Thu, 22 December 2016
#100: The Big 100th Episode - What's Next?
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 100.
Introduction: Welcome to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast; the podcast dedicated to helping LGBTQ professionals and business owners grow their business and careers through the power of leveraging their LGBTQ identities in their personal brand. You'll learn how to market your products and services both broadly, and within the LGBTQ community. You'll hear from incredible guests who are leveraging the power of their identity for good, as well as those who haven't yet started, and everyone in between. And now your host. She teaches straight people how to market to gay people, and gay people how to market themselves. Your professional lesbian, Jenn - with two N's - T Grace.
Jenn T Grace: Well hello and welcome to episode number 100 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and today is a monumental episode. We are at episode 100. This podcast began back in January of 2013 and we are now in December of 2016, so it has been four solid years of podcasting with you. And I so appreciate those of you who've been around since the very beginning. I know you are out there because I have heard from you, and I continue to hear from you, which is amazing and awesome and I so love you for that. But today I do have a couple of announcements that are going to change the direction of what's happening, so I want to just kind of be honest with you, and keep you up to date, and fill you in on all of the things that are evolving and have been evolving for the last couple of months or so.
You may recall throughout the last year or so I have been introducing topics around authorship, and focusing a little bit on content marketing, but really focusing on authorship and writing books, and building a personal brand platform that has to do with being an author, which is such an important way to kind of have yourself stand out from the crowd, especially as we're entering 2017. So over the last year I have been sharing this information with you, and you may recall that I started the Purpose Driven Author's Academy back in February, so February of 2016. And that academy has been morphing, and evolving quite substantially over the last almost twelve months or so, and what I have decided to do- and have already done actually, so you are the first to know this because this podcast is airing at the end of December, 2016. So I haven't made this public announcement yet, and I plan on doing so in January, but I have started a full-fledged publishing company called Purpose Driven Publishing. And I'm super excited about it, and have been for a while. I decided to start this company back in August, and since then I've been working on the structure, the service offering, how I'm going to differentiate myself in the market, who I'm going to work with, and while that's been happening I've been really doubling down on what the Purpose Driven Author's Academy looks like, and it's really, really exciting is all I can tell you. Just super, super exciting. What I want you to know as a listener of this podcast, and somebody who is likely LGBTQ, and you're trying to figure out your personal brand, one of the things that I want to make sure is super clear is that the Purpose Driven Author's Academy and the publishing company in particular are 100% for you.
The company and the academy are completely designed around helping people who have a purpose, they have a mission in life, they have a desire to educate people on their topic, and a lot of the people that I have worked with in 2016 have been part of the LGBT community. Naturally since my audience is the LGBT community, I've had a lot of people that I've been helping work on their books for the last twelve months or so, at least since February in this formal academy capacity. Previous to that I have been working with LGBT people writing their books for- actually since about 2012, 2013. So it's been happening in a very informal capacity. As you likely know if you've been listening to this podcast over the last couple of months, you know that I've been kind of sharing this journey with you, and a little bit of the history of this. So I'm excited about this because I want to work with anyone who has a story to tell that is purpose driven, or mission driven, who is trying to use the authorship and writing a book, and being a respected person- a respected thought leader in your space to really use a book to be the foundation of what your personal brand stands for. So if that is something that you're interested in and want to know more about, I totally recommend you go to www.PurposeDrivenAuthorsAcademy.com. Hopefully by the time you're listening to this, the new site will be up. Can't guarantee, at the very least it will redirect you to some information on my current website that will give you information on that. And then also www.PurposeDrivenPublishing.com. That also will send you to my website currently, but I'm hoping by the time you listen to this it will go to the new website that gives a little more information about the publishing company, and what I plan on doing, and all that fun stuff. But I did want to share that with you because I really still want to continue working with LGBT people, or LGBTQ people I should say, and I want to do it in just a little bit different of a capacity.
So the things that I wanted to share with you is that my business is constantly morphing and shifting, and I think that that is the case for many people, and it's morphing and shifting a little bit as we enter 2017. Obviously first and foremost starting a publishing company, that is going to compete for my time when it comes to the business strategy related stuff. However I still will be doing LGBTQ business strategy related things. What I want to be clear on is that in 2017 I'm really looking for working in consulting capacities, or in speaking capacities at conferences for Fortune companies, for nonprofit organizations, whoever it might be who is in need of a message around LGBTQ. Those are the things that I'm going to be focusing on. So I'm excited about it but it's equally a little bit scary to be kind of venturing away from focusing on helping people market specifically. I've recently begun a re-positioning of my messaging, and really what that looks like for my business, and as you may recall my tagline for a very long time has been 'I teach straight people how to market to gay people, and gay people how to market themselves,' and I have since changed that to 'Because change happens in business.' And I firmly believe that change happens in business, and I think we all believe that, so I've changed my tagline accordingly. I've also added a little bit of a qualifying statement if you will to my Professional Lesbian logo. So the logo is my signature, and it says Professional Lesbian, now under that it says LGBT Business Strategist. So it gives a little bit of an idea of how the direction is changing, and like I said it's going to be away from the marketing now and really focused on consulting, business strategy, speaking and helping people, specifically LGBTQ and then a little bit more broadly anyone with a purpose that really wants to make an impact on the world, helping them author or publish their books.
So this is a little bit of a departure from what has been going on. The reason I'm telling you all of this is because it is going to impact the podcast. So we're in episode 100, it has been 100 episodes, four years, I've had incredible guests on the show from the very, very beginning, and what I am going to be doing is going on a bit of a hiatus. And I am being super honest with you in telling you that I'm not 100% how the return from my hiatus will happen, when it will happen, what's going to result from that. I'm a little bit unclear on that but I wanted to record this episode, this final one of 2016, and just say to hold tight, I'm not going to be producing any new episodes in the near future, I'm trying to figure out what this podcast might look like, however I do have 100 episodes. And I actually have more than 100 because in 2013 I did a special series called '30 Days and 30 Voices: Stories from America's LGBT Business Leaders,' and I recorded thirty interviews with thirty people over the course of thirty days, and I launched them in June, and 99% of the content from those interviews is 100% relevant now as it was three years ago in 2013. So most of the content, and most of the interviews that I've done, they're timeless in so many ways. In marketing we call it evergreen content. So it's content that just kind of keeps on churning, and providing value long after it's been recorded, so there's not much of an expiration date if you will.
So what I do plan on doing is essentially reusing a good amount of old podcasts for the start of 2017 at the very least. So if you have listened to every single podcast I have ever recorded, all 130 of them, you're amazing and you need to email me right away because you're a super fan and I would love to talk to you. But if you haven't listened to all 130, I'm going to be repurposing some from a while back, so I'm going back into the archives and I'm pulling out some good information from people that shared amazing stories in the past that you might have not listened to because for one reason or another you didn't know that they existed, or you never made it that far back. So in looking at my schedule, my line-up if you will for what I'm going to be repurposing in 2017, and some of the stuff that I'm going to do is going back to the basics of LGBT terminology. So it could be something of interesting to you, it might not be, and if it's not just don't listen to it and maybe the next one is going to be of more interest. But I do have things about building a strategy and a plan for your LGBT outreach, answering a lot of questions, tips and tricks about online marketing, talking about diversity and inclusion, and how LGBTQ kind of intersects with that, and then I have a lot of interviews. So I have interviews from out trans leaders, out lesbians, people from the Human Rights Campaign, I have people from the Williams Institute, nonprofit leaders of True Colors, a lot of LGBT entrepreneurs, people who work in supplier diversity, Out & Equal, and yeah out gay jewelry designers. So there's definitely a lot, a lot, a lot that I plan on repurposing in 2017. Like I said, this is more of kind of a hiatus. I don't want to say this is the end of the show because it's not. It's just evolving and I have to figure out how it's evolving in a way that I can feel comfortable and confident that you're still getting good information from me. So I don't want to half-ass it while I try to figure out how my consulting business interacts with my publishing company. I don't want to half-ass it so I would rather provide you with the best of the best previous interviews that I've done in shows that I've done, the top listened shows that I've had, and bring those to your attention for you to listen to present day. And if you have any requests, or any- if you have a topic that you want me to talk about at any point in time, I can jump in and record a new episode for you. So if you're dying and aching and itching for a new episode, don't hesitate to reach out to me because I will happily hop in and do that.
If you head over to my website at www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast, you have access to all 130 episodes so you don't have to wait as I re-release them going into 2017, you can just find any of them at any point in time that anything that is of interest to you. And of course all of this information is on all of my social media channels, so whether it's Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, I am there and I'm consistently there, so you can certainly find the information there as well. So I'm not disappearing, I'm not going away, I'm still plugging away doing a lot of LGBTQ strategy work, I already have a lot of big contracts in place for 2017, because I don't think I have to tell you this. I think we are all in the same place with the outcome of the presidential election here in the United States, and I think we probably are all- well I don't want to say we're all in agreement, but I'm sure if you're listening to this there's a fair chance that you fully understand what this new presidential situation, how that's going to impact LGBTQ equality. So the work is far from over, we have a ton of work to do, a ton of work to do and I think now more than ever our voices are really important and need to be heard. So my voice, your voice in whatever capacity that's in. So if you've been listening to the show for a while and you're trying to find your voice as it relates to the LGBTQ space, and figure out what your personal brand stands for, I encourage you that now is the time to just get started. You don't have to know exactly what your voice is going to be, just jump into the fray and get going. So if you've been dreaming about starting a podcast, or you've been wanting to start a blog, or you've been wanting to do a video, whatever it is now is the time that your voice needs to be heard. And I really, truly mean that. If you've been dreaming about writing a book, check out the academy, and I'm not saying that in a self-serving way. Genuinely if you're really thinking about now is the time that I need to write this book because I understand that my message is so important to be heard right now. There are so many LGBTQ people who are in unsafe spaces right now, and I think our voices as professionals, as entrepreneurs, as business leaders, now is the time that we really have to be vocal and visible so we can help impact the community any positive way as we are going to hit some really challenging times in the next four years. We all have a responsibility and a duty in many ways to just kind of stand up for the voiceless and get our messages out there. It's going to be challenging, it's going to rough over the next four years, but now is the time to take action. So if you've been thinking about it, I want you to actually really, really truly contemplate whether or not you're going to take action in 2017. And I am always available for a free thirty minute phone call, so if you want to go to www.MeetWithJenn.com you can see my online calendar and we can set up a time to chat quick, and if there is any way that I can help kind of push you over the edge, and push you into figuring out how you're going to start that conversation, how you're going to start your platform whatever that looks like, whether it's starting a podcast, I'm happy to spend thirty minutes with you and just dig deep, brainstorm and just send you in the right direction that's going to help you accomplish your goals. Because ultimately back in episode 82 of this year I specifically talked about how my number one goal is to impact a million people, and I want to impact a million people as it relates to LGBTQ. So if that means I can have a conversation with you, and I can help you impact 1,000 people then I am one step closer to my goal. Or if I can help ten of you impact 1,000 people, that's ten steps closer to my goal and that's ultimately what it's all about. We have to be in this together. It's kind of a- I don't want to be dramatic and say a do-or-die scenario, but it's really going to be a rough road ahead. So if I can hop on a call with you and help kind of square you away and get you started in the right direction, I would be more than happy and honestly honored to help you with that.
There are two additional things that I want to at least mention while I have your undivided attention, before I kind of go into a hiatus mode. And one of them is an offering, and it's a new- it's not really a new service, it's really kind of under consulting and business strategy, but I just want to share with you a win that I recently had because you might be working for a corporation who needs this help, or you might know of a corporation who needs this kind of help, and I would be honored to help kind of guide and steward the organization in the right direction. But this is more a little bit about the win that this company that I've been working with just recently had. And I can't say their name because of liability reasons, and nondisclosure agreements, and all that fun stuff that I have signed with them, however the principle applies.
So I've been working with this company that is a Fortune 100, and I've been working with them for a couple of years, and they recently hired me back in the spring- or actually winter. They hired me to help them improve their Corporate Equality Index score for the Human Rights Campaign's CEI. If you are unfamiliar with the CEI I encourage you to go to my website, www.JennTGrace.com and search CEI and a lot of information will come up about it; why it's important, how this is beneficial, all that fun stuff. The short of it is that I have been working with this company for over a year because I was working with them in a marketing capacity before I started helping them with their CEI. And when we started this process we officially really began in April, and the Human Rights Campaign needs the survey that really is what the Index is based off of, they need the survey completed by August. So we had from April to August basically to figure out how on earth we were going to take this corporation that had a 10 previously on the CEI, and get them to a respectable level. And going into it in all honesty I thought it was going to be a David and Goliath type of scenario where there is this group of dedicated people who are really amazing, really awesome, who want to gain LGBTQ equality for their employees, for their coworkers, and I thought it was going to be them versus kind of the corporate board of directors, the people who are out of touch. I had like this very specific impression in my mind of how this was going to play out. I do always enjoy a challenge, and just because there might be a disconnect between the people on the ground, in the weeds, just because there's a disconnect between them and maybe the executives, that doesn't mean that there isn't a path to success in my opinion.
So I had this impression that it was going to be really, really hard to create change. Again change happens in business. I thought it was going to be really tough, and I cannot begin to explain to you how pleasantly surprised I was that while it was still tough work in order of getting all of the policies and kind of just the logistics in place, this corporation went from a 10 to a 90. And the new 2017 CEI was released in November, so just a month ago from the time that you're listening to this, and I'm so, so pleased to see that they have a 90 now on the Corporate Equality Index. This is a corporation that has like 17,000 employees so having sexual orientation, and gender identity, and gender expression, and all of those necessary things- transgender healthcare benefits, all of those necessary things in place for those 17,000 employees is amazing. Because while yes the LGBT community is representing like less than 4% of the population, so 4% of those 17,000 employees are going to be directly impacted by this corporation taking that awesome next step into having full equality in their workplace for their people. I feel like this is amazing, I'm so excited and so proud of them. I really look forward to engaging with them again in 2017 to help them get to 100. My real goal is on the 2018 CEI, this company has 100%. So they would have gone from a 10 to 100 in two years' time. And I think any company is capable of this if they have the right people, and the right leadership to say, 'Let's do this, let's get this done' basically. And in this particular instance, this corporation, they had the buy-in from senior level executives, they had the buy-in from the CEO, and they had all of the autonomy and authority to get this done, which I think is entirely why they were so successful in doing this because there was that top-down agreement of, 'This is something that's important to our organization, and we are going to do this.' I was privy to an email that an LGBTQ person within this company sent to the CEO, and I was able to see it and it was just a very simple, 'Thank you. I'm proud to be an employee of this company.'
So there's a huge impact that can be made. So if you're working for a corporation that you know is not doing well on the CEI, there is total hope for you. Total hope, and if you are interested and want me to have a conversation with your, or with them, or anybody, I'd be more than happy to do that. I found out of everything that I worked on in 2016 in addition- or other than to the working with my authors on the publishing side, if I look at all of the LGBTQ projects that I worked on in 2016, this was hands down one of the best because every time we got a little bit closer to a better score, it was just a huge sense of victory. And I've been behind the scenes, out of sight. This company and the people within it are all the true champions, I just gave them the guidance and kind of the general direction of like, 'This is what we have to do, this is who you have to talk to,' and all that. But they made it happen and now they're positioning themselves as a market leader, and they can attract LGBTQ employees and top talent because they have protections that those employees are looking for. So this was such a rewarding- and such an interesting way, just such a rewarding project to have worked on, especially if we look at my business. It's very much kind of equally- I think it's equally behind the scenes versus equally on a stage speaking. This was straight up behind the scenes and I loved every minute of it, and the people who work for this company- the marketing people, HR, everyone, they're just really genuine, and sincere, and authentic people, and it's just been seriously amazing. So I'm so proud of them to have a 90%. If at any point in time I can tell you who they are, I'd be more than happy to because they are amazing and I would love for you to do business with them. But for now I shall keep their name.
Although that leads into the second thing that I wanted to tell you. I am working on my next book, and it should be out in 2017- in winter of 2017 is what my hope is, and I'm hoping that I can possibly name this company by name in the book, I'm working on trying to figure out how I will do that now. But this is- and I screw up the number every time I say it, it'll either be my third book or my fourth book. I can't quite determine which one it is.
You may even wonder how on earth I could possibly not know how many books I've written, and the reality is that I have written two print books. So it's the first book which was 'But You Don't Look Gay: The Six Steps to Creating an LGBT Marketing Strategy.' And then I wrote my second book which was 'No Wait, You Do Look Gay: The Seven Mistakes Preventing You from Selling to the $830 Billion LGBT Market.' And then I wrote a third book that is not in print, it is only an electronic version. So I never know if I'm going to count that one as a book or not, and that book is 'Marriage Equality Marketing: Five Questions You Must Ask to Sell to the $884 Billion LGBT Market.' So because that one is not in print I always- sometimes I want to include it as a third book, sometimes I don't. Either way those are the three I've written. The 'Marriage Equality Marketing' book is free, it's completely free on my website if you go to www.JennTGrace.com, a popup will pop up in your face and ask you if you'd like to download it, and there's information about it in a couple of different places.
So I highly encourage you to at the very least go get that book for free, but I am working on- we'll call it my fourth for the sake of this discussion. So I am working on my fourth book, as I mentioned I'm hoping that it will be out in winter of 2017. My goal is for it to be out probably in late January, maybe early mid-February. It's a little bit tricky right now trying to figure out the editing process, and I'm in the throes of it right now just editing it. So it's nine chapters as it stands at this very moment, and I'm in the process of editing chapter eight, so I'm almost there. And then I have to figure out all the other fun logistics of who's going to write the forward, and testimonials, and all of that fun stuff that goes with writing a book.
This book is a little bit different than the others. If we look at the other three books, they've all been a little bit of a hybrid of LGBTQ audience and straight ally audience. My audience this entire time I've been doing this, which goes back to- at least this iteration of my business, to 2012. And if I look at my experience in the LGBTQ space, generally speaking that goes back to 2006, but this entire time I've spent a lot of time equally focused on helping allies reach the community and then helping people within the community just be better at marketing themselves. And this book is different, it's really different, and the reason is it is designed purely for allies. Just for allies. I have never done anything that is only intended for allies. Any LGBTQ person could pick it up, of course you could learn from it, there's always something I think that can be learned, but this is very much communications based. There is no- we're not talking about marketing necessarily, it's very much how to get into the mind of an LGBT customer, and how to make sure that you're authentically approaching the market. So it is in a large, large part very much what I've been preaching and talking about for the last four years on this podcast, and in my blog, but it's written in a very different way. It is really a book designed to be a cheerleader for an ally who genuinely wants to reach our community in a way that is true to them, that's going to serve us well, and that it really is a win-win situation. It really is kind of a champion, and it's a cheerleader helping that ally kind of get through these mental blocks, and help them understand why we're using the stereotypes that we're using, or why people are covering their identity, or all of these very emotional things, very psychological things. I'm really excited with how the book is turning out. When I first started this, and I started the re-write really officially back in the end of October, and my original intent to be honest with you was to take the first two books that I've done, and just kind of blend them together and create like a new updated version of that, that was really almost I would say 80% the same content. And when I did that, I just didn't like the way it felt. I feel like it wasn't the book that was needed in the marketplace if you will. And I started writing it before the election, so I started writing it in the end of October, the election was the second week of November, and yeah everything just kind of blew up in a not so pleasant way. So I had written the first draft basically before the election, and when I went back to edit that first draft, it just was kind of like, 'Oh hell no this is not going to work anymore.' The election has changed- I don't want to be so dramatic, but the election has changed everything in my mind. It's been a complete and utter game changer. So when I went back and looked through it I was like, 'Nope this is not the book that needs to be written,' and I just kind of scrapped a lot of what I had written, I deleted a ton of information. So the first three books that I have that exist, all of that is still kind of minding its business. This next book will have very little overlap, if any overlap to those other books. If anything I'm just kind of referencing, 'This is covered in the first book. Feel free to go get your copy here' type of stuff. But I think the election has changed a lot, and I'm hoping that this is the book that an ally who's like, 'I need to be an ally,' or someone who doesn't even know that they're an ally yet, but they're like, 'I know I need to help the LGBT community right now. I know I have to, how do I do that? I need the manual.' So this is kind of the manual to help people reach the LGBT community.
So I do look forward to having that available in February or so. As I get that information up on my website it will be there, so www.JennTGrace.com. The information will be there. I am looking for people to be book ambassadors which basically I will be giving you kind of a free preview, a free copy in exchange for helping me promote the book during the launch. And again, I don't know when the launch will be, I'm guessing probably somewhere in February is my best guess, and I will need people to help me kind of promote it and make sure that it makes sense within particular audiences. And again it's designed for the straight ally but an LGBTQ person could pick it up and absolutely learn from it. There's definitely stuff to be learned from, but it's really written to a straight person who means well and wants to do the right thing and just needs that guidance and kind of a support system there to tell them that when they do something it's not the end of the world, and here's how to counteract what you've done, and all that kind of great stuff.
That was a mouthful. I fully understand that it was a lot of information that I've just thrown out at you, and I did so in a not 100% cohesive way. I think I bounced around a little bit, but that kind of sums up this final episode of 2016 and we will speak again in 2017, I'm just not 100% when that is. So I do hope that you enjoy going back in time listening to some of the amazing old archives that I have pulled out for at least the first couple of months of 2017. So keep in touch with me, keep telling me what's going on. If you want to be a book ambassador please reach out. I've also redone my entire email series, so if you join my mailing list I have redone it in a way that it is super, super educational. It always has been but I went back and just redid it so there's a lot more intent behind it. So and the intent there is to help educate you, it's not trying to sell you on things, it's really just focused on how do I take the 500+ blog posts and podcasts collectively that I have, how do I make sure that I'm giving that information to you in a way that logically makes sense? Rather than just telling you to go to my website and just start looking around. You could be looking around for weeks and still not cover all of the information that's there. So the new email is really just designed to help specifically and strategically guide you in the right direction to enhance your business, enhance your personal brand, all of that great stuff.
With that being said, again this is not a final goodbye, but this is a goodbye, we're on hiatus for a little bit. If you're interested, check out my website, www.JennTGrace.com. If interested check out www.PurposeDrivenPublishing.com or www.PurposeDrivenAuthorsAcademy.com. All of those places I will be there, and again www.MeetWithJenn.com will bring you to my online scheduling calendar, and I'd be honestly happy to help kind of brainstorm and kickstart you in the right direction. So if you would like to talk to me please do so.
With that being said I so appreciate your listenership for these last four years, I hope the end of 2016 has been good for you, and I hope 2017 kicks some serious ass, and we will talk again very soon. Have a great New Year.
Thank you for listening to today's podcast. If there are any links from today's show that you are interested in finding, save yourself a step and head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And there you will find a backlog of all of the past podcast episodes including transcripts, links to articles, reviews, books, you name it. It is all there on the website for your convenience. Additionally if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, you can head on over to the website and click the contact form, send me a message, you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all at JennTGrace. And as always I really appreciate you as a listener, and I highly encourage you to reach out to me whenever you can. Have a great one, and I will talk to you in the next episode.
Fri, 9 December 2016
#99: Are We Innately Driven to Serve Others With Matt Kidd
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 99.
Introduction: Welcome to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast; the podcast dedicated to helping LGBTQ professionals and business owners grow their business and careers through the power of leveraging their LGBTQ identities in their personal brand. You'll learn how to market your products and services both broadly, and within the LGBTQ community. You'll hear from incredible guests who are leveraging the power of their identity for good, as well as those who haven't yet started, and everyone in between. And now your host. She teaches straight people how to market to gay people, and gay people how to market themselves. Your professional lesbian, Jenn - with two N's - T Grace.
Jenn T Grace: Well hello and welcome to episode 99 of the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and I am almost stunned that we are at episode 99 and the next episode will obviously be 100, that will be the last one of 2016 and it's almost a big monumental time to be hitting this 99th episode before going into the triple digits.
So as I have been doing for the last couple of months, I have another interview to share with you and it's with Matt Kidd, and he is the Executive Director of Reaching Out MBA which is an organization that is focused on LGBTQ folks who are pursuing MBAs, and we really just had an amazing conversation that kind of went back and forth between LGBT culture and some of the challenges that we see, and personal brands, and how people can be change makers, and advocates, and really it was just a very fascinating conversation to be had. So per usual I will not dilly dally here with the introduction and we can just dive right into today's interview with Matt, and I will see you in episode 100, but for today please enjoy this interview with Matt Kidd, and if you would like to find information about this episode, see a transcript, any of that, you can do so at www.JennTGrace.com/99 for episode number 99. Thanks so much and enjoy the interview.
Okay so I want to start off with just having you give the listeners a little bit of a background about yourself, maybe what you've done in the past, what your current position is, and then we can just kind of dive into other interesting topics from there. So why don't you just kind of take it away.
Matt Kidd: Sure so my name is Matt Kidd. I'm currently the Executive Director of an LGBT organization called Reaching Out. A lot of people know us also as ROMBA, and the organization itself is effectively the now global organization for LGBT MBA both students and professionals. And it's something that I've been in this role now for a little over three years, but prior to that was on the board. So I've been involved with Reaching Out now probably for- gosh going on about eight years. But I would say for me being part of kind of the LGBT community is something that has gone on really since I was a teenager in some ways, which I can talk a little bit about later, and I have to say as I came to this role it really was because I was at a time in my life where I started really thinking about what difference can we make in the world? To be honest I'd gone through my own MBA business school experience, I was working at Tech Startup, and about two, three years after I'd been at that company I was number one kind of getting a little bit bored and I was thinking about what do I want to do next? But number two, I actually lost my mother and so at that point I'd lost both my parents. And when you go through something like that I think it forces a lot of self-reflection and kind of thinking about what is your purpose in the world? Why are you doing this? What really matters? And I think that was one of those moments. And so it was kind of probably about a year after that, that the organization was going through this big change where it went from what was effectively an all-volunteer model with a volunteer board, and using students to run basically one event to an organization that really wanted to have a larger scope, wanted to run year round, and [Inaudible 00:04:33]. And I vividly remember we were sitting in a room with some consultants that we were working with and one of them pulled me aside and said, "Hey would you consider raising your hand for this," and my gut reaction was, "No that's ridiculous." And then I think I went home and thought about it, and a couple weeks went by, and I just kept coming back to it. It was this really interesting part of me, 'What can we do with this? Like if I did this, why would it be interesting and why should I do this?' And it all kind of came back to in a weird way- I view my time at Reaching Out really in a weird way is working with some sort of startup or something entrepreneurial because I came in and it had been this established product which was this conference that's been going on now for nineteen years, but it really didn't do much else. And so it kind of gave me a blank slate to come and then say, 'Well what do we want to do? What impact do we want to do?' And as soon as I kind of had some of the conversations that made it clear that we really would be able to move forward quickly rather than kind of in the traditional slow nonprofit way, I threw my hat into the ring and lo and behold three years later we've built up a staff of three, we're doing probably close to twenty events a year, we have a scholarship program that's giving away over a million dollars a year to LGBTQ students in business school. So we've been able to accomplish a lot, but that's kind of how I got to where I am, and kind of a little bit about what's going on in my world.
Jenn T Grace: Do you think with your kind of gut reaction of like, 'Oh hell no I don't want to go down this path,' and then somehow that being the path that you end up on, do you think that like if you look back it's just kind of really kind of changed the trajectory of your ability to make- create purpose and change kind of in your life?
Matt Kidd: Yeah I do. The reality is I probably won't be in this role forever. Some people do ask me, "What are you going to do next?" And I think in a weird way this role has made me really reflect on what would make me happy in life, and what would not? And I think some of that has to do with the type of organizations that you work for. I think there's something inherently nice about working- for me at least, for a small to mid-sized organization rather than kind of a giant corporation. I think it tells you a little bit about kind of the impact that you can have. I think particularly when you're talking about a nonprofit or a v-corp or something like that, then I think in those cases you're doing more than just having an impact on the business line, you're having an impact on kind of the greater community. I think at this point- and I think it's- I alluded to this before, I think it's been true really since I was much younger, but now I consciously think about what can I be doing to make somebody else's life better at the end of the day? And I think some of that comes from mission driven work, and where you work, but some of that just becomes frankly how you treat people, how you talk, how you position yourself, and I think being in a role like this makes me hyper conscious of that and that's something that regardless of what I'm doing next, I that's had just had a tremendous impact really on my life. And like I said it can be just something as simple as how are you talking to other people? Are you kind of taking into consideration their priorities, their needs, how can you help them, how might they be at a disadvantage to you? Every conversation now in some form, that goes through my thinking.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and I know that you have kind of information from early back as we were talking before we hit record, do you think that for people to come to the realization that like their purpose in life is to really kind of serve others? Because that's really at the crux of what you're talking about, is serving others. Do you think that it requires some kind of pivotal moment to cause that? Or do you think that's innate to some people? Like what are your thoughts on that, and then of course how did you realize that about yourself?
Matt Kidd: Yeah I think it's ultimately at the end of the day in everyone. I think there probably are varying degrees of it, but I do think it takes something in somebody's life really to kind of recognize it. And so what we were talking about before we recorded today is October 12th and so it's the eighteenth anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, and I really vividly remember an experience when I was probably a junior or so in high school, and this was in Memphis, Tennessee so fairly deep south in kind of the late nineties, and I remember this experience, and I apologize for my language here but there was a teacher who kind of came in and basically said, "That faggot deserved it. He probably had Aids anyway." And you know, at the time I was not really out at that point, I would say I was exploring my sexual identity in some capacity and I think some people probably suspected, but I just remember that just first of all making me feel so little, but then I think the more I reflected on it, it started to make me angry. And a couple years ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with Judy Shepard, and we were talking, and my comment to her was the murder is obviously horrible, and I think everybody would go back in time and change it if they could, but there is a silver lining that comes of horrible incidents like this, and that's I think it gets a lot of people to reflect on their own purpose and kind of have a reaction. And so I would say if you look at a lot of my peers, particularly in the LGBT social justice faith now, a lot of them would say a moment to them where they realized that this was something that was important to them, something that moved them that made them care, was Matthew Shepard’s death. And so for a lot of us, kind of my generation, so people who are in their mid-thirties, I think that was a moment that sparked this idea of, 'This is wrong and I want to change that.' Now how people went about doing that, I think it takes a lot of different paths. And sometimes you'll see have you multiple encounters, like for me a second spark really was my loss of both my parents, that a moment where for me it was like, 'Well why am I on this earth? Like what am I meant to do?' And so I think you do have those points, and I think it's what you decide to do with them that really matters.
Jenn T Grace: So I have a friend of mine who's writing a book, and it's really about what you're talking about of really kind of taking that challenging situation and turning it into that silver lining. And there's a whole concept around it called post-traumatic growth, and it's really that we grow from those really traumatic experiences that we kind of face. Do you think- because I too am in my mid-thirties looking back at Matthew Shepard, and that being in 1998, and I was also a junior in high school. I remember it really vividly as I think most people our age do, and do you think that there- because I think that Judy Shepard really, really made it her life's mission to use that incident and her experience as a grieving mother to really be a catalyst in so many ways across the board for LGBT equality. Do you think that because it was 1998, if we look back Ellen had come out a couple of years before, LGBT was so not on the forefront as it is now. If we look at something like what happened in Orlando in June, do we look at that as possibly one of those pivotal moments for people now? Like because I know for us, like I definitely- of course we all had a reaction to Orlando, but do we think that that is actually one of those defining moments for maybe the youth? Especially as you- with reaching out working with students, I'm curious just kind of your perspective and hearing stories that you might have heard from any of the students that you work with.
Matt Kidd: Yeah you know I think at some level it did, I think that there are certainly differences kind of as you alluded to. In the nineties, LGBT- obviously being LGBT, being out, much less acceptable than it is now. And I think in many ways, Orlando in particular exposed people to this concept of we're still vulnerable. I think one of the things that I see in a lot of students, and it's a little bit horrifying for me to see some students who are kids now getting into the nineties, but some of them have never grown up in an age frankly without Internet, which I think for a lot of LGBT people kind of opened a community, opened kind of access to free communication that you might not otherwise have, and I think they've grown up in an environment thanks to people like Kevin Jennings where a lot of them have seen GSAs in their schools and stuff like that. And so they've always grown up in this environment where it's been acceptable, and I think that there's always this danger that people become a little bit complacent, and so I think it moved a lot of people to think, 'Okay there's still a lot of work to do.' Because I hate to say this, but let's be honest, the fact that not all states have workplace protection for example, it's actually not as sexy to at least a lot of my students because most of them are going to go work for corporations or multi-nationals who regardless of whether the state they're in has work protections or not, they're going to be protected by their companies. And so they're not really impacted by something like that so it's not as sexy. But this idea that there are people out there who want to do you harm, and it's like this in other places in the world, and that particularly is something that I think [Inaudible 00:14:00] people start to get with something like Orlando, I think it gets them to move, to act a little bit and it does spark something like that. I mean my true thought, and we saw this last week, we had our annual conference last weekend, and one of the speakers was this guy Darnell Moore, and Darnell Moore is kind of at the intersection of queer and Black Lives Matter as a lot of the Black Lives Matter are themselves. And he really talked about kind of the racial inequality within the LGBT movement and there were a lot of conversations following that, and I think that in a lot of ways Black Lives Matter is kind of the equivalent to some of the LGBT rights issues that we saw in the nineties, including the Matthew Shepard murder, and I think that's actually going to spark a lot of people towards just kind of general social justice movement. So it may not be precisely LGBT focused, but I think that there's a broad- if people are not being treated equally, that's a problem that people are starting to get in tune with, in part because of Black Lives Matter actually.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like it's a collision- there's definitely a colliding of the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBTQ movement all kind of boiling to a point at the same time, which if we look back just from a historical context, obviously I think it goes without saying that the Black Lives Matter should not be where it's at right now, this should not even be a movement currently. And I think there's a lot of power in the two communities trying to kind of raise one another up. I'm sure there's plenty of problematic areas too of we're all trying to fight for the same thing, but I think more often than not there's definitely a synergy, and a harmony if you would even want to call it that, of it's just injustice across the board, equality across the board, and I think that seeing these two different vantage points is actually I think helping one another in some degree from a media standpoint, or at least what's kind of being talked about because I think maybe the first time in history that these two things are so on the forefront every single day in any media outlet that you look at.
Matt Kidd: I'd add gender equality to that as well, I mean if you look at what's going on with the whole Trump campaign kind of implosion if you will, a lot of that centers around gender equality. And I think that the fact that people are more attuned to this- you really can't talk about people like that, you really have to treat people equally. If that wasn't going on I feel like unfortunately this wouldn't be as big of an issue as it's turned into over the last week or so.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like there's just so much going on, the political landscape. By the time this airs I think we will be post-election, and who knows what exactly that will look like. Good God let's all hope here, and I'm sure anyone listening to this is on the same page, I can't imagine that I would have any listeners who were not, but who knows. In looking at just kind of maybe how even just the election cycle has kind of gone in terms of opening awareness to all of these mass amounts of issues. Because I really feel like there's a lot to attribute to the Trump campaign of just kind of raising the collective consciousness of, 'Wow there are so many problems.' Whether or not there's any kind of resolution to anything that's been brought up over the last year and a half, who knows? But it will be interesting to kind of see how this all plays out as it relates to any number of disenfranchised communities. Obviously LGBT being kind of the one that we're discussing.
Matt Kidd: Yeah the Trump campaign on LGBT has just been frankly very confusing, I mean to me as the whole Trump campaign has been. But I do think that it is kind of forcing people to really look at these issues, and the thing that at least is I guess slightly comforting to me is that this election cycle, LGBT has kind of taken a back seat in some ways. That to me means it's being used as less of a wedge issue, or kind of people view it as less of a wedge issue. I think that's promising. I think that there's also an inherent risk to that, which I alluded to in one of the last questions. I mean if you look at workplace equality, housing equality, transgender rights, look at what's going on in North Carolina; there's a lot that we really need to still accomplish. I think to the extent that people feel like, 'Okay we got marriage so we can move on,' which frankly is what a lot of people from the kind of straight- or to be more politically correct, non-LGBTQ population, that's how a lot of them view it is, 'Okay they got marriage last year so they're all set.' The reality is that's not true, but I also understand- kind of like you said the fact that we're still having some of these race inequality issues, essentially fifty years after we went through a whole racial equality movement, is just absolutely insane to me. And to me when people say, 'Well what do you think the importance of LGBT organizations-' like mine going forward are going to be. I think number one there's still stuff to accomplish, but number two, if we look at women's equality movement, and the black equality movement in particular, those are still ongoing, and to think that we're done and that we're going to politically at least get to a point where we're in the clear, we have nothing to worry about, I think it's naïve. I think the reality is we need to continue to be a pretty cohesive community, and I think that there are a lot of ways to do that, and the way that my organization kind of thinks about that is we want to bring these students together who are ultimately at the end of the day most likely to go onto jobs that are well-positioned within corporations, and pay well, and presumably they'll amass some sort of power, and I think one of the things we're really starting to focus on is how do we plant that seed that gets them to think about how they can number one, support each other, but more importantly, how can they support the rest of the LGBTQ community that may not have that same power, privilege and money? How can they essentially be giving back to their peers who are not as privileged as they are? And I think that's kind of the next wave of LGBT movement, is some of us are doing exceedingly well, particularly if you're a white, cisgender, gay male. Some people are not in as good a position, and how do we lift those people up?
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like you've kind of said so much because it's almost like you're helping enable an army that can kind of infiltrate from the inside of the corporate walls. And I think that with marriage equality, or even to some degree kind of the non-discrimination legislation that is still kind of in limbo, but the states that have adopted some kind of policies to protect their LGBT work force, so many of them have done so under the pressure of the corporations within those given states. So this seems like it's definitely the long term game strategy that you're kind of viewing, but it really- I think to some degree only takes one individual LGBT person, or even ally within an organization to really affect the type of change that's needed in order to continue to kind of propel things forward.
