Entrepreneurship

Bonus Episode: What is happening on our southern border and how can I help? with legal expert, Kate Lincoln- Goldfinch

You ask, we deliver. In this bonus episode I sat down to chat with legal expert Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch. Kate is an Austin based immigration attorney and she is here to answer your questions. I hope our conversation will give you a better understanding of the situation and, most importantly, what you can do to help!

Show Notes:
Will post at a later date

Links:

www.lincolngoldfinch.com

https://www.facebook.com/lincolngoldfinch/

https://twitter.com/lincolngfinch?lang=en

More links to come

Transcript:
Will post at a later date


Brand Development – The Creative Process, with Vicky Gouge

You have a vision and now you want to see it come to life. Where do you start? How do you begin to help it materialize? I don’t know about you, but I am a visual person. My next step was reaching out to graphic artist, Vicky Gouge.

Show Notes:
Vicky Gouge is the owner of Full Moon Design Group, a Texas based graphic design and print marketing company with a focus on small to medium sized businesses.
Spoiler alert: She is the brains behind the How She Got Here website and logo. She truly helped How She Got Here come to life.

A few of my favorite highlights from our conversation include:
– Don’t be afraid to utilize the knowledge of others.
– Know your financial situation. Budgets aren’t always fun to talk about, but they are necessary.
– Failure is inevitable. Learn from it.
– Even in todays digital world there is still value in networking and meeting people in person.

Links:

https://fullmoondesigngroup.com

https://www.facebook.com/fullmoondesign/

Transcript:

Welcome: 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! I am so excited about todays guest. That is because I get to introduce you to one of the gurus behind the scenes at How She Got Here. Today’s guest is Vicky Gouge. Vicky is the owner of Full Moon Design Group. She is my graphic artist, website developer and basically all things web related wizard. I am so excited she was willing to come on and share a little bit about herself and her business. So without further ado, here’s Vicky.

Susan: Okay, Vicky, I am so excited to have you with me today. For my guests who have not listened to a podcast, who have not heard me talk about you before, you are my internet guru. You are the person I call whenever I have a website question, whenever I have a “how do I make this happen” question. And there is a lot of work that you do for How She Got Here behind the scenes. So it is fantastic to finally have you on. I’m so excited.

Vicky: I’m happy to be here and join you on this podcast today.


Susan: Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you got started, and then how Full Moon kind of came into being. That’s the name of your company.


Vicky: Yes, so my name is Vicky Gouge, I own a company called Full Moon Design Group. And we are a full service graphic design and web development company. We started April 1 of 2004—and that’s no joke, so recently celebrated my company’s 15th birthday. Prior to that, I went to college at Southwest Texas University and received my degree in art and journalism. And then also at the same time, got my secondary education certification with the idea that from college, I wanted to teach high school, which I did, directly out of college.
I landed my first job down in Austin, Texas, and I taught at a local high school down there. I taught art, yearbook, and photojournalism. At the time I was going to college, they didn’t really have any formalized graphic design programs. And I had always had a passion for art, which is why I got my degree in art. And one of the things that I learned quickly when I started teaching was the students in the yearbook and photo journalism classes were beginning to lay out the page designs on the computer using PageMaker, which I had very, very little knowledge about. And so I was kind of thrown into a gauntlet, so to speak, where I had to learn desktop publishing and design on the fly very quickly.
And I also utilized what my students knew, you know, I wasn’t afraid to ask them questions, how did you make that work on the computer? And so on. And then two years in the teaching, I decided that it just wasn’t a great passion of mine. But one of the things that I really enjoyed doing was graphic design within the yearbook and photo journalism class. So I sought out a career in graphic design and got an entry level position as an advertising coordinator for Henry S Miller Realtors for their Austin offices. And that’s really kind of how I got my start. Four years after that, we launched Full Moon Design Group, and I’ve been doing it ever since.


Susan: That is really cool. I did not realize you had been in education prior to this. That’s really interesting. Before you got into graphic design, what was your favorite medium of art? Did you have one?


Vicky: Well, you know, when I was teaching art in high school, I had just about any medium available to me—we even had a kiln in our classroom for ceramics instruction and so on. I would say overall, over the years, my favorite has been acrylic on canvas, and just some pencil and paper, so to speak. I unfortunately don’t get lots of opportunities to do that type of artwork anymore because I am forced to creatively give everything I have during the day when I’m working. So at the end of the day, I’m creatively kind of pooped in a way and so I haven’t been able to paint in some time.


Susan: I think that’s so interesting. Stephen talks about that, as well. He was an English and government major in college and has since gone into law and is an attorney. But he writes all day long for a living. And he used to write beautiful stories and poetry and that kind of stuff and he finds the exact same issue that because he gives everything to his career during the day, which is great. He has nothing left for it on a more fun, creative scale outside the office. So that’s interesting and sad, in a way, I think.


Vicky: Yeah, but you know, I mean, given my profession and what I do for a living, I still feel like I haven’t abandoned my creativity, I’m just applying it in a different way, and I do that for my clients. There are some projects that don’t really require all that much from a creative standpoint, but then I work on projects that do, you know? So I mean, I still feel like I’m satisfying that natural urge that I have to be creative throughout the day.


Susan: Well, it seems like you found an interesting way to do it. And I think that’s really cool. I’m going to jump a little bit let, since we’re kind of already talking about it. Let’s talk a little bit about—without sharing any trade secrets, let’s talk a little bit about your process. And we can even use me for an example, if you want to, or you can use something you’re currently working on, I don’t really care. How do you get from A to B in helping a client figure out, maybe a logo or something?


Vicky: Okay, once I have a relationship with the client or I’ve been introduced and let’s just say they need a logo, I’ll use you as an example, you know, you came to me with this vision of what you wanted and we started with the logo design. And from a brand perspective, I always tell clients that your logo is ultimately the foundation of your brand, right. So everything that we do kind of bounces off what that ultimate like final logo design becomes, you know? And so that would be the…If I had a new client that was launching a new business of some sort, then we would initially talk about logo design. What I try to do is I try to just have a conversation about what they might envision their logo looking like, and I provide them a questionnaire to try to extract preferences and color options that they’d like to see incorporated, would they like to see any sort of illustration incorporated with their business name, and so on. And that’s really what we use as the launch pad for us to create the logo designs, and usually will provide a batch of initial logo designs, and then we’ll start the editing or proofing process from there.
And I found that overall, the processes worked really well. There have been a few occasions, I mean, I’ve done hundreds of logos over the years and I mean, there have been a few occasions where we didn’t knock it out of the park. But we certainly worked with the client as long as it took to get them taken care of. So my goal is to really try to help work with and guide the individual or business to try to steer them in the right direction. And be as helpful as possible when it comes to that. A lot of people don’t understand the creative process, what we need in order to get them taken care of and so on. But traditionally, from the logo development, once we have that in place, then it’s a matter of building out their brand. And that might look like, you know, us doing some business cards, us doing an informational brochure that they can use when they’re out, selling or doing their business development activities, us handling the development of their website and so on.
And I’ve found over the years that clients really start to see their brand come to life when we’re working with them because at the end of the day, I tell clients, you want all of your stuff, like if you laid all of your items out on a tabletop, you want everything to have kind of a cohesive look and feel to it and it needs to be professional as well. That’s our goal. You know, we want to help small businesses succeed and flourish. And you know, just me doing this for so many years, I’ve learned a lot along the way. So that’s pretty much how our process works.


Susan: I’m going to ask you, if you can just jump back in time a little bit, because I’ve heard this from writers and I’m wondering if from artists’ perspectives, if they have some of the same trouble. Do you remember what it was like trying to create this for yourself? Did you find that difficult?


Vicky: It’s funny you ask that because when we first started the company, I had a business partner at the time, and we started under a completely different name. And realized about develop the brand, develop the logo, develop the business cards, all the print collateral, and then realized about six months into it, we received a cease and desist letter that our name was too close to another competitor in the same market, she had had her name for quite some time. And so we really didn’t have any recourse to try to retain that particular name. But at the time, we didn’t have a tremendous amount of brand equity, right. And I talked to clients about brand equity all the time. You know, as your brand grows over the years, and your logo or whatever becomes— you’re putting it out there more, it becomes an asset of your business, right?
So at that time, we didn’t have a whole lot of brand equity and so we changed our name to Full Moon Design Group, which was extremely difficult because the hardest part was trying to come up with a new name because everything that we came up with was already taken to a certain degree. And one day I was sitting on the couch on a Saturday watching the weather report and the forecaster was talking about a full moon. And I was like, “Huh, that’s kind of…That works, Full Moon Design Group.” And that’s more or less how I came up with the new business name.
And then, of course, building our brand, I feel like it was probably one of the most difficult because you want to create something that’s memorable and professional. And so it was hard, you know, the process was hard. I think it was more we just had to get it done. You know, we were already six months into business and we had to get it done. So we were able to get it done fairly quickly so I’m fortunate for that.


Susan: Well, I’m fortunate to have had you help me through that process, because it is quite a process, and I think it’s easy as an individual getting started to get kind of lost in the weeds. Somebody used the phrase the other day, “You can’t read the label if you’re inside the bottle.” And I just wonder, was it just you and your business partner? Like, who was on your team? Who might have been in the background not officially on your team, but who was kind of in your group, your inner circle group that you were talking through this with to kind of help you navigate those challenges and just to kind of get above and see the big picture?


Vicky: I think that’s a great question. So how Full Moon launched, I was an art director for a title company, Real Estate Title Company and I manage their marketing division. At that time we offered pre 2004, we offered marketing resources and designs and just about anything anybody in a real estate transaction would need as a part of the service that my title company provided. In March of 2004, the Texas Department of Insurance said, “Y’all can’t do that anymore.” And therefore all the marketing departments within all title companies within Texas, literally kind of shut down their operations. So with the full blessing of my title company, as well as all the others, we launched Full Moon April 1, which was when the law took effect.
At that time, I had several employees working with me previous to that, but we were only able to bring over one full time employee. And then we quickly kind of grew kind of exponentially. I mean, I was very fortunate that in my world, I was able to bring over a book of business because these clients still needed these resources. It’s not like they could just stop doing what they were doing and stop marketing their own business, they still had to reach out to somebody to get these materials designed or printed or produced or whatever that looked like. And so I’m very blessed and still thankful today that I was able to start my company the way I did because I started busy.
But I did realize that it was important to surround myself around experts who could support me, right? So, not everybody can be great at everything. And, for instance, I knew it was important to have a good small business attorney that I could rely on when the business name thing came up, making sure that our business paperwork was structured properly with the state of Texas. I knew it was important to have an accountant that I could rely on when it came to making sure that my bookkeeping was in order. I knew it was important to have a payroll processing service to ensure that my tax withholdings as well for me, as well as my employees was correct. And I try to tell small business owners starting all the time that it’s critical that if you know that you’re not great at something—like for me, I don’t like doing the books, I’d rather pay somebody to do my bookkeeping. It’s critical that you surround yourself around people that can help you. But it’s also very important that you budget for that, especially when a small business owner is just starting out, they need a budget for brand development, they need a budget for the attorneys to get their paperwork set up properly, they need a budget perhaps to figure out their bookkeeping solution. And so I knew early on that I needed to surround myself around these different connections. And in many ways I did that through—I met a lot of people through networking too, you know?


Susan: I think that is so cool that you kind of had the blessing of the firm you were with to be able to walk away with some of that business. That’s not always the case, and that is really, I think, a really, really cool thing. They must have been, my guess would be they were a smallish business, maybe not small-small but small enough to where they could see the value and having you still kind of be an outside part of the team, but also wanted you to continue to succeed.


Vicky: Absolutely. You know, I mean, we did have more attrition than we thought we would when we first started Full Moon. But that was okay. You know, I mean, we still had to…And again, I think just from a blessed perspective, we didn’t need any more business at that time, we were still working out our operational glitches that, you know, because we shut down our marketing department on the 31st and opened Full Moon on April 1, so we had a lot of things that we needed to work out and figure out along the way. And then, you know, once we were able to kind of slide into an operational routine in terms of workflow and what all that looked like, I realized that we needed to get out into the marketplace and begin networking our own company. So my primary focus was to attend as many networking organizations that I possibly could; find the ones that I felt a connection to, and attend those on a consistent basis. And that is specifically how I’ve been able to grow our small business sector over the years is through primarily networking.


Susan: One of the things you mentioned that I wanted to touch on before our call was how because of your business, because of where it’s located, a lot of it is on the web. You compete also on a global scale. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s like? Maybe some of the challenges you’ve run into, maybe some of the unexpected joys that you’ve run into?


Vicky: Yeah, I have lots to share about that. Several years ago, somebody told me or I heard or I read, I can’t remember, that graphic design was one of the top five dying industries in the US.


Susan: That cracks me up.


Vicky: At the time I was kind of crying laughing when I saw it. But I realized even before I did see that, that we are ultimately competing, to some extent, on a global scale. And it’s kind of like, the iPhone, or you the smartphone, right? All of the phones, one of their primary goals is to make sure that they are providing a camera that takes the best photos possible because obviously, that’s one of the most important features to a phone, a smartphone. But it doesn’t mean that everybody’s a good photographer, right? Even though they have a great camera in their hand or their pocket or their purse all day, every day, not everybody is a great photographer. Actually, it takes a lot of knowledge and understanding to be a professional photographer. Well, the same can apply to my industry, where you have all of these online templated tools and options where a typical client or person or individual can go online and create like their own marketing postcard or flyer business card and so on, right? Or they can go on to these websites where you push out what you want, like in terms of a logo, “Hey, I want a logo, I’m willing to spend this much on it,” and you get 100 designs submitted from designers all over the world, right?
So that’s where we compete within a global market. I’m actually okay with that now. I mean, it’s taken some time, I was a little discouraged when I saw that because I’m like, “Oh, I’m in a dying industry.” But I did realize along the way that there’s still value to the service and the knowledge, right? So it’s somebody like yourself being able to pick up the phone, call me, talk to me about what you’re looking to do. Talking about marketing strategies, and how do you intend to market your business? So we create this, what are you going to do with it? And trying to help guide the client in the right direction to ensure they get the best bang for their buck? I mean, I’ve had many, many, many conversations over the years with clients who want to implement a direct mail campaign, which by the way, is still very successful, if it’s done well and correctly and frequently. But they were thinking, “Oh, I just want to mail something out every two to four months.” And I said, “Well, why would you even waste your money? Direct mail is about frequency and consistency, and if you don’t have the budget, let’s talk about another option that that you could do, or that you could use to market your business that might be more fruitful.”
And so I’m okay with turning business down. My goal is to build a healthy client relationship. I don’t want just one job from a client, I want to be able to work with them, build their brand, help them market their business, help them and support them in becoming successful within their company and I want to have relationships that last for years. I still have client relationships that I’ve retained since my corporate days. And I value those significantly, and they value what I do. And just to be able to know that they can reach out to me, make a request, and I take care of them.


Susan: Yes, you absolutely do that. And I will just say for listeners who are thinking about starting something or have started something, and you realize, like, maybe you did go out there and get one of those templates or do something like that and it’s not your forte, you can’t do all the things. I mean, I guess you can, but you can’t do all the things well. And I know we all have different budgets, and that plays into everything, and I get that. But you really do have to…It goes back to what you said when you started your business, you had your core group of “I had the attorney, I had the accountant, I had those things.” This is also a very, very important piece because it is what everybody sees, right?


Vicky: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.


Susan: I mean, I cannot say enough good things about how you have worked with me helped me when it’s even the smallest stuff like a stupid form on the website, and what a pain in the butt those can be. You’ve just been overly patient and overly helpful and I can’t say enough good things.
So you’re a creative, you have a business…You’re a business person but you’re a creative, I would guess that sometimes, maybe I have this issue, you might lose focus. Or you might lack the inspiration that you really need to get a project done. Or you might just be burned out from a project and you still have other stuff that has to get done and you’re like, “I’m out of energy.” Where do you go for inspiration when you’re just at rock bottom?


Vicky: That’s a great question. Not to be crass but you know, I’ve told people over the years, I can’t just poop out a great design right off the, you know, on a whim. And sometimes it takes time and energy to come up with something that I feel confident to pass to the client for review. And yeah, so I mean, there are many times throughout on a monthly basis, let’s say, where I’m just, you know, I’m dry, I can’t come up with an idea, it’s just for whatever reason, I’m just not creative that particular day. I mean, thankfully, I do have a full time employee; he also works out of Austin. And so whenever I’m feeling that way, you know, I’ll kick something over to Matt perhaps, or if I’m trying to come up with inspiration, then usually what I do is I’ll just start googling, like, I’ll just start googling all kinds of stuff, I mean, random terms. And it’s so funny because for remarketing, I’m constantly getting remarketed on for things that I’m googling for clients to clear my cache. That’s an SEO (search engine optimization) term, by the way…


Susan: That’s really funny.


Vicky: Yeah. So I jump online, I just start looking at different things. I might look at—and this is maybe where the creative piece comes into it, I might look at say, a painting or an illustration or something, you know, a piece of artwork or whatever and I might see a little piece of that that inspires me, right? That I’m like, “Oh, I really like kind of that texture that they utilize in the painting,” or whatever. And then I kind of get inspired. So I mean, I do resort to googling quite a bit just to try to help with inspiration.
And then there are other times when, I mean, it’s just I’m knocking it out of the park, you know? So it’s an ebb and flow type of situation. The nature of our industry, unfortunately, does require us to work fairly quickly from a creative standpoint. So we’ve trained ourselves over the years to work on these projects in a more expedited manner. And I think clients come to appreciate that as well.


Susan: One other question that crossed my mind—and I think I sent this to you. But you’ve been on your own now—and I didn’t realize it’s been 15 years. You’ve had Full Moon for 15 years? What are some things that you would go back and tell yourself then that you wish you had known if you were going out on your own? Because I think a lot of our listeners are at places in their lives where they’re making changes. And I feel like we’re in a time in history where there are a lot of changes being made. And I don’t know if it’s—it’s probably not all women, I would think a good number of my listeners are really thinking about where differences can be made in the world. And so if they’re thinking about maybe a career change, or they’re thinking about using the skills that they have and parlaying it into something else and going out on their own, what are some things you wish you had known then that you know now?


Vicky: So just to back pedal a little bit to your question, you know, I look at business owners in a tribal way, you know, you can’t have a tribe without chiefs and Indians, right? And my point is that not everybody is meant to be a business owner, right? It’s just that’s not what they’re cut out to do. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And I would say if somebody were thinking about making the leap to do their own thing, it’s important, like I said before, to surround yourself with experts that can help support you. It’s important to have not only a budget to pay these experts to help you, but a budget to live on while you’re getting started.
I would say that I don’t really have any regrets because many, many, many, many, many failures have led to success. And so anybody that hasn’t experienced a lot of failures when they’re just starting their company, I would be surprised because those are the things that make the learning experience memorable, and so you don’t make the same mistakes again. And, you know, I’ve done operationally, I mean, I think about when we first started Full Moon versus how I operate my business now, it’s completely different. I’ve learned along the way to become more efficient. I’ve learned to ask my vendors, like what would be helpful to you to make your process more efficient, so we can keep everything streamlined? So I asked a lot of questions. And so I don’t really have any advice other than, you know, if you’re going to take the leap, go in off the high dive into the deep end and go full force. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row when it comes to getting your business setup properly the way it needs to be, make sure you have your brand developed, and just dive in, start meeting people. I predominantly meet people through networking, that’s my primary source for sales. But I would encourage anybody that’s thinking about it, do it, you know, what’s the worst that could happen? You know, they realize that that’s not meant for them, they’d rather go work for a company with benefits or whatever that looks like, then you can always go back to work for a company.


Susan: That is a really good point. And you were really instrumental in helping me finally jump. I mean, I think I was definitely one of those. In the beginning, I knew what I wanted to do, but I was scared to push it out. We had everything set up. I’ll never forget it. And one day you were just like, “Dude, it’s ready to go. Like, we can just hit the button now.” I was like, “Oh, okay. Are you…? Are you sure??


Vicky: Well, yeah. I mean, there are some people that fall in to the analysis paralysis situation. And I’m not saying that you were…


Susan: Oh, no, I totally did.


Vicky: It was just a fear of what people might think you were trying to do, which is a little bit different. It’s like, okay, you know. And I remember you and I had a discussion early on the phone, I think before I even developed a website for you. I was like, “Okay, well, you know, if you build it, how are you going to get people there?” And we talked about that and social engagement and so on. And I really just try to encourage clients that, you know, it’s not about being absolutely right, it’s just about getting it out there. And then if you realize you need to make some changes along the way, make changes. A business is a living, breathing, organic thing. And so if the pendulum stops, you’re not making any money. So sometimes it’s going to go backwards, you know, you made a decision that maybe wasn’t in the best interest of yourself or the company. And then sometimes you’re going to propel forward. You’ve aligned yourself with partners or networking opportunities that start feeding you additional business or referrals. So it’s a constantly moving organic thing. And that’s what I try to tell people all the time, “Let’s just get this done.” No one’s going to look at you and say, oh, you know, you’re horrible person because you made a mistake on something. I think, generally, it’s human nature for us to want to see our friends and peers and humans succeed by default.


Susan: I like that. I like that a lot. Well, I really appreciate your time today. Before I let you go, would you tell our audience—and I will make sure to link this in the show notes afterwards. Would you tell us where we can find you, online, if Full Moon has social? Where can we find you?


Vicky: Yeah, absolutely. My website is fullmoondesigngroup.com, and so you can check out our portfolio. You know, I’m kind of like a what? A cobbler’s daughter that doesn’t have any shoes, but I do try to keep our portfolio updated as much as possible. So most of the work that you’re going to see on there is recent work that we’ve done. And then as well as I do have a Facebook page, FMDG Austin. And let’s see, I do have a Twitter account, which honestly, for my business, I don’t use all that much. And one of the things that I talk with clients about because they feel like they need to use every tool out there that’s available to them, and I tell them they don’t, that they should focus on a couple of different things. And then start there and then maybe do something else, start layering in their marketing, networking and online activities, you know? So I’ll usually encourage clients to just start small and then start building from there.


Susan: That is such a good point, because we could spend a whole other 8 million hours talking about how much time social media takes up. And it’s a good thing. It’s a great marketing tool, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of work. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really, really appreciate it. It has been great to talk with you not about craziness on the website, but just to have a good conversation with you and talk a little bit more about what you do. So thanks for sharing today, Vicky. I really appreciate you being here.


Vicky: Thanks so much, Susan. And I hope some of this information is helpful for your audience.


Susan: Aww thanks, friend.


Outro: Hey Pod Sisters, thanks so much for joining me today. If you’re enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes or your favorite podcast app 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. We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here community page and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode, as well as any other fun How She Got Here content. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see ya soon.

What intimidates well renowned writers? – Part 2, with Latria Graham

Have you ever visited a national park?  Did you know you grants were available to live in national parks and write about them? Did you know that the land the government used to create our national parks used to be inhabited by people?  Latria Graham shares a snippet of what she has been working on as a Steve Kemp Writer in Residence in The Great Smoky Mountains.

Show Notes:

Latria Graham is a freelance writer and journalist who has written for many publications including, but not limited to, ESPNW, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The New York Times, the LA Times, Southern Living and my personal favorite (because it was my home paper) The Spartanburg Herald Journal.

In this two part series Latria takes us behind the scenes in her life as a freelance journalist. 

A few of my favorite take aways from part two include:

  • Everyone’s story matters.
  • Even well renowned writers get intimidated. 
  • Take risks. Go outside your comfort zone. It can lead to tremendous opportunity.

Links:

https://www.latriagraham.com

Latria Graham – LinkedIn

Latria Graham – Twitter

Latria Graham – Instagram

Latria Graham E-mail –  latria.graham@gmail.com

Latria Graham Article: Outside Magazinehttps://www.outsideonline.com/2296351/were-here-you-just-dont-see-us

https://hubcity.org

https://www.smokiesinformation.org/writers-residency

Transcript

Welcome:  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!  I hope you enjoyed part one of my conversation with writer extraordinaire, Latria Graham. Today I am excited to share part 2.  As you may recall, Latria and I both happen to be from the same home town though we never knew each other. I am thankful to have met her by chance at Hub City Bookshop over winter break in 2018. Per her website: she is “a writer, editor and cultural critic currently living in South Carolina.

Her “writing interests revolve around the dynamics of race, gender norms, class, nerd culture, and- yes, football.”  She is “ keeping her eye on publishers that are invested in celebrating the diversity of the human experience. Contributing to online publications that focus their attention on social justice and equality resonates with her values.”  She loves “speaking with people who challenge the status quo and care about living and learning without inhibitions.”  Latria has written for many publications including, but not limited to, ESPNW, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The New York Times, the LA Times, Southern Living and my personal favorite (because it was my home paper) The Spartanburg Herald Journal.  So without further ado…here is Latria.

Susan: Tell us a little bit about, first of all, where you just came back from. And then I’d really like to hear how you made that happen. A well renowned, I’m sorry, I’m just going to say it, published writer, you’ve written for, I mean, so many different publications. You’ve written for ESPN, you don’t just stay in one field. So to me hearing that you were even intimidated to apply for such a thing fascinated me. Because I figure once you make it, you make it and then you don’t get scared anymore. So tell us a little bit about, tell us a little bit about what that’s like, even going after something like that and then what it was that you ended up doing.

Latria Graham: Okay, so I ended up applying and being granted the Steve Kemp Writer in Residence, and that’s put out through the Great Smoky Mountains Association. And that means that you get to live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in sort of like a ranger station/ranger housing for six weeks, and you get to learn more about the park and the scientists and do some of your writing out there and do some writing for the park in areas that you’re curious about. But I’ll back up and say that…So I did this piece for Outside Magazine last year called “We’re Here. You Just Don’t See Us” And that was about black people recreating in the outdoors and being a fifth generation farmer, and sort of what outside and outdoors looked like for me when I was younger, what it looked like when I went to college and got more into the outdoors and climbed Mount Washington, and all of that, and sort of reconciling the two.

And there was a professor, his name is John Lane, and he’s at Wofford College. And he had read that essay and he’s like, “There’s this incredible opportunity. I think you should apply for it.” And I was like, “Yeah, okay.” It’s kind of cool. I was intrigued by the Great Smokies because it is the park closest to me, but I’d never been to it, like I’ve traveled through it as a kid because we live in Nashville, and would travel back to South Carolina where my family is from and so we’ve skirted the park, but I had never been inside of it. And when I got older, you know, when I went to South Dakota, went to Badlands, went to the Everglades, but I had never been into this park that was so close to me because I was never on assignment, and I couldn’t get paid to go there. And right now, unfortunately, time is money and right now as a freelancer, there’s no days off.

So this idea that I was writing about environment and place and had not explored my backyard, so – forgive the phrase—but ass backwards, and I wanted to rectify that, but I did not think that I was good enough to apply. Like, I wasn’t sure who else was applying. And it felt like other people had better cred and somebody else is going to have a better story. And I talked about this with Maggie, my writing partner that I needed to start going after more stuff. I needed to start applying for grants and residencies so that I could get off of this hamster wheel that I was talking about where you just kind of live from paycheck to paycheck, you know, hand to mouth. So this was the first major application that I’d done. And I just told them basically what I told you, what I was curious about, why I wanted it to be this park, why I never had the chance to be in this park, and why I was curious about African Americans living in this area before it became a park.

So it became a park in the 1930s. And there were a bunch of people living within this 800 square miles. And they’re like, “Okay, people, you’ve got to get out. Here’s a check, please leave.” And some people fought it but eventually obviously lost. And now it is a park.

Susan: I didn’t realize that that happened.

Latria Graham: Yeah, a lot of…Especially because the eastern part of the Americas was settled much before the west. So this whole idea of the National Park System, somebody generally speaking, whether it was African Americans or Indigenous People, people were living in these places, and then somebody at a federal level was like, “Hey, we want this now. Get out.” And that’s a major factor that the National Park Service is having to deal with now, and having conversations about those people that were displaced, and how do you honor those people in those histories and all that. So I’m really intrigued by what they did and what they’re trying to do now to rectify it. And some of it is just talking about these histories and acknowledging the people that lived here. And if you go into the Smokies, they preserve some of the houses, not all of them, and some of the records. And so my job…There are no pictures of any of the African Americans that live there. We have a couple of census records, and we have bills of sale for slaves, but that’s basically what’s there. There are no pictures. There are a couple of cemeteries, but we don’t know how many things are buried in them, things like that. So it’s my job to try to find archival work and then pair it with the current landscape and tell the story of a region.

So right now I’m working on a magazine story about Sook Turner, S-O-O-K, and she lives in Wears Valley, which is near the Tremont area of Great Smoky Mountains and she and three of her family members are buried up on this ridge. The archive didn’t even have a photo of the graves. And so I found her in a census record. And I have an oral history of her when some children had the flu, she came in and cared for them. But they had never seen a black person before and one of the little girls was so scared, she hid under the bed. And so it gives you some sense that there were not a lot of black people at least in this particular valley—and start like, putting together her life. I probably will never know what she looks like unless I’m able to find some descendants. And I’ve got one descendant that I’m trying to reach now to see how much she knows about her family from 100 years ago. Right now, I think Sook Turner was around during the 1918 flu outbreak in that area. And so I’m trying to sort of piece together who else she may have cared for within walking distance of her home, or in this valley and sort of work backwards that way as well as work from someone that I think may be a current descendant of this woman.

Susan: Wow! Wow!

Latria Graham: Yeah, it’s a little depressing, you know, because they didn’t…When it comes to people of color, like there’s this one photo we found and it was like Josie and the Cook, Josie is the donkey and they did not name the cook. And so it was just that like black people were not significant enough to document. And so when you think about yourself as a black person now, and obviously I have a huge paper trail as a person census record, like, you know, voting records, all these things and knowing that they did not have that. And also thinking that there were either—it’s either 573 or 537 slaves in this area. There were three major valleys in the park and there were slaves there and trying to figure out what happened to all of them and where their descendants are in and all that, it’s a little haunting and slightly depressing. But it’s also really hopeful to know that some of them survived this and had families and things and try to figure out like the story and sort of resilience of these people.

So it was a little bit lonely in that way in the woods, but there are other researchers. So I’m not the only researcher out there. There’s one in Oconaluftee, there’s one working on the Gatlinburg side of the park, and then I’m in Wears Valley, the Tremont side of the park. But yeah, it feels a little bit like some sort of emotional archaeological dig, and I’m really curious. I thought I would be able to do this in six weeks and obviously couldn’t and now it’s like a two to five year commitment. But I’m really honored that I have the opportunity to do some of this.

Susan: It sounds like you have a book, not an article.

Latria Graham: Yeah.

Susan: I’m not saying that’s what you really want to do.

Latria Graham: Right. Probably, I will not deny that at all. I’m just sort of wary about it because I’d be like I have to find enough people for it to come together because this story matters. I was originally gonna say, I have to have enough pieces for this matter, but I was like, no, like she’s buried there, she matters. Like that is not the questions but in order to give people a full enough story, I have to have enough pieces that comes together. So it may be a book. I honestly don’t know. I also don’t want to, if she has descendants take that—not really take that story from them but give them that opportunity to tell that story or to be like, here’s what I found out about your great grandmother, like it may not necessarily belong to me

Susan: Sure.

Latria Graham: And that’s okay. I just happened to be lucky enough to have found it.

Susan: Well, thank you for sharing what little bit you did with us and I want you to keep going. I didn’t even know – total ignorance— did not even ever think about that area having been previously settled, or that people would have been living there when the US government said, “We’re going to make this a park.” Never even considered in my mind.

Latria Graham: Yeah. I honestly think most people don’t, unless there’s some current contentious thing going on, like the Grand Canyon areas of it, were occupied by Indigenous People who they did not consider to be people. That becomes sort of the like, very frustrating part of this. But yeah, I mean, the places that we recreate in and all of that…Yeah, there was one…This meant something to somebody, right? It’s not even necessarily about belonging, right, because the idea of ownership is really interesting, but it had sentiment for someone. And so that’s why I’m very careful when I’m in national parks and stuff and I really hate to see people both litter and just sort of behave poorly in these areas because it meant something to somebody.

Susan: Wow. Yeah. That is so, wow, that’s just so well said. I guess the big part of what you’re going back and doing then and now I understand it better is you’re going back and you’re telling the history of the parks. That’s what the whole point of this was.

