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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.

How the rearing of children and the desire for peace and common ground leads to interfaith work; Daughters of Abraham: Part 2

What if we realized that all anyone wants is the best for their children?  What if we recognized the similarities in each other rather than our differences?  Could this help us find peace and common ground in our varying faith communities? 

Show Notes:

When you think of peace and common ground, what comes to mind?  For Angelina Tucker it is her grandfathers work and her faith. 

Angelina is an accomplished Doctor of Pharmacy specializing in geriatrics.  Yet, it was becoming a mother that helped reacquaint her with her faith. It also motivated her to connect with the inter faith community, write about faith and raising kids for the Fort Worth Mom’s Blog and “advocate for religious freedom for minority groups globally” on Capitol Hill.  WHEW!

A few favorite inspiring take aways from our conversation:

  • It is important to build bridges through dialogue and open communication

– It’s okay to ask questions.  Curiosity is a good thing and many people welcome it.

  • “At the end of the day, we’re mothers trying to raise our kids, and keep them away from harm and we want the very, very best for them, and we have that in common.”

Links

http://daughtersofabraham-tx.org

https://fortworth.citymomsblog.com/author/angelinatucker/

www.lajnausa.net

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, welcome to part two of Daughters of Abraham. Today I’m sharing my conversation with Muslim Daughter of Abraham member, Angelina Tucker. Angelina is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and found her way to Texas via the University of Florida—Go Gators—and meeting her husband. She is a Doctor of Pharmacy and specializes in geriatrics. She is a mother and also a writer and contributor to the Fort Worth Moms blog. So without further ado, here’s Angelina.

Susan: Hey, Angelina, I am so glad we could chat today. How are you doing?

Angelina: I’m doing great. Thank you for asking. 

Susan: Good. Well, I’m just really excited to have you here with us today. For my audience who doesn’t know you, although some may know you, and we’ll get into that in a little bit. But for my audience who doesn’t know you, tell us a little bit about your backstory, who you are and what you’re up to? 

Angelina: Well, you know, Susan, to tell you the truth I’m just a simple country girl. You know, I was born in a third world country in Trinidad and Tobago on a beautiful Caribbean island. But even then, you know, I could never have fathomed that I would one day live in Texas, or that I would even enter a male-dominated profession, that I would become a Doctor of Pharmacy specializing in geriatrics and be in charge of doing consultations for 13 locations. It’s a dream. You know, at that time, a little girl I couldn’t have fathomed that my faith would take things from an unknown island, a dot in, you know, in the map barely even, to the steps of Capitol Hill to advocate for religious freedom rights for minority groups globally. I would say that I have found the American dream. I have a beautiful family. We live here in Granbury, Texas. I’ve got a flourishing career. And most importantly, my underlying foundation is my faith that got me here today. 

Susan: What a beautiful story. Tell us how you got to the US and then how of all places—you said you’ve been to Capitol Hill as well. Tell us how you ended up in Texas.

Angelina: Well, I was pursuing my Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of Florida. And I was doing a distance education. I always knew that I wanted to get my doctorate. And so I was coming back and forth from Florida to Trinidad, and doing several conferences was very intense weekly lectures. On one of those trips, coming up here, I met a group of folks and I decided that I wanted to come to the US and pursue my dream. And I met my husband. At the time, he was into computers, he was into cell phones and we met and we started a long distance relationship. And eventually, I moved over here and he asked me to marry him. That’s how I moved to Florida. And he’s a Texan by heart. So my Texas cowboy brought me to his home and to tell you the truth, I love it. 

Susan: What a fun and beautiful story.  That is awesome. I love that you call your husband, a Texas cowboy. 

Angelina: Oh, Gosh.  Yeah.

Susan: That is amazing. Well, I know one of the things—how we met was through the Daughters of Abraham. And as you said a minute ago, one of the things that’s most important to you is your faith. We talk a lot on the podcast about figuring out your thing in life, your inner extraordinary. You seem to have really gone back to your roots. What was it that made you go back and rediscover your faith, or reconnect with your faith?

Angelina: Well, I would say that it starts with extraordinary mentors like my grandparents who raised me. My grandfather was actually a very prominent Imam or a leader of a Sunni mosque. But at the age of 60, he decided to convert to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. And he left that position of prestige. He lost the adoration of many of his followers and his people to follow his heart. He took a band of 10 people and started his own mosque. And very soon after the Ahmadiyya missionary that came from Pakistan was martyred. He was assassinated. And I remember the fear of my grandfather’s life and the life of our family was at stake. But you know, he showed not an ounce of fear instead somehow, he showed like a deeper conviction to his faith, a faith that as a young child of you know, maybe seven, eight, you know, I saw it was unshakable. And it drove his very being it drove his core to define him as a person. And he was this eloquent speaker, and he was always revered in the circles that he was with. And, you know, when he passed away, I felt very driven to continue the work of peace and common ground between faiths that he started. And I think it’s that same faith that I come back to and I hold on today that sort of guided me through the, you know, tornado of obstacles that I faced on a daily basis, it seems.

Susan:  I really appreciate how you put that “peace and common ground,” because that’s definitely one of the things we talk about a lot in Daughters of Abraham. And I find that that’s just a lovely way to learn more about each other, and to be inquisitive about each other’s faiths, and really a way to find commonality. And there really is a lot of commonality, at least between the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And I said that in the order that they, you know, kind of showed up on the planet. So, outside your amazing pharmacy career, or pharmaceutical career, you are also a very eloquent and amazing writer. Tell us a little bit about that side of your hobby or side gig, or however you would like to put it, and how you got involved in that. And then how did you become such a beautiful writer, because you really are an amazing writer. 

Angelina: Thank you. Well, honestly, it started where I have this foundation of religion and faith but then, you know, like many youths, you know, I went off to university and I kind of lost my way. And it was only when my grandfather passed away, I got jolted back to reality. And then soon after I became pregnant with a baby girl and I was overjoyed and elated but I was scared and the fear set in and I realized that I was going to be a role model, I had to teach my daughter these morals and values and life lessons. But how was I supposed to do this when I didn’t even know who I was, what were my values. And that’s when I went back to my foundation, to my rock, my faith, and the religion that I was taught as a child, and now kind of looked upon with more mature eyes, and I started researching the meaning behind what I was taught. And in it, I found this kind of, you know, oasis, this spring, that sort of calmed my being and my core, and that’s kind of where it started, for me, my religious and my spiritual journey. And it was then that I became connected with the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Dallas, and there was a branch in Fort Worth, and so I started attending meetings and going there regularly, because I wanted my children to grow up with the kind of strong religious faith that I grew up with.

And it was there that we started our very first—I was able to put together the very first interfaith symposium for the Fort Worth Women’s Chapter, and that was entitled, “Raising Tomorrow’s Leaders Mind, Body and Spirit” because I was so consumed with raising children and raising my own so that was the very first things that I wanted to talk about. And so we have the Muslim, the Christian and the Jewish women, all come together, talking about their religious teachings with regard to you know, raising kids. And from there, a reporter from NPR Radio found me and she wanted to do an interview with me. And she connected me to the Multicultural Alliance, and then then to Janice Lord and the Daughters of Abraham. And that’s how I became sort of woven into the network of these women of faith. And I mean, each topic we discussed, we appreciate, and we learn the differences between each other, but we also able to unite on a common ground, which makes us stronger in our own faith, it makes us more determined to overcome the violence and the negative rhetoric that we confront in the media every day. And we do this through loving each other through open dialogue and communication by getting to know the other in society. So that’s where the Daughters of Abraham sort of came into my life and gave me new meaning.

Susan: I really appreciate how you said that Daughters of Abraham really has made your faith stronger. It has done the same for me. And I love that it can serve the individual like that, and then serve the body, if you will, not the physical body, but the, you know, body of God. Or, you know what I’m saying, like the people of the world, how it can serve both the individual and then humanity.  I know sometimes…I don’t know if this has happened to you, but sometimes we will have—because we’re not actually in the same Daughters of Abraham group—that sometimes we’ll have a topic come up from month to month or however and it’ll say something like, “Okay, well, how is this demonstrated or talked about or dealt with in your faith?” And it could be something as simple as water? What is the significance of water in your own faith? And how it has made me dig deeper and really think about, “Oh, well, what is the significance of water in my faith?” And in the different like sides of Christianity, you know, we have different denomination so what does water mean to the Catholic? What does water mean to the Methodist? What does water mean to the Baptist? And it runs the gamut, and I would presume that that is the case for you, that you would have to dig sometimes as well.  Is that true?

Angelina: For sure. Yes, definitely. You know, I mean, but just the world, in general, and religion, there’s so many different facets to each topic, such that when, like, you say, a topic is presented to you, you start thinking, “I have no idea what my religion says about this,” so you dig deeper and you research and you’re researching your own faith, and in coming, you find, you know, a wealth of knowledge that you didn’t know existed, and so that definitely makes you stronger in your faith and it makes you appreciate the religion that you belong to. But it also makes you appreciate the other person’s religion as well because you see where they dug deep, and they were able to find this material. And even though it’s different, there’s always that commonality. And I am just amazed every time that, you know, in Islam, we have two tenants, which is “Service to God” and “Service to humanity,” and I find that over and over in every religion. In Christianity, the Reverend talks about it all the time. In Judaism, you know, with the Sikhs,with the Buddhist, it’s the same, it’s the resonance amongst all these women, and I think that is what we need to unite humanity. 

Susan: You’re absolutely right. I read a book recently, actually called Finding Joy. And it was done by Desmond Tutu, who is a Christian minister from Africa, who lived through apartheid and then the Dalai Lama. And just—they are older men now obviously, but great friend—and just seeing their dialogue and how they are able to find peace and commonality amongst their own beliefs. And then even sometimes, because they’re too hilarious old men, poke fun at each other and poke…They’re so close at this point that they can poke fun at each other, and fun at each other’s faith in a very good, light hearted, well meaning way like you would chide a brother or a sister. And I think there’s just a lot to learn there, that the more you learn about people, the more we can come together and like you said, the more peace and comfort we can find. So I really appreciate that. Tell me a little bit about…You are a writer for The Fort Worth Mom’s blog. And I feel like so many major cities now, even smaller towns are having their own Mom’s blog and somehow they’re all connected. How did you get in with the Fort Worth Moms blog? How did you begin writing for them? And talk a little bit about what you’re writing and how that has been received in the Fort Worth community?

Angelina: Well, part of our mission, if you will, like you said, we talked about, you know, finding the common ground. And the founder of our community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmadfounded our community in 1889, and he declared almost 100 years ago, that the age of religious warfare is over, the sword is replaced by the pen, which means that we believe in building bridges through dialogue, through open communication, just like we’re doing right now. He authored many, many books. And so this is become our way where we fight extremism and violence through education. And we feel that people fear what they don’t know. And that’s fear kind of leads to hatred, a community being marginalized, you know, isolated, that leads to violence, radicalization and extremism. So we feel like getting to the root of the problem is basically education because people fear what they don’t know, and that is what my writing is about.