Matt Kidd: Yup absolutely, and I spent a day last week at the Out and Equal Workplace Summit, and a lot of the conversations that I was either part of or sat in, really kind of talked about how it's at the end of the day, particularly within corporations, getting stuff done, getting influence can come from two directions, it can come from kind of top down or bottom up, and it really takes passionate individuals to make that happen. The challenge that I think a lot of corporations right now face is that yes you're having these C-level folks, somebody like a Marc Benioff really step it up and taking some bold, bold actions. And you have some really passionate kind of lower level employees particularly amongst the millennials. But then you kind of have this layer of middle management, and frankly in my opinion to be middle management in a corporation sucks. You're getting a lot of pressure to perform from both ends, you can't take as many risks as you want, and so that is actually where I think a lot of kind of social justice movements within corporations kind of hit friction. It's not actually because of the C-suite, it's because of middle management, and it's essentially a fear, it's a fear for their own careers. And so I think as we think about who we want to influence and whom we should be talking to, I think those are kind of the key stakeholders. As we think about how we can leverage corporations in particular for this. I think yes, if you can get the attention of the CEO that's great, and it lets you make what I would essentially say are like headline plays. Something that you do that kind of is there for a day or two and then potentially goes away. To make something that's really long-lasting, you really need to build it into the culture, and a lot of that deals with middle management and influencing them. And so I think as we think about whom we should be talking to, and where we can make relationships personal, I think it's with those middle managers that really is key.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and I had an experience this past year. So I have a corporate client that's a Fortune 100, and I've been helping them- I did an LGBT training for their staff, just kind of marketing wise how to get their salespeople communicating in the right ways. And it was kind of a really fun experience, and that was- I don't know, maybe two years ago, and earlier this year they reached out to me to say, 'Hey we recognize that our CEI score is atrocious, and we see that we're not able to attract the right type of talent because it's just so bad and we're really putting people off.' And it's not that they weren't practicing it internally, but the number on the page was- it was a ten. So I worked with them, and their HR department, and their marketing department, and they had top down buy-in. So I was expecting kind of a Herculean effort to be had of like this is going to be a slog, we're working with an all-white male board of directors who isn't really all about diversity, let alone LGBT, and I was beyond shocked with how easy it moved through because the top executives were saying, 'This is something that's important to us, this is what we have to do.' But it's what you were saying, it was the mid-level manager which is usually where things kind of go to die when- any type of initiative. Like somehow it just doesn't either get passed going upward, or doesn't get below going downward, and there's always- obviously I'm making a broad generalization, but in my experience anyway, this is what I've seen happen. And it was because that mid-level management was like, 'You know what? This is important. It's important to us from a how do we position our business as- how do we position ourselves as the employer of choice?' And it's amazing that they managed to get themselves up to a ninety with just working with me for six months to really just kind of get their internal stuff together, because again they were already doing it, they just weren't really getting the credit for it. So I think that there's a lot to be said because it was one marketing person in that organization of like 18,000 employees who was saying, 'Our CEI sucks. We have to do something about it.' And she's an ally to the community no less, not even part of the community and was like, 'We have to fix this.' So I think that that should give hope and inspiration to a lot of the young people that are students and going through Reaching Out because they really do have an impact to change so many people, it's just I think if you time the messaging right, you time the conversation at the right time, you talk to the right people eventually- and I'm sure my particular contact was having these conversations for quite some time before I was able to actually come in and deliver, but it took her to stand up to be like, 'This isn't right. We need to fix this.' And I think that anyone has that true potential, but in a lot of ways I feel like the stars have to kind of align to really kind of see that such quick progress. Because especially in corporate it does take a lot of time to do anything usually.
Matt Kidd: Yeah, you know I think that there is increasing pressure on some of these organizations to really look at diversity numbers, metrics. When I throw around the word diversity, generally speaking I'm really talking about recruiting. I think if that pressure continues, and I think the pressure on that will actually fall on middle management, that by default is going to start making this part of the culture because people will think about, 'Well what can we be doing to affect this?' So I think setting some metrics in the hopes of companies essentially to task for you know, 'Gosh you really have no women.' I think it's a really important thing to do and I think over time that will start to change the culture of these organizations inherently as well.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and I think it's great that your focus is on MBA students because like you said, they are well-positioned by the time they hit the corporate workplace, so they automatically have an added layer perhaps credibility kind of bringing to the table, even if they are kind of in a very low position, you know that they're going to inevitably kind of succeed through the ranks based on what they're setting out to do.
Matt Kidd: Yeah absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: So switching gears just a little bit and thinking about earlier on, you were talking about for you, Reaching Out is likely not going to be something that you're kind of tied to for life. Do you think about how- like right now is your name- I'm just going down a path of personal branding here. In looking at your name, are you finding that it's becoming synonymous with Reaching Out, or Executive Director of Reaching Out? And are you consciously trying to think about how to gradually- not disconnect because of course your name is everything and it certainly plays a huge factor into your role, but just kind of from a general standpoint of thinking of like, 'How would I actually unravel this down the road should I need to?'
Matt Kidd: Yeah, no I think that is top of mind for me lately. I think that actually if you look at a lot of LGBT organizations you have people who in a lot of ways, the person is interchangeable with the organization. So you look at like Out & Equal, and you think of Selisse Berry. You look at Out Leadership, you think of Todd Sears. And there are numerous cases like that, and unfortunately I think that there's a danger not only to the individual I think as they think about kind of their next chapter, although for some of these folks there may not be another chapter, they may decide to retire. But I think there's kind of a challenge for somebody like me where this certainly is- hopefully, knock on wood, not going to be the last chapter of my career, and so at one level you want to be associated with this but you don't want it to be your entire brand. I think there's also a danger for the organization because if it becomes so entrenched in kind of my personal brand, then the organization risks- if I'm not there and not present, people could say things like, 'Oh it was not the same as it was when Matt was there,' and I don't think that's good for the organization either. I increasingly as we do events and trying to do things to put a spotlight on our other stuff [Inaudible 00:2926] are students, because I think at the end of the day those are the people who are working equally as hard as I am, and maybe aren't always the face and voice but I think we should position them more to be in those kinds of situations. So there is a risk and I am thinking about how we slowly kind of unwind that a bit, and I think essentially lifting other people up is a huge component of that.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and I partially asked the question because in- everything is always clearer in hindsight, but when I was running the Connecticut LGBT Chamber of Commerce which I did for quite a number of years, and I was the Executive Director I remember that when I left that position the organization essentially imploded, and it took awhile to kind of regain its legs, and it certainly- this was a number of years ago at this point, so everything is on the up and up now, but it definitely was a significant hit because- and it wasn't anything that I intentionally had done from the onset. I wasn't trying to build the organization the Jenn way, it just happened to be a very small organization, not a lot of people. I relied heavily on volunteers and our board, and it was just a matter of we've got to do what we've got to do to get these events going, to get our members happy, and it just happened to be me that was always in front of people. So I think that that's a risk generally for anybody in a position like you're in now.
Matt Kidd: I think it's a risk for any kind of small to mid-sized organization really to be honest, and part of why we built out our staff is certainly because if we continued on the trajectory that when it was essentially just me as a staff member with some contractors and volunteers, I was going to burn out which would not benefit anyone, and we wouldn't be able to expand and grow the way that we wanted to. But the second is like it essentially puts the institutional memory of an organization really in that one person, and if you lose that one person, back when we were kind of that staff of one plus some contractors, if I got hit by a bus not that the organization wouldn't continue on, but that would be really problematic. Today knock on wood that's not going to happen, but if it did I have full faith that between kind of the staff embers that we have and how we've kind of been able to lift them up and then have them kind of take over some things, I think that frankly things would go on without missing much of a beat.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah which is such a good sustainable place to be in, which is not always what is accessible to every organization because they're not really kind of thinking about secession planning and what lies ahead, or if this key person were to not be here for whatever number of reasons, how do we kind of carry on without skipping a beat. And I would imagine- my gut says, and based on people that I know in Executive Director positions for other nonprofits, I feel like most of them are not necessarily thinking that forward in terms of 'what would we do in the situation?' So rather it's a reactive versus proactive.
Matt Kidd: Yeah and you know I'll be honest, in the LGBT space in particular, I think we have a responsibility to start to think about secession planning, and the large reason actually is that if you look at the vast majority- not all, but the majority of LGBT social justice organizations, they're run by white cisgender gay men, and I don't think that that's the face of the movement going forward. And so I think we really need to kind of pause as a movement in general and think about how can we bring in the faces and the voices that maybe aren't heard as well right now, and put them into leadership roles? And I think we're really at an inflection point where it's time for those of us who- kind of going back to what I was saying before, are fairly privileged within the LGBTQ community, to lift up those who are not and make them heard, and I think that's one way that we can do that. And so I hope that as a lot of other LGBT organizations have [Inaudible 00:33:27] retire, or switch to something else, that that's something that they're starting to think about.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and so I'm curious to hear your thoughts, and if you've been paying attention to this at all, but I had someone from BuzzFeed reach out to me last week- and again we're recording this on October 12th, so whenever this does come out, it's obviously all a little bit in the past. But I had somebody reach out for my comment on the After Ellen platform kind of disbanding. So what you're talking about I think really kind of goes into that entirely of the face of the community is really gay, white, cisgender men, and we know that that is by far not the reality of the community. But when we look at something like a website, like After Ellen which was kind of a flagship type of lesbian driven centric platform and content generator for so many years. So for that to kind of no longer exist in the capacity that it did, and the reason being is that there just wasn't enough advertiser interest, it's almost like how do we combat that from recognizing that it's not just what this kind of stereotypical highly sought after demographic is, when we ourselves are kind of continuing to perpetuate that that is all there is when we know that that's not.
Matt Kidd: Yeah, no I do know what you mean. The After Ellen thing is frankly a little surprising to me. I think some of what they struggled with is the business model issue, but some of it is- and also from firsthand experience, one of the things that I'm really focused on and the organization is, is really frankly trying to drive more LBTQ into business school and business in general. And so we started an initiative about probably three or four years ago now that we call Out Women in Business, and we hold a conference in New York, and it's a challenging audience to attract. I think each year it gets a little bit better, and there are some people like Leanne Pittsford with Lesbians Who Tech, who have something really special and magical there, but I mean Leanne will even tell you, like for her trying to attract an audience sometimes is a challenge as well. And so that's kind of a community thing, and I think it all starts with kind of visible leadership, and I think slowly but surely with folks like Megan Smith for example, we are carving out a space and leadership examples for the LBTQ community in particular, so I think that that's kind of a key component to it. But there aren't a lot of sources. After Ellen was one, there are what, maybe a couple- three or four others that are significant that are left, and that's pretty shocking. And then you get into other pretty gay-focused media sources; like to me, Towleroad or something like that is frankly pretty gay-focused. So that is a disturbing thing when you consider the fact that particularly bisexual women I think are the majority of the LGBTQ community. And so that's one of these moments where we should pause and say, 'Are we really reflecting what's out there, and is that part of why something like After Ellen isn't failing, it's because there's a representation issue.'
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like it's interesting because if you look at just kind of general demographic data, it shows that women are more likely to be the primary purchasers of households. So even in just looking at that as women as a more influential audience for buying whatever it happens to be, it seems like it just doesn't add up. And then I think about it, and I wonder if gay men, or any male within the LGBTQ community, is it because there is a bigger sense of community of like actually gathering that makes it easier to see them as a demographic to reach versus women are far more just kind of blending in with the individual cultures in which they live, whether that's geography, or whether it's different areas of interest. It's just really fascinating. When I was talking to the woman at BuzzFeed, I was just saying like, 'This is my lesbian perspective, but you should probably reach out to a cisgender gay male and get their point of view as well because there's got to be some underlying thing that's kind of here, and I do get the question quite often of how do I target lesbians, or how do I find lesbians to market to? And most often my advice is you just have to market to them as women first typically, and then go from there and be inclusive in that approach. But that's not necessarily what's going to be really kind of sexy to an advertiser to say, 'Oh this is a demographic I should invest in.'
Matt Kidd: Yeah and you know, I think it goes back beyond just media. So if you look at a given city, and you look at like a nightlife scene for example, generally speaking you'll probably find a handful, probably three or four of what you would consider kind of 'gay bars,' and you might find one bar that caters towards LBTQ women. And I think that's there- I think it goes back to your clusters of people, you see them more visibly, and again I think the more that we can think about how we bring communities together, who's representing them; I think these are all really, really important things for the movement as we go forward, particularly with social justice organizations.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, absolutely. And do you see any kind of influence or impact on like the Reaching Out students? Because they are MBA focused, that obviously puts them in a different kind of track, but do you see that that's being another avenue for just kind of shedding light and awareness on all of this?
Matt Kidd: I think interestingly enough we're at the point where we even have cisgender men kind of saying, 'What can we do to be getting more women here?' So like it's becoming front of mind for people. I would say for us probably even as recently as five or six years ago, we were the white gay male conference. And you know, I looked at the metrics this year, it's getting better. It's still not there, I think we were slightly under 50% Caucasian, so that's in my mind kind of a good change, although I think a lot of that frankly is being driven by international students who are at business schools. But the number of women in these programs is picking up a little bit each year, but we're not talking- we're talking like a percent each year. So the difference between like 26% and 27% and we really need to be focusing on it. And for me, I mean this is one of my big passions, is how can we drive this and we're fortunate to have a board chair who is a lesbian identifying woman herself, and both of us feel very passionately about it so we've convinced everyone to really put some money behind our mouths on this. And I think we're slowly making progress, it's just not as fast as I think any of us would like, and to be honest we just haven't figured out the silver bullet. So I'll say if any of your listeners know, please feel free to reach out because this is something that- it's not that we don't want them in business school, we actually desperately want them and so frankly do the business schools. I think the challenge that we run into, number one is a little bit of marketing to them, which like you said I think it starts with just marketing to women in general, and I think it gets a little bit more specific. But the other thing is, as I talk to a lot of LBTQ women and say, 'Hey have you ever considered business school?' the responses are pretty much, 'No that's not something that's really top of mind,' and ultimately when you kind of keep pushing it comes down to they're not seeing a community like themselves so they feel like it's not a place for them to be. And so it's a little bit of chicken or egg, but we've got to tell them that, 'This is a place where you're wanted,' and frankly if we start talking about the trans community it gets even harder. I had a conversation with the Executive Director of Campus Pride probably about a month ago now, and he was saying when he talks to his trans students- so these are all undergrad students, he says, 'What do you want to do in the future?' He said it's maybe one in a hundred that's saying some form of business, and the rest of it is something that might be more in the social justice space, or arts space, or even legal, and the fact that this really isn't on their radar and they don't see it as a place for them is a big problem.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and I think it's more of a systemic issue that is much broader than LGBTQ. It really kind of stems from what children are exposed to, and what classes they are exposed to in their elementary schools for example, and just kind of going through and in Connecticut we have a lot of stem type of schools that are popping up. So if either of my children who are in third and fourth grade, if they were interested or showed any inclination toward that stuff, then we could absolutely kind of push them in that direction. But I feel like school is so watered down now that there's just- it's focused on like the bare necessities and not really exposing children, and middle or high school to all of the things that they could be. And I feel like- and Lord knows that is going to be a fight that is not going to be won anytime soon. But I feel like it really- there's just such a systemic issue at play, and the LGBTQ community is really just a microcosm of a bigger- of the community of everyone. So I think we just see the issues because we are such a concentrated microcosm of the larger kind of landscape that we're all operating in.
Matt Kidd: I agree. Totally agree.
Jenn T Grace: Well it's already- we've already been chatting for 45 minutes which seems crazy at this point. But I would love to kind of ask you a final question and then just give you kind of free reign to tell everyone how to go about finding you.
Matt Kidd: Sure.
Jenn T Grace: But my question would be if we're thinking about people who are listening to this, who may be business owners, maybe they're in a professional sphere, they're LGBTQ, they're trying to kind of make a first step, or a first foray into identifying and really kind of honing in on what's meaningful to them, and how that might translate into their own personal brand, or the positioning of what they're doing. Do you have anything that maybe you've learned through your career that might be helpful that could kind of shortcut that process for them?
Matt Kidd: Yeah I think what I have found kind of throughout my career is that- and I know this sounds kind of cliché, particularly for kind of any LGBTQ folks, but authenticity sells. By talking about stories that I've really gone through, and that's why I'll use something like my experience around the day when Matthew Shepard died makes it more relatable and it makes people kind of understand you and what you're doing a little bit better. And so I'll say from kind of a personal brand point of view, I'm one of these people that for the most part I'm a pretty open book and keep it that way. I think even about like social media. If a student wants to add me on Facebook, go for it because frankly at this point I live pretty authentically and intentionally so because it makes me more human and it makes me more real and it makes people more willing to collaborate and to connect with you. And so I think don't be afraid of that, don't try to hide that because I think the reality is it probably opens more doors than it closes at this point. So never forget that, and always just kind of go back to your roots and kind of what you care about. At the end of the day, that is what it's all about, and if you don't care about something you probably shouldn't be doing it.
Jenn T Grace: I feel like that's such good wisdom. Really being mindful of what you stand for and just being transparent from the onset. It certainly will save you a lot of headache later.
Matt Kidd: Absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: So for anyone who was inspired by this conversation and interested in connecting with you, how would you go about directing them to do that?
Matt Kidd: Yeah please. So Reaching Out is online at www.ReachingOutMBA.org. Please visit our website. If you're an MBA yourself, we do have an online community that you can join. It's on that website and it's called Reaching Out Connect, so it's our individual member platform, so we certainly encourage you to do that. If you're part of the LBTQ community, we certainly would welcome and love to have you with us at the Out Women in Business Conference in New York which will be March 31st of 2017. So certainly join us because like I said, we do want to bring that community together, and that is open to non-MBAs so you don't need an MBA to be there, and I would say less than half of the folks who are there have an MBA, so you're certainly welcome for that. And then people can always find me online, LinkedIn, Twitter and if you search very carefully you can find me on Facebook. I'm usually pretty open to adding people on any of the platforms so you can hear what I have to say about things, because like I said I am my authentic self out there.
Jenn T Grace: That's awesome. Well thank you so much for spending some time today, and I feel like there's a lot that can be gained for the listeners from our conversation, so thank you for that.
Matt Kidd: Absolutely, thank you Jenn.
Jenn T Grace: Thank you for listening to today's podcast. If there are any links from today's show that you are interested in finding, save yourself a step and head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And there you will find a backlog of all of the past podcast episodes including transcripts, links to articles, reviews, books, you name it. It is all there on the website for your convenience. Additionally if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, you can head on over to the website and click the contact form, send me a message, you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all at JennTGrace. And as always I really appreciate you as a listener, and I highly encourage you to reach out to me whenever you can. Have a great one, and I will talk to you in the next episode.
Thu, 24 November 2016
#98: Finding Your Niche & Brand in Consulting With Rhodes Perry
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 98.
Introduction: Welcome to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast; the podcast dedicated to helping LGBTQ professionals and business owners grow their business and careers through the power of leveraging their LGBTQ identities in their personal brand. You'll learn how to market your products and services both broadly, and within the LGBTQ community. You'll hear from incredible guests who are leveraging the power of their identity for good, as well as those who haven't yet started, and everyone in between. And now your host. She teaches straight people how to market to gay people, and gay people how to market themselves. Your professional lesbian, Jenn - with two N's - T Grace.
Jenn T Grace: Hello and welcome to episode 98 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and as this is airing we are right around Thanksgiving time here in the US. And we're at the end of November of 2016, and I'm shocked really at how fast this year has actually flown by. I feel like the first part of the year felt kind of slow and sloggish, and now- I don't know, since September it's just really whizzing by. So I'm excited to be in episode number 98, and it has been multiple years in the making to get here, so this podcast will be turning four at the I guess beginning of January in 2017, it'll be four years that I have been doing this which seems a little bit crazy, but all good nonetheless. I have been keeping up with the promise of having interview, after interview, after interview, and today is no different. And the interview I have today for you is with Rhodes Perry of Rhodes Perry Consulting, and we had just a really kind of awesome conversation about personal branding; shocking since that is indeed the title of the podcast. It was really just kind of being an LGBT advocate, and a change maker, and a change agent, and really how that can be something that you can utilize as a benefit to yourself as you grow a business, or continue to grow your career in whatever avenue that might look like.
So rather than blabber on unnecessarily, I'm just going to dive right into the interview with Rhodes. I really think you're going to love it, and if you would like an introduction to him personally, feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn, on Facebook, Twitter, go to my website, contact me however it is easiest for you to just reach out and get in touch with me. That would be awesome and I would love to put you in touch with him. So without further ado, please enjoy this interview.
Okay so let's just start off with telling the listeners just a little bit about who you are, what you do, how you came to be in your business as it looks today.
Rhodes Perry: Sure. So my name is Rhodes Perry and I'm an LGBT strategy assistance guru. Basically what that means is I'm a management consultant, coach and speaker, and I work largely with clients who are in executive, HR, or diversity positions. And I really help clients transform their organizations into ones where LGBTQ people know that they're valued, and they know that they belong in the workplace. And I work all across the country, most of my clients are based in New York City. I'm actually living on the west coast so I also have a number of clients in the Bay area. And I've been fortunate, and much of the work that I do is informed by my time working in the LGBTQ movement as an advocate and building alliances with other social justice leaders. And I center a lot of that work around improving the lives for LGBTQ people and really focusing on raising awareness around the specific needs of transgender and gender nonconforming people, and as an advocate I help secure a number of victories, most importantly allowing same sex couples to marry. I also helped increase the number of states that prohibit LGBT workplace discrimination. And one thing that I'm really, really proud of during my time in the LGBT movement was starting the conversations with the Department of Education and protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students, which now if your listeners are aware of, there's federal guidance that basically mandates that most schools- schools receiving public dollars protect transgender and gender nonconforming students while there's a number of states that are putting forth lawsuits to protest that. And that work really inspired me to take the jump to work for government in an executive type position to take policies that have been passed at the state and local level, and take a look at them and implement them. So I had the opportunity most recently to work for New York City. I helped the systems that focus on foster care and juvenile justice look at these policies and from soup to nuts really take the spirit of these policies and develop a plan to basically implement them, to bring them into life, and to really make sure that staff are set up for success in understanding how to respect their LGBTQ peers as employees, but also to deliver services that are respectful for LGBTQ people that are dependent on them. So that's just a little bit about kind of my background and how it led me to recognize that there's a huge need for supporting many of these systems that aren't necessarily Fortune 500 companies which are absolutely ahead of the curve, at least in terms of developing policies and having staff to drive and implement them. But in smaller businesses, a lot of startups, and especially in government settings there's- I would say that actually looking at policies but in particular laws in states that mandate protecting LGBTQ, both employees and then folks dependent on receiving government services. There's not a lot guidance and there's definitely not a lot of support in making sure that these systems are compliant with the law. And so my business really helps fill in these gaps, and it's a lot of fun to really inspire people that want to do the right thing, just aren't sure where to start. I'm getting them started but also making sure that these policies are being implemented and sustainable over the long term.
Jenn T Grace: Okay I feel like you've said so much already, so in thinking about you as just kind of an individual contributor in so many ways to policy and advocacy, and just kind of your career, and now founding your business; do you think that some people are naturally born to play an advocacy type of role? Or do you think that it's something that you have to consciously recognize of 'this is something that I really want to pursue and I'm going to kind of dedicate myself to doing it.' Because I think that there might be a couple of schools of thought to that, so I'm just curious how your path kind of came about to recognizing that your voice is really an important voice to be heard to eventually get to the place now where you're kind of filling those gaps in the marketplace.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah, I think that's a great question, and I don't know if it's being an advocate or just a change maker. Maybe those are one in the same, but really I think when I look back on my career, most of my work has been entrepreneurial in nature, and that seems to have been coupled with being an advocate, and just trying to- whether it was working for government and trying to improve either employees treating each other with respect, and letting each other know that they value one another, or looking at the service delivery side of things and just kind of saying, 'We could be doing better, especially when looking at serving LGBTQ populations.' I see a lot of opportunities. In the past I certainly tried to take advantage of those opportunities and help those systems. But I think part of myself is identifying as an advocate absolutely, but looking at my business now it's really taking some of those skills and thinking about people that want to do the right thing, they want to be able to retain discerning LGBTQ talent, they want to be able to develop products that will appeal to LGBTQ markets. It's looking at those folks who definitely want to be identifying as- or they don't identify as an advocate most likely, they definitely don't want to be seen as pushing an agenda, but they need help in making a business case, or they know it's the right thing to do and they need some support around how to approach their leadership to get buy-in and to both do the right thing, but also to help their businesses out in performing better and having a competitive edge. And so I don't know if that answered your question necessarily but that's kind of how I see my role right now, is that I absolutely gained some skills as an advocate and I'm trying to translate those for businesses that are interested in having that competitive edge.
Jenn T Grace: And from a personal brand standpoint- so many of the things that you were talking about in your kind of opening introduction of who you are in terms of different types of- whether it's the Department of Education, or whether it's working with the city of New York, or wherever it might be; in those settings you were still yourself, right? So you're still Rhodes Perry and people know you as your name. Did you consciously think about the advocacy work or change making work, however we're calling it because I think it is all kind of the same as you alluded to, did you look at that as you were doing those individual things in thinking about like, 'Okay here's just another kind of notch in my belt of things that I can do and things that make me a strong leader and a strong thought leader in this particular space.' And then as you kind of created your company, and calling it Rhodes Perry Consulting, obviously you're putting a big stake in the ground of this consulting is based on you as an individual. Was that kind of a conscious thought process? Did you model it after others that you kind of saw in the marketplace? What was just kind of going through your mind? And the reason why I'm asking is just thinking about people who might be in similar situations right now where they're thinking, 'Really this whole personal branding thing here, there's something to it and I should probably be pursuing this.' And I'm just trying to give them some guidance from people like yourself who've already done it.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think that that's a great question. I think that why I chose my business name to be my name in terms of personal branding is so much of my past work has been about building relationships, building coalition, and building trust. And I think that my work in the past speaks for itself, and the folks that I had the pleasure of working with really benefited from what they learned. In starting my business many of my clients are those folks that I have worked with in the past, and so that's just a huge benefit for me. Also as I was making the jump I knew I wanted to focus in on equity in diversity and inclusion work, and I wasn't quite sure that time- how that could continue to evolve. In just this past week I had my first business anniversary so I've been in business for a year, and even over that period of time a lot of things have changed, but my name and my brand have absolutely attracted my dream clients I guess to work with who were specifically looking for support on doing the right thing, and either wanting to develop a policy, more taking a policy and actually implementing it and sustaining it over time, that that's really where I see a niche in providing this kind of mentorship, and accountability even more so than delivering skills. Because a lot of the folks that I do work with I've known for some time, they have the skills to do this work, they really need that kind of support and role modeling, but especially just kind of knowing the work that they need to do, but basically being held accountable, and having those kind of frequent check-ins. So I think that [Inaudible 00:12:00] thinking about maybe starting their own businesses, I think it's always good to- if you're not sure on a killer name that will be super clear on what you do, starting out with your own name and you can always kind of build off and build a 'doing business as' name later on down the road when things become a little bit more clear with who your niche market is, and what specifically you are doing.
Jenn T Grace: And your website URL is Rhodes Perry, so I think that there's a lot to be said about just having your name rather than having the consulting on it because if at any point in time you chose to pivot and go in a different direction, then the URL always remains the same, and for the most part our names don't change. For the most part.
Rhodes Perry: Right, for the most part.
Jenn T Grace: Of course there's exceptions.
Rhodes Perry: For your viewers, I am transgender and that's something that I talk about openly with my clients because a lot of the work that we're focusing on right now is how to support transgender and gender diverse employees, or people that businesses might be serving. So that's something that I am open about, and so I have changed my name, but that was a long time ago. But yes, there are times where if you are someone who's transitioning, or maybe you're thinking about getting married, maybe before you buy your URL, if you are planning to change your name, maybe hold off on that before you do.
Jenn T Grace: I ended up buying all- everything I could before I got married, and thought that I was going to change my name, and then I was like I wasn't sure, and then I was going to hyphenate, so I ended up with probably 25 URLs that all cost like $10 a piece, and then eventually over time I'm like, 'Alright I'm just going to stick with the one.' And then just as a random side note is that the reason why it's just not www.JennGrace.com is because there's a photographer I believe who has that- or a videographer who has that already. So I was like, 'Well I'm just going to have to put the T in there reluctantly.' But it is what it is and at least I know that I'm not changing my name anytime soon so it does allow for that kind of pivot as we were talking about, because you never know- especially as entrepreneurs and I think as the landscape- especially as it relates to LGBTQ, the landscape is always changing, and we really have no idea what- we could predict, but we really have no idea what's on the horizon and how that is going to impact what type of consulting we're doing, or coaching, or what topics we're speaking on, and I think that that's kind of a- to some degree a fool proof way of just kind of protecting your brand over the long haul.
Rhodes Perry: Absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: So in looking at just kind of the many facets of what you're doing. I was poking around on your website before, and I'm curious on a couple of things. Like the first thing I'm thinking of is how people find you, and then recognize that they need your help, especially as like the individual change maker. Because there are opportunities- like you were saying, the Fortune companies are definitely ahead of the game in so many ways, but at the same time they're so not ahead of anything in terms of just- kind of like the changing landscape of business. So it takes- they're like moving a Titanic versus I think entrepreneurship where you're kind of navigating a speed boat on a day-to-day basis. But how do you get in front of those individual people who really need your help, and they're really going to be that internal champion, and that internal voice that's really going to make change in their respective industry, or organization, or wherever it happens to be?
Rhodes Perry: I think that that's a great question. A few ways. One, I've been fortunate, as I had mentioned just having a lot of rich relationships from previous jobs. So many of my clients come to me word of mouth, and looking at business models over the long term I'm looking at other ways to market as well. So I also get a lot of referrals through online advertising. I do basic Google Ads. But one of the main ways of actually reaching out to newer audiences is locally I go to a number of different chamber of commerces in the Portland metro area, and also in Seattle just to build my network here because I recently moved from New York City out to Portland as I was starting my business. And so that's a really important way of just connecting with a number of businesses, but especially smaller businesses that haven't necessarily been thinking about the culture of their organization, or just want to be more competitive in reaching out to discerning diversity candidates proudly. So those are some of the ways that I get my name out there. Also through collaboration. I've been working with a number of other diversity and inclusion leaders here in the Portland area, and just looking at different projects where we can collaborate. By doing that I've had the opportunity of establishing newer relationships, both with the county and city government here, but also with a number of larger businesses in the area. So that's been helpful. But I do work across the country, so I try as often as possible to go to conferences, and when there's an opportunity to speak just to share a little bit more about the work that I do. So those are just some of the few ways that I try to get out there.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and so I feel like on your website you have supplier diversity highlighted as something that you are educating around and helping people with. It is something that I have certainly brought up many, many, many times in the past on this podcast, but never- maybe actually it was probably episode six or something, and we're on- I think this is episode 98 probably. So it was a long time ago.
Rhodes Perry: Congratulations.
Jenn T Grace: Thank you, it's been many years in the making. But one of the things that I feel like is a missed opportunity, and I'm sure from a supplier diversity standpoint you might be coming from a different direction, but as a diverse supplier yourself. Somebody listening to this, who the majority of listeners are part of the LGBTQ community in some form or another, what are they missing by not really kind of having an understanding of what supplier diversity is, and what that can mean to them as a business, but also for just kind of the community at large?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think- well one was supplier diversity, and one of the things that I do is educate my clients that I work with. So- and this is especially important for some of the county and local governments that I work with. So when folks are wanting to implement LGBT specific policies, they want to provide better services, one of the first questions that I ask is looking at contracts that they issue to diversity suppliers. So woman owned businesses, minority owned businesses, and sure enough with most government agencies they have set asides for those diverse suppliers. And so one of my first questions that I ask is encouraging them- well one, asking them if they know about the NGLCC, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce certification that certifies LGBT owned businesses, and almost 100% of the time most people aren't aware of that, most of my clients are not aware of that certification so I do a little bit of education around that. And then I've had success in New York with some of the agencies there of doing set asides for LGBT certified businesses. So there's education happening on that side with my clients, I also work volunteering for the chamber of commerce here, and just supporting some of the LGBT certified businesses, and those businesses that are owned by LGBT people but aren't yet certified. And I explain a little bit about the work that I do largely with local and county government agencies around encouraging them to do these kind of set asides, also letting them know that many Fortune 500 companies have diverse supplier offices, staff that are looking specifically for LGBT owned businesses for a wide variety of services. Everything from printing, to professional services like I do, and just letting them know that one, the NGLCC is a great resource. They offer certification, they provide a ton of information to help you grow a business that's thriving, and I think with that- I've at least encouraged a few to go through the certification process because it does give LGBT owned businesses a competitive advantage, and if you're lucky enough to live in a state like Massachusetts and you do contracting work with state, there are set asides for those LGBT owned businesses, and I think that that's a trend thanks to the great work that the NGLCC is doing that I think more and more states will be trying to either pass executive orders through the governor's office, or legislation to actually provide the economic opportunities for LGBT owned businesses, which historically have been disadvantaged because of discrimination. So maybe that's a little bit more than you wanted, but I know that you talk about this a lot. So did that answer your question?
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, yeah and it kind of leads into my next question a little bit. So we met through a mutual friend, and Jill Nelson has been a guest on this show as well, and I don't remember it but I will put it in the show notes of what episode that actually was. But we met at the NGLCC national conference in Palm Springs just a couple months ago, and one of the things that I wonder from your perspective is being an LGBT certified business, there's a lot of advantages to that from a business development standpoint. But in your perspective, how or how not do you feel like it maybe it is helping or not, just from a personal branding standpoint to be able to say that you are a- because you can say that you're an LGBTQ owned business, and that's got its benefits in and of itself for people who want to work within the community, but having that additional credibility of saying that you are a certified LGBTQ owned business. Where or how are you kind of using that, leveraging it? Is it part of your kind of daily conversation with people? I know that you're part of the local chamber so that kind of adds like another element to it. But just from a branding standpoint is it helping you in terms of attracting the right type of clients?
Rhodes Perry: Yes, I think for the nature of the work that I do it absolutely helps me, it brings more credibility to the work that I do, it opens up a number of new doors that I wouldn't necessarily have had access to. Because of the work that the NGLCC is doing and continues to do, they're really expanding their reach, and I think for corporations that are aware of the certification, and for some of the government agencies that I work with, they're becoming more aware of it, maybe more because I'm constantly talking about it. But it is helpful. I would say though that if I were in a different industry- I grew up in the state of Florida, so if I was in a different industry and I still lived in the state of Florida, I think that there's still a long way to go. One in having this be an advantage, because stigma and discrimination still exist, there's a lot of education that professionals like myself have to continue doing to break down some of those barriers. And so I'm aware and I'm conscious that it's not always an advantage for every business owner, and that there could be challenges with that. One of the things that did give me hope and inspiration though is that when we were at the conference in Palm Springs, which was wonderful and it was great meeting you there, is- and I can't remember the business owners' names, but they are from Georgia and they were honored- I think they were the premier business at the conference, they're a pet store, right? And so they're in Georgia which as a state- it's a state that lacks a number of protections for LGBT folks. They're very out about who they are, it's a gay couple, and they're having a really positive and profound impact on the community just for holding that space, and they give back to the community, I think that they give back to a youth LGBT youth center there. So I digress a little bit but I do think that even when you are in a state or even a region of the country that might not be so LGBTQ friendly, there's still a power to certification, and being an LGBT owned business, and showing the possibilities for other emerging LGBT entrepreneurs that being out can be an advantage, and that there's strength in numbers. So I'm a huge proponent of the certification, but I do recognize that there can be or still are limitations to it as well.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, absolutely. So I was looking it up while you were talking, it's Tailspin and they are in Savannah, so they're even in a more conservative area than maybe Atlanta would be. So yeah, and they were awarded an SBA award for like the best small business owner or something like that. So I think that you bring up a good point of depending on where we are geographically. So I'm in a really progressive state being in Connecticut, you're in a complete- especially going from like New York to Portland, I feel like there's so much differences even though New York is fairly progressive I would say. But how do we make it attainable? Because I have listeners in all fifty states, I have listeners in many different countries; how do we make it something that feels attainable to the person who might be in Savannah, or might be in Little Rock, who maybe they feel like they're alone, or they don't have a chamber of commerce that's really kind of focused on business impact, but maybe they have a pride center that they can go and be involved in. Is there something that you would say as kind of a natural step that they could take to just kind of finding their community of people that are looking to build companies and businesses even if that formal structure doesn't exist?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think that that's a great question, and the first thing that came to mind is an online organization. Though they are based in San Francisco you probably know of them StartOut. So they provide- they're in the process of launching a virtual space for LGBT entrepreneurs to connect, and that certainly isn't a silver bullet in solving the kind of actual face-to-face connections that folks in certain parts of the country may be desiring just because they feel isolated. But I do think that at least online it's an excellent resource to start and just kind of building connection, talking about some of the challenges that they may be experiencing because of where they live. And chances are they may be- I grew up in Palm Bay, Florida so they can be in Palm Bay, Florida and maybe they're connecting with someone in Missoula, Montana which is actually a pretty progressive place. But they're able to span the distance and just have the commonalities of talking about some of the challenges of being in a less progressive part of the country, and kind of weighing the benefits and the costs of whether it's getting certified as an LGBT owned business, or if they're providing a service, and it's a place where people are actually going to a physical brick and mortar location, do you put a rainbow flag on the front of your door? These are things that I think as LGBT owned business owners we have to consider, but I do think StartOut is a good place to start.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like that's definitely some good feedback and tips there. So going back to kind of looking at the national landscape, since you do have experience kind of looking from a very high top down level, from a national perspective, in looking at the different fights for equality that are occurring kind of all over the place, I do find it shocking especially when I run into an LGBT person who isn't aware of just the level of discrimination that's just completely justified and fine by people in terms of workplace discriminations. So if we look at different states and different cities even within states. So you have Massachusetts where they're including LGBT suppliers in government contracting, which is the only state still, right? I think they're working on it in New York but it's not there yet. So that's happening in Massachusetts but then meanwhile you hear from people in Nashville who are still being fired because they came out, and this is somebody that I absolutely should have her on the show at some point, Lisa Howe who received an award at the NGLCC conference in August, and was commenting on how the second she came out after being an NCAA coach for like sixteen years, they fired her promptly thereafter. So- and that wasn't that long ago, that was only a couple of years ago. So if we're looking at the differences in each individual state, if somebody's just trying to figure out how can I make a name for myself because they want to grow their personal brand, they want to maybe establish a business, and make that kind of natural leap that seems very natural that you made in terms of like doing all this great work in different types of pockets and then you kind of created a company around it. Is there any kind of words of wisdom that you can provide them that would vary because if you're in California the fight there is way different than Tennessee versus Connecticut. Like I think of Connecticut being the second state with marriage equality in 2008, and I remember going to NGLCC conferences in 2009 and 2010 and talking to people who were in far less progressive areas thinking, 'Marriage equality is so not even on our radar. We are focused on economic opportunities because we don't have to focus on our basic rights to get married.' So what might be just a- I don't know, some advice or something that you might have learned along the way to kind of provide inspiration to people regardless of where in the US that they might fall, and how non-progressive or progressive that area might be.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think that if folks are interested in starting a business, if they have the entrepreneurial spirit and they're LGBT, absolutely look into it and take action because by simply holding space, by creating your own business, you are creating economic opportunities for many people, and especially our own communities, our own LGBTQ communities. And I think that so many of us have had experiences of discrimination, or at least perhaps being treated differently as employees in the workplace, and knowing that if we had the opportunity of having our own businesses, or when we are creating our own businesses, or even for many of your listeners in our own businesses, that we have values that are embracing a spirit where we want everyone to bring their whole selves to work. And I think that because of the economic disparities that still exist for LGBTQ communities, one of the most powerful things we can do is if we have the ability to start our own businesses, and prioritize looking at folks within our own LGBTQ communities who have historically been disadvantaged and trying to prioritize ways of bringing job opportunities to folks in our own communities. I just think it's a real game changer for us to look at this aspect of the next era of the LGBT movement, and I think entrepreneurship should be a part of it. In my past I worked with a lot of LGBTQ youth, and so many young people that I had the pleasure of working with are entrepreneurial in spirit. Every day is a day of surviving and just to- we prioritize ways of translating those skills into skills where young people can at one point be their own bosses, I mean again I just think it's a real game changer and we should be examining aggressively ways to add this as a part of the work that the LGBT movement continues to do for the next era. Because I think just looking back over the past twenty years we have as a movement accomplished so much and so quickly, and yet I still look at the work that so many national and state and local LGBT groups are doing, and it's almost as looking at the young people who are protesting and resisting police at Stonewall, so many of those challenges still exist today when you look at family acceptance, or just trying to get an education in school, and dealing with things around bullying. We still have a long way to go and I think that the work that we do as business owners can help absolutely extend economic opportunities to more folks within the LGBT community.