Latria Graham: Yeah. Pretty much. Well, like that was my section. So another woman, the other Writer in Residence was like a poet and songwriter and so her output was a little bit different from mine, which is great, but that was what my specific project was, that I was curious about and tried to execute. And they’re very supportive of me coming back a number of times over the years to figure out. But like, I’m going to start with just one article and maybe it becomes something a little bit bigger than that. Yeah, but that was sort of the point was to get outside of myself, take out some of the fears that I had about both sort of being out alone in the dark, the fear of bears who are actually like, not out to get us. You know, and really, like start dealing with myself and like the bigger works that I want to do as I grow up.

Susan: So how did you…? John Lane is the one who found this particular opportunity and said you should apply for it, yes?

Latria Graham: Yes.

Susan: The piece that you went into do, was that already part of it, I guess, or did you discover that part on your own?

Latria Graham: I discovered that part on my own. I’m always curious about what life was like sort of before what we think of as the Common Era, before the 1980s particularly. I’m always really interested about what life was like before, you know, electricity, plants people use for medicine and things like that, just because of what I grew up doing. But yeah, like originally, I thought—I was really intrigued by these women named the Walker Sisters and their house. Even after the park was made a park, they were like, “We’re not moving.” So the National Park Service gave them a lease and said that they could live there until the last spinster sister died. And so that was like in the 1960s, late 1960s. And so they these women lived without electricity, without running water, and they would create poetry and sell goods on the sides of the roads to people that were passing through the park as a way to sort of make money and live off the land and live off of what they knew.

So they are a million stories, I’m sure within this park, and I just kind of knew an area that I was intrigued by and ended up kind of falling into this bigger story. That often happens by accident for me, so this was something I just happened to stumble upon, because I just assumed, which was, I guess, kind of naive, I just assumed they had it covered. I just assumed that I would be able to go into a bookshop and buy a book on African Americans in this region, and it wasn’t there. They didn’t even have a pamphlet, actually. So they’re working on it, and that’s no shade to them, but like they realize there’s an absence and they’re fixing it. But yeah, I just assumed that like somebody had done this work and they hadn’t.

Susan: Welcome to 2019 where we’re just now figuring out that there is history missing.

Latria Graham: Yeah, government, that’s something that I realized as a freelancer, I can work faster in real time, much faster than like the government can and the National Parks are a government entity in some ways because I asked them, I kind of grilled them on this because I was very frustrated when I went in that like things weren’t further along. They’re like, “Look, we’ve been thinking about this for 15 years.” It’s just by the time you fill out the paperwork and get the approval and stuff there, they’re already approving stuff like the ground penetrating radar that’s going to be done in 2020/2021. And we’re in the beginning of 2019. It’s a long time to get the ball rolling on their end. And so you know, I was 15 or something when they started thinking about this stuff, but it took until I was 32 for it to actually come to reality for some people.

Susan: Which makes such a great point that if you are a writer, or if it’s something that you care about, if there is a subject that you care about… I mean, one of the best things that happened to me at Converse was taking a women’s history class, just because so much of what was in our history books, much like what we read were a bunch of old white dudes, and that’s okay, I guess because, you know, that’s where history was. But we’re not there anymore. And there’s still a lot that needs to be written. There’s still a lot that needs to be said. There are still a lot of stories that need to be told, and they’re worth sharing, and they’re worth telling. And I really appreciate the work that you’re doing to tell that story. It’s really, really important. It’s really important. Wow! I’m kind of at a loss now.

Latria Graham: I’m sorry we can go back to like easier…

Susan: No! I don’t think it should be easy. I think….You know, it’s so funny and it’s weird to— not bad weird, not funny…I’m not a writer. I’m not working using my best words here. I only talk for a living now. And still don’t always use the best words especially when I get flustered. You know, one of the whole reasons I started this podcast was to help tell the stories of everyday extraordinary women doing extraordinary things. Because, you know, you don’t have to be Oprah or Ellen to change the world. And not only do you prove my point in this, although you’ve been published in The Guardian, so maybe you are Oprah or Ellen.

Latria Graham: I’m not. My bank account says no.

Susan: But you’re doing the same thing, and you’re going back and finding women that are no longer here to tell their stories. And I wonder…There’s just so many, there’s so many that are so deserving of being told. I mean, I realize this is not what you do on a daily basis. This is one project you’re doing. But I just want to emphasize that everybody’s story matters, you know?

Latria Graham: Yep.

Susan: And we’re not going to be able to read everybody’s story in a history book. But I do think it’s important that certain stories are told so that we know about the people who were there, and when they were there and why they were there. And now I’m kind of rambling. But I just really appreciate you doing this and stumbling onto this woman and her story and what was going on in the national parks and how they were created. This is something that I’m going to have to go research because I never really even thought about.

Latria Graham: I mean, I think you’ve made some really great points there, like to the point where I wanted I’m like, I need this recording because I need that last little clip. But if we realize its like, if we take that view that we have on history, right, and women surviving and overcoming and then we apply that same empathy and respect to our living comrades and compatriots and people that we engage with, imagine what our world could be.

Susan: Yeah, my mind just exploded, I think, because you’re absolutely right. And the way you said it was beautiful.

Latria Graham: Yeah, thank you, but it’s true. Everybody is surviving some really crazy…crazy is the wrong word, crazy is the word I need to omit from my vocabulary. Everyone is dealing with some tough stuff and all we can do is try to be better than we were the day before. And what I try to do when I’m thinking about, particularly like events, or podcast…Things like this. This is actually my first podcast, and I was sort of nervous but I’m like, be the adult you needed when you were at these various stages in your career or in your life. So like, that’s why I started talking about mental health and eating disorders because nobody was doing it when I was in college, right. You know, nobody was talking about this really hard recession shift, and about money and being on food stamps in grad school and everything that sort of came with that and the shame of being this intellectual that cannot see herself living in a city, you know, when you were a farm girl. I write about being the farmer’s daughter, because people thought that I would never be any bigger than that, and so they treated me like that, right? You know, Dartmouth be damned, right? And that’s how I got to Dartmouth like, I don’t know that I told this story. But like, yeah, my dad worked in retail for a long time. But when we move to Spartanburg, I realized that I did not want to stay here for very long and I wanted to go to the Governor School, I needed three grand to pay for instruments. And my dad is not the type of man…I didn’t even though that we had three grand, number one, like, let’s just be very clear about that. And maybe they did in savings and stuff but you’re not just going to give that to your kid and go, “Okay, you know, go off with my life savings and hopefully you become something,” he made me work for it. And so I still have this pickup truck even though he’s gone but it’s this 1997 Gold F150 and he loaded the back with watermelons and he’s like, “For every watermelon that you sell, I will match your profit.” And what I did not get in scholarships and stuff like that for college, what I did for food money and all that stuff, it was paid for in watermelons and tomatoes and all of that stuff. So people don’t necessarily know that about my background, right, they see the degrees and stuff. But they don’t know that I’m standing on this agricultural background and this legacy and the people that were rooting for me, both in this neighborhood and on the farm and my family, and stuff like that.

So it gives me a lot of empathy when I see people trying to make it because I realized part of it, yes, I worked very hard, but I also got very lucky. You know, I just happened to have a parent that understood business, right? And all of these things came together to make me the person I am. And there are things about my past that I would love to change, but I will never do it because I realized those things made me who I am. And once we start realizing that about ourselves, we realize that what people are going through and the choices that they’re having to make, sometimes you’re just given really terrible choices, you start looking at things a little bit differently and you start treating people differently.

Susan: That’s so true. Are you a first generation college student?

Latria Graham: I’m not. So my dad went to Benedict in Columbia and my mom would FIT in New York City.

Kl Oh, that’s right. I knew about that.

Latria Graham: Yeah. So I got really lucky in that way, but they could not prepare me for the internet. They could not prepare me for student loans. There was so much that had changed about college. And my mom says that now with work and stuff and freelancing—because she’s always, you know, had, I’ll say, for the last 20 years or so she’s had a job where you clock in, clock out, sort of deal, right? She has a job with hours. And so the idea that I am sitting at home, you know, she thinks I’m sitting at home writing and eating bonbons until super recently, she realized I have to be incredibly disciplined. So like the world has changed so much in the 40 years or the 30 years and between when they went to college and when I went to college, that it was very much a different playing field. I have so much respect for people that are first generation college students. Even though that’s not my story…Yeah, trying to figure out how to navigate like the FAFSA, I had to do that all on my own, SATs and ACTs. Prep was mostly on my own and stuff like that, too.

Susan: I actually was a first generation college student and just hearing some of the things that you were saying, really resonated with me and that’s why I asked. How funny? And yes, I would never do a FAFSA again, if someone paid me money. Those were awful.

Latria Graham: Yeah, I don’t know what my kids are going to do. I don’t have kids now, but plan on having them even if they’re adopted. And I would like, one, I will help them with it. We know this, right? If they really need it, I will help them with it, as long as I understand it. But like, that’s such a privilege, because I would be like, “Yeah, I’d love to pay somebody.

Susan: Right.

Latria Graham: But like, that’s such a, you know, again, that’s beyond and not everybody has that. But yeah, it used to be the most stressful sector of my life. It was like, I don’t know if I can afford to stay here, you know, and if you can’t, yeah, you can pile on the loans and you go home. That’s what I mean by the whole like, tough decisions. And this is another one that was really horrifying sort of for me, and like Dartmouth didn’t prepare me for this. Like, this is one of those things like life things that I had to when, like, my dad was really sick, and like the electric bill got behind, and I had to decide between paying for his medicine and letting them shut the electricity off. And like, that’s not…Like that is a life experience that gives you empathy for other people. It is not something that a business proposal or a paper in college or a presentation with the options will ever give you. You have to look at your parents and decide what you’re going to do.

Yeah, it was…And, you know, my mom was at work because that’s how she kept insurance and like, you know, you get the notification and you have to figure out what you’re going to do. And the fact that I was privileged enough to even make a choice sounds very silly, but I did, I had the money to pay one. I could have been without both.

Susan: And let’s be real. We’re in a situation in this country where there are people without both.

Latria Graham: Yes.



Susan: It does sound odd that choosing one, you could make the choice as a privilege. Because to me, it just doesn’t even sound like a privilege. But I see what you’re saying when you make the point that some people don’t have the choice.

Latria Graham: Yes.

Susan: Oh and other situations we could fix in this country. All right, okay, friend.

Latria Graham: We will fix.

Susan: We will fix.

Latria Graham: Positive, like optimism some days is the only thing that gets me through this job. You feel like Sisyphus, I don’t know if you know that the King in Greek mythology that rolls the boulder up the hill all day long. And then he gets towards the top and it rolls completely back down. And the next day he does the same thing again. Yeah, it’s optimism. It really has the optimism that keeps us in the game.

Susan: Well, thank you for sharing all of this. I know you have to go do work that will pay you money. I wish I could pay you for being on my podcast.

Latria Graham: No, this has been very good for me because again, it gives me that retrospective feeling that I don’t get often, that I don’t think… Yeah, because I don’t think about this stuff. You literally wake up, feet hit floor and go. I’m not as good about the self-care and reflection as I should be. I’m getting better as I get older and my body is making me but like, it’s not in me so I’m not very good at it. So I’m just, one, I’m thrilled that you asked me to be on and that we got to talk about some really good stuff. And yeah, we’ll just go… Yeah, I’m really delighted. Like, I’m glad hopefully we can make May in Spartanburg work.

Susan: Yeah, for sure. Okay, before I let you go, tell us where we can find you online, on social wherever your work is. Give us some highlights.

Latria Graham: Okay, so most of my work is up at latriagraham.com. So that’s my website. And then I am Latriagraham on Twitter. And then Instagram is where I write my really interesting sort of long stories up to, I don’t know, maybe 400 words or something with photos either that I have taken or other people have taken. And you can find me at mslatriagraham on that. And then the Steve Kemp Writer in Residence, it’s Great Smokies Writer on Instagram and we post a lot of our stuff up there and I’m also on Facebook. I am going to say not really a public figure, but like my Facebook is public. And so stuff that I write, stories that I tell, articles I find interesting, things I think other people would appreciate reading, I post on Facebook. So I’m everywhere. And I’m also under my name on LinkedIn.

Susan: Well, sweet, thank you so much for sharing all of that. I know I’m going to have some listeners who are going to go check out your stuff. And thank you for spending time with me today. I really appreciate it.

Latria Graham:Yeah, of course, like this whole…When you told me you were a first generation college students, I was floored and I want to know more about that. I know like outside of this, we will talk—and like trying to figure out how to support those students. Because again, like even I come with some sense of privilege, those kids will not and you thought about…Even though we both had our things that we thought about, we thought about two completely different sets of circumstances.

Susan: How funny. All right, friend. I will chat with you soon.

Latria Graham: Sounds good.

Outro:  Hey Pod Sisters, thanks so much for joining me today. If you’re enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes or your favorite podcast app 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. We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here community page and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode, as well as any other fun How She Got Here content. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see ya soon.

What intimidates well renowned writers? – Part 1, with Latria Graham

Have you ever read an amazing piece in a magazine or newspaper and wondered what the writers life might be like?  Maybe you have even wondered if you have what it takes to be a professional writer or journalist.  Latria Graham takes us behind the scenes in her life as a freelance journalist in this two part series.

Show Notes:

Latria Graham is a freelance writer and journalist who has written for many publications including, but not limited to, ESPNW, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The New York Times, the LA Times, Southern Living and my personal favorite (because it was my home paper) The Spartanburg Herald Journal.

In this two part series Latria takes us behind the scenes in her life as a freelance journalist.  We discuss everything from getting started to how to build a community within your profession when you often work alone.

A few of my favorite take aways from part one include:

  • We all have different strengths and weaknesses.  Figuring out a niche within your own profession will help differentiate you from the rest of the pack.
  • Having a partner, mentor or colleague to bounce ideas off of is beneficial.  There is strength in numbers.
  • When hard days come, its helpful to look back at words from people who believe in you.  Keep a stash of those e-mails or letters within reach.

Links:

https://www.latriagraham.com

Latria Graham – LinkedIn

Latria Graham – Twitter

Latria Graham E-mail –  latria.graham@gmail.com

https://hubcity.org

Transcript:

Welcome:  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!  I am so excited about today’s episode. That is because I am sharing my conversation with Latria Graham.  Latria and I both happen to be from the same home town though we never knew each other. I am thankful to have met her by chance at Hub City Bookshop over winter break in 2018. Per her website: she is “a writer, editor and cultural critic currently living in South Carolina.
Her “writing interests revolve around the dynamics of race, gender norms, class, nerd culture, and- yes, football.”  She is “ keeping her eye on publishers that are invested in celebrating the diversity of the human experience. Contributing to online publications that focus their attention on social justice and equality resonates with her values.”  She loves “speaking with people who challenge the status quo and care about living and learning without inhibitions.”  Latria has written for many publications including, but not limited to, ESPNW, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The New York Times, the LA Times, Southern Living and my personal favorite (because it was my home paper) The Spartanburg Herald Journal.  So without further ado…here is Latria

Susan: Well, hey, Latria Graham, thank you so much for joining us today. I am so looking forward to this conversation. You have no idea. I’ve been looking forward to this all week.

Latria Graham: Yeah, same here. Hi Susan. I’m glad we found the time to get together and talk a little bit.

Susan: Yeah. Friends, Latria is a writer. And I don’t mean just any writer. Latria reminds me of somebody who is out there writing, and is literally changing the world through her words. And we’re going to get into all of this. This conversation could go on for days. I’m just really not sure yet.

Latria Graham: We’ll give them part two.

Susan: Yeah. Hey, you know, I’m not opposed. Let’s start out with just you. Who are you? How did you become a writer? Why do you love writing? Let’s just start at the very beginning.

Latria Graham: Yeah. So I started writing professionally—I had my first published piece in 2008. And that was actually a segment of a book. It was an essay called “Black and White Thinking.” And it was in this book published by Random House called Going Hungry, featured by Kate Taylor, or edited by Kate Taylor. And that came out my senior year of college. But it was one of those things that I went to Dartmouth thinking I was going to be a biomedical engineer. I feel like I’ve lived 1000 lives at this point, because I thought it was going to be a number of things, and then finally settled down and decided to become a writer. But I have loved words and spelling and writing and terms and phrase since I was a little kid, but I grew up in a culture and environment that basically only taught the dead white guy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, people like that.

And so all the writers that I knew, or at least that I had read in school, basically died penniless in the gutter under sketchy circumstances. And I knew that I needed to make money. You know, Spartanburg is very much a mill town or a production town and everybody kind of makes something or they’re judged in some way by their production. And so I knew that sitting on my butt creating words the way we think of like Shakespeare, again, another dead white guy, was not the way to go so I decided I would become something else. My parents really wanted a doctor, so I thought I would do that. And then I got to Dartmouth, and like, started taking classes and you know, working in a hospital, and I was like, “No, this is not for me.” But then become a biomedical engineer. And just, I really disliked it and sort of had a nervous breakdown. And my therapist was like, “What do you want to do? What would you see yourself doing if you didn’t have all these restrictions?” and I was like, “I would be a writer.”

And by then I learned that there were these things called journalists. My parents did not get the newspaper, they were TV news watchers, and so I did not have a sense of how a newspaper came together. My mom read magazines, but I didn’t really understand sort of the production value of those. So I got the chance to learn a little bit more about those, but why not have a journalism program. So I got introduced to some living writers, but I was still in a very academic vein. But there was something about sort of this idea of writing about the self and investigating the self that was really intriguing to me.

So after graduation, I moved to New York City, September 1, 2008, which was basically the start of the recession. I plugged in my TV in this cute little New York apartment that I’d gotten and there were no jobs. Lehman Brothers was closing that day, and everybody was walking out with their boxes of stuff. And so I put in 100 applications, and I wound up at the New York Society Library, which is the oldest library in New York, as a Library Page. And I learned about history, I learned more about books and how they’re made and all that. And I really started to sort of figure out what type of writer I wanted to be. I got to engage with living working writers with contracts and understanding that a little bit better, and getting into the magazine world. So that’s really how it started.

And then I went to the New School in New York City, for my MFA in creative nonfiction. And I started working on a lot of these stories about my family. It was much more of a history, but I realized now it had some of the markers of climate change, some of the markers of gentrification, and all these things that were starting to happen in my community, but we were just telling them through oral histories. And so I finished that up in my second year, the program’s two years, my dad got cancer. And so I came back and finished my thesis here, and I needed a way to make money while also caring for him. So I started freelancing, and I started writing essays about my experiences growing up, what it was like being black with an eating disorder. And really, editors started coming to me asking me, because they knew I was one of the few people of color that would talk about mental health. And that, you know, 2008 to 2013 range when the internet was sort of starting to get into personal essays. And they would ask me about pieces. And I was starting to start doing that. And that’s how I supported myself. So I felt like when I was out of options, I started making options myself, I didn’t know that there was a job called a freelance journalist or freelance writer. So that’s how I started getting into it.

Susan: Okay, I want to go back just a second, because I love how you discussed and I can remember sitting in a class vividly and thinking, “I am reading a bunch of dead white guys,” with like the exception of Emily Dickinson or somebody like that, white woman, so…

Latria Graham: Still dead.

Susan:  Yes, also dead.

Latria Graham: Very much still dead. I mean, that’s the thing was that, like, we’re not talking about living writers and so we can’t talk about living wages and how they live and put ourselves in their shoes. I’m never going to be a 19th century Victorian white woman with the leisure time and the home help in order to be able to write like that. And that’s no shade to her. That is just not my reality. So it takes some of the possibilities of who you could be off the table.

Susan: Just a little, maybe. I don’t think any of us…I would not want to go back to Victorian times, anyway. I don’t think it was good for any women back there. I realized that there are groups of women, minority women who it was way worse for, absolutely.

Latria Graham: Right. Right.

Susan: But in reality, it wasn’t good so I agree with you there.

Latria Graham: It was an okay walk.

Susan: Right. Tell me, how did you even find a living writer?

Latria Graham: I was really lucky. She came to me. It was Lucille Clifton, who passed away in 2010. But she was at Dartmouth as like the poet in residence. I think she was only there maybe like a month. And the poet in residence would live in this house on campus, and they would have dinners with her. And so my advisor, Michael Chaney, who’s still a professor in English at Dartmouth, he was my advisor, and he’s like, “You have to go meet Lucille Clifton.” And I’d heard of her as a poet before, you know, they’ll accept a poem in our maybe black women writers class or something like that. I was like, “Oh, okay.” And I did not realize sort of the power of presence that she would have. And she talked to us about sort of how her poetry came about, how it ended up being published, this network of women that she exchanged work with, and sort of started entering into that conversation. I was like, “That’s how writers are doing it. That’s how writers are forming community.” And so I was just very lucky and happen to be on campus when she was there. I think that was my Junior year of college. And I have a photo of her with my black women writers professor, Shalane Vasquez, and it is one of my treasured photos, like I adore it. Yeah, so I think she was one of the first—I won’t say that she was the first but she was the first one that really talked about the process and how hard it was to sort of make that community happen because she was doing it well before the internet.

Susan: I can’t imagine doing a lot of things before the internet, much less being a writer in a professional situation where you’re not around other, you know, other people in your field on a regular basis. It’s not like you’re a part of a press corps or something or working at the Times or something like that, or even the Herald Journal, or the Dallas Morning News. So I cannot even imagine.

Latria Graham: Yeah, even with the internet, it’s still hard and not something that we can get into in terms of community building and where you find it, because I do spend a lot of time like that whole, like surviving on Coca Cola and pork skins and my yoga pants with just my, like, reading my words to my dog is very much my reality, basically. Now, if I wasn’t on the phone with you like that, I’d be sitting here, I’m dressed a little bit nicer today. But like, it’s a lot of alone time, which in some ways you need as a writer, but when things are going poorly can be incredibly isolating, and so trying to find that balance is really important.

Susan: Well, how do you do that? How do you find community within your profession, because I would think it would be important to be able to bounce ideas off of, and also find people that you trust, or that the people you’re bouncing ideas off of aren’t going to try to walk away with your idea.

Latria Graham: Right. The first thing that I will say, I think, and people will probably disagree with me on this is the idea that like nobody can really, truly steal your idea. And I say that because nobody can write it the way that you can. And so sometimes I’ll get—as I actually will give you the example, my first piece I ever did was on Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers, and I ended up doing this long form piece on him. And I followed him during his last season, the season the Carolina Panthers went to the Super Bowl. And I just kind of didn’t know what the story was going to be. But I was like, “Ha, this is a really interesting dude.” And somebody else came out with a long form feature on him first. And I was a little crestfallen because this was my first major piece ever about someone else, I’ll put it like that way, it was my first journalism piece ever. And I was a little worried about it, and I read it and I, “But this guy doesn’t have the stuff as I do, he doesn’t have the perspective that I have.”

And so I finished the piece and I turned it in, and it ended up being a bigger piece. And I don’t say that in a braggadocios way, it’s just to show that we came from two different perspectives. And somebody else may say, “Look, technically his piece is better in terms of structure and storytelling and some of the other stuff.” But if you read both pieces, you would get something different out of both pieces. And that is okay. And so even if somebody else decided to take the idea, you have something in your back pocket that makes you you that they’ll never be able to replicate it. So that’s why I’m not sure sometimes. Like, Standing Rock, a bunch of people covered Standing Rock, I covered it very differently from them. I did the same thing with Flint. So some of these major news stories, particularly, you’re going to have a bunch of people, a bunch of reporters in one space, and you just have to figure out what you do well, what you do differently from everybody else. So that’s sort of the first part of it.

And then I’m really lucky here in Spartanburg that we have a literary community. And so I go to my local bookshop a lot. And I am actually on the board of Hub City Writers Project now. But I can go in there and talk to people about books. And some of them are editors, and some of them are just very veracious readers, but we can have this conversation, keeping the pump primed a little bit in your brain, because you don’t have to sort of think about sort of analyzing what you’ve read, it just comes out in conversation. So there’s that.

 I have a writing partner, Maggie Mertens, we went to graduate school together. And we are both working writers, both working freelance writers. And we bounce ideas off of one another. And I did this writer’s residency, we would have a call once a week or every two weeks and say, “Okay, what are your goals? How can I keep you accountable? What do you need help with?” Sometimes I’ll get stuck on plot for a long form piece, and she’ll recommend a book for me, sometimes I’ll send books to her and we sort of celebrate our triumphs. She was just in the Atlantic talking about women’s soccer. And you have somebody else to root for that you’re incredibly proud of. So that’s sort of the second thing, is finding a writing partner. And not all writing partners are going to be great fits, because I had a different writing partner before that and she took a different job and stopped writing. And so I was like, “Well…” Talking to her about writing is fine but she’s not living it in the same way. So I partnered up with Maggie.

And then the third is finding a mentor. And I’ve been very lucky because I’ve run across a lot of people that have mentored me along my way that I can send an email to and say, “Hey, I’m not sure about this piece,” or “can we jump on the phone, I just need some life advice as to whether or not to take this next job. Is this a step forward? Is this a step back?” Especially in regards to pay or is going to be a major consumption of my time. So Kim Cross, who was an editor at Southern Living, and now is working as a freelance editor. I met her at the Archer City Story Center, and I was invited to go out to the writing workshop, and I had the opportunity to go out to Archer City, Texas, which is where Larry Mercury is from, and spend a week talking about like form and structure. And I knew at that point in my career, I wanted to go out there and really start challenging myself and adding extra tools to my tool toolbox as a writer.

So I go to this tiny town in Texas and I just hit it off with her. And I hit it off with Glenn Stout, who is a sports editor and does a number of baseball books. And then Jacqui Banaszynski was out there, she won a Pulitzer on her work back in the 80s with HIV and AIDS, correct me on that if I’m wrong, but then I want to make journalism awards. And then Eva Holland is an outside writer, outside/outdoors writer that I admire. She’s working on a book, but she actually did this long form piece on what it was like to feel yourself freeze to death. And she put herself outside to the point where she was going to freeze herself to death, or was going to freeze to death, and wrote about it. So you’re reading these really incredible, intense people, and not all of them became mentors. But like they, again, they’re making you think in very different ways. And you end up keeping in contact with some of those people.

 So that was a way that I sort of started finding mentors and started engaging with people. Sometimes it takes being out of your comfort zone, sometimes traveling to a conference. And I don’t do that often, because they’re very expensive. And sometimes time prohibitive, if I’m on deadline, but that does help find the mentor. Writing an email to someone to say, “Hey, I could use a mentor.” Sometimes helpful. Sometimes it’s not, just because it can be very time consuming for the other person on the other end, and they’ve never, never met you, you don’t know exactly what your interests are, and things like that. But those are the three local bookshop, writing partner and mentor.

Susan: That’s really interesting. I really appreciate how you put that. I think there’s something to be said for finding people and being able to connect with them on a personal level, rather than just emailing them. And I mean, I took a lot more away from what you just said than that. But that was kind of something that stuck out to me as somebody who is behind a microphone so often, also works from home, also, you know, is alone so often and going out and finding people and going to the local bookshop. And I love Hub City, whenever I’m town, I try to stop in and just because there’s not a lot of places like it, and where you have that community of intellectuals just hanging out at a bookstore. Before Hub City existed… What was it called? There was a sandwich shop across the street. I worked there in college, what was the name of that place?

Latria Graham: The Sandwich Factory? Is that the one you’re talking about?

Susan: The Sandwich Factory, yes. Everybody hung out there. But before the bookshop existed, and then they created the Writers Project, and then the bookshop came and it was such a—I loved just being around those folks, even if it wasn’t really my jam at the time, because you just knew there was like so much information there in front of you and so much creativity, and just gleaning any ounce of that that I could—I tried to.

Latria Graham: Yeah. Do you remember Java Jive at all?

Susan: Yes.

Latria Graham: So I was like not old enough to be there. I was like 12 or something like 12 or 13, yeah, because it closed by the time I was like 15 or 16. It was definitely off the radar. Java Jive, you know, had these like…For people listening because I realized this may make it as cut and may not, but Java Jive had these really interesting—was the first coffee bar and had these gigantic cookies and like they had taken bathtubs and turn them into seats. And there was a really eclectic, interesting kind of unbridled energy in that space. Particularly like, we weren’t out late. We definitely had to be home by eight o’clock. But it was starting to get really interesting after five, right after school. So like, we knew that Jill’s older sister was going to have to pick us up and take us home. We definitely had to be home by nine, for sure. But, you know, there was that weird, interesting space. And the Sandwich Factory was sort of this really eclectic intelligence that is sort of what they call it like space during the day. And like Hub City feels like this great, but not crunchy version, like fusion of the two. And that’s why I sort of love it. It’s got this unbridled energy to it. But it also has this incredibly intellectual side of it because you know, people are they’re reading 900 page biographies of somebody. So yeah, I adored both places, even though I was a little bit younger than you and did not get the chance to like, you know, grow up in the spaces.

Susan: Okay, well, thanks for calling me old.

Latria Graham: No, no, no.

Susan:  I’m totally kidding. I’m totally kidding. I’m totally kidding. I’m yanking your chain.

Latria Graham: No. You’re the host. You never want to like piss off those.

Susan: Oh, honey, you couldn’t? I’ve had too much fun getting to know you. And one of the most respected people in my life is the one who—well, after we met, she actually recommended you. So yeah, there’s no way that would ever happen. Because I don’t want to piss her off.

Latria Graham: Yeah, neither one of us wants to, actually. We’re going to leave her as she will not be named. But she’s incredible. And I think incredibly highly of her and of you. So yeah, we will keep it all good. I will send you like some Disney merch or something that would make me super happy.

Susan: Oh, you are hilarious.

Latria Graham:  So I will come up with something.

Susan: No, I was totally kidding you. Let’s go back to—you made a point that you were at Dartmouth, you graduated, you moved to New York City, you came home to help take care of your dad, who had cancer and you knew you had to earn money. And so you figured out a way to marry your passion? I’m going to say it this way. I don’t know if this is a good way to say it. But marry your passion with figuring out how to make money. Can you share a little bit about that? Because I think a lot of people have trouble with that step. They have a passion, but they cannot figure out how to monetize it, if and when that becomes necessary.

Latria Graham: Oh, that is a rough one, oh my gosh. And the way you said it was really interesting, because I definitely have passion projects. But I see writing as a skill that I have to like utilize it. So I would not necessarily say just blanket, you know, writing is my passion or books is my passion. I think that’s how people think of the profession in of their passions, right? Like they think of art, like it ends up being this kind of big thing, where it’s like, no, I have a particular set of skills that I’ve drilled down where I’m very good at this. When you are able to get very specific about what you’re good at, and what your skills are, you start seeing where they fit within a market in order to be able to better monetize them.

So I realized that I am not—and there’s no shades of them, because we need them. I am not a traditional newspaper writer. And I thought for a little while that I was going to go that route. And I’ve written a couple of things for my local newspaper. But I’m much more of a long form feature writer, and really getting spending time with someone getting inside their heads. And being able to take a big policy issue, put it in, like show how a person is living through it. And I realized that’s what I’m really good at. And I have a harder time with content marketing work and things like that unless I did a piece on Shalane Flanagan when she won the New York City Marathon. And that was very much getting into her body and Amy Crags body and spending like four days with them in order to like push through that. But if they had wanted me to write about their sneakers for 6000 words, I’m the wrong person.

So it’s very much like once you know who you are and what your skills are, you can really market them in a way that makes sense for you. Because like my tagline, and I really do live this, if you look on my website, it’s “Social issues deserve subplots.” And I believe that because like I don’t think you can have this one, like, sort of we think about it, I’m trying to give a really good analogy. Right. It’s the iceberg in some way. We think about this huge point on top, we don’t think about all the things that are going on underneath. So I’m never going to be the type of writer that writes maybe three or 400 words on just this is by you know, x is that. It’s always going to be much more nuanced and have all these shades of grey, because life is so much messier than we think. So again, if someone’s wanting me to write, and someone actually was willing to pay me a lot of money, to be an editor for a conservative sports vertical, and it would have been sort of hitting people over the head with morals in some ways. And that’s just not what I do. And so I stuck to my guns and passed over it. But I was like I would have also been really terrible that job because that’s not the tool kit that I had, you can’t take a plumber’s tool kit and try to go fix a car. It’s just not going to work, you’re not going to have everything that you need. So did that answer your question a little bit?

Susan: I think so. If I’m understanding you right, it sounds like you do have a passion for certain subjects maybe that you’re writing on. And then you also can back away from that. And it’s not just that you’re always doing work that you’re passionate about. You write, you’re willing to write and you do write about other subjects. But then there are the passion projects. Yes? And it’s all within this writing circle.