And I came about in my writings, honestly, because I love books. My mom, actually, she was a very avid reader of medical thrillers, Robin Cook and Espionage, I got into that reading, and I loved it. She would barely buy a book before I would try and grab it before she read it, and try and finish it. And my grandfather had this amazing library collection of religious book, not just Islamic but like the The Bhagavad Gita and reviews of different religions, and he can quote versus from these books and from the Bible, and he was very well read, you know, sort of unmatched on the podium as well. He was a great orator, a wonderful speaker. And so that’s kind of where my writing came from, and I’m inspired by trying to counter this violence by peace with love, and show a perspective of a Muslim woman living in America today, the challenges that we face, but at the same time showing that the challenges we face is the same as the challenges that a Christian or a Jewish mother would face in today’s society, at the end of the day, we’re mothers trying to raise our kids, and keep them away from harm and we want the very, very best for them, and we have that in common.

One of my first pieces for the Forth Worths Mom’s blog was  “Glitter to Calm the Jitter,” you know, which was my first day of dropping my little girl off to kindergarten and how traumatic that was, as a parent to leave  your daughter and you know, sort of walking away, looking at her with her, you know, sad eyes and wanting to just rush up and hug her and take her back home.  And I knew that every other parent was feeling the same way, you know, I stopped and I realized that it wasn’t just me it was all the other mothers in the room were feeling the same way. And that kind of put me back into perspective again, that, yes, I’m the only woman in the room wearing a hijab. Yes, I’m fearing from my daughter but so are the other mothers, you know, they weren’t wearing a hijab, but they also fear for their children as well and I felt sort of bonded to them and to each other by just that one feeling, just by that one raw emotion. And that is similar amongst all of us. So I want to present to the community, the struggles of a Muslim woman, and that is similar to everyone else, that maybe they can bring humanity to the other. Maybe they can, you know, see us as part of mainstream society as people wanting to help the community and be a part of it. 

Susan: Well, I really appreciate you sharing all of this with our listeners, because I know not all of our listeners are involved with interfaith work. If someone isn’t involved in interfaith work, no matter their religion, do you have a suggestion of how would be a good way for them to get involved if they’re interested in it? And maybe if they’re not interested in it, I don’t know what the question would be. 

Angelina: I get what you’re saying. And I think for those who are interested and are ready to make that step, then it would definitely be to please come to Daughters and Abraham meeting. You know, we’re on the internet. You can Google us Daughters of Abraham, and there are four different…Correct me, Susan, isn’t there four different groups?

Susan:  I think you’re right.

Angelina: There are two Forth Worth groups. There is a morning group that meets the last Wednesday of every month at 10am. And there’s an evening group that meets I think, on Thursday, Thursday evening, for the third Thursday evening, I think, and then there’s one in Colleyville as well. And so definitely come to Daughters of Abraham. You don’t have to say anything, you don’t have to say a single word, you can…

Susan: Absolutely.

Angelina: You can feel the atmosphere, you’re not pressured to say anything. I mean, if you don’t want to talk to anybody, you don’t have to, even though you’re probably wrapped up in a hug. And you can’t help but smiling because everybody else is and it’s just contagious. But you’ll feel the warmth of the environment. And you’ll definitely want to be a part of this group, woman of faith, women of strength, you know, woman who wants get out there and make a difference in this world. And for those of you who are not quite ready to make that step, I would say please jump on to my blog page, www.fortworthmomsblog.com and read some my articles, you can even make a comment, you can ask a question under the article, and I’d be happy to respond to you. Some people feel safer behind the screen of a computer and that’s okay. You know, feel free to ask a question. But do something. If there is an angst in you that you want to learn, you want to know more, but you are afraid that is okay because courage is overcoming that fear. It’s not the absence of it. So please jump on there, leave a message for me and I would be happy to respond. If you want to learn more about Muslims or who we are, there’s another website called www.lajnausa.net. And you can jump on there and see all the different activities that the Muslim women are doing locally and on a national level, you know?

Susan: Yeah. And I would also say, if you’re not in the Dallas, Fort Worth area, I know all over this country, there are interfaith gatherings that are happening. I know the church I’m currently a member of, they have interfaith gatherings every now and again, and it’s co-gender, it’s not a single gender. So if you’re a man happening to listen to “How She Got Here; Conversations with Everyday, Extraordinary Women.”  Those exist as well. So it may take some digging on the internet. Again, you can always feel free to reach out to me and I can try to help you find something in your community. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to find it. But they’re there in so many pockets. You can find your people, if you will, who are interested in interfaith work. So yes, but yes, if you’re here locally in the Dallas, Texas area, please, please come to the Daughters of Abraham meeting. I want to jump out something totally outside the box real quick, because you mentioned this earlier that you were an avid reader, what are you reading right now?  Or how many…What books are you reading? Because sometimes I’m guilty of reading a few books at a time.

Angelina: Right. Well, actually, you know, surprisingly enough, I’ve got this book on Ronald—on the President, it’s called For Presidents, and it’s written by an ex Secret Service member, and he writes it in such a way that is very comical, you start learning a little bit about each of the presidents and, you know, things that you wouldn’t otherwise, you know, come to the media. So it’s quite funny, but it’s also very informative. And so I find myself looking at history books now, which is a big change from my medical thriller and espionage days.  I guess as life changes, your taste changes, I don’t know but I’m very wrapped in it. It’s called Four Presidents.

Susan: Well, I’ll have to look that up because I haven’t heard of that one, and that does sound pretty amazing that it was written by a former Secret Service agent, because so many times they, you know, mums the word, they don’t talk a lot about it. So I would really like to know how some of those presidents took their eggs in the morning. 

Angelina: Yeah, for sure. And then I just finished this book called Jerusalem. And it’s really good. It’s written by Karen Armstrong. And it was done once for a book club at the Daughters of Abraham but I didn’t, I admit, I didn’t read it at that time and so I’m just finishing it. And it’s a very intense book about how each of the faiths, you know, the importance of Jerusalem to each one of the faiths, and that was able to… I was invited by one of the TCU lectures to come and lecture on that topic. Well, as well as Muslim woman living in America. So that was another avenue of advocacy that I was able to get involved with. That was a very enriching and enlightening for me.

Susan: You lectured at TCU? That’s amazing. Holy cow!

Angelina:  I was invited. And it’s actually through the Daughters of Abraham, they reached out to them, and then they reached out to me, and so I was able to go. The first time I was a panel of three women and we talked about, you know, Muslim woman living in American, sort of similar to what I’m talking about today, some of the advocacy things that we’re doing in the community to try and show you know, engender peace and then again, about Jerusalem. So that was very, very interesting. 

Susan: Yeah. Go ahead. I’m sorry. 

Angelina: And I wanted to touch on…I know, you asked me earlier about Capitol Hill. 

Susan: Yeah, thank you for bringing that back around. Yes. 

Angelina: And that was amazing. You know, part of our communication is engaging our lawmakers. So I was part of educating others. And I was very humbled to be a part of a delegate of 80 woman from 17 chapters throughout the United States. We flew to Washington, DC on Capitol Hill and we met with several state and Congress representatives, and in the order to advocate for religious freedom for minority groups globally. And in order for them to help us support our “loyalty to nation” campaign. So that was pretty amazing to see all these women, you know, wearing hijab on the eve of 9/11 walking to Capitol Hill trying to advocate for peace. It was very empowering. And it was an amazing experience. 

Susan: It was called “The Loyalty to Nation Campaign.”

Angelina: Yes. And that kind of came out of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting that occurred, where we as Muslim women became really disturbed that a woman was radicalized to perform acts of terror. So we as mothers started a campaign called “Loyalty to our Nation,” where we became really committed to teaching the youth of our nation that loyalty is not just in the words that you speak, but in your actions by serving and integrating into our community. Our Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, of that love of nation is part of faith, and our leader Mirza Masroor Ahmad currently resides in London has told us that, you know, irrespective of where you were born, because we are a large immigrant community, irrespective of where you’re born, your loyalty lies in the country that you reside, and that immigrants should remain entirely faithful to their adopted nation and should use all of their abilities to help their country advance and prosper. So that is our agenda and that’s how we go about, you know, promoting that campaign. 

Susan: How cool is that, that something so really phenomenal, could come out of something so horrific? And I’m really sorry that that happened. I’m sorry for the Muslim community, I’m sorry for the American community. It just…It makes me so sad. And it really goes back to what you said, about education, and how just educating each other, not only on your own faith, but about other faiths, and finding the common ground as often as possible. Because like you said, we are really all at the end of the day just trying to do what’s best for our kids. And surely we can all do that together. 

Angelina: Yeah. Agreed. 

Susan: I have one more question before I let you go. And everything that we’ve out, I’ll just say it now, everything that we have mentioned here, websites and people and books to look up, I’ll make sure to link that in the show notes on the website after all of this is said and done. But what is—actually, two last questions—what is the one question that you get most often from, I would presume non Muslim people, about your religion? 

Angelina: I would say it’s the hijab. Why do I wear the scarf? What’s the meaning of the scarf? I get that quite a lot from people where there’s this misconception that we wear the hijab out of oppression or male dominance, and especially what is being advertised in the media with the Middle East, you know, people think that it’s due to an oppression. And so that’s a huge area that I can help to clarify where the hijab is a head covering. It’s actually, you know, a sign of modesty and dignity and it helps to…It is written in the Holy Karan, where a woman is supposed to cover her head and that intimate chest area. And it helps to prevent, you know, being cast as a sex object, to be viewed at with dignity and respect, rather than to be viewed for how you look, to be viewed for your merit and what you say rather than what we look like. And that’s the outer covering of hijab also extends to your inner heart, where to hijab helps us to, you know, shield ourselves from immorality and negativity and hate and treachery, and make ourselves into someone that we want to be. And it didn’t mean that we are this person now. I tell people, it’s not like a superhero cape, I put it on, and then I’m this wonderful person. I wish. No, it’s not. It means that I’m just, you know, I’m in progress. I’m trying to get to my goal of being this person. This is who I want to be. And I’m trying every day when I put this on to be that better person.

Susan: Well, thank you for sharing that. I think oftentimes, especially in the Christian faith, I think we forget that there are Christian denominations that used to cover their heads for different reasons, some of the same reasons, some different reasons. But all of it was with respect to God. I know, the Catholic Church, obviously, nuns still cover their head. I remember the pictures of Jackie Onassis—Jacqueline Kennedy at the time when she went and met the Pope, you know, she covered her head as she walked into the Vatican. And I think sometimes we forget that. And sometimes it’s easy to, again, judge or misconstrue what you don’t understand. So thank you for sharing that.

Angelina: If you think of people like Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mother Teresa, Julian of Norwich, and Malala. When you look at those women, you think strength, you think, dignity, honor, and, you know, all of that good things that go with those women? And then when you’d want to emulate someone you’d want to be? 

Susan: You’re absolutely correct. Now, last question, is there anything I have missed? Or is there anything you wanted to chat about or share that I forgot to ask? 

Angelina: Well, we’ve actually recently acquired our building, a mosque at 2801 Miller Avenue in Fort Worth.

Susan: Congratulations. 