Jenn T Grace: So in looking at kind of a what's next, or what's on the horizon for you personally and for your business, like especially since you're just celebrating your first year which is so exciting. If you looked at what you were expecting to accomplish in your first year versus what you did accomplish and what you hope to accomplish in the next couple of years, how does that all kind of line up with what your vision was when you set out to do this?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I surprised myself in the first year. I've met many of my goals in terms of working with a number of clients that I didn't imagine working with, at least in my first year. So I'm happy with that. I really do over the next few years want to pivot more into offering services online, and so I'm starting to do that now with webinars, and I'm looking at next year having more of a master class available for executive HR diversity professionals that are doing the work but need additional support. And so I'm just looking at ways right now of creating more virtual communities, and I'm most excited about that just because there's only one of me and there's only so many hours of the day that I can make available for clients, and so I think this is another opportunity of just expanding my platform and really helping those folks that they already understand the importance of doing this work and they need that additional support. So I think that that's going to be- at least for my business, a real game changer and so I'm excited about that. And I also think making more time in my schedule to speak and go out to a number of different communities, especially- I'm really excited about going to more colleges and universities over the next year and talking more about entrepreneurship for LGBTQ folks, and I'm very, very excited about that.
Jenn T Grace: That's awesome. I feel like the sky is the limit. I would love for you to reference back to this a year from now. Like throw it on your calendar and say a year from now to come back and listen to this, because my question is what do you perceive- and I don't want to deflate us at all, but in thinking about all of what you're setting out to accomplish, and I think that this is a question that the listeners are interested in, is what do you see as the potential kind of big hurdle, or some kind of road block that you feel like there's a chance that you're going to have to overcome in order to get to that next stage of what you're hoping to accomplish? Because I would imagine that there's probably a lot of similarity with what you think yours is and those who are listening. It makes us all human.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think that a road block for me is I get excited by all of the opportunities, and I think as entrepreneurs we want to do all of the things all of the time. And so one just for me is finding my 'no' when it could be working with another great client, but to build in the time to- like I said, like really trying to expand more of my virtual presence. That takes time on the front end to do that, and so I think the biggest challenge is to kind of build in the time where I could be working with more clients right now doing that one-on-one engagement, but trying to just find my 'no' sometimes so that I can have that space to imagine and dream how to grow my business in a way that can help more people. And I think that having talked with other entrepreneurs early on in the journey, I know that that's a challenge for many of us, and so maybe offline we can talk more about how you kind of navigated that as well, because I know that you're doing such awesome work for so many folks trying to do a better job with marketing to LGBT people, and so I would love to chat with you about that.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like it's an ever evolving thing that everyone goes through, and if I look at- go back and listen to the first episode of this podcast which was in January of 2013 I think, it is a very, very different animal. And they're all available for people to listen to and laugh because it just takes time to kind of refine your message, and really I think learning to say no is probably one of the hardest things, especially as very stereotypically ADHD type of entrepreneurs where we're all chasing shiny objects every day, and especially when we're all coming from a place of truly trying to serve and really trying to help as many people as we can. I think that's where it becomes difficult to say no, because if you're looking at it from a purely dollars and cents standpoint of 'I have a threshold that I need to make $10,000 to go speak here, and if they don't meet it, then I don't do it.' That is not how at least the people that are on my show, and myself included, that's not how we operate. It's a matter of like, 'How can we accommodate? How can we make sure they still hear our message? How can we-' and then it just- it's a struggle and I think that we all kind of go through it even if it does look more polished on the outside. I think most of us are still kind of struggling with that day-to-day behind the scenes. At least for me anyway.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and I think the audience kind of needs to hear these things and just kind of hear of the struggles that lie ahead as they're kind of figuring out what their voice is, and what platform they should be on, and how they should go about growing their personal brand because I think that personal branding, it's been around forever, but I feel like it just becomes more and more important in this day in age, even more so as an LGBTQ person because there's so much more at stake, and I think that all of us whether we want to or not, we're all kind of representing the community in our way. So if you do something stupid, or I do something stupid, suddenly it's the LGBTQ community that's stupid because of something ridiculous that you or I may have done. Even though that is so not what it should be, ultimately unfortunately that is just kind of the reality of it. So we all kind of have to navigate that tricky landscape as well.
Rhodes Perry: Right, absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: Oh good stuff. So if you could go back in time and maybe give yourself one piece of advice. Not necessarily the audience as a whole, but just really thinking of yourself. Is there kind of something that you would say or do that you think might have shortcutted some of the challenges that you've unnecessarily faced?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think absolutely for me is- for my younger self to trust myself, to trust my entrepreneurial spirit. In looking back I'm glad that I had all of the experiences that I had leading up to the point of starting my own business, I think if I trusted myself and knew what was on the other side of having my own business, I probably would have done it maybe ten years earlier. You know? And it was really a fear of what the 'no' was, and I think going to college kind of slowed down the process of having my own business, because I actually- I had my own business before I went off to college, and then it just was the programming of getting a good job, and contributing to the workforce, and I didn't realize that I could be doing that as a business owner. So I don't know if that resonates with any of your listeners, but I definitely- I think for myself could have used that kind of pep talk maybe a decade ago.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I would imagine that hits home for many people.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah.
Jenn T Grace: So in kind of parting here, anything that you would like to share in terms of how people can get in touch with you, how they might work with you, just kind of any number of ways just to make sure that we get a good kind of plug here for people to contact you.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah thank you. Well my website is www.RhodesPerry.com so there's the personal branding there. And on December 1st I'm offering a webinar for my target audience which is executive HR and diversity professionals on setting vision for- a diversity and inclusion vision that's inclusive of LGBT employees and folks that are served by businesses or government agencies. So that's December 1st and if you go to my website, on my blog there's more information on how to register for that, and you can also just contact me at Rhodes@rhodesperry.com and I can share more information that way. And I also offer a free quarterly newsletter that just kind of keeps people in the know of what I'm up to, I offer a ton of free information there on just strategies on how to engage LGBT employees, how to develop an LGBT policy, how to sustain change over time; all of that stuff is included in my quarterly newsletters. And I just love to hear from folks, so if people have questions I'm available to just provide value and help people kind of get started on that path of building more inclusive workplaces.
Jenn T Grace: That is awesome. And so for anyone listening, this is episode 98. I'm pretty sure I screwed it up earlier when we were talking, so you can go to the website at www.JennTGrace.com/98 and that will get you a transcript for today's interview, and then all of the links that Rhodes was just talking about. And I feel like it might be important to note that Rhodes is spelled R-H-O-D-E-S, not like Roads like a road. Just because I feel like- I want to make sure it's clear and people can find you, so that's good. Awesome.
Rhodes Perry: Thank you so much, thank you for having me on the show.
Jenn T Grace: You are very welcome, it was a pleasure chatting with you.
Thank you for listening to today's podcast. If there are any links from today's show that you are interested in finding, save yourself a step and head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And there you will find a backlog of all of the past podcast episodes including transcripts, links to articles, reviews, books, you name it. It is all there on the website for your convenience. Additionally if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, you can head on over to the website and click the contact form, send me a message, you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all at JennTGrace. And as always I really appreciate you as a listener, and I highly encourage you to reach out to me whenever you can. Have a great one, and I will talk to you in the next episode.
Thu, 10 November 2016
How to Establish Your Personal Brand With Intention With Jennifer Brown
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 97.
Jenn T Grace: Hello and welcome to episode number 97 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and today I have a really awesome interview with a very dear friend, colleague, mentor, just so many different things that we can kind of categorize her as. And it is with Jennifer Brown, and she is a third time guest on the show, so this will be the third time that we have heard from her, and every time that she's on the show we end up talking about a variety of different things, and I truly feel like the opportunities are absolutely endless with the different directions that any one of our conversations can go. So back in 2013 she was the first interview that I ever had on this podcast, it was episode number 4, which was indeed a very long time ago since we're in episode 97. And then I also had her on as one of the interviews for the Thirty Days, Thirty Voices project, and that was a thirty day series of LGBT leaders just doing really awesome things in the community. So in this third time that Jen is on the show, we really, really focused on the topic of growing a personal brand, growing a business, writing a book, publishing your thought leadership. We really just, just, just scratched the surface on so many possible directions that all of this can go. But I'm hoping for those who are listening to this, and you have found your way to this podcast because you really want to know more about personal branding. And while yes, the show is called Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional, these tips and advice really kind of resonate across the board whether you're part of the LGBTQ community or not. And Jennifer being in a diversity setting and having a business on diversity and inclusion, certainly talks about women, it talks about people of color, talks about LGBTQ people, and really all of the principles are very similar regardless of how you might identify.
So I'm really pleased to share this interview with you, and we do talk about Jennifer's upcoming book and it's called, 'Inclusion, Diversity, the New Workplace, and the Will to Change.' And that is available on Amazon, it's available as of right now as you're listening to this, however I have been helping Jen with her book for about a year now, and we are finally at the place of having it be live, and my goal is to help her become an Amazon best seller, and I have no doubt that we are going to be able to do that. But I would love if after listening to this interview, and you're really kind of inspired by what she has to say because there is a lot of really meaty information that she talks about, if you do want to get a copy of her book I would love for you to put it on your calendar to purchase it on November 22nd. That is the day that we are trying to get everyone to buy so we can get her up in the rankings of Amazon best seller status. So I'm just really proud to have been a part of helping her with her book, and really helping kind of with this shift in personal brand, which we do talk a lot about. We talk about running a consulting business, and then also building a personal brand, and having both of those happen in tandem. There's definitely a lot of information in this. After you listen I highly encourage you to reach out to me as always. If you would like to get in touch with Jen, she provides all of her information at the end of the show, but if you would like an introduction feel free to email me, get me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, you know how to find me. It's at Jenn T. Grace at pretty much any of those locations.
So without further ado, let's just hop into the interview with Jen, and yeah I hope you enjoy.
So I would love for you to just kind of start and give the listeners who might not know who you are just kind of a little bit of a background about yourself, about your consulting company, and then maybe a little bit about your personal brand, and then we'll just kind of take it from there.
Jennifer Brown: Perfect. Yeah, I am Jennifer Brown and I've had my own consultancy for about a decade called Jennifer Brown Consulting, and we service mainly large Fortune 500 companies in the diversity and inclusion space. So whatever those companies need, and wherever they are in their journey, we maintain a team that develops strategies, delivers and designs training on various hot topics in the diversity and inclusion space like unconscious bias and inclusive leadership skills. And as well I have a new book out, and I am speaking and keynoting a lot. The book is called 'Inclusion,' the subtitle is 'Diversity, the New Workplace, and the Will to Change.' So I'm happy to be here today.
Jenn T Grace: Awesome. Alright thank you. So for the loyal listeners of this podcast, this is indeed the third time that Jen has been on the show, and every time that you're on we end up going down a different type of rabbit hole in conversation about what you're doing in the land of LGBT-related stuff, and personal branding, and all that jazz. I feel like today it naturally would make sense to start the conversation with the book which you already led in with which is awesome, and maybe just kind of sharing what prompted you to even write a book in the first place. Because I know that JBC, your consulting company, is known for its thought leadership around white papers, but this is a book that is authored by you, not necessarily the consulting side of the business. So what was the impetus behind writing a book, and what was that experience?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, thank you for asking that, it's such an interesting question. I think having a book was part of my strategic plan a decade ago when I sat down and created my company. It was a piece that we expected to be a part of our arsenal but it took me a long time to get around to it, and boy are they a lot of work so that totally makes sense. However I know that in order to build the platform for my own personal brand as a thought leader and as a CEO, it's an important extension of that brand, and I know that it will open doors as books often do to a higher level of visibility, and opportunity, and really reputation building. It seems to excite people in a way that I have read about but I haven't really seen firsthand, and now I'm seeing it. Now that we're even speaking about the book which is not even out yet until November, the level of excitement that people have about it, and the legitimacy that it brings to everything you've already created, it's more than a cherry on the top, it's like- it sort of brings it in conversation. And for me, I want to evolve into more executive level conversations, I want to evolve through and past the corporate only conversations that I've been in as a consultant trying to influence that world. I really want to have more of a societal conversation, a political conversation, I want to tackle different domains so I do think that this will be a great way for somebody to get acquainted with who I am and what I care about. If they pick this book up, they'll understand why did she build the company? What is she about? What does she care about? Why is she an expert and who is she as a person? And I think armed with that I will be able to enter new communities to be a change agent within those communities. You know when I think about the choir that I have worked with and focused on for a long time, it's the change agent within the corporate structure, and the person that's running diversity and inclusion, or the- it's the LGBT, or woman, or person of color individual who's trying to get ahead and is looking to be empowered. And I still love that community and that's my primary community, but at the same time I need to take the message of everything I've learned and bring it to people that know nothing about what I'm talking about, and really make this message acceptable to them, and I think that's the work that all of us really should be thinking about doing who identify as change agents, is really getting outside of the choir and trying to reach that mainstream world out there that really needs to hear what this is all about.
Jenn T Grace: So I have two questions as it relates to what you just said. So first of all, the book title as you mentioned is 'Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace, and the Will to Change.' So if you were to summarize kind of what inclusion is for the person who might be listening to this who for the most part is likely going to be an LGBTQ entrepreneur, or maybe a business owner of some kind, what exactly are you talking about when you say 'inclusion' as it relates to the new workplace?
Jennifer Brown: Well if we're talking to business owners, entrepreneurs, people who are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur and also who identify as LGBTQ, the concept of it should resonate with us because- and I say 'us' because I am exactly that profile. Inclusion of us into the- really into the economy. You know something very basic as opportunities that we have or don't have based on maybe who we are historically, and also how competent we are and how we appear in the marketplace, how we bid on opportunities, how we are included. And I think diversity has so much to do with how we have been included or not included historically, and also how we have thought about our own story. Because we have been outsiders to so much because of our identities. So it is the same story as for women entrepreneurs, it's the same story as minority entrepreneurs. We are sort of outside of the insider circle that I think has started businesses and figured out how to grow those businesses and thrive. So we're coming at the opportunity very differently, and I think it's important to understand inclusion and exclusion dynamics for us as we build our companies, because it's very real for a lot of us and it's a self-talk, or a narrative, or what the stories that we tell ourselves. I mean that's an important part of the equation and what do we see as our own limitations because of our own identity, and because maybe we've been on the outside, and how do we overcome that, but also build resiliency, and skills, and take risk and actually see our diversity as part of what- of the magic that we bring to the companies that we build and the markets that we're capitalizing on, and the people that we are. So inclusion is important to understand for us because to not understand that and to deny that they're are elements of diversity and exclusion that are happening to us as LGBT business owners is not accurate. It's all around us, it's in the water. But far from feeling like- or being satisfied with, 'Well that's something that I need to minimize, or hide, or it's something that makes my life more difficult.' It might have made it more difficult in the past, but the cool thing these days is that it should be actually making you more talented, and more able to pivot, and be flexible, and capitalize, and have like deep emotional intelligence, and be resilient because we as LGBTQ people have had to figure out how to do all those things in order to survive in whatever environment we have been in, professionally and personally. So when we say, "I want to start a business or I want to grow my business," I think we ask deeper questions, we can come with an authenticity that truly draws people to us. I think we have a special tool kit, and then we have a special community certainly that is very loyal to us. So when customers and clients or however you define that, if they hail from the LGBTQ or ally community, they're going to resonate with us in a very different and a very deep way, and I've seen that really play out in my own business after going to LGBTQ conferences for years and feeling like I know many LGBTQ people in Corporate America, it's been a community that has truly believed my business up, and has been very loyal, and very invested in our success because the message that we're bringing is so important, not just to LGBTQ people but to all talent in organizations.
Jenn T Grace: You have said so much, so one of the things that I feel like might be worth going down a little bit further is kind of this dynamic of the professional self and the personal self, and I feel like you really just kind of weaved in and out of those two areas. But somebody who- maybe they're just starting their journey on their personal brand, as it relates to the book and then maybe I guess how you're planning on repositioning yourself as this book comes out, was it difficult in some ways to find that balance of sharing your personal story as it relates to sharing this whole kind of professional side? Because the book does kind of weave in and out of, 'this is the landscape, this is the marketplace, here's the workplace that we're trying to change.' But it's important for so many reasons to be sharing your story, your personal story as it relates to all of this other stuff, and all of what you were just talking about. Was it difficult to kind of find that right balance of how much do you share versus how much do you hold back and vice versa?
Jennifer Brown: Oh sure. Yeah it's difficult sometimes but I actually really enjoy the challenge of weaving in my story because it's so much a part of my credibility as a practitioner. It's so much not just what I know how to do, but it's who I am, and those two pieces- I think the reason we've had the success we have had is that our work is deeply personal at the same time as it is of professional value. So it's interesting to run a company whose mission and vision is so personal to me. It makes it very helpful versus I'm building- I don't know, I have to kind of work to bridge who I am and what I care about and my role as somebody who seeks change, and then this product that I'm building. But I think it always can be done regardless of what you call your product. For me it just happens to be I'm trying to create more inclusive workplaces where all kinds of people can thrive, and that was very much me as an employee before I had the company. So I remember those feelings, and I experienced that, and that energy fed the creation of the company, but it's still something that I am fighting. Every time I walk into a room with executives I feel under fire, I feel they're not going to listen to me, I feel that fear comes up, and I remember this is the fear that I am trying to change through having a company that is tackling that. And it feels very much like it's closing the loop for me as a person, and for so many others, it's improving the situation for so many others and that's always been our goal with the company. So I think there are some things about my personal life I don't go into in the book. So the journey of figuring out what parts of your personal story do you share, and when, and why, is I think what you're talking about. That really interesting gray area, and as we evolve and get more confident and more autonomous I'd say, and maybe even as you evolve your personal brand separately from the company that you've built if you have a company, or separately from the company that you work for; as you evolve those they start to separate. And you- what I hope for myself is I have more and more freedom to experiment, to not necessarily make my personal brand always support the company brand that I've built per say, but that it can speak more for the questions that I'm asking myself, and others. I mean I think almost the rawness and authenticity about what I don't know. Because I'm so busy in my company CEO role knowing what I know and making sure that I can bring people to a certain place and helping them with my knowledge and I need them to trust me implicitly. I have 150% confidence in me as somebody who is guiding a very large, typically large high stakes, high level people through this sort of process, and that's what we do on the consulting side. But as a personal brand it's like the metrics for success are so different. To me, what I'm learning about it is you do know a lot and your knowledge is so important, but who you are and being real about the things you are uncertain about, and the provocative questions you can ask, and the vulnerability that you need to show in order to resonate as a personal brand feels a little bit in opposition to the sort of expert stance that you have to have all the time in the circles that I run in right now. So I know Jenn, you and I have talked a lot about this dichotomy, it's really an interesting one. So I'm just looking forward to exploring that, and noticing the tension between those two. I'm not judging it, I don't feel badly about it, I am confident that I will figure out the right place for my personal brand to live vis a vis our corporate work, but I do think that there's some business there that I'm interested to kind of watch how that evolves. And deep in my personal work and really think about who I am to other individuals and not just who I am to the companies that we sell business to if that makes any sense.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely. And do you think that you had a benefit from the onset that you- your company being called Jennifer Brown Consulting, obviously your name is on the company, your name is on the door, but I feel like if I go back in time and think of when we first met which is probably seven, maybe eight years ago, it was a while ago, and just looking at you as a personal brand then. Even though it wasn't- well maybe it was and you can answer this, it didn't appear to be overtly intentional that you were trying to brand yourself as a person. You were- when we met you were under your CEO hat of Jennifer Brown Consulting, but I wonder for people who are listening to this and they have a company but maybe it's not so synonymous, it's not Jennifer Brown Consulting and Jennifer Brown. It's something a little bit different where they now are in a place where they have to bridge the gap to some degree to really start to pivot and position themselves as the brand rather than their company. Do you think that now as you're ten, twelve, fifteen years into this, that you have kind of a benefit because you really kind of positioned yourself as a thought leader so clearly and so early on that that now is just a matter of refining what that looks like today, versus maybe when it was when you started. Or do you feel like maybe your struggles of trying to separate the personal brand versus the business still to be very much the same struggle that pretty much anybody would be going through at this point in time?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, and there are so many ways to look at this, Jenn. You know that- boy I've been talking about do we rename the company for years. We realized that there are sort of implications either direction you go of having your name on the door, and maybe the difficulty then of pulling your name apart from the name of your company eventually if you know that that's what you're going to want to do, but at the same time every time I went to think about changing the name of my company and removing my name from it, something held me back from doing that. And I've always sought a lot of advice about it, and I think some quarters had said to me, 'You're the one that everybody knows,' and that's a blessing and a curse but it's actually been mostly a blessing for the company because I happen to be the kind of CEO that is out there speaking all the time, writing all the time, taking a position, I have a platform because I'm very extroverted. It's something that suits me from a personality standpoint to always have been pretty visible, and I was an asset to the company frankly, and still continue to be probably the biggest asset to the company. Other CEO's that are more I'd say operational or behind the scenes or tend to have a more analytical style- like say you're a technician, you're not the selling CEO, you're the person behind the scenes creating the magic, doing the product design and all that, and you rely then- or you will as you grow, you'll rely on that front facing head of sales, or that person who's managing your marketing, or who knows, maybe you're a CTO and you hire a CEO who's going to be that person that's in front of clients and customers, et cetera. Every company usually- unless your product is so magic and you don't need sales and marketing, most companies are going to need somebody that's facing the public. I happen to be the technician consultant that came through my education being the consultant who also enjoyed the sales and marketing side. And so it actually made sense I think the way we did it, I have to say it's been a conversation over the many years with my team, who depending on the year, and depending on the team, I have gotten feedback about when we walk into the room we're not Jennifer and that doesn't feel good, and that's been- we have talked about that and we have then kind of ended up though choosing to continue to have the full name in the name of the company. And some of those folks have rolled off because they never quite could embrace it, and that's that natural attrition, that's totally fine. It was not that it wasn't painful and difficult, but that's how you evolve to having the right team as well, and you have a team that supports you, and you have a team that actually celebrates the fact that your name is in the title and the name of the company because they're so proud. It's very important- we could talk about team development and selection all day long Jenn, and I know that's not the topic here, but it was a really important evolution for me to hear that, for me to think about what is my role vis a vis my brand and the company, do we want to keep my name there or do we want to totally change to another name that has nothing to do with me. Are we ready to kind of kick those training wheels off and have the company stand on its own with a completely other name? And you know, in ten years I haven't done that yet. I'm not ruling it out at all, and actually I think you just never know when the right moment is to actually really truly bifurcate and rename a company and remove your name from it. But that's a strategic choice, and really to me it depends on what happens with the personal brand, and whether we feel that there's a niche where we do that, and also whether we feel the company has built up its brand as an independent entity strongly enough that it can go on its own under another name and it's so good, and it's so recognized that it doesn't really matter, it's sort of a blip, it's a rebranding exercise, and it doesn't really hurt business. So you know I think that it is all kind of a question mark for me, and that's what's so exciting even ten years in to know that we're still evolving, we're still trying to figure it out. We have to see how that's going to go, but yeah that's my long answer to that question of what do you call your company, what's your role in your company, are you important to your company, are you the most important thing to your company? And you know, are you a front facing person? Is that a role you like to play? And will whatever you are building in your company help your personal brand when and if you're ready to set off on your own and take that name with you or share that name with a company for a while, and then kind of separate them a little more, how do you build that up? I mean I think to answer one part of your question, the reputation and the platform that I've built for myself is- I'm so grateful to have had the company to do that in. I've had that environment to establish myself. And I would say Jenn, that I think women, and people of color, and LGBTQ people- I don't want to speak for everyone, for me it took me a really long time to step to the front of my own company from a confidence perspective, and that's a long, long story and I don't talk about that a lot in the book, and we often joke, you and I, that that's book number two or maybe book number three. But it took me a long time and I felt that I somehow wasn't sharing or being generous with the company by calling it my name. I struggled with my position- being as bold as I really wanted to be, and as proud as I wanted to be, and as in the front as I wanted to be, and sort of building up the confidence to step out and say, 'I'm ready now to do a book,' for example and put my stake in the ground. 'I'm ready now to have a personal brand because I'm strong enough to do that.' It took a long time to do that, to kind of learn how to lead and be proud of being a leader.
Jenn T Grace: I think that there's so much to be said about personal branding generally speaking. Personal brands have been around for- since the dawn of time, I'm sure of it. But I feel like it's becoming so much more important in the current days and years to follow because there's so much more about authenticity, and there's so much more about a company or an individual wanting to do a business with another individual. So I feel like there's all of that that's kind of like wrapped around this on top of it, so it's interesting because you have been in this for fifteen years or so, and you're coming at it from a completely different vantage point than somebody who is deciding right now today that they are going to form a business and kind of figure out what strategic direction do they go in? Do they use their name or do they come up with a different company name and build the company and their personal brand at the same time? Like there's just so many decisions that kind of have to be made, and a lot of people I think just fall into whatever that decision is without a lot of strategy behind it.
Jennifer Brown: I think you need both. I mean I think you've got to think about both from the beginning, and you have to be really clear from the various roles and hats that you wear, vis a vis both. So like I said, I'm a selling CEO in my consulting business. I also happen to be a technician, but in the work that we do. Originally that was my training. So what my team tries to do now is- and I'm the one with the trusted relationships in our market. So everybody knows me and the trust is huge in the business that I'm in. It's not just your technical skills, it's do we trust her, do we trust her team? If we bring them in will they make us look good inside our company, our big corporation, et cetera. So all of that I think is that personal integrity piece that the company has earned and the team has earned but that I'm ultimately responsible for. So I have to- if I have my CEO hat on, I have to run a tight ship, I have to hire the best people, I've got to deliver on what we promise. I'm also out there creating thought leadership and reputation for the company. Then when you say, 'Okay what's your personal brand? Is it separate from that, is it the same from that?' I would almost say again it comes back to the role that you play best. For me it just made sense given that I'm so out externally focused, I'm so in the marketplace, I so want to be in the conversation on both fronts. But I'd say if you're not that kind of leader and those aren't your strengths or your passions, if you love to build, if you're sort of more of an engineer and you like- you're introverted and you like to sit alone and craft things all day long, your brand within your company is not going to be as visible as my brand is in my company. People aren't going to know you, maybe you don't want them to know you, maybe you want to lead with a concept or an idea, you want to lead with your team, you want to lead with your product. I think we've done a little bit of all of that, it's not like we don't lead with the product, but I'm sort of an indelible part of the product. And so it's interesting like the lines are so blurry for me, but I'll tell you as you get larger, if your personal brand in your company is very visible, as you scale your business it's harder and harder to maintain the intimacy that you have worked really hard to build, and that you really treasure and enjoy. And that's a hard part about getting larger as a company, is that you lose the high touch opportunities. We've got 8,000 now in our database and I've collected them over ten years as you know, Jenn, and I can kind of tell you the story about every single one of those people. You know, I know where I met them, and they heard me speak, and there's a million stories that they have about me, and I try to stay ahead of it but it's really difficult. So I think too just the difficulty of scaling a personal brand, at least in the consulting environment, is an interesting challenge. On the personal side though, if we build a personal brand that's really much more about the individual, whether that means I'm doing through coaching, or we're doing sort of a different business where I'm reaching in and working with people, not just companies, maybe we generate that intimacy again but in a different way, and they know Jennifer and they can spend time with me. But as my consulting company gets larger and larger it's more and more difficult for me to intersect and interact directly with clients and the people that I originally was influencing when I started the company ten years ago, and I was teaching every class, and I was meeting every person. So as someone who really cares about relationships and values that intimacy- and I get a lot from that intimacy. I don't just want to be a CEO that's somewhere disembodied. To me it has to still be organic, and I need to still be in the conversations because that actually helps me be a thought leader. If I can speak on a firsthand basis, not just reading reports from my teams that are doing the work, but if I can actually feel intuitively the conversation that's going on amongst my constituency, it enables me then to say, 'Okay we're on the right track, we're talking about the right things, we're providing the right services that are most urgent for people.' And for me to walk into an executive room or interview a CEO, I have a lot of credibility and depth that I pull on to make sure that I'm very connected to the conversation. So that's kind of the danger of growing a bigger company is that you lose touch with that, and I think that's so much a part of my brand, is the ability to really keep it real.
Jenn T Grace: How do you find that balance though? Like what do you think- so for somebody listening to this who might be overwhelmed just at what you've been talking about, how do you find some kind of balance where you can continue to grow your company, but you can also still be involved in those conversations that will keep you on the forefront of whatever the industry is that somebody might be in?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, that's a challenge. I hear a lot of people, what they do to kind of satisfy that, is they do a lot of pro bono work for example. They kind of bifurcate it, they've got their business to run but then they do community conversations, they teach for example- not that teaching is pro bono but they're working with young people in some way, and that kind of scratches an itch for them in terms of continuing to keep their feet on the ground and really make a difference. For us at JBC, we make a difference constantly. Like every single thing we do is making this like transformational difference for people because we're giving them confidence and skills and helping them find their voice. So everything we do has impact. So I think for those on the phone who may not be running this kind of company, I'd say just to pay attention to how will you be satisfied and feel that you're doing your sort of heart work, because business can be exhausting and I think we can lose track of why we even started in the first place, we can get disconnected from what's most important to us or not make time or have time to do that. But I'd say pick and choose if you have a team, and even if you don't and you're a solopreneur, make sure that you're doing the kind of work at least for a portion of every day that really fulfills you, and really replenishes you. Because when you're running a business that has to make money, I would guess most of us in the audience and myself included, there are many tasks that we do during the day that deplete us whether we're managing conflict, or I don't know, trying to make hard hiring decisions, or dealing with difficult customers and clients, or managing cash flow, or things that- as I think through the things that deplete me versus the things that replenish me like investing in my community. Like for me- and that's evolving. What are the things that I really enjoy now versus a year ago? Versus four or five years ago? It's actually really evolved and there's not one thing I think that replenishes me from a work standpoint, there's a couple different things that I enjoy that I wish I had more time to do. Some of them make money for our company, and some of them are things that I would prefer to do just because I want to do them. So I think our own nurturing and pacing ourselves and sustaining our energy as founders and leaders, it just is so critical to seek those things that give us energy as opposed to taking it away, because business leadership and existing in a commercial world is a very difficult balance between kind of what needs to get done and what we really want to be doing every day. And I would say to sort of pay attention to that, journal about it, notice how you spend each day, each hour of each day, notice your energy. Are you tired? Do you have a headache after a certain conversation? I mean my body tells me a lot about what kind of zone I'm in at any given moment. I know what's hard, and I know what's easy, and like I feel like I could do it every day all day, and all of our goals should be to kind of shift our lives more towards the latter if we can.
Jenn T Grace: Do you find, or have you had conversations that people- you know I have a client of mine that calls them gremlins, where you have those gremlins that are kind of in the back of your mind, or in the pit of your stomach that are saying, 'Who are you to say that you can work in your happy place all day? Who are you to say that you don't have to work with difficult clients?' Because I hear what you're saying and I think it's brilliant because I so feel the same way. You have to find what makes you happy, you really have to pay attention to what your body is telling you, because nine out of ten times the signs are there if you're just quiet and still enough to listen to them. But I also know that there are so many people who get stuck in their head and they start to doubt themselves and say, 'Well how come I can make this decision that I'm only going to work with this type of client that makes me happy?' Because people are somehow engrained in them that they have to be miserable in their careers or in their businesses. I feel like that's a large conversation that I kind of hear from kind of the periphery, because I'm all about working with people who are awesome, who are doing good for the world, and I don't want to work with people who give me a headache after being on the phone with them. How do you kind of I guess balance that as well, and have you personally had those experiences where you've even doubted your own intention or your desire? Maybe not current day, but perhaps it was in the past.
Jennifer Brown: Oh yeah, so many times. I think as I said earlier to build your confidence as a leader and to trust your instincts, for me took a long, long time. I tend to listen to others too much, and I'm not tuned into what my sense is about things. Coming to that confidence was a really, really hard one and taken me much longer than it should have, and what I chalk that up to frankly is honestly being a woman business owner and being LGBTQ to a certain extent, and the lack of role models that I have been able to see that resonate with me that are available to me so that I could have gotten there quicker. And it's one of those things that is a shame, and it's not right, it was a missed opportunity for me, and I was delayed because of it. I was delayed in my development as a leader. It took me much longer to get my company to where it is now than it should have. But it's because of the messages I was getting or not getting, the mentors that popped up in my life, whether they happened to be all men, or whether they happened to be- which they were, or whether they happened to be people that didn't have my best interest at heart but I trusted them and I shouldn't have. You know there's so many mistakes that were what I call unforced errors like in sports, that I made that nobody caught me doing it and redirected me, because I just didn't have that guidance. And then to tune into yourself, and to learn to listen, to quiet it and say, 'Am I happy? Am I working on what I want to be doing? Am I noticing stress level? Am I fulfilled and how can I reorient my life, my activities, my company accordingly?' That takes the ability to listen to ourselves, and the confidence that the commercial market is going to appear if we do that. I think we have so much fear. 'Well I have to keep going, and I have to keep delivering this, and I committed to doing this, and this is my brand,' and we end up- the tail ends up kind of wagging the dog. So this dynamic is to shift the power dynamic and to take that power, and to know that when we do that and we put this powerful vision out into the world for whatever we're building, or bringing, or whatever service we're providing, the right clients will find us. And it feels very risky, it has always felt risky to me to do that, and I think you can't be foolish about it and completely ignore your market and what your market is telling you. So it's kind of an inside out, outside in dynamic. You've got to pay attention to both sides, but I think for me, I've been very reactive and I think I'm finally stepping into a proactive stance in the market, and the book is a big part of that proactive stake in the ground. It says here's everything I've learned in those trenches, and I'm going to not only share it, but I'm having an opinion about it. It's here whether you agree with it, disagree with it. I mean you know, Jenn, I've said to you I get hate mail and people who are challenging me, I've now put my sort of personal and professional vision out there, and I don't know what the reaction is going to be to it. And that is a huge overcoming of fear. To me that was all about I am finally strong enough and I have a wonderful team and community that's supporting me, and I can put myself out there, and what's the worst that can happen? And that ability to do that has taken a very long time to be ready to do that for me. It's an interesting feeling but I'm grateful that I'm finally there, even if it was delayed, even if there were a lot of detours, even if I had to learn the hard way about how to trust myself. And I'll say that- I did this class on feminine- it was called a Lean Startup Canvas, and it was seen through the feminine lens, and the permission- permission is really the key word to lead in the way you want to lead, and I think that versus the way that maybe we see a lot of businesses being led, and grown, and what we celebrate in terms of good business behavior, I think is still a very male paradigm that we are watching, that we are emulating. And it's enormously powerful to say, 'I'm a woman leader, I'm an LGBTQ leader. What's important to me, what does authenticity look like?' Trusting that and leading with that is the transition that I've been kind of coming to, and that's just going to get stronger and stronger I think. As people's reaction to what I've put out hopefully is a largely very positive one. It's an encouragement that's going to come back that's going to say, 'We need more leaders like you out there who are leading in a different way, who are building companies in a different way, who are having a different conversation, who are bringing their personal brand together with their expertise, and valuing that story, and integrating those pieces. We need a lot more business owners like that.' I think that would really change fundamentals of our society frankly.
Jenn T Grace: If you could- because I know we're already coming up on our time, if you could distill one piece of advice, just- I'm sure you have- the conversations that you and I have just on an ongoing basis about entrepreneurship, and how to make the world a better place, I feel like we could just record those and I could air them and have plenty of material. But if we were to just kind of bring that down to one thing that you could give as a piece of advice to someone listening to this that is kind of where you were ten years ago, or fifteen years ago, what might that one kind of step be, or one thing that they could do or start to think about that could really maybe shortcut or bypass some of the hurdles and heartache and headache that you may have experienced?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah I think we've kind of already touched on it. I think it is building a new habit to celebrate your LGBTQ identity, your diversity story, and really do some work- deep and I would say even spiritual work, however you define that, on the role of that story in creating the kind of leader that you are, or that you want to be. And I mentioned some key words earlier like courage, like resiliency, like flexibility, like emotional intelligence and sensitivity to others, like inclusion. I believe- I believe that LGBTQ people, but also entrepreneurs specifically, have this very unique opportunity to change the world. Whatever we're building, to me that's kind of secondary. We are role modeling every day with everything that we do so that others don't have to suffer in the way that we did. And I know that the suffering is on a personal level and a professional level, and the suffering on a professional is, 'Gee I don't feel that I fit in, I don't feel comfortable playing the game. What is the game? What are the rules of the game? What are people going to think of me? Are they going to accept me?' All of that narrative is swirling around as we're trying to do business, as we're trying to impress people so that they will give us their money frankly, because that's what it is at the end of the day. But we get in our own way as much as maybe our external world is preventing us. And I would say these days what I find mostly for LGBTQ people and entrepreneurs is there's some of us that are awakened to the huge opportunity in front of us to grab our power, to really own that story, be authentic, role model for others, be a force of change, and bring your business along that journey and it will thrive as you're doing that, because remembering it's as much who you are and the relationships that you're establishing, and sort of the shared trust that you're building, as much as it is what you are selling or marketing. And I would say do some work on integrating those pieces. Think about your personal brand, think about your company if you have one, or your product, and think about do they intersect? Are you keeping them separate? Is there sort of a one plus one equals three part of this equation that you are not exploring to the extent that you should, and that there's some magic there that you haven't yet even tapped into? And that would probably be- that would probably be my biggest advice for this community because it's really proven true for me. I know that it can work, and that it's been even unexpectedly wonderful and transformative for me both on the personal brand side and the company side, and it's very cool to see. But I think there's something there that could really apply for everyone in your audience, Jenn.
Jenn T Grace: I love it, and I think that your book is a natural tool for a lot of people listening. While no, many people in this audience aren't going to be DNI practitioners, but I feel like a lot of what you were talking about is in the book in terms of just bringing your authentic self to the workplace, or defining your diversity story which I know is a chapter in the book too. So for those who are listening- so the book is available in November, and this is coming out on November 10th, so we are hoping to get Jen on the Amazon best seller list, so if you are interested in purchasing the book, you can do so on November 22nd which is when we're driving everyone to go there. But in the meantime, how would you advise people to get in touch with you? What is the best way for them?
