine.

Shanterra: Because it is we look at other women and we think oh my goodness they have it all. She was able to do that in a quick you know a quick overnight turnaround thing. And we don’t share all the hurdles we don’t share it all. So when I say my purpose partners these are people that I went to and they both laughed at me because like well don’t I do that already? And I’m like, yes but I’m making it official.

Susan: This is your role.

Shanterra: This is your role and I’m telling you this because you are the person who knows it all. And I’m trusting you to walk with me with this vision. So it was intentional. Right. And I think that as women as we’re building, as we’re sharing we need people that we say this is this is the thing that I’m going to go after are you willing to join me as a purpose partner. Joining me and going after it. I’ll do the work but I need you to join with me whether it’s praying for me whether it’s giving me a cheerleader you know rah rah rah whether that’s bringing me some coffee whether that’s spotting me a dollar like what. But being that person to remind me that I’m not by myself. We need to we have there’s no way out there’s no way. There’s no way I could do it. There’s no way.

Susan: You have to have somebody.

Shanterra: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Susan: Well I want to pivot just a little bit and I want to talk about putting it down. It is hard to do. We all at some point have to put it down at least for half second and take care of our own bodies and our own selves.

Shanterra: Yes. Yes.

Susan: So how and when ever do you make time to do that?

Shanterra: You know as you say that I’m thinking. But but but one thing I do is I I go OK. So I love there’s a trail at the Katy Trail here in Dallas and where I currently live I basically walk out my door. Take a few steps. And I’m I’m at the Katy Trail. And I love the Katy Trail. One, I love moving and so I get out there. I listen to a podcast right and so I get out there and I move. And I started this thing because I was sitting a lot when you when you are starting a business there’s a lot of sitting. And I realized I was sitting and eating and drinking. And that was not good. It was not a good combination. So in loving my jiggle, I decided I needed to move my jiggle and so I just started walking and then I realized just how that changed my mindset. And I was listening to people who had either started businesses or I would listen to Oprah’s podcast and listen to these folks who were just like in such a space where I was like huh, I can do this. Now some people say well that’s that’s not self care because your brain is still going, but for me it was moving my body. It was listening to other people. So being encouraged. So then when I went back I could have a just a different mindset. So for me that’s self care. Getting out. Absolutely. And walking. And then I’m a night owl I tend to work pretty late because my brain seems to like you know night. And so I’m pretty great at getting up when I’m rested. Then if I go to bed really late I don’t then try to get up and be you know functioning at 8 o’clock in the morning because no one wants that person. Trust me when I say no one wants that person. So I sleep well, I rest well, I’m very very intentional about my space. And so there isn’t. I don’t have a television in my room. I don’t do. There are certain things that make sure that I that I take care of me. So I move, cause marvelous girls move. I move my body. I listen to encouraging podcasts. I go to sleep when I’m sleepy and I wake up when I’m rested. And I believe in naps. I just I feel like that, that is how I care for me and I drink a lot of water.

Susan: That’s a good one. Everybody should drink more water.

Shanterra: I drink a lot of water. I have to realize it’s it’s an energizer in itself. And I guess that’s what I do. I move, I drink water, I sleep.

Susan: Well, I’m going to ask one more question as we close. And that is I said a little bit about earlier but I know there’s a woman out there who is has something on her brain that’s in her heart it’s in her soul. I remember when I started this podcast I could feel it. But I didn’t know I didn’t have that next action step. If you could leave the woman on the other end of this podcast with an action step because I love that conversation. It was fantastic. It was motivating it was inspiring. But until you take that step. It’s just talk. So what’s an action step. You would leave with a woman looking to do something new.