Angelina: And I’m very excited. We had our Fort Worth Chapter for the last eight years, and we did not have an actual building so now it’s just all formalized, we’ve got a building there. I mean, we’re part of the global organization, but we had just started our chapter. And there, every Wednesday, we have a program called “Coffee Cake and true Islam.” So those of you in the Fort Worth area who just, you know, never met a Muslim or just have questions, it’s very informal, there’s no agenda, you can come by and just ask your question, coffee and cake would be provided for you, and we can chat in a very informal setting. And it’s just part of our “Ask a Muslim” campaign and reaching out to the community, and trying to, you know, show that we’re here and we’d like to spread the message of peace.

Susan: Well, that is awesome. And I will make a note of that in the show notes as well. Angelina, thank you so much for coming on today and sharing your story and sharing a little bit about your faith. And how you’ve gotten connected into interface and how you got to Texas. It’s a beautiful story. And just keep writing and keep doing what you’re doing because it’s amazing. And I’m just happy to know you. 

Angelina: I appreciate that. And I really, really do. I hope that that maybe some of my words will we reach someone and be able to change their heart or help them to reach out in their community. 

Susan: Yes, ma’am. Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, friend, I will chat with you soon. 

Angelina: Okay, thank you, Susan. Have a good day. Goodbye. 

Susan: Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you’ve enjoyed our two-part episode on Daughters of Abraham, and that it has inspired encouraged you. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to part one, you can find it over at howshegothere.com. How She Got Here, can also be found on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play. And while you’re there, don’t forget to hit subscribe. I would also really appreciate it if you would give us a rating and review, as it makes it easier for others to find. Until next time, I’ll see you soon. 

How Jewish, Christian and Muslim women unite over similarities in their respective faiths; Daughters of Abraham Part 1

Daughters of Abraham Part 1

What happens when a bunch of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women get together to talk about their respective faiths?  A lot of laughing, crying and really good eating.  The Daughters of Abraham are forging friendships that might surprise you.

Show Notes:

What if we could figure out a way to come together over our similarities rather than be consumed by our differences? 

We all handle life altering moments differently.  After 9/11, Janice Harris Lord remembered what her son Steve had said after coming back from Desert Storm. “People who can pray together ought not to be killing one another.”  With that thought as her guide she sought out a way to connect the women of the three Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian and Muslim women) and from this The Daughters of Abraham was born.

Does Daughters of Abraham recognize the differences in the three faiths?  Absolutely!  However, the focus is placed on similarities with open hearts and minds.  Janice and Dawn both go on to say their faith has been strengthened thanks to this group and that a questioned faith is a deeper faith.

A few of my favorite take aways:

– Getting to know people on an individual level promotes understanding and helps stamp out “othering”

  • It’s okay to ask questions.  Curiosity is a good thing and many people welcome it.

–  Sisterhood can come in all shapes and sizes.  It does not recognize boundaries of age or faith.  These differences can even make the bond that much stronger and brighter.

Links:

Daughters of Abraham – website

Daughters of Abraham – How to start an interfaith group

Daughters of Abraham North Texas – Facebook

Daughters of Abraham DFW – Facebook

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 really excited to share this week’s episode with you. It will be a two part series discussing how Jewish, Christian and Muslim women come together to learn about each other’s faiths and break down barriers, creating the opportunity for open dialogue to better understand those that believe different than you, often even strengthening your own faith. This week, we will be speaking with founder of Daughters of Abraham, Janice Harris Ford, as well as Christian coordinator, Dawn Anderson. And then next week we’ll be chatting with Muslim daughter Angelina Tucker. Per the daughters of Abraham website, from the beginning the women in Daughters of Abraham were committed to a participatory democratic structure rather than forming a nonprofit organization, which entailed a vertical structure with officers. Responsibilities have been shared by each faith. The monthly gatherings rotate from Synagogue to Mosque to Church with the host faith, providing a discussion facilitator and light refreshments. While there has been an occasional presenter such as a Holocaust survivor giving a personal account of her experience, the format for meetings is open discussion of the topic. Topics have included beliefs, rituals, symbols, and traditions, such as those surrounding marriage, birth, and death. Specific faith related topics have even included prayer, forgiveness, salvation, and others. So without further ado, here is Janice and Dawn.

Well, Janice and Dawn, thank you so much for joining me today on the show. As I told the guests in the interview, you guys are part of the Daughters of Abraham. And that’s kind of what we’re going to be talking about today. Janice and Dawn, we just really want to talk about how Daughters of Abraham came to be, what the goals were, and all of that. So Janice, if you could start us off, tell us how Daughters of Abraham got started.

Janice: Sure. I need to preface that with a little bit of family history, just so you understand that as we come into this piece. Our family has always been very open in terms of just about everything. We have people of different faiths in our family, we have folks of different color who have been adopted into our family. We have family members from out of the country. So we are kind of a family that didn’t have to stop and work through prejudice as much. But a key piece in that was when our son went to Desert Storm, a graduate of Texas A&M, where he was a philosophy major, a good Christian theological boy wanting to learn more about philosophy, and he was also in the Marine Corps. So, you know, if you want something to make you crazy, put those two things together. And that’s where he was.

Dawn: Don’t forget the preacher’s kid.

Janice: Yes, yes. Having to…Well, choosing to be in the Marines and of course, then begin that as a commissioned officer after he graduated from A&M. So that’s when Desert Storm was going on. He was a group leader, responsible for a lot of men and therefore, responsible for killing a lot of people, most of whom were probably Muslim. And one day after his troops had killed a number of their troops, the Iraqi troop leader dropped his gun started walking towards Steve and said, “May I pray over my dead?” through an interpreter and so, through the interpreter Steve responded, “Yes” dropped his gun and said “May I join you?” So the two of them, walked over together. The Muslim person prayed, of course in Arabic. Steve did not understand one word of the language. But it so touched his heart that he said it was the most beautiful prayer he had ever heard. And he left that setting, committed to the belief that people who can pray together ought not to be killing one another. So he came back then and went to seminary and is now at the Catholic Church teaching in a school in Chicago. So that story had really touched all of us when he came home with a very good case of PTSD on his own, and shared that story. So back to your question; 9/11 happened. I was sitting home in the floor of the house that we lived in before this one, packing, watching the two towers go down. And commentators saying this will change world history and I was thinking, “Oh no, two planes crashing into a big building is not going to change world history. What are they talking about?” But of course it did. And so I just kept stewing about that. So this was in September of 2001— from then through Christmas, I just felt this strong, strong, strong spiritual urging to do something. But as I realized the problem was so huge. More and more did I feel the struggle of what can one little woman in Arlington, Texas do about this big old problem? So, over those months, it finally came to me to try to bring together in this community, women of the three faiths, the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam to form a friendship and dialogue group where we would simply speak heart to heart with great honesty with one another. That seemed simple enough. I already knew a few people in the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith that I thought I could go to so I did. I went to a Rabbi. I didn’t go to an Imam, I went to a psychiatrist that I know who is Muslim and who has also done a great deal of work with domestic violence. And I thought he would know some women who might be interested in this.

So, sure enough, we found women. I thought if we got six women from each of the three faiths, that would be a good discussion group, six of each. So that was the goal six women from each faith. So that’s what we did. I don’t know how much more detail you want about that right now.

Susan: That is an incredible story. Janice, I missed it when you came and spoke to our group about how this all came into being. I hadn’t actually heard it. And Dawn can tell, I had like…I was waterworks over here. I had tears in my eyes.

Dawn: And I’ve heard it many times and I still get goosebumps every time I hear the story about her son praying with the Muslim leader. That’s just the most beautiful story ever of interfaith spirituality, I think.

Janice: Well, I get goosebumps still every time I tell you. And that tells me more than anything that this whole endeavor has been spirit lead.

Dawn: Yes. And Janice, or how many of those women are still meeting together now? Because when I tell the story, I always say that most of you still meet together. Is that correct?

Janice: Yes, that’s true. Several of the more elderly women have died. Seems like more of the original Jewish women than any. But that leads me to another story. I may be going way off on tangent.

Susan: No, this is perfect.

Janice: Just stop me.

Susan: Not at all.

Janice: But after we had been formed probably three or four years and had become very close, one of the Jewish women had cancer and was dying. And she was home receiving hospice care. And she called me one day and said, “Janice, I’m here alone. I’m really scared. My husband had to go somewhere. Is there anybody in Daughters that could just come sit with me this afternoon?” And I said, “Yes, of course I can find somebody.” I couldn’t do it, but I promised her I would get someone right away. Well, the first person I thought of was a woman in our group who is a retired physician. I thought she would be perfect to be there. It did not dawn on me until after I had made the call to ask her if she could go that she was Muslim because we had become such close friends. I just didn’t think about it. And then it dawned on me, “Oh my goodness, I have just asked a Muslim woman to go help a Jewish woman die.” But I think the lovely part of that is that for those of us who have been together for the long haul, it has truly been transforming. And I can tell you that of those women that I have known so long, I would die for any one of them. You know, it takes a while to develop that kind of love for a person.

Dawn: Yes. And I think that’s the whole key, if I may interject, with our group is getting to know each other as individuals and really caring about each other. And we had a similar story not quite as powerful, but after some of those horrible things were happening in Garland with the people surrounding the Mosque and all that, we were having our meeting one night and one of our young Muslim women posted on our email group. She said, “I’m afraid to drive at night by myself with my hijab.” And she said, “Would anybody be willing to come pick me up?” And she told about what neighborhood she lived in. It just so happened two of our older Jewish ladies lived nearby, and they went and picked her up. And I thought there was a cool story, too.

Janice: Yes, that is another wonderful story.

Dawn: Yes. And it was old and young and two different faiths, and yet, all wanting to get together for a very important meeting about peace and loving each other. That’s what it’s all about.

Janice: Yes, it is.

Susan: I’ll just share a little bit while we’re at it. You know, I found this group two years ago, probably and I’ve been in and out. I’ve been trying to be active. My husband’s travel schedule is a little wonky, and then there’s childcare. But I have just really appreciated…My goal was to go out and meet women of other faiths as well. I wanted to have a better understanding of people in general, and I was seeking that out. And someone in our church told me about it and introduced me to Dawn at the time. And I just, you know, I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, and the only Jewish person I knew was my orthodontist and then I had a Jewish professor in college, and I never even really thought anything about it. Coming from the Christian faith I knew that, you know, the Jewish faith came first and Jesus was Jewish and yada, yada ,yada, and there was no issue there for me at all. No problem. I had never met a true Muslim like a practicing Muslim. I had met other people who were Muslim, but I had never met a true practicing Muslim in their faith. And I have learned so much about just how beautiful the faith is, and just how close to Christianity it really is and how we really did all come. It’s not a joke. We all really came from the same background and just getting to know people on an individual basis, like you said, and hearing their stories. You know, one of my greatest friends that I have from this group at this point is from Syria. And she hasn’t been here in the states that long and just—and I’m not going to tell her story for her because I hope she’ll come on the podcast and tell it herself.

Dawn: Are you talking about our Jewish Christian Muslim.

Susan: Yes.

Dawn: That’s how she introduces herself, “I’m a Jewish Christian Muslim.”

Susan: Yeah, because she really understands like that Judaism came first, Christianity came second, and then the Islam came third. And it just is so interesting to me to have that true friendship and to share with other people. You just have to get to know each other on an individual basis, and you can’t believe all the other crazy stuff you hear people say.

Dawn: A lot of ignorance out there.

Susan: Yeah, absolutely.