Jennifer Brown: For sure. So we've got our website that's our corporate website. I think we have- we're building and almost releasing Jenn, I think the personal brand website as well.
Jenn T Grace: It should be live.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, www.JenniferBrownSpeaks.com, and that will have a lot more about the evolution of my personal brand, and my speaking, specifically highlighting a little bit more about me as a person. So there's multiple ways you can kind of keep in touch with us. We have newsletters, we've got our Twitter feed which is @JenniferBrown. We've got our LinkedIn presence, and our Facebook presence, and if you've got- from this audience Jenn, I would say I'm here to support you, and what you all could do for me is if you ever encounter corporate clients, any sort of companies that are building- even fast growth smaller companies are really investing in diversity and inclusion these days. We've got new clients that are 200, 300, 500 people for example, and they're trying to really build diversity into the core and the foundation of the company even though they're not very large. That's really an exciting conversation, and I enjoy even just mentoring and brainstorming with those kinds of founders and CEOs who are- a lot of them are straight, white men frankly, and straight women as well, saying, "I want to embed this in what I'm building, and I want to do it right, and diversity is important to me, and is important to our ability to grow and thrive." So that's a very exciting conversation, so I'd say if anyone on the call, on the podcast has interest in that, or has someone who needs help with that, please do reach out and we'd love to be helpful even just in an advisory capacity.
Jenn T Grace: And that's where you get your energy from, is that kind of helping that grassroots organization that we were talking about before, where the happy place is and the energy.
Jennifer Brown: Yes, I enjoy that because I can relate on a business owner level, and that's a big part of my identity in addition to LGBTQ, and woman, and all the other parts of my dimensions because owning a business is an experience like no other. It's really unique, it's really hard, it's really rewarding, it shapes you, it takes over your life and heart, but we are really the creators that are putting pretty important stuff out into the world.
Jenn T Grace: Well thank you so much. I feel like we could have gone in so many different directions talking today, and in just 48 minutes or so we've just scratched the surface of so much information. So I really hope the people do go out and get your book when it becomes available, and at least follow you on one of those platforms because you do have a lot of good information to share with the world.
Jennifer Brown: I do, I do. Yeah please do, and we like to give away a lot so please go read our thought leadership, our white papers, our articles. I'm a big fan of generosity in business, and I really believe in it. So maybe that's something that as folks are looking at how we've built our brand and our platforms, that level of we want to be able to be helpful first and foremost, not really sell first and foremost. We're trying to invest in the community, so I hope that's apparent.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, maybe we'll have you on in 2017 and we can discuss that whole concept, because I think there's so much to be said about that, and it will be post book launch and it will be interesting to hear kind of what happened to that too. So we'll have to make a date for that.
Jennifer Brown: Totally, thanks Jenn.
Jenn T Grace: Cool, alright thank you. I so appreciate it.
Jennifer Brown: Thank you, everyone. Thanks, Jenn.
Jenn T Grace: Thank you for listening to today's podcast. If there are any links from today's show that you are interested in finding, save yourself a step and head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And there you will find a backlog of all of the past podcast episodes including transcripts, links to articles, reviews, books, you name it. It is all there on the website for your convenience. Additionally if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, you can head on over to the website and click the contact form, send me a message, you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all at JennTGrace. And as always I really appreciate you as a listener, and I highly encourage you to reach out to me whenever you can. Have a great one, and I will talk to you in the next episode.
Thu, 27 October 2016
#96: Kicking Ass & Taking Names With Stacy A. Cross
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 96.
Jenn T Grace: Hello and welcome to episode number 96 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn T Grace, and as we near the end of October, as I promised I have another interview for you. Today's interview is with Stacy Cross, she is the founder of Comfort Killers, and this was probably one of the most high energy interviews that I have done in a very long time. So Stacy really got into a lot of mindset conversation, we talked a lot about personal branding, and how she has developed and created her personal brand over the last six months. You will walk away from this I believe inspired, but then also perhaps equally as exhausted because it was a really high energy conversation. So I really hope that you enjoy this. If you would like to see a transcript, or you would like links directly to anything that Stacy and I discussed, you can go to the blog at www.JennTGrace.com/96 for episode number 96. And if you would like to get in touch with Stacy or you have any n that you would like for me to hear, you can do so at pretty much Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn; all of those places I'm at Jenn T. Grace. Or if you'd like you can send me an email at Jenn@jenntgrace.com. Regardless of how you'd like to get in touch with me, please, please do. I’m happy to make an introduction to Stacy I'm happy to make, or if you just have general comments or feedback I always want to hear from you. It is never a wrong time to reach out so please, please do. And with that being said I'm going to cut the introduction short and get right into this conversation with Stacy.
So let's just start from the top, and let everyone know who you are, where you're located, what you do, and how you got to this place in time.
Stacy A Cross: What, where, when, and how.
Jenn T Grace: You name it, all of it.
Stacy A Cross: Well thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I appreciate it greatly. I am Stacy A. Cross, and there is no E in my name, and I am currently living in Philadelphia, moved here roughly about three and a half years ago, been here since, ready to be nimble again and move on. I move with opportunity. I am the owner and founder of the company The Comfort Killers, and I know it sounds negative Jenn, but in this case two negatives does equal a positive. The comfort- to me being comfortable is such a negative word, and of course killers is a negative word. But the comfort killers is what we do, and we provide products, and solution, and content, and services to those seeking success through personal development, and I've been living it so the value is in my experience. And that's who I am, my mission is huge, my mission in life is to teach millions how to get uncomfortable, to think better, to live better, and to act better. And that's who I am in just a nutshell.
Jenn T Grace: I love it. So how did you get to the place where you decided that you were going to go with Comfort Killers? All possible negativity aside, what was the impetus to say it's comfort that really is what's getting in people's way? What was your kind of revelation around that word specifically?
Stacy A Cross: Definitely, because I believe that tradition and conventional wisdom led us to this comfortable life, right? We want to go to high school, get that great diploma, then take that diploma, go to college, get another diploma, then go off into the workforce, then of course get the picket fence with the home, get the kids, get the dog, get the car, and go to a couple baby showers in between, and be happy with a few vacations. That's a comfortable life. I wasn't even at that comfort level, but the revelation, the 'aha' moment in my life was realizing that I want so much more, but I don't know how to attain it because going through this comfortable path, I've been just getting this same type of result, these same outcomes. So what is it going to take? So I look for inspiration and motivation outside of me at one time, this external. So I was going to a seminar and on Valentine's Day in 2016 I went to one seminar, pumped everyone else up, and for me I just wasn't getting pumped up. I wasn't feeling it. And I was like, 'But I'm a motivated person already.' And then I realized you know what? I'm going to walk out of this seminar. I'm going to take a step back and walk out and I'm not going to feel guilty about it. I remember the day clearly because I did feel guilty about it, but I said, 'What can I do differently that I haven't been doing,' and that was one answer was get uncomfortable. Do what people won't do. Do the dirt, and that's what I've done, and I've built a company. So upon coming home from the seminar that day, I wrote so many articles, I created the company in one day. I started writing a Comfort Killers handbook which I finished in 24 hours, and then things just started happening, result-based things. And I realized, 'Wow doing the opposite of comfort really allowed me to grow in my space,' and I think more people should apply their lives to living an uncomfortable lifestyle.
Jenn T Grace: Wow, I feel like you are saying so much with the time already, so we've been recording for like four minutes at this point. I feel like people can immediately get a sense of your energy level which is through the roof, and you're really motivated, and you're out to like kick ass and take names. Where do you see the direction and your ability to kind of be branding yourself with this? Because Comfort Killers is a really kind of perhaps polarizing type of statement for people who are stuck in their comfort zones. How are you finding other people who really just need maybe that kick in the ass to kind of get them going, or really have you be their personal motivator? Where are you finding those people? Are they reluctant to hear the phrase of 'Comfort Killer'? Do you find that you have to explain what comfort killing is? I know that's a lot of questions in one shot, but hit me.
Stacy A Cross: I understand where you're going with this, and yes, in the beginning it was like, 'Okay well how am I going to explain this?' It's easy to naturally just say The Comfort Killers, I am Stacy Cross, and there is no 'E' in my name, but then there's got to be some explaining. Okay what is it that I really do? I want to motivate people, I want to teach people how to get uncomfortable. It's been a blessing so far where people are naturally drawn to this idea of change. They want to change, they're in a place that I could easily explain to them that I was in the same place, so it comes from my story, and what my story relates to is a sense of addiction. I was a gambler, I didn't even know it. Right? So I had to overcome that but thought I didn't want to go to an AA meeting, right? So- and I came from a place of procrastination. I've started and stopped so much times that it became known that if Stacy says something it's probably not going to be done. It takes a while to reverse that aspect. So when people arrive at my domain, when people arrive at my face, when people come to me or essentially I go to them, I have this big humongous story, this personal story that I've written that I believe is so relatable to any facet of anyone's life that's willing to change. But here's the deal, change doesn't come easily, right? The seeds have to be planted. So I only work with people that have planted these seeds and that are willing to take the next steps, because the next course of action definitely is an accountability action; you have to want it, you have to go for it. So how do I purposely drive myself to these people? I put it in my articles, my website, all that jazz. Or really when you're talking to me face-to-face, I don't give you back pats. I'm not in the game to make you feel good. Tony Robbins even turned me down from going to Business Mastery. He said I needed more credit. I understand it, here's the deal, I am not here to say everything that everyone already said, it's been said. If you could motivate yourself from that, that's fine, but the reason you came to me is because none of it worked.
Jenn T Grace: I love all of that, and so I feel like it takes a really strong personality to be able to say, "Listen this is where I'm sharing my story, and it's not all roses. I was known for not actually following through with whatever it is." How are you leveraging that aspect in terms of maybe relating with the people that you're working with to say, "Listen you're coming from the same place that I came from, and now I'm going to be able to navigate you through this because I personally went through it." Because I think a lot of coaches out there, and strategists, and people who are counseling, and motivating; they don't have that real credible story behind them.
Stacy A Cross: Right and I think it also goes with the niche. The people that I'm focused on are the people that- my story, right? So I say, okay if I had some addiction problem, I could probably help people overcome addiction let's say without taking more pills, without doing this, without going to AA meetings. I'm not giving health advice, I'm not trying to say, "Do this instead of doing this," I don't know their level of problems, but my goal is to leverage the motivation and the power within. I want to spark something inside that's already been there, but people- it's so filtered, the veil is over their face, they can't see. So when they come to me what I say is just the value is in my experience. And that hurt me for a while because you know I have friends that I've grown up with and I'm trying to tell them something, and I know that if Tony Robbins or Zig Zig or Jim Rohn, they tell them that same thing, they jump up. But since they know me, and since I'm their friend, they don't have that same type of action. And what I've done with that is just cut them off. So I'm known to cut people off, right if they're not on my same path. But in business when someone comes to me and they're not ready, I kind of cut them off. But here's the deal, I give them so much content, Jenn. I give so much free content through all my channels, and online, and I actually have my open calendar where people could click it and then call me for thirty minutes of call. So I'm willing to listen, I'm willing to see if the seeds are planted, and that's what's different than anyone else, where you could go to anyone else and they don't have that type of story. They're only really listening to your call and asking you for money at the end of it.
Jenn T Grace: So how are you building your personal brand? Because like I said you already have such a distinctive personality, and a very motivating personality, you have a very kind of strong drawing the line in the sand way in which you communicate, which is 'I'm not pussyfooting around, I'm not going to deal with your bullshit. You're hiring me to help fix what hasn't worked for you.' And I know that you're saying that you're putting out a lot of content, so from a personal branding side of things, how has that process worked for you, and were you always kind of the- to some degree I guess in your face like no bullshit type of person? Or have you had to evolve that as you've been evolving kind of your personal brand?
Stacy A Cross: The latter, I had to evolve that because I realized that time is limited, and I have to get a short sweet concise story. So what do I do to build my personal brand? In each of the avenues where you contact me in Twitter, in whatever the case may be, wherever you know about Stacy A. Cross, it's always Stacy A. Cross but there's no 'E' in my name. It's always that story that's driven behind it. So my idea is continue sharing the story but change the people, don't change the story. So it's cementing that story and confronting the realities of my story, which was the biggest part for me. Do I want to tell people I was addicted to gambling? Probably not, but it helps and it's a major part of my quest and my story. So with defining who I am, the brand Stacy A. Cross, and evolving into that, and it has taken awhile and it's shaped itself, and now I could say, 'Okay I'm ready to move to the next step as this brand, Stacy A. Cross.' Versus just as a company and the person behind the brand.
Jenn T Grace: So now when you think about the long term- so you are Stacy A. Cross, with no 'E,' in addition to the found of Comfort Killers. Are you thinking long-term that it's important to you from a personal branding standpoint to really be focusing on building your name as a thought leader, as a content creator, as a content curator, and where does that leave Comfort Killers kind of in the wake of how quickly you're kind of moving through things right now?
Stacy A Cross: That's a great question because sometimes I have to take a minute to strategize again, right? Because I want both to move simultaneously in the same direction, because without me there is no Comfort Killer. So how do I interject both the personal brand as well as that main scope of the company? And I believe that that's been the struggle, right? So I strategize probably once or twice a day if what I'm doing will outlive the Comfort Killers or will it move together symbiotically? And what I've found out is the easiest way for me to attack that is to keep tying in the value which is the experience within the company. So all my products, they range from me, they stem from me. I wish I had www.StacyACross.com and thought of that the minute I walked out of the seminar but I don't. I have The Comfort Killers because I had to get uncomfortable. So that- The Comfort Killers is Stacy essentially, and what I'm trying to do is move both together in alignment.
Jenn T Grace: Interesting. Yeah I feel like there's all kinds of challenges- benefits and challenges that kind of come with all of what you're saying.
Stacy A Cross: Yeah.
Jenn T Grace: So as a just kind of side note, when I first was setting out to really actually define my personal brand, kind of put the stake in the ground of this is what I stand for, I was already doing what I was doing for years and years, and then finally I was like, well I just need to like really morph this into focusing on me as that personal brand and as that central point, regardless of what company, or contract, or wherever I'm working, and who I'm working for, or who's working with me, et cetera. When I decided that I was going to go for my name, the domain www.JennGrace.com just didn't exist which is why I ended up doing www.JennTGrace.com. It was not because I have any love for putting the T in, it was literally that the URL was not available.
Stacy A Cross: Someone got uncomfortable before you did with www.JennGrace.com, they took it.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah which is a bunch of bull. But so when you were looking for yours, was it because Stacy A. Cross didn't exist, or Stacy Cross, or some variation didn't exist that you just decided, 'I'm going to go with Comfort Killers.' Or was there some other factor that was involved in that decision?
Stacy A Cross: And you know that's a good question. I did try to obtain Stacy Cross because that's my name, and of course that was gone to a photographer, which she's amazing, she does great work. And then but I always say she got uncomfortable before I did, and by the time I came around and got uncomfortable and said, 'You know what? I've got to build me up now,' Stacy A. Cross was available and I do own that domain. But here's the thing with The Comfort Killers, I always was kind of like I want this movement to take shape, but I want to be the leader of it, and I want to lead leaders, and I want to create more leaders. I don't need any followers. And so The Comfort Killers is such a tagline that will punch you in the face that says, 'Okay I want to be a comfort killer, how can I be down?' But now just transitioning into the Stacy A. Cross because people like my page more than they like The Comfort Killers' page, they identify with the person more than they identify with an entity. So now it's my calling to say how do I either tie the two in front, or just keep going with the tagline, but me being the first stop? And I understand that pivotal point that's going to come where it says Stacy A. Cross is bigger than The Comfort Killers.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely, that's kind of why I was asking thinking because you have a magnetic personality that people are going to be drawn to that, and it doesn't require explanation when someone’s introducing you, or you're being referred to somebody, or somehow there's a third party conversation happening about you. There's no explanation, it's just Stacy A. Cross, and then whatever number of descriptors might be included, versus Comfort Killers which does require a little explanation, but to the same point I still think that the name is really strong and I know when we were being introduced to each other I was like, 'What the hell is going on?' Like I have not met somebody that is so blunt, so kind of in your face, but in a down to earth type of way. Because I feel like there's a lot of people out there who are kind of screaming from the stage, and they're blunt, and this, that and the other, but yet they're not relatable, and I feel like you have a good way of blending both of those balances.
Stacy A Cross: Thank you, thank you very much.
Jenn T Grace: So thinking about personal branding, and somebody who might be listening to this, and we're talking about your brand is Stacy A. Cross, mine's Jenn T. Grace, like there's obviously the commonality there in and of itself. What would you say is like the number one- maybe the first step that somebody might be thinking like, 'Okay I have a business right now, I'm known for being the founder of this business, or the CEO of this business, but I really need to start making that pivotal change into really focusing on me as a personal brand.' In your experience, what would you say is that first kind of- maybe even just a baby step that people need to take to start figuring out what that might look like?
Stacy A Cross: That's a great question. What I've done, and just to even get me to this point, is open conversation more about yourself, and kind of key in your actual things that tie your story together. And there could be four or five things because every one is important, and I think really over the three or four things, you have to know that you're important, that you have something to say. And the confidence that comes with that when you are the authority in your domain, in your space, then you are confident to project your story. So the first things that I've done is start opening my opinion about things. And not in a mean way, or not in anything, I just stood firm with who I was, and opened my opinion. So I just really opened the channels and started being me 100% of the time. What I've done to identify or what someone could do to identify their personal brand and to kind of have that stake in the ground that says, 'Okay this is me,' the first thing to do is get your domain- I mean tangible things, is get a domain name and come across as an authority in whatever field, or whatever industry, or whatever niche that you are a part of. Right? So what I've done is started talking about things that haven't been working in this personal development space, in self-improvement space, and I was very serious about it. I wasn't there to converse, I was there to tell and to show who I was through my arguments, or through my opinions, and that's really all it took. Now I'm the industry leader in that space of if you're talking about uncomfortable, if you're talking about discomfort, if you're talking about growth, you have Stacy A. Cross and her name, she'll know what to talk about.
Jenn T Grace: What was your process for really just identifying like, 'this is my niche'? Like how did you really- like I know that we talked about how you came up with Comfort Killers and how you defined that, but like to come to the place to recognize like, 'this is my niche, this is my calling,' I feel like it's a process for a lot of people and there's an evolution for how to kind of come to terms with like, 'okay this is what I stand for.' Did you have any exercise that you went through? Did you have a coach who navigated you? Or did it just kind of- I don't know, hit you one day of, 'this is it.'
Stacy A Cross: I think I am the outlier, okay? I used to be a rapper and so I was always good with words, and I never found out until now that I was this good with words. And I kind of put my path, and I looked into my path and what leading up to this, and I kind of noted some very pivotal times in my growing up, in my formative years, where people would say certain things and I never thought of it of nothing. But here's the deal, I didn't get a coach, I just believed in myself, and I know it's cliché but I did, and I said, 'You know what? I don't care. I really don't. I don't care who likes me, I don't care who loves me-' I do care who loves me but I don't care what anyone has to say about who this person is. So the process of me building that confidence up was really being serious in my art and my craft and who I was, and understanding that the level of criticism that you're going to get in any area is going to come because first they criticize you, and then they admire you. And I live to that, and I said, 'You know what? I'm willing to get criticized. I'm willing to put it all out on the line for who I am and what's discussed and anything I say.' So what I did, I had to step away from being an amateur, and I had to step away from being a guest here. No, I'm supposed to be here, and it was really a mindset change more than anything because we all have the words inside of us, we could really start talking right now, but it's that mindset switch to let you know that you are the authority, and not an amateur, and not a novice. Even if you're doing novice things at the same time. Because I came out of the struggle, I came out of the dirt, I believe that that's the time that we need to grow because we have the most to say at that time. But really when I stepped out as Stacy A. Cross, not just Stacy Cross, but Stacy A. Cross, I stepped out with authority because I believed I had authority to be here, because I believed that I'm important, and I just walked out. No coach, no navigation, but I did read a lot of books. I did have some mentors that they don't even know me, right? Because I feel like personal development is key because you need to take heed to the clues that was already left. So how does this speaker- let's say, I love The Rock, right? How come he jumps on live, or Facebook live, or any Twitter channel. What's his brand? The Rock, right? How come he has that authority when he speaks? What was the first authority? I started going back, I watched Oprah's first video. I watched Gary V's first video. These guys didn't have anyone cheering them on when their first thing- they were probably scared as hell but they knew they needed to do it, and they knew they needed to be there. So I watched people, I started minding the clues, and believing in myself, and coming out with authority when I spoke about any subject, not just personal growth.
Jenn T Grace: Everything that you just- the way in which you said it, and what you just said is exactly like blowing up the idea of comfort. Literally everything that just came out of your mouth. So you're obviously very much on brand with what you're talking about. So what were the most pivotal books that you read, if you want to give me two, that really helped you kind of define and further refine your personal brand? Like what were the top two that you can think of.
Stacy A Cross: Okay the first one would be Jack Canfield's 'The Success Principles because that one straight up had- because there's so many examples given in that book of being comfortable, and I was like, 'Oh my God that was me. That was me. Oh wow, okay people know about you.' And so the Jack Canfield's 'The Success Principles' I always talk about. Love the idea of the inner guidance system which I renamed- because I could do that, the Biological GPS. So I love that, and I love understanding more of it, so I go back to that book multiple times. And the second is 'The Master Key System.' And that has been- it's free on my website, The Comfort Killers, you could just type up. The only book you will ever need because I believe really that's it, and that taught me about the inner world, right? And that the within world defines the world without, and it taught me about the universal principles, and how things need to just work, and things are going to be working without you or not, you could just slide right in there and be a part of the universal laws. And I love that because it's more on the spiritual side and then Jack Canfield was more the hard cold truth about yeah, you bought the dog- you bought the dog, now you complain about the dog. So it's more that tangible practical 3D life. And then of course the Master Key to Success- the Master Key System was more that whole broad spiritual aspect of it, and that balance, and that love, you know? So those are my top two.
Jenn T Grace: I love that you brought up both of those because I have had guests separately both mention- and it's driving me crazy actually trying to figure out who also recommended 'The Master Key System,' it's going to make me insane until I think of it, but I will. But I like the balance because you're talking in one direction of like tactics and the cold hard truth facts, and then on the other side you're talking about kind of the universe and how- and I have a quote on my wall that says, 'The universe conspires in your favor,' because it absolutely does. And so what degree do you think in your day-to-day that you're applying both kind of sides of this? Kind of the hard fact versus the softer spiritual. Are you- is there a balance daily? Does it kind of fluctuate? Does it depend on your mood? What does that look like for you?
Stacy A Cross: Well you know in Delaware- I used to live in Delaware and the question will get answered. But I was living in Delaware and I was a heavy meditator, I was meditating, I was trying to do things to help me understand who I was, my higher self, and I was in it. I was in it all the way. And one day I think I meditated a little bit too much because I think I connected to the source, right? The motherland ship. I was there. So it scared the shit out of me. Goosebumps even to this day when I tell that story, and I only tell it in bits and pieces because I believe that that's the best way it can be shared. Just like Twitter. So here's the deal, I'm sitting in there thinking I'm meditating, kind of dozing off but I'm really not, I just went into a deep state of awareness and I couldn't open my eyes, and it was this whole big thing, and my ear was beeping, and it was these tones, and I couldn't- and I said, 'Get me out of here because I'm not ready,' and of course I did, I got out. But after that what happened in Delaware, was I looked up the word Delaware, and I realized there are two words, del and aware. Del of- and then aware. Of awareness. I got my peak state of awareness in Delaware. I will never shun that as a part of my growth because it made me so aware. Everything was beautiful at that point. I could look out and see a leaf, and the leaf would smile, and I was just so far gone. People were like, 'You are now gone,' and I was like, 'But no I'm really ready to start a business. I need to come back.' So what I do now is to keep both sides- because I'm very spiritual, so I muscle tense probably every day. In the shower, out the shower, upon waking, and I say thank you. And it's these little bit size piece of gratitude, bite size piece of awareness, bit size piece of consciousness, and appreciation of who I am and my higher self. And then you get the majority of the beast, right? Because all I have to do is that, give that bite size awareness, bit size love, and I'm already in motion. And then my rest of my day is this whole beautiful thing called business. But throughout the day it's all bite sized consciousness.
Jenn T Grace: So number one, I feel like there are probably people who routinely meditate and practice mindfulness, and don't ever find that Holy Grail that you found. What would you say to the novice person who is listening to this, and not to say that the universe and kind of spirituality hasn't come up in the podcast before, but it's certainly not like a dominant theme in the podcast. So what would you say to somebody who's listening to this and they're thinking, 'This sounds interesting but I don't necessarily know where to start or what to do,' or they're absolutely petrified based on what you just said. So like what would you say?
Stacy A Cross: Here's the deal- I was, but there's a sense of calm and love and unconditional love with you in everything, and connectivity knowing that you are everyone. There's a sense of that and I would never give that up. But if you're a novice just like I was, we all once were babies and we needed to crawl, so the deal is what I've done is I just jumped on YouTube- I jumped on YouTube and did guided meditations because I didn't really like that binaural sound coming in, it was too much too fast. So what I did was I just did a morning meditation which was ten minutes, and I started being more interested in it, and I started doing a guided meditation. I think if we force things it doesn't come. Like on that day where I didn't want to just go into a deep meditation, it just happened. It was at that perfect time. And I think everyone has that perfect time, but you have to plant the seeds now because you can't get to that point of awareness (Delaware) sitting in the couch petrified. You can't get to that one but you have to start somewhere. Open up YouTube, learn about your chakras. Learn about what the universe is trying to tell you because I think your personal story comes from your insight, comes from spiritual awareness. Because you have to be aware of who you are, and I think spirituality and going into that deep mindfulness of having those thoughts. You know how hard it is to not think, and that's what I was trying to overcome. I was like, 'You know what? I'm going to do it because I want to just master this thing.' And it was a game to me, and the universe loves playing games with you. So just be prepared to plant seeds now, take it one day at a time. It doesn't have to be three hours like my crazy ass was doing, but it could be five minutes of just total gratitude and just saying thanks, and just saying, 'I am aware, and I am here,' and start with some affirmations and make them real.
Jenn T Grace: I love all of that. And so I am part of a Mastermind group, and I have a couple of them that I'm actually part of. Some are far more hardcore like the Jack Canfield, like we were saying just very much like hard fact. And then the one that I'm most active in now, there's ten of us, and it's very spiritually centric, and I had a really hard time acclimating to being in this room with these women. There's only one other woman out of the ten of us who was also on like the outside kind of looking in. And not to say that I have not been spiritual, because I have always been a very kind of inner reflective, very deep, very conscious of everything around me, but I would never have thought of it as being like spiritual. Although now of course, it makes far more sense. I'm just very nature centric I guess is the best way of phrasing it. And I go outside and I run almost every day, and I've been training for a marathon which my podcast listeners are all aware of because it's been such a struggle, but I find that I can find that clarity when I'm just outside running, and I'm kind of ignoring everything around me. I recently found a- actually I was introduced to a gentleman named Casey Carter, and his website I believe is called This Epic Life and he has a thirty day meditation- it's not called meditation for dummies, but that's basically how I'm interpreting it. Of here's just this meditation for the lay person, and I just recently started going through it just to like see, and see if I could calm my mind, and it is really, really hard. And I'm only on- I don't know, I might be like day six, and yet I can find that I can calm my mind when I'm moving, but there's something about stillness that I think is what scares the shit out of most people. I think it's the stillness that scares people, and I'm just still trying to figure out how to do it, it's not that it scares me at this point because I'm perfectly fine being alone with my thoughts, which I think a lot of people have a hard time just being alone with their thoughts. I think that's another one of the big things, but I feel like there's so much benefit to business as it relates to all this. So my question to you would be what do you think the biggest benefit that you gained as a result of just being more mindful, and kind of in tune with yourself and your surroundings?
Stacy A Cross: I believe it's the decision making because I think that the right things always come to me, right? It's for me, it's understanding who I am to a level where if I know my decision making- that was a piece for me that was hard, right? I was always looking to someone else to decide something for me without knowing what I want. But it was just a struggle for me growing up, right? So I think now at the level where I am, knowing that everything for me is for me, and it wouldn't even come to my plate if it's not for me, but understanding what my needs are. Okay? The needs of the business, and being able to decide based on those needs, not this reactional traditional conventional way to decide things. But I mean I'm talking as little as should I have coffee, or should I have tea? Because I had a headache for the past two days, and I know you wanted more business minded, but this is how on a micro scale that I think of things now. I had a headache for the past two days in the morning, I drank coffee, now my body is telling me it doesn't like it, something is going on. Should I drink tea for a week just to test that out? Yes. And those level- and it goes from the micro just of doing those kinds of decision making all the way to should I invest in this- should I invest in this marketing strategy, this person, this coach for business because this A, B and C was the outcome, now my business mind is telling me that something either needs to be changed, what should it be? And it's because of this mindfulness knowing that I'm taking in key factors from who I am, and how I feel, that biological GPS that allows me to make better decisions- business decisions, personal decisions, life decisions much quicker than I used to make crazy 'rational' decisions.
Jenn T Grace: So how do you think people go from whatever their status quo is in their comfort zone to understanding that you can rely on your gut or your intuition to guide you to a better, more rational decision, even though to some degree in people's minds that might be like a counterintuitive thought.
Stacy A Cross: Yeah you know what, I always say listen- that's why I said 'rational' because I like irrational. I'm illogical, I shouldn't be here right now, Jenn. Okay? I started this business six months ago and I'm on Grant Cardone TV, they reached out to me, there's so much things happening. If was rational all I would say was, 'Okay I just want to start a business and that's all I'll still be doing.' But irrational thinking, and understanding that it takes some work- it definitely takes some work. Time is of the essence, time is our friend, and the reason why people don't get things done, or they say they don't have no time is because they don't know math, right? Because time is of the essence, truth. So I know I went a little off topic. You're going to have to guide me back because I totally forgot the question.
Jenn T Grace: You know, I went off the rails with you and I don't remember what the question was.
Stacy A Cross: I love it! That's what the universe does for us, because whatever it was, that's what needed to be said and we don't have to force anything. And I love that, and I love that this came up because whatever needs to happen always happens, and I believe this to be true.
Jenn T Grace: I feel that way about people that I come across, introductions that I make, and I feel like I have had a road led with adversity in many, many, many ways, and LGBT is not even one of those factors of kind of the chaos of my past. And I feel like the only thing that gets you to the other side of that chaos is just saying to yourself, 'This is happening for a reason. I don't necessarily need to know what that reason is that this moment, but there is a reason why this is occurring to me right now.' And that I think to some degree can get you through a lot of personal hurdles, but I also think for business because there's a lot to be said about shifting, and adapting, and going in the direction that naturally feels like the best direction for you to go in, even if for all intents and purposes like on the surface, it does not make any sense to the outside.
Stacy A Cross: Right, I agree. I agree with that 100%. When I first started business'ing I was like- okay I was getting tons of information, and how do I scan that information quickly and make a decision? Or how do I start a business- like how do I do this thing? Friends were saying, 'Do this, it's the marketing. It's this, you've got to get funnels, you've got to click them, you've got to do this,' and I was getting bombarded and it didn't feel right. And it wasn't until I just kind of looked outside and just allowed myself to identify where the needs were in business was when I really started moving, and aligning, and getting results. That's the biggest piece. But I do go through life wondering, asking, 'Okay I know that this is here for a purpose, don't know what the purpose is, but I'm ready for the lesson.' And that's really- and that's really it, and it guides me, and I trust myself. And I mean I think we should trust ourselves a little bit more in business too. Like make a mistake, it's okay. Like I think I did a tweet the other day, the entire sentence was fucked up- the grammar was bad. It's okay. Like it's okay to have a typo. I wrote a book in 24 hours, my eBook in 24 hours- which we don't count, right? I wrote it in 24 hours and there were so many typos in it. I didn't care, I did it and it felt right, and it felt good. And I think sometimes we just have to go, and when we feel that fear and everything inside of us telling us, 'Don't do it, don't go for it,' and that happens in a lot of conventional wisdom and tradition. That's why more people, they don't start businesses because it's so hard to think about it that they don't even actually do it. So my thing is just go for it, feel it, go for it, if it's right, do it.
Jenn T Grace: And I think that the second piece of that is making it attainable. So if you have some crazy goal, or new business that you're about to start, or kind of a new evolution of your existing business, it's a matter of breaking it down into some kind of tangible baby steps that make it feel less overwhelming so you don't get caught in that frozen place of being paralyzed because you don't know the next step to take, because everything just seems so overwhelming and so daunting.
Stacy A Cross: It does get that way. And my goal is big, I have big goals, scary goals, unattainable goals, I can't get to them and they scare me, they're monsters. It's on my shoulder, I wake up, I can't even breathe, it's holding me down, these goals are scary. I love big goals because I'd rather fail at a big goal than fail at a tiny puny ass goal, and not even change. Right? So my goal- I'm looking at the book and when you said marathon, I was like, 'Oh shit she just reminded me I've got to go too to run a marathon, and I just ran this morning.' And I'm doing it, and I've got to train for a whole year, and it's crazy, right? And I feel your pain, Jenn. But you already are a runner, I'm coming from just like- I don't even put the ink line up on the damn [Inaudible 00:41:53].
Jenn T Grace: But guess what? If we go back- and my loyal listeners of this podcast I think have a good sense of the evolution, but if we go back to 2012 and 2013 when I just had- it was like a personal crisis I would call it. Like just a crisis of like what am I doing with my life? And I said, 'Screw this. Ef this, I am not taking anyone's shit anymore, and this is the new me.' And I started when I was running, and I couldn't run for like five seconds without wanting to die. Like it truly was that bad, I could not run for five seconds without feeling like death was setting in. And not to say that that doesn't happen now because it still does, but I think it's the process and the journey. So there's the whole cliché of like enjoy the journey, not the destination, or it's all about the journey and this, that and the other. And to a large degree that is totally the case because I look- my goal was first to be able to run a 5K which is 3.1 miles, and once I was able to do that which took me a while to get to, I was like, 'Alright now I'll do the 10K, and now I'll do the half marathon, and now I'm doing a marathon.' But it requires every single day to be doing something to further you toward that goal that people do not see. So every single day my ass is outside running whether it's inclement weather or not. So yesterday it was freezing, the day before it was raining, like there's always something, it's never just like nice weather, and you have to be out there every day. Nobody knows you're doing it, it's only you who knows that you're doing it because you have the end goal of- like for me the marathon is in January. This weekend I have to run seventeen miles which I have been dreading for the last two weeks. But it is what it is, I have no choice. And in January, on January 8th when I can post my accomplishment of like I finally did it, I ran this 26.2 mile race that I literally couldn't run more than five seconds without wanting to die a couple years ago, that is like the- finally the pinnacle of accomplishment because now people can see that that has happened. But they do not see the two or three years of training daily in the making that actually led to that. So if we apply that to a business lens, it's those day-to-day consistent actions that people are taking that they're not getting credit for, no one's seeing, no one's congratulating them on, that actually gets them to that place of having a successful business. But it takes forever to actually get to, so people have to be patient to some degree to recognize that it isn't an overnight success, and there is no such thing as an overnight success because every single person you ask who has had 'overnight success' will tell you that it took them ten years to get to.
Stacy A Cross: Love that. I love it because yes, it's the dirt. Yes it's the work that no one shows on their Snapchat or on their videos or their documentary films about entrepreneurs. It is the work that comes in between. But here's the deal, just as you were saying that and I'm reading this book 'The Marathon' by Hal Higdon. 88 marathons, some crazy numbers, and he says more people- he took a survey. More people appreciate and respect the training versus the one day of accomplishment because the deal is- and that's the process, and that's what I'm trying to give out, the values and my experience. It's in this day-to-day action. We're going to get the value from what we're doing and what we're talking about even right now because ten years from now, this day, I'll be like, 'Holy shit, I did all of that that one day?' I already had three calls, Jenn, and I know you did too. Three calls. I went out this morning to run. I already read a piece of a book that I'm reading right now, 'Story Selling,' by Nick Nanton and J. W. Dicks. I've already written an article ready to go. I've already- you see it's all of these things but it's tomorrow, it starts it over with a reset button that you press.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely, and I think that that is what- it's like every day is truly a marathon of the amount of things that you have to get done, and there are people that don't want to put in that amount of legwork, and that's okay. So not everyone has to own a business, not everyone needs to be developing and growing their personal brand, and that's just a life decision that some people just aren't meant for it, and others are. And no matter where you fall on that spectrum- so if someone is listening to this and they're like, 'Oh hell no, I don't want to have to have made three phone calls, recorded two podcasts, meditated, gone for a run, had lunch with somebody all before like 1:00 in the afternoon,' then that's fine. There's no judgment in that and I think that that's probably the most important word here, is that there's no judgment in any person's decisions to go in any direction that they choose.
Stacy A Cross: And I love that, but I'm going to just add the caveat. That same person that doesn't want to do that better not complain about their situation later on down the line.
Jenn T Grace: Agreed. Totally agree, could not agree more with that.
Stacy A Cross: Don't complain about not having, or not being able to get this, or the world's against you, or not having- I'm not saying your listeners, your listeners are probably wonderful, I believe they are, and they're loyal listeners. I'm talking about the- that's that polarized thing that I don't get, and that's what I give no back pass for, is saying that you have zero time because you have to take the kids to school, you have to walk the dog, and you don't want to do this stuff, but you're watching eighteen hours of the Walking Dead the entire weekend. Don't complain on Monday, don't complain on Monday that you don't have any time. That is all I'm saying.
Jenn T Grace: I could not agree more, and I will comment on a good example of this, is that this past weekend- so I'm on a very strict training plan to get this marathon done, like there is no room for error at this given juncture in time. And there are plenty of times in the past where it's like, 'Yeah if I move this run it's not a big deal, I can switch this around.' Like right now there's literally no margin of error available. So this past weekend I was only supposed to do four miles which is very kind of simple at this point compared to what I have to be doing of like the seventeen on Saturday. But I checked in with my running buddy and said, "Hey how did your four miles go?" Because on Saturday morning my ass was up and out of my house by 7:30. Mind you I do have a wife, and we do have two children, both of which are very challenging due to mental health related issues, and I'm also running a business, I have something that I'm starting up, I have a ton of shit going on, and I was still able to get the four miles in, I just got up early, went out, did it, came back, and I felt amazing. I checked in with my running partner later that night and she had like fifteen excuses for why she wasn't able to get out and do it. And I'm like, 'Okay one major difference is that I have children and you don't.' That in and of itself makes it somewhat miraculous to get out of the house on a weekend morning without having like some kind of trouble. So I feel like- and there's not judgment to be had in that, but when you're not prepared for whatever it is that is coming. So whether we're talking about something like a physical marathon, or whether we're talking about the success of your business, or whether or not you win an award, or don't win an award, or get some kind of accolade that you've been waiting or; it's those very small decisions on a day-to-day basis that to me are the ones that have the most impact. So if you're making excuses for whatever reason, the excuses are going to be the reasons why you didn't get it done, because you're only making the excuse to yourself because no one else really cares generally speaking around you what your reason for not doing something is, they just see that you didn't do it and they don't really care why. It's you that you're fooling in the grand scheme of things.