Shanterra: My action step would be, well there are several. First of all believe in yourself and you don’t need a crowd of people cheering you on saying you go do that. Believe in yourself. Get you one or two purpose partners who will believe with you and do it. It is that simple. And please please don’t compare yourself to other people who you think are already doing it. A friend of mine said the other day. You know you try to think well is this something I’m supposed to do? Cause isn’t someone already. And I’m always thinking well if you weren’t supposed to do then the vision wouldn’t have been given to you if you weren’t supposed to do it then you could let it go because there are women out there you have something that you’ve been thinking about doing for a very long time. And you can’t shake it. And matter of fact you’ve done other stuff because you think oh somebody else is going to do that or they’re doing that already and you can’t sleep you can’t it won’t get off of you. So just do it. When I am when I go into Home Depot. Seriously, when I go into Home Depot and there are trash cans, right? Because everybody always need a new trashcan. You go into Home Depot and there are about 15 different types of trash cans that you can buy. And I think wow what if the person who created the first trash can. If that was the only trash can. Then I look at all the other trash cans and I think my gosh if all those people thought who needs another trash can. We wouldn’t have 15 different trash can options and people labor in the aisles of trash cans at Home Depot. Cause you wonder well do I need that one, or do I want a step 1, or do I want one where I just wave my hand. My point is this. We have no shortage. No shortage of trash cans that you can buy. But if that person who decided to make the second kind of trash can, if that person decided well we already have a trash can I’m not going to do anything cause someone already did it then you wouldn’t have options. Do the thing. Just do the thing. Give the world options. Give the world options. Believe in yourself, get you a couple of purpose partners and then go out there and do it. Get you a website. Just buy the even the name. Just buy the name. You don’t even have to put anything up there just by the name and have it. So when you’re ready to put stuff up there you’re thinking about it because you’ve already seen a lack. You know what I mean? You already seen a lack. So go ahead and give the world option. Those are my steps. Believe, get you some purpose partners, buy the website name and get to doing it. And that’s that’s really it. Give the world options.

Susan: I have nothing to add. Now ladies, go do your own trash can.

Shanterra: I’m telling you I was standing in the isle and I looked around. Oh my goodness. This is trash cans. No shade to the trash can. But there are options for trash cans. And people are struggling to figure out which trash can do I need. And if that first person who created the trash can. If no one else thought of it it wouldn’t have been done. So for me it was about going and looking at all those different options and saying how dare I think that I do not deserve to give the world options on how we talk to girls and young women. How dare I?

Susan: Alright! That’s all I got. Bye!

Susan: I mean it doesn’t get much better than that does it. Thanks so much for joining me today. I really hope you left with as much from our chat as I did. You can find out more about Marvelous University and Shanterra over on her website, marvelousuniversity.com where you can also purchase her book. Love Your Jiggle: A Girls Guide to Being Marvelous. On Facebook, you can find her at Marvelous University by Shanterra McBride and on Twitter @shanterramcbride. If you liked this episode, I know you’ll be excited about our future guests. So go on over to iTunes or our website and hit subscribe. I would love it if you would also leave a review as I’m excited to hear what you think. Thanks again friends, I’ll see ya soon.

Balance doesn’t exist, but you can still be a business owner and a mom, with photographer Rae Barnes

Susan talks with Rae Barnes, owner of Rae Barnes Photography.  Rae is not only a professional photographer, but she is also a mother of four.  Rae shares that she wanted to be both a mom and a business owner and they discuss how she does her best to balance both.  

Transcript:

Susan Long:        Friends, today I’m talking with Rae Barnes, owner of Rae Barnes, photography. Rae and I met in college and for as long as I’ve known her, she’s been an incredibly talented artist. We talk about everything from owning your own business, being a mom, balance and boundaries. I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to talk with her and I hope our conversation gives you the same boost that it gave me. Here’s Rae.

Susan Long:        Good morning, Rae. How are you?

Rae Barnes:        I’m doing well. How are you, Susan?

Susan Long:        I am great and I am so excited to have you here with us today.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, I’m excited to be here too.

Susan Long:        Friends Rae and I met in college. I was very thankful and very lucky that she transferred schools and she transferred to my school. She is a photographer and I think in a little bit of an unusual way. She has been a photographer since the beginning of her career, meaning unlike a lot of us who have transferred our skills around and found other things. Rae started out here, so friends, I’m just going to let Rae kind of take it from here and I’m going to let you run with it Rae. Tell us how you got started, how you knew that’s what you wanted to do. If you knew that’s what you wanted to do. Just let’s start at the beginning.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah. So my journey is rather interesting. So when I was at Converse College with you, um, I really thought that I was going to either go into advertising or teach photography on the college level because both of those things were practical and I like to think of myself as a practical person. So I graduated and started pursuing advertising. Interning with the firm. And not long into it I got a call from the dean of the art department, at Converse College saying someone was looking for a student to photograph their wedding. And of course I always loved photography and I had studied it and pursued it, but wedding photography was always seen as the bottom of the barrel for artists at least at that time. But you know, being a recent graduate, I thought, what the heck, I’ll make a little extra money. So I photographed my first wedding straight out of college and I loved it. It took me about a year and a half to go full time. So I did have a couple different jobs in there. I also got engaged and married and moved to two different states in that year and a half before I went full time. But um, yeah, it was kind of wild road that has taken a lot of turns, but I can say that I have been a professional photographer since I graduated college.