Latria Graham: Yeah, well, and I look at it as more storytelling. My passion is storytelling, I’ll put it that way, whether it’s visual or written words, figuring out a way to tell those stories, but my skill set…So yeah, that’s a great way of putting it. So my passion is storytelling, but my skill set is stronger in writing. And then it’s stronger in long form features that have a person living through policy aspects, right? So it very much narrows down what you what you do, and the type of work that you do. So that whenever you put up your website, you put up your Instagram stuff, everything is sort of in one vein. So even when you look at your Instagram, the way that you tailor the stories and the things that you tell, coupled with the photographs that you have, and I think Instagram is a brilliant way of thinking about this. If you’re whenever I open your tab, and it shows me all nine photos, your most recent nine, right? Like you can get some idea of who you are in a theme and where you’re going. And you’re like, “Ah, okay, I see that about myself. Here are the things I know about myself, here’s how I can market myself.” So if you look at my Instagram, and my top nine things, it’s all adventure things. But if you click on them individually, every single one has a story. I’m never going to post something that just has one or two sentence, it’s got to have a revelation about something that I’ve learned either about myself or that I’ve learned about someone else. And so you learn through scanning my Instagram scanning my social media, that’s the type of stories that I do, where you’re going to get an unexpected twist and learn something that you didn’t anticipate. And so yeah, when you start having those sorts of things, you can say…And people are really good at the elevator pitch. My brother works in San Francisco, and he can tell you exactly who he is in 100 words or less. I have a very hard time doing that because I’m a writer by nature, and brevity is not my strong suit, and that maybe should be my tagline. But yet you start getting very defined about what it is you start finding your tagline, you start figuring out how to describe yourself. And that sort of becomes the way that you market yourself. And when word gets around about what you do—and this is in any I think passion when people find out what you do, and they have a specific project, they start coming to you with that project, because they know what your identity is, they’ve been able to figure it out because you’ve marketed yourself that way. Is that a better answer? Does that  make more sense?

Susan: No, I think it’s fascinating the way you answered that, considering we started the conversation with you getting, I guess it was a Master’s at the New School. And one of the things you were doing was writing out the stories of your family.

Latria Graham: Right.

Susan: And I think that it kind of it just in a weird way. It just kind of came full circle of you’ve been doing this a long time.

Latria Graham: Yes. It feels like I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’ve been gathering information my whole life. I just didn’t realize that the pain and the information would be useful to me. Yeah, that’s the difference. It’s like people said to me, “Someday this pain will be useful to you.” And I was like, “Damn, they’re right. I hate that they’re right but they’re so right.” Yeah. And I actually just looked back at my Instagram and started looking at, you know, what was up there, and like the first things that I put up there were shots from the farm that we had picked up and shots to the produce stand and things that we’ve gotten in and stuff that that I learned, I hadn’t looked at this in a really long time, because like freelancers never looked back. It’s sort of how I think of it. But yeah, it all informs who I am. And it’s like, how do you distill that down so other people can understand it, too?

Susan:  Yeah. Wow, that’s such a… Yeah, that’s really cool. I also liked how you said “freelancers never looked back,” and you are looking back right now. It’s pretty funny.

Latria Graham: Yeah, it is. Because you don’t like once that check clears, if you don’t write another piece you don’t eat. And so I never…Like I get on that. I call it the hamster wheel. You never see how much…It’s not a treadmill, you don’t know how far you’ve gone, you just know that the wheel has to keep moving in some way. So we don’t look back. I don’t think about the awards I’ve gotten or anything. And when people ask me for a bio, I’m like, “I have written a lot, I have been doing this for a while.” And that’s the only like, contemplative moment that I have is when I’m forced to look back.

Susan: Well, I ran back in the day I was a runner, I guess I could still be a runner, if I put on some running shoes and went outside. But I was actually in training, like I was winning a few local races and stuff like that. And so reading back through your writing and reading the article you wrote.  I’ve watched all of her races. And I remember her falling. And I remember watching it happen and crying and thinking, oh my god, like that’s it, you know, because she was picked to win. And it was devastating. And for the life of me, I can’t remember which race it was. And so the way you wrote about her, it was just so moving and inspiring to me. But a lot of your writing is that way to me because I’ve read everything on your website. Tell me what you enjoy writing most about like, do you have favorite subjects? Because I know it’s freelance but what are some of the favorite things that you write about? Or you have written about or people? What are your favorites?

Latria Graham: Oh my gosh, that’s like, in some ways asking me to like choose children. So like the piece—this is going to sound basic, but like the piece that I’m maybe the proudest of, even though it years ago, and like probably technically not as good as what it could be if I’d written it now, was the Josh Norman piece because I didn’t know that that was coming. And it really announced that I had become a writer. And I’ll tell the story really quickly if you’re okay with it. But like so my dad had passed with cancer. And that was in 2013. And no, was it 2013? That’s very silly. I should know when my dad passed. Sorry, it was 2013. So my dad had passed of cancer. And I was trying to figure out who he was at that point. And one of the things that my father like loved, loved, loved was football. He started as a Washington Redskins fan back in the 60s, because Carolina did not have a team but whenever Carolina got a team, my dad rooted for them. But because we were farmers, like in summer is our major time, He never went to training camp, even though it’s five miles from our house

 So I was kind of lost and didn’t know what I was going to do who I was going to be, if I was going to move back to New York. I graduated, while my dad was ill, but I didn’t have a job lined up, obviously, and was devastated. So I was like, “I’m going to figure out who my dad was through football, I’m going to do something he never did. And I’m going to go to training camp.” And I met Josh Norman, he was practicing on a field like an hour after everybody had gone in, you know, Cam Newton and signed autographs and disappeared at this point and stuff. And I asked him a question. And he answered it, and I just kind of kept coming back and observing. It’s kind of like, what is it about this dude. And it turned into this long form piece. And I’m really proud of the storytelling and the orality I was able to do in that. Josh Norman’s piece one of my favorites.

The Standing Rock piece pushed me further than I ever thought that it could and I had such admiration for the people that I covered. And so that is another favorite, but any chance that I get to explore those big copy issues, and it’s happening less and less, would sort of be collapsed with certain digital media outlets. I’m not getting to do it as often as I would like. Any chance that I get to bring those types of topics to a new audience that thought they would not have skin in the game, I’m really proud of that. I’ve always spent time investigating the body, both my own and other people and how it reacts to the environment and those cases with water and what the stakes are. I love those pieces. If I could do those pieces, types of pieces for the rest of my life and get paid on time. I would say that I have my dream job.

Susan: Well, let’s…You brought this up. So I’m going to kind of shift gears for a second. And this is not a question I prepped you for. You brought up online publications that aren’t making it or that are leaving us or what have you. Journalism right now is so, so, so important, and accurate. Storytelling is so important. We need you, right? We need your stories, we need what you’re writing, because we don’t all get to go out and experience this every day. What does the non-writer in the United States need to know right now about the importance of good journalism? And where can you still find good and accurate and real journalism? What are your thoughts on my questions? Maybe you don’t even answer the question. But what are your thoughts on those types of questions?

Latria Graham: This is a whole other…So the first one that I thought of was when you read really good stories that like touch you in some way, like because writers like maybe not as much for the post, but sometimes those guys are freelancers too, like, let them know, like I keep every email that I’ve ever gotten about somebody that said something positive about my work, you know, going back to you 2013, right? And so I kept every single email. And when you have like really crappy days, you can go back and be like these people believed in what I was doing. So that’s part of it.

And then the second one is paying for journalism. And people are really annoyed with their pay walls and things right now. But like the fact that people read for free means that we don’t get expensive, like I was very lucky with that Standing Rock piece, that piece would’ve cost me probably about $2500, if I’d had to buy my own last minute flight to South Dakota, and try to get a hotel and food and rental car and all that stuff. And ESPNW, believed in that story enough to be like, “Okay, we’re going to front the expenses, you don’t have to pay for that. Go tell a good story.” And that has happened to me maybe four times in my entire career. And the biggest story—well, the big story I told for The Guardian, which had something like I think 4 million readers. I slept in my truck, because I could not afford a hotel room. And I knew that that was not going to be expensed for me.

So it’s realizing that new people are people too, and some of us are putting everything we have into this job because we know what’s happening is important. And so sometimes it’s feedback, sometimes it’s knowing that people are paying for news, and that you’re going to get reimbursed for your expenses. But some of the biggest stories I’ve told, I’ve only broken even on. And I told them because they were necessary. And the story I was talking about with The Guardian was called “Last of the Dying Breed.” And it was an African American female swim team. And it was the last African American swim team at HBCUs and it was going to be disbanded. And I got to catch one of their last practices and talked to them. And they also enabled me to talk about African American discrimination and why we don’t swim and why so many African Americans drown.

And yeah, like I got paid maybe less than $300 probably for that piece. And so by time I paid for food gas, drove my own truck, but could not afford a hotel. But like that story, knowing that like, this was the last time that this was going to happen, I had to be there. And it was a springboard on to some other stuff. But that’s part of it. Also, just checking—whenever we talk about new sources, and I’m hesitant to throw out like the big ones, because they do some really great reporting. But they also have their leads, but just really say, what was the point of this article? What did I learn from it? Was it incredibly skewed? And that’s something that I see people, like the number of times I have to say, this is fake or this has been disproved by Snopes and all that I’m sort of like, the journalist fact checker on social media for some of my friends. A lot of them appreciate it. But a lot of them get really annoyed by it. But I was like, “You can’t…Just because you want this to be true, doesn’t mean that it’s true. And look at more than one source and see what’s coming out there and figure out what the endgame is supposed to be and why you believe what you believe.”

So I mean, because there are a lot of really great places in like Southerly is doing a lot for the American South and picking up a lot of these environmental stories for the different smaller—and some of them are small sources. And sort of compiling them and giving people stuff to read The Bitter Southerner is another one that people would not necessarily think of, but I read it just as much as I read The Atlantic. So I’m hesitant to throw out too many names, because everybody is always going to think—and they’re great, impressive pillars of journalism. But I respect Brendan Meyers was at the Dallas Morning News. And he was one of the greatest long form writers. He’s about my age. But I read everything he wrote, because I thought it was incredible. So there’s so many places, people will always think of the New York Times, they’ll always think of The Washington Post, but they really should be thinking locally too about their newspapers in their communities, and who’s doing really interesting long form stuff. Where are the investigative people? If they’re not there, why aren’t they there? You know, and start looking at stuff that way. So yeah, this was not a question you’ve had before but I am so passionate about it, that I will stop rambling now and hope that I gave you some pointers.

Susan: You’re not rambling at all. And some of the smaller publications you mentioned Southerly and what was the other one?

Latria Graham: The Bitter Southerner.

Susan: Yeah. I’ve never even heard of them.

Latria Graham: I mean, they’re incredible. So The Bitter Southerner is like, really trying to take away the red necky, only had two teeth, almost sort of hillbilly elegy thing that has been put on the country. It especially got prominent after our current president was elected, but like taking this, you know, they think of us as sort of backwoods, know nothing’s, and that’s not the case. And it was not necessarily meant it to be political. But it is just like the South is so much more nuanced and interesting than you thought it was. And that’s the case like Charlotte, our state is doing some really interesting stuff now. Charlotte Magazine, Atlanta Magazine has always done really interesting things. And I get a lot of these, even though I don’t live in Charlotte and Atlanta, but I frequent these places. And so I do read them a lot and keep up with some of their writers and look for them whenever they come out with books and stuff like that. And that’s the other thing is like some of these, some of it will leak over like Beth Macy was a newspaper writer, and she wrote Dopesick, she wrote Truevine. And so they go on to write books and supporting them that way. And some of the longer work they do, because you appreciated their newspaper or magazine, was another really good way to get into it too.

Susan: Those are really helpful. I’ll admit, sometimes I get really heavy in the bookworm side of stuff, and I can sit and read books for hours. And sometimes I forget about, I mean, I read the newspaper daily, I’m probably one of the youngest people that does, I don’t know if everybody sits around, read the newspaper. And I do read it on my computer. I’m not sitting there with the old school paper, and I and I pay for it, and multiple papers. I’m kind of a nerd. But I do get heavy sometimes into books. And I forget about small, not smaller, but like magazine publications that are local… I mean, I read like the Dallas Observer, or sometimes I go back and read…Although I don’t think it’s there anymore. I think the Village Voice is gone.

Latria Graham: The Village Voice is gone, but y’all have Texas Monthly, which is incredible. They’ve done some major work. And they do all have a couple of lesser and I know Texas is contentious, because it’s the South but it’s also the West like, it’s also a very big place, having been there. So there are a number of ways that you can…But yeah, Texas Monthly does some really cool stuff. And Long Reads is a great place that compile—they pull from everywhere. And generally it’s stuff it’s over maybe like 5000 words. And sometimes it’s things like Texas Monthly or the Atlantic, but it can be The Bitter Southern or it can be outside. It pulls from everywhere. And they publish during the week, and you can follow them on Facebook. And some of the more interesting long reads of the week you can find there, as long as there’s a digital version. So that also is helpful because I get probably 20 to 25 magazines a month. And I can’t get through them all. And I also get The New Yorker, which sometimes I like. I adore it when I read it. But the fact that it comes more often than I’m home can make for a serious backlog. So we recycle all our magazines. But like right now, I’m sure my house—because my mother is also a magazine person. I’m sure we have 2000 to 3000 magazine in this house. And it’s just too many. It can get overwhelming for people. So sometimes having an editor that will feed you things the way that Long Reads does it helpful for people just breaking into and trying to figure out how to support that longer reading habit.

Susan:  Well, that’s such a good point. That is an excellent point. Because you’re right, it can get overwhelming. And we won’t even talk about Texas trying to consider itself the South. Now Southern Living has even included them. And I’m like, “Y’all, I am from The South. Just be Texas. Just stick with Texas. I love Texas. But it is not. It is just not the South. It just isn’t”

Latria Graham:  It’s a very different version of the South. And there’s barbecue out there.

Susan: Right. And it’s wonderful, but just be who you are. Don’t try to be something else. That’s a whole other conversation. I want to switch gears and go back a little bit and talk about –because I know I have listeners who love writing, and I have listeners who might be moms right now. And they’re thinking about getting back into the workforce or they’re thinking about doing something creatively. Maybe they’re just doing it on their own maybe it’s just journaling. But if somebody is considering maybe getting a few things published, or writing a few pieces and seeing where it goes, what would you—because you’ve been doing this for so long, and you went to such an accomplished…I mean, you went to the Governor’s School for crying out loud and South Carolina, you went to Dartmouth, you’re not dumb. You’re really, really, really smart and clearly had very good SAT or ACT scores.

Latria Graham: Oh, no, I was saying mediocre, actually, mediocre SAT scores. I think I had a lot of ambition. But that’s the thing people think you need incredible score. So I will let you repeat that again or re-say the intro again. But yeah, I realized I interjected and shouldn’t have. But yeah, my scores were meeting, my grades were excellent. But I’m not a great test taker.

Susan: Hey, I get that. I wasn’t either and somehow, I got lucky enough to get into Converse College. And it’s not Dartmouth, but I’ve got a college education. And now I forgot was going to ask you. Oh, yes, I know! If somebody was thinking about really jumping in and getting into writing and they wanted to try to get something published, how would you suggest they go about doing that on a smaller scale? Would it be contacting their local magazine or local publication? Or what does that even look like?

Latria Graham: So first, I would say anybody that journals and journals daily actually has more discipline than I do, so kudos to you, I am one of those people that writes, sort of when I’m on deadline, or have an assignment, and I’ve tried. I have 20 journals, and have not been able to fill them. So that’s the first thing, the discipline to sit and write even several times a week, I think you have it to work on getting something published. So the first thing that I would say is the Internet has made things so much more accessible than it used to. So for people, it depends on what they want to write. So some of it is doing a little bit of research, if you want to write Op Ed’s, or personal essay, or journalistic pieces. That’s how I wrote my first personal essay, it’s like, I googled, how do you write a personal essay? I knew what my subject was going to be. But first thing was to sit down with your ideas, give it a little bit of structure, or write and see where it goes. And don’t be afraid to get rid of what’s not working. If you have people you trust like that bookshop or writing partner or mentor, somebody in your circle that also writes or understand, sometimes you can show that to them and get their trusted opinion. But like, make it as good as you can on your own before sending it out to somebody. And the reason I sort of emphasize the internet is like, The Atlantic and the New York Magazine, and a lot of those places, these people are on Twitter, and their email address is in their Twitter bio. You don’t necessarily have to start out on the smaller scale, if you have a story that is compelling enough, or timely enough that it should be on the national radar.

 So that is something incredibly important to say, like people had essays about their time at Notre Dame and obviously, when the fire crumbled, they were like, “Okay, this is something that I need to send in,” or spend time thinking about and get it really good and then send it in. And so some of it is knowing that you don’t have to have small. But part of it, the only thing stopping you in some ways is you in terms of competence, I was really bad about writing stuff, and deciding not to send it in because I was just worried it wasn’t good enough. If you wanted to start on that local level, and you’ve written a couple of things, you can have copy, or you can at least email them at your local newspaper magazine and see if they’ll at least have a meeting with you. Or you can send them a couple of clips. And when I first got started right out of graduate school doing book reviews, I did pho clip, which means that like I didn’t publish them anywhere. I just like looked at what a book review was. And I sort of modeled myself after that person, but chose a book that they had not written about, so chose my own book, wrote what would be considered a standard book review in my voice and use that as clips.

So you don’t have to necessarily have published-published work in order to have the resource. They want to know that you can write, they want to know that you can find a story. And then they want to know that you can turn stuff in on time because if you have a really great story, but you can’t turn it in, the editor still has nothing. So there are a couple of different ways to go about that. But if you really don’t have anything yet, the modeling clips idea works really well. So modeling clips, coffee with editors that may be willing to entertain you. Don’t get discouraged. Some of them don’t have time. And then also using the internet to find the bios of some of the big guys, if you really do feel like you have a national story.

Susan:  Well, those are really, really excellent points to just have the clips themselves or smaller pieces that aren’t necessarily pre published that way they can see that you can actually in fact write. That makes perfect sense to me that just seems like a no brainer that you might not think of on your own. So thank you for sharing that. Because sometimes you just don’t think past your own. You get stuck in the weeds and you don’t really think above like the tree line.

Outro:  Hey Pod Sisters, thanks so much for joining me today. If you’re enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes or your favorite podcast app 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. We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here community page and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode, as well as any other fun How She Got Here content. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see ya soon.

What if you just quit? With Rachael Piper

We have all played the “What If” game, but have you ever followed through?  Rachael Piper asked herself “What if I just quit”…so she did. 

Show Notes:

Quitting? Even the word makes us sweat!  I don’t think we ever want to be labeled a quitter, but is that the right way to think about it?

In this episode, Rachael shares the invaluable experience she gleaned from entering the workforce in 2007 that she still leans into today while running her own company. 

A few of my favorite take aways include:

  •  The person in the room that “has all the answers” probably knows the least.  The person in the room that’s asking the most questions, is who you want on your team.
  •  It is important to make decisions that will keep you true to yourself, even when they are hard
  •  Spend a little, save a lot (there is freedom in living below your means)

–  “I’m not going to limit myself just because people wont accept the fact that I can do something else” Dolly Parton

Rachael reminds us of the importance of being true to yourself and that taking calculated risks (although scary and perhaps intimidating) can be fun and life giving.  She also helps us remember that we are the only ones who can define success for ourselves.

Links:

Linked In

Instagram

Brené Brown

Dolly Parton

Transcript:

Welcome: 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, have you ever thought, what if I just quit? How does that phrase even make you feel? Does it inspire and empower you? Or does it terrify you? Maybe it does a little bit of both. My guest today is Rachael Piper. And one day, she did just that.

Susan: Rachael, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing a little bit about you and your story. But for those of our audience who don’t know you, would you share a little bit about who you are, what you do, and your life in digital marketing.

Rachael Piper: Absolutely. Well, thanks for having me on as well. So kind of my quick background, if you will, for the most part, I grew up in Flower Mound, Texas, which is just outside of Dallas. And then I went to college at SMU, which is in Dallas proper. I was a double major there with advertising and sociology. I put myself through school and was able to get both majors completed in the four years that I was there. So I graduated from there in 2007. So I entered the workforce right around the same time as the recession. So it was a kind of trial by fire, learned a lot through that, you know, experience kind of got a good taste of the real world right off the bat, if you will. Originally…Know too that I talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, so feel free to interrupt me as needed.

But, I originally was leaning a little bit more into the sociology side, but was trying to temper that knowing that I couldn’t go into a full kind of traditional sociology, like social work type of a job because I knew that I would not be able to separate work from home. But I was really fascinated with sociology and even just like the getting the dual major. You know, a lot of people didn’t see how it connected but for me, it was like, you know, advertising is the study of getting people to do what you want them to do. And sociology is a study of understanding why people do what they do. So for me, it made perfect sense and really kind of just hit major interest points for me and just being fascinated with people and connections and relationships. And that’s where everything…

So anyways, I ended up starting in HR and doing recruiting kind of right off the bat before moving over into advertising, and I was attracted to advertising because to me as a creative person who hasn’t ever really found their true creative outlet, it was the marriage of creativity and business, and I felt stronger my, like, business acumen than I did in my creative export, if you will. And then also, you know, I’m 22 and ad agencies have ping pong tables and beer cart Fridays, and just kind of all the things that they just sort of sell you on. And oddly enough, my first crack at it was in media, which was like my worst subject in school. It was where I had the least confidence, but it was sort of this, well, if that’s what gets you in the door, get in the door, and then move around. But I ended up strengthening these muscles that I thought were weak and giving me like, fuller confidence.

So yeah, I was working for an agency. And again, recession time, got laid off. I actually ended up then going to work for Newsweek on the sales side selling their digital properties. And was working there for a while before Newsweek closed down their satellite offices, ad sales offices, including Dallas and several other offices, kind of in one sale swoop. So there I was laid off again. And then I had gone back to the original agency that had laid me off before because they needed some support. So I was actually doing some freelance work for them, and was just kind of bridging the gap there. And right as I was getting a job offer for another agency in town, the agency that I was freelancing with that I had originally been with, they were being absorbed by another agency and then they offered me a gig. So it was just this kind of fluctuating time, if you will, but I ended up working at that other agency for several years. And it really was one of the few people that really held the digital knowledge and expertise, which is kind of an odd setup to be young and so indispensable in a way—I mean, you’ve been let go and laid off so many times so early in your career, but yet you’re the one that has this specialized knowledge that the industry is leaning towards. So it was a kind of just a peculiar position to find myself in and to navigate.

But anyways, I was there, you know, for several years and was spread pretty thin, because I was touching pretty much every account that had any digital component. And that would range from handling lower level admin support to being a new business pitches with CEOs pitching to potential business and trying to win new clients. So that was kind of the traditional background, if you will. And then in 2012, I ended up breaking out on my own and have been doing my own digital media consulting since 2012.

Susan: Wow. Well, I want to backtrack just a second. Your story is really interesting to me because I came out of school in 2004 as a business and marketing major, and I liked that you added the sociology aspect to it. I never thought about it that way. But graduating in 2004, the economy wasn’t great. The economy wasn’t bad, it was nothing like 2007 but they were not hiring—big ad agencies weren’t doing a lot of hiring at that point, it was one of those lulls in the market where marketing and advertising your dollars weren’t being spent there. And so going into school, it never really occurred to me how that world would work once I was in it, the constant—and it seems like you’ve experienced this to coming out of school in 2007, where it’s like, okay, I work for this firm for a little while, or I work for this company for a little while. And then they can’t do any money towards marketing so I take a step back, and then I go back and it’s this constant back and forth. If you’re looking for security coming out of school and a job, marketing probably isn’t it. And I don’t think anybody ever really told me that. It’s fun and I think it can be amazing. But unless you’re working for yourself, and you have your own agency like you do now, I think it can be a challenge. Am I saying that correctly, you think?

Rachael Piper: Yeah, I think that that’s very fair. I mean, I think when a see to it board sit down on a table and budgets have to get cut, the first place they look is marketing, right? You’re going to cut the marketing budget before you cut the operations budget. So just by results of how business decisions get made, marketing often gets the short end of the stick. That being said, to what you said, the only part that I would contradict is just because I have my own agency or run my own marketing company now, there’s still really isn’t that stability or security. I mean, marketing budgets still get cut just as quickly, and I feel like these days a lot of people just make a change for the sake of making a change, especially in advertising and marketing. It’s like you want a new idea all the time. So it’s almost as if like, if you’ve had an account for say, three years, I’m like, “Oh, that’s a legacy” you know? And it doesn’t matter how good the results are, it’s just there’s going to be a new change of guard at the client or at the agency or whatever it is and on down the line. And then inside that marketing bubble, media is often a budget that can get cut before say, creative, or production because media is not nearly as exciting. Like you go in and you sell somebody this big creative vision, and it’s the bright, shiny object, and people are stoked about that and they are wanting to spend money on that. It’s the sexy part of advertising. You can to have a conversation with me and I’m like, “Well, let’s look at spreadsheet one, tab A,” and all that advertising sex appeal is kind of out the window, and here we are as data junkies looking at all these data points, and you know, it’s just the bottom line is budgets get cut, money moves around, accounts, go left and right. And that doesn’t matter if you’re at the biggest client or agency in the world or the smallest. Everybody’s fair game there.

Susan: Well said. One other thing that you said that I thought was interesting was when you were working with the ad agencies, you were going in with CEOs and all of that doing some of these big high level pitches. And tell me if I’m reading this correctly. But it seemed like what you were talking about, was the fact that you understood the digital world and what was coming and maybe had an inkling because you were a part of it, whereas the old guard wasn’t as in tune to what the market was looking for coming forward so you understood the market a little bit better. Is that what you were getting at or no?

Rachael Piper: Yes. I don’t know that I necessarily understood the market a little bit better, because it’s not like I was trained in it either.

Susan: Well, none of us were. We all graduated as it was coming along.

Rachael Piper: Exactly. So there was no digital media course when I was in college. There is now.

Susan: Sure.

Rachael Piper: So it’s not like I had any formal education or any training. I think my benefit was one, just coming in at the age where I wasn’t really expected to know anything. So it gave me more license to learn and to say, “I don’t know, let me look into that,” or “I don’t know, let me figure that out.” And I mean, I definitely had other people that I worked with that educated me and guided me, but I was also never scared to raise my hand and ask the question. I always say, when it comes to digital advertising in particular, the person in the room that has all the answers probably knows the least, the person in the room that’s asking the most questions, it’s who you want on your team. They’re the ones that are wrestling with it, like nobody has this figured out. So you want the people that are going to be in there wrestling with it, and figuring out because it’s constantly changing. So anybody that coming from this sense of authority with it, there are holes there. So I think the kind of C suite or higher up—and this is just my assumption, right? But I would say maybe they were more intimidated to talk about it because they felt such a need to be an expert if they were going to talk about it. Whereas, I was able to be more bold and I was able to self educate and to learn. I wasn’t intimidated by figuring it out. I was excited about figuring it out.

Susan: I like that “you were excited by figuring it out.” I like the inquisitive nature of that. That to me is very fun and refreshing and it’s not stuffy.

Rachael Piper: Yeah. I mean, like, I love puzzles, just like quick anecdotes that probably ought to get cut.

Susan: No!

Rachael Piper: I remember one time doing a puzzle with my mom and it became so competitive that we literally wrestled to the ground over who was going to put in the last puzzle piece. I mean, yeah, seeing the picture come together for me is it, you know, that the focus comes in, kind of the eyes glaze over and I just get really locked in on loving to figure it out and to see it come together.

Susan: Well, you clearly love the digital marketing world. You loved it before you decided to go out on your own. You clearly still love it and you’re still doing it, what was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Tell us a little bit about the story of finally saying, I can’t do this here, but I want to continue doing this, and I think I would be best doing this on my own.

Rachael Piper: Yeah, just to kind of set the stage you know, at that time, I was feeling really overworked and under appreciated.

Susan: Yeah, because you said you were spread really thin.

Rachael Piper: Yeah, I was spread really thin. The team that I was originally with, I want to say there was like seven of us and then it had dwindled down to just me, and I was being asked to take on portions that I wasn’t confident in being able to do. So specifically, what that means is like they were asking me to take on some of our search campaigns but because I was digital—even though I’d always been in the play space, so that was outside of my discipline. And I was like, “I can’t in good faith just take this over right now. I would need time to learn this.”

Susan: Sure.

Rachael Piper: So it was just kind of this result on top of just this kind of cultural normalization of this kind of pay your dues, you should just be grateful to have a job, kind of unhealthy work environment for me. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, and the agency that I worked for was great, and I have nothing bad to say about any of them from top to bottom, it was just the product of the environment and the time and it just kind of all came together. But I remember even just having a lot of conversations with the CEO and the CFO at the time. And that was because I chose to take them up on their open door policies. So I was going in and wanted to have conversations about, you know, that I thought the agency model was broken and wanted to have a clear picture of the future and just wanted to be more involved and all of that.

And really, I was getting great feedback from them. I mean, to their credit, they were really receptive. And again, here is this young 20 somethings coming in requesting a meeting with the CEO and CFO and saying, “Hey, I think the agency models have broken,” and they didn’t just appease me or pat me on the head, we had dialogue and they would push back and I would push back, and it was really good for me, it was really healthy. And I think it was good for them as well. And essentially what they told me was that they agreed with a lot of what I had to say and with my vision, but that I was essentially asking an elephant to pivot, and that I just needed to be patient, give them time to get it all worked out and kind of the underlying message was that I was set up in well in the future if I could just hold out and wait for it to all come together.

So I tried, but essentially the—to kind of answer more specifically, the straw that broke the camel’s back, I remember it very vividly, we had open concept seating at the agency and you know, I was eating my lunch with you know, kind of working through lunch, eating some frozen meal. I still remember exactly what it was; my leftovers that I had heated up in the kitchen. And I was sitting there and I was working on actually somebody else’s account, somebody else’s project that had a digital component. So I was going in and I was fixing a few things. And I remember just getting frustrated with an email that came through or whatnot. And I pushed myself back from the chair because I was just like, so frustrated that it had a physical reaction. And I remember just like looking around, because I wanted to vent to somebody, I wanted to say “Ah, can you believe they’re not going to meet this deadline that they confirm they would or they moved it up?” Whatever point of tension it was. I was just looking to connect with somebody and to vent.

So I looked around, and I realized I was the only one working through lunch. Everybody else was out running their errands or having lunch or in the break room, or whatever. And I was already frustrated. And I just remember thinking to myself, “What if you just quit?” And as soon as that thought came to me, I felt better. And I just repeated it again, “What if you just quit? No, really, like, what if you just quit?” And next thing I knew was smiling and still asking myself that question. It was like, “Yeah, yeah, what if you just quit?” And so it went from this very dejected question to this very powerful and exciting question. And I remember I pinged my mom and I said, “Hey, can you Skype tonight? I want to talk to you about something?” She was like, “Yeah, no problem.” And I talked with her that night, and got her feedback, which was positive, but she really wasn’t on board with my plan, but was very supportive of me. You know, my mom is coming from this “You don’t leave a job until you have another good job.” So she was like, “I know you. I know if you could have made it work, you would have made it work by now. So I’m on board that a change needs to happen. Let’s just be smart about how this change happens.”And I’m like, “Mm-hmm,” and by 9am the next morning, I turned in my resignation. So it was definitely motivated by emotion and a gut feeling and that’s not a recommendation but that’s my story.

Susan: So, by 9am the next morning you had turned in your resignation, did you have a lifeboat at all?

Rachael Piper: I did. But before I go there—and it was a small boat, but it was a lifeboat. So maybe we’ll call it like a life… What is it like the orange ring…?

Susan: Oh yeah, the life preserver.

Rachael Piper: I had a life preserver. I didn’t have a boat. But let me tell you how I knew I made the right call. So of course, I got up early because I had to print my resignation at the office, right? I don’t have a home printer. And so I had to get in there and get that done before everybody else you know, was in at the office. So I remember taking it off the printer and walking back to my desk and the first people that were in that morning, were a couple of interns. Or they might have been just hired admins. I don’t remember exactly. But what I remember is walking back from the printer, and engaging with them and joking around. So even though I was making this like, terrible decision, right, nobody was like, “this is a good plan, this was a good idea.” My spirits were lifted. I was back into who I am as a person, and I was feeling good. And I was in control of my life and my decisions again, and I was being my best self. I was caring about them, asking about their day, making jokes, laughing, even though I was incredibly nervous. I mean, I was going in, and I was disappointing people and I was letting people down and I was making this big change. I mean, like I said, this had been a department of seven that’s now one. And now this one is saying, I’m walking out too. So even though it was a very heavy decision, I knew that I had made the right decision, because I felt like I was back in alignment with myself and I was who I actually am, even though I was going to do a really hard thing.