Stacy A Cross: If you want so much as one excuse and think about it, you've got a million, and they're plentiful. So yeah, I agree with that whole concept and I've trained- you don't even know what it's like to live in the house with me because it's brutal in the morning. I'm loud, I want everyone up, we're up and Adam, and you know what? It's changed everyone here, and I like to say that I was influential in that, and what business mind, and our decisions are better now, you know? So yeah, I love that, I appreciate that, and that's what I'm trying to bring value to. It's days like this, it's the training dates that you're doing, it's me going out for a marathon- I don't want to publicly say it because if I publicly say it- I'm going to say it right now.
Jenn T Grace: Say it.
Stacy A Cross: If I publicly say I'm going to run a marathon in a year from today- don't send this thing to my email in a year, don't do it. No but I will because I have the book, and I've been running, I've been training for it, but I am like where you were 2012, but that's something that I want to do on a personal achievement level but I know that it's an every day thing, it's a strategic thing, it's you've got to do it when you don't want to, when you feel bad, and I get bad cramps. I don't know about you, but my cramps come and I don't know what to do in the world. But I've trained myself to say that I don't have any pain, and I've been tricking my basal ganglia, I've been changing habits, I've been tricking myself when I feel bad to say, 'You know what? I feel the best in the world and I'm going to go out there,' and it's been amazing so far.
Jenn T Grace: So as we're about to wrap up, number one, I kid you not I will follow up with you to see if you're training. Do not- you said it, it's in the universe, and now I'm on your ass. This is what I do.
Stacy A Cross: I love it.
Jenn T Grace: And number two, I feel like to some degree there's a lot of inspiration to be had for the fact that I know- and I know I had a lot of people in my audience reach out to me to say like how shocked in a way of like going from not being able to breathe running five seconds, to running for five and a half hours. And I feel like it's that type of inspiration- because we can look at elites, we can look at elite athletes, we can look at the Gary Vaynerchuks of the world, we can look at Fortune 500 CEO's and be like, 'Oh wow that's awesome that they're doing that,' but they're not relatable, and I think our conversation to some degree brings it down to a relatable level to say, 'If one of these two yahoo's can get this shit done, then I can get this done,' is how I see it. Like I truly am like, 'If Jenn and Stacy can do this, like you can totally do it too.' So I feel like there's a lot of I think inspiration that can be drawn from being able to honestly accomplish anything if you just break it down into manageable chunks.
Stacy A Cross: Yes.
Jenn T Grace: So my final I guess parting question would be is if you could tell the listeners one thing that you think would help them, that they might be able to implement today, what would that one thing be? And then as you're kind of wrapping up, feel free please tell people where they can find you, how you like to be contacted, and all that stuff.
Stacy A Cross: Yeah. I would say get uncomfortable with your friends, family, job, everything. I mean cut people off that need to be cut off. If you really want to go on a path, and you have identified any negative pieces in your way, any negativity, anything that will hold you back, limitations, and I'm talking even within yourself; cut them off and figure out a way around it instantly. Because I had to do it. I had to change friends, change my number, I do not care anymore. You have to be very confident in that and you cannot be flaky because once you cut someone off you can't go back, and if you go back it better be to tell them how to do the same thing. The deal is I want you guys to be great, and I want you guys to get uncomfortable. There is so much importance with you. I want you, my friends, my comfort pillars, to go about the day knowing that you can conquer anything in your world, in your path, and if you can believe it, you can see it. Stop trying to see things before you can believe them. Believe them first and then I guarantee you it's going to be there right in front of your face, you can actually see it because the veil has been lifted. Ladies and gentlemen, you can find me anywhere because you're never there- no you are always there. I am on Twitter, Stacy A. Cross on everything, okay? Twitter, Snapchat. Like I said, www.StacyACross.com, but you know what? It's not updated and just because you told me, I'm going to update. Facebook, find me there, Stacy Annmarie Cross. I can't believe I did it but I'm telling you my entire governance. Stacy Annmarie Cross on Facebook, and of course the website, the headquarters, the foundation is www.TheComfortKillers.com. That's with 'The,' www.TheComfortKillers.com. You can find me everywhere and I am always here to leave my leaders, I do not like followers, so don't try to follow me on any of these social networks. My email is Stacy@thecomfortkillers.com.
Jenn T Grace: And that is Stacy without an 'E.'
Stacy A Cross: There is no 'E' in my name.
Jenn T Grace: I love it. I have the same challenge with people spelling Jenn wrong, or calling me Jean, or I get a whole bunch of variations because I went off the reservation instead of having just one 'N,' so I get it, I totally get it. Anywho, I so appreciate you and so anyone who's listening to this and they want to find out- you know get all the information that you just talked about, it will be on the blog at www.JennTGrace.com/96, that is for episode number 96. So thank you again, I so appreciate your energy, and if anyone wants to connect with Stacy and would like me to be the one who helps make that happen, just please email me and I will help you do that.
Stacy A Cross: Love that, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate that, and I'll see you in a year.
Jenn T Grace: Oh you bet, I'm on it and listeners, please help me keep Stacy accountable to this, because I know I will. Don't you worry, I'm going to put a calendar reminder now.
Stacy A Cross: Beautiful, thank you so much.
Jenn T Grace: You are welcome, have a great day.
Stacy A Cross: You too, bye.
Jenn T Grace: Thank you for listening to today's podcast. If there are any links from today's show that you are interested in finding, save yourself a step and head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And there you will find a backlog of all of the past podcast episodes including transcripts, links to articles, reviews, books, you name it. It is all there on the website for your convenience. Additionally if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, you can head on over to the website and click the contact form, send me a message, you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all at JennTGrace. And as always I really appreciate you as a listener, and I highly encourage you to reach out to me whenever you can. Have a great one, and I will talk to you in the next episode.
Thu, 13 October 2016
#95: Dissecting LGBTQ Identities Around Same Sex Relationships with Dr. Jennelle
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 95.
Jenn T Grace: Hello and welcome to episode number 95 of the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast. Today I am just super excited that we are in the middle of October in 2016, and that I am on episode 95. It somewhat seems crazy to me that I have recorded 95 podcast episodes, and really it's been 125 because I did a special feature of thirty episodes a couple of years ago. But thinking that I'm nearing the 100 mark just- it seems mind boggling. I remember the first episode I did and what a- I don't want to call it a complete hot mess, but to some degree it was definitely a learning experience, and it took a bit of time to really kind of catch my bearings, but 95 episodes in I'm feeling really good and really confident about the guests that I've been having, and I just feel like everything is going really, really well.
So today I have an interview for you, and then I can also tell you that episodes 97, 98, 99 and the big old 100 which will all occur within 2016 will all also be interviews.
I have found over the years that just interviewing people who are a part of the community, not part of the community but some way are supporting the community, all of that, I find that interviews are absolutely the best way to help educate you. And today we have an interview with Dr. Jennelle who is a PhD psychologist and she is in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area, and she has a really interesting niche within the LGBTQ community, and you'll hear from her directly that she's not even saying that her niche is LGBTQ, but rather she works with women who are in relationships with other women, but that doesn't necessarily need to be confined with or by having a label of being part of the community.
We had a good 45-minute or so discussion on just all of so many different things; about stigma of being in a relationship with somebody of the same sex, and how people are always trying to label you, and we talk a lot about personal things, and family, and just kind of dynamics around what it means to be in a same-sex relationship. And as a psychologist, her goal as a relationship advisor as she calls herself, is to really help women kind of navigate these lines. And a lot of it I think is really valuable for you the listener to just be listening in, and kind of seeing how she is positioning herself as a personal brand within the space. So as we're here as the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, we're really talking about how to brand yourself and your identity as it relates to the LGBT community whatever label you're applying, and how to really use that and leverage it within your particular business.
I feel like Dr. Jennelle is doing an amazing job of that, and you can find her at www.DrJennelle.com, and she, like I, has two N's in her name so it's Jennelle, so www.DrJennelle.com. And if you're looking for links that are mentioned in today's episode, or you're looking for a transcript of what we talked about, you can find all of that at www.JennTGrace.com/95 and that is for episode number 95.
Thank you so much and enjoy this interview.
I want to just start off with having you share with the listeners a little bit about your background, and about yourself, and really what kind of led to you doing the work that you're doing in present day.
Dr. Jennelle: Sure, well first thanks so much for having me Jenn, I appreciate being here, I'm excited about this. And I have, as I think we all do, a winding path to get to where I've been. I think I always start off by saying that I don't think I've met anyone who says otherwise. But I was in graduate school for psychology, I realized pretty early on I did not want to go the academic route and be the college professor doing the research, and I was looking for a more direct line of help. I really wanted to see my impact right away, and so I actually ended up going into the wellness field for a while, and that was also directly related to my own personal wellness revolution as I call it. So in 2009 I lost thirty pounds which I always say was the catalyst for getting me to kind of figure out that I could make myself a priority and go after what I want, and achieve it, and I started doing that more and more. I went into the wellness sector for work and kind of was using that as my way to help people through the psychological process of sort of losing weight and changing their whole life. And then that sort of led me to realize that I had somewhat outgrown my own life and I really wasn't feeling fulfilled in what I was doing with my relationship, my personal life, and I sort of accidentally- completely accidentally met someone who she was feeling the same way, she was married to her husband, they had three kids, and we met through a friend of a friend who was getting married, and we ended up both leaving our partners to be together, and that was in 2012. So it kind of turned my whole world upside down, I was engaged at that time to my high school boyfriend of over ten years, and four years later about the small wellness company that I had been working for was basically going under. They really had a terrible business model even though they had a great program, and they couldn't pay me, they couldn't afford to keep me anymore. So I went off on my own to really start using my psychological background more to help people again in a really direct way. Which as a result of my personal experience, I became a relationship advisor. I started helping people that were going through some really challenging times with their partners, even though that they loved their partner like crazy and wanted to stay with them, that it's still really complicated, messy, and hard. And I started specifically working with female same-sex couples, and even beyond that I really like to help people with their big change of heart as I call it. So in my case and in my partner's, we both were with men and left our male partners to be with a woman, and there's a whole host of challenges that come along as a result. So that's really the way where I sort of look at it the 'ah-ha' moment, her after him, and helping people embrace that big change of heart.
Jenn T Grace: You just said quite a mouthful. Okay so let's unravel that a bit. So for the person listening- so you and I have had the pleasure of having a couple of conversations prior to recording today, so I have a good sense of what it is that you do, and how you serve your current clients. So I know that you were saying that you're a relationship advisor, and it's for primarily same-sex couples that are women. Can you go a little bit deeper into that for the audience listening to just kind of get a general sense of what your practice looks like, and how- even to some degree how you're acquiring women that are in those situations that you're helping advise?
Dr. Jennelle: Sure, yeah. So the first part is that I specifically termed and call myself a relationship advisor. I'm not a counselor, I'm not a coach, a clinician, a teacher, trainer, or any of those words, specifically because I do think a little non-traditionally, which you'll see that word pop up a lot with me. But it really came from thinking about sort of a financial advisor, right? You don't wait until you're bankrupt, you don't wait until you're reaching retirement age to finally go see a financial advisor, or at least you shouldn't. Came out to ideally start really in your twenties and early thirties to see someone where you can make small adjustments in your daily spending habits to eventually reach some sort of financial goal that you've set. Well the same is really true for relationships, that's my philosophy, that you need to be proactive, you need to make small adjustments day to day if you want the love that you have to last a lifetime. And so that's really how I kind of position my approach. It's solution-focused, it's proactive, and it's really about making sure that the love that you've found that you were so happy to have, that you're able to continue to foster and grow that even though there's going to be tons of things pulling you and stressing you in a million directions. And so I actually wrote a piece about my own personal experience and have had it for a long time, but I had it published this past April in Elephant Journal, and a lot of people actually reached out to me who had been through a similar experience where one of the people in their relationship at least had left their husband, and they had kids, so there was this complexity of dealing with everything that comes with that, and they were really happy to find someone who understood. And not just understood like a friend, but then could also offer support, guidance and advice in the deeper level. And they didn't even have any friends or family that understood so that was already a bonus right there, but then they had somebody that could say, "Okay not only do I know where you're coming from, but I can break this down and give you some ways to actually make the transition a little bit easier." So that was one of the first ways I started acquiring clients, and now I specifically really try to reach women who are in that situation. The first year of that transition is incredibly difficult. I can say that a million times, incredibly, incredibly difficult, so I really try to find ways to reach people through whether it's my articles that I've had published, my podcast, my community, any way that I can get out there in the community, the actual local community, I'm in and connect with people that are going through this really big change.
Jenn T Grace: Now do you find that there is- I'm trying to figure out how to phrase it. Do you find that there's a bit of stigma in some ways attached to the women that you're working with because they don't necessarily fall into a specific label that people are expecting them to either identify as or self-identify as? Do you find that that is part of the struggle?
Dr. Jennelle: Absolutely, and it's an interesting dichotomy because you have all your friends and family who thought for your whole life you were straight, so they just assumed because you were with this long-term heterosexual partner, or at least you'd maybe only ever been with men, that all of a sudden you're seen to them like, 'Oh she was really gay this whole time.' Or 'We don't know her anymore, we didn't know she was hiding this.' And they see you as that label because you went from someone who dated men to someone who's now with a woman. They just kind of put it there. But the lesbian community often does not see it that way, and even if you've been with your partner- your female partner for a long time at this point, like I have for almost five years which in lesbian world is like an eternity, and it's still seen as- I mean I don't get this as much anymore but certainly in that first couple of years it's that, 'Are you experimenting? Are you dabbling? Are you trying this out? Is this just a phase?' And I personally didn't experience that as much because I just don't know that many lesbians, so nobody- probably people thought that, but I didn't really know that many people that were saying that to me at the time. One of the things that I really feel that people are dealing with is sort of how do they label themselves, right? So are they all of a sudden gay? I got questions that were, 'Were you gay your whole life and you just never told us? Were you ever happy with your ex?' All of those kinds of questions. And I think personally I dealt with a lot of that, but I never really needed a label because I was just in a relationship. So I was with this guy, and now I'm with this woman, and I just tell people that I fell in love with a woman. I've never really had to apply a label, and I think that's where a lot of the women I'm connecting with are in that same place.
Jenn T Grace: So along this vein, I want to bring up Elizabeth Gilbert, because I feel like there's no way that we can't bring her up in this conversation because she articulated it almost how you just said it of just that she happened to fall in love with her best friend; and it wasn't her intention, and she didn't set out to do this, and she's not trying to do it to upset others, like it's just very- to her was very organic. Do you think that having somebody with her level of recognition is a benefit to the work that you're doing? Do you see that that is a positive thing, or do you see that there's any- I don't know, chance that there could be something- some kind of negative fallout that comes from that? Like what are your general thoughts on the whole situation?
Dr. Jennelle: Yeah I was really happy to see the way that she posted about that, and of course she's a beautiful writer so she wrote it so eloquently. But I had a lot of people reach out to me and say, 'Oh my God did you hear? Look, look, look.' And of course having someone who is very well-respected and thought of as one of those really big truth tellers, and truth seekers, and being authentic, and being who you are, it was a really wonderful thing to see her embrace this part of herself that yes, did come about unexpectedly, and I think that's true for a lot of the women in these cases. In fact I've been recently reading this book that actually came out in 2010 but I just came across it, which is 'Dear John, I Love Jane,' and it's letters by women who have left male partners for women. And the range of experience is broad, but of course there's a lot of commonalities, and I absolutely think that bringing more and more light to the fluidity of especially female sexuality. It seems to be more the case, the research has shown, for women to have a more fluid sexuality always, but also more comfortable changing more dramatically at certain points in their life than men do. And I think the part where it's not that you're denouncing the whole life you had before. She never said she didn't love either of her husbands. It's not that Elizabeth Gilbert is saying that secretly this whole time she really was in love her best friend and she just finally got the courage to say so. It was very much a different experience where at this point in her life something in her made her feel very differently towards this woman, and she very much feels in love with her at this point. And that's a very common experience that I've found for women that just fell in love with a woman that was put in front of them, right? So it's not necessarily that they went out seeking women because they felt that they may be looking for that same-sex connection, but they just met someone who really, really connected with them and really- as I always say, spoke to their soul. And that made them want to be comfortable enough to want to pursue that. And so I absolutely think that her bringing light to that in such a poetic way is a really, really big benefit for the community.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely, and I feel like there's just so much that's kind of wrapped up in all of this because I feel like the community- and I think this might be the case generally speaking for people who identify as bi, or pansexual, where they really are more fluid in their sexuality. And I think that we are definitely on some kind of cusp of that being more of the norm than not, because if you look at- I don't know what- I was reading some study not that long ago that was talking about how younger teenagers, people in college, how fluid they are, and how fluid they identify in terms of their sexuality, and I would imagine that if we fast-forward twenty years that is going to be- I would hope that the stigma around being bisexual or pansexual or any number of other ways you could identify yourself would be more common than having to specifically say, 'You're a lesbian.' Because I know you and I had the back and forth via email about my professional lesbian stickers which I though was hilarious, and I have put it out there to say that I am the Professional Lesbian, it is what it is, but at the end of the day when I really think about how I define myself, being a lesbian really is kind of on the bottom of my list. And it sounds crazy to say that when that is my brand, this is my platform, this is what I do, but it seems so kind of counterintuitive in a way. If I'm saying that being a lesbian is really kind of a low priority for me and this is what I do for a living, think about all the other people out there who identify as lesbians. How little of an impact it really has on a lot of things. And of course this all is based on geography, and a whole host of variables, but I find that in thinking of what you're doing, I'm sure there's a lot of people out there, especially with like Elizabeth Gilbert who want to claim that she is now a lesbian when she is not saying that, nor are you. So when somebody is wanting to like put a label on you or the women that you work with, and that label just doesn't fit right for whatever reason, what type of advice are you kind of giving them to help them protect themselves in a way but also kind of educate whoever it is that might be trying to force that label on them?
Dr. Jennelle: Yeah this is a really important and interesting issue around this, and as I've said to you Jenn before, and I've joked that I'm the worst lesbian ever because I'm not a lesbian, and yet the world- most of the world that is not in the LGBT plus community will see me as one because I am in a relationship with a woman, and I think that that's exactly what you're talking about where it's this- the way that you need to communicate with certain people is in that sort of LGBT framework, but yet it's a lot more intricate than that, and I think that's where there is that opportunity for learning and for growth. I have found that people that are in the rainbow community at large, which I'm starting to kind of just say that and say queer because there's too many letters for me to keep up with at this point, but that the allies as well are just it's more about being open-minded. And so if you kind of put that as your home base, you're more likely to find people that are understanding of the fluidity that you're experiencing. Whereas lots of times if you are in the sort of more heterosexual space, that there are a lot of people that are more close-minded about the concept of it being black and white. So it's either you are gay or you're not, and that's it. And so I think for me I had a lot of challenge with not wanting to identify as a lesbian, and I never said I work with lesbian couples, because I really wanted it to be clear that it's not just that, and that there's a lot of women that I work with that don't identify as being a lesbian, and that it's more about for the status of your relationship right now. So I think that that was something that held me back too was sort of like well what label do I even say I want to reach out to? And I think that's again a place where you have to just keep the dialogue open and explain that you know what? This is where I am right now, I wasn't there ten years ago, and who knows where I'll be in another ten years? Even my fiancé now, at the very beginning of our relationship she would love to ask me, "Well if we weren't together would you be with men or women?" And I'd always say, "I don't know, it would depend on the person that I met," which drove her nuts because she has had the very strong feeling since she was younger that she wanted to be with women, her family wasn't exactly supportive to put that very lightly, so she married a man for ten years- who she did love also, I'm not saying that that wasn't there, but it was more of an innate feeling for her for her life. So she says of course, she knows now that she has been with a woman in this way that she would never sort of go back. And so that's a very different experience, right? So you can see from person to person it's just- it's not that black and white, and even in heterosexual couples there's tons of variability. So I think we just have to be more communicative, and again keep that dialogue open about what your individual relationship and identity looks like. And the labels are supposed to help us, but most of the time they don't. As you said being a lesbian doesn't necessarily tell anyone anything about you, other than one really small detail, right? They don't know you any better. It's as much as I tell somebody that I'm a parent, or I'm a female. I mean it's just you don't know that much about someone by applying those labels.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely. And do you find that it's hard to find the women or reach the women who need you most? Because they don't even- let me backtrack. I'm thinking about even the coming out process, and not to say that there is a coming out process specifically here, but to some degree there's like a coming to terms with these revelations. Whether you want to say that you're coming out or not, it's not necessarily- it's all semantics. So if we're looking at that, do you find that the women who would need you most might have a hard time finding you because A) they don't realize you exist and they're kind of used to being shunned by people within the community. Or B) is it that they can't even articulate what it is that they're looking for at that moment? Does that question even make sense?
Dr. Jennelle: Yes, no it absolutely does, and it's exactly the kind of issue I have as well. That it is I try to go back to where I was in that very beginning process for myself and say, 'What would have drawn me in? What would have been the thing that I was like, 'Oh my God, somebody else gets this.'' And part of it, that's the reason I write a lot and I try to get as much published as possible both about my personal life, but about some of these intricacies of being in these kinds of relationships. Because publishing in Elephant Journal- I was reading Elephant Journal before and during, and it had nothing to do with my identity. But if I had come across a piece that was speaking to exactly the experience I had I would have been like, 'Oh my God, this is exactly what I needed to see, and who is this person?' So part of it is sort of thinking outside the box of where these women are finding themselves. And I will say a lot of people there, they are very introspective, and so going to those places where they're reading those sort of deeper articles, and wanting to really understand themselves, and being big in personal development, that's really big. I mean the relationship kind of hubs are not the place that most of these women are, so that's sort of at more my place to educate those that are not understanding rather than to reach the audience that I'm looking to reach. So there's sort of the difference there. But I would say that looking for people who are friends of these people- that's another big thing. I've been connected with women because someone says, "Oh my God, I have friends that are going through this right now, I'm going to tell them about you." And I think that that's where they understand that I'm the really good friend of this person but I have no idea how to relate to them on this, and they would feel so much comfort in knowing that there's somebody besides them. Because you do feel really alone and isolated when your whole world looked different before, it's that undoing. Our friends call it how we came out because when they found out we were together, and that sort of, 'Oh we remember when you came out together.' And then since then though it's really that sort of undoing of everything you knew before, and your whole life around you- it's something that people don't understand can change but also stays the same. Like we have all the same friends we had before, which also then means that none of our friends really understand our relationship dynamic because none of them are in same-sex relationships. So you have to sort of find other ways to connect with people, and I think that that's where- you know very good friends of ours would be like, "Oh I met somebody who was in the same experience, like you guys should connect," and I think that that's where a lot of it happens.
Jenn T Grace: I feel like that makes absolutely the most sense that that's when it would kind of naturally come up in conversation. And in thinking about that, I feel like there's so- the LGBTQ plus queer, whatever we're calling it today, is so complex in so many ways because coming out generally speaking is so incredibly complex that no matter what age you are, what gender you identify as, what level of fluidity you are acknowledging within yourself, there's still so much stigma against one another. So you have like the whole- not theory, the lesbians and gay men hate each other, that whole kind of like stereotype out there. When that is not necessarily the case number one, but in looking at stuff like that I think of like when I came out, and I remember- and this was when I was nineteen, and I used to wear a shirt that literally said, 'I love my girlfriend' on it, and people would still think that I was straight. And it used to drive me absolutely crazy that no matter how 'gay' I tried to appear, it just was completely futile. Like there was just- it just did not work. And that's why I ended up naming- the title of one of my books is, 'But You Don't Look Gay' because I got that phrase all the time. So I'm thinking about how hard it is for lesbians or gay men to feel like they fit in this tribe of people. So you have the straight friends who don't understand you for whatever reason, then you're trying to merge yourself into this community of people who inherently should understand you, but for whatever reason they're not looking at you as being part of their own because you're not looking the stereotype or looking the part. So now what you're doing is like an added layer of complexity on top of that because it's even deeper, because they're not trying to necessarily look any certain part, but yet in a way they're kind of ostracized from two different communities.
Dr. Jennelle: Yeah it's a really interesting- and I can't speak for everyone of course, and I can speak with the clients that I've worked with and then myself, but one of the things that I find- because it is different than coming out at nineteen and wanting to belong in that way, is that a lot of these couples don't actually necessarily want to immerse themselves in the LGBT world. It's more like 'I want to keep my life the way it was in the sense that I have a job, and I already have friends and family, I have kids-' a lot of these people do, and they're just hoping that like everyone they know isn't going to turn their backs, and honestly that almost never happens. There are certainly family members, usually more than friends, that end up having more of an issue with it because it's sort of that reframing of everything they've ever known about their family member, and sometimes that can go really poorly. But most people have said that they don't lose their friends, but it's still- you can't talk about things in the same way, right? So you have a girl's night- I was writing about this recently, you can have a girl's night and of course everybody comes without their spouses and partners, and they kind of bitch about their husbands and boyfriends and all of that, and if you're coming with your partner who's a female then she's there, and you can't really do that. And it's just- it's a different dynamic that your friends will learn. I mean I often think that we are the education to a lot of heterosexual couples because they're like, 'Oh you're like still the same people even though you're now together.' Like our group of friends knew us both before this as two women with male partners, and they've realized that we're not really any different because we're with each other, we're just a much better fit as a relationship. But I think it takes time for the friends to get there, and I think that that's where that first year you feel very ostracized from the world because nobody really understands what you're going through. And I think- I have now as a result, because I've learned that there are more people like us, that it's more comfortable to reach out to the LGBT world, and probably part of the reason I didn't in the beginning, and a lot of couples don't, is because they don't feel like that's really who they are. That they won't be accepted, people won't understand, people will think that they did it wrong or however, and so I think there is a little bit of shying away from even connecting with that identity. So being disconnected from that community is almost a choice in the beginning that you're not quite sure that you belong in it to being with, and it's not even that there's people telling you that. So I don't think it's that you've been discriminated against because you don't fit the lesbian stereotype, but it's that you aren't sure yet that that's who you are, and that you need that community. But I think over time when you learn that, there is a lot more variability within that community that you are more comfortable connecting and associating and finding people that did date men first, and now are with women however they identify. Or had kids with a man and now- I mean there's a lot of women that fall into that category, and so it takes- I think it's just part of the growth process of being in the world. You know I think it's also because as humans we tend to want to hang onto what's stable and secure, so if we can just be with this new person but kind of keep everything else the same, we feel okay about it. Which you do to a degree of course, but you also are going- there is something very different and big that's changed in your life and you need to figure out the way in which you can also expand with that and connect with people that really understand that.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely, and I think that to your point about how you're just kind of out there educating your straight friends and those around you, I feel like every one of us whether we want that responsibility or burden, it's ours to bear. We have- it's our responsibility to be educating people at every turn in the road whether you feel like it or not. I think of- I wish there were a way that we could articulate to the average straight person that by being in a relationship with someone of the same sex, that it literally has no bearing on most of what you do, your day-to-day. And there's no- and I haven't found a way to articulate it yet but I think of most of our- let me back up. A lot of our friends are part of the LGBT community, but our closest friends- like I have two best friends that are both straight women and my wife has two best friends and they're both straight women. So for whatever reason that just happens to be the case for us, because again our LGBT or non LGBT-ness does not really have a bearing on who we choose to hang out with, or who we're friends with, or who we gravitate towards because the sexuality piece is really not the driving factor of friendship in my opinion anyway. But like if we look at being parents, I think that that's been the most eye-opening experience, and maybe to some degree you can speak to this too, is that it's really hard to articulate when you are- for us anyway, we are the token lesbians in our school district as far as parents, and there is like the token gay couple as well. But looking at that, it's like our routines are the exact same thing as the straight couple across the street's routine. It does not matter- like our kids go to bed at the same time, they eat the same food, they do the same things. Like there's literally nothing different, and I haven't found a way to like really express that to get people to understand, but I have found that slow and steady over the last- our kids are eight and ten, like over the last however many years, they have slowly educated people for us because it's harder to argue with an eight year old who loves their two moms, versus arguing with me if they so chose. So do you find that to be the case too, and have you found a way to articulate any of this in a way that gets the average perhaps straight person to understand who may not have a good base level of understanding to begin with?
Dr. Jennelle: I can relate to this on so many levels, and I know my clients can too, and so I think it's such an important point. You know there's two main points I'll say here which is that much like you, we- I always say we bring the diversity to our town, which is pretty sad because we're two white women. But we are the diversity, there's nothing else here. We're a pretty small town, it's predominantly white, there's no other diversity, and we are like the racy ones. And funny enough, when we moved here another couple- a lesbian couple moved here but they divorced right after they moved here, so there happened to be two lesbian couples here. I don't think we have any gay dads, but we're a real small town. So what I always say, and this is my perspective, and I guess I sort of puff up my chest a little bit, and I've always been this way since I came out in this relationship, was that I don't give people an opportunity to think otherwise. So we live in a neighborhood with a ton of kids, and from day one it was just this is what it is. And the second and third day all the kids were hanging out, we overheard them saying how it was so cool that they had two moms in this house, and their friends telling them that was so cool. They're still at the age where having lots of parents is cool, they'll get over that real quick. But I think that that's part of it where it's- because of the fact like you said you know that everything is the same. Your bedtimes, and food choices, and activities, and whatever else, that the more that they are just immersed in that with you, the more that your community says, 'Oh yeah, there is really no difference here.' And I have yet to experience anyone expecting something to be different because of that; because we're in a small, suburban town I think people probably also don't say anything. But we've really also embraced that people are very accepting and happy to see that, and learn that, and also then to know that their kids are growing up seeing that as well. And like you said, the kids are the biggest advocates for us anyway because they're the happiest kids around, and they are completely comfortable talking about their family dynamic. And in our case now their father is in our life, and he's remarried so there's three moms and one dad, and everybody thinks that that's like so cool and crazy, and nobody is saying negative things about it. Now granted our kids are eight and five, so who knows how things will progress, but I do think that's more the role that we do take. As you said it's kind of constant educators just by existing, which you never thought you would be, but that's really what it is, right? Just by existing the way that we do in the world. By going grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon, that we're teaching people that oh yeah, it's not any different.
Jenn T Grace: And I think that there's a flipside to that as well. So for the most part I would say that we are doing a perfectly good and wonderful job at being symbols in our community, because I also live in a very kind of suburban town, we are in the general Hartford area, but we're in the suburbs totally. We at the very least have a lot of racial diversity which we're really, really grateful for. But when it comes to being the token lesbians, it is what it is. But I think of how my wife is a teacher, and there is a- I'm not even entirely sure what her role is, but it's somebody that kind of works in and out of the district, and is also a lesbian and happens to be the wife of a friend of mine. Because of course it's the tiny two degrees of separation with the lesbian community. But in looking at that, the two of them are both kind of- I don't want to say paranoid because that's probably too extreme, but they don't want to be seen talking to each other. So let me just- random tangent here is that my wife comes with like a dozen donuts the other day, and neither of us are donut eaters, and it's because they had some kind of staff meeting, and the friend of hers who's the other lesbian in the town- she doesn't live in the town, she just works in the town, gives her the donuts but they had to do it like in some kind of covert way because they didn't want it to be seen as like the favoritism between lesbians. And mind you they barely even really know each other, they know each other because our- me and her wife are friends, so it's like this very strange- like we can't be seen associating with each other because now we're going to be those stereotypical lesbians that every lesbian knows one another. So there's kind of like this strange flipside that comes with this visibility in a way, because we're all visible whether we are intentionally trying to be visible or not. Like we could just be living in our suburban towns minding our business, and it doesn't matter because we are still known as like that token- for at least us, the token lesbian couple, and even for you guys you're probably labeled as the token lesbian couple even if that's not how you identify. So in looking at that, thinking about kind of all of the bad that can come with that too, because I would imagine that we could both be living in some- it could be an urban area, it could still be our same streets in our small towns, and the neighbors could be fighting every single day for a month, and everyone hears it, everyone's- the talk of the neighborhood that the neighbors are fighting. And the second you know that if you're out on your street fighting with your wife, or I'm out on my street fighting with my wife, suddenly it becomes like an LGBT issue rather than just two people in a relationship who are bickering over something. Like suddenly it becomes such a broader thing and then it's like proving all these stereotypes that they have in their heads about what lesbians do or what lesbians look like. Do you find- like have you thought about this yourself, and does that sound like probably a fair statement?
Dr. Jennelle: Absolutely. I mean I think we are certainly in that neighborhood where everybody sort of knows everyone and all that, not in an annoying way, but everybody sort of knows enough about what's going on in everybody else's lives where if we- we're both very passionate women, we are also very loud, and so arguing or anything else it's sort of like I completely agree that I'm sure there's times where it's, 'The lesbians are arguing.' Or, 'It's so different over there,' where I mean we've seen issues that happen with any other couple, and I agree that I think it's sort of hard to get away. Like we always joke whenever we wave to kids that don't know us that well but they live on our street because they're older than our kids, that it's probably like, 'Oh there's the lesbian couple waving at us,' or whatever. Like the middle school and high school boys are probably like, 'Oh yeah, those two.' It's just I agree completely that there is a little bit of that overshadowing of everything, and I guess I sort of always have felt like even if that's there, as long as it doesn't result in something negative, it's just going to be there. And I think through more and more education and just co-existence, that starts to go away to a degree, but it's also if you have a couple on your street that's much older and their kids are really young, they're that couple that are the really old parents. I mean or whatever, you know it's like there's always some sort of label you get that who knows. Like we have a very active neighborhood and there's a couple in our neighborhood who own a CrossFit gym and they're super, super healthy and fit, and you always say like they're the pillar of like we should be where they are when it comes to health and fitness, and everyone sort of knows that about them. That happens to be more of a positive label obviously, but everyone sort of gets the label in some way. We happened to get one that's more seen and can have lots of issues behind it I think, but it's more socially known, but I think it's also just what you do with that. We really try to also kind of out ourselves at times, like jokingly if something does come across as being really stereotypical. We're like, 'Oh there we go again. Are we building into your stereotype right now guys?' And they laugh because I think everybody is comfortable enough at this point to realize that you're just two people, yes it's really not that much different. There is a difference between like the husbands all do one thing and the wives all do something else, and we never do that. I didn't want to do that with my last relationship either, it's just more the 50/50 partnership perspective. So I think that changes no matter what.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and you just saying that you didn't want to do that no matter what, I think that the other thing that kind of comes up with this conversation is how often are you having conversations with people where they're trying to identify you as their husband. Or like, 'You're so much like my husband,' or your partner is so much like their husband. Because I think that that's something that commonly happens too. So rather than just looking at us for the individuals that we are, and have no necessarily- no bearing on things, I feel like everyone's always trying to label one or the both of us as having some commonality with someone's husband, just because in their minds it's the only way they seem to be able to group things into buckets properly, is that somebody has to have that masculine energy, or masculine trait, or masculine hobby; whatever the hell it happens to be but it's always people are trying to like shove somebody in a bucket. And I witness this for our relationship, I've witnessed it with dozens of others. Is that also kind of what's occurring for you guys as well?
Dr. Jennelle: Absolutely, it's huge and I mean it's funny because both of us obviously were with men before, and those men hung out with the males in our community of friends, yet at this point it's actually more my fiancé Jess who very much is the one that's always like- you know she loves beer, she's a huge athlete, she's big into sports and they're like, 'She's the man.' But yet I mean she's incredibly feminine in every other respect, so it's ridiculous that people are like, 'Oh she's just like a man,' but that's exactly what people do because they're trying to like make sense of it. But we have a lot of friends now where both of us or either one of us can interchangeably hang out alone with the husband and it's not any different. Because we have something we get along about, or we can laugh or talk about whatever, and I think that too has opened up a little bit more room in friendships where people say, 'Oh maybe I should give the female in that relationship a chance to actually see them as a person and not just so-and-so's wife.' And I think that that's sort of another level of education, which is- I wrote about this too recently that I really, really hate- and I really wish people would stop asking like, 'Which one of you is the man in your relationship?' Because even in a relationship where one of the women is identifying more on the masculine spectrum, she's still not a man unless she's decided to be transgender, and then she's transgender. And there's a different issue there and I think that it's just they're trying to figure out the best way to relate, and that's the only way that they know how because that's the experience they have. And I think it's just sort of kind of explaining that, 'Yes I also love sports too, I just never played because I'm just not that athletically able.' Or whatever, I mean it's that continuum and I think again it's all about the education. But we still see that. I mean for sure there's more times in a social situation where I'm talking with more females and she's talking with more males, and I don't know if that's partially like they've carved that out and she's also kind of moved into that at times, but it definitely- I think that's a constant with any two female couple where they're trying to put you in something that they recognize, and it just obviously doesn't always work, but I think it's the best way that they know how to relate.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I think most of it comes down to people aren't trying to be offensive, they're not trying to go out of their way to isolate you, or hurt you or whatever it is, they're just genuinely trying to categorize and put people in buckets because that's just how our brain is wired. We are wired to try to make sense of things, and when something does not look like the other- like if we think of like Sesame Street way back in the day of like one of these things is not like the other, that's the case so people are just trying to figure out how to kind of plop you down in those particular buckets. And I know for us going back to that whole masculine and feminine thing, my wife and I are both very balanced, and neither one of us is like super masculine or super feminine, we're both just your average women, like there's really nothing special about either of us, but yet it's always people being completely and utterly shocked to find out that she is like a romantic comedy junkie, and that's like her- because they look at her and that's not- like for whatever reason that just is not what they think of because she's also super athletic, was an all-star athlete growing up in multiple sports, so when they hear that she's the junkie on romantic comedies and I want nothing to do with them, it always shocks people because apparently I look as if that would be more my thing. And it's like this is the ridiculousness of our lives, and it's more so when you're part of a community of stigmatized people. Because we're not having this conversation with straight women, right? Like there's plenty of straight women who don't like romantic comedies either but yet because I'm a lesbian suddenly that becomes an issue.
Dr. Jennelle: Yeah I would say it's the same thing where my fiancé is seen as way more the man because of the beer and the sports or whatever, but like couldn't be more terrified of bugs, and bees, and spiders.
Jenn T Grace: Oh my God, my wife too.