Susan Long:        I did not realize that wedding photography was seen as the bottom of the barrel and we don’t have to go down that rabbit trail, but I find that fascinating considering how much wedding photographers charge.

Rae Barnes:        Well, so it’s not seen that way anymore. At all. In fact, I was talking with someone yesterday and they assume that if you are making your living as a photographer then you must be doing weddings and I do not do weddings anymore. Uh, I did that for eight years and I’ve been done for five. So.

Susan Long:        So talk a little bit about that. How did that transition happen and what took you down this same career? Kind of, but a little bit of a twist.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah.  So several things happened. So I was very passionate about wedding photography. I loved it when I first started my career when my husband and I had just gotten married. We were in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and it was a destination wedding market. The locals couldn’t necessarily afford photography, but all of the people coming in that were having their weddings there were spending a lot of money and they could afford photography. So that was my market and it was great. It was really great for that stage in my life, um, for being a newlywed. I was very passionate about it. And then in 2009 I had a baby.

Rae Barnes:        My last year before I became a mother was a crazy year. I probably worked 50 hours most weeks, sometimes closer to 60, I had someone on staff, I had a studio space, it was a six figure business it was crazy. It was really intense.

Susan Long:        You were living the dream

Rae Barnes:        Sort of. Accept I was exhausted. So then I had a baby and I was not prepared for how much that changed me and my life and my outlook on how I spent my time and working even 40 hours was no longer an option. So I cut back dramatically, and then my husband got a job in Philadelphia, so we moved in 2010 from that tiny little market where I was big fish in a little pond. Had the corner of the market was booking out a year and a half in advance to this huge city where there were tons of photographers. So, so, you know, to make a long story short, it took me about two years and two more pregnancies to decide that I could no longer do weddings  and part of it was just because of the market. It was very different client in the city than it was in the mountains, obviously and part of it was just our life.  I didn’t want to be on my feet for 10 to 12 hours so it was just a natural progression to move towards family photography and so that is a hundred percent of my income comes from family portraits. So you know, it was quite a rollercoaster making that adjustment. 2013 was a really slow year as I transitioned away from weddings into families but that was when our third child was born and I needed to be slow. So it worked out kind of a roller coaster and it worked out. I back up to a six figure business, but I only work 24 hours a week. So that’s amazing.

Susan Long:        Yes, it is. Holy Cow. And you’re not exhausted. Well, maybe you are now because you have four children.

Rae Barnes:        Now I have 4 children. No, but it’s a much healthier balance for me. It’s much healthier being balanced, having family time and it was time.

Susan Long:        and I love that you have found a way to do that and also have not only a successful business but I would imagine have something for yourself that’s outside, ya know, the “Momming”  thing.  Which I love “Momming” too, but I love having something outside myself outside of all of that just kind of for me. And it helps when you can make a little money doing it.

Rae Barnes:        Absolutely. Yeah, so even the years when I was pregnant and nursing and doing all of those Mom things, I never let my business go and part of that I think just is rooted from me being stubborn, but part of it is also because I have some very loyal clients and I just could not imagine letting them go and I also couldn’t imagine not having that outlet, not having that creative outlet. There are some amazing photographers out there that when they become moms seem to start focusing on photographing their own children and I just don’t find the same contentment there that I do in running a business. I want to run a business and I’ve always enjoyed that, so it’s always been a good thing for me even it was very part time.