Susan: I like the way you put that, that you were back in alignment with yourself.

Rachael Piper: Yeah. But going back to the life preserver to answer, you know, that part of your question. Yeah, so I had about six months before I resigned, another agency in town through a colleague that I had worked with, they had a small digital media project that they needed help with. It definitely wasn’t something that they could hire somebody on for or anything like that, they just needed a little bit of support. And so I’d gotten approved at the agency that I worked for, for me to help them out. So essentially, I was moonlighting for them. And we were…If I remember right, we were in conversation about one potential project to come through, that if it did come through, and if it did work out, I want to say it would have netted me about $3,000. So that was the life preserver, that was a, there’s a good chance that there could be up to $3,000 for me to bring in the next couple of months.

Susan: Got it. So, you already talked a little bit about feeling—you were happy about yourself, but you were feeling bad that you were letting some people down. How did this ever happen? And how quickly did it happen? After you turn in your resignation?, did you go, “What was I thinking?” You know, there’s that moment of jubilation but did you ever hit the other end of this where it was like, “Oh, this was the craziest decision. I’m not sure what I’m doing.”Did you ever have that moment? And what was that like if you did?

Rachael Piper: Yeah. I mean, I think I still wrestle with what am I doing? What was I thinking? And not because… I have full confidence that I made the right decision for myself, and I’m so grateful and so blessed, but I’m still always trying to fine tune and figure out who is my best self and what is my best life look like? So I still struggle all the time with, “Oh, what was I thinking turning down that job,” or “what was I thinking going after that account that I knew was going to be terrible for my overall well being?” But no, I never regretted quitting. I never regretted doing my own thing. I did…I once went—I want to say this was within that first year. I remember going maybe three months, maybe a little bit more, a little bit less, but without getting paid. And I knew it was coming, like the paycheck, like I’d already done the work, the paycheck was coming, but it was just making its way through all the channels to actually get to me. And so I remember just feeling some anxiety around that. But I also had the benefit of the fact that I put myself through college and so I fully—and at an expensive college—so I fully understood what it felt like to be broke, and that there’s a difference in being broke and actually being broke. And I wasn’t actually broke, I was fine. I had money coming in. It was just a matter of getting there and waiting for that check to come in.

So you know, I kind of lived by and still live by the mentality, and every time that I give my niece and nephew money for birthdays or holidays, I give them the same advice that I give myself, which is spend a little save a lot. And by living below my means, I take a lot of that stress out of the equation. So I think that that helped balance the financial intimidation of going out on my own. And I think that that’s the main thing that people question when, “Did I make the right decision or should I do this?” It’s a financial consideration. And it should be, but you also have to look at the fuller compensation picture, you know, how much is your time worth? How much is the freedom to do xyz? Or even just the fact that…Like, I remember that first year working on a project and feeling really stuck. I didn’t have the solution to the problem, I didn’t know what to do, and here I am out of my own so I don’t have anybody to ask. It would be the time that I would take it up a ladder and I would go ask my boss what to do, only there is no ladder. I have no boss.

So that was a scary, “Oh god, what have I done? I’ve committed to people, people are expecting me to come through and I’m out of answers.” And so I remember what I did. I went and I got my bike and I went for a ride at White Rock Lake in the middle of the day. And I just remember feeling so grateful that I had the freedom to do that. And I think it shifted my energy and shifted my focus and all the sudden I’m riding my bike, and poof, the answer comes to me. And I think that there’s a lot at play for how and why that happened. And I would say, the majority of it, I don’t understand how and why it works that way. But one of the biggest takeaways for me in that are lessons that I learned, and just gratitude that I brought in and something that I just incorporated into my life was just feeling so thankful to have the capacity or the choice to work in an unconventional way. You know, had I been working at an agency and I would have taken it up to the boss and they would have, hopefully come up with an answer and given it to me, and that’s great. But knowing that I was able to figure that out on my own, and then I was able to do it in an unconventional way that you know, relaxed part of my brain to give another part of my brain space to step up and come into the solution, that makes me feel a lot better and more confident and excited about future problem solving, instead of, well, I just had the right people to go ask or I had the right support in place.

So I don’t know if that makes sense. And I feel like that’s a little probably out there for kind of some people, especially in our kind of corporate world, but even people that instead of just like taking a regular sit down meeting, they do walking meetings, things like that, just having the space to work a little bit differently. And not just in the open concept seating or let’s have more conversations and less emails, but really having the freedom and the flexibility to figure out how I work best has been a huge benefit. I do a lot of my best work late at night after hours, because that’s when it’s finally quiet and calm and emails aren’t coming in distracting my brain. You know, and I’m a night owl. So I get to plug in and go knock out a big project. You know, I might work on that from 10pm to 2am, which if you send a 2am email at a traditional corporate world, it’s like, “Whoa, whoa, what is she doing right now?” Like, that’s crazy, you know? But instead, it’s like, “Well, I’m tapping into when I do my best work, and I’m giving myself the freedom to do that.”

Susan: I love this thread that we’re on right now and I want to continue it. But I want to backtrack a little bit first, because you brought something up that I think is worth talking about. And I’m wondering if you have any ideas around it since you have done it. You mentioned the fact that you went to SMU—not a cheap college—you put yourself through college, and then you were still able to go out on your own. I think a lot of people would love to have your experience to be able to work, when they want to work, to be able to do all the things, to be able to take a bike ride in the middle of the day. You know, I mean, I have other friends who are moms who are dropping their kids off between nine and two and they would love to have the freedom instead of going to a corporate or to a part time, whatever to be able to do whatever it is they’re dreaming about from their home. Yet, there are still bills that have to be paid, as is anybody. Talk to us a little bit about maybe even putting yourself through college but financially, what that can look like. And I hope my questions making sense but taking that leap and the financial but being able to do it in a way that still serves your soul. Does that make sense what I’m asking?

Rachael Piper: I think so. Let me try to answer it. And if not, let’s fine-tune it and rework it and wrestle with it a bit. But you know, again, I think so much of it comes to living below our means and just figuring out how much we actually need. I should say, kind of as a society where the minimalism movement, it’s becoming more and more like mainstream. Having traveled quite a bit and sometimes for lengthy periods of time, like 10 weeks at a time. Last year, I worked abroad for five months of the year, and that was really broken out into two times. It was in the Spring and in the Fall each for about two and a half months. So the first time I went out, I took my maximum baggage allowance, right? I’m like, “Oh my gosh, 10 weeks, I need everything.” And I was constantly paying baggage surcharge fees, this and the other in foreign countries that didn’t have as much or as generous of limit as we have in the States. And so the second time that I went out, I learned from that lesson, I was like, “I’m going to take a lot less with me this time.” And so when I originally packed I thought I was really streamlining it. And then I weighed all my bags and stuff that morning, or the night before. And the morning I was heading to the airport, I ended up just dropping another 30 pounds worth of clothing and shoes and whatnot from my bag. And as I was out on the road, I was so grateful to have such a lighter load to carry, I didn’t care that I was wearing the same clothes and having to find places to do laundry more often. That was so much worth it.

So, anyways, I tell that story or that anecdote to say, I think a lot of times we let society or own expectations kind of dictate what we want or how much we need to actually be happy, and we’re in this culture of more and more and more. And I think Warren Buffett says it, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” And so I think that there’s some wrestling that can be done with, “Okay, how much do you really need?” And I’m not saying like, skimp, right? It’s the same that minimalism movement. It’s not saying don’t buy things, it’s saying just buy things you really want. So for how this applies with work, it’s like, work on things that either you really enjoy or that there’s a big return for you, and how much is your time worth versus how much is your financial compensation worth? And how do those balance out with each other? Or having the freedom to work on things you really want to work on versus a project that you hate.

So I don’t know if I answered your question, or if I gave anything that was helpful, but that’s something that I’m kind of continuously retooling in my life and just trying to figure out that full compensation package. For me, I hate grocery shopping. I hate grocery shopping 10 times more when it’s crowded. So for me, I love the fact that I can go grocery shop on a Tuesday morning. But I’m also just not necessarily going to pay to just pick up my groceries because I have the time in my life right now to go grocery shopping on a Tuesday morning. So it’s finding what works for me on the spectrum right now, and then setting up my life in a way that works with that. And that’s not to say that I set my whole life around my grocery shopping schedule, but that’s just one example of you know, okay, I could go the full convenience route. But I don’t mind putting in a little bit of effort as long as that effort isn’t that full effort of, you know, Sunday afternoon incredibly busy shopping time. So I found the right balance for me. Does that help? Or does that answer where you were going with that?

Susan: No, I think it does. I think I was also just thinking about, you know, there are so many of us…I mean, I graduated in 2004 so a few years before you and there were some scholarships and then my parents helped me a little bit, and then I had some financial debt as well. And I think the idea of everybody coming out of college right now, and it’s all over the media is that it’s just so daunting. And I mean, it can be daunting. I mean, my college was not cheap, either. So I think you’re right, and it’s finding the balance of “you don’t necessarily need more.” And they talk about it. I heard somebody speaking about it yesterday about how the generation that is even coming out of school now, they’re not buying houses, they’re not buying cars, a lot of their income is going to pay for these college loans that they took out. And there’s a… I mean, we could talk all day about that, but I do think you’re right, and somehow just finding what works for you, and not necessarily doing what everybody else is doing. Just you have to find what fits you, your personality, your work ethic, your family life, whatever that looks like. So I appreciate you kind of delving into that a little bit.

Rachael Piper: Yeah, so just one more thing to kind of cap that. I think it’s like redefining what success is, right? So the traditional societal definition of success is how much money do you make and what’s your title? Those are the two main components. And I think we’re merging into this kind of new world or new set of priorities and how it all kind of shapes out at the end of the day. So for me, I’m reexamining what success means in my life. And I encourage my friends and family to do that as well. You know, because there’s some study that was done that’s like, you know, for basically, once you hit $60,000 a year, then your level of happiness doesn’t increase the same way with dollars, right? So going from $40,000 a year to $60,000 a year, you’re going to see a big jump in the happiness of that person. But going from 60 to 80, you’re hitting a point of diminishing returns. And then I think it’s like after 80 or something, it’s negligible. And I know that that’s going to be different for every person, and we’re talking about averages here. But it’s that. It’s, if you have enough to take care of the things that you have to take care of, and have enough in the bank and in the security and this that and the other, then instead of just piling on to that, maybe removed some of the stains, maybe it’s about less and not more is a fuller picture. It’s something that we have to…

And then it’s going to change at different life stages and depending on what’s going on. If you have something come up and illness or your house catches on fire or your car gets stolen, or…There are the things that, yeah, you’re going to need to shift and make more money to take care of these items or this financial pressure. But if you don’t have as much financial pressure that instead of just making money and making that your major priority, what if you spent that energy on other things that make you more happy? And that is a fuller picture of success instead of just a financial picture of success.

Susan: Yeah, I think that’s a very good point. And I like the way you put that, the difference in how we view success, not only as individuals, but it as a society and how that is shifting, and how that definitely needs to shift within ourselves somewhat. I want to go back…Now I kind of want to jump forward again. We were going down the trail of your travel and some of the things that you’ve been able to do out of the country, and I can’t remember where we left off, but I’ll just ask the question. You sent me something that I thought was interesting, and I’d never heard the term before. But when I looked it up, I was like, “Oh, this makes total sense.” The idea of being a digital nomad and how you did that, and why you did that, would you kind of share a little bit about what that is for my audience who may not know and how you were able to achieve that?

Rachael Piper: Sure. So, I would say that it is something that is kind of currently being defined, but it’s just sort of this movement that there can be freedom in how we work, and especially with how much of us really just require a laptop and Wi-Fi to get our jobs done that you can essentially work from anywhere. So, that was appealing to me that that was my story, that’s what I need, I need my laptop and good Wi-Fi. So, in 2018, that’s when I spent five months working abroad, the first section of that, I went through a company to – they basically took care of arranging your housing and a workspace and some community events, and then were also there for support. So if the Wi-Fi went out, here’s a hotspot, sort of a buffer, if you will. And then that company actually ended up going bankrupt in the summer. So when I did it in the fall, I just kind of did my own itinerary with some friends that I had made through the first part of this travels in that first month.

It was an amazing and transformative experience. It’s not a sustainable lifestyle for me. For other people it is, but if it is something that you’re interested in, or curious about, I would highly recommend you giving it a go. There are different companies that you can use to kind of set up those logistics for you and to kind of introduce you to the community. And it’s really the connecting to the community that’s the major benefit as far as I’m concerned because like, I could talk all day about the benefits of it. And I call them by travel friends and my travel family but I talked to those people in those connections pretty much every day now, at least somebody from that group. And we’re so supportive of each other, and there’s just such different perspectives that we bring.

So it might be a friend who is a lawyer, and so they’re bringing their perspective to me, or has done a lot, in finance or is a writer, or is an executive admin. I mean, everybody just has these different skill sets that we wouldn’t normally interact with or wrestle our projects with together or just for fun kind of scope out new business creation ideas. But it gave me just such exposure to people and cultures, and even just being in these other countries and what role work plays in their life and in their culture versus what we’ve been taught, and just figuring out ways to get it done and working on different time schedules. Like when I was in Bali for a month, I’m pretty sure I saw the sunrise every single day because I would be up having conference calls that might start at go from 3am to 7am. And that would be my work day, and then I would have my whole day to literally go chase waterfalls, or ride my scooter around or go sit in the workspace and ID-A. Is that how you say it, ID-A? Anyways, just go talk about ideas with my peers. And I’m using kind of “ peers” because in this world and in my regular life, I don’t know that they would necessarily be my peers. Like professionally, some way above, others a little below or age, travel experience. I mean, we just range from such a spectrum of life experiences, yet we’re all peers. So you might have this person who’s high power and always in control, and now they need help navigating around this ghetto crazy town on a scooter and parking your scooter and having to get a cow to move in order to do that, and all the sudden this really powerful person is kind of helpless in that situation almost. And here’s this other person that’s really powerful in that situation that might be not a power person professionally, you know? So it just shifted all these power dynamics and stereotypes and just expectation of people and you kind of drop all the labels, and you get right into the heart of individuals. And then you’re there. And you might come from all these different countries, it’s just total…

Susan: Immersion type?

Rachael Piper: Yes, it’s full immersion. And you’re figuring out ways to connect and support each other and take on different perspectives and share a new perspective. And it’s just such a growth opportunity above and beyond getting to work at a cool place. Like, that’s so the undersell. That’s like going to yoga because you think it’s just going to be good exercise or taking an improv class because you think it’s just going to be funny. You know, there are so many more layers to the onion that you don’t fully understand until you go. And caveat this, and I was big about this, i’s not all roses, it is really hard. It is not like living on vacation. It is really, really hard. But just like a lot of things that are really hard, it’s really worth it. So if it’s something that you’re excited by and encouraged by, go experience. Even if it’s the worst thing that ever happened to you, you’ll learn so much about yourself by doing it.

Susan: So let me understand it correctly, you basically hired…It’s not just like you’re traveling and while you’re traveling, you’re working abroad, you are actually put into a situation where you’re with other working professionals who are doing the same thing and you’re kind of like in a community workspace. Is that what this is?

Rachael Piper: Yeah. And there are different ways that it’s configured but if you’re going with a sort of “digital nomad” company…

Susan:Got it. Okay.

Rachael Piper: Yeah. And those people…Nothing’s required, right? So it’s not like you have to go to office hours or you’re going to meet everybody. Like people organically will put together accountability groups or meditation seminars or whatever based off their own interests. Like there was one night in Australia that we did a like post it notes session where everybody would write a problem that they were dealing with, specifically about work or a professional problem. And we would put it up on the board, and then whoever would just go up and they just picked out a problem. And the whole room…Which it was only maybe 10 of us in the room, maybe less than that. But now the whole room is going to work to sort this problem. And so I would solve the problems for a software engineer, because it wasn’t technical problems, it was perspective problems. It was balanced problems. It just required some outside of the box thinking.

Susan: That is really, really interesting. I wonder if things like that exist within the US so that like for those who might be interested in doing something like that, but say they have a family or they need to be home by a certain time or….And not that they wouldn’t travel but they would travel during the week, like fly out on Monday and be back by Thursday or whatever that work life looks like. I wonder if that is a concept that is happening in the States?

Rachael Piper: Yeah, I don’t know if it is, I would love to see it. Maybe the analogy that I would apply to that is kind of like inpatient versus outpatient because if you leave and you come back into your world, you’re going to be tempered by that, versus if you’re there and, you know? My first stop and the first place that I went was to Bali. And so I am geographically about as far from Texas as you can possibly be. And not only did I not know anybody in Bali, I didn’t know anybody who knew anybody in Bali.

Susan: That’s a good point, yeah.

Rachael Piper: My best connection was a friend—and I’m blanking on exactly who it was, but who had previously been to Bali and she was like, “This driver is awesome, and here’s his contact info.” And that was my best and most secure relationship going into Bali. And I had never been to Southeast Asia, right? Like, I am completely out of my depth here. So yes, I definitely think that there is a need for it and a gap to be filled for it domestically but the intensity of it is, I think, heightened by being in a foreign environment and foreign on every level.

Susan: Oh, absolutely.

Rachael Piper: Learning to drive a scooter in Bali is a life skill I will hold with me for forever because you’re not using—there are no rules of the road. The rules of the road are like group mind. So it’s like schools of fish that swim and just happen to know how to do that or birds that flock together. Like that’s what driving in your scooter in Bali is. And I swear to god, one day I saw a man driving his scooter and he had five dogs on that scooter with it. You might see a family of four on a scooter. I mean, it is crazy stuff and I’m like, “Okay, are we yielding here? Is your turn signal on? You know, can I make a left turn here?” All those things, completely out the window and you just have to figure it out. Just like with so much of life, you don’t figure it out by studying it or trying to figure out how to be perfect at it. You figured it out by rolling up your sleeves and getting in and wrestling with it.

Susan: No kidding. You know, I have loved talking with you today. I want to be respectful of your time but I have really enjoyed talking with you today because you just have this not just an entrepreneurial spirit, but a carefree spirit in a way, in a safe way, I would like to say because you’re out there and you’re like figuring out a way to make your career and life work for you. And just the way you’ve put some of the things we’ve chatted about. I’m really impressed. But I really can’t wait for my audience to hear our conversation because I think it brings up…My mind is just going nuts because I think it just brings up so many ideas of “Oh, I could think about this this way or I could do this this way.” And I just really appreciate your perspective. It’s really refreshing. You don’t hear it a lot. And I mean that in a good way, a really good way.

Rachael Piper: Well, that is very kind of you and I’m working on receiving compliments better. I’m resisting all of my impulses, and I’ll just respond with a thank you.

Susan: I love that. I have to work on that, too. I think a lot of us have to work on that. So I totally respect that. I remember talking to you before, and I said, one of the things I always ask is where can we find you online and all of that. And you said, “Well, as a digital marketing consultant, you might find it funny that I don’t have a website.” I still think that’s hilarious. Is there anywhere we can find you, if there’s a personal page that we might be able to see some of your travel pictures or what you’re up to? Do you have a LinkedIn profile? Is there somewhere we can find you? And if no, that is fine, too.

Rachael Piper: mean, I do have a LinkedIn profile. To be honest with you, I don’t even remember the last time I’ve updated but you know, it is there, it does exist. As far as my travel pictures and all of that, no, my friends kind of make fun of me that I use Facebook as a micro blog. But that completely accurate for me, it functions of the journal, a journal that I don’t mind being public to my connected people, and that sort of thing. Like that’s the function it provides for me. It holds so much of my history and I’m able to go back and look at those photos. But even by you asking it, that makes me want to put more stuff out there and make it more accessible for people because the same way that I saw my former roommate go from couch potato to triathlete, because I knew him and I saw that, it made me go feel confident to go get a bike and a spandex, set up and actually go out there and do my first triathlon and get into that world.

So I do think that just exposure and connection just to see…And this is the whole point of your podcast, right? That as everyday people, we can do more than what society told us we could do or do what’s safe. And that safe is another one of those terms that we need to wrestle with and figure out what is safe for us because that’s defined differently for different people.

So yeah, unfortunately, I don’t have a good source to direct you to. I mean, even my Instagram is super boring. It’s just pictures of food I make and my dog.

Susan: Do you have a source that you go to that might be worth sharing with the audience then? Do you have any favorites?

Rachael Piper: I mean, I am a big fan of Brené Brown.

Susan: Yes, ma’am!

Rachael Piper: I think that the work she’s doing is transformative, and I think that she has given me such language and such clarity and perspective that you know, I am a huge Brené Brown fan. And also, the person in this world that I’m probably the biggest fan of outside of my mom and personal connections that I hold very dear to the point that my friends kind of make fun of me about this sort of a running joke, but I have always, always been a huge fan of Dolly Parton. I think that she is iconic. Actually, this is fun fact. My very first profile picture on Facebook before you actually put your own pictures on Facebook was a picture of Dolly Parton. So, yeah, she’s a source that I go to for a lot of just like inspiration and just simple wisdom, but also boldness to live your own life and not to fit into anybody else’s thoughts or expectations. One of her quotes is…Oh, gosh, how does it go? It’s something along the lines of “I’m not going to limit myself…” Oh, goodness, I messed it up. I don’t remember it exactly. But it’s essentially, I’m not going to limit myself based off of who you think I am.

Susan: I love it.

Rachael Piper: Yeah, I’ll find that quote.

Susan: Find it and send it to me, that’d be great.

Rachael Piper: But yeah, so again, sorry, soft answers. I have people I follow in inspiration. And books I read and podcasts I listened to and all of that, but there isn’t a like single primary source and I’m like, “Oh, this is where I would direct everybody.”

Susan: No, it is perfectly fair. And I love that you mentioned Brené brown and Dolly Parton. Brené Brown is one of my faves as well. But anyway, I really appreciate you joining us today. And we could go on for forever and I would love to have you back sometime.

Rachael Piper: Cool. I would love that as well. And thank you for giving me my first taste into the podcast life. I’m honored by it and I’ve appreciated you and how you’ve walked me through this experience and walked with me through this experience. So thank you and I appreciate it.

Outro: Hey, Pod Sisters, thanks so much for joining me today. If you’re enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes or your favorite podcast app 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. We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here community page and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode, as well as any other fun How She Got Here content. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see ya soon.

Recognizing the Skills You Have and Making Them Work for You – with Liz Navarro

We all have skills.  We all have passions.  Marrying them can be tricky.  Combine that with the season of motherhood and it might seem impossible.  Liz Navarro is here to share how she has successfully made her skills work for her in this season of life.

Show Notes:

What if you took a few of the skills that you were really good at and made them work for you no matter the stage of life?  That is exactly what Liz Navarro has done.  Liz is a mom, writer, blogger, Tedx speaker, professor, content creator, and more.  She has taken the skills she has mastered over the years and combined them with her love of writing and launched a new venture in the season of mothering young children.

A few of my favorite take aways from our conversation include:

 – It is totally possible to make the skills you have work for you no matter your season of life

– It is “hard to read the label from inside the bottle.” Gaining perspective is crucial

  • There is room for everyone’s voice, just make sure you speak with authenticity

Liz inspires us to think inside the box we already have.  You might have to punch up an area here or there, but there is a good chance you already have everything you need inside you.  You might just need to take a different look at the puzzle.

Links:

https://www.liznavarroco.com

Ted Talk

Shonda Rhimes speech

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Transcript:

Welcome: 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, I’m so excited to share my guest with you today. My friend, Liz Navarro was on the show a little bit ago to share her experience from the Dallas Women’s March. Today, I’m excited to have her back to share a little about her work as a writer and content creator. We talk a lot about what it’s like being a professional writer, figuring out how to do what you love for a living, and why there’s room for everyone at the table to share their voice; hint, because no one else can share it exactly the way you do. So without further ado, here’s Liz.

Susan: Well, hey, Liz, thank you so much for agreeing to join me today, you are my first repeat guest, because you were so kind to share your experience with the Women’s March back in March. Was it was in March? No, it was January, it was January. Yeah, it was January. But anyway, you came on to chat with us today about what you actually do for a living. And for my audience out there, Liz and I collaborate together on a regular basis. But I wanted you to come on today and kind of share your experience of writing and writing as a professional. Yeah, so I’m just going to let you take it away.

Liz Navarro: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for having me back. It’s fun to be back here and talking about another subject that I really like. So as you mentioned before, I have a communications business for women and entrepreneurs or professional women and entrepreneurs, and I help them create a lot of content. So basically, what I would say that I do is I help people put their dreams and their goals and their ideas into words. And then I help them to put that in front of the right audience. And that is something that we’ve collaborated on in the past. But I do that through a couple of different avenues. One is that I write copy and I take on clients who are often entrepreneurs who have to create a lot of content, maybe someone who has a podcast or somebody who has a website where they publish articles very often, or somebody who writes email marketing campaigns to send to their audience frequently. And I help take on a little bit of that content and write it for them in their voice for their brand and really help to develop that out. Because it is such a time consuming task to be a content creator and have to be constantly coming up with these ideas and articulating them.

So that’s something that I do. And then I also am an educator. I teach public speaking. And I also teach content creation and message creation to professionals and to undergraduates at SMU here in Dallas. And so under the entire umbrella of my business, basically, what I’m doing is creating these messages based on other people’s goals and their ideas and in their voices, and I’m helping them create that and send it to the people that really need to hear them.

Susan: And I really admire how you’re able to use other people’s voices. When I see something you’ve written for me, I’m like,”Wow, that actually sounds like I wrote that.” I didn’t put this in our list of questions, but how are you able to accomplish that?

Liz Navarro: You know, honestly it’s like playing dress up a little bit. It’s like dressing in different people’s outfits or putting on a different outfit and writing in the voice that that person sounds like. And it’s something that I feel like I’m able to do, but only when that person or that client, someone like you, really has honed in on what their voice is already like. So because you have a specific way that you write and that you speak and that you come across in your podcast, I can capture that and I can imitate it. I can identify different phrases that you use frequently or I can identify how you greet people, how you open up how you close, and I can use those patterns in writing. And I can do that same thing for other clients, as long as they’ve kind of started to hone in on what their voice sounds like, too. And if they haven’t yet, it’s something that we work on together. How do you create a voice that sounds personal? How do you write in the same way that you speak so that when you’re talking to your ideal audience or to your client, they feel like they’re talking to a person and not to an abstract organization or something that feels kind of cold and more distant?

And so it’s fun for me because I do get to take on different personality sometimes and write in different ways. And when I write my own content, I feel like I like to take on my own voice too. And so it keeps me from getting bored in my own writing because it’s like I get to have multiple personalities to play with.

Susan: And multiple personalities in a good way.

Liz Navarro: Yes.

Susan: That’s really funny.

Liz Navarro: In a good way, yeah. It’s kind of like juggling a lot of different concepts in my head at one time. But I think people who are writers, or anyone who writes creatively, kind of knows how it feels like if you’re writing for different characters, if you’re writing fiction, you have to make them sound a certain way. And to me, it all comes back to really just capturing some of the simple things, imagining what would someone say if they were here? How would they say hello? How would they want to greet their audience? What is the catchphrase that they use frequently? And just trying to incorporate that into your writing?

Susan: Well, what you do for a living sounds really fun. And I’m wondering—and I’m not kidding, not everybody can do it. I certainly cannot. And I wonder if you could share with our audience, how you came full circle with making this happen for a career? What was your life like before? What was your past life like? When did you start writing? Could you share a little bit about that with us?

Liz Navarro: Yes. How long do you have? No. I will give you the summarized version. And you’ve probably heard some of this before, Susan. But as far as writing goes, it’s something that I’ve always liked to do, even I mean, when I was really young and elementary school, it’s something that I felt like I was good at. And that serves me really well all the way through school because half the time when you’re a student, that’s how you’re evaluated. It’s how well are you able to communicate your ideas? And so I felt like I could thrive in that.

But I really didn’t pursue writing as a profession at the beginning of my career, so I studied communications instead. And I studied things like advertising and marketing, which I use a lot now. And I went to school at Pepperdine in Malibu, California. So that was really fun. And since it’s near Los Angeles, a lot of the communications jobs are in media type of communication, which is just fun when you’re young and you’re from Idaho, which is where I’m from, which is not the heart of media, or TV or celebrities. And so I studied communications, and I worked for Bone Appetit magazine, but I wasn’t a writer there. I loved the idea of being a writer, but I was working in their ad sales office. And it was fun and it was a great entry-level job. But it wasn’t ultimately really fulfilling what I wanted to do. So I went back to school, and I studied education, which seems like a departure a little bit from what I was doing. But I wanted to teach English and wanted to teach other people how to write and how to read. And it was something that I always, that would just be a really fun, I guess skill to have.

And so I taught English for a couple of years in Los Angeles, in urban schools. And that part of my career taught me so much, it really taught me to be a teacher, it taught me ultimately something that I do every day, which is anytime you’re going to show up in front of a classroom or in front of an audience or in front of people through writing, you need to have a clear objective of what they need to walk away with that day, and then you need to step by step, get them there. And now that I’m working with clients, and I’m helping them write speeches, and I’m helping them write podcast episodes, or just website material, that concept really drives me. I always ask my clients, what do you want your audience to get from this? What do you want them to know? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to be able to do? And I learned all of that through teaching English.

And so ultimately, after I taught for a couple of years, I started teaching at the college level. And I was teaching public speaking and communications, which is something that I continue to do now. And my husband and I have since moved to Dallas. And since moving here, I have kept little bits and pieces of all of those parts of my career. And I’ve cobbled them together into the business that I have now. So I do write for people, for clients, I write articles for publications, I teach as an educator, and I just use all those skills that I picked up along the way. It’s something that I say a lot, because I did pivot so often in my early career, even though everything was really tied to this ability to want to communicate really clearly and to help people say their ideas in the best way possible. But at the time, it didn’t feel like all of those pivots were on purpose. And just now am I getting to a point where in my own business, I can make it seem like I was doing all of those things on purpose.

So it’s been really nice to get to this other side of exploration and take everything that I learned and to really intentionally use it in my own business. So that’s where I am now.

Susan:That is really cool. And it’s really interesting how everything really just came full circle for you. That’s really inspiring to me. I think that’ll resonate a lot with our audience just because, you know, I remember growing up, it was one of those things, you go to college, you get come out, you get a job. And then, at least from my parents generation, and maybe even the generation before, you stayed with that one company your entire life, you know, you retired there, there was a chance of a pension there. And the world really does not work like that anymore. And I kind of feel like where we’re at in life, we might have been this first, maybe the second group wave of people in life who really have to do those pivots in order to figure out where your career is going to go. So I really appreciate you sharing that, and that they weren’t all on purpose, even though looking back, it looks like they were.

Liz Navarro:  Yeah, like I work with a lot…Because I teach undergrads who are just about to graduate, and they are making these major decisions in their life that they feel so much pressure to know what their 10 year, 20 year, 50 year plan is for their career. And I felt an immense amount of pressure upon graduating as well. And something that’s been nice for me to know that I only know in hindsight and with time is that no matter where you change your mind, you’re always moving forward, you know, once you get to a certain place, every one of those steps you can bring together. And so for me, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted my career to look like. But I knew the types of things that I like to do. And something that I always like to do was writing and communicating and educating. And so those are themes that have served me in my career, even though they’ve looked really different at different seasons in my life.

And you’ll relate to this to Susan, because I know you are a mom as well. And this business has kind of been the one that grew out of my season of having young children because I have two daughters; they’re two and a half and almost six months old. And so my business that I have now started as part time projects that I was doing, in addition to staying home with my oldest daughter, and I do it full time now. But it’s kind of something that wasn’t—it feels intentional, but it was also just born out of the season of life that I’m in and using the skills that I have, and networking and making strong connections. And I think one of the coolest things about the time that we live in is that we have so much access to opportunities. I can have a business. And I can run it mostly from my house and going to meetings and meeting people in coffee shops, or I can meet clients virtually. And because of that, I think we do have a lot of flexibility in what we choose to do in our careers. And as someone who does change her mind often, I do appreciate living in a time where I feel like I can be flexible and I feel like I can change and grow what I’m doing as long as I really hone in on a couple of consistent skills that I’m using throughout my career.