Dawn: One of my greatest things I’ve learned I really didn’t have any Jewish or Muslim friends. So I’ve learned a lot about both faiths, but I thought I would be closer to the Jewish women, as far as you know, we share the same Old Testament, which of course, is their Hebrew Bible. But the thing that really amazed me was our Muslim sisters believe in all the miracles of Jesus, they love Jesus, they believe in the Second Coming. I mean, we share so much there. Now, granted, our details get very different but there’s so much shared. And that’s I think another big point of our group is we focus on what we share, not the differences. And as far as the differences go, when we hear the stories, I think they’re fascinating, but sometimes it’s like, “Wow, that’s just really interesting how they look at that. That’s their perspective. But here’s my perspective.” And it’s okay, we don’t have to be right or wrong. I feel like we all have a little piece of the truth maybe, and when we get to heaven, maybe the whole puzzle will be put together and there’ll be three colors on the puzzle that all go together. That’s kind of how I look at it.

Janice: I think about that a lot, too. I don’t know if you’ve read the Dalai Lama’s most recent book about compassion, that he goes even beyond these three Abrahamic faiths to others pointing out that every single major religion in the world has language very similar to the Golden Rule.

Dawn: Yes.

Janice: And the point is that if all the faiths could put a lot of emphasis on that, the differences are fine. You know, there are many ways to God, his perspective is really we all pretty much become what our parents were. That’s the truth of the matter.

Dawn: Or rebel against it completely and go the other direction.

Janice: That’s right, either follow or wildly rebel. But I think that it’s really powerful, that if we can come to love one another as ourselves, but even going beyond that to genuine compassion, which is more than ourselves, the reaching out beyond two way more than our love for ourselves. My goodness, the world would be totally changed.

Dawn: Yes. And you know, another thing I think that’s really made me aware of being a part of Daughters of Abraham is, you know how we talk about white privilege, I think there’s also something like Christian privilege. Where growing up in a dominant Christian society, we don’t realize sometimes, especially the ones that proselytize how much harm we’ve done. I remember after one of my first Daughters of Abraham meetings, walking out and there was a Jewish women and a Muslim lady talking, and they were both talking about how their children were being bullied in school by Christians, you know, by people saying, if you haven’t taken Jesus as your savior, you’re going to hell. And it was bullying. And you know, to me, the ugliest part of Christianity is when we try to force it on people and, you know, feel like we’re right and they’re wrong. And that never works. Jesus never did that.

Janice: Jesus certainly didn’t do that. That’s exactly what I was going to add, Dawn. I mean, he laid things out there and you take it, fine, or you don’t, fine. That’s just the way he walked every day. The only people he really got mad at were the people inside the faith who were cutting other people out.

Dawn: Right, the judgmental ones.

Janice: Yeah.

Dawn: And it’s such a big relief when you realize that as Christian, you do not have to judge people. You’re just called to love people. That’s it—right there.

Janice: Yeah.

Susan: And trust me, I did a whole episode on deconstruction about this. And I’ve gotten some feedback myself that has been, “I’m not so sure you’re a real Christian.” So Christians, even bully people who consider themselves to be Christians because we don’t believe things exactly how they believe them. So yeah, we all have….We could work on as a faith in general, I think. Tell me a little bit about how Daughters of Abraham, this specific group is still just in Texas. Is that correct? Or have we spread out outside the state at this point?

Dawn: That’s a good question.

Janice: Yes. It’s a very interesting question because we the answer is we don’t know.

Dawn: Yes, that’s what I was going to say.

Janice: We did not form a 501 C3 nonprofit profit deal with the IRS because that requires boards, which are very vertical. There are a lot of things about that that just don’t feel right. We feel very circular, very democratic, very equal as we meet together. So in that way, we don’t have real policies and guidelines that anybody has to follow. Our primary general rule is that we do not proselytize. So you can share whatever you want to share from your own personal faith perspective. But if it moves into trying to convince others that yours is the best, you know, that’s a no, no. And then the other one is that we steer clear of political discussion. But that is sometimes very, very difficult because right now, with so much painful stuff going on in the world, it’s very difficult to keep that totally removed. So I can’t say that we’re 100% successful at that but we also don’t pound each other about political parties either, which is just that the issues might come up sometimes.

Dawn: Right. And I was…

Janice: So…

Dawn: All right, go ahead.

Janice: I’m sorry, Dawn. So we do know for sure that other groups have formed throughout the country, mainly from women who had been a part of this group and then move somewhere else and start a group there. We’ve even got people doing it down in Mexico. We had two nuns come up from Mexico to do some writing about us a year or so ago. And then they went back and started a group themselves. So we just don’t know.

Dawn: I was going to add that we tell people all the time, there’s a place on our website where people who want to start a group can go and read about how we did it so that they can follow the same pattern we did, which is basically just start off with a Christian, a Jewish and Muslim coordinator, who then work within each faith to recruit people and to get people to meetings, but we’ve never said, “Hey, if you do start one of those groups, let us know.” Maybe we should do that because we’ve had lots of inquiries, and we’ve sent them to our website. So it’s very possible there could be a lot of groups we don’t even know about.

Susan: And I’ll make sure to link all of this in the show notes on our website so anybody who’s listening who is interested in in doing that will be able to just click the button and head on over, for sure.

Janice: Yeah, it’s a simple little click on the website. It’s just a two-page document.

Susan: Great. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen the document so I will have check that out myself. Tell me…because I did not…Janice, I personally—and Dawn I’m not sure about you—I did not grow up in a family that was very open at all, actually. And so me doing this, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. And I’ve asked a lot of questions of myself, right, like, okay, what do you really believe? And does it really matter? And all those types of questions. So tell me, what has that…Dawn, maybe you can speak to this a little more. How was your background? Like, were you open to this and when other people hear that you’re involved in interfaith work, how do you explain that to people?

Dawn: That’s a good question because we go around and we talked to a lot of different groups. We’ll take a representative from each faith. We talk to a lot of Sunday school classes. It’s mostly been Christians that we’ve gone out and talk to in the Dallas group. But I we’re asked that a lot. And I was raised by a Methodist pastor, and I’m a Methodist pastor myself. So the Methodist Church is pretty open—I know Janice would say the same thing about Disciples of Christ—to interfaith dialogue. And so I was actually raised with a very open understanding, especially my dad was one of the first pastors in Kansas City to integrate his church, for instance. So we were raised to respect all people and so it was a pretty natural fit for me. People will ask me, “Now, doesn’t it water down your Christian faith when you go and you listen to these other people with these beliefs that are in…” You know, they’re in conflict sometimes and let’s just be honest about it. We do have things we disagree on. But my response is always “I think it deepens my faith because I think a questioned faith is the deepest faith.” If you never question your faith, and you just take everything that you’ve been told, and you read the Bible literally and you don’t ask questions so you don’t use your brain…God gave us the brain for a reason. I think I learned so much like for my Jewish sisters, I’ve learned so much about respecting our ancestors and traditions. And there’s so many wonderful things they do with grief, for instance. So Janice, I hope you’ll tell your story, if you’re up to it about what you’ve learned from the others about how it affected you and you’re going through the loss of Dick, and from the Muslim sisters. I’ve learned so much also about devotion, like they pray five times a day. So I’ll tell my Christian friends that are big into proselytizing, “Well, first thing if you’re going to proselytize a Muslim, you better be praying five times a day because they’re not going to want to be less spiritual.” So we learn a lot from each other. And I think my Jewish and Muslim friends, when we go out and talk, they say the same thing. They say they’re a better Muslim for having known Jewish and Christian people and vice versa. So that would be my answer to that.

Janice: If you want, I can share the story that Dawn mentioned a while ago. I don’t know how much time we have. 

Dawn: Oh, but it’s so beautiful, Janice.

Janice: Okay, well here we go. One of the things that I learned is that we Christians are just about the only faith that embalm bodies and waxes them all up and paint some up and people go by and stare at them. We’ve been kind of weird to me anyway, but what we learned within the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith, bodies are treated with respect, which means that none of that stuff is done to them. Now, in Reform Judaism, it may very well be because Reform Jews really operate more modernly than conservative or Orthodox Jews. But for many Jews and literally all Muslims, the body is respected. It is washed by people in the faith after the death in clear water. It is wrapped in white muslin or cotton wrappings or in Judaism, it’s more like a pantsuit that that does not have buttons, but it’s tied on and the person is put in a casket. And in Judaism, they are buried with the casket, which is to be very plain, generally wooden. The notion of dust to dust, and it’s buried within 24 to 48 hours. In Islam, it’s the very same thing, except that Mosques have just one casket generally, and it’s used over and over again. So after the body is prepared, it’s placed in that casket until the prayer services is held for the body again, as soon as possible. It’s taken to the cemetery in that casket, and then it’s taken out and laid in the soil with the face looking toward Mecca. And then it’s covered in the dirt with out without a casket or a vault or anything. So there was something about that process that just felt so authentic to me. So my husband died just a little over a year ago, real strong, healthy guy who played golf every day, and he got bitten by a mosquito that was carrying West Nile virus and died a little more then a week later. So, the hospital was great. They let me lay in the bed with him most of that last two or three days and so forth. And when he died, I said to the nurse, “I want to be the one to wash him and do everything that needs to be done before he goes to the funeral home.” And she said, “Oh, okay.” And was really very, very lovely about allowing me to do that. And I will tell you, I believe that had more to do with my healing than most anything. I washed every single inch of his body, washed his hair. His beard had been growing while he was in the hospital, so he looked really gnarly, shaved him, got all those hairs off, clipped the little nose hairs. You know how they have little hairs hanging out of their ears noses so I got them and then I said, “I really think we should put some lotion on him before we wrap him up,” and she said, “Well, let me go see what I can find. I don’t know what we have right here.” So here she comes back with a bottle of Victoria Secret lotion that she got from somebody

Dawn: I think Dick was okay with that, knowing Dick.

Janice: I can just imagine a big old smile of his. If a body could have smiled, I’m sure he would have. I’m sure his spirit did.  So anyway, we got him already and I kissed him goodbye. And it was not a hard thing to do. And I think it was not hard because I had had that wonderful opportunity of doing every single thing I could do for his body as long as I could do it and I would not have ever thought of that of that had it not been for learning it from our Jewish and Muslim sisters.

Dawn: It is so beautiful. Thank you.

Susan: That is beautiful story. Wow.

Janice: We did bury him in a casket.

Dawn: But the point was you got that beautiful ritual from our interfaith friends.

Janice: Yeah, never in a million years would I have thought about that otherwise?

Dawn: How intimate and loving.

Susan: That is a beautiful place to end, isn’t it? Janice, thank you so much for sharing with us today, and Dawn for being here. I just really appreciate it. This has meant so much to me. Wow, I didn’t know what to expect but I’m all over the place right now. And I tried to normally hold it together a little better during these episodes in these conversations. For those of us who are local to the DFW area, I will have everything listed on our website. And I would just encourage you to reach out and join one of these groups. It is meant so much to my life to get to know people from other backgrounds, and Janice and Dawn…Dawn is our representative in Dallas. I don’t know if I actually talked about that.

Dawn: I should say I’m the Christian coordinator. We also have a Jewish, and we have co-coordinators for the Muslim faith, which is kind of a cool idea. I’m thinking about trying to get a Christian co-coordinator also.