Susan Long:        Well talk a little bit about that. Talk to us. Obviously you’re very passionate about your business and being a mother. How do you, I guess, how do you make that work?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, so I think it’s taken me a long time to figure it out. My oldest daughter is 9 now and I feel like I’m finally getting to the point where I have a really great balance, so it’s taken me quite a bit of time, but honestly it just comes down to boundaries. I have an office in my home and I close the door when I’m in here, and even if I have a nanny here that’s watching the kids in the summer, that door’s closed sometimes its locked if I’m on the phone. I have very clear boundaries of this is work time and then this is family time. Um, I don’t check my emails. I don’t usually make phone calls. I, I very rarely make exceptions for certain appointments outside of those hours. Now I do all of my sessions on the weekend typically, but I’m never away from my family for more than three hours. Um, and so I think that that has really been the key to keeping us all kind of happy is having those boundaries.

Susan Long:        Absolutely. And something, I’ll interject something here just a little bit because I know there’s a woman out there saying, well I have nowhere in my house. I don’t have a spare room for an office. Friends in launching this podcast. My family is also building a house, so we’ve got a lot going on and we’re currently in a rental home that has no extra bedrooms. We are using them all and so I have taken a very small closet. It’s actually a closet in our house and I have a very, very small desk and a little like wall shelf and a few things set up on those. So if you really want to find an office, you can make one in your home.

Rae Barnes:        So for 5 years I worked off of a laptop. I did not have an office because where my current office is used to be the nursery.  So I had a laptop and I would either hide in the basement, which is very dark and cold. Um, or I would go to Starbucks or the library or anywhere where I can find quiet. I, yeah, you just do what you have to do you. And I worked, you know, slower years. I worked during nap times, I worked after the kids went to bed. I didn’t have as clear cut bundaries as I do now because I was first and foremost mom during the daylight hours.

Susan Long:        Sure.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah. That was challenging. I wouldn’t trade that time for the world, but I also wouldn’t go back to that time for the world. It was hard.  Yeah. You just kind of, just make due with what you have, that’s for sure.

Susan Long:        So clearly you have set yourself up for success. You’ve done it over the years, but how do you define that for yourself?

Rae Barnes:        So, um, success for me is a really interesting thing to think about, because I don’t view success as a destination rather a journey. I really, I personally feel my success is a balance of contentment and discomfort. So the contentment is contentment with all the accomplishments I’ve had, all the wins that I’ve had, seeing how far I’ve come, but no comfort in staying there. I don’t find comfort in staying there. Um, success is something I hope that I never just sit here and think, OK, I’ve made it. I’m successful now. I can just coast because I think that’s really dangerous place to be. I think complacency is a very dangerous spot to be, especially as a business owner, a small business owner, entrepreneur, anything you’re in, especially creative fields. Things are constantly changing. So there’s no time to coast.

Susan Long:        Sure.

Rae Barnes:        So its just a delicate balance to me of being content with what I’ve done, but not content enough to stay there.

Susan Long:        Well, in that same vein then, how do you motivate yourself and how are you, I guess your best cheerleader? Like how do you, what is it that keeps you going?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, so I think it just comes down to my why, Why? If I’m ever feeling like I’m lacking motivation, I have to look at why that either the two levels of why, why am I lacking motivation? Um, is it because I’m doing a task that needs to be eliminated or delegated or renovated. Is it some task that would be better outsourced?

Susan Long:        Yeah.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, I’m really big on outsourcing. I couldn’t do it in 24 hours a week. Um, I couldn’t do it all, but I have a team of people that I outsource certain things to. But there are certain tasks that just don’t need to be done. And then there are certain tasks that you kind of have to power through it, you know, you do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do and you just kind of push through those things and you know, then the other level is the why is why am I doing this, you know, thinking about I only want to work a 24 hour week right now because my youngest is two and my next youngest is about to go to kindergarten and I want time with them.

Susan Long:        Absolutely.

Rae Barnes:        You know, even if it’s just two days a week I take off and I want to be there to take my kids to school and pick them up. Um, so, you know, it’s job that I love, I really love what I do. I love working with families. I love helping them create wonderful pieces for their home, but at the end of the day it is a job. It’s very fulfilling, but my family is the most important thing to me and so my time away from them needs to be spent wisely and I need to be efficient and you know, pursuing the things that are going to advance my business and make money so that I can provide for my family really, you know, those are the two things that keep me motivated,  keep me stepping forward.