Susan: Well, you kind of answered my next question for me.

Liz Navarro: Sorry.

Susan: No, no, I think that’s great. I appreciate your realness of it. I was going to ask you, you know, what is your day-to-day like because I think the Instagram that we see of writers that we all know and love. And I’ve got a few in my head that I’m thinking about are posting these wonderful pictures of themselves sitting on a patio with a warm cup of coffee, and the ocean is in front of them or a lake is in front of them. And they’re just sitting there contemplating life and writing their stories. And that’s just not reality, huh?

Liz Navarro: That sounds so nice. Well, we do live in Texas. So the ocean is much farther away than it used to be when I lived in Los Angeles. But no, my day to day looks really different. I am being the…I’m such a stereotype right now, I’m in yoga pants, and I have a topknot and I’m at my house while we do this interview. So that’s the glamour of what my day looks like. But I think we were talking about this earlier, Susan, but there is this idea of this concept of being a writer that I think all of us have ingrained in ourselves that it’s someone who goes somewhere very serene, and they think and they come up with this masterpiece, and then they submit their novel or their long editorial piece to a publication and they publish it. And I thought about, I think because I had that concept of being a writer throughout my life, that’s the only reason I didn’t pursue being a professional writer from the get go. Because that, I’m a little bit risk averse, and that seems really intimidating. And it seems really hard to make it that way, you know, to be a best selling writer or a New York Times columnist, it seems so competitive and like so much pressure. And I didn’t pursue that career.

And so what my life as I could say, now that I’m a professional writer, because people hire me to write for them, it’s a major— it’s probably 80% of what my business is. Now that we live in a place where or in an era where people are constantly needing to create content, to market themselves and to grow an audience and to really, truly connect with people because people are connecting to not advertisements anymore, but content that serves them in some way in their life. And in order to create that someone has to be writing it. And because we live in that era, I have realized that you don’t have to be the writer that goes and sit. I mean, it would be lovely to go and sit in my ocean house and write all by myself. That sounds like a fantastic vacation I should take right now.

Susan: Yes, I’m going with you.

Liz Navarro: Yeah, let’s go. I think we need that break. But you know, you can be a writer, if you network with people, and you meet entrepreneurs, or you meet content creators, or you meet someone who has a blog, or has a website or sends a newsletter. Behind all of those people is someone writing content, and it’s probably someone who looks and feels very tired. And so if you are someone who feels like you’re good at writing, if you write quickly, if you can adopt other people’s voices and personas, if you are an English teacher at heart, and you understand the ins and outs of grammar and how to connect people, you can make money as a writer from your house just meeting these different contacts, working with them online or via email or on phone calls, and helping them generate and create content. And a lot of my days, that’s what it looks like. It’s either a day where I am at home working and writing either for myself or other people, or putting together a script for a podcast episode or helping somebody developed exactly what kind of copy should go on their homepage. Or sometimes at the meeting in person where we go and we meet and we talk about strategy, and it’s in a coffee shop somewhere. Or sometimes my day is in a classroom where I’m teaching people these concepts that I’m doing every day in my professional life.

And so it looks a little bit different each day. I loved having that kind of variety and flexibility. I talked about changing my mind a lot. So I think it keeps me grounded to have my days look a little bit different every single day and every single week. But that’s kind of what it looks like from here. It’s a lot of me doing it from home. It’s a mix of working by myself and working with other people, which also balances me really well. I’m kind of an introvert/extrovert so I need both. And so yeah, that’s a little bit of what my day and my week looks like.

Susan: For those of my listeners who are regular content creators, well, and maybe even for those who aren’t who have no idea what a day in the life of a content creator looks like, would you give us a peek into your idea or your brainstorm process of where you kind of start with a project and then how you get from point A to point B?

Liz Navarro: Yeah, so that word content creators thrown around a lot. Content creators are bloggers, podcasters YouTubers, people who have a website, people who write articles, even people who just show up frequently on social media platforms, anybody whose business grows, because they are consistently producing some piece of content, whether it’s just a little caption or a full article that is reaching out to their audience. And so that’s what a content creator is. And if I am working with somebody like that, my brainstorm process, typically starts, in the best case scenario, with really, I go behind the scenes. And so for you, Susan, for example, I would go listen to a lot of your podcast episodes, I would read through everything on your website, I would figure out as much as I can about you to understand what is your brand? Who are you? What are the different quirks about your personality that make you different than other podcasters who are reaching women? And then I would ask you a lot of questions, I would ask you something like, who is your ideal audience that you’re trying to reach? And what do you offer her? And what are the things during her day that are hard for her? What are her pain points? What are the things that she wishes she had a great solution or a great answer for? How does she feel?  Who wants to talk to her?

And so it’s a lot of question and answer. And I would do that with really in content creator, from somebody who’s writing financial content, to somebody who’s a realtor selling real estate, to a podcaster, to an executive coach really getting behind the psychology of who they’re talking to first, and then how they want to talk to them. And then we would start to really answer the specific questions about, okay, now that we know that ideal audience, where do they show up? Are they on Instagram? Are they in email? Are they on LinkedIn? How can you show up there and start offering them something that serves them, something that is solving their problems, or giving them information that they really want, or making their life a little bit easier, or happier or brighter. And so we create an entire strategy around that. And then with most of my clients, we start to divide and conquer; I take on some of it, and they take on some of it and we start to kind of write and create this content that’s going to really reach their audience and hopefully help grow their audience in the process.

Susan: And I really appreciate the collaboration piece, that has been something that’s very, very helpful for me. One of the things that we talk about a lot is why it is so hard for us to write for ourselves versus other people? And I think I’ve even told you before, I could sit here and write something like a blurb about you, no problem, lickety split. But sometimes sitting down and writing about ourselves is difficult. Would you mind sharing your thoughts on that?

Liz Navarro: Yeah, absolutely. I think that every single person that I work with has that sentiment, maybe there’s an exception, but even I have that sentiment, and I write for a lot of people. But it takes me way longer to write a blog post for my own website than it takes me to write a podcast episode for someone else’s podcast. And I think…I mean, this is just a hypothesis. I’m not sure of the psychology behind it, but we are so in it with our own thoughts. We can’t navigate through them easily because there’s so many details and minutiae, and every little moment of our life is in the background informing the thing that we’re thinking and creating. And if somebody from an outside perspective comes in, they don’t have all that clutter. So if I’m going to write a podcast episode for someone else, I can just say, what’s this thing about? And what is your voice? And what are the four main points that you want it to communicate? And I can write that out really simply because I’m not lost trying to navigate through all of that, I don’t know, those background ideas and concepts. And I think that’s why so often, people do want to outsource copywriting. That’s why I’m in business, because it’s hard to write for yourself, even if you’re a good writer. And it’s hard to write for yourself often because I don’t know if you feel this way, Susan…Actually, I know you do feel this way because we work together. But if you write a lot of content for yourself, like you generate podcast episodes every other week, and you send emails and you write social media captions, it feels like you’ve said everything that there is to say, it just feels like you’ve already written those ideas. And so for someone else to come in, they can put a fresh spin on the same thing, because ultimately, our messages do repeat the same themes very frequently. That’s why our audiences come back to us because they want that consistent branded theme that you offer all the time. But if you’re on the other end, it feels like you’ve said everything and that you’re tired of it, and you kind of run out of creative ways to say it.

And so that’s honestly, like I said, why I’m in business, because it helps to get an outside perspective. I listen to a lot of podcasts on business and writing and even, you know, our thoughts and things like that. And somebody said, “It’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle.” And I think about that a lot as my role as a copywriter. I’m on the outside, I can read your label for you and I can quickly turn that around. And that’s really helpful to a lot of the people that I work with.

Susan: I really liked that, quote, “it’s hard to read the label from inside the bottle.”

Liz Navarro: I wish I knew who said it, maybe we can look it up.

Susan: I will look that up. That is good stuff.

Liz Navarro: We just get so stuck in our own head sometime.

Susan: Well, one thing I want to ask you—and I really want to ask you, because before I started this podcast, I really wish I had had somebody ask it for me before this platform ever existed. And that’s if you were thinking about hiring a content creator, and maybe even when you’re thinking about taking on a client, what are some of the questions you would want to ask them and why?

Liz Navarro: Yeah, so if you are thinking of hiring a content creator, and that could be a writer for you or it could be, I would consider a graphic designer, someone who’s going to produce a video for you, it doesn’t really matter what medium, but they’re going to make you something that will be a part of your brand. I think that before you do that as a brand, and this is something you’re good at Susan, you, yourself need to have a clear idea or a little bit of an idea of what kind of brand you offer first. To me, as someone who writes for other people. I’ve run into this a couple of times where somebody wants me to be able to articulate really what they do and who they’re talking to. But it’s really difficult, I found, for me to be able to come up with the magical words and phrases that communicate that if they don’t know what they do, or who they’re speaking to.

And I do think with every brand those concepts will, they’ll evolve as your brand grows. So maybe what you do now is it what you’re going to do next year, and maybe your audience will change a little bit or the style of your content will change a little bit. But at the very least, I like to work with clients like you who have a pretty clear idea of what they want to create first, because I can’t create them content that’s on their brand if they haven’t established that. Does that make sense?

And so earlier, when I talked about asking people a lot of questions when I first start working with them, the types of questions that I come in and ask are really about who do you want to be speaking to? And what are the problems that you’re going to solve for them? And how are you going to solve those problems a little bit differently than somebody else is going to solve those problems. And so when I write those are some concepts that I think of. If someone were communicating a video or creating a logo for you, or designing a website for you, I still think they would want to know, like, who’s going to visit this website? What does that person like to do? What do they like to think about? Why are they visiting the website in the first place? And it’s going to help them create something that feels more authentic for you, I think. So that’s been my experience.

Susan: I think that’s a fair statement. I think one of the things that really made me realize that we would work well together as we actually had the opportunity to meet randomly outside business at all in a social setting, and I could tell just by the rapport that we had with each other, you know, we were just able to have a conversation that I was like, “Okay, this is worth giving this a shot, because I can just talk to this person.” And I think so oftentimes, you know, you’re starting a business, and you get these references, and you just think, “oh, I’ll call this person and they can do it,” you know, or,  “this person recommended somebody, and I’ll just use you they used.” And it just doesn’t—personalities just don’t always mesh well together. And I think I had that problem. When I first launched, I had hired somebody to help me, you know, write some copy for the website, just because it was so much to take on. And I really just couldn’t do it all myself. And we just didn’t click and I could tell from the beginning. And we just kept trying. And we kept trying. And we kept trying. And finally I was like, “You know, look, I really appreciate your help. I really appreciate what you’re trying to do but I just don’t think we’re a good fit.” And I think finding fit is so important.

Liz Navarro: I think you’re so right. And I think that’s also something I’ve learned because just like I would ask my, you know, clients to know their audiences really well. I personally, as my business has grown, I have learned who I work with the best. And you’re not going to be surprised. I like to work with women, I like to work with women who have a message that I think is somehow empowering or resonating or helpful to other women. And so there are certain things that I as a content creator need to know about myself too, you know, so not all of the responsibility is on the other party on whether or not it works. That chemistry between you and whomever is going to be on your team is really important. And I think in my longest lasting client relationships, the main thing that’s been there is just something that is kind of intangible, but would you want to go hang out with this person outside of work? Would you want to go and get a cup of coffee with them? Because honestly, like Susan, if I were, and we have, to go out and get a cup of coffee with you, and I spend an hour talking to you, that’s going to make me a better copywriter for you because I get to hear your ideas, and I get to hear you speak, and I get to understand a little bit more about what makes you tick. And so I’m going to create better content for you because I know you and it. I mean, it doesn’t always work so well in every sort of client relationship. But I think ultimately, in a perfect world, you do want to find people that have that energy and that chemistry with you.

Susan: Well said, well said. One thing… Well, I’ll ask you this question first. What is the one thing you think everyone should know about being a writer or content creator for a living?

Liz Navarro: There are so many, I guess, I’m having a hard time boiling it down to one thing. I think a message that has I that’s been really important with me to communicate lately, because a lot of people, maybe people that I went to college with, and we had similar majors or people who are in the same season of life as I am: new Parenthood, or people who want to change career direction, but they don’t really know how I something that a lot of people ask me, well, how can I make money as a writer or a content creator? I’m a good writer; I don’t know how to make money as one. So for me, I think one thing that I would want everyone to know is that like, if you want to do that in your career, you absolutely can. I think a lot of people’s concern in creating content, let’s say somebody wants to create a podcast or start a blog or a website, a lot of people say, well, somebody’s already done it, like somebody already has the exact podcasts that I would want to have so there’s no more room, there’s no need for people to listen to me. I don’t have anything new to say, I don’t have anything interesting to say.” And I really like to challenge that with all of my clients. I think everybody’s story and background and perspective and goal and vision is different. And if you can get really clear on what yours is, and you can communicate it really well, then there is a space for you to exist and to create content. And people will want to consume the content that you create, because it’ll just be different.

And so I think that’s what I would want people to know that there is room for everybody. And as long as they find ways to make their content really true to themselves and not totally replicate what other people are doing but to really find how to tell their own story and their own unique way, then there’s a space for them, and they can do it and they can monetize it. I really do believe that. It’s not always easy. It’s not always easy to figure it out and grow it and to experiment with it. And it takes a lot of time and a lot of creativity. But I really think it’s possible.

Susan: That was so well said. Oh my gosh! I’m over here going, “Yay. Are you kidding me?” I’m so glad. I’m really, really so glad you said that. That just made me. I mean, you should see the smile on my face right now. Because you are absolutely right. Yes, it’s exactly what this podcast is all about. You find your thing and you go do it and you don’t worry about it. There are other people in the space doing it because if it’s that heavy in your gut or in your heart or in your soul or in your brain or however you want to put it, then it’s something you’re supposed to be doing. So you better figure out a way to do it.

Liz Navarro: Yeah, absolutely.

Susan: Oh, I love that. I love that you said it that way. You see, you’re so good with words. It’s a good thing you write for a living.

Liz Navarro:  Oh, thank you.

Susan: Before I ask you where we can find you on social media, I thought of another question that I didn’t write down but who are some of your favorite writers?

Liz Navarro: Oh, okay. Immediately, Shonda Rhimes jumped into my head.

Susan: Nice.

Liz Navarro: I love Shonda Rhimes so much. And if anybody isn’t familiar with her, she is the writer, producer, creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder and a lot of other really fantastic TV shows. And she also has a speech online and I show it in every public speaking class that I ever teach. And it from a True Hollywood Access, she got an award and called the Sherry Lansing something award and she gives an acceptance speech about breaking through the glass ceiling, and it is my favorite speech. And so she’s someone who has a command of words, but who also doesn’t apologize for it. And she creates these really strong women characters who just make me want to stand up and cheer at my TV. So she’s probably someone that I really love as a writer. And I like that she writes in a lot of different mediums, she gives speeches, she creates TV shows, that’s the beauty of, like I said, being alive today, you don’t have to just write an article that’s going to be published in the newspaper or a magazine. There are so many ways to tell stories. So she’s one. And I can probably give you so many more, as you know, I taught high school English for two years, because I love the classics. My second daughter, Phoebe’s middle name is Scout because I love To Kill a Mockingbird. So I love so  much classic literature. But I also just love anyone who can write a lead female character who is strong, and unapologetic, and smart in going after what she wants. That’s typically what I want to read every day.

Susan: Well, you know, this audience, and even if it’s just an audience of one is here for all of that.

Liz Navarro: I know.

Susan: Every day.

Liz Navarro: We have that chemistry we talked about.

Susan: You just keep preaching. Okay, so I want to be respectful of your time. I have had so much fun having you on today. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for coming to hang out with me

Liz Navarro: Thank you, yes.

Susan: Before we let you go, though, where can we find you online, on social? Where are you at? Where do you hang out?

Liz Navarro: Well, I have a website. And you can find that at Liznavarroco.com. Navarro is spelled N-A-V-A-R-R-O. And so that’s my primary website for my business. I write a blog there, too. And I talk about parenting, being an entrepreneur. I talk about writing for a living, public speaking, I have a lot of cool resources that are there, I have a quiz on my website. So if you’re trying to find your voice, and you want to know what voice style you have, you can take my website quiz. It’s kind of just a fun little tool. So that’s the first place. And then I would say my favorite social network is Instagram. And you can find me @lizrosenavarro for my Instagram. I’m also on Facebook and LinkedIn as Liz Navarro. So I’ve got a presence pretty much everywhere.

Susan: Sweet. And we I will make sure to go and link that on all of our stuff on our website. So if don’t like try to pull over, like crash your car, if you’re listening to this in the car. I will make sure just head on over to the website and I will link it all there.

Well, Liz, thank you so much for coming on today. It was so fun to chat with you. I guess we jump off this call and you know, chat about more content if you want. But I will chat with you soon, friend, I really appreciate you being here.

Liz Navarro:Yeah, of course. Thank you so much. This was really fun.

Outro: Hey, Podsisters. Thanks so much for joining me today. I really hope you enjoyed my conversation with Liz. And if there is anything rolling around in your head that you feel like you need to write, or you need to say, take the leap and try it. Just try it. And you know what? Shoot it to me. I would love to listen to it. I would love to read it. If you’re enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes, or your favorite podcast app, 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 and Instagram post you leave. And I’m always, always, always excited to hear your feedback. We also have a private Facebook group, The How She Got Here community page and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode, as well as any other fun how she got here content. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see you soon. 

Starting From the Ground Up with Hype Freedom School Founder, Brandi Brown

Have you ever found yourself totally out of your element?  How did you handle it?  Were you able to grow from it?  Brandi Brown, founder of Hype Freedom School found herself out of her element at Southern Methodist University.  When she expressed an interest to “come home” she was connected with an organization that would change the trajectory of her life.

Show Notes:

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you ever really found and followed your calling?  Brandi Brown did just that.  After graduating from Southern Methodist University she set out to establish a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School in her hometown of Houston, TX. 

In this episode, Brandi shares her experience of attending SMU and how a connection with a fellow Mustang (the SMU mascot) lead to an opportunity with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School in Dallas, TX that changed the trajectory of her life.

A few of my favorite take aways include:

– Nobody gets where they are in life without the help of others

– Starting something from the ground up is not easy

  • You cannot care for other if you haven’t cared for yourself first

Links:

Hype Freedom School – website

Hype Freedom School – Facebook

Hype Freedom School – Instagram

Hype Freedom School – Twitter

Children’s Defense Fund – website

Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School – website

Transcript:

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

Susan: Hey, Pod Sisters, there is nothing that unlocks possibility in this country more than education. It is the key to everything. As a first gen college student, I can attest to this firsthand. Today, my guest is Brandi Brown. Brandi is originally from Houston is a graduate of SMU and is the founder of Hype Freedom School. Please note that at about the 36 or 37-minute mark, it gets pretty loud in the background. What I want you to know is that that is the sound of about 100 amazing young women attending the Marvelous Girls Summit on the campus of SMU.

You might remember our friend, and previous pod guest, Shanterra McBride, founder of Marvelous University. Well, she put on a summit for young girls and Brandi and I were both there to help and support her. And while we were there, I had the opportunity to catch up with Brandi and learn a little bit more of her story, and I took it. I cannot wait to share our conversation. So without further ado, here is Brandi.

Susan: Well, first, tell me a little bit about how you got started with Hype, how all of this, how this dream got started. Tell us a little bit of your background story.

Brandi: Sure, sure. So of course, I can’t talk about Hype without talking about my life because it has become my life. So I met Shanterra, and actually it’s amazing that we’re here because I was a student at SMU. I actually was born and raised in Houston and really did not have—I guess I knew I was going to go to college but it wasn’t a like this dream of this is the college I’m going to, right? And so was introduced to the concept of going to college, but then it was like, “Yeah, why not? Sure, I’ll go to college?” So, went to a predominantly African American School, grew up in a predominantly African American neighborhood. Really now as an adult, I know was an underserved community. It was just my community growing up, so I didn’t really know what that meant or what that looked like.

And so it was kind of grew up in this high school. There was some exposures that we had to colleges and college fairs and college days, and we went to this one college fair at the school and SMU was there and they were like, “Okay, we’re looking for students to sign up for Mustang Monday. You have a trip, you come on Sunday night and you spend Monday on the campus and then you see the campus and decide if we want to go.” So a group of us in our class thought, “Will we miss school on that day? Perfect. Sign us up.” So I have a twin sister. So I must start with that. I tell people…It’s great. It’s on a podcast. But oftentimes, “Are you…? Do I know you?” But anyway, so my sister and I and a group of our friends came to SMU and we did Mustang Monday, totally hated the campus.  I did not like, I was like..The people…I mean, now I know who was hosting us. Were like the Association of Black Students, a lot of the sororities and fraternities, like they were our host. And we even stayed in the dorm room with some of them. But I just didn’t like the campus. I was like, “It’s okay,” like it definitely was not as beautiful as it is now. I knew it was a beautiful campus, but just in my little closed mind, I just did not, you know, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.

So then things got a little bit closer to our graduating time and SMU had sent kind of this package, and it looked like it was good. And my mother, of course, was aware of SMU but we just didn’t know anything about it, like her colleagues at work shared with her what SMU is about, but I grew up with a single mother. I was raised by my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother had nine children and out of her nine children only one of them graduated from college. And so my aunt was really instrumental about college is the way, like this is the option that we want for them. And my mother didn’t–she went to college for two years, and she got pregnant with me and my sister and so then she didn’t go to school anymore. So she relied a lot on others to be able to kind of guide our educational career.

And so, I don’t know, we decided that we would do SMU. We have a cousin so she got accepted SMU and it was kind of this thing like, “Okay, we’re gonna send our children to SMU.” And SMU had a Summer Bridge Program. The funny part again, being young you don’t really know all the ins and outs but this summer bridge program was, I know now, for minority students who had low SAT and ACT scores but had very high GPA’s in school. So I graduated number two in my class but I’m sure my SAT scores were crazy, like it was like, “Somebody’s going to accept me, right? Surely there’s a college out there that would accept me.”

But we signed up for the for the Summer Bridge Program, which was a really good program, like I don’t know where, you know, what colleges are doing now, but what it did, it got us acclimated to the campus. I kind of felt like “Oh, this is cool.” But we were with about 22 other students and they all kind of look like I did. They had similar backgrounds of me. The first day of class, I came out of class, I stood on the steps of Dallas Hall, and I was like, “Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many white people in one place personally.” Like I like a lot, “Oh my goodness!” So I saw my sister and I was like, “Were there any black people in your class?” Because all Summer now we have taken classes with our Summer Bridge students the whole time. Where did everybody go? So that was a like aha moment like, “Oh, so this is…” And I remember that being the case when we came down for the college visit and I remember thinking I don’t like it but didn’t really know what I didn’t like.

And so I did it. I made it through the first semester, I made it through the second semester, got pretty acclimated. But my second year, I didn’t want to come back. I just…I was like, “I can’t relate to the people there. They live a lifestyle I know nothing about.” So I felt like even the African American students, you know, those that we knew grew up in very diverse communities. And so they had this experience that I didn’t have. And so I just felt like even I didn’t relate to them either. And can remember thinking, “I don’t want to do this.” So in Houston, Prairie View and Texas Southern University, which was to HBCUs have this big—when we were in school was a lot bigger—but had this big Labor Day classic every year. So my mother let us come home to go to the game. I was like, okay, so I go to the game and I came home and I said, “I do not want to go back to that place. Like I don’t want to go back there.” And so my mother was like…She downplayed it and so… I know tears always work so I just sat on a couch and just started crying like, I don’t want to go back there. Like, I don’t feel like I’m at home, I feel out of place. I can’t relate.

Susan: You didn’t find your fit.

Brandi: I did not find my fit. And so my mother as great as she is, asked me if I would stay until the end of the semester, and it is just September, so I’m like semester is a long time from the end of semester. So I agreed, came back and finished that semester. And what she did is she got on the phone and called somebody that she met early on while we were in Summer Bridge and was like, “Can you please talk to her?” This lady introduced me to a gentleman from Oakland who experienced the same thing, but I had already graduated. And so I met with him, and he just, you know, was really just encouraging, just like “You know, you could do it, like just give it a try and try to do your best, be you but understand you will grow a lot and learn a lot.” So I was like, “All right?” And so I kind of finished that semester, and then he was working with a new program. And now, you know, he said, “I want to give you this try to work with this program, you know, to see if you like it,” and I was like, “but I’m trying to go home and the program is in Dallas.” So he’s like,”Just try it.” And I did. It was a summer program. It was the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Program. It was only in its second year here in Dallas, and it was in Oak Cliff. And so it was the first time that I left off the college campus and was able to go in a community that looked like my community, that felt like my community. I saw little children that looked like me when I was a little kid. So it really was an outstanding opportunity for me. But I was young, I was a college student and did not take it very seriously.

So my first couple weeks of the program–five weeks of summer programming, surely you can get to get it together, it just was terrible. So I remember being late to my interview and they let me..I mean, really, really late. They let me do it anyway, they let me interview and it was all because of this man who had given my name, I’m sure. Now being on the other side and I interview people, I’m able to see like they’re, you know, everybody’s trying to put their best foot forward, but you’ve got to give them a shot, right? So I try to be very, very mindful of that now. So I got an opportunity. I was probably late the first two weeks every day. And finally he called me in his office like, “Listen, so you’re either in or you’re out. My name is on this.” And I just remember thinking, “I’ve got to overcompensate now.” And so, I went above and beyond because he called me out. I cannot not let him see me not try my best. And so that was kind of the turning point of me really realizing the great opportunity that I had in working with the youth in the community and look like me. Of course, I was in college so I didn’t get any of that until probably 10 years later.

Susan: Sure.

Brandi: Yes, I’m talking like I really felt all it in now. It was a summer job. I’ve got a job that I thought all right, this is cool. I got a chance to meet some new people with the job. It was training. It was an annual training with college students that are doing Freedom Schools all over the country. It was the first time I was able to see in really interact with other college students that look like me and so I thought that was a really cool because it was like 300 college students that look like me in the same space opposed to being at SMU campus. So I mean at first it was all right. Like the first summer was good. I really went above and beyond, and the director noticed it and she started having the national staff from Children’s Defense Fund come in and sit in my class and observe. I still didn’t think anything of it and finished that summer and came back to SMU. I got acclimated a little bit more. Things were going well. Then I decided…The director called me like that January, February and asked if I would come back and work for the summer. I was like, “Okay.” And she said, I would like you to be the site coordinator, just the site supervisor. I was like, “Okay.” I’m thinking, “Really.” And that was really the turning point where the summer job actually became my lifetime of service. So really, that was the eye opener for me that by that time this was—I started doing Freedom Schools in my rising junior year. And so then they invited me to come back my rising senior year. And I just remember saying, “We need something like this in Houston, right?” Because I’m clear, I’m graduating and I’m going back home.

Susan: You are not staying in Dallas.

Brandi:  Yeah, I’m out of here. I graduated Saturday, in the car back on Sunday. We’re done. So did SMU… I mean, didn’t finish that summer. But I remember going to national training that year, and just asking people like a national training, like how do I do this? How do I start? What do I do? And now I’m always careful how I interact with young adults because you know, you have this huge training. Yeah, 300, 400 college students from all over the country, you’re all in the same space, with the same energy, with the same goals, with the same vision. So everyone is excited about the movement and how they can go back, right? But then we know what happens what people assume with college students, you get excited, then you spend all this time and energy with you and then the idea goes nowhere.

Susan: Yeah.

Brandi: But you spent all this time talking to them. So I can just remember talking to some of the older people that were there who were either in leadership positions with Children’s Defense Fund, or maybe they were running their own Freedom Schools and was just they’re kind of supervising their staff or whatever. And I remember saying, like, how do I start this? How do I start this? And I can remember just several people like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s a good idea. That’s good, baby.” But no one really taking the time just to say like, I mean, these are the steps that you take. And I wind up talking to just this lady who was doing Freedom Schools in Kansas City. And I just asked her like, “How do I how do I go back and start a Freedom School?” And she literally walked step by step with me. Like, “Do you go to church?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” She’s like, “Go to your pastor, talk to your pastor about your idea. Here’s a video that you could show him .” It was on VHS. And I was like, “Okay,” because of course, this is in 1997. So, well, I guess the 96, I started… No, yeah, so 97. So this was in 1998. So I literally sat there, and she told me everything and I wrote everything down. And she said, I mean, who should I talke to? I mean, I talked to my aunts. And I talked to my family and my pastors and just everything she told me, I wrote it down and came back and did it.

Susan: Yeah.

Brandi: And so I remember Children’s Defense Fund, which is…Are you familiar with Children’s Defense Fund?

Susan: Yes.

Brandi: Okay. So, National Advocacy Organization for children at the time, they had annual conferences, and they would travel to different cities for the conferences. And so this particular year it was in Houston and my mother was standing at the copy machine. She was retired from the Court of Appeals. So she’s at the copy machine talking to one of the attorneys and was just saying,”My daughter is interested in doing some kind of program or something and bringing it to Houston.” So this attorney tells her “Oh, my husband likes working with organizations that’s doing services that’s nonprofit or whatever, we should get them connected.” Okay, so I come home and meet with this gentleman, and he’s like, “Yeah, I can help you get that off the ground.” And I invite him to go to Children’s Defense Funds conference because they had a Freedom School workshop.

Susan: Oh, cool.

Brandi: So as I would go to workshop, I’m still in school so I couldn’t come home for the workshop. I was just like, I have class this week, but they have this conference you should go see what it’s all about. So I invited him. My sister was already finished. She finished a semester early because she was trying to get out. So she finished the semester early and she went to the workshop and then this gentleman who really helped us kind of get it off the ground and just talked to us and the steps that we need to do and provided some funding for us.

Susan: That’s awesome.

Brandi: For us to be able to do Freedom School. So he went and got a chance to hear all about it and then immediately after I graduated—I graduated in 99, I started Freedom School. So we did not call it Freedom School because we didn’t have a dime like…

Susan: Sure. Grassroots before grass roots was a thing.

Brandi: Yes, I got a vision. And part of what Sheree is her name share with me. Sheree was just like you know, you talk to your family. You talk to your the people around you and see. And so I asked my family, they all would give. I made little slips of papers. I was like, “Would you make a donation to buy books for children?” And my family would save their little money and give me $25 here, $50 here. And my pastor was able to actually give some kind of startup money. So the first year we did…It just opened up the doors to do this Summer Food Program, which was free. And we did some components of the Freedom Schools program. And then the second year we actually kind of bought the curriculum and the books. They had this model that they don’t have anymore. So we bought the books and the curriculum and had a set of volunteers to work with us. And then we started there. And so really, it started off just me wanting to have a summer program, a safe place for children ago. And then also a place, as I told my mother, that I graduated from SMU, she kept saying, “You should get a job.” I was planning Hype. I was planning how to roll out a Freedom School program. That’s what I say now. Then what I told her was like, “Why do I need a job? Like I get to work for the rest of my life. I live at home. I don’t need a job right now.” So she introduced my sister as a working child, she would introduce me as the child I don’t know what we’re going to do with. Like she got a whole degree from SMU and don’t want to use it. But now I understand that what I really was saying was this is a time that I can use to create the framework of what I felt like God had given me the vision to do. So I often say that that when God calls you to do something, he equips you with people, the resources and the things that you need to make it happen. And so as a very young, young adult, I literally was like, I’m gonna do it. And in my mind what I thought it could be set up just like in Dallas, it was sponsored by a Greater Dallas community churches. I’ll find the equivalent in Houston. I’ll tell them about this amazing program, they will love it so much that they would hire me to run the program, and they will have a Freedom School in Houston.

Susan: It’s just that easy.