Susan: Yeah, that way you don’t have to do it all, right?

Dawn: That’s right. That’s kind of brilliant up them.

Susan: Oh, and one thing I didn’t mean to mention, I don’t think we talked about this. And maybe this is a good point, since we’re ending to kind of go over I’d love to share our guidelines, and then maybe we can end with our prayer.

Dawn: Sure.

Susan: And I was going to say one other thing…

Dawn: And also mentioned how many groups we have. It’s not just Dallas.

Susan: Yeah, absolutely.Go ahead, Dawn.

Dawn: And Janice, correct me if I’m wrong. I’m reading off for the flyer. We have a morning Arlington Fort Worth group, which I believe is your group, right, Janice?

Janice: Yes.

Dawn: We have an evening Fort Worth group and evening Northeast Tarrant County group. Of course, our evening Dallas group. We have recently had a Denton group startup. So we’ll have that info on the website. And we also have Sons of Abraham. So don’t let us forget to mention that. There’s sons of Abraham both mid cities and Dallas, I believe, right, Janice?

Janice: Yes.

Dawn: So that’s pretty darn cool.

Susan: Yeah, it really is. It’s nice to have the men join us although they aren’t really joining us.

Dawn: Yes.

Janice: I would like to add in that vein, a lot of people don’t realize that Allah is just the Arabic word for God.

Dawn: Right.

Janice: Allah is not somebody different right. So Muslims use the word Allah, Jews use Adonai or other words we use God.

Susan: And Adonai is also in the Bible.

Dawn: The Christian Bible.

Susan: The Christian Bible. Yeah, that’s a good point. Very good point.

Dawn: And the Torah.

Susan: Yes.

Janice: In most of our meeting, the Jewish and Muslim women just say God.

Dawn: Oh, do they? Okay.

Janice: At least in our group, they do. I mean, they don’t have an aversion to using the word God because it is all the same God; it’s just three different names.

Dawn: Right.

Janice: Same God. So you usually hear some of all three.

Dawn: Well, I do agree it would be kind of cool if we said all three when we read it together.

All: Our God, the soul that you have implanted within us is pure. You created and formed it, breathed it into us and sustain it each and every day. So long as we have life, we will be grateful to you, Adonai, God, Allah. Our God and the God of our mother and father, creator of all life, sustainer of every human spirit, blessed are you, Adonai, God, Allah in whose hands are the souls of all life, and in the spirits of all flesh.

Outro: Thanks so much for joining me today. I know today’s conversation covered up a lot of hard topics, war, death, interfaith work. I would really love to hear your feedback or any questions you might have. I have really enjoyed being a part of Daughters of Abraham because it has given me the opportunity to get to know my sisters of different faiths on a whole new level. It has also given me the space to ask questions where I might often feel uncomfortable. So often when we can ask questions, we can dispel myths, rumors, and things we do not understand. My heart aches so often when I see people harmed because of their faith, the language they speak, or the color of their skin. It’s so oftentimes comes from a place of misguided information. Martin Luther King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” So often, once you shine a light on things you do not understand. It isn’t so scary. Is it hard? Sure, but we can do hard things. As women, as leaders in our communities, as moms, we can share our knowledge with our friends, spouses, and children. It starts with each one of us to drive out hate. Truly loving our neighbor will do just that. I’ll see you soon. 

One year anniversary: Live with the Texas Women’s Foundation

How She Got Here, Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women is turning 1 and to celebrate…we went LIVE!  Come along as we celebrate Everyday Extraordinary Women with the Texas Women’s Foundation.

 

Show Notes:

  To celebrate the 1 year anniversary of the podcast we went LIVE!  We partnered with an organization near and dear to my heart, the Texas Women’s Foundation and visited with two of their board members.

Bonner Allen and Laura Nieto are both everyday extraordinary women in their own right.  In between raising families and focusing on careers they make time to give back to their community in a big way.

They both fundamentally believe in the importance of making the world a better place, especially for women and girls.  We touch on ways you might get involved as well.

There are so many common threads throughout their individual stories. A few of my favorite are:

–   the importance of bringing women together

–   Surrounding ourselves with strong women

–   Supporting our “sisters”

–   The power of the collective of women

–   Having confidence and pride in yourself

–   Following your passions and dreams

 

This episode is so near and dear to my heart.  I can’t wait for you to learn more about their stories, but I am also really excited to share the history, mission and vision of the Texas Women’s Foundation and the XIX Society giving circle.  I mean, their catch phrase is Strong Women, Better World!  Who doesn’t agree with that?!

Links:

Texas Women’s Foundation – website

Texas Women’s Foundation – XIX Giving Society Page

Texas Women’s Foundation – Facebook Page

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 over the moon excited to share this week’s episode with you. In honor of the first birthday of the podcast, I invited a group of Dallas friends to get together and celebrate with the recording of a live episode. You can still catch the Facebook Live on my Facebook page, but I thought it would be fun to release the audio as an episode too. I had the opportunity to interview two amazing women: Bonner Allen and Laura Nieto, highlighting their work with the Texas Women’s Foundation but also learning a bit more about them as individuals and really having the opportunity to hear and understand their why. I hope you enjoy.

All right, guys. So with me tonight I have Laura Nieto and I have Bonner Allen, and I am very excited for you both to be here and be talking about the Texas Women’s Foundation but more importantly, sharing each of your stories. Now, Bonner I’m going to start with you because I told you before we got started that I had a story to tell you. When I moved here in 2007, I don’t think you were the Junior League president at the time, I think it was Lynn McBee and I remember seeing her and I went… Oh, and she’s running for mayor and I don’t know any of her politics but if she can run the Junior League, she can run the city of Dallas. And I was like, “Wow, that’s a really cool job.” And then you were president for a hot second, weren’t you?

Bonner: Yes.

Susan: That’s what I thought. And I said, “I want to be her one day.” Yeah, you’re gonna laugh. I know. And then I found out she was going to be on this committee with me on the XIX Society and I was like, “Ooh.” So that was a story I was gonna tell you. That I never told you. But yeah, that’s good. So now we’re going to get started for real. Thank you guys for joining me tonight. And I want to hear about you guys’ stories. And I think we want to start there. I think Laura, we can start with you or Bonner we can start with you. I don’t care who ever wants to go first. But tell us a little bit about yourself, your careers and how you got here.

So who wants to go first?

Bonner: I will go first.

Susan: Do we need a coin toss?

Bonner: That story cracks me up because that is so like far from how I perceived myself. So I felt very lucky to get to serve with you. And I think before this all started, Susan gave us a lot of things around the room. But I think you are so inspiring to all of us. And the fact that you’ve put together this podcast and run this operation and have brought so many women together to speak is really pretty awesome. So, thank you for inspiring me and all of us in this room.

Susan: Thank you.

Bonner: So my backstory, I’m a Dallas native, married to great guy named Thomas, have two daughters and I started my career kind in the political and nonprofit worlds and worked in that area for a while. And then about seven years ago decided that I’d shift gears and my job would be focused on staying at home with our two little girls. So that has been my job, so to speak, for the past few years. But then I’ve also found some time to really kind of dive into various community organizations. And that has really been a wonderful experience for me, because I’ve really gotten to be a part of some extraordinary missions, and then also really gained invaluable insight into some of the issues our fellow Dallas citizens are facing. So I think that that has really been a fulfilling and edifying experience for me, you know, being at home, but then also having the opportunity to do that. I know you’d ask kind of where did we come from? And so I thought maybe I would dive in a little, maybe a little hokey, but I think it’s kind of worthwhile to talk about, that I was kind of raised in a family that looked at life through a female lens, I would say. First and foremost, I would say that I had an awesome mom who truly committed herself to her two daughters and wanted us to know that we could do anything and be anything and I’m not even 100% sure she realized the message see what she was sending us when she said, “We’re going to go to a female dentist because I want to support fellow professionals” or I’m going to send you to the same all girls school I went to because I know those opportunities that come from going to an all girls school and being, you know, on the robotics team and playing… I didn’t do that. And play violin and play sports and sing in the choir…Did not sing in the choir either. In fact, I was asked to leave the choir. Neither here nor there, but there are lots of opportunities. You can be whoever you want to be at an all girls school and I love that. But I think the best was the example she lived first every day. She was a working mom who put her family above all else and while the same time you know, found time to serve her community, but then also taught us to stand strong and live compassionately and find our own voices.

So I think that when I was reflecting on, you know, why women and girls? Why have I gotten to this point and why was my heart filled with such extraordinary passion for them, now Texas Women’s Foundation. And I think that’s where it started; I really do truly feel that that passion is ingrained in me from a very young age, which I think that a lot of the women in this room could probably attest to. We all have wonderful female examples in our lives that have brought us to where we are today. So I think that started that and then the more I learned about—and really through the work of the Texas Women’s Foundation, but through other areas as well. But that impact, the really broad impact you can make by supporting a woman, really kind of opened my eyes because I saw that in my own life. But you know, when you support a woman, you support her family obviously, but then you also support the community because let’s face it, we women do a lot for the community at large, whether it’s stemming from our own household, or stemming from our career spheres, or any other community spirit that we’re a part of. So I think that that made a really big difference in my life and how I ended up here.

Susan: Cool. I’ll get to the how you got on the board in a second, because I want to ask you guys the same questions. All right, Laura, you’re up.

Laura: All right. Awesome. Thank you. Well, I just want to express my sincere gratitude to you Susan as well for hosting and bringing such a wonderful group of extraordinary women together. I think as we share our stories, probably many of you can relate to the stories that we’ll share because even though we all come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, we do have a lot of commonality. So I invite you to share those commonalities as we’re just kind of networking through the rest of the evening. But I’m Laura Nieto, and I’m originally from San Antonio, was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas and made my way to Dallas for my career here.I had a background and advertising to the Latino community. One of the largest ad shops at the time was in global San Antonio, Texas, when the majority of those ad shops were either on the east or the west coast. So I got my start in advertising in my career grew when I came to Dallas, but an interesting short story is the woman who was my client when I was in advertising in San Antonio started the multicultural marketing initiatives at the company I work with. And when she got approval for headcount, she came looking for me. And so that is how I started my career at Southwest Airlines.

We moved up, I married my college sweetheart, his name is Rueben. I have one daughter, her name is Sophie. She’s 13 years old. And being raised in San Antonio, a very middle class family. I had two working parents, but as I was reflecting on just kind of what got me here, and I think back to what was so important to me as I was growing up and you never know what’s happening until you look back and see what an amazing community I grew up in, you know, I grew up in the 70s and it was very…I was a latchkey kid, both my parents worked. And so my brother and I kind of had to fend for ourselves in the summer and spring breaks. But even in that, there’s a lot of learning that happens. There’s a lot of independence that you kind of experience and grow in. And because I had two working parents, both my parents had part time jobs. My mom was working on the side selling Avon or Stanley or Mary Kay or whatever it was to supplement the income and my dad also did the same thing, taking oftentimes janitorial jobs or anything he needed to do to supplement our income.