Dr. Jennelle: And so I'm always like going to save the day with like a bug, and I'm like- which again goes against the stereotype. I'm like oh she's that male masculine stereotype, like really? And then they get all confused. And I'm like because that doesn't make any sense, and it's interesting though is that it's not just the straight couples that we know that have kind of done that. I will never forget this, the first party we went to for this particular other group of friends who does have a lot more LGBT influence in that group, there's several gay couples, there's several lesbian couples, and when we first came to this gathering with a really good friend, I literally- we got stopped in the kitchen, it was a Fourth of July I think or Memorial Day- we both happened to be wearing sundresses, it's the only reason I remember this. This was like 2013 I think, and a particular woman that was there who was with another woman, but everybody says, 'You can't call her a lesbian because she used to date men too,' so I get that concept. But she stopped us in the kitchen and said- she was really upset that we were both wearing dresses and she was like, "Well do you identify?" And we were like, "Identify as what?" And we couldn't figure out what she was asking, and she was like, "Well how do you-" it wasn't even a 'how do you identify,' it was like, "Do you identify" was what she kept saying, and we kept wondering what does that- like do I identify as being a lesbian? Do I identify as being with a feminine? I'm like, "I don't know what you're asking." And I remember just having that really- that was sort of the first clear case where someone who was in the LGBT community was also confused by who were and what we were representing. And so I think it can happen of course not- we didn't fit. I mean of course there's plenty of lipstick couples in the lesbian world too, maybe they're not as common, honestly I don't know, I don't know the statistics, but I think a lot of times especially if we're out that's what we look like more, and I think it still throws people off sometimes that how could we both be into each other, and blah, blah, blah and whatever. And it's a question- I think it's almost that same deal where you're going back to say we- obviously there's something you're not seeing that's what's brought us together, it has nothing to do with any stereotype you're putting on us, and sorry that it doesn't fit into what you were expecting, but here's what it actually is.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and I think that a lot of times in my opinion, it's people within the community who are more hung up on those aspects of relationships than people outside of the community. Because I think people who are outside of the community, they can't wrap their head around two women being together regardless of what those two women look like, versus people within the community, there's all of this baggage, especially older generations that are of people carrying around this stigma, and in some ways that self-resentment towards themselves, or they're used to hearing negative things toward themselves based on what other people have said to them. So they are almost- they're so kind of stuck in that, that they're projecting that onto other people, so when you do have two women who are the 'lipstick lesbians' in a relationship, or the two 'butches' in a relationship, it's the people within the community who often have the biggest complaints about that. And that's at least- and I'm trying not to generalize, this is all just in my personal interactions that I've witnessed, but it's like if we could all just stop for a second and recognize that you can identify yourself however you so choose, I can identify myself however I so choose. We both may have the commonality that we're both in relationships with women, but that is like a very surface level commonality. That might mean that we literally have nothing else in common, like truly nothing else in common other than the fact that we are in a relationship with a woman and happen to be a woman. And that could honestly be the end of it, and yet there's this societal kind of pushing and pulling to some degree that's saying like you have to be friends, like why wouldn't you be friends? It's like, 'Well how about you, straight woman? Why aren't you friends with that straight woman?' And then they give you five reasons why they're not and I'm like, 'Okay so let's apply that to me, it's the same conversation.' But for whatever reason within the LGBT community, so many kind of societal norms just kind of are thrown out the window when in reality they shouldn't because they're just as applicable to us as anybody else.
Dr. Jennelle: And I think maybe some of that goes back to when it felt like it was such a smaller community of people that needed that like place to belong, and be a close-knit group of people, but especially today I mean everybody knows somebody who's in some letter of the LGBT community, and it's just more integrated obviously. You don't have to be like separated and be a pocket. You don't have to go to a town where everybody's gay to fit in, and I think- I mean certainly I think there are places where you do need that sort of community feel and protection if you're living in like the Bible belt, you're probably not walking around like making out with your girlfriend. I mean there's a little more of an issue there with the acceptance level which I understand, but in general the need to belong with other LGBT people purely for that notion. I mean I think that also starts- it's like when you're in high school into college if you're coming out at that age, and you are single, and you are young and wanting to find somewhere to belong period, then it feels really good to know that that's something that you can start with. But I distinctly remember that there was- in high school there was this boy who would literally introduce himself as, "Hi I'm Jesse and I'm gay," and I remember being like, "I know nothing about you," but it's like that's how he literally would put his hand out to shake your hand. And he was written up in the newspaper about it because he was in high school, and he was young, and it was like this suburban town, and whatever how great it was, and I mean very happy that he was super comfortable and out and all of that, but I remember wondering, 'What else are you?' Because that doesn't really tell me anything. And that was sort of- he needed that and people felt connected to him if they wanted to come out because it was a safe place. And I see that a lot in the younger generations I think, if that makes sense. But as we start to get older, I mean of course it's just about what you connect with. You want your friends to parent the same way you do, and like the same things you do, and any of those other areas that make us actually like the people in our life. It has nothing to do usually with our sexuality.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I really think that that's what it comes down to. I think that that's a by-product of aging, and I think that there's probably- we can't deny the fact that there's still a lot of bullying happening to LGBT youth, and the fact that there is kind of the- to some degree I feel like the gay culture is kind of dying in some ways. Like where there's long standing LGBT establishments that were the lesbian bar or the gay bar in specific cities and towns, and they're closing now, and now it's more of just like, 'Hey Thursday night is gay night,' or whatever it happens to be. I do think that there's a big loss to the community that is happening and will probably continue to unravel because those safe places in the areas where- we're both in the northeast, you're in Massachusetts, I'm in Connecticut, we're definitely on a very kind of extreme progressive spectrum in terms of most of the time being very much a non-issue, but there is a whole other area of the country- most of the country I think that still has these types of problems. So I think that to some degree we have a privilege in many ways being in the northeast, or even in New England more specifically, so I don't know. It's just very interesting to see all of how these kind of dynamics play out, and I feel like there's just so much space for you as a thought leader to be able to kind of share your opinions and insights because when we first connected, I know I was like grilling you with questions of like just how you fit or don't fit within this whole LGBT community, and I feel like your message is just so important because in some ways it's very polarizing to some people I would imagine. So I'm just thrilled that you've been on and we've been able to kind of like dig deep into a whole myriad of topics.
Dr. Jennelle: Oh I very much appreciate that, I mean I thank you so much for saying that, and I just think it's- I always say the issues that are difficult, they just need to be- someone needs to keep talking about them because there's more people that are on this path than you know because no one's talking about it, people are uncomfortable. And the whole other parts of the country that you said that don't necessarily have the privilege we have of being in this progressive area are probably really stuck, and maybe they're stuck to the point where they're like having affairs with women instead of leaving husbands, or leaving partners because they're scared and they don't know how to do this. And to open up the platform of giving the opportunity for people to realize that you can get through the hard part, and that there's a place to figure out that just being someone who fell in love with someone of the same sex doesn't mean that you have to change everything you know about yourself, or that everybody else needs to see you completely differently either. And I think that that's- just kind of keeping up that continued conversation, and being that one of the voices that really continually brings this up, because I think it's something that we really need to recognize and continue that embracing of all the variations and just variants of sexuality in our society.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely. So for people who might be listening to this, I have a good mix of my audience between straight folks and people within the community themselves, but for somebody who's listening to this and they're just completely kind of wrapped into what we’re talking about, and they want to reach out to you, what is the- I know that you mentioned the podcast, so what are the ways in which people can kind of get more of your thoughts and opinions, or possibly engage with you one-on-one?
Dr. Jennelle: Sure yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that opportunity. So my podcast is called 'Big Change of Heart,' again it's looking at all the issues with complicated love, but one of the areas that I focus on of course is sort of the big change of heart that happens when you've left a male partner for a female, and that is released every week, so you can go to www.DrJennelle.com/podcast you'll find everything there, or of course we're on iTunes. And then there's also the Big Change of Heart community on Facebook. www.DrJennelle.com/community as well, and it's really a place for people who are also going through similar experiences with their big change of heart, and also trying to keep the love as a priority in their life amidst the chaos and all the external pulls and stresses that come, whether dealing with the issues around sexuality, dealing with blended families, divorce. It's stressful, right? So this is a place to kind of remember why you got together in the first place, and so that's a really great place to come, it's a great growing community, and of course you can always contact me directly at Jennelle@drjennelle.com. I'm always looking to talk with other people that are in these experiences, and what they share they can offer to this community that needs to hear that voice. So I'd love to hear from you, reach out, and I'm also continually looking for people to share their story on the podcast. So if you fall into this big change of heart category, I'd love for you to reach out and consider being a guest.
Jenn T Grace: Awesome, I love it. Thank you so much for being a guest. I'm so happy that we got a chance to connect, and perhaps we will have you on as a second time guest in the future.
Dr. Jennelle: Well thank you so much for the opportunity, it's been a great conversation and I'll look forward to talking again soon.
Jenn T Grace: Great, thank you.
Thu, 29 September 2016
#94: Building a Stronger Queer Community with the Debt Free Guys
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 94.
Jenn T Grace: Hello and welcome to episode number 94 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and today I have an interview for you with the Debt Free Guys, David and John. We really kind of cover a whole gamut of topics starting with a little bit about their background, but then kind of diving into some really actual specific strategies around the best way to launch your personal brand, and really kind of leverage your personal brand. And then of course we talk about some deeper conversations around what's next for the LGBTQ community specifically. So this has been a really good episode, I hope you enjoy it, and if you are looking for information for the episode itself, if you go to www.JennTGrace.com/94 for episode number 94, you will find all of the information that you need right there. As usual if you have any questions, comments, thoughts, feel free to reach out to them directly, reach out to me, however you want to do it. I am on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, you can also go to my website, I'm pretty much Jenn T Grace on every platform so feel free to reach out with any thoughts that you have, and enjoy the show.
Alright so I want to focus today just kind of talking about you and your stories. I think when we were talking I had said that a client of mine found something that you had written in relation to personal finance, and then I discovered you and I was like, 'Oh look, how fun.' And since you so clearly state that you're husbands, and business partners, and the Debt Free Guys, and you just kind of put it all out there, I just want to start with your story and just kind of have you give a background for the listeners, and just kind of explaining how you got to where you are, and then from there we can kind of just organically continue on the conversation.
David Auten: Yeah so I'm David.
John Schneider: I'm John.
David Auten: And we are the Debt Free Guys. John and I are bloggers, authors, public speakers, we have a podcast called 'Queer Money' and our focus is helping our community, the queer community, live bigger and better lives by being money conscious. Our primary belief is that a strong queer community is a viable strong queer community when individually we are financially strong. It allows us to focus on helping not only the community, but doing work in service and finding ways that we can help change hearts and minds of individuals who may not feel that a queer life is the best life, or a life that adds value to the overall community. And that's kind of our focus more recently, we've really started talking a lot about this. We believe that as a queer community it's time for us to step up and help our larger community because they've done so much for us in helping us get the rights and privileges that we have today. And so we want to do that, but we also believe that we can't be distracted financially whether it's student loan debt, consumer debt, or just hating the job that we go to every day. So we want to help people, like I said, live bigger and better lives.
Jenn T Grace: So how long have you been doing what you do, and what was the original kind of spark that made you say that this- because if you think about starting a blog, it's such a long road to really kind of get your audience built and all that kind of stuff. So what made you think like, 'We have this message that we want to share. How are we going to go out and do this, and then how are we going to monetize what we're doing?'
John Schneider: Sure. So David and I got together about thirteen years ago, and about a year and a half after we were together we realized that between the two of us we had a total of $51,000 worth of credit card debt, and the irony is that we were both in financial services. We were helping other people with their money, but we obviously weren't helping ourselves. So we decided that we weren't living the lives that we wanted to live, we had got wrapped up in the clubbing scene, the partying scene, and this wasn't really the trajectory we wanted to go with our lives. So we decided that we need to pay off our debt, and we created a strategy to do so in three years, and ended up actually paying off our debt in two and a half years. And then shortly thereafter we moved from a basement apartment to buying a house in a high rise that overlooks the downtown Denver and the mountains. So our lives completely changed and so we felt both based on our professional experience and personal experience that we could maybe help others live better lives as well. So we wrote a book called '4: The Four Principles of Debt Free Life,' and that kind of started our journey as the Debt Free Guys. We published that about two years ago, but about a year prior to that was when we started to dabble into the blogging space and our first account was on- was it on Blogger? And we had several iterations since then. So we've probably been the Debt Free Guys and been blogging for about three years, our book was published two years ago, but it wasn't until last year that we went to FinCon '15 which was in North Carolina. FinCon is a personal finance blogger conference that kind of merges bloggers, and media, and banks and brokerage firms together to all kind of give everybody an opportunity to talk and to network. And when we were there, there were probably about 800 people in all spaces, and we realized that you've got your mommy bloggers, and you've got your dads, and you've got all sorts of different niches that are trying to help their particular followers live better lives by spending wisely, saving wisely. But there was nobody that was reaching out specifically to the queer community. And so David and I thought, 'Oh we're queer. We know these people, we are these people, and nobody's reaching out to us.' And like David said, we do think that in order for us to be a strong queer community, one of the pillars of that strong queer community is that we are financially strong as individuals. And so we thought, 'Wow, maybe we should start to nuance our message.' When we wrote the book and we were blogging before, we didn't hide that we were a gay couple, but we just weren't as I guess out about it as kind of a by-product of our message. Well now since for about a year we've been really targeting the queer community. That's how the Queer Money Podcast that we started in March came about, that was the impetus for that.
Jenn T Grace: So when you decided to create the Queer Money Podcast, what made you choose going with Queer Money versus some other word that you could use in place of the- or acronym that you could have used in place of queer?
John Schneider: So there were a couple reasons. One is I was starting to have trouble to say LGBTQA, and everything that we add to it. So it doesn't fall off my lips easily and I don't think the branding is really appealing. It looks inclusive but it kind of gets lost and muddled. Especially if you're not in the queer community, you kind of don't know what all those letters stand for. And the other thing is we have so many nuances of gender and sexual orientation that it started to feel- that we're starting to bifurcate everyone, put everybody in different silos. And we thought we want to talk to the entire community, we want to talk to all the LGBTQ people. So we thought that queer just kind of was the most inclusive word that we could come up with. We know that a lot of people don't like that word, but we think that we can change the definition of that.
Jenn T Grace: May as well, right?
David Auten: Right, and to be honest I like that word. I like the word queer. I know that for a lot of people in the past it has a connotation of being different, and being odd, or being less than. But I think that when we look at ourselves we are different, and it's something that we're proud of, and it's something that we wanted to bring into our podcast was the differences. When we look at the financial differences of what it's like for a gay couple who want to have children. What are the financial nuances around that? What are the financial nuances around a transgendered man or woman who's going through transition? What are their financial decisions that they have to make? And then maybe you look at other parts of our community and the financial decisions that we have to make around marriage. And for individuals who live in the 28 states where it's still legal for someone to fire you for being gay, there are financial decisions and choices that you have to make when it comes to wanting to get married. So we want to cover all of that in our podcast, and we are doing that, and we think that by identifying as queer it allows us all to be a part of this inclusive group where we're talking together about what we need financially.
Jenn T Grace: So I think all of that makes such perfect sense. So did you think that when you started out with this that you would become I guess personal brands in your own way? Because you are branding yourselves so succinctly as the Debt Free Guys, and then having Queer Money, was that kind of an intentional thing that you set out to do, or did it kind of happen organically as you've just been doing this?
David Auten: It's funny that you ask that question because I would love to say we're smart, but no all of a sudden it wasn't until a few months ago that we started to realize that Queer Money is becoming its own brand. We had worked for three years to make Debt Free Guys a brand, and then all of a sudden we're like- and oddly enough Queer Money is becoming a brand much more quickly. And so it's purely by accident but we'll totally take advantage of that.
Jenn T Grace: May as well, right?
John Schneider: When we originally sat down and talked about becoming the Debt Free Guys, we did have a conversation that lasted for several hours around who did we want to be? And our story at the time was that we were a gay couple who got out of debt and we wanted to share that with other people, but we decided to leave gay out of the title, and I think because we were trying to appeal to a mass audience, but with Queer Money we know exactly who it is that we're looking at and sharing conversations of success stories, and mistakes that we've made, and how as a community- like we've said before, can be financially strong.
David Auten: That said though, we do own the domain name Debt Free Gays.
Jenn T Grace: Nice.
David Auten: We might change that someday.
Jenn T Grace: That could be funny. Actually when I had skyped you as we were about to start I just typed in 'Gys,' I mean to say 'Guys' but I'm like, 'Oh I actually could go for 'Gays' too.' So it's funny that that works out well.
John Schneider: You're not the first person who has done that and said that to us.
Jenn T Grace: I feel like to a certain degree- so if you were the Debt Free Gays, right? So would there be some level of it sounding disparaging perhaps? Because if we think back to how queer, in so many ways you are part of that movement that's reclaiming the word queer, so it is something that means something more positive than previous connotations to it. What about 'the gays'? I feel like 'the gays' is something that you hear crazy right wing, completely opposed to anything LGBT related, say. But it would be interesting to see how Debt Free Gays would go. What do you think would happen?
David Auten: I think that that's one of the things that's part of our purpose, is that we want to change the conversation that even our gay community is having. One of the things that John and I have found is that especially gay men in our community, there is this strong sense of wanting to show everyone how fabulous our lives are. And unfortunately for a lot of people, a fabulous life does not also equal a debt free life. They hock themselves into financial ruin trying to live a fabulous life. But we want to share with people that gays can still have that fabulous life that is coming through the media. You know you see this on TV, every time you see a gay couple on TV they seem to be fabulous.
John Schneider: White upwardly mobile.
David Auten: Right, exactly. So we want to keep that idea that you can have a fabulous life, but you can also do this in a very money conscious way, a way that will allow you to live that fabulous life throughout your whole life.
John Schneider: Yeah I think it's ironic because we have straight friends who call us 'the gays,' and it's a term of endearment. But I do see media and certain demographics who refer to that disparagingly. What was weird too when we had the conversation about whether or not queer was a smart option to choose, I posted something linking to one of our Queer Money podcasts and I simply asked the question of, 'Can saying I'm gay get you fired?' I chose those words because I had 120 characters to use, and it was really interesting how quickly other people in the queer community came back and said, 'Transgender people can get fired and lesbians can get fired, so why are you excluding everybody?' I'm like, 'I didn't really mean to, I just only had 120 characters and I just went with that.'
David Auten: So I think the words take on the meaning that we allow them to have, and if somebody wants to refer to me as gay or part of the gays, I'm fine with that. It took a long time to get here, I'll stay.
Jenn T Grace: So what is interesting as you're talking, I think there's so many- when you're building a personal brand, you're putting yourself out there in many ways, and I think that what you're emphasizing is important for people who are listening who are part of the community, who are working on building a personal brand, that when you do decide to stick with one term versus another, that you are going to catch hell from some fraction of the LGBT community whether it's intentional or not. And I remember when I started with my tagline of 'I teach straight people how to market to gay people, and gay people how to market themselves,' I got a world of shit for that because I was saying gay and I wasn't saying LGBT, and I was saying, 'Listen if my marketing- if my primary audience are straight people, they don't know what LGBT stands for. It's my job to help teach them what that means.' And that's exactly what you're saying around the word queer which I think is super awesome. What you were just saying though, just I have a question here because I'm wondering if people bring this to you. I have been called out in rooms while I'm speaking or presenting on something when I'm talking about the disposable income of the LGBT community, or the buying power, or some flashy statistics of saying how great the LGBT community is from a consumer standpoint. But then there's a lot of data and studies that show that there is equal if not more poverty among people who are LGBT, and of course there's a lot of different variables on that. Do you find that people ever comment to you on that? Or are you addressing that issue kind of from a head on standpoint? Because it feels like you have the perfect platform to be helping people who may not be in the best socioeconomic status, get them there because this is what you do.
John Schneider: Right, we have seen statistics, I think the most recent one was 2015 that the queer community has about close to a trillion dollars in buying power, but that's excluding taxes and saving for retirement. But what's interesting is the cost to raise a child from the age of birth to eighteen (not including college) is about $245,000, and the queer community obviously doesn't have as many children as the straight community does, but ironically we only tend to have about $6,000 more than our straight peers when it comes to saving for retirement or savings at all. So there's definitely a disparity there and we've heard a statistic that we're trying to verify, I've heard it several times just not found the source, that about 40% of the queer community is in the service industry, food service or bartending. And so that kind of puts us kind of behind the eight ball when it comes to planning, and being prepared for retirement and saving for other financial goals. So we are cognisant of that, nobody's called us out on it or asked questions about it, but we are trying to address that.
David Auten: One of the other things that we have done a little bit of research on, and I think is indicative of to what has happened in our community, in the US so much of our personal net worth is tied up in the value of our homes whether you're in the gay community or straight community. And if you look at a lot of the people who are queer, they moved into areas, into cities, and specifically into neighborhoods that oftentimes in sixties, seventies and eighties, these were neighborhoods where they were less desirable, and that has completely changed. Those communities, those neighborhoods now are in many cases, they are some of the most desirable. I think of places like Castro or Chelsea in New York, even here in Denver Capitol Hill. And so a lot of individuals, although they did not earn a lot of money, they bought well in the sixties, seventies and eighties with their homes, and that has translated into a lot more net worth. So outward appearances I think for a lot of individuals is that we have- we're very well off because we are living in these communities, but I think that there's also statistics out there that show that as specifically as gay men, one statistic showed that a gay man will spend about $54,000 more on education, time and energy to equal the same pay as his straight white male counterpart. There's a lot of statistics out there that show that lesbian women and the family structures that they have, oftentimes they have more expenses but are earning less. There is this dichotomy in our community too I think that's even stronger than it is in the straight world, where we have some very, very, very high earning gay individuals, and that kind of throws off the average. So I think the average gets pulled up by individuals who are very high earners, but as John said that there is a significant number of individuals who are working in the service community, and they may not have access to be able to earn as much, or have not taken the time and effort to earn more in their lives
Jenn T Grace: So I totally agree with everything that you're saying. I was just at a conference and they were talking about LGBT business owners, and basically the revenue numbers of LGBT business owners. And depending on how you want to play the statistics, if you're looking at the pie chart in one way you can say, 'Okay it looks like 70% of them are earning less than $100,000.' But then if you're looking at a different way of framing that is, 'Oh the average LGBT business owner is making $2 million because that 30% that's over the $100,000 is so enormous that it completely overpowers more of kind of what the reality looks like. So when we're talking about statistics and numbers, and you're focusing on educating people, I'm focusing on educating people, and we're to some degree focusing on educating the same people. Where are you finding the most people who are resonating with your message? Do you have statistics on that? Or not even like real data, but just kind of off the cuff. Is it more men like yourselves? Is it more women? Is it urban, suburban? Like is there any kind of breakdown and is there anything that you can attribute to why that fan base is following you?
John Schneider: So we've done some market research a couple different ways and we find that our primary audience is gay men between the ages of 35 and 55, and their two primary concerns are number one, paying off debt whether student loan or credit card. And number two is saving for retirement. Why that's the case, I would think probably because we're gay men between the ages of 35 and 55 and we paid off credit card debt. But I also think it's about thirties and forties I think when people start to say, 'Alright well I didn't make as much as I thought I was going to make and I didn't save as much for retirement as I had hoped to at this point, so now it's time for me to get my act together. So I think that may be why that demographic is resonating with us. I also think while we've tried to reach out to the queer community, we haven't yet resonated or caught the attention of the other demographics within the queer community; lesbians and transgender people. But like David said we're definitely trying to do that. We think that people like you, and people like us, we have a platform and it's important for us to make sure that we're doing our best to try to lift all boats in the ocean, and not just focus on the white upwardly mobile gay people that we see on TV.
David Auten: Right. I think that one of the other things is that you look at some of the other demographics, and I'm going to specifically look at racial demographics- down racial lines. Individuals who are African American and Hispanic are oftentimes raised in households where money is very scarce, so they're raised with that scarce mentality, and so talking about money is something so foreign to them that they may not be attracted to a message like ours. And so we're trying to break that down. We've had several guests on our show who are African American, who are moving in that right direction, have businesses that are trying to work in their community as well as being in the queer community, to raise awareness around being financially fit.
Jenn T Grace: In terms of your- the structure of your podcast, have you proactively really sought out finding diverse people? Because I know for myself even getting people on my podcast, I try but yet a lot of times I still end up having lesbians on my podcast because that's who is a huge part of my audience. So I know that you said that that's kind of happening to you as well, just it's people who are part of your own demographic. Of course we all kind of gravitate toward people that are like us, it's just kind of human nature, so have you put together any type of strategy where you're thinking, 'Okay I'm really going to make a concerted effort to find more women, more people in the trans community, more people of color, or whatever it happens to be, or has it just been very kind of organic as you've gone through?
John Schneider: It's been sort of both. We've had African American people and lesbians on our show, probably fewer lesbians than African Americans. We have reached out to several transgender people to have them come on our show. The way we typically get guests is either through networking on social media and actually real life which is kind of scary. But we hear people make comments or they say things in different meetings or events that we're at, and we think, 'Oh that could be interesting on our show.' We're not typically focused on their gender or their heritage, it's more that they've got an interesting story to tell and for the most part that organic approach has worked out for us, but we have made some strategic effort. Because we do- there are some questions, and if David and I aren't familiar with what it's like to be transgender, and our concern is what is the cost of transitioning? And can we help people who are considering transitioning prepare financially so that they can do so and not impact their retirement or affect too egregiously other financial goals.
Jenn T Grace: Interesting.
David Auten: I think that we do like to look at a holistic view of our community. So we are actively looking for individuals in our community that fit these various niches within the group. Like John said, we have actively pursued going out and trying to find someone who is transgender. We have actively gone out and looked for individuals who can carry on a valuable conversation around what it's like to be a queer youth who is homeless. So we are looking for that because we know that it isn't just individuals who are listening to our show that identify with that, but it's individuals who are listening to our show that want to hear, like John said those stories, and know what else is going on in our community. That makes us stronger when we realize our diversity, and we appreciate that diversity, and can support each other.
John Schneider: Yeah I think a good example was when we had a show about- 'There Are Gays Richer than You' is what the title of the show was, and we had a lesbian on the show, she's a regular talk show host and a psychology professor, and she let us know- and this is our own fault for not being more aware, that 40% of homeless youth identify as queer. And we were like astounded by that so then that opened up another discussion. Like how can we identify these people and help them out with our platform? So that's why we started to seek out people who are helping and people who are a part of that demographic.
Jenn T Grace: That's so awesome. So do you have any plans of not necessarily having a philanthropic arm to what you're doing, but more of just kind of the giving side? I'm sure you're already very much naturally doing that, but in terms of being able to take the education you're providing people, that kind of added step further for the people that might not be able to afford working with you one-on-one, or whatever that might look like?
John Schneider: We have started doing that. We actually had an event in Philadelphia back in July, and the event was called Queer Money: Launching Your Success, and it was held at the William Way Foundation which is an organization that specifically caters to queer youth. And the desire of that event was to try to share with queer youth individuals in their community who have made a success of themselves; and success is all different kinds of definitions, it's not just financial, it's individuals who have built a life that they want. And so we want to continue with those events so that we can reach more queer youth and help them see that life does get better, and this is how it gets better. These are the people who have done it, and here are some examples, and you can use them as resources. So we have kind of a broad look at it right now with that. We aren't doing any individual one-on-one yet.
Jenn T Grace: So what is your vision? Because I feel like what you're up to is so amazing. Are you trying to move into a space where the two of you become bigger, more well-known public speakers, and really kind of having more of these events that you can be doing? I'm just curious because I feel like it truly sounds like the sky is the limit because you're doing such good work.
David Auten: Thank you.
John Schneider: Thank you, appreciate that. Such a reputable source. So our main goal is to strengthen the queer community so that we can fight the fight for equality which is obviously not yet over, and so that we can then- like David said earlier, we can be more impactful or powerful contributors to the broader society. Strategically how we're doing that, we're not myopic in any particular way, but we're focusing on obviously the Queer Money Podcast, we are writing as well, and then we are public speaking. Right now the podcast has most of our focus, but hopefully we can broaden that out a little bit more as the podcast becomes more self-sustaining.
David Auten: And when John mentioned that we are writing, it's not just writing at our site www.DebtFreeGuys.com. We are partnering with a number of other publications; Business Insider which is not known as a queer resource, but we work with them so that we can provide them with queer content. We also work with Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, and a couple of other websites and publications that allow us to kind of reach a very broad audience. One of the other things that we are doing, and if anyone who is listening is a part of this community, we are right now working with local gay magazines and websites to provide them with syndicated content that will allow them to reach their local community, helping them build that strong financial foundation. So for example there's a magazine in the Midwest where we have content in that magazine, and then on their website which will highlight not only our focus on providing the queer community with financial tools, but also providing our podcast so they can listen to it there. And really the desire is to build kind of a grassroots effort among queer communities that let's focus on being financially strong, let's focus on being a support for our community, and the larger community in general.
John Schneider: Yeah I think, as David's speaking, we're part of the queer community, but we're also part of the finance community. We've been in personal finance for 31 years, we've worked for big brokerage houses, and one of the things that David and I have noticed is that since June, 2015 the finance community seems to think that because same sex marriage passed, that there are no other issues that the queer community needs to deal with financially. And obviously as you know, that's not true. And so we're trying to- the reason why we're passionate about reaching out to those bigger- and working with those bigger publications is because we think that it's important, especially on their platforms, to show that there are nuances that are unique to our community, and this is how you can address them.
Jenn T Grace: Okay so I have two completely different trains of thought happening right now, so I just wrote one down to come back to in a minute. But the first one is- so the people who are listening to our conversation right now are people who are trying to figure out how to go about starting a personal brand, or maybe adjusting the one they have, or just being more conscious about what they're doing. So what I think you just mentioned is so incredibly important is about being in publications that are more mainstream publications, where the LGBT community is a sampling of the rest of the world, so we are from all diverse backgrounds, you name it. So you're strategically working on being in those types of mainstream publications. So my question for you is around what was your- I don't even want to say strategy because I'm sure there wasn't actually a strategy at the time, but like what was that first article, or source, or magazine, or newspaper that you landed where you recognized like, 'Okay this is so what I have to be doing, is focusing on getting more of this.' And then what did it look like to actually try to get more of them? Because I know a lot of people who struggle with getting mainstream kind of publicity in a way, but you're obviously coming from a place of giving value, which I think is easier to do it when you're doing it from that direction. But what has that process looked like for you, and what might you share as a tip for someone listening to this who's also trying to figure that out themselves right now?
David Auten: Sure so when we started Debt Free Guys and we started blogging we thought, 'Well we got out of debt, we've got a story to tell, people should just want us to write for them,' right? We thought Oprah was going to have us on her show. That's not how it works. And luckily it didn't work that way because our message has become much more clear, and our writing has gotten much more succinct and better. So I think in hindsight if we were to tell somebody the strategy to execute on, it would be to first start a blog. I have to tell you the first time we actually published something that actually had one of our names on it, wasn't just generically Debt Free Guys, it was scary. I walked around for like an hour before I actually posted it, but I knew it was something we had to do because when you put yourself out there, then you put yourself out there for the good and the bad, and I wasn't necessarily prepared for the bad. But so we wrote for about two years on our own blog, and then through the connections from blogging that we made on social media, we started to write for other blogs that may not be well-known to most people. But it helps get you out there and gets your comfortable with exposing yourself and your thoughts. And then the next catalyst to our success was we went to FinCon last year and we networked with a bunch of people. So whatever niche you're in, I would highly suggest finding your people, finding conferences of people who do what you do, and people who would support what you do, and we networked with a group of people who offered to syndicate our content, which was awesome. And so they were the first ones to get us on Yahoo Finance, and the first time we were on Yahoo Finance it was really weird. Basically what we did was we told our story of how we became the Debt Free Guys, and who we are, and we were pretty out and open about being a gay couple, and we were on the home page of Yahoo Finance all morning.
John Schneider: We were doing cartwheels and we both had day jobs at the time so we had to be like focused on somebody else's work while we were also consumed with our own. And it was at that point we thought, 'Wow this is really something that we can do something with,' and that's when we started to research. We hadn't really paid attention that much, but that's when we started to research that since June 2015 nobody's really been talking about LGBT money issues, and we can really help these publications reach a different audience, and also reach an audience that needs to hear the message.
David Auten: It was kind of funny that John talks about that first day we were on Yahoo Finance. I was sitting at my desk and around the cube comes- around the wall comes the guy who sat next to me and he says, "Hey come here." And I got up and I walked over to his desk and he goes, "This is a picture of you on Yahoo Finance." And I hadn't really been that out with people and sort of what I was doing, so that was a very fun experience. One of the other things that John and I would absolutely recommend if you're trying to grow your personal brand, and I think a lot of people kind of blow off Twitter, they think it's not worth it. Twitter is an amazing tool that allows you to connect with individuals who you may not be able to find otherwise at publications, at companies, at organizations where they would be hidden by or barriered by a number of walls for you to be able to get to them. So if you want to write for a particular publication, go out and see who on Twitter is a part of that organization. If you want to do public speaking for a particular school, go out and find who are the leaders that work with that school that are on Twitter. Start engaging with them in conversation. Don't ask right away, but just start engaging with them around what is it that they do, what is it that they want, what is valuable for them, and then you can introduce what you have that might be of value to them. One of the biggest pieces of advice that John and I ever got was don't ask for a handout, ask for a hand up. And that's very important. When you're going to a company, an organization or a school, and you want to work with them, you can't just say, "Hi I want-" and ask them. Just like with the sales process. We all want someone to kind of charm us, or we want someone to provide us with some sort of information that it gives them the invitation to sell to us. Well the same thing goes with our introductions to these organizations. We have something of value, you have something of value that they want. You truly believe this in your heart, that you have something of value that they want, you want to slowly introduce that to them, and Twitter is a great way to do that.
Jenn T Grace: I think that's such valuable advice, and I'm sure you are both familiar with Gary Vaynerchuk and his whole- he's an acquired taste for sure, however I enjoy his very aggressive and go-getting personality. But his book- and I actually handed it out to people that work for me. 'Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook' exactly exemplifies what you're talking about where it's really all about giving, and giving, and giving, and when the timing is right, asking for whatever it is that you need. But we all- and I think that at least the three of us talking right now are all coming from such a place of service where we're genuinely trying to just help the LGBT community be stronger and better regardless of what shape that takes. But I think it's so natural for us to be constantly giving, and then asking when appropriate. But I don't necessarily know that everybody can kind of translate that mindset into kind of their day-to-day business where maybe they're in a service-based business since you were talking about service-based before, it's a lot harder to actually find I think that right balance.
David Auten: I think that it's also kind of similar to when you want to go to your boss and ask for a raise. You can't go to your boss and just say, "Hey I want a raise." You've got to go with, "Well I did this, and I did this, and I did this, and I can do this for you, and I can do this for you. This is why I am worth X number of dollars or percent more." We have to do the same thing with the other organizations that we want to work with. We want to show them, 'This is what I've done for you, this is what I've done for you, this is why I'm valuable, why you should pay me to do something.'
Jenn T Grace: That's exactly, exactly it. So you've obviously learned to build relationships with media, and publications, and really kind of take the long strategic road of connecting with people on Twitter. Have you found any value in any other social media platforms, or have any just kind of general tip that might be helpful for someone just starting out?
John Schneider: I think it's important to find out where your audience is. Our audience, Debt Free Guys, Queer Money audience is on Facebook. But I know a lot of people in the finance community, especially the mommy bloggers, their community is on Pinterest. I know a lot of the media folks in our space, their biggest platform is LinkedIn. So I think you need to find out who it is you're trying to serve, and then make sure you have a presence there. It's not all about obviously just connecting and trying to grow your brand, but it's also about trying to serve, like you said, and we want to find out where the people are that you want to serve, and I think that's very important. It's easy to get distracted living in such a ferret society right now because there's so much social media, and somebody says, "Oh if you're not on Instagram you've been missing out." "If you're not on Pinterest you're missing out." And there was a time there when David and I were trying to be on everything and I think Gary Vaynerchuk is very good at figuring out how to appropriately be on everything, but our belief is that our audience isn't everywhere, and we can't be everywhere. So we primarily focus on Twitter and Facebook, but somebody else's audience and somebody else's business partners might be on different platforms. So our advice would be to find out where your people are and then be there.
Jenn T Grace: And there is a known strategy which is Pat Flynn's strategy of be everywhere, but I would caution against that especially just starting out to really don't go half-assing every social media outlet. Focus on like two where your people actually are, and really kind of hit it out of the park there.
John Schneider: Exactly, and we're actually going to see Pat next week.
David Auten: Yeah, and you bring up a very good point there of half-assing it. You only have so much amount of time, especially if you are starting out and this is your side hustle. Or you're just starting out and you do have some financial backing but not a lot. You have a limited amount of time. So if you only are able to spend a limited amount of time, do it where you can hit a home run. And not everything you do is going to hit a home run, but do it where you can really, really be effective. So if you're trying to hit seven different social media platforms, there's no way you're going to hit seven home runs in a row, it's just impossible, it's not going to happen. Not even Pat Flynn can do that, not even Gary Vaynerchuk can do that. Not everything that they do is wildly successful. So focus on building that audience in one or two places and then you're going to be able to hit a home run there, and once you get consistently hitting home runs there, move on to somewhere else.
John Schneider: Yeah I think what you want to do is try- you want to get a following and if you can get your 1,000 raving fans, then you're set for success, and it's easier to get those 1,000 folks following you if you're targeted, and it's easier to do that when you're on one or two platforms. Maybe when you get big enough and you have a social media staff and you want to be everywhere like Gary V, it's a little bit easier. But when you're just doing this in your kitchen it's a little bit harder so stay laser focused.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely. Oh I love the paths that we've gone down, and I know that we're getting close on time so this will be the last question that I ask you, and then you can shamelessly promote what you have going on. But this stemmed from something earlier that you were talking about, and the question is what do you see as the next kind of big fight or great fight for the LGBT community? We know that we have marriage equality, which yay to some degree, but at the same time we still don't have equal protections in the workplace. So there's a lot of kind of stuff that's still going on. From your standpoint- so I guess maybe it's a two part question. Like what do you think is the next fight that people are going to be going after? But secondly, what do you think your role in that is with the platform that you have?
David Auten: Sure. I think John and I have had a little bit of discussion around this, and one of the things that we are very cognisant of right now is the differences from state to state, and that's one of the keys for us as individuals. I live in Colorado, you live in I think Connecticut?
Jenn T Grace: Yes.
David Auten: Is that right? Right, yeah and other people live in all these variety of other states. The laws that are affecting you as an individual, that will impact you the most are the ones that are at the state level. I think of individuals, and we've found this out recently, if you're a gay man or woman you can adopt a child in Florida.
John Schneider: That law just changed, I was corrected. Until recently.
David Auten: Right, but when you got married you were not allowed to adopt. So it's through our efforts as individuals going at the state level and saying, 'How can we make our laws more inclusive of all our community?' I think it's four states have laws that protect transgendered individuals in the workplace, we already said that 28 states have laws that allows an individual to be fired because they're gay. That's a state level issue, and when we can equalize things at the state level, then we're getting protections for everyone. And so that's one of our facets that we're fighting for now. We are going to be working at having individuals on the Queer Money Podcast that highlight those state level issues so that all of us can be aware of how different things are at the state level. It's very easy for us to say, "Oh well yeah, you live in the United States, you should be out." Well if you live in a small town in Arkansas and your life and your family is dependent upon the job that you have, and you don't want to move to a big city, or you can't afford to move to a big city, it may not be easy for you to be out. So we want to help try to change thinking at the state level right now.