Brandi: It is. I went to so many places and I got the door completely shut like, “Oh, that is such a great idea. Are you available Saturday to volunteer with our fashion show?” Or “Oh, that is a great idea. Let me put you in contact with this person to do this. It’s a good idea. Okay. Tell me about that a little bit later.” So a whole lot of that. And finally, my cousin who graduated a couple of years before we did was like, “I think you need a nonprofit.” And I was like, “I don’t want a nonprofit. I just want my own Freedom School.” So she finally convinced me that we would do a nonprofit. And that was kind of the beginning of what it became. I mean, like, I’m amazed now that one, 20 years later, it is still around. And part of that people like, “That is so amazing.” I was just like, but the parents, no one gave me a chance to say you’re going to quit. You know, we are the program. So we look at the Freedom Schools model. You know, I think I credit a lot of my professional development to Freedom Schools because it was that moment when I learned that you’re not only representing yourself, I knew that growing up, like when my mother would drop us off to go away, she would always say, “Listen, you’re not just represent yourself. When you walk out of this house, yes, you’re representing God first, always understand it. So whatever you’re doing, and whatever things that are happening, God sees you. So you are a representation of him, okay?” Then she said, “And then you representing yourself, and so you think what representation you want to have for yourself and at the end, you are representing me. So when you go out, people don’t just always call you Brandi but they also say, Oh, that’s Margie daughter. And so understanding that you’re representing a whole…”

And so when Corey, which was the gentleman, called me into his office and said, “Hey, you know, I put my name on the line for you.” It was that reality check when I realized, “Oh, so I’m standing on his shoulders, on his name and this is something I have to do,” right. So when I think about working with young people now, I spend a lot of time talking about them that the decision that you make not only affect you, it is affecting people all around you and you never know how. And so for me, I just didn’t know how it affected him. But it was a good like, “Listen, get yourself together.” So for me, the professional development and the leadership development of that was awesome, you know it saved who I am and made me who I am today, because had not had that chance, then I don’t know when I would have learned that, right?

And so looking at Freedom Schools now at that moment, it was leadership development, really understanding. I mean college students, college aged adults, we hire college students to work with our students. So we have K through 8th graders. We hire college age adults to work with them. So they get a chance to not only facilitate a curriculum, but also get some youth leadership development too. I mentioned that training in Tennessee. It’s a week long and so not only do you learn the curriculum, but there’s also quite a bit of leadership development around advocacy. Around at that time, was the first time that I learned about creating your own kind of sense of—they called it “an island of peace” where you’re able to take care of yourself before you take care of others. So looking– I mean its popular now I’m talking about self-care.

Susan: Self-care, uh huh.

Brandi: But at that age, I literally was able to learn about self-care, I learned about journaling, I learned about prayer, I learned about nature walking, I learned about meditation. So as a college student, when it was not that popular at the time, even humor and how humor actually affect your body and make you…So literally, going through the Freedom Schools Program, show me at that moment, being in service and it has carried me all this time, you cannot take care of others if you haven’t taken care of yourself. And so I really tried to put that piece in front of me. But now somebody asked me about the why, like, why do I do the work? And I just, for me, I’ve just been contemplating about the why, it has changed so much. You know, I think when you go into something and you’re doing it for a season in your life, either you finish that season or  the seasons are changing within that full year. And so I’ve literally seen Freedom Schools change, why I do what I do, and how important it is. So I talk about Freedom Schools and you know, people like, “Oh, you run a summer camp.” “Not really.” And when I think about camps as impactful as they are, I look at Hype Freedom School as an opportunity for us to impact families by using the six weeks of summer programming to really build that relationship and a rapport with us so we can then impact them.

So my why right now? You know, Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey. When I first started with Freedom Schools that I talked about, God gives you the people and the resources that you need. I was 22, 23, maybe 24. I eventually got a job because my mother said, “Well, just think if you could have somebody support you, like if you had coworkers, you can ask them to make a contribution towards your nonprofit.” “What? I’ve got to get a job.” So I started working full time, but really then I started working at a school where I graduated from as the teen pregnancy and parent coordinator.

Susan: Oh, wow.

Brandi: Again, young, maybe 45, did not have a child or children or a husband, probably, yeah, or probably had had sex by then.

Susan: Right. Yeah.

Brandi: I was like, “Oh, this is the position I have.” But my job was to ensure that those girls graduated. That nothing stopped them from graduating from high school. So I was provided the support system for them to be able to graduate. So of course, it was perfect for me. And when I say the seasons changed within the year, my season at that time was to empower young girls to be able to graduate from high school. But it also allowed me to work and do Freedom School on the side. And so because I was in the school system, then I had time to meet with people after school. Get off at three, met with them, then I had the flexibility with my job where I can meet off campus with people. I had my summers where I was able to go and work Freedom Schools. While I still provided services for our families, for the girls. And at the time, I did not know… Yeah, I cannot imagine how I was selected to do the job, you know, because I say years later when I finally had my first biological child, I was very down and hard on myself after I had my first child because I just remember thinking I pushed my students so hard after they had their babies to finish school. And with a husband, a mother, a sister, a stable home. I couldn’t move after I had my child. I was, “I can’t go anywhere. I can’t get it together.” I was so like, “I can’t go to work right now. I can’t leave my baby.” And I just started thinking. At six weeks, I was going to get girls from their home, taking them to daycares, put their children in the childcare center so they didn’t come back to school. Then they had to walk around those campuses like nothing was wrong, that they weren’t worried about their baby, and that they didn’t need to go home and feed their child, you know? So just all of those things was like…

Susan: I can’t imagine doing something like that. What those girls do.

Brandi: I used to tell them all the time, “You have the hardest job. You have to be a mother. You have to be a daughter. You have to be a sibling. You have to be somebody’s girlfriend. You have to be or pretend to be their wife, a student, you have to be somebody’s friend. It’s just so many layers that is very challenging to do as a young person. But I think you know, it all, and I just think about how my life has been ordered and the things that have happened. And so while I was at the school working with them, I met a family therapist because the program offered a family therapist to come with the team parents to work with them. And I share with this therapist that I had a summer program and we facilitate a parent meetings once a week at my program, and so she said, “I would like to do that.” And so she volunteered her time for about 10 or 11 years providing services to our families. So she started off facilitating our parent meetings. And then she decided to offer free therapy sessions for our families all year long. So after we finished during the summers, we became an extension of our families. So when things went on or crisis happened or celebrations happen, that our families would always include us. And so we became kind of the hub to provide the resources that they needed to make things happen, right? And so to this day, we have become that resource. The therapists work with us for those years, she finally resigned, just like she gave me an official resignation letter like she really was on staff.

Susan: I’m out.

Brandi: I was like,”Ah!” But did not realize what critical piece she played until she was gone. I mean, because we think about mental health services and the families that we serve. We don’t do mental health services. Like that’s a sign to say you crazy. And we don’t tell people we’re crazy. You might be crazy, but I’m not…You’re not going to have a therapist to say that I’m crazy. So that is the mentality that many of our –not many, some of our families once had.

Susan: Oh, sure.

Brandi: Really looking at how do we introduce therapy and how do we introduce mental health services. She was the perfect, perfect fit for us. We were able to build a relationship with our families, we built their trust. And literally, when she resigned, we had more families than we ever had actually getting therapy from her. So of course, when she resigned she’d already finished our sessions and that kind of stuff, but it just really showed us how much it had grown over the years. So when Hurricane Harvey hit, I was like, “I need a therapist right now.” Even though the majority of our families did not get directly impacted it affected everyone because in the middle of it all whatever trauma you had before, seeing water rising all around you, add to that trauma, whatever hard financial circumstances you had before is heightened because now the landscape of work has changed, you having to take off a work unexpectedly has also happened. So when we had to do…So I called her and asked if she would come back. And so since…I guess she came back probably in December of last year as a volunteer and we’ve been able to get funding to fund her to actually provide services for us throughout the year. And I will say my why now doing the program is really looking at how do we help our families be able to cope and break this cycle of whatever that trauma it is. So really introducing them and connecting them with resources like family therapy has been just my, I mean, it gives me chills bumps right now just to think about families who had never thought about getting their mental health needs that are now like, “Where’s Miss Stoops? I need her.”

So for me, that has given me I mean, just a whole different outlook on the important work that we do.We often say that the six weeks of program lasts an entire lifetime.

Susan: Yeah.

Brandi: So for our families who typically not only come six weeks, but come year after year after year, we know that the work that we’re doing stays with them forever. So, yes, that’s it. That’s my why.

Susan: That’s awesome. I want to know, have any of these families…Because you’ve been at this 20 years now. So where are the first round two families that came through? Do they stay in touch? Do you still get Christmas cards? Do you see their children now?

Brandi: yeah, we do. So we’re getting ready to celebrate our 20th so we’re rounding some of them up, but we still have a large group that we still stay very engaged with. So that first group are now professionals. We have a few attorneys that’s in that first group. Our most recent connection has been a franchise owner of Sugar Rush, which is a cupcake bakery.

Susan: Okay, uh huh.

Brandi: I don’t know the exact name for it. It’s not a bakery. But it’s called Sugar Rush 2. So he is the owner of this particular franchise. I’m smiling because he has been amazing. We did an event for our teachers. So a lot of our first rounders are teachers as well.

Susan: Oh, that’s cool.

Brandi: So while everyone was doing back to school drives, we did a back to school drive for our teachers who have been a part of Hype throughout our history, and so we provided supplies and books for them to outfit their classroom. And so we held it at Sugar Rush 2 with one of our first I mean, he was part of that first class of babies that was with us. He’s now graduated from University of Texas San Antonio, and so part of his gift his parents gave him for graduation was the franchise. Isn’t that amazing?

Susan: That is the craziest thing.

Brandi: Yes. So I ran into his mother in the grocery store preparing for some storm. It was not Harvey. It was like maybe an ice storm that was coming suddenly in Houston. So I was crazy. Like, get up and get ready to take on whatever coming our way. So I was like, let me go to the grocery store because we have nothing. So if we can’t get out of this house for a few days. We’re in trouble. So I’m in the grocery store and it is a mad house. I look over and it was one of our parents who was with us and so she’s like, “Yeah, Nick is doing really well. He’s now the owner of Sugar Rush 2,” and so we talked. So he was able to come out. We also have some of our graduates who are doing a little bit of everything, I mean, everything but now their children are part of the program, and so we have several of them that have grown up through the program

So my first day as a teen pregnancy and parenting coordinator was a delivery of one of the teen parents. And so they called and say… I caught her and I was like, “Hi!” I introduced myself. She’d just deliver her baby. So this was my first day of work. She’d just deliver her baby. Her daughter have been a part of our program since she was five, Hype, since she’s five. She just graduated and now attending Texas Southern University. So really kind of looking at the large impact. So, Susan, I’m getting a call from my Marvelous Girls Summit.

Susan: That’s where we are, at the Marvelous Girls Summit. And it sounds like we are getting ready to go back and do another session. But thank you so much. I appreciate time.

Brandi: I talked way to much.

Susan: No, you didn’t.

Brandi: You didn’t have questions?

Susan: No. You told the story and that’s what I wanted to hear.

Brandi: Okay.

Susan: Trust me on this. Tell us real quick before you go where we can find you.

Brandi: You can find me on our website at hypefs.org. You can also find us on social media. So we’re on Facebook, we’re on Instagram and a little Twitter, not much. But Hype F S, our Hype Freedom School, you can find us there or you can call us. I like phone calls, 832-510-0431.

Susan: Excellent. And I will make sure all that’s linked in our show notes. So you’ll be taken care of.

Brandi: All right.

Susan: Thank you for sharing with us and spreading the word.

Brandi: You’re welcome.

Susan:I appreciate it.

Outro: Hey, Pod Sisters, thanks so much for joining me today. If you’re enjoying this podcast, head on over to iTunes or your favorite podcast app 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. We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here community page and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode, as well as any other fun How She Got Here content. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see you soon.

From “obsessive volunteer” to Movement Maker, with Terri Williams

Have you ever had an idea or a vision you just can’t shake?  Maybe its been marinating in your heart for a while?  How do you turn your vision into something bigger than yourself?  How do you make a moment a movement?

Show Notes:

What if?  What if you finally did something with that idea that has been rattling around in your brain? What if you took your passion and created something bigger than yourself?

Terri Williams says that all her life she has been a person that wanted to give people information in order for them to make informed decisions about their community to help it do better. Then, after the passing of her father, she took a hard look at how she was using her gifts and decided to take action on what she knew she should be doing with those talents.

One year ago, this self proclaimed “obsessive volunteer” took her passion to a whole new level. She knew that the expertise, knowledge, and skills she learned from her family, her volunteerism, and the boards that she sits on were tools in her tool box that needed to be shared and not kept to herself. So she took it all and created the Movement Maker Tribe with the goal of inspiring others to create the changes they want to see in their communities and she says “I haven’t looked back at all.”

Some of my favorite take aways include:

– We each have a role in making this world work and making it a better place

  • Magic can happen once you decide to 100% lean into the fullness of your talents and skills
  • You can’t do it all by yourself. Assembling your “framily” is key

Terri’s commitment to her own talents and skills reminds us of our own at How She Got Here. This March, we are celebrating Women’s History Month by committing  to 30 Days of Finding Our Extraordinary with resources on our website, Facebook, and Instagram pages. Join our Facebook community and Instagram community for daily 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 tapping into your gifts.

 

Links:

https://terribwilliams.com

Movement Maker Worksheet – From Terri’s Home Page go to sign up and then once signed up it will be sent to you

Movement Maker Tribe – Facebook
TerriBWilliams – Twitter

TerriBWilliams – Instagram

The Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI)

The Junior League of Austin

City Square

 

Transcript

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

Susan: Hey Pod Sisters, I am so excited to kick off Women’s History Month featuring my conversation with Terri Williams. Terri is a servant leader and fellow Junior Leaguer. She says movements are never started alone but they blossom from the vision of one person who is inspired, driven, and altruistic enough to dream of and create something bigger than themselves. A few movements Terri has been involved in include spearheading the AHA effort to pass smoke free workplace laws in Louisiana and Texas, organizing the Junior League of Austin’s Capital Campaign Ambassador Programs where she served as lead ambassador and founded Forefront, rising leaders supporting the economic security of women in Central Texas, a program of the Austin Community Foundation Women’s Fund.

Terri says, “My mission is to inspire others to create change. Our world is rife with problems with so many issues to be solved. We need a new breed of leaders willing to lead the charge. We’re working with starting communities working towards big monumental change through understanding, organizing, influencing, and moving small groups.” So without further ado, here’s Terri.

Susan: Good morning, Terri. How are you? Thank you so much for joining me today.

Terri Williams: Thank you so much for having me, Susan. How are you?

Susan: I am doing really well and I’m just so, so, so excited to talk with you today. But for those of our listeners who are not familiar with you or your work, tell us a little bit about yourself what you’re doing and how you got here.

Terri Williams: Yeah, what a great question. I never know how to answer that. I feel that we’re all kind of like an onion, you know, there’s so many layers to all of us. I tend to tell people that I am a person that sees possibilities in everything. I say that leaders turn moments into movement and I truly believe that because of the work I’ve done, both professionally and as a volunteer. I’ll tell you a little bit about both. Professionally, I work for the American Heart Association, where I serve as a member on its government relations team, and I’ve been doing that for the past 15 years. Then in my private life, I am an obsessive volunteer. You can find me as a member of many nonprofit boards in Austin, across the country and internationally. And most recently, I launched a blog called Movement Maker Tribe, movementmakertribe.com, and it’s a place where I like to share resources and tools to help others become inspired to create changes that they want to see in their communities.

Susan: I love that. And that is one of the reasons I had you on today is because of this fun Movement Maker Tribe you have launched and started. Remind me if I’m thinking about this incorrectly, but the first time we had a chance to chat, I think you told me this launched in 2016. Is that right?

Terri Williams: I launched March 27, 2018, a day that I will never forget.

Susan: Oh, 2018. Oh, I thought we launched at the same time for some reason. Okay, cool. I totally got that wrong. Well, you’re almost a year old.

Terri Williams: I cannot wait to celebrate. I’m counting down to that first anniversary.

Susan:  Yes, I get that totally. Tell us a little bit about how this became your thing, how it got started. What is the backstory to the Movement Maker Tribe and why did you launch this thing.

Terri Williams: Well, it’s really two parts. One is just a calling that I have, and the second is a time in my life where I started to see things more clearly for myself. The first part is I have all my life been a person that wanted to give people information so that they can make decisions about their community and help it do better. People will tell you I was that way in middle school, college. It’s all through my life. And you’ll see that in the professional careers I’ve had as a television journalist, or press secretary, or a philanthropic fundraiser for a nonprofit, I’ve always wanted to give people information so that they could be a catalyst of their own.

And then in May of 2017, my father passed away and he was one of the people that I was extremely close to and it just really changed me. As you would expect for your life to change when you lose a parent, and instead of really mourning and being sad, I really took inspiration from the lessons that he and my mother taught me. They were people that were incredibly engaged in their community. My grandparents helped build a church in Lafayette, Louisiana, and then that church burned down and my mom and dad stepped up to help rebuild it. And so I really saw in me that I wasn’t using all of my gifts. I hadn’t grown to be…

Susan: Yeah.

Terri Williams: I know right? That is something that sometimes it’s hard for you to think through and really admit, but when my dad passed away, it was like I went from living unconsciously to very consciously. I’d been at the Heart Association for about 13 years at that point in my same job for about nine, and was very content, and you know contentment is just where you’re comfortable. You know some people might think of it as a rut. It definitely wasn’t a rut at that time it was just it was just really content that I felt like I could do more likely to use more of my gifts. And so it’s like literally someone turned a light on when my dad passed away and I started living very consciously and thinking about how I was using my time, my gifts and the decisions I was making and decided to act on this calling. And it was to share all the lessons I learned from my family, the boards that sit on, the fellowships I attended, just all these tools I had the my tools box that I felt shouldn’t be kept for myself and so decided really just to act on faith and to lean in a little bit and to launch Movement Maker Tribe and haven’t looked back at all.

Susan: That is really cool. You know, the month of March on the podcast, we’re really centering on finding your inner extraordinary or your own extraordinary and you talk about the gifts that you knew you had. How did you know you had those gifts? Where did you…? Maybe that seems like a silly question. But like, how did you know these were your things? These were your talents, and that it just wasn’t something I’m okay at. Like, this is really what I’m here to do.

Terri Williams: That is a great question. And really…I can give you a lot of two-part questions, but it’s two things. I think, one for me, it was quantitative. I’m a data person, I want to see data. And the second thing was really an emotion or feeling. And lot of times, you know, you have to kind of lean in and use our intuition to really guide you. And so for me…Actually I’ll tell you a story. I was a very active volunteer in the Junior League of Austin and now sit on the board of the Association of Junior League International, which is the international governing body.

Susan:  Oh, yeah, that’s a big job.

Terri Williams: It’s a big but fun job.

Susan: AJLI is a big job.

Terri Williams: Are you a Junior League member?

Susan: I am Yes. I’m a sustainer. Yes. And that is not an easy job. That is like running the masses and herding cats, I think at the same time

Terri Williams: It is. It’s so rewarding.

Susan: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

Terri Williams: It’s my three or fourth term in May. And it’s been an amazing ride. But at the time I was carrying the Capital Campaign Committee for Austin, where we were trying to raise $10 million for a new building for the Junior League. And you know, it’s a really heavy job, that is the real heavy lift. And I was asked to present monthly at a junior league meeting just really to energize the volunteers to speak up and volunteer to help other women give but also the ones that were interested in volunteering to ask them to give their treasures, and I remember I gave the speech about two or three times and was really shy about it and really wanted to let someone else to have the opportunity to do it. Because Junior League is a training organization, and so you know, I asked our consultant if I could teach someone else how to do the ask. And she looked at me and she said, “No,” and she says, “You have to do,” and I was like, “Okay, well…”

Susan: That is hard.

Terri Williams: Yeah, I know she wants the best so I did it, and it was a surface level performance for myself. I was in this place where, you know, I’m starting to feel like people were thinking like, I just wanted to be on stage and not share the limelight so people were tired of hearing for me, and it was internal conflict. And she pulled me aside and said, “Look, here are the numbers when you speak how much people give. Here are the numbers when someone else does it. You have the passion. You care about this. You love this project. It translate to what we need to do for the organization. I need you to speak.” And it was at that moment where just kind of the intersection of what was going on in my head, my heart, and my gut came together. And I understood and I really started to understand this gift that I had that I really wasn’t tapping into you. And it wasn’t just the storytelling and getting the people to be engaged, it was everything else that came along with that capital campaign. I had helped recruit volunteers to the table and help think through some policy measures that we needed at City Hall. There were so many pieces of me that were tied to that campaign. And the story that I took from it for myself was they were gifts that I could share with others and things that I could teach other people. And then when I kind of match that up to what I would do every day at work, the writing was so clear on the wall for me and it really just happened so fast, as I’m sure you know from starting your own blog, the universe puts you right where you need to be and the dominoes lineup and then you just keep going and going, and next thing I knew it was launching. And it’s been a whole lot of fun ever since.

Susan: I totally know what you’re talking about. And I also have some familiarity with capital campaigns, and those are a lot of work and they’re very hard. And so I commend you for even just being willing to be part of a capital campaign. I remember my college went through one when I was in school there, and it was just…Even though I was a student, they obviously recruited students to help and to make calls—and obviously, we weren’t calling the big heavyweights, but just getting people to understand why giving is so important and giving back is so important. And I wonder…I mean, as a former Junior Leaguer I remember walking into the Junior League and being a member of the Junior League you also pay dues and so when I first started I was like, “Wow, I’m paying dues and then they want me to give on top of that?” And I started the Junior League really young so I didn’t really understand that in the beginning. And once I really understood what the money that dues went to—and I know each league operates differently—but what the dues go to versus what giving above and beyond that go to, it just changed my whole perspective as to the mission and what they’re really doing. So I really commend you for taking that on.

Terri Williams: Oh, it was more a gift to me then, you know, than I was to them.  I have learned so much from that process. And, you know, you learn one thing from one organization, and you get to bring it to the next and then you get to inspire someone there and get to bring it to the next organization. And so, around that same time I could see those lessons and wasn’t just in capital campaigns, but lessons from city halls and state capitals and lessons from helping to build followership and teaching people how to do it, it just kept happening over and over. And so you know what all your listeners to know that you might learn something in the Junior League or another organization, but it definitely won’t stop there in your life.

Susan: That is such a good point. That is such a good point. Many of the skills that I learned in Junior League have transferred over to other organizations and other things that I’ve done. And like just any job, you know, transferable skills are a good thing. Your mission is to inspire others to create change, and you say we need a new breed of leaders to lead the charge. I want you to break this down for us. What skills do new leaders need? And how do we tap leaders or maybe even recognize the leader in ourselves?

Terri Williams: Yeah, so I love that so much. And that is exactly just it. For so long I looked up to leaders that weren’t my age, they were leaders that we heard stories about, and those are needed because, you know, we need those fundamentals and lessons, the things that are tried and true to really give us that foundation when it comes to leadership. But if you really look at what is emerging in our world today, we really need leaders that look like us that are everyday leaders. And so I really think there’s a leader inside each of us. Sometimes we lead in our household, sometimes we might lead at church, sometimes we might lead at PTO or we might lead on a stage like a state capital. But we each have a role in making this world work and making it a better place. And so I say leaders turn moments into movement because when you find that place for yourself and you contribute, you are part of something here. And so I tell everyone you know, you can do something really big, like one of the first movements I was a part of was passing the law that made all the restaurants smoke free in Louisiana. And that’s something that was extremely very challenging and it really changed me forever but then you could be part of some thing that might not be such a heavy lift or something that as challenging, you know, when you…One thing that I love doing is I travel a whole lot so I take the toiletries from the hotel when I don’t use them. Hilton and Hyatt, please don’t come looking for me.

Susan: You are not alone.

Terri Williams: But I do I take them and I put them in a Ziploc bag with a note and some, you know, $1 bills or some quarters. And when people ask for something at a red light, I’ll hand them that goodie bag. That’s something that is so small. It’s something that doesn’t cost much of anything, but that is starting a movement, and that movement could just be putting a smile on someones face that day, or that movement could be doing something as big as giving them the toiletries they need to get ready for a job interview. You never know what you’re doing when you’re contributing.

Susan: Okay. I will say that is not what I’ve ever done with those toiletries and wow, what a fantastic idea. I put them in my guest bathroom and wow, what a fantastic idea. I think I will be switching to that because we too in Dallas have a homeless population that we are constantly trying to help, for lack of a better word, and City Square is one that’s really big here in Dallas. And so yeah..Wow, you changed my perspective on something that I really had never thought about so thank you for that. That gave me goosebumps.

Terri Williams: So much about this is shifting perspectives. I love that you say that and I want to highlight that because a lot of times when we get stuck in a rut or we’re content that we might be craving something or if you’re in a state of depression, if you can just figure out how to shift your perspective, usually you start a movement within yourself that will start a larger movement within the world.

Susan: You are so right. That is such a good point. A second ago you mentioned past leaders, what can we glean from those past leaders? What are some things that you think are worth taking into the future with us and then what are some things that you think are worth leaving in the past?

Terri Williams: Oh my gosh. That is a really hard question. I have to say, you know, so many of our leaders that we think about… I actually just attended a course at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado that focused on Frederick Douglass. We talked a little bit about Abraham Lincoln. When you think of those iconic leaders of the past, they were so loyal to their country. They were so loyal to themselves and they were so loyal to their families. I think those are our core values that I want that hold I dear to my heart. But when I think about the leaders of today in the future, they are agile, they are flexible, they are working from restrained resources like never before, and are being so innovative and are inclusive, far more inclusive than a lot of our leaders of the past. Those are things that I too want to hold really close to my heart as core values that I want to activate and activate often.

Susan: Who is your favorite female leader right now?

Terri Williams: Oh, that’s such a good and fun question, and I have to admit you said off script, I know you email me these questions and I have not read them.

Susan: That’s perfectly fine. I love it.

Terri Williams: So they’re all brand new. But I have the best girl squad ever. My friends are just so fantastic so I can’t say like one, but I have a friend that was a part of the founders of the Women’s March, I have a friend that trains women to run for office, I have a friend that’s a scientist, I have a friend that goes to China and figures out how to make toys safe… I can just go on and on and on. And I just I love them so much because they take the time and lift me up, they take the time to make sure that I am a part of this journey and that we’re doing it all together. So I will take my friends who are leaders any day over anyone that’s super duper famous.

Susan: Oh wow, that’s such a good point, Terri. The podcast here is ‘conversations with everyday extraordinary women.’ So I really love that you’re highlighting your friends and your girl squad as people to look to. Because I think often when you’re struggling or you’re going through something or you’re starting something, I think you do have that core group of people that you lean on, but I do think oftentimes we really don’t look to ourselves and our friends, even though I’m sitting here trying to highlight everyday extraordinary women, I’m guilty of that. I’m guilty of not looking to my friends and thinking, “Oh, I really love what she’s doing and I want to be more like her.” So I really appreciate that you highlighted that. I think that brings up a good point that the people that you need and the strength that you need and the inspiration that you need or just always all around you and to look there first. So I really like that. That’s a very good thing to highlight.

Terri Williams: Yes indeed. I’m so blessed to have a really strong group of girls. I actually call them my Framily, instead of family?

Susan: Oh, I love that. That’s so fun. That’s so fun. Another of my friends calls her squad, which I’m lucky to be a part of, her Board of Directors. I like framily.

Terri Williams: I’ve heard that term before

Susan: That’s so funny. So your three areas, if you go to terribwilliams.com, the first three things that you have highlighted are philanthropy, policy, and mission building. Those are your areas. Why these three areas? What about these three areas did you want to hone in on?

Terri Williams: Yeah, yes. I really think that these are the keys, the things that leaders need, which are moments in movements. For me, I have seen a lot of change in my community through public policy, lobbying and advocacy and grassroots organizing. That really is a place where an individual can gain power. I know a lot of times people feel like they don’t have power when they think of politics or Washington or their state capital. But you do; you actually control the process. I talked about philanthropy because it’s a way that even business leaders try to change the world. Think about Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos and all these people that have signed a million dollar pledge. They’re giving their money to charity to solve the world’s most pressing issues. Now, what’s cool about that is we don’t need a million dollars to make the same investment you know, you can take $1 or $5 and still give to an organization have impact. So again, you have the power. Then I talked about mission building because a lot of times organizations want to grow their followership and find that power in others. And so they can do that too. And lately I’ve been talking about really a fourth one, and that’s the movement building within yourself. You know, once you sit back and really think about all the tools in your own toolbox, and what you know and how you love yourself, you have the power really to tackle anything that comes your way. And so I really do love those because I truly, truly think they help leaders turn moments into movements.

Susan: I love that you brought up the $5 and $10 donations are just as important. One thing that I’ve noticed over the last year or two, I’m not sure when it officially started, but over the last year to through Facebook, you can actually—I don’t know if they take any of the proceeds how this works. So I’m not advocating for everybody to go out and do this because I don’t know the backstory behind all of this—but I have seen people like us their birthday or specific date that’s significant to them for one reason or another, and to give to an organization through Facebook. And what I like about that is you can see just how many people gave to get to $500, $1,000, you know, a couple of thousand dollars. And it’s really those $5 and $10, the grassroots donations. And all of a sudden you have your tribe of people who had, you know, your tribe of even maybe 10, 15, 20 people who were willing to give those 5, 10 and $15 donations, and all of a sudden you have several thousands of dollars going to an organization. And like I said, I’m not exactly quite sure how Facebook does that and if they charge fees or anything like that, but I do think that that’s a really cool visual way to see exactly what you’re talking about, that those dollars really do make an impact and you don’t have to have the million dollars to make a difference.

Terri Williams: Exactly. And whoever that person is that decides to do a birthday fundraiser, they are a leader that has decided to take a moment, their birthday, and turn it into a movement, like help. Good. So you’re helping to highlight that truly we do all have the power to do this work.

Susan: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. That is such a good point. Okay. Tell me quickly, because I want to be respectful of your time, tell me quickly, if somebody has had something, you know, just jogging around in their mind something they can’t get rid of something they even try to get rid of it. It just keeps coming back. That’s kind of at least how I hear a lot of people say, that’s how I kind of figured out it was my thing. I just couldn’t shake it. So they have this thing that they can’t shake. Where do they start?

Terri Williams: Oh, probably the toughest question yet today. You got to start in your heart. Like I said, the intuition you know, and if you have an idea, you can’t shake it, you know, wakes you up in your sleep. You’re in the shower and you’re thinking about it, you might almost run a red light because you can’t stop thinking about it, it truly is your thing. And so that’s when you have to sit down and just really think through what are the resources you need? How can you use your time, talent and treasure to further your personal mission? A lot of times we don’t we don’t label it your personal mission. And you have to treat it just like you would a job just like you would an organization. You’ve got to oil the machine, create a strategic plan, and really follow through on the task and the tactics that are needed. So, to the point that you made about your friend, you’re definitely going to need a board of directors, people that can hold you accountable that vision, people that will help you create that vision, people who will celebrate your success to get there. And the people that I see that fail or flounder are the people that truly aren’t committed to the idea from the start, right? They’re the people that kind of want to do it or they think it’s a fad or they’re just unsure of themselves. And so I always say, “Get off the box, go for it.” You know, I heard someone say just yesterday, “If you’re shooting for the stars and you fall, at least you’re above the ground.” So you’ve just got to try. And usually when you break it down into bite size pieces and think about what is my long-term plan? What do I want to do this month? What do I want to do this week? What do I want to today? And how does it help me reach that vision? You’re usually on your way and you’re going to do extremely well and be successful.

Susan: You are absolutely correct. And I really liked how you put that. My brain is just spinning right now. And I love having a conversation with a woman and I’m like, “Oh, I need to write this down and I need to think about this.” And I’m sitting here furiously typing out notes, so I hope my editor can get that out. Where I want to leave us today is well first I want to talk about where we can find you. But second next steps, you talked about putting together a strategic plan, and I think that’s probably like your mission, your personal mission and putting together your strategic plan if you don’t know what that is share a little bit about—is that like a five year plan? Like talk to us a little bit about what you mean when you say a strategic plan?

Terri Williams: Got it. Yes. And actually I have I have something that maybe I could share with you to put in your show notes or the side if you have a newsletter or something but I have something that I call a Motivation Map that I’ve created and it just helps you figure out that why. If you’re on the fence about do you have a personal mission, do you want to start a movement? This motivation that will help you tease it out and really explore your why also my website if you go to terribwilliams.com and sign up for my newsletter you can download a movement maker map, and that map, once you have identified your mission will help you get started. And so that could be a first stab at a strategic plan. It helps you think of, you know, what is it going to take? Who are your champions? Who might be your dream killers? Who’s going to, like, not be happy that you’re going to try to start this movement?

Susan: Yes, those exist.

Terri Williams: Yes, yes, haters are real and once you really take a look, as the kids say, IRL, what’s happening in real life and you write it down, then the plans start to come to life, the movement starts to take shape. And then you start to work on things like connecting and collaborating and really getting people to the table with you and being in a very inclusive way is you will see your movement come to life. So that’s kind of what I would do to take the next step and how it begins to start a strategic plan.