But you know, when you think about that, we were always so rich in love and family in our household and really kind of when you look back and I think about it, both my parents taught me like a strong work ethic and how important your word is and to show up. And when you think about us being latchkey kids and my parents were working. There were a lot of stay-at-home moms in our neighborhood. So we kind of were all raised by everybody in the neighborhood who was watching out for the neighbors and making sure everybody was safe and everybody was kind of being taken care of. And if you got in trouble, that neighbor told your parents and you had to own up to that. But as I grew up, my parents always wanted to ensure that we felt that we had an opportunity in life and to know that our voices mattered and with a little bit of perseverance and determination that we could be whatever we want it to be. And so when you reflect on the strong women who were part of kind of my little circle in my community, and even as I grew up through college and in my career, I found myself surrounded by so many strong women who maybe didn’t have college degrees or maybe weren’t in the corporate world but could teach you just really the importance of staying strong and that your voice mattered and that you’re a good mom. And even if you work and you’re splitting time, you are making an impact even though you don’t know it.

And so as I reflect on that, and I think about what brought me to the Texas Women’s Foundation, and why women and girls, it’s because we have such a strong role in supporting our sisters, if you will, supporting the women around us and then eventually raising our children and being part of a broader community or world that’s larger than ours that has such a ripple effect that each one of us is making such a unique contribution and a unique difference in the communities around us.

Susan: So how did you guys get on the board? How long have you guys been involved with the Texas Women’s Foundation? Did you get involved with the Texas Women’s Foundation first and then you were asked to be on the board? Did Southwest put you on the board because I know that happens sometimes too. And I know that there are people who are interested in serving in those positions who might not be working. You know, I might want to do that one day. And if you don’t have a company to put you up for that, how does that work?

Laura: I can share just a quick experience. And you know, Susan, you started this podcast about making sure that we were making connections here and grabbing business cards and I had always been familiar with the Texas Women’s Foundation just by way of I think the mission and the reputation of the foundation. And I had always participated in luncheons either as a guest or because my company bought table but when you think about the importance of networking I was going through the Leadership Dallas, which that’s how Bonner and I actually got a chance to know each.

Susan: That’s hilarious. I love that.

Laura: The Texas Women’s Foundation, but Karen Locke who is the chairman of the board right now and within my leadership Dallas class and as she was coming on—and she was a member of the board—and as she was coming into her role, she reached out to me and said, “You know, Laura, I would love to have you serve on the board of the Texas Women’s Foundation not only because of the value that you bring, but as we look at the diversity of our communities, and really a lot of the challenges that our communities face, often our communities of color are being faced with a lot of these challenges. And it’s so important that we are representative of the communities that we’re serving.” And she was like,”If you’re willing, I would love for you to be able to participate.”

And so just interestingly enough, I had always given back to communities more the national level not only by way of my job, but my personal passion. But I had never really gotten engaged in the Dallas community. And as I started to get involved with the Texas Women’s Foundation and started to meet such wonderful, extraordinary women like you and like Bonner and a lot of the women here. It has just really been such a fulfilling experience because the connections are just so amazing. And there’s so much that we all have in common here that we are able to do such wonderful things. So that’s how I was invited to be on the board. And I am so thankful that Karen thought of me and just really thankful that I took that step to participate. Because oftentimes in giving back, it feels like we’re more fulfilled usually than probably the communities that we’re supporting, and I’m just so appreciative of that and have so much gratitude for that.

Susan: That’s a good point. That is my four-year-old upstairs. It’s not her elephants.

Bonner: I’m laughing because my story is not dissimilar. So, you know, like many of us, I love going to the then Dallas Women’s Foundation, now Texas Women’s Foundation luncheons. I think this group pretty much wrote the book on how to run a good lunch.

Susan: That is a fair statement.

Bonner: And it was always inspiring and wonderful. And I would leave every luncheon saying, “How can I get involved in this group? I love it.” And you know, I served on the Grant’s Committee a couple of times, which if you have not done that I highly recommend it is a wonderful way to get to know the mission but also feel like you’re really getting to know Dallas and helping to make an impact on the city at large. So I served on that for a little bit and continue to seek out ways to support the Texas Women’s Foundation. And then it just so happened, I was at an event as I was finishing up my tenure as the president of, the Junior League of Dallas and Karen Locke walked up to me and we were visiting and she was, you know, kind of put a bug in my ear and said, “What would you think about serving on the board of the Texas Women’s Foundation?” Of course I was, “That was my dream. That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out how to get involved with for so long.”

And so when it did work out that I was able to join the board, I was thrilled, honored excited, because it truly is, to Laura’s point, a wonderfully inspiring group of people, all very passionate and very smart. And you know, obviously the foundations doing great work and that’s no accident that the group of people that sit on the board of directors are not the best of the best, I think so…Or are the best of the best. So anyway, I was thrilled to be able to be part of it.

Susan: I want to go off with something you said earlier, I keep forgetting we have this in common, but I attended an all women’s college. And so there is definitely something about…I grew up in a wonderful home, very loving parents. But there was not the same push for women to just go out there and conquer the world, for lack of a better. And there is something about even today I think the importance of a single gender, women’s education. And I will say that until the cows come home. Until it is not…I’ll use a Ruth Bader Ginsburg; until it is not unusual for there to be nine women sitting on the Supreme Court. Until it is not a first situation where there is going to be two women… It’s gonna be an all women team doing a spacewalk at the end of this month. I don’t know if you guys have seen that. Lindsay’s freaking out. Yeah. All women team gonna be doing a spacewalk to fix something for the ISS. But I mean, until that’s not unusual, I think there’s room for a single gender education just because you’re forced to lead there, you’re forced to find yourself. There’s nobody else. There’s not a guy there that will be like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” I’m sorry. We don’t normally have men at these gatherings. We will not male bash, I promise, that’s not what we do, Facebook, Insta world.I promise. But yeah, I just think there’s still a place for it because there are still not enough women, young women, older women getting the message that you can do this.

Bonner: I think that’s right and I think too an all girls, all women environment encourages you to try stuff that maybe wouldn’t try otherwise. And in an all girls environment, it is the girls who are president of this group and the girls who are trying their hand at musical instruments. And I mean, I think it is an opportunity for girls to find themselves and feel confident in doing so.

Susan: One it goes back to an old adage, “You can’t be what you can’t see. And when it’s forced upon you, then you have to see it.”

Bonner: I couldn’t agree more. I think there’s absolutely value in a coed education. Absolutely. Yes. But I think that a single sex environment, the benefits are significant.

Susan:And not everybody needs it. But it was good for me. I’ll just leave it there. What do you want to talk about? Does anybody have any questions? Does any have any questions about 19th Society? Who else already joined? Who did the text message and joined? Dumb question? Go ahead. Yes, Rhonda, I’m looking at you.

Rhonda: Can you give us more background on the Texas Women’s Foundation to the best of your knowledge?

Bonner: Yeah, we can do that. So it started in the mid 80s about 34 years ago by 19 women which is where we got the name the XIX Society, and it was a pretty remarkable group of women, very diverse in all aspects of the word from you know, racial, ethnicity, economic, every kind of diversity you want to throw in there, but they tried to make that happen. And these women, I think, had the foresight to understand that lifting up women and girls makes a big difference in the community. And so they created an organization that could do that.

Laura: Yeah. And I’ll just add that really what I think was incredible about the vision of these 19 women was the fact that they recognize the power of the collective of women, and how we could kind of really unleash that to make a better world for all of us. And we all know that women and families, you know, women are leading their families and leading our communities and they really had the vision and the foresight to recognize that so that we can continually invest in women and girls and really make it a better world.

Bonner: And a neat thing, you know, the Texas Women’s Foundation does have a variety of kind of buckets, you know, research and grant making, Donor Advised funds and things like that, but just a neat little factoid is that it started out granting $100,000, and now we grant 5 million. So it’s substantial growth over the years.

Laura: You just said that so easily, you know, we’re up to about 5 million. That’s huge. That’s so important too, in that, ensuring that we are actually putting resources, raising money and resources and programs to help equip our women to be able to have a voice, whether it’s in their families, or in the communities, in a corporate setting, or in the boardroom, that we’re actually at the table sharing our voices, amplifying our voices and really making a difference.

Bonner: And, you know, one cool fact that the foundation has shared with us that I think it’s truly when we’re talking about that grant making impact—I’m going to look at my, make sure I get this right. So in the world or at let’s say globally about 12% of financial giving, if you will, goes to women. In the United States, 4% of all gifts made in the United States goes to women. 4%. So I think the fact that we’re putting an emphasis on grant making to women and girls can only do wonders for that number.

Susan: Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. I didn’t ask this question beforehand, but it is Women’s History Month. Do you have a favorite historical woman? And it doesn’t have to be like somebody famous. Like, do you have a favorite? Who’s your favorite? Do you have a favorite?

Bonner: I did a report in third grade on Susan B. Anthony.  She was great. I liked her. I don’t know.

Laura: Oh, yeah, there’s so many. There are important women, famous women, not famous women, but all who are making such important you know, contributions obviously. I mean, I feel like we might all go back and say our moms possibly. And I know that just sounds so close to home but for me…I’s funny how when we’re growing up and our moms probably just don’t know anything right because we know it all and then you grow up and you become your mom…

Bonner: I think I heard that from my daughter.

Laura: And then like in retrospect you’re like, “Now I understand. I understand exactly what she was talking about or what she was trying to do or what she was trying to teach me.” And I feel like I see moments of that almost like every day, whether it’s dealing with family or household or relationship or daughter, work or whatever it is. And as I just think about it, my mom had just such a meaningful impact on my life and the decisions I’ve made and if I could kind of sum it up to something very simple, she was always there to encourage and when I fell down she was always there to just lift me right back up and let me know that I could overcome or do or accomplish whatever I set out to do. And I’ll tell you what, I still talk to her on my way to work every day. She lives in San Antonio. And every day, she always has just a little bit of something to tell me, “Have a great day. You can do this go out and make a difference. You’ve got this.” Some little bit of encouragement.

And so I would probably say, a lot of our moms around the world are kind of the unsung heroes during Women’s History Month because these are the women who are working behind the scenes to rear these children who are making a difference every single day. And so I think that I would just have to say my mom.

Susan: Well, I love that you said that and I love that you said Susan B. Anthony.

Bonner: I’d have to give it more thought to really get behind that answer but I think…

Susan: First, that brings up a good point that in our history classes…This is a bug that if somebody could fix this… And we’re in Texas so hello, anybody out there in the world listening who does our textbook writing, because I know that all happens here. We all know that happens here. For the United States, the textbooks, everything that’s in them is decided here. So that’s great. I’m kidding. There’s not enough women’s history in those history books. And they’re certainly not enough women of color history in those history books. I remember learning about Susan B. Anthony, but did you ever learn about Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Bonner: I was a history major in college, so maybe it was college.

Susan: Well, anybody who doesn’t know Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the woman behind the scenes, she was the one who was writing all of those speeches at the time that Susan B. Anthony was giving. So she was the one at home. Susan B. Anthony never married, she was single and she traveled and that’s what she did. And she obviously took up the women’s suffrage movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was married and had like six plus children so she was the woman who was at home with the kids writing all the content out while the other person was out there saying the content. So yeah, so anyway, that aside

But I wanted to go back and talk about you. You brought up being a mom and not everybody hears mom but some people are moms. So talk to us… Each of you tell us, what are you guys doing different? What is it that you’re taking forward that you’ve learned for your mom’s? How are you raising? You both have girls? I don’t have a girl. Actually, I have a boy. It’s not better. It’s a whole different ballgame. But tell me how you’re doing that today because it’s a different world, I feel like for women. Yes? No? Maybe? I don’t know.