Susan Long:        So you have these, do you have any fun tips or tricks or books you’ve read or blogs you’ve read or podcasts you’ve listened to that have helped develop that side of yourself to know?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah, so I think, that for me, there’s no one thing that I pursue a lot of things. So I read or listened to books. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I am part of a photographer’s mastermind group that is full of education. I’m full of different business organizations and so I pursue education constantly and I think that that helps keep me going. All of those pieces of never stop, never stop learning, never stop listening because even if I’m listening to a podcast with somebody who, you know, it’s in a completely different industry from me, I still can learn so much about how to better my business through other people. So I can’t say that there’s one thing. You know, one of my favorite books I’ve read recently was by, Jeff Goins, Real Artists Don’t Starve.

Susan Long:        Oh yeah.

Rae Barnes:        That was really, really a great read, especially as a creative entrepreneur because so often, you know, we have this concept of the starving artists. And he says, you need money to make art.  Which is very true. My latest camera cost me over $5,000. So if I weren’t charging appropriately for my work I wouldn’t be able to afford my equipment or my computer or I wouldn’t be able to run a business if I didn’t charge appropriately. So that was really a great great book for me. But like I said, there’s so many different sources that I just every day am being fed by somebody different usually

Susan Long:        That’s, that’s really fascinating. I love that and think, I mean, you’re not charging your clients, you know, $5,000 for one photo. So they saved a lot of money right there.

Rae Barnes:        Although I do often have clients that spend that much, but it’s not on one photo.

Susan Long:        Exactly. But they didn’t have to go out and buy the camera. Oh yes. We’ve done a few. We’ve done a few family photo sessions at this point. I am well aware of what they cost, but I’m also very excited when I get the results. So it’s worth it every time. And I know you’ve talked about doing traveling stuff in the past. I don’t know, you still, we still have not been able to get our families together for any kind of photography or just anything because I’m never on the east coast. Um, or if I am, I’m never out of the state of South Carolina, but one day, one day Rae you will photograph my family. I am bound and determined to make this happen. I love your work. I love your work. We’ve talked a lot about family, we’ve talked a lot about your work, but let’s pull back a little bit and talk about yourself because I hear you giving, giving, giving a lot to your clients, a lot to your business, a lot to your family. How do you take care of yourself? How do you put it down?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah. So, um, I can’t say that I’ve mastered this.

Susan Long:        No one has.

Rae Barnes:        But as Moms, it is something that all of us struggle with. It’s so interesting because I’m an introvert and I work alone most of the time. Every once in a while I have my assistant in the office with me that most of the time.  And often that recharges me being alone, you know, but I do have a job that can be intense and stressful. You know, running a business is not easy. And so I think for me it’s really making sure that I do get alone time. That is not stressful. Taking time to be unplugged, I really try to leave my phone at home, we go to church on Sundays, and it kinda annoys my husband, but I leave my phone at home so can’t text me an tell me where he is in the church somewhere in the church.

Rae Barnes:        But I just love to leave that behind and stop looking at whatever I was looking at,  you know, exercising, going to yoga is, is always really great for me. I love being outside, you know, every season it’s just a little bit different what I do to recharge.  It’s really easy as an introvert to live in a vaccum, but we can’t do that. Even just going out with my girlfriends or one girlfriend meeting up, going out with my husband. We try to do regular date night. Thats just so critical for us because our dinner table is so loud.

Susan Long:        I can imagine

Rae Barnes:        I mean date nights are sometimes the only time we get to talk to each other. Like, oh, what are you doing, what are you doing at work these days? But it really is so important to seek out ways to be recharged. Because you get burnt out easily, otherwise.

Susan Long:        Absolutely and I love that you brought up making time for your spouse because especially working and working late hours, getting this thing off the ground like I have been doing. We have seriously had to make an effort and having a toddler, a three and a half year old. We’ve had to make time for each other that we haven’t had to do in a long time and I don’t know that we ever had to do it like this and finding that, making that happen has been very, very, very important. So I’m glad you brought that up.

Rae Barnes:        It’s so important to be intentional with your time. I think that balancing a business with the mom life has really forced me to be intentional and efficient with my time and I don’t mean efficient when I’m with my children.  Sometimes you just need to sit there and be there.  Or playing Chutes and Ladders. Candyland. Monopoly.