Susan: Oh, I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it. And I hope everybody goes to your website and signs up and gets that map that you put together. That is such a cool, cool idea. I love it. So we need to go to your website, where else can we find you? On social? Is it Instagram? Is it Facebook? Where does your business Terri William self hang out?

Terri Williams: Sure I am an Instagirl. Love me some Instagram. You can find me at Terri  B Williams on Instagram. On Facebook, Movement Maker Tribe is how you’ll find me and on Twitter, I love to get tweets;  just starting to get back into Twitter. I am Terri B. Williams there too, and I share goodies that I learned from others as well as put out some content to help people as they’re moving on their journey. And I’m not shy, y’all. I tell you what I have a good day I tell you and have a bad day. I tell you when I do something that is a complete failure and I usually want to celebrate it because we should fail forward and celebrate those too and I do all those things through my social media channels

Susan: Awesome. Awesome. Well, I know I’m already following you on a few of those. I don’t know if I’m following you on Twitter, so I’ll have to find you there. I’m not the best at tweeting. But I do follow people on Twitter regularly. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. This was a lot of fun. And there’s just really brightened my Monday. It’s finally I think, starting to get sunny here in Dallas. But we’ve had a few couple of days of rain and just gross weather. So I really appreciate you joining me.

Terri Williams: Oh, thank you, Susan. You are absolutely a joy and I love what you’re doing on behalf of women. We need so many fire starters like you to help guide the way and you truly are an inspiration to me, so thank you for having me.

Susan: Well, likewise, friend and I will chat with you soon.

Outro: I am thrilled to have had a chance to chat with Terri, and I hope this episode had the gears in your head turning. If you are following “How She Got Here” on Social Media or you have joined our email list, you know that March 1 we kicked off “Find Your Extraordinary” in honor of Women’s History Month. I’m using the How She Got Her Facebook and Instagram accounts to provide simple ways to tap into and recognize our everyday extraordinary gifts on the website I’m also providing ways to recognize the gifts of other women in our lives too, and I’ll even feature some of them in an upcoming podcast episode. So if you haven’t already, make sure to follow the How She Got Here Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as sign up for our newsletter on the website so that you can get all the Find Your Extraordinary updates. I am so looking forward to seeing where this takes each of us. Until next time, I see you soon.

A new relationship with food leads to self love, with Priya Patel

We all know the old cliche “everything happens for a reason.” Bleh!  Yet, when life does happen it is often how we deal with it that makes us who we are.  So, how do you respond when it hits the fan?

 

Show Notes:

How do you respond when it all comes crashing down?  It wasn’t until coming face to face with her own suppressed trauma that Priya Patel truly understood what she was meant to do.  This is how the Intention Table was born.

In 2015, Priya began to unravel her life and began the quest to break through the barriers of hidden trauma. To help herself, she wrote and developed a robust curriculum, now known as the Intention Table. It includes programs that stimulate the body’s senses and cultivates an open present relationship with yourself through self love.

She launched the first of four programs in 2018.  Known as the Eating Meditation Experience, the first program is her take on a Zen Buddhist meditation practice.

Priya says: “I knew that I was disconnected from my body and myself and I knew that right here in front of me what was my drug of choice, food, was actually going to be a tool for me to heal myself by becoming very present with every piece of food during this meditation practice. And literally seeing it for what it was and seeing beyond my pattern of behavior, seeing beyond my needs to create intimacy with self and others. I unwrapped and unraveled to see the beauty in this eating meditation practice. So it became about me connecting to myself.”

Before launching the Intention Table Priya first created these programs to help her discover who she really is, but most importantly,  she says: “just to connect me with truth without this sense of judgment, you know, just seeing things for what they are.”

 

Links:

www.chasesplace.org

itsasensoryworld.org

http://www.gaiaflowyoga.com

www.theintentiontable.com

The Intention Table – Facebook

 

Transcript

Welcome: 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. My guest today is Priya Patel. Priya is a certified mindfulness, meditation and Yoga coach that has a profound understanding that our bodies are faithful partners that carry the load life may present. Her teaching philosophy is the concept that housed in every one of us is the intrinsic knowledge and capability to heal even the most devastating of wounds. Prior to coaching adults, Priya taught children with special needs and specialized in the sensory system in communication. In 2010 her holistic approach to education led her to co-develop a school for children with special needs that today serves over 40 children in Dallas, Texas. In 2015, Priya began to unravel her life and began the quest to break through the barriers of hidden and suppressed trauma. To help herself, she wrote and developed a robust curriculum, now known as the Intention Table. It includes programs that stimulate the body’s senses and cultivates an open present relationship with yourself through self love. It is being used to help unravel, accept and move through life with a love based attitude. Priya’s gift is teaching people the art of self-inquiry to exercise the choice to meet circumstances, people in challenges with a love based attitude versus fear. She helps people see the truth within themselves, excavate deep rooted emotional wounds, unravel and reverse hardwired behavior patterns and let go of stories that are holding them back. So without further ado, here’s Priya.

 

Susan: Hey Priya, thank you so much for joining me today. I’m so excited you’re here.

Priya Patel: And I’m so happy to be here with you today.

Susan: I think it’s really, not funny haha, but interesting how we were connected. I don’t know if you totally know this backstory or not, but I happened to be at Kate Weiser Chocolate not that long ago, just picking something up and I met Barbara Bowman, and I had never met her before. She was a total stranger and we hit it off. She has a wonderful spirit about her and she said, “I have some people you need to talk with.” And you were one of those people.

Priya Patel: Oh Wow. No, I did not know the backstory.

Susan: All right, well I love that you know that now. She is just such a sweet lady. Now did y’all…This is, we’re totally going off regular script, but did you guys meet at Gaia or how did you guys meet?

Priya Patel: Yeah, we did. We met at Gaia Flow Yoga. We both practice yoga there and then we both went through the teacher training program there and that’s kind of where we met. But then her and I became friends outside of that. She invited me to a women’s retreat last January and they kind of basically took me under their wing as one other women that they have as part of their group. And so it’s just been like, you know, a group of empowerment and unconditional love that I’ve kind of found with the group that she’s kind of invited me into. So that’s how I know her, and I did not know, I thought she was a friend of yours and I didn’t realize you guys were complete strangers. You’re right. She has this complete vibrancy about her. I can see her just randomly speaking to a stranger and connecting people.

Susan: And it was so interesting, you know, sometimes when you tell people you’re doing something like this and you’ve created this platform, you would be surprised as how many crazy pitches I get. And I was shocked. I didn’t know that was a thing, especially a smaller podcast. It’s not like I’m on the Today Show every morning or something. And so when people start talking to you, you’re like, “Yeah, that sounds like a great idea or whatever and thank you for listening or blah, blah, blah.” But she was totally different. She just embodied this beautiful spirit and I was like, “I totally get where you’re coming from and I’m connecting with you and absolutely I’m going to make this happen.” So I really appreciate her doing that.

Priya Patel:Me too.

Susan: But anyway, I haven’t talk…I need to reconnect with her because I haven’t talked with her in a while because she and I have kept up a little bit it.

Priya Patel: Yeah. She’s been a big supporter of this new company that I started. In fact, she helped me last week with an event. Like, she’s just been a big supporter.

Susan: Well that is fantastic. I’m so glad to hear that. And since we’re kind of already talking, maybe we should finally, because I started off this way, jump into this conversation and talk a little bit about you and what you’ve been doing. Priya, you are clearly a very accomplished educator. Would you share a little bit of your background story with us and kind of how you came to start the school and then ultimately I guess the Intention Table curriculum and how did yoga fit into all of that?

Priya Patel: Yeah, interesting question. So, I had been really drawn to working with kids with special needs since I was a kid myself. And so by educator what you mean is, I taught special education for a number of years and like I said, you know, I had my first encounter with a kiddo with special needs at the age of nine, myself. And I just continued that year on forward and forward, forward bond, hang with kids with special needs. I was extremely drawn to it. And then, you know, as I got older that continued in many different ways in different positions, ultimately becoming a special education teacher. So I taught in California for one year and then I met the love of my life at that time and moved out to Dallas and worked for a really small private school out here called Chase’s Place. And it was a school for kids with severe to moderate disabilities. And I love that program and everything that they stand for. However, at the end of my two years, just because of financial needs for the nonprofit, they were not sure of how many teachers they were going to be able to rehire for the following year. That kind of financial fear or uncertainty pushed me to start my own. He’s my ex husband now, but at that point in time my husband was really very supportive, you know, for my own happiness and he was financially able to support the both of us and said, “You go ahead and start your own if you’d like.” And so I did, I started my own program out here called Happy Hands Learning, and what that included was a social skills program called Pure Play dates and then a preschool transition program, a Mommy and Me sign language class program and a community inclusion and outing program.

Susan: Wow.

Priya Patel: Yeah, it was a really beautiful company and vision that I had. But the problem that I faced was I didn’t have space of my own, you know, I was running these programs out of like other people going into their homes or having to pay a lot of money for other people’s space. And that’s where The Sensory World came in. They had this beautiful sensory occupational therapy gym and I was very familiar with sensory equipment coming from California. Yeah, it was very much a very big part of educating kids with special needs was what’s happening to the sensory system in California. And that was a very new here in Dallas. So I really felt very much drawn to them because they had the sensory gym. But what was amazing is that they have this back room that was not being used.

So they had had a preschool program that they were running years prior, you know, a small program, but it wasn’t currently in place when I approached them about using their space to start mine. They very lovingly opened up their space. It was a woman named Erica and Angela, who are the founders of The Sensory World. They very lovingly opened up their space to let me try. And so I ran a summer school program there under Happy Hands Learning. We’re using this holistic approach to education and engaging the sensory system, really working on communication for those kiddos who are nonverbal or with emerging speech and language as well as functional living skills. Well, that summer program ended up doing really well, meaning the kids did really well that a few parents asked if their kids could stay past summer and just like that the school program was born.

So Angela wasn’t at, while I was there at summer, she wasn’t there full time. She worked her own full time job as a special ed teacher across the street. And then in the afternoon she would work double duty and come run the sensory world programs. And she actually took a leap of faith herself because you know, life was showing up differently for her and she came aboard full time. And so when she took that move, her and I together basically created this school program starting with really very low number of kids. Her and I created this program based off of her years of experience as a SLPA and a special ed teacher. And then as well as my experience as a behavioral therapist as well as a special ed teacher. So we were really combined four different modalities of teaching to create the school program.

That’s kind of how the school, I would say was born. And over time, you know, word of mouth and the program grew. Today, I believe it’s over 40 some children. I stepped out of the program. Recently, I exited the organization itself to kind of start this new venture. However, I stopped teaching and being program director two and a half years ago. I ended up fundraising for the organization together. The three of us ends up turning it into a nonprofit and now it’s been a nonprofit for going on four years—in its fifth year of being a nonprofit. So I ended up fundraising, so it kind of took…My direction wasn’t just the school in that organization. I ended up doing strategy and programming and fundraising and took on this whole new skillset, I guess you can say. But even like taking on that role, I believe had a bit of…What’s the word? A bit of responsibility with me really wanting to almost transition out and do something different. I’m really grateful for all of the roles that I’ve had there. And I still volunteer for them.

Susan: That’s really cool.

Priya Patel: I can’t leave. I do love the organization, their mission and I’m volunteering now.

Susan: Well, sure. I mean you’ve kind of helped launched it. For those of my listeners who are not in this world, could you tell us SLPA means?

Priya Patel: Oh yeah. So SLPA is Speech Language Pathology Assistant. So it is someone who, they cannot diagnose but they can treat under the supervision of the pathologists and that’s the license that she has.

Susan: Ah, got it. Very cool. Very cool. Thank you for sharing that story.

Priya Patel: Yeah, that’s kind of the birth of the school program at the Sensory World Academy, which I believe, you know, has led me to the birth of the Intention Table.

Susan: Yeah, no kidding.

Priya Patel: I know you had asked like how that started or why? To me the honest answer, it was born out of my own need to learn to be present with myself, but also to let go of myself at the same time, if that makes sense.

Susan: No, it absolutely does. In the month of October for the podcast, I did this fun 30 days of self care thing and really kind of tried to get into that and have a little something each day for each listener to just kind of—a little something to take care of themselves. And as I was going through it and putting it together, what I realized myself is, well, this is a great idea for my listeners, but I’m not doing this for myself. So that’s a problem. And I’ve noticed that stress shows up in my body in the oddest ways if I’m not taking care of myself: hive, anxiety, all of it. So I totally appreciate the fact that you’ve created something like this, how it was born out of something you needed. I think that’s very unique and very interesting.

Priya Patel: Flat out, like it’s just the truth that each one of these programs is, you know, something that I use or have used, I didn’t even realize that I had been living a life in fear making fear based decisions for a lot of my life, living with anxiety that was hidden and almost living on automatic. And like I said, like these programs are here to help. They were there to help me discover who I really was or who I really am but most importantly, what I feel is like just to connect me with truth, um, without this sense of judgment, you know, just seeing things for what they are.

Susan: Wow. That is such a powerful statement, “Truth without judgement.”

Priya Patel: Yeah. And a lot of that has stemmed from learning and teaching mindfulness because that ultimately is what mindfulness is, is to be an observer of yourself, as well as the consequences of actions. So it’s to be an observer of yourself, your actions, your thoughts as well as the consequences, but all of that’s without judgment. And really diving, doing a deep dive into mindfulness. I’m there to the point where, you know, I can see things for what they are without there being this concept of right or wrong or good or bad. It’s just this is what it is and now what? Versus having an emotion behind it and that doesn’t serve me in any way, shape or form.

Susan: You know, it’s funny, I’m actually finishing up a book by the Dalai Lama, and Desmond Tutu called Finding Joy. Have you read this book?

Priya Patel: No, I haven’t read it.

Susan: The Dalai Lama talks a lot about mindfulness and speaks a lot to that. Good or bad isn’t sometimes the issue, you just have to deal with “it is what it is” and go from there. Can you kind of unpack that a little bit for us? You’re talking about mindfulness. For those of our listeners who might be newer to this idea or maybe never really thought about that, could you kind of unpack a little bit of what that means and then what this curriculum that you’ve created with the Intention Table, what that is?

Priya Patel:Yeah, so as far as unpacking goes, I had a lot of childhood trauma that I had suppressed, and what I came to realize only as an adult is that I had developed a lot of coping mechanisms as a child and that became coping mechanisms as a teenager and that became coping mechanisms as a young adult, that became coping mechanisms as an adult. And it carried on. But I didn’t understand where they came from until the day that I did. It’s almost like you have this awakening. And unpacking can be very ugly, you know, it can lead to…My challenge was having a very odd relationships, unhealthy relationship to food or a very unhealthy relationship to work where all you do is overwork as a way to almost avoid yourself or avoid life’s circumstances. You create this distorted illusion of life around you. And when you unpack that can cause people to spiral.

Susan:It can and get worse in many ways before it gets better.

Priya Patel: Right. But I think because I chose to like literally…I basically looked at every piece of my life without any shame. You know, sometimes I didn’t even have anger towards it. That came later because that wasn’t even an emotion that I knew, but I just chose to say, “This is what has happened. Now what?” So it’s almost like mindfulness found me. I didn’t seek it, I just fell into it. And then came to realize what I am really looking at here and seeking here is this path of pure mindfulness as well as this path of Yoga. You know, I found yoga and I found a meditation and I found this eight lanes path to living life really, and came to realize that I was already following that and I didn’t know that it had a name or a term, but it was really learning to just be in the present moment and always come back to this concept of be here now, that the past really doesn’t matter at this moment in time, the future doesn’t matter at this moment in time. And so all of the would have, could have, should have makes no difference at all. So it’s almost in some way, shape or form, just surrendering now instead of surrendering later. You know, I had a conversation with somebody just earlier today and I was telling her, you know, have you ever had this situation and why were you maybe a year or two, three years down the line you say, “Huh, that was exactly the way that that should have gone.” You come to this understanding that whatever you went through with exactly the way that it was supposed to be, right? And then you have this immense sense of peace when you finally come to that conclusion. Now what I’ve done is basically surrender to the moment without there having to be this push or a pull three years later just to really saying, “This is exactly the way that it’s supposed to be.” You know, I’m surrendering now versus surrendering later and having this immense amount of peace. And I don’t know if that answered the question. I feel like I went off on a tangent.

Susan: No, I think it’s a beautiful, I think what you said was beautiful and I think…

Priya Patel: It’s not easy though. But it can be done. I’m living truth and living proof that it can be done.

Susan: No, I think you’re right. I think it’s not easy. Something Desmond Tutu talks about in this book is how he was able to do that and live through an apartheid, how Nelson Mandela was able to do that and be in prison for so many years.

Priya Patel:Exactly.

Susan:  And it’s not surrendering. I don’t want people to think what we’re talking about is surrendering to the bad stuff. It’s just recognizing that this is where you are at the moment. I don’t know because I’ve never been in a situation that bad. I’ve never been in apartheid. I haven’t been in prison for 30 something years. Shoot. I’m only 37, 36 or 37, I can never remember. So he would have been in prison like my entire life of what I’ve lived already. But I can imagine, you know, we’ve all gone through things or, in your case, I think I have too. We all suppress stuff from childhood to one degree or another.

Priya Patel: Everybody has their own extent of trauma, conscious or unconscious. Everybody does, like that is part of being human is to have this experience, believe it or not, have some form of suffering of some way, shape or form. I mean, I don’t people to think that I’m like saying that people deserve it. It is just part of human existence, and sufferings by one person versus another looks differently. However, what I’m saying is it doesn’t have to be suffering. You know?

Susan: That was said beautifully. You’re absolutely correct. And it’s just getting to that point for everybody in their own way that… And I think this is a beautiful way to do it. Tell us a little bit more about the Intention Table curriculum that you have developed because this is  a curriculum.

Priya Patel: Yeah, so it’s a program, so very similar to when I started Happy Hands Learning. I started with four programs. With the Intention Table I started with – the premise is four programs. Each one of these programs are meant to help you fall in love with this concept of self discovery. Maybe not fall in love with it, but at least be present to the concept of self-discovery or an invite and self-discovery and unraveling of patterns of behavior, learning your desires, your wants, your needs, making choices that are right for you, which often if you have lived a life on automatic, you may not know. And so what we’re doing here with this company is learning to be curious about ourselves once more. And there are four programs. The one that I have launched officially is the Eating Meditation Experience. The ones that are in the works, our meditation curriculum, a journey curriculum that I’m writing myself and a trauma sensitive yoga program.

So those three are in the works, and the one that is currently in process and actually launched and available now is the Eating Meditation Experience. That’s a very ancient practice. It’s a Zen practice that I have created or made my own. So you know the Zen practice is using typically like one specific item, typically you’ll see them doing it with a raisin or a piece of chocolate and they’re really having you invoke all your senses to be present. So the reason why is my background as a special ed teacher and being very knowledgeable about the sensory system, as well as going through my own process of unraveling trauma, I became extremely disconnected from myself; pretty severe dissociation to the point where I couldn’t feel myself in my own body. I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror.

And one of the tools that helped me sometimes cope or deal with these things was food—and not in a healthy way. So I created a really unhealthy relationship with food. It was something that if I wanted to feel the sense of shame or guilt, I ran to food in a binge type fashion, and there was no invoking of the senses so I wasn’t, you know, the thing is food is extremely intimate. It is extremely, if you allow it to be, it can become the shadow side. And what I mean by that is you tried to create a sense of intimacy with food or through food. So intimacy might be lacking in your life, whether it’s with yourself or others around you, some people to escape to drugs or sex or alcohol, I escaped to food and was trying to replace like intimacy with food and sometimes I controlled or over controlled and sometimes I under controlled.

And then I’m introduced to this practice of eating meditation only a year ago. And when I took this practice I realize, “Oh my God, this is marrying my whole life.” What I mean by that is I really have this whole understanding of this sensory system and then I knew that I was disconnected from my body and myself and I knew that right here in front of me what was my drug of choice, food, was actually going to be a tool for me to heal myself by becoming very present with every piece of food during this meditation practice. And literally seeing it for what it was and seeing beyond my pattern of behavior, seeing beyond my needs to create intimacy with self and others. I unwrapped and unraveled to see the beauty in this eating meditation practice. So it became about me connecting to myself. So you know what, when I’m disconnected from myself when I literally took the time to be present with, let’s say a piece of bell pepper and smell the bell pepper. So I may not be feeling my hand at that moment in time, but I can sense sensation in some way so bringing myself back to the sense of smell. And maybe I can’t feel my hands, however, but what I can do is I can see the colors in front of me. And not just see the colors, I ended up looking way beyond that. And this is Zen Buddhist practice. So you bring in this concept of the earth, this item came from there, this food came from the earth and looking beyond. And when you start to look beyond, things just kind of melts away and let go.

And it just helped me become more present with myself and bring me back to my self. If I feel myself fading away, I can bring myself back with these tools of tapping into our senses, which we’re born with these gifts of sites, smell…In fact, that’s how we learn the world as children, right? We learn and we’re bombarded with our sensors and our sensory system, but we learn specific information and then that gets on an automatic mode. And I’m basically taking myself out of automatic mode and constantly bringing myself consciousness. And for somebody who disconnect, you have to work to bring yourself back to consciousness. And this is just a very tactile, tangible, easy way. It is a meditation at the same time because what happens is, you know, there are many techniques or meditation that this one in particularly is using the vehicle food for one point at focusness. So I’m present with one single object for a moment in time and I use it as a tool to be still and to concentrate and to focus. And I naturally ended up closing my eyes because I’m feeling so connected. And then sometimes it’s not even about food or me personally, the food just kind of fades away and it becomes a vehicle to just be with myself.

And so what I do and what I’ve done is I’ve created a 45 minute guided meditation, but I’ve created this beautiful model and what I do, and it’s a three part process for the eating meditation. So it’s a 45 minute guided meditation, and then there’s a meal after the meditation. But what they are actually eating is a meal that has been created from ingredients that they have spent the time connected with. And that’s kind of the very beautiful piece right there that you know, now they’re going to eat a meal after connecting to something. And they may have known that or may not have known it depending on who they talked to, what reviews they’ve read. But it becomes this kind of pleasant surprise for them to see ingredients and eat them in a different way after spending 45 minutes with them differently. And then the last piece of the puzzle of this eating meditation experience is facilitated conversation around the table where we have conversations that matter, conversations…One, about our experience where we kind of get to dive into how present we may or may not have felt, emotions that may or may not have come up, senses that may or may not have been awakened. And then we see where that conversation takes us and often, I end the night with a question that takes us around having conversations around the table. For the last one that was recently, I just asked the question, you know, being that it’s the week of thanksgiving, next week and a day of gratitude; do you think we’ll get to the point of a culture where gratitude can be for every moment without this concept of good or bad? And that question took us around the table for like a 45-minute discussion or whoever was on the table just having a meal. We’re still eating at the same time and kind of this concept of breaking bread together. We share this experience together. We came there as strangers and here we are having this very intimate night with each other and possibly leaving transformed or at the very least discovering something about ourselves.

And that’s the first program that I’ve launched, Eating Meditation Experience. I have created my own model for eating meditation and INTENT and “I” stands for Invite. Invite the sensitives. “N”is notice and “T” is Transformed. “E” is Explore and Nourish and “T”, Think, and I have different pieces that I talk about under each one of those. And so I go over that during the meditation. And all of this work, you know, it’s things that I’ve been studying this past year extensively to create my own

Susan: That’s really beautiful and an amazing concept. I think especially here in the US. I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve lived in South Carolina, I’ve lived here now for 10 years. And we don’t do this. We’re not good…. I shouldn’t say we don’t. That’s an overarching, combining everybody into one. But I think as a society we choose not to do it because there are so many other things we fill our time with. And I say fill, because I mean, we all have a digital device that we’re sitting here messing with all the time, and to do something with such intention with strangers… And I would think most people don’t realize just how intimate something like that is going to get by the end

Priya Patel: Yeah.

Susan: Is it emotional? I would presume it will be emotional. I’m an emotional person. I would be crying by the end.

Priya Patel: I posted something on my Facebook just a few days ago from me. Like this was the first time that I actually closed…My last one I close my eye and I actually participated just to get a sense of what it feels like to participate with the crowd. But typically, I keep my eyes open and I’m watching everybody. It really is beautiful watching people just be with themselves and you know, even just inviting, you know, one, the phone is away. It’s a three-hour experience. The phone’s away the entire time, you know, and they don’t want their phone. They don’t miss it. They’re not missing it. It’s just away. And just to see people…One of the hardest things that you see or hear with meditation is that “I can’t be with myself. I can’t sit for that long.” And just to see them come out it and then say, “Wow, the 45 minutes went by so fast.” That is really beautiful. And then to see people be respectful of each other and have a conversation. I’m still learning to moderate. This is just a piece that I really wanted to have a part of the program because I had felt like I didn’t really have people to talk to them and I wasn’t even necessarily wanting to like dive into—and I still don’t like, I don’t dive into the X, Y, Z of my life history because at this point in time it doesn’t matter. And I just want people who are like-minded that I can talk to about things in the world, things to me that matter or concepts that matter or how we can work to better ourselves. And so the questions that I present are all questions about south discovery. So maybe it makes us think about our senses for this one particularly, maybe our sense makes us think of, are we only grateful for the good or can we become to be grateful even for in that moment time we think of as bad, you know?

And so can we leave this experience not transformed but curious. And that is my end game, or goal with it. And it is beautiful to watch it unfold. I feel like a curator and that’s why I say this is a curated experience. I do feel like a curator and I’m watching art take place and it’s like the humans, the people at the table are the art.

Susan: That is beautiful. I know these programs are offered just in the DFW area at this moment.

Priya Patel: Yes. That won’t be long. We’ll put it out there to the universe. My goal is, I mean this is going to take some time, but it’s not too far off. So right now they’re offered here. I co-office out of this workspace called the Common Desk and they have locations in Oak Cliff, Plano, Fort Worth.. And so I’ve done eating meditation. I just launched this company four months ago.

Susan: Oh Wow!

Priya Patel: Yeah. But within these, I just decided to go for it. And so I call it “Inspired action, that’s imperfect action inspired. I know that I’m meant to do this,” specifically this eating meditation. The other pieces of the puzzle are still coming like, you know, the yoga curriculum and the meditation curriculum. But this eating meditation is, I felt inspired, like it was like a message, like you have to do it. That’s what I call inspired action. The imperfect action is make the mistakes that I need to make now so that I can make it better, and I just keep doing them. And the next one gets better and then I’ll do one more and that one will get better. But I wanted to take this out and to the masses. And what I mean by that is people often don’t even know that they have a lack of connection to themselves. Some people don’t even know because there’s all that they’ve ever known is to like live life a certain way: social, cultural, self imposed expectations. And so to me, food is one of the most intimate—other than sex where there’s this actual connection in a different way, eating is one of the most intimate things that you can do. And eating is also as human beings something that we need to survive. The number of restaurants that are out there in any city of the state or the world is endless. And so I started in 2019, I’ll be taking this in the DFW metroplex into restaurants. And so there’ll be 12 where I’m creating the experience with my own cooking or perhaps with catering from restaurant and then 12 experiences in restaurants with specific chefs that I’m creating partnerships with.

So that’s where I’m starting to create where, okay, this is how I’m going to take it to the everyday person. Because you know, the everyday person, one, I’ve heard so many people struggle with, “I don’t know how to meditate. I can’t meditate. I’ve tried,” and this is a really great introduction to stillness, because it’s a tactile, tangible thing and food is something that we do, like I said, as humans to survive. And so that’s the direction that it will be going in 2019. But my dream and the vision is that this becomes a model that I am putting into wellness resorts that it becomes part of an experience. So I’m in the works right now of creating an academy where I’ll be training facilitators how to lead this practice and how to execute this model. But all of that in due time, you know, this is, like I said, I’m four months in but there’s definitely a vision and there’s definitely a plan.

Susan: Well, you are only four months into this particular business, but you’ve created businesses before. You’ve done this before and you clearly know your stuff. You’ve been doing this a while, and I love how you’ve been able to connect your past as far as your past experiences and your past education and just your whole life seems to have brought it all together.

Priya Patel: Yeah. It’s so funny that you say that because I really believe like had I not gone through what I’ve been through as a kid, had I not had the challenges that I had in my marriage, had I not had my role of teaching these amazing kids who ended up teaching me so much. I don’t think I would be able to do this.

Susan: No, you couldn’t be here.

Priya Patel: Yes. Even fundraising and having a knowledge of strategy and creating partnerships, like I learned all of that over these past few years. But a lot of it is also what’s happening right now, like to me not only has everything had to have happened the way that it happened, but I also believe that it is because I have done a lot of heart healing, a lot of heart healing. There’s no way that I could be doing what I’m doing right now if my heart wasn’t healed. Because what I’m doing these past four months have been…There’s been a lot of ugly in it, a lot of good in it, a lot of gray in it. But I feel like I’ve been swimming in complete unknown. Had I not been right in my heart, had I not been right in my mind, I would not have been able to have swim in the unknown. That’s been a really important, is just being in the unknown, what I’m doing is like I said, I’m taking inspired action. Like I believe, like I know that I know that I know that this is what I’m supposed to do, but that’s how I know. The rest of it is almost like this game of chess or this game of stop, look and listen. Really it’s stop, listen and then look, like I have to constantly keep checking in. And if my heart and my mind weren’t right, there’s no way I’d be able to check in.

So yes, everything happened the way that it needed to happen, but I also have to dive into a certain amount of healing in order to create. It’s almost like you let go. There’s also a Zen, or a Buddhist or a yoga mentality is you let go to expand. And I feel like I really let go of like everything that I’d ever known, including myself in order to create. And what I’m creating, I feel it was bigger than me, like it’s bigger than me.

Susan: Well, you are absolutely right that you have to let it all go in order to be able to create something new. I have been where you are and I totally understand what you’re going through. It is normal, and I want all of our listeners to know that too. It is not easy creating something out of nothing, but when you know it’s what you’re supposed to be doing, then you have a drive. And that’s one thing that I say at the beginning of every podcast is I believe, I firmly believe that there is something inside each one of us that only we can do. And that is the point of this podcast is to encourage and inspire and empower women to find their thing so that they can share their story so that they can encourage other women to do the same thing. I really believe in the power of sisterhood and where we are right now, at least in the states, I have a few listeners who are not in the states, but I feel like if women can come together and support each other and encourage each other to try these hard things to reconnect with themselves and then figure everything out.

But you are absolutely right. You said you’ve made such a point that you had to be in the space in order to be able to do it. You had to be right with yourself first, and you said it much more eloquently, but you have to be right with yourself first before you can do the next thing.

Priya Patel: Right. And I think the other big piece of it is like I think all humans, not just women, but specifically myself, I’m going to speak for myself. I am a woman. I lived in fear quite a lot of like financial fear and this fear and that fear and a lot of my decisions were fear-based and I’m kind of learning to… There is this…God, let me see if I can remember it; one of the quotes that stood out to me. It’s a John Lennon quote. Basically he says, “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”  And that’s from John Lennon.
Susan: That’s beautiful. I’ve never heard that.
Priya Patel: Yes, it hit me so to the heart, because I had said like, you know, when I chose like burned the house down on everything that I’ve ever known, I said, “I choose life and if I choose life, all of these things that are in that quote has to be there.” Imperfection, not for myself but I took it one step further, not just imperfection of myself, imperfection of others, right? It’s not just acceptance of myself, the acceptance of other people and their imperfections. And in order to see my ability and to have this potential to create, I have to love myself.
I will say that I definitely lacked self-love. And I love what you had said about the sisterhood. So, we started out this conversation, and I know now why it started out, the way that it did with you bringing up Barb. She gave me a sisterhood. She’s given me a sisterhood and we speak on the phone once a month where we share with each other our dreams and our desires for the month. And then at the end of the call they’re right there behind you saying, “Yes, yes, we believe, and we want this for you too.” So you have all these beautiful sisters right there behind you sharing with you the good, the bad and the ugly without judgment and just this unconditional love. And a lot of people have said to me, “Gosh, you’ve only had this company for four months, but it looks like you’ve been around for like a year at this, that or the other one.”