Laura: Yeah, I have to think about that. So my daughter is 13.

Susan: That’s a hard age.

Laura: Yeah, the age matters, right? So maybe if you were to ask me when she was younger, I might have a different answer. But where I am today, it is a different world, very, very different. But I feel a lot of the lessons are the same, right. It’s just the way that things manifest. So obviously, in a world of social media, and so forth, I probably tend to be a little bit more of a conservative mom when it comes to social media. But nonetheless, I find myself, you know, apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. So I find myself raising my daughter a lot like my mom raised me. And it’s always just about being involved, creating an environment of trust, ensuring that she feels comfortable talking to me about whatever’s on her mind. And I try really hard to listen objectively and not judge what she’s telling me because I want her to feel comfortable and confident that it’s going to stay with me. And we build a solid foundation now, so that as she gets older, she continues to feel comfortable to do that.

But I think the challenges are the same. She’s in the seventh grade. So a lot of the things we dealt with in the seventh grade, that’s what they deal with now. And so it’s just listening, listening, objectively encouraging her and just making sure she feels a sense of confidence and pride in self and just making sure that I’m raising a strong, independent woman who knows that her voice is important and what she has to say is important and to be able to have the confidence to express Whatever it is, you can at 13 years old, right?

Susan: Well, she certainly has a great role model.

Laura: Thank you.

Bonner: I would say. I mean, we’re a little, a few years behind. I’ve got a seven year old and a nine year old. And I think trying to instill a sense of confidence and self understanding to the extent you can, while also helping practice good manners and respect is trickier than it seems, you know, because you want them to feel free to be strong and express themselves and stand up for themselves. But then also, you know, how to be respectful, and how to be kind and how to be thoughtful. And so that I feel like at seven and nine, it’s an interesting dynamic, because you kind of have to walk that line. But at the same time, you know, my grandmother always said, there’s nothing new under the sun. So to Laura’s point, I think the challenges are the same now as they were when we were younger, just in different format and so we just want walk along with them and try and help them be the best they can be by empowering them in different ways.

Laura: One of the things that I’ll add is that I just personally have a passion for travel. I love to travel. And I work for a company that allows that flexibility. So I take full advantage of it. And that’s one thing that I want to instill in my daughter is a love for travel. And so a couple of years ago, I bought her for Christmas a passport cover, probably was not on her list, but I wanted to gift it to her and hope that it would eventually you know, 10 years down the road look all worn but she would have traveled the world. And so Bonner you probably know and some of my co workers here and know that I had set a goal a couple of years ago to run the world marathon majors. And so I the world marathon majors are the Chicago, the New York, Boston, London, Tokyo and Berlin marathons and I was able to accomplish that two years ago.

Susan: I didn’t know that.

Laura: Yes, it is. Thank you. But on the on that note is I wanted to be sure that I brought my daughter along with the ride so that she could see that and experience it and also be able to see a bigger world around her. And so she was able to come with me to London and to Tokyo. She was a tad bit young when I ran Berlin. But the point being she has a passport, right? And I wanted her to see that while we have great – we have so many great luxuries here in the United States, but it’s just so important to be able to travel the world and see that there’s a greater world around us and how important it is for her to go see how other people live and learn about their cultures and their foods and their languages and so forth. And so I’m really excited because for spring break, I’m sending her on a school trip to Italy and this will be the first time she gets her passport stamped on her own. I’m hoping now that the independence and the confidence and everything I’ve kind of been teaching all along, that she’ll be able to kind of take it and begin to grow in a worldly way.

Bonner: So I do agree with that, because we have the same perspective on travel because I think that in addition to opening up your eyes to another way of life, another world, another language, I think it also fosters a sense of independence and a sense of I can do anything I can be flexible I can shift with where I need to shift. And I’ve noticed that even in our little girls that by you know, taking them to Amsterdam and Switzerland, a few places last summer and for them to go to a place where the majority of people ride bikes and they had to ride all over the city and then they you know, we just it was an experience where they were like, “Oh, we can ride on a train and where we don’t know the language and we’re fine and we can jump on the back of a bike and ride through a super busy, scary street and we’re okay.” It’s definitely, you know, those are important luxuries, albeit, like to be able to do those kind of things with your children is a luxury, but it is also very eye opening for them.

Susan: There’s definitely importance in that. But there’s definitely privilege in that for sure. Before you leave, there’s a few big runners in his group I think you should talk to.There’s at least two, about three.

Bonner: Yeah, but to that point about the privilege, I think the same experience can be gained from jumping in the car and driving to the town next door, which we do plenty or going down to another part of the town that you haven’t seen that, whatever the case may be, I think, just new experiences. It doesn’t have to be another land.

Susan: No, no, I agree.

Bonner: I could be new people.

Laura: And even just looking at Dallas, right. When you look at the Metroplex, if you will, there is so much diversity within the Metroplex.

Bonner: Yeah, so many new adventures to be had.

Laura: Yes, I know going south Dallas, you know, North Dallas, out to Fort Worth, you know, wherever it is, there’s just so much diversity around us that the city has so much to offer that we could learn a lot of that just riding around.

Bonner: Yes. So true.

Susan: Yeah, we’ve started with a few of the states because Stephen travels for work and his is not International. And it when it is it’s like he gets to go to London for 24 hours. I’m not making that flight. I mean, literally, like that’s not worth it. But Will’s been to at this point to… I’ve said his name now on Instagram and Facebook. He’s been to Portland, South Carolina numerous times, because that’s where our family’s from, New York City. So yeah, I mean, I think any kind of travel you can give your child that is outside your bubble. And to your point, Fort Worth, I mean, anywhere you can go that just outside, anything that is outside your normal bubble just to see how things aren’t the same everywhere. There’s not big tall buildings, there’s not six lane roads.

Bonner: Totally.

Susan: Yeah, growing up in a small town. We went on vacation. We went to South Carolina coast so we weren’t really like big out of state people. And I remember the first time not that I ever left the state but ever left the country was when I went to London, England. And I mean, it wasn’t like, you know, language wasn’t a big change anything but it was still a change for somebody who never been out of the country. I take that back, I had been to McAllen and then we crossed over to Reynosa. I’ve been in Reynosa, so I did a mission trip one time in Reynosa. The people in Reynosa are amazing. Now granted, I was a lot younger when I went to Reynosa and I don’t know that I would go to Reynosa right now. So I don’t know, maybe if I had the right body guards. Those were the best tamales I’ve ever had in my life. And it was because they were authentic and they were real. And when you go and you get to experience different language and different food and a different culture all the way around, it’s just a really extraordinary thing and it’s a great gift you can give your children so I agree with that. Does anybody else have any other questions from the audience? Since we have an audience tonight.

Female: You’ve all had mentioned grant writing. So what are some of I guess the favorite like Dallas community organization you wrote grants for?

Bonner: The way that Texas Women’s Foundation does their grant making is really fascinating and very cool and effective. There is a process of, you know, an application process, and then members of the committee are each assigned to certain number of applications that they then vet by going to visit and, you know, maybe multiple visits coming back reporting back to the committee, and then ultimately, the committee votes on who’s going to receive grants. That’s, for one section of the foundations giving. It can vary from year to year. I mean, I think there are probably agencies that are kind of repeat recipients but I think there’s even a limit on how many times you can be a recipient; three years I think is the limit so I would hesitate to even say there’s a favorite because it’s you know, it varies depending on the needs and the agencies.

There are other ways that the foundation gives out money that through there I believe it’s…Is it economic initiative? So they’re focusing on economic stability among women and girls. And so there’s a bucket of money that can be given to that area and that doesn’t go through the grants committee, but it goes through other vetting processes. And so I don’t know that there would be a favorite agency per se, but that is certainly an area of emphasis. So any kind of organization that supports economic stability for women and girls would be a candidate for that.

Laura: And not to answer your question directly, however, and to kind of tag on to what Bonner is mentioning, as a member of the XIX Society, we do have a bus tour that we have coming up in June, I believe. And so what’s really cool about the bus tour is there are a number of agencies that you get a chance to visit so we all kind of get on a bus and we can go kind of see our dollars in action. So you’ll get a chance to visit some of the agencies that have benefited from the money from the Texas Women’s Foundation, and then you get to go see it firsthand, which is always an incredible experience. So if you’re not a member, please join in, please plan to join us on the bus tour, because it’s really a great opportunity to network, but then to also go see and learn more about those agencies and the impact that they’re making.

Bonner: And to piggyback on that too, the XIX Society also has a chance to review because we have… I think we have a pool of a certain amount of money, I don’t have a very I know what it was last month at various from year to year. But it’s a significant amount of money that we are able to grant to an agency and the XIX Society itself votes on what agency to grant it to. So I think three choices come through and the members can review the choices and then vote on which one we want to give our money to. So that’s kind of exciting. And then at the holiday party in December, we present the check to agency that needs it. So that’s a neat a neat opportunity for the XIX Society

Susan: Yeah. I think when you say they presented three, I think we gave… Didn’t we give them an idea of kind of like what we wanted to grant. Like, it was like, I don’t know if we chose education or something. But it was like, obviously it’s women and girls, but it’s like, I feel like we got to choose…A focus area, yeah, I think we’re able to choose a focus area, then they brought to us and then we voted. Any other questions?

Participant:  How many marathons have you run?

Laura: So I’ve run 11 marathons so far, but if I had to pick maybe a favorite of the world majors, it was Berlin. And I’ll tell you just kind of a quick story. The way this whole goal about running the majors came about is that I was just running… I started running when I was 40, never ran before but just decided that maybe I needed to find some balance in my life and if I could just focus on something for me that I could then be a better mother and a better wife and a better coworker. And so that’s what inspired me to start running marathons. But as I started, and I was visiting with my dad, one evening, he took care of my daughter while I was running the New York City Marathon. And when I was at the expo in Chicago, just three weeks before—I had had run them both kind of back to back. But when I was sitting at the Expo, I saw a sign that said, “Run the World’s Major” and it listed all the majors and I was like, “I’m running Chicago. I’ve got New York in three weeks. That’s two of the four. I work for an airline. I have traveled benefits, why don’t I just make it happen, right?” So after I ran New York, I came home and I told my dad this great vision that I had about running marathons. And he was always just like, “Oh, yeah, you can do it. Go for it,” kind a thing. Well, my dad had served in the Army years before and he was stationed at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin years before and so he was like, “Well, if you run Berlin, I’ll come with you.” And I was like, “Okay, you come watch me and cheer me on. And then you go show me what it was like to live in Berlin when you were in the army.” So he says, okay. So long story short, he passed away two weeks later. So I set out to just go and accomplish this. So I go through my training, I enter through one of the marathon running companies and I get a bib and I’ve got the race coming in the following year. And so my dad was a big Johnny Cash fan. I grew up in our household listening to Johnny Cash so as I was preparing to run the race that day it was a beautiful cold crisp morning it was like 40 degrees, flat, fast course. I was like I can do there was so much kind of the reason I was there the purpose everything was just lining up so nicely and so I just started to run my race and I think about just what that day was like, and as I was turning the corner and about the 16th mile, you know, there’s cheering sections and so forth, and I was turning the corner at the 16th mile and from up ahead I could hear “I hear a train a coming” I was like, “Oh my god, that is a sign.” So it gave me this burst of energy and it’s like my dad, he is here, everything’s aligning. So I ran my best race ever. I came hard at that race. And so that’s why that race was the best race for me. And as I reflect on it— and I went on to run the rest of the races—but as I reflect on running and marathons and 4am wake up calls and balancing life and work and all that, one of the things that I recognized was that I was really running to catch my breath. I needed that. And so there you go, that is why Berlin is my favorite race and why I ran the world majors.