Susan Long:        Yeah. We haven’t gotten to that Monopoly stage yet. I’m not looking forward to that part.

Rae Barnes:        Monopoly Junior is a good start.

Susan Long:        Oh, that’s right. There’s a junior that that would be easier. I know many of our listeners have heard you talk today. They’ve heard our conversation and they realize that they can do this. They’ve had this dream in the back of their head. Whatever that dream is, whatever that goal is and whatever about our conversation today made them think maybe. Maybe I can do that. So what action step, because we can talk all day long and talking is great, but until you take that leap, there’s no action. So what is that action step that maybe you would advise a friend to? What would be that next step that they would want, that you would suggest they take if they are looking to do something on their own outside the box? Just starting maybe from scratch?

Rae Barnes:        Yeah.  So there’s, um, I haven’t read this book yet, but I’ve heard people say this, the title of this book over and over again, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers.

Susan Long:        I know exactly what you’re talking about. I haven’t read it either.

Rae Barnes:        I need to read that.  It should be my next Audible. Sometimes I just have to listen,  but um, I love that thing.  Feel the fear and do it anyway because just about every step that I take in my business that makes my business better is scary. It’s scary,  but there’s always that fear that nobody’s going to come back to mewhen I make this change. Nobody’s gunna like this. You just have to kind of push through that and do it anyway. But like I was saying before, you can’t live in a vacuum, so I firmly believe in seeking out mentors, a mentor or an accountability group, or any  kind of source you can find that’s really going to help feed you the courage to do this, but do it thoughtfully and intentionally doing research and then just take that first step, you know, you will find that community that you need to help encourage you to do it. But then just do it. Feel that fear and let it fuel you and just take that first step and you know, it’s not, it’s not a cakewalk doing something that is challenging obviously, but it’s absolutely worth it to do that, to pursue these challenging things because when you do succeed, it’s just, there’s, the payoff is so great, you know, and I wouldn’t trade where I, am right now for the world, I am just so thankful for all challenges I’ve been through. The hards times that I’be been through. There have definitely been some really hard times. Running a business. Being a mom. You know, there’s always challenges, life isn’t easy, but anything worth pursuing isn’t going to be easy. Right?

Susan Long:        No, not at all right. Well Rae, do you have anything else you want to share with us before we close today? Is there anything that I missed?

Rae Barnes:        I was thinking about one thing. If I’m speaking to anyone who is in those beginning stages of building a business or you know, becoming something new sometimes we all struggle with that confidence to take that step. And I was thinking about this and I know we mentioned, we’ve talked about this before Susan, this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I  think culture right now. We really struggle with comparison that it is just like this virus this disease and it’s just come over all of us because we have social media that is constantly showing us how great everybody else’s life is.

Susan Long:        Yes.

Rae Barnes:        Yeah.  It’s easy to get sucked into that. And uh, I would challenge anyone to just step away from it.  Social media is, is it necessary evil. But you are looking at everybody’s highlight reel and nobody has it put together. Nobody has it perfect. Nobody’s living the dream 100% of the time. Life is messy. I just wanted to throw that out there to just, to not be in a comparison game of comparing yourself to where other people are, you know, there’s no such thing as an overnight success. There’s no such thing as someone going from zero to 100 overnight. That’s my closing thought.

Susan Long:        That is a fantastic closing thought and I really appreciate you being here today.

Rae Barnes:        Thank you.

Susan Long:        That was fantastic. Yes, absolutely. We will have to have you back at some point, but thank you again and we will talk soon.

Susan Long:        Wasn’t that fun? I have so many takeaways from this conversation. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” What a great quote from Theodore Roosevelt. I’m tucking that one away. Friends, thanks again for joining us. If you liked this episode, I know you will be excited about our future guests, so go on over to itunes or our website and hit subscribe. I would love it if you would also leave a review as I’m excited to hear what you think. Also on our website, you’ll be able to find the links to the things we mentioned in the show as well as Rae’s website, raebarnes.com and social media info on Instagram at Rae Barnes photo and on Facebook at Rae Barnes Photography. Thanks again friends, I’ll see ya soon.