Don’t believe everything that you see. You know, perception is one thing. I am doing well, but I believe that my company is being pushed forward because I have the support of some amazing women behind me. You know, I joined a women’s networking group. I didn’t know why I was joining a women’s networking group. I wasn’t an entrepreneur at that point in time, but I joined the E Women’s Networking Group and I wasn’t even an entrepreneur that moment in time. But literally after I joined that, I was like, “Uh-huh. I joined E Women’s Entrepreneur Group. I meant to be an entrepreneur.” And even that is a sisterhood. And I’ve met some incredible women who are opening doors for me because they believe,  and you know, it’s women supporting women. Some of my first chef partnerships that I’ve made have been with women who are just like, yes, sister, we love what you’re doing. We love that you’re just diving in. You know, they’re just opening the door. And I haven’t had that. You know, I’ve had friends, I’ve had good friends and close friends, who unfortunately have come and gone. And at this moment in time, I really needed a support group, a sisterhood. And I feel blessed to have found it in so many different ways. You know, one, this group that I meet with once a month and get on the phone with once a month as well as my women’s networking group

Susan: That is just…Oh, you just…Oh, I just want to clap. Yes. That’s all I can say is yes to everything you’ve just said. Oh my gosh, that is phenomenal and amazing and I am so happy for you, but I really appreciate you sharing that with our listeners and just what a difference it made in your life. That’s so cool that you kind of put it out there in the universe that you know, this is what you needed almost. And it showed up.

Priya Patel: Yeah. You know, funny enough, last October I created a vision board. I’ve never made one before. And what was on, there were pictures of women together that said “100% real.” And to me that was, oh my God, I was asking for a sisterhood, and I had actually even put on there a woman that…And then next it said, “Be your own boss.” So I hadn’t even made plans to have my own business, but I guess I really did. You know, like I hadn’t even left my organization. I hadn’t really thought about leaving the organization. But as I look back I think, you know, “Wow, I had already put it out there and I didn’t even realize it.”

Susan: Well Priya, I want to be respectful of your time and I really appreciate you coming on today, but I feel like I could sit here and you forever. You have found his sister in me, for sure.

Priya Patel: Thank you for letting me tell a little bit about my journey.

Outro: Wow! That’s all I can say. I loved chatting with Priya. My brain was spinning the whole time with ideas, as I’m sure yours was. Priya’s love of self-discovery is a prequel to our upcoming 30 days of finding your everyday extraordinary. As you know, March is women’s history month and you know what? Our foremothers, just like us, every day extraordinary women who had discovered and were doing their thing. So, for the month of March and in honor of women’s history, we will be working towards finding our own everyday extraordinary. I have some fun ideas and plans ahead that I can’t share with you yet, but I can’t wait to tell you about them. So until then, I’ll see you soon.

 

What does your personal brand say about you? With Lura Hobbs

Lura Hobbs is an executive marketer, strategist, growth leader and catalyst for change.  Today she is using her expertise to help us unpack how to bring our full selves to everything we do.  How you show up is key.  This is especially true in a social media driven world. The person online should match the person you are in real life.

 

Show Notes

What are people saying about you when you are not in the room?  According to Jeff Bezos, that is your brand.

Lura Hobbs knows that in order for your personal brand to be legit you have to be yourself.  You have to show up in life and how you show up matters.  This gets interesting in a world driven by social media. Does the avatar really match the person?

In this episode, Lura shares some really inspiring insights.  A few of my favorite include:

  • Getting perspective from others helps you see your blind spots
  • It is important to know who you are and the value you bring to the table
  • No matter your level, your personal brand is essential
  • It is imperative to be thoughtful with your social media presence
  • It is okay to fail and pick back up again

  

Links

Lura on LinkedIn

Lura on Instagram

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You

From Good to Great

 

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: Happy New Year, pod sisters. I am thrilled to be back with you all today. It was amazing being able to take a break over the holidays and spend some time with the fam and recharge, but I am so ready to be back. I have missed you. So my guest today is Lura Hobbs. Lura is an executive marketer, strategist, and growth leader, and she has worked with a few brands you might recognize like AT&T, Pizza Hut, State Farm, McDonald’s, and Frito Lay. We aren’t talking corporate branding strategy, though. We’re discussing personal branding and what that means today, especially in a digital and social media driven world. We discuss not only showing up in life, but how you show up. We discuss perception versus reality and bridging that gap. We discuss failure and getting back up. It is a jam-packed episode and no matter if you are launching your own company this year or consistently posting on social media, there is something in this episode for everyone. So without further ado, here’s Lura.

Well, Hey Lura. How are you? I’m so glad to have you here with me today.

Lura Hobbs: Oh, Susan it is so awesome. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to dig in with you. Your questions had me humming along just thinking through lots of different things.

Susan: Well, that is so funny because you are already such an accomplished marketing communication strategist. I guess I put people who’ve been in the business for awhile on a pedestal and think, “Oh, you’ll have these off the top of your head.”

Lura Hobbs: No, no. I mean we do. We can answer them off the top of our heads, but the reality is, you know, with a little bit of thought, it definitely goes a little bit deeper than the surface. So I’m a full believer in telling the real-real and not making it look overly pretty. So I’m looking forward to this today.

Susan: I am too. As we get started, could you share with our audience a little bit of your background story and how you came to start your own marketing consulting firm?

Lura Hobbs: Sure, sure. So I am a marketing and advertising veteran. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working on some amazing brands from AT&T to State Farm and McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Frito Lay products. And it’s just been an amazing and gratifying ride. So I’ve worked client side or brand side, as some people will say, and agency side and really just enjoy progressing and stretching myself into new roles and new arenas and putting myself in places where I had to figure it out. So I made the jump to. I started my own firm back in 2009. I had actually been laid off from a job in a company I’d loved through a national restructure, and I was presented with an opportunity to do some consulting instead of a full time job. And I was like, “You know what? I’m going to try to, let’s see what happened.”

And I started Solstice Strategies, my consulting firm, and really just was amazed at what I was able to do as a consultant working on a startup. I actually had an opportunity later on after that to go back into a full time role, so I dropped consulting and went into that and I’ve actually done a couple of cycles of that and now I’m on my third time of saying, “Okay, no, I’m really going to stick with this. I’m going to do the consulting thing and not be wooed back into a corporate gig.” So it’s been an off again on again love affair because sometimes I get recruited and I just can’t say no to an opportunity, but I really do love this time and space of being able to work on brands and projects that I love rather than kind of being in a box that I have to fit everything in.

Susan: That is really admirable to continue to go after your own thing. Because I know that’s hard. Just in thinking about going from employed to employer, there’s just such a huge mind shift that has to happen. And I think it’s always, at least for me, it’s easier to drop back into the employed piece versus employer, but we can get into that a little bit later. Tell me a little bit about what it was like putting your own brand strategy together. Because you’re an expert in your field, did you do it all on your own? Did you get outside consulting? Tell us a little bit about that. Tell us a little bit about how that. How you accomplished that.

Lura Hobbs: Yeah, so the strategy piece in terms of what I bring to the table and the value that I add, it’s something that I feel like I can do on my own. It’s a struggle. I won’t lie and say that it’s flawless and it’s easy because I think it’s a lot easier for those of us, at least I can speak for myself, in the business. I’m a lot better at it doing brand strategy and branding for someone else or another brand product versus myself because it really is looking at yourself from the lens of the rest of the world looking at you, and it’s a bit kind of a nerving. But I needed to work on the strategy at least on my own. And it’s an intensive process. It’s not like, you know, I did it back in 2009 and I haven’t touched it. Every time I gain the skills or pivot a little bit into a different arena, I have to revisit it and make sure I know what value I can bring and how I’m going to bring that to the table. In terms of the identity, the logo, the colors and that kind of thing, I actually worked with someone that I’ve known for a really long time. He and I have worked together on several different projects and so I completely trust him with my identity and what it looks like and we’re actually. We’ve committed that we’re going to do that again and I just haven’t committed to it yet. But it’s something that is an intensive process. I think there’s a perception that you’re going to do your brand strategy, whether it’s for your personal brand strategy for your company and you get to just leave it. And it’s something that should live and breathe with you as you grow and add services; it’s not something that’s static.

Susan: I like how you said that it’s hard to look at yourself under the microscope basically and create something yourself. I have had that issue with content writing, actually. And I have partnered with somebody to kind of help me through some of that and a lot of it, at least for me, and tell me how it is for you. It’s for me, it’s easy to get stuck down in the weeds sometimes instead of like popping up over the surface, if you will, and looking at it from the bird’s eye view of this is what it really is. Is that kind of what…?

Lura Hobbs: Absolutely. Because when you’re sitting on the side of being an employee, you have objectives that you need to deliver on. And so at the end of the year you can sit down and like, “Okay, here’s the things I accomplished.” And so it’s a list of, you know, however many things you got done that year and you’re feeling good about yourself. But when it comes to brand strategy, it really is a next level up from that and saying, “Okay, yes, I accomplished these things, but how did I do it? How did that come to the table? What were the strengths that I employed in getting them done, whether they’re soft skills or hard skills, and how did I do it uniquely to me?” And that takes a different lens than just looking at I’m accomplished. And I think the thing that we have to remember is yes, you need to do the searching and some of it on your own, but you also need to spend some time talking to people who work with you. You know, whether that’s clients or colleagues, you need to really dig in and say, “You know, I feel like this project went really well. Help me understand what you saw.” Or if something didn’t go well, what did I miss in this opportunity? And I think in getting that feedback, we’re able to understand better. There are things that each of us we do really well and they come easy to us and we don’t realize how impactful they are and we’re able to ask somebody else how they saw it.

Susan: Oh, absolutely. I 100% agree with you on that. We’re talking about brand strategy and your own personal brand strategy versus starting your own business and that brand strategy. Share with us a little bit about the importance of creating your own brand strategy. Why do you need to do that? What does that look like, even if you’re not talking about starting your own company or business?

Lura Hobbs: Absolutely. There is a quote from Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon that I love and he says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in room.” I love that quote because it’s so true.

Susan: It is so true.

Lura Hobbs:  And when people talk about brand strategy, personal brand strategy, too often they immediately go to LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and all your social accounts and how you show up online. But the reality is, your number one vehicle for your personal brand strategy is who you show up to be in person at work, whether you’re an employee or an employer, it’s what it’s like when people work with you. So a lot of setting your own personal brand strategy is understanding who you are, what you bring to the table, and what value you bring. And so you really need to dig in to really understand that and again, going back to getting some people that know you very well and getting that feedback, but then also just spending some time going back through all your accomplishments. There are some threads there of just what you do really well and you want to be able to make sure you’re managing that and presenting that to people when you work with them. So what he says is “what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” you want that to be positive of course, but you have to influence that perception and so that’s when it comes to being intentional about knowing your value, talking about your value, representing your value well so that you’re influencing what that conversation is when you’re not there.

Susan: Yes, you don’t want people talking about you behind your back and calling you what we used to call or what one of my favorite partners at PriceWaterhouseCoopers used to call a PURE, which was a Previously Undetected Recruiting Error. I was like, “Did you come up with that yourself?” He’s retired now and I’m not going to drop his name on here because I didn’t cover that with him beforehand, but he was one of my favorite partners in the whole wide world and that comment always used to just make me laugh.

Lura Hobbs: Oh, I love it.

Susan: It didn’t matter how long the person had been in the firm, whether it was, you know, a brand new associate, a summer, a partner, a high level partner. He didn’t care because he was on his way out anyway for retirement and yeah, he would say, “Well, that’s clearly a PURE,” and I would just laugh. It was too funny, too funny. So yes, no matter what level you’re at, your brand strategy or personal strategy is important.

Lura Hobbs: Yeah, and I think the thing that people don’t understand, especially for us as women, professional women, we so often focus on the results, you know, if you’re an employee, you were asked to deliver on X, Y and Z and you delivered X, Y, Z, and you went back and did A as well. So you’re like, “I overdelivered.” But the thing is you also have to manage the perception of that. You know, it’s going back to that quote, there’s always a gap between what you want the perception to be in what’s being said and that’s what you have to manage, actively manage. And that’s true for us as entrepreneurs as well because we all have clients so we always have to manage the perception of what you’re putting out there versus what they’re viewing, but is there a gap and how do I need to close it?

Susan: Absolutely. And I think you can’t just go in there and put your head down and do the work. There’s also managing relationships and figuring out who the players are and yada, yada, yada. And I don’t really know how that incorporates necessarily into your personal brand, but it’s just things to be aware of, the little cues that people don’t necessarily always pick up on, the politics I guess.

Lura Hobbs: Absolutely. And I think it all kind of plays together because your personal brand, you know, of course what we’re saying is what people are saying about you when you’re not in the room. Well, how do you handle politics? How do you handle conflict? How do you handle it when things don’t go according to plan? All those soft skills do influence what people are talking about without you so gets you need to get your work done and do it well and flawlessly over deliver. But how you get that work done, how you show up in your work is also really key because part of their personal brand is what does it feel like to work with you? You know, do I feel like I got ran over by a truck when I worked with you? Or do I feel like, wow, she really partnered with me. I felt pushed, but it was in a good way. You know, those are things that we need to actively work on in our personal brand strategy is making sure that you know, yes, you bring skills to the table, but how you bring them to the table will influence what people say about you later on.

Susan: I didn’t put this question in here, so if we cut this, I’m totally fine with that, but for women who have been out of the workforce or out of the corporate gig, maybe she’s been doing something on the side and she’s really wanting to go back into a corporate structure or work for a company or something like that. How is it best to position yourself or do you even—have you ever thought about this? Like how is. How is it best to position yourself from a branding standpoint coming back in?

Lura Hobbs: It’s a great question. I have a really good friend who is coming back after some time really focusing on home, children, parents, all the stuff that we carry as women and balance it all and she’s looking at her professional career and I think she’s done a great job because she is highlighting all of her volunteer leadership experiences. She’s been in leadership positions but they haven’t been paid and so she’s going back and looking at, “Okay, here are all the things I have accomplished, although I have not gotten paid for them.” So I think the way she’s positioning herself is exactly what a lot of women returning to the corporate world have to do is, you know, you’ve been doing a lot of stuff. It’s not like you’ve just been sitting at home watching TV. How do you position all of the work that you’ve done in a way that you can talk about the value you’ve added, the skills that you’ve gained or how you use your corporate skills in a new way and nonprofit, school volunteering, church volunteering, all things. So there’s definitely a way to bridge it.

Susan: That’s a really good point. That’s a really good point. Thanks for going through that with me. We touched on this just a little bit ago, but tell me what you see how the personal brand or how individuals brands have changed because of social media for good, bad, ugly, and then what do you do if you realize it might not be what you want it to be?

Lura Hobbs: Oh, there’s always time to start over. I am a believer in pivoting and starting over and scratch and stuff. But let’s go back to your, the beginning of the question. So social media has really changed everything. I think the thing that I love about social media is it allows people and brands to connect in ways that they have not been available in decades before. So you can start a small business and be global because you’re online, but at the same time social media can be really nasty, ugly, heated place.

Susan: Mm-hmm. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Lura Hobbs: You don’t know what I’m talking about. Things get inflamed really quickly, wide spread really quickly. You know, there’s a question of what the truth is and what it isn’t. So I think if you’re, whether you’re an employee or an employer or an entrepreneur, you really have to be thoughtful about what you want your social media presence to be. And there’s a lot of things out there that will tell you you need to be on every social media platform known to man. I disagree with that personally. I think you need to pick and choose where you are and pick and choose what’s personal versus what’s professional. My Facebook is personal so I don’t allow anybody and everybody to be connected to me on Facebook. To me, that’s where I share family and friends and just fun stuff that’s personal to me. My LinkedIn, I connect with people who professionally are people I want to work with: old colleagues new people mean there’s to me, there are rules that I’ve created for myself in terms of how I use each medium. And I think that applies whether you’re a entrepreneur or just an employee in terms of managing what’s there. The thing I’ll say is, I mean even in separating what’s personal and professional, you have to realize that it’s all online, so if you are ranting and raving and misbehaving on Facebook and then a completely different that person on LinkedIn that’s professional really well put together, you have to realize that somebody is going to crossover and understand that you’re a whole different person on Facebook. And so you need to think about how you manage yourself. One of the favorite things of Michelle Obama quotes over the time that she was first lady, she made a comment about when they go low, we go high.

So there are attacks and rants and all kinds of ugliness on social media and I would just say go high every time because the moment that you succumb to the anger and the venom that can happen on social, it can ruin your reputation professionally. So you just have to be really skilled in making sure—walk away from the keyboard. If something happens online that just drives you up a wall disconnected from that person if you need to walk away, but do not become an angry villain because that will translate over into your professional.

Susan: Oh, absolutely. In fact, back in October we did a whole month of self-care, and that was one of the day is, a good way to take care of yourself is to put social media down, is to unfollow, declutter the social media so you’re not even seeing the negative. And then if you do see it, scroll past so that your own anxiety levels don’t go through the roof.

Lura Hobbs: Absolutely.

Susan: Because there’s a personal cost to it as well forget the—not forget the personal branding point, but I mean there are so many reasons not to get involved in the negative on social media. It’s like damaging to your health.

Lura Hobbs: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think we forget there’s such a push to gain followers, to have an audience, to have a platform that you can forget that yes they are… Size is a good thing depending on what your business is, but the quality of the connection is also a good thing to look at. So you can have a million followers, but if of those million followers, only 10 people aren’t engaged in the conversation, does the million followers really matter? So we don’t have to succumb to the game of I have to have a huge audience. You can have a smaller audience that’s really targeted and really engaged in whatever you’re selling or marketing. So just create your own metrics and your own decision tree of what’s important on social and don’t succumb to all the games that say bigger is better.

Susan: Well, and keeping in that same vein, a lot of this sounds like being your own authentic self.

Lura Hobbs: Absolutely.

Susan: So what is a good way to maintain authenticity in your personal brand? How do we refrain from being that cookie cutter, oh, you know, the best employee or whatever. How do you, how do you interject your own authenticity into your personal brand?

Lura Hobbs: I think a lot of that is knowing what you’re great at. So in the book, Good to Great, there’s a chapter where I think it’s called the “Hedgehog Concept” and he talks about companies knowing what their best in the world at. He does a video chat a few years after he writes the book and applies it to your personal brand. And if you reread that chapter through the lens of not the company but your personal brand, you really can start to go through the process of discovering what your best in the world at. And that’s your authentic self. That’s really your goal is just to be true to what you’re best in the world and do it in a way that’s authentic to you. And by that what I mean, if you like to have fun and laugh a lot at work, you can bring that into your day to day so when people meet you, but also you can bring them into online. If you have this very dry, witty, sense of humor and that’s where you are in person and that’s part of how you get your work done and make it enjoyable. That’s who you should be online. Some of us as ladies, we love to dress up and be 100% made up all the time. Be that online. And if you’re not, don’t, I mean it’s just…There aren’t rules that people need to follow to look like somebody else; you need to look like you because the person online should match the person that somebody going to meet. And if they don’t, then you haven’t been true to the brand that you want to represent.

Susan: Oh, that’s such a good point. That is such a good point.

Lura Hobbs: I think that’s the trap we fall into, we try to curate and create this brand online that’s beautiful and always made up and always coordinated and always this, that and the other. And then you can meet the person and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, that is not who I thought you were.” And we need to realize that everybody’s not perfect. Nobody’s perfect, right? So your online social media should look and sound like you look and sound in person. I love to make fun of my own mistakes. I will be the first one to tell you all the crap that I’ve done wrong and I’m not afraid to talk about that. So there are times on Facebook I tell funny stories about you will not believe how stupid I was and what I did, and then there’s always, like, at the end it’s like, and here’s whatever. So that’s just, I’m not afraid to make fun of myself, so I should not only do that in person, I should be willing to do that online. And then when you meet me like, “Yeah, she’s crazy.”

Susan: Oh you are funny, you’re funny. You’re not crazy or maybe kinda crazy.

Lura Hobbs: Kinda crazy. We’re all kinda crazy.

Susan: If you’re not kinda crazy, you’re not going to make it. That’s my theory. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk a little bit about you getting started in your own, doing your own thing out on your own, what were some things or what have been some things over the years that you have found helpful to strategically outsource, either it being a personal thing, a business thing in order to help you not be doing it all all the time?

Lura Hobbs: Yeah. So, we have a housekeeper for sure. I discovered a long time ago that I like to keep my house clean and there’s a certain way I like it done, but I have to let that go and just get something else. Or do I do stuff on my own in between visits? Yes. But overall, I cannot say that I keep my house clean. Okay. So for everybody who thinks that… Yeah, I don’t, that’s just not possible. When I’m traveling—I used to travel quite a bit in my last corporate job. My travel was insane and I always outsourced driving and it sounds like a small thing, but doing Uber, Lyft or having a driver when you land in a new city, take a whole level of stress down. I don’t have to figure out where I’m going. I don’t have to have directions. I actually can sit in the car and work, take phone calls or have a moment to myself that something that was really key to me surviving my corporate gig with a level of travel I had, the amount of time I’m spending in cars, I realized this is an opportunity for me to get stuff done and why am I renting a car? That might sound small to some people, but if you travel a lot, I think people will get it. I used to outsource kid pickups and dropoffs, so Uber for the family.

Susan: Oh nice.

Lura Hobbs: I used to outsource that. I’m doing that right now and I’m actually enjoying it, but I can see a point maybe next year when I’m going to have to outsource that again, but you’d be amazed at how much time you spend being Uber for your family and I’m very grateful we have some other families in our lives who have girls who are older than our girls and it’s a bonding experience. They get to meet someone who’s in college and you know, get a glimpse of their life and they’ve been great influences for my girl so it’s worked out. But the amount of time you spend driving around town or volleyball practice and tennis practice and music lessons and all that adds up as well. That’s time you could have to yourself.

Susan: That is so true.

Lura Hobbs: So hate shopping. So Amazon Prime is my best friend, so I love it.

Susan: Oh, it’s amazing.

Lura Hobbs: Yeah. I hate shopping.

Susan: It has been a lifesaver, and a money saver, quite frankly. This is the membership pays for itself, at least for me because I don’t go to Target and spend $100 here, $100 there. You know, I feel like if I go into Target and I’m spending at minimum $100.

Lura Hobbs: Oh absolutely, every time.

Susan: And I might do that on Amazon anyway because it’s stuff that I need, but at Target I’m buying stuff I don’t need to.

Lura Hobbs: I do go to Target, though. I love Target. It’s like a guilty pleasure. I love Target.

Susan: I do too. I mean it has everything. It has everything

Lura Hobbs: And they have really cool stuff.

Susan: I had a friend of mine say that the other night, she has a newborn and she was meeting another friend who had a newborn at Target at 9 pm and just because they could get out of the house that was, you know, husbands were home, they could just get out and they were going to do it. And one of them actually suggested they were like, so should I like bring wine and a Roadie Cup or something? She was like, “No, but Target should totally like open that up.” You know, they have Starbucks in there, why not like a little wine bar like Whole Foods does and some of their stores. Hello?

Lura Hobbs: There would be people who would never leave Target if they had a wine bar, are you kidding me?

Susan: That is a very good point. They would never close.

Lura Hobbs: But I like it.

Susan: I thought it was a pretty crafty, clever idea. So owning your own thing, we talked a little bit about this, about getting in the weeds, about getting stuck in the muck with it. It can be so hard and so challenging, at least for me to let it go at the end of the day or to let it go ever. Talk to me a little bit about self-care for yourself. Do you have a routine? Are there certain things that you just have to do in order to get yourself back to level?

Susan: Yeah. So don’t laugh. I pray a lot.

Lura Hobbs: No, I’m not laughing.

Susan: You know, I say that and they’re like, “You’re serious?” and I say, “Yeah, I’m serious.” For me, if I can do two things nearly everyday I can keep myself sane. The first one is in the morning having some quiet time, a little time to write some notes of gratitude, to pray, to realize really I do have everything in life I need. I’m not living in a state where I don’t have what I need, I do, I really do. No matter how stressed out I get about it. And it grounds me just to realize, you know, life is more than work and money. There’s a lot more that I’m here to do on earth. So I try to ground myself in the morning with who I am and what I’m here for and in that life is bigger than stuff. And then if I can get a workout in three, four days a week in the evening, I really feel like I can keep myself from going crazy.

Those two things, I try to have them bookmark my days, and it really does make the difference for me because if I go too long without having some kind of grounding, I started to think that things are more life threatening than they really are and I blow them out of proportion. I like to box, so hitting 135 pound bag, if I’ve had a hard day, clears everything I can take all of whatever has gone wrong, whoever has put me in a bad mood, I punched myself happy and then I can leave the gym and feel like I could start over.

Susan: I feel that way about lifting heavy weights. So I totally understand that. And it’s been a while since I’ve lifted heavy heavyweights, but I can totally identify with that. And I really liked how you said how you like to bookend your day, and this is totally off topic, but I was watching an interview with a Lin Manuel Miranda –I hope I’m not saying his name wrong, I think I pronounced it correctly – he’s the guy who did Hamilton, and he talked about in his interview because he came out with a book and it was like basically all his tweets or something because he’s never really journaled or anything like that, he said he never really kept a diary so this is kind of what it’s been over the last couple of years and obviously, he’s a writer so a lot of the writing was just really beautiful even though it’s via Twitter. And something he does, or did, I think still does is say good morning and good night. And he talked about how that started and why that started. And even though he is saying good morning and good night, that’s how he turns on and off mentally his social media during the day. It’s how he bookend stuff. He says good morning and then he goes on throughout his day or whatever and he says goodnight and that may be 7:00, 8:00 at night and obviously he’s not going to bed yet, but that’s when he turns it off. And I thought that was really interesting how you talked about bookending your days as well.

Lura Hobbs: Oh, I love that principle because you didn’t have to have some discipline about when you turned it off. And let me be the first to say in all transparency, I’m horrible at that, so if I can get myself to go to gym, more likely than not, I am not going to come out of the gym in the same mental state I came into it, so it gives me a chance to shift my mindset, my emotional state, whatever needs to be reset, it resets in a gym, so I love. I love a good morning tonight. That’s it. That’s a great way.

Susan: I know, and I don’t know that he started it that way on purpose or if it just kind of evolved into that, but I thought it was just a fascinating evolution of his social media. I really liked the turning it on and turning it off because I’m bad, bad, bad, bad at that. So having your own gig is hard when things get crazy, when things get stressful, overwhelming or things just aren’t going how you think or want them to go, how do you keep going or what keeps you going and maybe not even running back towards the door of a corporation?

Lura Hobbs: Yeah. That’s a hard one.

Susan: Yeah.

Lura Hobbs: There are days that I’m like, “I’m just going back to work. This is not working.”

Susan: I know

Lura Hobbs: Part of it is my quest to get it right, and I can laugh about that. Not just saying that it was wrong. The other two times I’ve done it, it’s just I somehow found myself back taking a job. So for me, right now I have a quest to get it right this time. That’s part of what keeps me going. Another thing that keeps me going is my quest to have more flexibility. So in my last two rounds, corporate side, I had jobs that I loved, but I literally traveled like a crazy woman to do those jobs, and it takes a toll. It takes a toll personally and it takes a toll for my family. Can it be done? Absolutely. You know, I probably have travel tricks and tips that I’ve created over the years to make it all work, but it does put a level of stress on me that is in addition to the stress of the job.

So I want the flexibility to cycle up and cycle down a bit during the course of a year to do the 80-hour weeks and for some months maybe to do a 40-hour based on what’s going on. So I have a quest for flexibility in my work that I have not yet achieved. And then part of it is I have two daughters and I’m on a quest to show them that it’s okay to start, to fail and pick back up again. And that’s hard because I don’t do well at failing, but I’m embracing the fact that failure is okay and it’s okay to say the word and it’s okay to admit that it didn’t work. The trick is getting back up again. And so entrepreneurship definitely is a rollercoaster ride financially, emotionally, all of it. And so I want to walk out in front of my girls a level of determination and just willingness to try and try again so that they’ll know that it’s okay to try something new, try something bold, and even if you fail at it you learn something and you’re going to move on and do something great.

Susan: Thank you for the rawness of that. Because as women, maybe especially, maybe that’s not true, I don’t know. I always feel like being a woman and failing is like a double whammy somehow. And maybe it’s because of where I’m from, I don’t know, because I’m from South Carolina and I have heard people say, “Well women don’t do that. Well, women shouldn’t do that. Well, women da, da, da…” And so it’s like when you do something and you try something and it doesn’t work out, it’s like, “Well, they were right.” I’ve said that to myself so many times and been so unkind to myself. So thank you for the rawness of that, that it’s that it’s okay to fail and learn the lesson because I think that’s really—that’s probably hard for everybody, but maybe for me in particular. So thank you for that.

Lura Hobbs: I loved what you said about feeling like sometimes you’re so unkind to yourself and I think one of the things we have to do, not just as women entrepreneurs, but just professional women, whatever level you’re striving for, you need to have at least one other woman in your life that can speak to you directly to affirm you, to push you, to challenge you when you’re having those moments, when you’re being unkind to yourself. And I think too often we have those harsh, unkind moments alone and we’re not willing to share though and in that that’s when we become defeated and we’d give up and we just go do something safe. And not to say that the safe path isn’t an okay path because some of us have to take a safe path because of what we need to do for our families. But too often we talk ourselves out of our own greatness and we just need another woman there to hold our hand and say it’s okay, keep going. And we need to be vulnerable enough to find at least one woman in our life to be that person.

Susan: Oh, I love the way you said that; “We talk ourselves out of our own greatness.” That’s where the. That’s pretty big. That’s a big thing to say but you’re absolutely correct. You are absolutely right.

Lura Hobbs: Right. At least once a week I’m sitting here and I’m going, “Okay, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I just can’t.” And I’m so grateful that over the course of the last year, I have met some just lovely, amazing women, and sometimes I’ll just send a text message; “I can’t do it. I can’t do it.” And I’ll get a message back that says, “Yes you can. What did you need? Do you need to talk? Do you need to meet me right now? What do you need?” And you just need somebody that answers that text message with; “Yes, you can.”

Susan: Well, on that note, thank you so much for joining me today. I have loved our conversation. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about personal branding and perseverance. Before I let you go, it’s something that was a little unexpected, but I really liked it and I appreciated that very much. Before I let you go, tell us where we can find you; via your website, your social media, if people are looking for your services or, or everything that you offer in your own consulting. Tell us where we can find

Lura Hobbs: Sure. You can find me on LinkedIn under my name. I have a different name. It’s Laura Hobbs. You can type my name on LinkedIn and you’ll find me there. You can follow me, you can connect with me. You can see a little bit about my background and what I do professionally. And then, you can find me on Instagram. I don’t post a lot on Instagram, but there’s a few things there. Same thing my name, Lura Hobbs, you can find me there. My Facebook is private, so if you’re listening to this and you know me first, maybe you can connect with me there, but I try to keep that to a kind of a smaller group of ladies.

Susan: Cool. And then do you have your own website?

Lura Hobbs: That is the bane of my existence. I have done it, not done it, done it, not done it. I own all the URLs at point too, or at least those that I could buy. I haven’t done it. It’s the thing I need to do. That’s the thing I talked myself out of it so I use LinkedIn.

Susan: I love that. Can I leave this in? Okay. Because I feel like as women I feel like as women there are things that are just action steps we have to take and often it’s buying the URL that’s the hard part. I understand.

Lura Hobbs: I bought them. I’ve got like 10 URLs. I build it, I look at it, and I’m like, “I don’t like it.” So, it’s a commitment issue and I need to get past it, but that’s the God honest truth. I have them. I just haven’t committed.

Susan: Well, I love it because we all have those things that we refuse to commit to, so I appreciate your being honest about that and letting me leave that in. Thank you so much for joining today. It has been a real treat for me to catch up with you and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Lura Hobbs: This was truly just fun to hang out with you this way, and I am glad to have you as one of those women in my life. So thank you.

Susan: Well, thank you so much for that. That means the world to me.

Outro: Thanks so much for listening today. I’ve learned so much from our conversation with Lura and I know you did too. I’ve made sure to link everything we discussed as well as where to find Lura over on our website, howshegothere.com. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please, please, please share with your friends, and don’t forget to head over to iTunes and hit subscribe and while you’re there I really appreciate if you would rate it and review it in order to make it easier for others to find. I also made sure to read every review and email and Facebook posts you leave, and I have always, always, always enjoyed hearing your feedback. It has really meant a lot to me. We also have a private Facebook group, the How She Got Here community page, and would love to have you join us there to continue the conversation on today’s episode as well as any other fun, How She Got Your Content. So with all of that said, thank you from the bottom of my heart for listening. I’ll see you soon.