Jenn T Grace: I think that's so important. So I was just at a conference and I was on a panel with a couple of people from large corporations and we were talking about supplier diversity, and being an LGBT-owned business and how by announcing that you're an LGBT-owned business to a company that you want to do business with- so say you're in Michigan and you want to do business with Kellogg's, it's all well and good that you have now outed yourself to this company, but what ramifications does that have if you're in a remote town in Michigan where it's not acceptable for you to actually be out. So you're outing yourself for this business opportunity, but at the same time are you putting your personal safety potentially at risk. And there's this very interesting balance of when it's safe to be out and when it's not safe to be out, and I think that for people maybe- I'm not entirely sure about the climate in Colorado but I know in Connecticut it's far less of an issue here and it has been far less of an issue for a very long time. But I know that if you go to Tennessee for example, it's a totally, totally other story. So it almost seems that having people in places like myself, or even possibly you, where we're in better situations so we can advocate for different states to kind of get that same level of equality that obviously we're all searching for.
John Schneider: Yeah Denver's pretty inclusive, we can hold our hands pretty much anywhere. But that's why I think it's incumbent upon us to spread that message. We're in the safe space, it's our responsibility, those who have more need to do more, and so it's incumbent upon us to use our platform and to use the safe space that we live in to make lives better for our brothers and sisters elsewhere.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah you're public figures, you have no choice at this point.
David Auten: And I think that's part of the reason why John and I make a concerted effort to reach out to some of those larger financial publications that are read by millions and millions of people across the country. We know that our article about being a gay couple and paying off our debt was read by individuals who live in small towns across America, and it's going to be the individuals who are reading that that are gay, that are going to be let's hope inspired by that to do the same, or to just feel comfortable about who they are. But it's also the individuals who are not who see that and say, "Yahoo Finance cares about gay people. That's interesting." Or "Business Insider cares about gay people. That's interesting." Or I should say 'queer.' They care about queer individuals. It just changes that message or that conversation in their head, and our whole- John and I have talked about this for a long time. Winning hearts and minds of individuals who are enemies when it comes to our lifestyle is one of the benefits that we have of being public figures, and we want to do that.
Jenn T Grace: It's a responsibility, yeah absolutely. I love it, we're so on the same page on so many things, I love it. So for people who are listening and now they're interested, they want to get out of debt or they just want to learn more about you, where are all the ways in which they can find you?
John Schneider: We are the Debt Free Guys, and so we're at www.DebtFreeGuys.com, and on Facebook and Twitter you can find us at Debt Free Guys. We have our book, '4: The Four Principles of a Debt Free Life' on www.Amazon.com and a couple other places, but I think Amazon is the easiest. And then like we suggested if it's not already apparent, our main focus right now is the Queer Money Podcast, which is on iTunes and Stitcher and Sound Cloud. We also have some of our videos for the podcast on YouTube at Debt Free Guys. So that's where our primary focus is right now, and we would love for anyone who listens to our podcast because of listening to your podcast to share with us any feedback; if they like anything, hate anything, if there's anything they want us to talk about, or anyone they think we need to reach out to, we would love to have that feedback.
Jenn T Grace: Perfect, I like it. And for the listeners, your first and last names? I know you said your first names in the beginning but just for the sake of it.
John Schneider: I'm John Schneider.
David Auten: And I've David Auten.
Jenn T Grace: Perfect. Beautiful! Well thank you so much for coming on the show, this will be out shortly, and of course all the stuff that we talked about, I'll make sure that I have links all in the show notes for the audience to just find this much easier. But thank you, this has been great, I really appreciate it.
John Schneider: Absolutely and thank you for the opportunity. When you have links and whatnot, let us know and we'll absolutely flood our social media with it as well.
Jenn T Grace: Beautiful, you bet. It should be out on- my plan is going to be the 29th, so September 29th.
John Schneider: Okay so I'll put you on our event calendar on our website. And then a long time ago we had talked about having you on our podcast, so I'll send you some information, see if we can schedule that.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah that would be awesome. Yeah, I would love to help in any way I can. It would be perfect.
John Schneider: Great, awesome.
Jenn T Grace: Well have a great rest of your day, I really appreciate it.
John Schneider: Thanks you too, bye bye.
Direct download: Epi94-LGBTQ-The_Debt_Free_GuysJohn_Schneider__David_Auten.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:05am EST
Thu, 15 September 2016
Jenn T. Grace – Episode 93 – How Are Your New Year’s Resolutions Holding Up As We Enter the 4th Quarter?
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 93.
Jenn T Grace: Well hello and welcome to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and today we are in episode 93, and it is the middle of September of 2016. So I have a whole host of podcasts that I am about to record for you. So for the last I would say probably five, six, maybe even seven episodes I have had those kind of ready to roll for a while, and now I'm in the middle of batch recording a whole bunch of new awesome guests for you as well. However that is just about to begin as we're in the middle of September, so what I would like to do for you today is replay an episode from earlier this year which is episode number 75, and my intent here is to just give you an update on some of the things discussed in 75, then you can listen to episode 75 itself, and when you come back for a new podcast episode number 94, it will be a brand new interview. So I've really been trying to focus all of 2016 on bringing you amazing interviews with just really awesome people, and I want to continue that trend. So for the remainder of 2016 I really want to be bringing you interview after interview after interview of just really amazing people, and I have a whole awesome line-up of people to do just that for you.
So quickly in episode 75, which I believe was the first episode of 2016, I was talking about New Year's resolutions and essentially what things that I was up to, and I recently saw an article that said that people in September start to re-visit their New Year's resolutions essentially because now that the summer has long come and passed, people are going back to school, people are getting back into their work routine, that now's the time that people are starting to think about where they are in relation to accomplishing their New Year's resolutions or not. So for me, I had talked about three specific resolutions, two of which I thought were going to be fairly low-key if you will and not too difficult to achieve, and in reality I found out that it's a little bit harder than I thought. And then the third one just was difficult to begin with, and I'm actually still sticking to it quite well.
So the first one that I had mentioned publicly in January that my plan was, was to only have one cup of coffee per day for the entirety of 2016. I can tell you that I'm still doing pretty good on that, I was only having two cups a day so it was not a major crisis, and actually I'm trying to do half decaf now because I recognize that caffeine is a drug even though it's a common drug that we all use, and I'm just trying to be mindful of my health and all that fun stuff. But I'm doing pretty good. So the status update on that one is that I'm doing pretty good, I'm sure there's been a day or two here or there that I've had more than a cup but generally speaking I'm totally on track with that.
The second one that I talked about was not drinking in 2016, and I thought I was going to be a little bit better at this than I was. So I last had a beer on New Year's Eve, and I still haven't had any beer since, and we are in the middle of September. However I did fall off the wagon if you will in the middle of July. I fell off the wagon- and mind you when I say 'fell off the wagon' it's not like I started binge drinking because that's not the case, but I did start drinking gin and tonic again in July. So I did make it seven months before having a drink of any kind. So prior to that, from January through July, I did not have a single drink and I was really proud of myself on that, until one day my wife said to me, "Why are you doing this to yourself? It's not like you have a drinking problem, it's not like you needed to do this, I don't know why you continue to torture yourself over whether or not you should have a drink," and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And it hit me that she was so right. So thinking about it I'm like, 'She's right, why am I doing this to myself? Do I have a reason for not doing this one activity that wasn't a problem to begin with?' So I decided what the hell, it's really not a big issue, I'm just going to go back to my norm which is having like maybe a drink or two at most in a given week. So again it's not a real issue.
But anyway, I did want to share that with you that I indeed broke my own resolution. So not everyone is perfect, and despite your best intentions sometimes your resolutions aren't really aligned well and they're not really helpful, and I think that goes for business as well. Sometimes we make goals that aren't in our best interest, and we stick to them out of ego and not necessarily because of any other reason. So I think this was one of those things that I had this resolution based on ego, based on just being able to say that I have done it, and in reality it was kind of stupid to do to being with. So I just threw that one aside.
Anyway the third one that I wanted to mention to you is that I declared publicly in January that I would be training for a full marathon, and that full marathon is on January 8th of 2017. So I am about four months away from running a full 26.2 miles, and that training is still going really, really well. At the time of this recording which is just a few days before the 15th- actually you'll be listening to this on September 15th which is Thursday, I just finished another half marathon on Sunday, and obviously I haven't run it yet so I don't know what my time is but I'm hoping it's better than the last one I did.
So I wanted to just kind of share that with you, especially for people who've been listening to this podcast for a really long time now, because I remember specifically when I decided I was going to start running, and that was August of 2013, on a whim I just decided randomly that I was going to start running, and I really was talking a lot about that journey, and that process, and how related it is to business, and kind of entrepreneurship, and all that stuff when I started doing that. So all of those old podcast episodes definitely have snippets of me kind of talking about the progress, and what I'm up to, and I still have people asking me about it. I was just at a conference a few weeks ago and I had people asking me like what the status of my running was. So I appreciate that you do pay attention to those things, and it is of continued interest to you. So as long as you are still interested, I will keep sharing.
So now you'll listen to the previous episode and hear me rambling on and on about all my reasons why I decided to put these two- these three resolutions in place, and now you at least hear the reality of what actually happened for them.
So one other thing I want to mention before I just hop into episode 75, is that I am still going gangbusters on helping people write their books in 2016 and beyond. So a lot of what's talked about in 75 is around the benefits of writing a book, what it can do for your brand, how it can help build your business, why today is the best day to just kind of start and get it done. So I wanted to just kind of share that with you because as of right now on September 15th I have helped twelve more people since January. So when I first recorded this in January I had already worked with a bunch of people previously, but as of this time now nine months into the year, I've helped twelve new people with their books. One person has already published hers, and that is Lindsay Felderman, and her book is referenced in the interview I did with her in episode number 87. Her book is titled 'Walking through Walls: Finding the Courage to be Your True Self.' So in episode 87 I kind of interview her on what it was like to put her book together, and really it was actually a really fun episode to produce.
And then I have another author who is about to publish her book in the beginning of October, so she will be one of the interviews that is to come in probably October or maybe even November, we will be hearing from her specifically on her experience with publishing a book, and what that's doing for her personal brand and all that great stuff.
So I'm really happy that I have helped twelve new people in the last nine months get their stories out into the world, at least get them started on the path of helping them write their books. So I bring this up because on October 3rd, that is when I am launching the third session of this year of the Purpose Driven Author's Academy. You've certainly heard me talk about it on the show, on previous shows, in my social media, if you're on my mailing list you've certainly seen it there too. So the Purpose Driven Author's Academy is really my online program that walks you through the entirety of getting your book concept narrowed down, to writing the book, to publishing it, to marketing it. So the whole gamut. It's a fourteen week program and the next session starts on October 3rd. So this will be the third one that I have done in 2016. All people who've participated in it are doing amazing, kicking some ass, it's really awesome. So if you're interested in that you can certainly go to www.PurposeDrivenAuthors.com, www.PurposeDrivenAuthor.com, or you can just go to www.JennTGrace.com and there's a button right on the homepage that will bring you to information about the program itself.
So that is all I wanted to share with you in today's episode, so if any of this is interesting, please feel free to reach out to me via email, Facebook, any social media, you name it I am there, and I am here to serve you. So please enjoy this repeat of episode number 75, and I will see you in a brand new episode in number 94 at the end of the month. Thank you so much and I'll talk to you soon.
Well hello and welcome to the New Year. I am looking forward to a great 2016, and I hope you are too. Now that we're in the new year, you're probably thinking of all the new year resolutions you could be focused on, or should be focused on, and today I want to share with you a couple of the resolutions that I'm working on, but actually how that's going to parlay into my new business focus for 2016, and basically how the podcast ducktails into that focus in 2016. So for my loyal listeners, what I'm going to be doing in 2016 is slightly different than previously in the last four years that I've been doing this podcast, but it really still kind of falls in line with much of what I've been doing.
But what I want to start with today is talking to you about a couple of the resolutions that I have for 2016, and none of them are too far of a stretch if you will from what I'm already doing. So I'm feeling pretty confident that I'll have a fairly high success rate. But what I've noticed is that unfortunately a lot of people create these monster resolutions; like just completely out of any realm of possibility, and when you do that, you're creating this wildly unattainable goal, and you're likely not going to hit it, and that's not what I want to share with you. What I want to be sharing with you are ways in which you can attain your goal. And I've noticed that people create these really unattainable goals for just a couple of different reasons. Most of the time it's because they aren't in the right frame of mind to achieve them, so when they create this goal it's not even something that they can really achieve, and sometimes this is done intentionally and sometimes not. And then a lot of times it's because people don't really have the right skillsets to pull it off, and they're not really committed to developing those skillsets to pull it off. So this is absolutely going to kind of fall into place with what I am going to be doing in 2016, and what I'm going to share with you.
But to start, here are just a couple of my non-business New Year resolutions if you will.
So for example, one of them is to drink only one cup of coffee a day versus two. Like I said, I'm not stretching too much with most of mine, and I'm only going to share three of them because the third one is going to be what really kind of plays into what I'm up to. But going down from one cup of coffee- I mean from two cups of coffee to one isn't much of a stretch, although I say this now and I'm not really sure how the caffeine withdrawals will go down. But as of right now it doesn't seem like it's that much of a stretch. I've already had my one cup of the day and I'm on to green tea, so I'm feeling confident that for the last four days- because today is January 4th as I'm recording this, I've been able to achieve that goal. So fingers crossed, goal number one, resolution number one should be attainable.
Now resolution number two on the other hand is to not have- this is going to sound crazy- not have a single drop of alcohol in 2016. And I've been hemming and hawing over whether or not I wanted to do this resolution for a couple of weeks thinking it's really not that difficult for me to not drink, because I'm not a heavy drinker in any way, so I might have a drink, maybe two, three at most in any given week, and I know people who drink that on a daily basis. So to me, it's not really- I don't think it's that difficult to not have any, however I don't know that for certain. So I've been thinking and hemming and hawing saying, "Is this really worth having a resolution over because what am I going to gain from this?" It's not like drinking is a problem in my life that I need to tackle or handle, but at the same time I'm really focused on my health and I know that extra sugar from alcohol is really not helping me, so why am I going to take in additional calories over something that I'm not even really enjoying so to speak? So that is another goal. And again, it's pretty much for purely health reasons, not because I have a problem that I'm trying to curb or anything like that, but really I just want to keep continuing on the path of getting healthier as I go. And 2015 I did I think a really good job continuing my health, et cetera, that I had previously been doing since back in 2012, 2013. So I'm still on a really good path in terms of my health.
Now this is where the third resolution comes in, and it's much more of a beast, and I have not publicly shared this information with anyone yet, so you my loyal listener are the first one to hear it other than my poor wife who deals with my random ramblings, and then a couple of close friends. But 2016 is going to be the year that I actually train for a full marathon. And now for you who may have been listening since the early beginnings of this podcast, you may recall that I started running mid-way through the first year of this podcast. And I was scared out of my mind, I had no idea what I was doing. I willingly shared all of my fears, and my trepidations with 'should I be doing this? Should I not be doing this?' And the reason I started running, and the same reason why I'm going to try not to drink in 2016, is for health reasons. So I had lost a lot of weight in 2012 and 2013, and it was about fifty pounds, and I just wanted to make sure that I could keep the weight off, and I've had no trouble doing that since 2012. So I feel fortunate that I'm going on a fourth and into a fifth year of keeping weight loss off, but a lot of it has to do with running because it's just a great activity, it's a solo activity or you can make it a group activity if you choose to. But I prefer to run solo because it gives me time to think about what I need to be doing, how to prioritize my business, and I think the best thing is that you're only competing against yourself, you're not worried about other people's time. So it's really kind of a solo 'let me try to see how good I can be and not compare myself to other people,' which I find to be really kind of peaceful in a lot of ways; and I am a very, very competitive person, as is my wife so it's a good thing she doesn't run because she would be the one person on this earth that I would be trying to compete against. So fortunately for me she does not. So anyway- a little tangent.
So tying this into the business, and tying this into today's episode, I wanted to share with you a little bit about this third resolution on my list, and it's not to run the marathon this year, which is 26.2 miles for those of you not familiar with marathon distance. But it's how I'm going about breaking down this really BHAG- as people call it in the business world, the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. That big monster of a goal, how I'm breaking it down to come up with a very clear plan that is attainable for me to achieve this goal. And now I won't be doing this until this time- almost exactly this time in 2017. So the race itself is on January 8th of 2017, and this is being released on January 7th. So I had to break down this goal into a variety of bite-sized chunks, and it really just started with picking a couple of races that I wanted to run this year which were half marathons; so that's 13.1 miles. And I ran two half marathons last year, and I'm planning on doing two more this year. So going back to the whole resolutions being attainable, running two this year should be no problem whatsoever, because I did two already last year. But what I'm trying to do is increase my speed just a little bit. So I'm not trying to go nuts, and I'm not going completely haywire, I'm really just focused on something that I think is attainable to me personally.
So for me this goal is something that I have to work on the entire year in order to be successful in doing it. If I do not stick to my plan, it's going to go rogue- I'm going to go rogue and it will go off the rails really quickly. So I spent about three hours over the weekend and I put together my plan. I started off with where I'm going to be racing, when I'll be racing, how many miles I have to do every week, how many times I have to run a week, and I went to my Google calendar and I put every single one of those in there, and I time blocked every single spot. So I know that every Sunday morning at or around 9:30 in the morning, that's when I'll be doing my 'long run,' which is usually seven to 26 miles at this point. It could be anywhere in between. So I have my plan super clear, super focused for what I want to achieve for my physical fitness in 2016.
Now it's a matter of figuring out what your goal is going to be for 2016 and how you could be laser focused on it too. Because I swear to you if you asked anybody in my life, and you can still ask them now, if they think Jenn plus running equals a good idea, I'm convinced that the vast majority of them would say, "You're out of your mind. Jenn will never run, Jenn has never run," et cetera. Like I had a pretty good reputation growing up as an athlete, but I was a pitcher for fast pitch softball, therefore I spent most of my time on the mound and helping control the game rather than physically running. And my softball coach happened to also be the track coach, therefore he had us doing running exercises that I felt were irrelevant to the game of softball, and I was terrible at it at all times. So my point being, if I can run a full marathon, I swear to you there is nothing in your life that you cannot physically do, or mentally tackle, or emotionally tackle, if I can do this. I am hell bent convinced of that, and I would love to talk with you if there's something that's really kind of blocking you, and you feel like you can't achieve it. Because if you break it down into bite-sized, manageable, day-to-day tasks, you can totally do it. In the case of running, it's honestly a matter of putting one foot in front of another for 26.2 miles. Of course there's a lot of other things that go into it, but basically speaking it's one foot in front of another.
With your goal, I don't know what that goal might look like at this moment, but what I want to talk to you about is authorship, and how writing a book can be your goal for 2016. And if it is your goal in 2016, how writing a book and running a marathon are identical processes. It might sound completely strange at this moment and so early in this podcast, but I can assure you that doing both of them are very, very similar processes. And my goal in 2016 is to help figure it out for you, and make your life a hell of a lot easier in writing your first book.
So now hopefully I have your interest piqued in this whole authorship thing, and how this kind of ties back into my business and the podcast. So just for a little bit of a recap, this podcast is going into its fourth year; so I did it all of 2013, all of 2014, all of 2015, and now we're entering into the fourth year. And I have done 74 previous episodes as we are in our 75th episode right now. Each of them, they're 45 minutes to an hour long. I also had another thirty episodes that were about a half an hour each that were part of a special series I did back in 2013 called '30 Days, 30 Voices: Stories from America's LGBT Business Leaders." So this is really kind of the 105th episode if you will of content around what my business does. And my tagline is that I teach straight people how to market to gay people, and gay people how to market themselves. Much of this podcast, and much of my business has really focused on the former, with really helping straight allies market to the LGBT community in an appropriate way, in a proper way, in an authentic way being genuine. So I really focus on helping people communicate better and market better. And most often I'm working with individuals who are in some kind of service-based business. So they are an attorney, or they're an accountant, or a financial advisor; a lot of people that have longer sales cycles. So it takes longer to build a relationship, therefore it also makes- it gives you more of a window of opportunity to kind of stick your foot in your mouth, and get yourself in trouble. So I have spent a lot of time really focusing on that aspect of my business, and that's really what my two- actually three. The two print books that I have, and then the eBook that I have, all three of them really focus on communications, marketing, really tactical stuff for how to avoid putting yourself into situations that is uncomfortable, makes you uneasy, et cetera.
Now while the focus has been to help straight allies in this, I've also helped LGBT people in this process as well, because there's a lot of things that even LGBT people are doing that weren't the most ideal thing. So while the focus has kind of been on the former of I teach straight people how to market to gay people, I've really been teaching gay people how to market themselves as well in very similar ways that I've been teaching the straight allies too. So the previous 74, or 104 if you're counting the Thirty Days series. They've all really been focused on kind of a combination, and it's all been around marketing, it's all been around how to get to your target audience, how to talk to them the right way, how to communicate to them in the right way, et cetera. So in early 2015, I think it was in February actually, I made a conscious effort in my business to say, "You know what? I'm want to focus a little bit more of my time on coaching individuals, coaching LGBT people, and working on the second half of that tagline, of teaching gay people how to market themselves more specifically than my advice that kind of crosses over to the ally community as well."
Now with that being said, I realized that there's a very clear pattern with who I work with. With the type of business owner, or the type of entrepreneur, or LGBT person that I work with. It seems like there's a very clear commonality that took me a little bit too long to see the pattern in all of them. But now that I have seen the pattern, it's very clear to me anyway that this is where I need to focus my business in 2016, and focus this podcast as well in 2016. And for allies listening to this, that does not mean in any way that you will not find really good, relevant information that is designed for you. You will absolutely still find a lot of value, I assure you of that. However I am focusing on story telling. And guess what? LGBT people or not, everyone has a story to share. Everyone has some kind of message that they want to get out to the world, and a lot of people are dreaming of being authors but they are frozen in fear with all that comes with being an author.
So while I'm talking specifically about wanting to help LGBT people share their stories, if you're an ally and you're listening to this, and you have a story that you want to share too, and you want to be an author to benefit your business, you listening to this podcast shows me that you are open-minded, that you're an ally, that you are someone who likely has a really good story to share, and I want to help you too. I'm not excluding you in any way, shape, or form, so please don't take this as feeling exclusionary because that's not my intention at all. And as I start talking about some of the books that I've been working on, helping people with, you'll see that it's been a really good mix of helping LGBT people and allies. So there's really no exclusion there by any means, because I do love you and I adore you.
So now what I've noticed is that I have been working with a lot of authors, and it kind of happened in a very unintentional way. And I've always realized that I work with a lot of creative people. So I really like working with creative people because I personally feel like I'm a pretty good balance of right brain and left brain, so while I can get on these paths of shiny-object-itis if you will, and really excited about something, and want to try all these new things and be really creative, I'm also equal parts logical, and reasonable, and rational, and think, 'Okay is this something that I should really be doing right now?' So I've managed to kind of tap into being able to use both sides of my brain, and it's benefited- I think, and I'm sure they would say too, it's benefitted the people that I've worked with individually a great deal because I can connect with them as the creatives that they want to be, but I can also say, "Alright let's be realistic about this and figure out how you can actually do any of what you're talking about doing right now." And writing a book is one of those things that's just- it seems like a really incredibly daunting task, and you might even be thinking right now, 'Why would I want to put myself through the hell of writing a book?' And I say you should absolutely do it because it will be a life-changer and a game-changer in your business, I can attest to that personally. But I also know that to be true for those that I've worked with.
So let me just share with you a couple of the projects that I've worked on, and you'll see very quickly the patterns and the commonalities here, even though it took me a little bit longer to recognize that this is absolutely where I should be focusing my attention. So like I said in early 2015 I had reached out and said, "Hey I would love to work on some more one-on-one coaching," and as a result of just sending an email to my list I had a handful of people say, "Yes I would love to work with you one-on-one." Out of that handful of people, about 30% of them were thinking about writing a book. So I don't know if it's because I have written a book that others have just trusted in me that I can help them write a book, but somehow that's kind of evolved over time. And in 2013 I wrote my first book, and that one is, 'But You Don't Look Gay,' and I'm sure you picked up on the humor and the sarcastic things that come out of my mouth, so I really kind of started that one off strong with, 'But You Don't Look Gay.' And there is reason for why I titled it that, it's written about in the book, and I've certainly talked about it on the podcast at great length. But it's really the six steps to creating your LGBT marketing strategy. And again it's designed for allies, but it's really applicable to LGBT people too. That was the first time that I had written a book, and I had not a single clue as to what I was doing. Literally no clue whatsoever. I've always enjoyed writing, and when I started this iteration of my business if you will, I started in November of 2012 writing blogs. And I was writing blogs addressed to people that I knew who had questions who needed answers, and I knew if I could answer their one question in email, why not throw it on the blog and educate some other people in the process? So that's really how my whole business started.
So I started writing this book when I started blogging basically. So I put all of the blogs aside, and I started to just kind of create this library of content, and then after I had probably- I want to say it was at least over 100 blog posts, I said, "Let me kind of organize this, add to it, take things away, and make a book out of it." And that was really the first book in 2013. Now I still had no idea what I was doing in terms of organizing the content, in terms of how do I get it on Amazon, how do I get a book cover designed, how do I get an ISBN number, how do I market this? Marketing is my background so the marketing piece actually was the easier piece, but everything else I honestly had no idea what I was doing.
So fast forward to 2014 when I write my second book. That one was a breeze comparatively, and it's also- it's not quite twice the length, but it's significantly larger than the first book. So it's just knowing what I know now, and knowing what I did in 2013, all of the mistakes I made because I made every mistake you can possibly hit, I think I did. But when I went to do it again in 2014 it was so easy; so, so easy. Now the hard part is actually writing the book. That to me is the harder part. So physically writing is what you need to focus on. So if you want to write a book, I can help you, I can shortcut everything but the actual physical writing part. However I do have some tips and tricks around that, too. But in 2013 I was working with a small group of other marketers, and just kind of a Mastermind group if you will, where we get together once a month, and we still do, and this goes back to about 2013. We still get together, and we just brainstorm ideas and I had shown them that I had written my first book, and one of the people in my group- or it's a couple, so the husband and wife, two people that I work very closely with, they decided that they also wanted to write a book. So when I began helping them, it was in a very informal way, and it was really just me wanting to help peers of mine shortcut the process. So I provided my template that I used for my first book, I said, "Here it is, it's in a Word document, here's the font I chose, here's the heading font, here's the paragraph font." I had very specific reasons for why I chose those based on design principles, and I just said, "Here. Take it, use it as a template, make your own book out of it." And then of course as they were going through it, I was one of the proof-readers for it, I gave them a testimonial; like we really just kind of worked together, again in a very informal way. So their book has been out for going on three years. I think they put it out in 2013, I could get up from my desk and walk over to it and tell you exactly, but I will put a link to their book in the show notes on today's podcast episode which you can get by going to www.JennTGrace.com/75 because we're in episode number 75. So if you want to check out that book you could certainly do so by clicking on that link, and it's on Amazon. So that was kind of the first time that I helped somebody else, and it was really just me helping friends get their stories out there.
So this happened a second time within that same group, but it wasn't until earlier in this last year, in 2015. So somebody else in my group who is also a marketer; he was working on his book and we basically did the same thing. So it's the same two people in that group and him, so now it's the three of us teaching this one other person in our group what we did. So I shared my stuff with Mike and Maria; they're the ones that did the first book. And then myself, Mike, and Maria showed the other Mike in our group how to do his book. And now his learning curve was shortened dramatically as well because Maria and Mike had gone through all of the same kind of hiccups and failures and successes of what they used from my starting point when I gave them my book information.
So as you can see, the more times this kind of happens, the easier it really becomes for everybody involved. So Mike- the other Mike was very grateful and acknowledging me as helping him in getting that book done, I did a good proofread of it, I edited a little bit, and that came out in early or mid-2015 I want to say. So that book also available on Amazon which I will include in the show notes.
So now I had my two books, and their two books already, so that's four we're already at. And then I had a third eBook that I'd released in 2015 earlier this year about marriage equality. So five books already kind of under the belt.
Now the process for all five books was a little bit different, and it really just kind of varied based on the size of book, what the intention of the book was, so am I writing this to get more business? Am I writing this to become a well-known authority in my space? Am I writing this to give it to my clients to just give them something to hold them over between coaching sessions? Or between projects? So there's a lot of different reasons you might want a book, and it's a matter of kind of identifying what those are, and then creating the best book that's going to get you that end result.
So now if we talk about 2015 a little bit more, I have been working with three people in particular throughout all of 2015, and we'll be going into 2016 on books of theirs. So one of theirs was previously a guest on this podcast, Ann Townsend. She has written a book called 'LGBTQ: Outing My Christianity." She and I have been working together for about going on I think a year and a half or so, so we've been working together for a while. She already has one book written, she's working on a couple of others, and we work in a one-on-one capacity, and just helping her just kind of shortcut the process where possible, making introductions to her to people in my network that could be good contributors. So it's again, while it's in a formal coaching capacity, I'm really kind of just sharing my knowledge and wisdom to a friend, and just trying to help as much as I can just make the process a little bit easier for her. And since she's already done one book, it's made life a little bit easier for her because she kind of already knows how the process works.
So that's just one person that I have been helping in a somewhat informal capacity. But then the two people- the two books that I have worked on in 2015 have been in a very, very, very formal capacity. And one of them just launched in November, so just a couple of months ago, and it's by Tony Ferraiolo and his book is called 'Artistic Expressions of Transgender Youth.' And his book is on Amazon now, and I helped him with the entirety of this book. From choosing a book cover, to figuring out what stock and weight of paper that we wanted to use, what size, what printer we wanted to go with, how we were going to get it on Amazon, how we were going to market it, who the end audience is; you name it, we have worked on it together, including putting together a book signing that was in December of 2015. So his book has been really, really hands on, very, very tactical, here's how I shortcutted the process for me, but what we learned in the process is that Amazon does not print hard cover books. So if you want to go use CreateSpace which is an Amazon book creation tool, there are no hard cover options; or at least when we were looking for him, or the size that we were looking for. So we had to go print separately which just creates a whole other level of chaos, complications, et cetera. It's also more expensive, but we've been going through that process for much of 2015, and now that is down to a science. So he is going to be working on volumes two, three, and I think a fourth one; all of which are going to be as easy as can be because we've already learned from doing the first one of that type of style- that style of a book if you will.
Now it was at Tony's book signing that I knew for a fact that I needed to focus on helping people share their stories in 2016. There is no two ways around it. If I could identify an epiphany or an 'ah-ha' type of moment, it was absolutely at his book signing. So his book- and he's also been a guest on this podcast as well, so I'll put a link into that in the show notes too, and the book. But his book is a picture book, and it is art drawn by transgender children who range from as young as six to as old as I think 21. And he asks them a question, "If you had all the money in the world, what would you buy?" And they're kids, they're young people, so they just draw what they feel. And then they write what their drawing means on the back of it. So we compiled all of this into a picture book. So I think a good marketing play for us would be to be packaging the book with tissues because it is a tear jerker, I assure you of this. And it's so good, so if you're doing anything in the transgender space of the LGBT community, this book is seriously amazing, and I don't say that because I had any part of it. It's just the content of it is amazing.
So for his book we did a book signing in New Haven, Connecticut, and one of the kids who is in the book showed up with their mother, and we had a special stack of books waiting for the kids who were in the book to come and get a special signed copy of the book. Additionally Tony had his own copy where he wanted the kids that were in the book to sign their page of the book. So for Tony, this is a life changing experience to produce this book, because it's so much of his hard work, and so much of his story, and the kids that he works with and their journey, put in a very neat package for the outside world to understand. However, it didn't occur to me- and I guess it did but it wasn't as profound as the actual physically being there for this to happen. I guess it didn't really hit me of how impactful the books would have on those who are included in them. So there are dozens of children whose artwork are in this book that is really deep and meaningful to them, and one of them as I had mentioned- actually more than one, there was a handful of them that were all there for the book signing. One of them was kind enough to be helping me swipe credit cards to sell the books which was really cute because I think he's nine. So yeah, so fun, had a great time. And one of the kids came in- and mind you they're walking behind their mother, a little bit timid, a little bit shy, I don't know this kid at all. I've run into them at a couple of Tony's events that we've thrown, et cetera. And I was sitting behind the table with all of the books, and I was watching them interact with Tony, just kind of seeing everybody's crying, everybody's teary eyed because the book is so emotional. And then I am watching them go out of the small book cafe that we were at. And as they were turning the corner to go out the front door, kind of walking a couple steps behind their mother, they had put the book which is just this very nice, hard cover- you know like a children's picture book landscape. They put it up to their chest, and I could see the biggest sigh, like you could just see their body, kind of their shoulders rise up and then exhale, like it was the biggest, deepest breath that I could see from about ten feet away, that no one else caught because no one's paying attention to people leaving, everyone's chatting. And I knew in that moment, my hair on my arms stood up, I had chills, I had tears in my eyes thinking, 'Holy shit, this book has changed that person's life.' There is no doubt in my mind that that book is a game changer for that one individual child.
Now knowing that all of the blood, sweat, and many tears that Tony and I put into getting his story out there; there is not a single dollar amount in this world that could replace the experience of seeing that one kid who's featured in that book, and how much that's changing their life. Like there is just no way of counting how incredible that experience is.
It was in that moment, like truly in that moment, that I realized, 'Holy hell, I need to use my process oriented, operationally focused brain in helping people like Tony, and like others that I've worked with like Ann, and Mike and Maria, and the other Mike, and helping them get their stories out to the world. Because I've done this as many times as I have at this point, that to me the actual logistics, the nuts and bolts, the BS of it, the stuff that makes people want to bang their head against the wall and pull their hair out; that's the stuff that I love doing, that's where I thrive. So knowing that I have that skillset, and somebody with such an incredible story has something to share, and it's that lack of skillset that's stopping them, it was truly that 'ah-ha' moment where I was like I have to do this. I have to focus 2016 on helping you get your story out. So there's a couple of other things that kind of dovetail into this epiphany, and like I said I didn't realize how many authors I was already kind of working with. And I have another author who I am not mentioning by name yet because I'm waiting specifically for when her book is out, I cannot wait. I really- just like with Tony's book, I felt just as proud of having Tony's book released as I did my own. Like I honestly felt that much pride for his work as I do my own work, and it's going to be the same thing for this other book that I'm working on. And this one's been really different because it's equal parts manifesto, it's kind of corporate focused. There's a lot of interesting nuances to this book, and one of them being is that this particular author isn't really a fan of writing- or she's a really, really good writer actually, but she just doesn't have the time or the focus to sit down and write. And just that thought of having to write just really kind of stressed her out for a long time that she kept putting it off, and putting it off. So we found a really good solution to have her basically be interviewed by somebody, which is then the basis of ghost writing that we can use to put into a book. And now this book is being more traditionally published if you will. So everyone else that I've worked with has been down the self-published road, which at this point you're much better off going self-published because the royalties of a traditionally published book are so high that if you're trying to make money off of publishing a book, it's certainly not going to be going down a traditionally published path, or at least in my experience. I'm sure there's many people who would debate me on that, but in my experience it's just- it's really costly. So with her, we found a way to really kind of navigate her busy lifestyle, and get somebody else to write the meat of the book, but in her voice because she's actually spoken it to somebody who's recorded it, and now they're using the transcripts to write the basis of the book.
So there's that one that I will be talking much more about on this podcast as it progresses. But I think what I would say that my toughest- yeah I would probably say my toughest hurdle to cross in 2016 as it relates to book writing is that I started writing a fourth book in early 2016. It's around LGBT, around how to leverage your LGBT status as a business owner, and really finding new opportunities, all that kind of stuff. It's probably 70% written I would say, but it hasn't been a strong enough priority for me to get it through that last 30%. So it's just kind of sitting shelved for right now, that I'll get back to it at some point. What book it ends up being, I have no idea, but it'll end up being- it'll end up coming out at some point.
However what I did have is another epiphany over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I realized during Thanksgiving that I needed to write a book that has nothing to do with LGBT, and co-author it with my wife, who has no desire to be an author really because she's an educator. She works in special education, she's a behavioral specialist, and we realized that we needed to write a book about the trials and tribulations and judgment that we face as two people trying to raise a child with mental health needs. And this was truly an epiphany, and it was more of an 'I have to write this book for my own well-being,' like 'I need this book in the world because it doesn't exist.' So my wife and I are working on that, and I think that it's not really challenging so to speak for the book writing aspect because we're collecting stories from twenty to thirty other families in similar situations to ours, so I'm going to be getting a lot of content from other places. But we've been talking about how are we going to use this book to help position my wife in more of an authoritative space so she can use this as somewhat of a launching pad into potential new opportunities for her. We have no idea what that looks like right now, none whatsoever. However, we're constantly talking about it, we're just going to keep kind of ruminating on it and figuring out where that's going to bring her, but that's going to be getting her to have the status of being an author, which will be a game changer for her in her community, because authors in her community are likely far less than in the business community where- I don't want to say everybody has a book, but a lot of people have books now, so it's not that uncommon to have a book. It's almost- it's becoming more common to have books, or to feel the need to have a book, to just basically stay afloat and keep up with a lot of people, of course depending on what niche you're in. So this is going to be definitely more challenging to figure out how to get her brain to wrap her head around how we're going to do this. So that's something that I'm focusing on in 2016 around authoring and doing more in this space.
So I tell you all of this, and I don't mean to over-simplify and try to pretend that writing a book is not a total pain, and I'm not going to try to sugarcoat it, because it really still is a pain. It totally, totally is. And even for me who I've done- I've been involved in a handful of them at this point, almost a dozen of them at this point. There's nuance in all of these basically. So what I want to emphasize I guess is there are ways to shortcut this process, and what I've realized is that I only have a limited amount of time because I am working with people one-on-one, I have Fortune sized clients, I have some larger consulting contracts; so I'm kind of a little bit all over the map in terms of what it is that I'm doing, but it's all still around LGBT; that's totally the core of what I do.
Now what I wanted to do, and what I am doing, is on February 1st I am launching a group program, and it's only for twelve people at most. Twelve people, that's it. And I've chosen twelve people specifically so I can make sure that everyone's getting enough one-on-one attention. But it's going to be in a group format, and it's going to go for ninety days, and my goal is to walk twelve individuals through the process of becoming an author in ninety days. Now the end goal for some people is to have a book done and launched by the end of those ninety days. For others it's a matter of getting them organized, and giving them the information that they need to then write their book at the end of the ninety days, and use that information to take it across the finish line. So everyone has a different goal, and I'm not trying to force people in saying, "If you're part of this program you have to have a book in ninety days." I know that's not realistic, I know that's not attainable, and I'm not going to put pressure on people in that way. So a couple of weeks ago before the holiday chaos kind of hit us, I had sent a quick email to my list, and five people responded within like a matter of an hour. And of those five people I have four of them who've already committed to the group, and I have a fifth person who is like a 95%. So I already have five people committed to this group that starts on February 1st. It's going to go regardless of the number of people who end up in it, but twelve is the cut-off. So I have room for seven more individuals who want to put a book out there in 2016.