Susan: Well, you have found running and you have found philanthropy. We’re talking on the podcast this month, a lot about finding your extraordinary and how do you do that? And it can be whatever it is that you know you’re supposed to do, whatever tools are in your toolbox. How do you marry those tools between your passions and your skills? How do you how do you figure out what your passion is? For me, the world kind of had to crash a little bit, and I had to be in a place where I could receive and sit down and really take the time to think and I had the luxury to be able to do that. But tell me about what your passions are, how you found them, both of you, and where you are now in that process, and how your passions change because I think that that definitely happens throughout our lives is you may have something that you’re really passionate about for a while, and then that may change. And that’s okay too.

Bonner: I don’t even know that I should talk after Laura’s…I love that so much. I do think you’re very wise to say passions change because I think with each season in our life, I mean everything from our available time to our mental state to the people we surround ourselves with. I mean, that all changes. And I think that we can’t underestimate the impact that has on our lives. It was interesting that you said, philanthropy is kind of…I guess, when I hadn’t, you know, when I think about what is it that I probably spend my time doing the most of if it’s not being with my family, it probably is being involved in some of these missional work, I guess. And so I think my approach has always been where can I best use…I mean, I want to call them gifts, skills, whatever, those, where can I best use those? And what are the things that I feel excited about? You know, is it fun? You know, I mean, so I think all those things are important. And, you know, I always have this gauge on, you know, does it make me excited? Like, am I going to wake up the next day and be like, what am I going to do? And Texas Women’s Foundation is one of those organizations. So the question is, how to find that?

Susan: Sometimes. I think that was definitely my question two years ago, is I really had to sit back and go, “Okay, what matters? What do I care about?” I was really in a place where I was like, I don’t know, like, because I went through an infertility like struggle for, I think, well, if you’re depending on how you’re counting, it’s anywhere from a year and a half to two and a half years. Some of that was before medication, once we finally figured out we needed medication, and all that stuff, but I went from PriceWaterhouseCoopers to that was my job to now I have a two year old and I have some time and I kind of felt like my world was crashing around me. So I was like, “Okay, what matters to me?” And that’s when I took the time to really sit in it, sat in some lament too and think about it and go, “Okay, what now?” And for me, I had to do a lot of reading a lot of writing a lot of reaching out to people.

Bonner: I think that’s great. Because I do think that is something that maybe we don’t talk enough about the professional women driven women, who then for whatever reason, stay home with their children who don’t talk and don’t, don’t tell them they’re doing a great job and don’t I mean, obviously, eventually they do talk to her for that and then you don’t want them they’re always interesting and fun. But I do think I mean, that was a very challenging transition for me as well. And I think that’s when I started thinking how can I transition from what I was doing before and make it fit into my life now with a child and then two children? And it started out part time work and then continuing with my previous job, and then it morphed into full time volunteer. But I think it is important to listen to what your needs are. I mean, I’m a big believer in figure out how to fix it. You know, go after what needs to happen in your life and make it happen. It just sounds like exactly what you did.

Susan: And I think that’s a lot easier said than done. Like, I think you have to jump.

Bonner: Not necessarily. I think if you decide you are going to make it happen, you can make it happen. I think every woman in this room can make it happen if they want to make it happen.

Susan: No, you’re right. But it takes something to do that.

Laura: I think there has to be a catalyst.

Susan: Yeah. What about you? Is your full on passion traveling? Is it running? Is it a combination of a lot of different things? Where are you at today?

Laura: I think it’s a combination. And you know, it was always hard early on or even 10 years ago, someone would ask me what’s your passion? Oh, do I have a passion? I don’t know what’s my passion. I can’t articulate it, what is it?

Susan:And then you stressed about it?

Laura: And then oftentimes you can find your passion just by way of where you’re investing your time and energy. Because that’s what’s important to you. And while you may not call it that, that is kind of what it is. And so you’re right, every kind of season of life, your passions may change, I think there’s common threads through those passions. But as I was coming to know the Texas Women’s Foundation and just all the work that was happening, and knowing how important women and girls are to creating strong societies, if you will, I started to think about just kind of where I came from, where I was born and raised and the opportunities I had or didn’t have. And now I’m here today and I think about my niece’s who live in rural town in South Texas who are the same age as my daughter. And I think about just what opportunities do they have, and the opportunities are not the same. And I start to think, “Well, those nieces are reflected very much in our Dallas community. It’s the same group of people. And as we start to look at the contributions were making…” I was starting to even thinking of the Best Self program that we do and how it is about just providing our young girls the awareness that there are leadership opportunities and just teaching them how to be able to interact and network and meet people or look at people in the eye, shake their hands and start making those connections. I didn’t have that when I was growing up. I didn’t know that. I didn’t learn that until I got to college, in all honesty. And so I just think about that and I realized that that is one of my passions, this greatness that we have in the Texas Women’s Foundation and just the little piece that I can do to give back that will make a difference and help even if it’s just one young girl recognize her value and her contributions. It will have a long-term effect. And that’s why I’m so passionate about the work we do here at Texas Women’s Foundation and through the XIX Society and just really the small little impact hopefully I’m able to make directly or indirectly through our work with the foundation.

Susan: Yeah, they always say micro and macro impacts. I’m going to ask you one more question before we conclude tonight. But all right, what are you guys reading right now? What’s on your nightstand? And if it’s People Magazine, I’m fine with that. It’s perfectly legitimate.

Laura: Can somebody in the audience help me, it’s about the Native Americans who are raised in Oklahoma…

Participant:  Killers of the Flower Moon.

Laura: Thank you. Killers at the Flower Moon is what I’m currently reading. That is what is on my nightstand right now. I haven’t been able to get through all of it. But it’s a fascinating story about how the FBI was started and just the struggles of the Native American people and how they sought to keep their land and the struggles they had at the time when the oil boom was happening in the 1800s. So that is what is on my nightstand right now.

Susan: Wow.

Bonner: So I should know by now to always keep a book on my nightstands. It’s a very smart and intellectual because the book…In fact, I can’t even remember the title of it, because it’s the third in a trilogy that I just started reading and could not stop reading. So the first one was called The Bear and the Nightingale like this Russian fairy tale…

Susan: This sounds…

Bonner: Actually, it’s not hilarious. It’s actually very good. I highly recommend it for just like pure entertainment, but it’s also got some historical significance to it too, you learn a lot about Russian culture like, how long ago? Maybe like no around Ivan The Great. So good. So I’m on the third trilogy, highly recommend a third of the trilogy. The last one. I have read smart books too…

Susan: No, that’s perfectly fine. I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I have read Harry Potter, all of them a few times. One of my favorite books is Bossy Pants by Tina Fey.

Bonner: Oh, it is funny.

Susan: I have listened to it on audio book multiple times. Just because I love Tina Fey and I love her voice, I love how she puts everything together. So no, I don’t think it always needs to be a serious book.

Bonner: No. I’m in my book club where we read series.

Susan: I’m in a book club where we never read the book and we just drink wine. I think that’s perfectly legitimate. I will share… I brought it up for a reason. And I will share what I’m reading right now. Because I truly believe that we do not hear enough from women of color, ever. I’m one of those people that thinks that needs to change. I am reading and if you haven’t read it, you need to read it because we didn’t learn this stuff in class. And if you don’t know it, then you should. I am reading Coretta Scott King’s book right now. And I am ashamed to say that I would not have known this two years ago but today is the anniversary of Bloody Sunday at Selma. So that’s something worth remembering and noting, and if you don’t know enough about it, go read about it. And I don’t mean to end on a dreary note. But I just think it’s important to read books by women of color. And that is something that I’m trying to do more of this year. And I really wasn’t trying to end on a serious note, but it kind of did. I’m trying to think of a funny question to ask now so we can end on a funnier note.

Susan:  How many marathons are you going to run this year?

Susan: I’ve only run one. There are people in this room have run. How many is it now?

Bonner: 10?

Susan: Yeah.

Bonner: I’d say give me a dance marathon and I will win.

Susan: I will fail but I will do a dance marathon. Okay, well, I don’t have anything else. Does anyone from the Texas Women’s Foundation have anything before we head out, before we’re done with this? I do want you guys to connect before you go. I’m going to go ahead and say good night.

Outro: Thanks so much for listening today. I really had a great time with this episode and I hope you really enjoyed it and got something from it too. I don’t know when or where but I will for sure be doing live episodes in the future so make sure to go and sign up for our newsletter as whenever those dates or locations are announced everyone on that list will be the first to know. I hope you’re finding 30 days and finding your extraordinary empowering. I know we’re all in different places in life. Shoot, some of us are in the middle of raising littles and just hanging on for dear life. I think I have those days too. Believe me, I get it. But whatever you’re doing and wherever you are, my hope is that you are inspired and encouraged to make time for yourself and for your dreams. I cannot say it too often you matter what you are doing matters and I am so proud of you. I’ll see you soon.

Supporting Women with Your Holiday Shopping

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

Show Notes

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

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

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

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

 

Episode Links

National Association of Women Business Owners

National Women’s Business Council

Jackie Vanderbrug

Kate Weiser Chocolate

Akola

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

Rosa Gold

Thistle Farms

Whatsoever Things on Facebook and on Instagram

Two White Sheep

Beauty Counter with Gina Curtis

Happy Magnolia’s

Art by Genevieve Strickland on Facebook and on Instagram

Link to interview with Genevieve on the podcast

Emily Ley

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Weiser Chocolate

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

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

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

Akola

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

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

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

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

Rosa Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thistle Farms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friends Businesses

Whatsoever Things on Facebook and on Instagram – Vinyl Monogramming Fun

Two White Sheep – Traditional Monogramming and Applique

Beauty Counter with Gina Curtis

Happy Magnolia’s

Art by Genevieve Strickland on Facebook and on Instagram

Link to interview with Genevieve on the podcast

 

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

5 Lessons We Learned From A Month of Self Care

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


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

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

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

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

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

Show Links

www.howshegothere.com

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

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

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


Transcript

Hey Pod Sisters!

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

Lesson Number 1: Presence is a Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson 3: Caring for your whole self

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

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

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

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

Lesson 5: Reconnect with yourself

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TRANSCRIPT:

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

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

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

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

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

Marisa: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

Marisa: I didn’t but I knew of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan: Really? That makes me sad.

Marisa: Yeah, makes a lot of us sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marisa: Part of my job.

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

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

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

Susan: Yeah.

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

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

Marisa: Right now?

Susan: If you had to pick a favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marisa: It is hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marisa: Bye.

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