Now I'll tell you a little bit about what the course looks like, just so you have a general idea. And I don't have a name for it even, it's that new of an idea, and just talking with five people and all five of them saying, "Yes, for the love of God, yes I need to do this. I need to get my story out there." That validates everything to me. It validates absolutely everything, and that this is the right path to go on. So it's so new that I do not have a name for it. I'm calling it the Author Program Live right now, because it is a live program. It's not a, 'Here, log into here and just watch some videos.' It's really- it's me, it's you, and it's eleven other people learning how to do this at the same time you are. So the benefit to that is everyone's kind of at a different stage of what they're doing. So one person I talked to has about 85% of her book written, and she just needs to figure out how to get that last 15% written, and then how to do all of the dirty details of 'how do I actually publish it? Where do I go? How do I get registered with the Library of Congress? How do I get an ISBN number? How do I market it?' Et cetera, et cetera. So there's just a ton of weedy details that people hate that I already have figured out that I can just completely shortcut, you don't have to stress about.
So it'll be ninety days, so from February 1st to April 30th. It will be a good kind of first quarter, going into the second quarter project. And it's going to be kind of sharing things like the tools of the trade, how to re-purpose your existing content if you have it, deciding on what you're going to write, how to position yourself as an expert if that's what you want to do, deciding if traditional publishing is better than self-publishing for you, although much of it will focus on the self-published road. And working with an editor, how to figure out your publication date; all of these really kind of annoying details, in a lot of ways, very annoying details. And the more I guess the one-on-one component of it, is that it's going to have twelve sessions- so it's really about twelve weeks, and they're going to be sixty minutes, maybe up to ninety minutes via a webinar on Tuesday nights at 8:30 Eastern time. And I have chosen that time based on the availability of the five other people who've committed to this, and I would love for you to be able to attend live. But if you can't it's not a big deal because I am going to record it and make it available to you after the fact. It will be available the following morning, if not that night. And each week is going to discuss some kind of topic in detail, it's going to have open Q&A so if you have specific needs that you need answers to right then, bring them to the table, we'll talk about it. We'll also do some laser coaching to get you over any particular humps and hurdles that you have. And then occasionally we're going to have some guest speakers thrown in who have already been where you are, and need that extra push to- you need that extra push from them to kind of help you get through this. So it's not just the live webinars once a week, it's also a Facebook group. And I chose Facebook because everyone's there, I'm not going to try to set up some separate site that you have to remember the log-in info for, completely forget it, and then have to be a total pain. So Facebook is a likely source that you're already on, so I'm doing a private Facebook group that will be with me, my assistant, and the up to twelve participants that you can ask questions at any time. You don't have to wait until we connect on Tuesday nights, you can just ask your peers what they think. So if you're in the process of designing your cover for example, why wait? Throw it up there and say, "Hey everyone, here's cover A, here's cover B, which one do you like?" So you can do a lot of stuff like that, or "Hey I really need somebody to look at my intro and tell me if this makes sense." Or "I just wrote the book outline, I don't think the chapters are in the right order, but I don't know how to put them in the right order. Can you help look at this?" So really it's a matter of having this- and not just me because I don't have all of the answers, I just happened to have done it enough times that I know where to find the answers. But now you have eleven other peers who are in this group, who can totally help you shortcut the process too.
So- and one of I guess the really exciting things I'm personally excited about, and this actually came as an idea from one of the people who've already decided that- 'sign me up,' is you're basically forming your own tribe of people. So now if you have eleven other people in this group with you, and your mailing list has maybe 200 people; so it's not a lot of people, but for your business it's a healthy size and it's great. But you also have somebody in your group who has a mailing list of 20,000 people for example. And they're really excited, and engaged in what you're doing, that they can- when you're doing your book launch, you can reach out to them and say, "Hey can you share my book with your list?" And you can figure out a whole bunch of different affiliate marketing types of things, and commission, and there's a lot of things that I'll go into in this course. But just from a general standpoint, you now have eleven people who have audiences who may have a connection to what you're writing about, that can then amplify and magnify your reach exponentially, and to me that is so amazing. So you're getting actual support in the weeds of getting it done, but then when it comes time to launch the book, you can shoot yourself to best-seller status on Amazon very, very, very easy by having this amplification of other people's tribes to help you get there. And I'm really excited about that, because I got both of my books to Amazon best-seller status, and it was not an easy feat, there are ways to do it I think more efficiently than I did it, and I know this is one of those ways. So it's just a lot of stuff like this that I'm just really, really excited about, and this is why I know that doing this is the right path for me personally.
So I do want to point out really quickly who the program is not for. Honestly, because there's a couple of types of people in here that I don't want part of the group, and I do want to have a conversation with you first prior to you joining. So if you're looking for a magic pill to just snap your fingers and all of a sudden you have a book, it's not going to work. I assure you of this. Or if you're resistant to changing your ways, it's also not going to work. So we're really going to- you have to be willing to shake things up. You want to be reaching outside of your comfort zone, and say, "This is a priority for me, I can make these certain changes in my life to accommodate this priority." And then if you're just comfortable and complacent, and you don't really have any drive or desire to be kind of reaching higher heights and peaks in your business, this probably isn't going to be for you. So I wanted to point that out because I'm not allowing people who don't have the right chops if you will to be in the program. Because having somebody who's kind of lackluster about it, it's just going to kind of be a wet blanket on the rest of the group, and I really want to protect the sanctity of what we're out to accomplish here in this particular group.
So if any of this sounds interesting to you, the only website I need you to remember other than you can just go to my website and contact me there, is going to www.MeetWithJenn.com, and that brings you to my calendar, and you can schedule a time to talk to me between now and February 1st and tell me if you would like to participate in this program. And it's just really a matter of me- for you and I getting to know each other, just for thirty minutes or so, to find out if you're a right for this program. And if you are then hop on in and we will make sure that you get your book in 2016.
So that my friend is the lay of the land for 2016. So really my commitment to running a marathon is going to be similar to your commitment to writing a book if that's what you so choose. So if that is one of your goals, I want to help you achieve that goal. If writing a book is not part of your goals, there are plenty of things in this podcast throughout this year that are still going to absolutely be relevant to you. For example one of the- actually the next podcast on January 21st is going to be with Dorie Clark. So if you don't know Dorie Clark, she is a marketing strategy consultant. She writes for the Harvard Business Review, Time, Entrepreneur, the World Economic Forum; she's kind of all over the place, and she's a recognized branding expert. So she has two books. One is called 'Reinventing You,' and then she has a second one which is called 'Stand Out,' and it was named the number one leadership book of 2015 by Inc. Magazine. And I don't know about you but I love Inc. Magazine, and I love Entrepreneur, they're two of my absolute favorite magazines. And she also happens to be an out lesbian who's making a huge impact on the world. So she's the first interview that I have in 2016, and it's very kind of my standard interview format that if you're a listener of this podcast you are very familiar with. But we talk a little bit about her book and writing content. So to me a book is just one more form of content creation, and that's the one I'm going to focus on, for me helping people in 2016. But all other forms of content creation are absolutely going to be coming up in this podcast, so don't think that I'm only going to talk about book creation on this podcast, because that is likely not going to be the case. It's going to be likely similar to what's been going on in the past, where I bring to you information that I think is going to be relevant to helping you market to the LGBT community, or market yourself within the LGBT community. So either way there's going to be plenty of information for you, I promise.
So as I mentioned, all of the things that I talked about, links to certain places, links to my calendar, past interviewees that have been on the show; you can go to www.JennTGrace.com/75 or you can just go to the website and click on the free podcast link in the navigation bar. Either way, you will find yourself to the page with all of the information. So if you are looking to share your story, and you think what I've been talking about makes sense for you, please reach out to me. For me personally, having a tangible outcome from somebody that I'm working with is honestly the best feeling, reflecting back on that experience with Tony at his book signing. If I can be the conduit to creating more opportunities like that in 2016, it would be an honor, truly an honor to be part of that journey no matter how big or small, part of that journey with you. Honestly, seriously can't wait. Cannot wait for 2016, I'm really excited about this.
So anyway, until the next episode, I hope you have a great week, keep your head held high, and go out and just kick some ass in your business, will you? Have a great one, I'll talk to you soon.
Thu, 1 September 2016
Jenn T. Grace – Episode 92 – Build Your Brand by Following Your Intuition with Rick Clemons
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 92.
Jenn T Grace: Well hello and welcome to episode number 92 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and today marks I believe the twelfth episode in a row of interviews. So here we are, yet again having another interview. I believe the record started in February of this year, and now we're already into September, and we're still going strong with interviews.
Today's guest is Rick Clemons who is the coming out coach. He is a speaker, he is an author, he has his own podcast, he's really kind of made a mark in this world around helping people come out for whatever reason that may be, which isn't necessarily LGBT, which he talks about in our time together. Also one of the things that is interesting is that in the 92 episodes of this podcast, I don't think I've ever talked in detail about intuition, following your gut, understanding your soul's purpose or your journey in life, and all of that kind of stuff. And it's really great to take I guess 92 episodes to finally get here, but Rick shares such incredible wisdom, and guidance, and you could totally tell that he's a coach just the ways in which he articulates things in such a clear way for people to understand. I feel certain that you are going to really, really enjoy what Rick talks about. So I hope you enjoy the interview for sure, and as always if you're looking for links to today's episode you can go to www.JennTGrace.com/92 for episode number 92, and there you'll find the transcript, any links we talk about, ways to contact Rick, all that great stuff. It will all be there and accessible to you. So without further ado, let's just dive right into today's conversation with Rick Clemons.
So I am thrilled that you're on the show, so if you can just give a high level overview of who you are and what you do for the listeners?
Rick Clemons: Well my name is Rick Clemons and I'm a lot of different things, but I think the thing that I'm most aligned with in my current work is I'm a coming out coach. And of course the assumption that's going to first be made by most people that hear that is, 'Oh he works with gays and lesbians, helping them coming out of the closet.' And that is true, but it is also true that we all have challenges in life, and things that we're hiding from that we're all coming out of. And I feel very blessed that I've found the parallels here to not only doing the beautiful work that I've been blessed to do with individuals who are coming out of the closet in their sexual orientation, but to also now have found a parallel path to working with entrepreneurs who are trying to escape cubicle nation and be their own thing, or working with someone who's in a relationship that's very challenging and helping them to come out to the truth of, 'I don't need to be in this kind of relationship.' Or it could be, 'I want to be a stay-at-home mom and I want to come out of feeling guilty for wanting to be a stay-at-home mom and not contributing to my family's 'income' in the traditional manner.' And I feel really excited that every day I get to wake up and help someone come out, own their confidence, see their unique space in the world, and do something that I call make their quirks work, whatever that quirk is. Your quirk could be your beautiful talent, or that thing that other people tell you you can't do, and I love helping them come out to be themselves and make their quirks work.
Jenn T Grace: And how did you figure out that this was kind of your calling? Like how does one decide one day that they want to help people come out? Where did that stem from?
Rick Clemons: Well it came from my own journey. I was 36 when I really faced my truth. I had been looking at it for numerous years, I had come out to my family- or at least my parents, not everyone. I had come out to my parents when I was 19 years old in college, and I wouldn't say we were ultra-religious but there was a religious element to them saying, "No you can't be that, that's not who you're supposed to be," and I went back in the closet. And I went- so without a lot of kicking and screaming so to speak I went and said, "Okay well maybe this isn't who I am." And even from that moment that I stepped back in, I knew I was in denial. I didn't realize the magnitude of the denial because it was more self-preservation to step back in, and then as each day moved, and then life became what I thought I was supposed to be; get married, have kids, have a successful thriving career. I worked all over the globe for a software company for six years and then I started working for a startup, and it was in those critical years of those two positions that I got laid off, and the second layoff was really the opening of the new closet door. I'd already come out of the closet as a gay man, been through a divorce, become a single parent, I'm getting used to that with two very young ladies; my kids were eighteen months and six years old when I came out. And then suddenly here I find myself laid off right in the midst of my divorce, and no real possibilities of what I needed to be doing in sight for a career, but I knew one thing. I knew I was done building other people's businesses. I was going to go find something and I was going to make it mine, and that was the beginning of the calling Jenn, that was really when I was like, 'Hm something's happening here, and I'm going to pay attention to it.'
Jenn T Grace: And now how did you know what things to pay attention to? Like you felt that entrepreneurial itch and recognized that working for someone else was not your path, but you definitely felt this calling. Was it small kind of breadcrumbs that led you to your direction? Or was it more of a big kind of like hitting you in the face type of obvious things?
Rick Clemons: I think it was a mixture of both. There was definite small breadcrumbs where as soon as I got laid off from the last position I thought, 'Okay well I'm just going to start doing some consulting type work.' I'd been a marketing guy, I'd been branding, I've helped develop brands, and so I started doing that. And this was in 2005-2006 so the age of the Internet was really just beginning to take off, social media was becoming the thing, so I followed what I knew how to do. But what was so interesting, and this was probably the first big like whack upside the head, was as soon as I started doing that I could feel the just- this isn't what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm tired of writing copy, I'm tired of designing brochures, I'm over hiring PR agencies. And of course by then I'm working for very small businesses, and I mean small like mom and pops on up to maybe businesses with maybe 100 to 200 employees at the most, just helping them as an ad hoc marketing person. And I was just- I was getting internally frustrated and it made me realize something was missing. And at that moment, as I'm kind of knocking on the door going, 'Okay universe, God, my lovely gay angel, somebody tell me what I'm supposed to be doing here.' At the same time I became surrounded by other individuals- mostly men, a few women, who were coming out, who had been married, most of them had kids, but they were surrounding me, coming to me and saying, "Hey you've done this pretty well. You seem to have a decent relationship with your ex-wife, and you have a relationship with your kids. What's the secret sauce so to speak?" And the more I was surrounded by those people the more I started going, 'Well this is interesting. Everybody seems to come to me and I enjoy giving them advice, asking them questions,' and then the next thing I knew in my practice- or in my consulting practice, I started getting quite a few coaches; life coaches, business coaches, and I saw the light. Like wow, I like what these people are doing. And it was ironic because back in 1996 when I went to work for the software company I had actually been integral in working with a coach in our organization because we were going through a triple merger, so we had purchased two other companies and there was a lot of egos in the room so to speak, and so we brought in an executive coach and I was pretty integral in having her work with her teams. And I thought, 'Wow I really like what she's doing, that would be really cool, I wish I could do something like that.' And I even talked to her about it but I'm like, 'Wait you just got hired on here, you're just getting going, you're going to go screw everything up and jump ship?' And so it's interesting how the universe kind of delivers that stuff. And then literally five years later when I got laid off from that job, ironically one of the first things that I got in my email was an invitation to check out a coaching program. I'm like, 'Wow this is kind of ironic.' And I looked at it, and of course when you're laid off and no sign of income coming in, and you're trying to pinch pennies and make sure money isn't just floating out the door, and you're in the middle of a divorce and learning to have to pay child support and alimony, I just kind of looked at it and said, 'Yeah that's a nice thing but I can't do that right now.' So the universe heard me and took it away. But then suddenly here we are now, 2006 - 2007, all these people are surrounding me wanting help, and all of a sudden I have clients that are coaches, and my clients started saying, "You're so much different than a consultant. Yes you do that sort of thing, and you help guide it, but you're asking us questions that make us really think deeply about our businesses. You really need to think about becoming a coach." And that was when the lightbulb went off.
Jenn T Grace: Interesting. So that's awesome that the universe- like you were saying kind of took it away and then brought it back when it was the right time to be brought back.
Rick Clemons: Well I think there's that phrase the universe is going to keep teaching you the same lesson until you finally listen. It's going to keep showing up and I actually now believe- wholeheartedly believe in that. Even as I'm doing this podcast with you there's stuff going on in my life right now that are lessons that I've been hearing and listening to, and it's almost a daily, 'Okay are you going to finally step in and listen to that message?' And when I- typically when I do that, I mean it's a rare, rare occasion that if I do that then it doesn't work. But when I fully align and step into that, that's when really amazing stuff happens in my life.
Jenn T Grace: And is that something that you feel can be taught to people? So I absolutely listen to my intuition, and I firmly believe everything happens for a reason, that the universe gives us signs. And I've kind of always felt that way but I've been on more of a path to really kind of hone in on that even more specifically, but I feel like a lot of people think it's all like woo woo and none of it really makes an impact. For you, was that always kind of the case for you, that you recognized that the universe was telling you these things? Because I feel like this is in so much alignment with running businesses, like having clear goals, and having very specific things that we're trying to achieve, and if we're not- if it's in any type of misalignment then it's not going to happen. But how did that kind of evolve for you, or was it just always there?
Rick Clemons: Well I fully and 100% believe it's always there. What I know now, and I'm not saying I'm some guru who is the end all be all, but what I do know for myself now is- it's always been there but what I was incapable of was accessing it in the way to really appreciate it. And now I realize when I access that energy, and when I access that intuition, and I act on that intuition- and I know this to be true not just for me. I have good friends, I have mentors, I have clients that I've watched this occur with. When we trust our gut intuition, almost 100% of the time- I'm going to say 100% of the time that's when what we need most actually happens. That's when the success steps in, that's when the relationship shows up, that's when we quit living in doubt and in fear, is when we trust our intuition. Our intuition to me- again this is just my perspective, is our greatest guide to being fully in alignment with our soul and our purpose here on this planet. And that can be in love, it can be in business, it can be in relationships, it can be in your calling, but when you are in that kind of alignment, anything becomes possible.
Jenn T Grace: I totally, totally agree on all of those fronts. Is this part of what you are sharing with your clients, this type of stuff?
Rick Clemons: Absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah.
Rick Clemons: Oh yeah, absolutely. Because what I've found through the coming out process- and mine was a long journey and everybody's is different, but through- and none of us ever stops coming out, so I want to really caveat that because there are still moments that as a gay man I'm coming out every day in different ways, in different groups, in different things, and so it's a very interesting journey. But as I have gone through this, there's a couple things that I have learned. Number one, I am who I am, and that's what makes me unique in the world. Now some would say, "Yeah you're not the only gay person." I realize that, but being gay the way I'm gay and how I make it a part of my life is my unique way of doing it. Secondly there's this beautiful piece of owning that uniqueness in the world. And it's not that I'm unique because I'm gay, there's a lot of things that I'm unique. I'm unique because like you I can do a podcast and it's just a flawless thing I can do. I can put myself behind that microphone and I can just go. I can go stand up on a stage if somebody were to knock on my door right now after we do this podcast and said, "You're needed on a stage in twenty minutes to give a speech," I could go do it because I just know that this is some of my innate uniqueness that I need to tap into that power and go with. The third thing I know is confidence resides within each of us. How we access that confidence, and how we use it is the key critical piece. And when you put all those magical things together- so knowing that you're always going to be good at something, that you have a unique space that you take up on the planet in a very beautiful way, and that confidence is at your disposal any time you want to access it. It becomes pretty powerful that then is when you can stand in your own beautiful space and are capable of doing whatever you set your mind to.
Jenn T Grace: So how do you get somebody out of that they've never kind of operated like this? Like what is your first point of recommendation to them to kind of push them out of that comfort zone and into a space that they've never really operated in before?
Rick Clemons: Well the first question I ask someone is what is it you most want, and why? And the why is very important. I mean one of my favorite authors and guy that just has always inspired me is Simon Sinek and his book, 'Start With Why.' To me the 'why' is the key critical piece. The 'how' you can figure out, the 'when' you can figure out, the 'what' you can figure out, but if you're not clear on the 'why.' I know why I do what I do. I do this work because I love the feeling of watching someone else step into who they truly are without guilt and shame, and it brings me pure joy and happiness when you can see someone do that because it reminds me of the reflection in the mirror of what I'm meant to be doing in my own life each and every day, being exactly who I am, and that's why I do it.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely.
Rick Clemons: There's too many people on our planet walking around not doing what they're meant to be doing and being what they're not meant to be because they bought into everybody else's idea of, 'Well you need to be this way, or you need to be that way.' I want everyone to just be themselves. That doesn't mean- that doesn't mean we're all going to like what each other is, but that's okay.
Jenn T Grace: That's what makes it great.
Rick Clemons: Yes, absolutely. But the first step is that 'why.' Really get clear on that 'why' because I think too often- and I know you've probably seen this Jenn yourself in the work that you do, the first question most people face is, 'Okay well what should I do? Or what should I be? Or how am I going to do that if I decide that's what I am?' We can get really caught up in those questions but then when you turn and ask someone the question, "Okay the 'what' and the 'how,' but why are you doing this? Why do you want to be that? Why is this important to you?" Those are the really big questions.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and all the details that can be completely sorted out later. And I like that the 'why' is the first thing that you talk about because one of my keynotes is about 'why.' You know really trying to get to the crux of why you're doing what you're doing, and I ask it regardless of who my audience is. So I have my straight audience and I have my LGBT audience, and it's still always the same question. So for the straight audience any time I'm in any type of consulting capacity, or a sales- like a prospect meeting or anything like that, my first question is, 'Well why do you care? Why the LGBT community? You could be marketing to any other community, why this?' And that's my way of weeding out if I'm going to work with a company or not, because if their 'why' is really crappy and it's not genuine, then I'm not putting my name and my reputation on the line to help somebody that has that inauthentic approach. Versus the company that is coming from a really great place with good intentions.
Rick Clemons: Yeah I had the really beautiful opportunity last evening to attend a movie premier for a friend of mine who his film just premiered here in Los Angeles at a film festival. And I knew the name of the movie, I knew he was the producer of it, and so we get there and the movie gets ready to start, and then lo and behold he's actually one of the actors in the movie. I didn't know this. And as I watched him perform- and we're not super good friends, we go to a networking event together once a month and so we've become casual acquaintances, and as I watched this person that I've had really cool conversations with portray this character, and knowing that he was the producer, and he was the writer, and played a lot of roles in this film, it just really brought the question forward of 'why.' Why did you step into the role of acting? So the movie ends and as they do at film festivals they bring the directors, and the producers, and the cinematographers, and some of the actors up and they have the Q&A. And the first question that somebody asked is, "So why did you do the acting in the movie?" And it was so beautiful because he wasn't intending to be in the movie. They kept trying to cast- they shot the movie in Brazil and they kept trying to find the right person to cast in that role, and they just couldn't find the person that they thought would really, really, really fit. Now they're already in the whole production crew, and it's a small production crew but it's an hour long short film so it's a rather- it's a pretty big thing for them to have flown people to Brazil, and they've got a cinematographer, and different people. They've probably got a crew of about fifteen people just waiting around, but they don't have this character. And he stepped into it and when somebody said, "Why-" when that question got asked he said, "Because this is what you do to get the movie made." I thought that was such a beautiful response. It was just wow, this is what you've got to do to get this made. Now of course as he talked more he goes, "And I realized I'm a piece of each of these characters. I'm a piece of this character here," and there's only four characters in the movie, and he talked about how there was a piece of him in each of the characters, but the one character that was missing was the piece of himself that was the most himself. And it was just ironic to hear him say that, and the 'why' was not only to get the movie made, but it was kind of to bring full circle who he was in all four of these characters in the movie so that (I loved his 'so that')- so that everyone who ever watches this movie can somehow truly relate to all the pieces of themselves that may be showing up in two people, three people, four people, ten people. But so they can see the complete essence of themselves in others.
Jenn T Grace: That's brilliant. That's so awesome. And it kind of shows that entrepreneurial spirit too of you have to do what you have to do to get the job done, and sometimes that's pushing your own limits and putting yourself in a role where it wasn't really your intention but to get the show to go on you had no choice.
Rick Clemons: Yeah. Amazing stuff.
Jenn T Grace: So in terms of kind of what you were just saying of people showing up as one person, two, three, four; I find that to be very common in the Internet marketing space, online marketing, even people who do speaking. So how do you- especially doing something so significant that you're doing, how can you or do you see people showing up differently? Because I think one of the things, especially because you have an online presence, you have a podcast, you have a following, you're out speaking in places; how do you stay grounded I guess maybe is the question. How do you stay grounded and make sure that you're always kind of representing your true authentic self, whether that is on your own podcast, on this podcast, on a stage, at a networking event? Because I think that is a very hard balance for a lot of people, and it's even more so when you're more in the public eye. So how does that look in your world?
Rick Clemons: Well it's all based in my journey. It all stems from the 36 years that I wasn't myself. That I hid and couldn't seem to get beyond what other people expected from me. And I remember the day that I first came upon one of my own personal mantras that really sums up the answer to your question. And my mantra is this; trust in yourself to be yourself is the greatest gift you can give yourself. And as long as I stand in that phrase to the best of my ability- and I always caveat it with that because nobody's perfect, but as long as I can trust myself to be myself in every way, every day, and give myself that gift, then that's what people are going to get. Whether it's this podcast, my podcast, whether I'm writing an article, whether I'm doing an interview, whether I'm standing on a stage; as long as I can trust myself to be exactly who I am, then there's really nothing to worry about. Now others could say, "But what about what other people think?" Well I trust myself to not worry about what other people think. "Well what about if you screw up?" Well I trust myself that if I screwed up on something then that's exactly what I'm supposed to be doing in that moment. Is it easy to stay in this space? Hell no, it's not easy because we all get faced with challenges. But that became the key mantra for me is I lived for 36 years not trusting myself to be who I was. I trusted myself to be everything that everybody else wanted me to be, but I didn't trust myself enough to take a stand and to say, "This is me and you can either be with me or you can not be with me, and that's okay." I think that's a big thing too, is to realize as someone- and I know you've written books Jenn, and all of us approach this differently. I personally will read my reviews, I won't react to most of them because I don't see the point in it, and I had to really learn to trust that I'm not going to be everybody's cup of tea and that's absolutely okay. It's okay to not be the end-all, be-all, the Holy Grail for everyone, but be who you need to be first and foremost for yourself, because when you are who you are for yourself, your energy reflects that you're okay with everyone else being who they are for themselves, and the right people that are supposed to come into your world whether it's your friendships, whether it's your relationships, a working relationship, your followers; then those are exactly the people who are supposed to be there. Where we get hung up is when we try to bring everybody into being who we want in our life and then suddenly it's like it becomes that, 'I need, and I compare, and I've got to be like such-and-such,' and man, in my opinion that's when everything crumbles.
Jenn T Grace: I just genuinely love what you're saying because I feel like these are all things that I think about, and I to some degree follow in my mind, but you're articulating them so clearly that I am loving it right now. This is awesome. So as we're talking about personal branding, because this is what this podcast is about, is really personal branding for LGBTQ professionals, or business owners, or whatever they might be doing. I find that it can be really challenging for people to really kind of understand what their personal brand stands for. What is that meaning that they're associating with themselves that they're going to go out there and market, and sell, and get people to follow them? Obviously when people are in alignment with their soul's journey even, when you're really aligned with what you're supposed to be doing in life, it makes things so much easier. But I find that most people are not that aligned. So from a personal branding standpoint, if there's somebody who's listening to this and they're like, "I can't even begin to follow what Rick and Jenn are saying right now. I'm just not there." Do you have any thoughts for them in terms of helping them kind of build and grow their personal brand from that place of authenticity? Because I think that's so incredible important, is the authenticity for anybody, but it feels even more so when we're relating that back to the LGBT community.
Rick Clemons: I love to have people start with something- it's going to sound really funny, but I do what I call the Do You Like Cookies exercise.
Jenn T Grace: Okay.
Rick Clemons: And what that is, is 'do you like cookies? Yes or no?' 'No.' 'Okay do you like ice cream? Yes or no?' 'Yes.' 'Really? What kind of ice cream do you like?' They tell me. 'What is it that you like about that ice cream?' They'll tell me. 'And if you could have all that ice cream that you wanted, what would that make you feel?' And then they tell me. Same thing could happen with the cookies. When they get done they're kind of looking at me like, 'Okay what does this have to do with me and my personal brand or how I show up?' I said, 'Because what you just did is you were completely authentic about what you liked. So why aren't you doing this in everything you're doing about what you do in your work, and what you want to be doing? Why aren't you being really honest with yourself about what you like and how you like to show up? So now let's do the exercise a different way. What do you like to do for work? What is it that really turns you on? What is that you go to work and you get lost in that you go, 'I could do this all day long.' Because that's the stuff you need to be paying attention to. I know for me if I could wake up every morning and do exactly what we're doing here all day long; the podcast, and radio show, and talk, and do talk interviews, and show up this way and then go hop on a stage and talk- if I could do that all day long, man I'm in my bliss point. Now that doesn't mean I don't get to do that, but there's a lot of things that come along with that, and that come along with my personal brand. But what I had to get used to doing is saying, "Yes I accept this is what I really like." This is what I really enjoy doing because when I'm dialed in to what I really enjoy doing, and I go do it, guess what starts to happen? Knock, knock, knock; opportunity shows up. And I think that's what a lot of people miss.
Jenn T Grace: I totally agree. Do you know of any particular assessments or tools that have helped clients of yours kind of identify their likes? Because I think that's another thing, is that not everyone even truly knows at the root of their being what they like and don't like because they've been so pre-programmed in so many ways to kind of be somewhat of a lemming and just following everyone else's path and not really paying attention to their own.
Rick Clemons: Sure there's a friend of mine who is now deceased but he has a beautiful brand that his wife has continued to carry forward now, and this is just recent, he just passed in the last year. But his brand is called Live Your Legend, and if you go to I believe www.LiveYourLegend.net, I don't believe it's a .com. But Live Your Legend, just Google it, you'll find it because he's done a Ted Talk and all these things. But he has this really beautiful passion exercise, and I remember doing that, and that was something that really helped me when I was doing some shifting within my brand trying to find some things. It helped really get pinpointed. The other thing that I have found- and this is a tool that I use for my coach's training, is an assessment- it's an energy assessment, it's called the Energy Leadership Assessment. I know people listening will go, 'Well what does that have to do with finding stuff?' Well what it does is it pinpoints how you show up in the world, your beliefs, your values, your purview, your lens that you're looking at things through so that we can see where the hidden roadblocks are. Because until we know what the hidden roadblocks are, we can't start to get them out of the way. But if you can get the roadblocks out of the way, then you start to move closer towards what you really are meant to be. So let's just take kind of the setup you just gave me, Jenn. Let's say someone shows up and says, "I'm really- I just don't know what my passion is, and I don't know how to even put a finger on it." Well I would do the assessment with them because I want to see what belief systems are they holding onto? How do they see the world? How are they approaching things in life? So one of the statements that they rank- and you rank these statements from totally agree to totally disagree, and everything kind of in between, but there's about six marks between there that you can rank things. So one of the statements is, 'The world is perfect just the way it is.' Now one person might say, "Hey that sounds great, I'm going to say I totally agree." Another person might say, "Oh no, I totally disagree." And another person might say, "Well I somewhat agree." But when you can see how somebody ranks that and you can dial in and let's go back to the person who says, "I totally disagree." What is it with the world that you see the world in this way, that it's keeping you from seeing it as perfect? Well they may have a belief system that says nothing can be perfect. They may have had a situation in their life where someone that they loved dearly was taken away from them, and their view is this is unfair, this is not the way the world's supposed to be. But then you take the person who says, "I totally agree that the world is perfect just the way it is," and you start to ask them the questions, "Explain to me why you have that outlook on the world." "Well because I have a belief system that says everything happens for a purpose. And everything we get to encounter in this world is for our best interest." So when you can start to see these things in individuals, you can start to help them go, "Okay based on that outlook, now if you believe everything happens in the world for a purpose, then how does that affect your view of you not being able to land on your passion? There may be a disconnect right there." If they believe everything happens for a purpose but they're like, "I think it's unfair that I still haven't been able to figure out my passion," well there's a big disconnect between those two things, and that's where we would start to do the work. Because as soon as we can release that block and bring more of, 'I see the world, and it's happening, and everything being done for me,' then maybe not finding your passion is being done for you so that you will get to it when it's meant to show up in the world. And I've seen this happen with a couple of my clients that have kind of been in that scenario. One of them was very much, 'Oh yeah, everything happens for a very beautiful reason, but I'm just so frustrated I can't figure out what I'm supposed to be doing.' And then suddenly as soon as we started working in that arena and she started going, "Oh I see I have a really big disconnect in my belief system to what I'm actually in action doing," literally within a month she started to figure out what she really wanted to be doing because that block had been put in a light, the spotlight was shining on it and she saw the inconsistency between how she was showing up, and she started making a very conscious effort to go, 'Even in my pursuit of my passion, it's happening exactly the way it's supposed to be happening for me,' and it was amazing to watch her release and her energy just shift so much, and literally a month later she was like, "I think I'm going to pursue this thing in photography," because she had a huge passion for photography, "and I'm going to trust that by telling the universe I'm following this, that somehow the right thing is going to show up that I get to-" and she was very smart; MBA, very smart business person, high up in her corporate position. She trusted that somehow the photography was going to interact with her corporate position and the ironic thing was she started to create programs internally where she took people that were very business focused, very logical, just that whole almost type A, like everything has to happen this way, and she started doing some very beautiful creative programs within the organization to incorporate photography, and drawing, and poem writing, and all these things to kind of loosen up the environment, and it ended up raising not only the consciousness within the organization, but started destressing and getting more communication happening. But it took her starting to see her own possibility before any of this could begin to happen.
Jenn T Grace: Wow, I feel like you just said a mouthful.
Rick Clemons: I did.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, I feel like everyone needs to go check out those resources that you were mentioning, so I'll make sure that I put them in the show notes. Because I do think-
Rick Clemons: Yeah, absolutely. www.LiveYourLegend.net is definitely- and then on my site you're going to see it's called the True You Process, and within the True You Process is that Energy Leadership Assessment that's just- it's so powerful. I've done it twice on myself, and it's amazing to see the shift you make. I do it with all my clients, that's the first thing we do. We do this assessment so I can see how do they think? How do they approach things? And whether they work with me a month, whether they work with me three months, six months, a year; somewhere along the way when I feel like the time's right, I do the assessment again and it's amazing to see the shifts in numbers because it gets them out of victim mentality, it helps them reduce conflict in their life, it guides them through the energy of just kind of settling and being okay, and being kind of, 'Things just happen because that's what's supposed to happen.' They don't make excuses any longer, and it moves them into a very conscious frame of mind of, 'I'm doing this and how can I do what I'm doing and making it a win-win, not only for me but for everyone else?'
Jenn T Grace: I love that. So your website is www.RickClemons.com and that's only with one M. So again, those will be in the show notes. And you said the Energy Assessment is on your website.
Rick Clemons: Yeah it's called the True You Process.
Jenn T Grace: True You Process.
Rick Clemons: So when you get to the services page it's called the True You Process and you can get a glimpse of what that's all about.
Jenn T Grace: Excellent, alright I'll make sure that that's linked up properly.
Rick Clemons: And for anyone who might be interested in doing this Jenn, I usually charge $159 to do that assessment, but I would give them my friends and family discount on that one, and I would do it for $99.
Jenn T Grace: Nice. It sounds so good because it really is an assessment, it's not just a 'Hey I took this online quiz that told me that I'm the yellow color.' It's more in depth and you're using it as a metric which I think is what most people are missing in their businesses generally, and even more so from a marketing side of things, is that they're not measuring anything that they're doing and then they're wondering why they're not seeing any type of needle moving.
Rick Clemons: Exactly.
Jenn T Grace: So as you were talking I pulled up your website, so now I'm going to derail us a little bit and ask you about your book. So I know that you've written a book and it's obviously in complete alignment with what you're doing. Can you just share with the listeners a little bit about that, and maybe about that process?
Rick Clemons: Sure, so it's been interesting. I tend to be somewhat of a spontaneous guy; ask my husband, he'll wake up on a Sunday morning and I'll have half the house torn apart with a hammer, "Guess what we're doing? We're remodelling this room today so go get recruits."
Jenn T Grace: I love it.
Rick Clemons: Put junky stuff on and here we go. But I wouldn't say that the book was that much of a spontaneous thing, but I do remember sitting down one day and going, 'I'm going to start writing.' And I've always had a passion for writing ever since I was fairly young, and I knew this book was within me given my coming out journey, and also because I'd started doing this work with other people. And I just felt like there's things that I needed to say, and I wasn't just going to do 'Here's Rick's memoir of coming out.' I could have done that, nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to do something more. I wanted to do something that said, 'Okay here's a glimpse of my journey, and then based on that glimpse of the journey, in this next chapter here's how you can go through that yourself. Finding your own path through it, but here are some recommendations, here are some things to explore, and then now let's jump back into the journey.' So that's basically the format of the book; every other chapter is memoir, and then the other chapter is practical how-to's in that arena. What I'm most proud of with this book is I feel that I've taken a very heavy subject, it's not pretty, and I'm the first to admit I'm a jerk and I'm an ass for what I did to a very beautiful woman. I also caveat that with until you've stood in someone's shoes who was given the societal pressure that many of us have been to do the right thing and be the right person, and then you add the faith-based sort of stuff, and numerous other things. And some of you might think, 'Oh he's making excuses.' I'm not making excuses, I'm just stating the facts. Until you've lived in those shoes, be very careful how you start to ridicule or judge someone. But what I wanted to do was do this in a way that said, 'This is a really heavy subject but there can be some humor along the way in this.' And not making fun of the journey but having fun with it. I mean there's an alter ego to mine, her name is Lemonade Pop, she's my inner diva, and she shows up throughout the book. She has this sarcastic flair to her. If I could create her in real life- I'm a big guy, I'm 6'4" I'm almost 300 pounds, so I'm a big guy, I'm a big linebacker guy. She would be a big African American diva, probably with platinum blonde or bright pink hair or something like that, and she would be sassy but yet very forthright. She's a little mix of- if anybody knows who Iyanla Vanzant is from Oprah's 'Fix Your Life.' She's a little bit of Iyanla with a little bit of Oprah mixed in, but then a very quiet almost like serene piece of- I don't know, hard to say, maybe like that shy Barbara Streisand who really doesn't like being on stage. There's that element to her as well. So she can be real sassy and out there, but then she can come to center really quickly. So that's what I brought into the book. A lot of my own experience, the laughter, the humor, the sadness, the authenticity- I feel like it's very authentic, and I'm just really proud of what I produced. And it wasn't like, 'Oh let's go do this' and it was done. It was done in like less than six months, I mean I wrote the book in less than six months. But then it sat there on the shelf for a couple years because I was in the midst, and for all you entrepreneurs out there, yes I was in the midst of chasing lots of bright, shiny objects trying to figure out who is Rick, and what is Rick's brand going to be? And I was trying to walk away from the coming out stuff because I'm like, 'I want to be more, I want to be doing something different,' and then it's so ironic to me that now- basically six years down the road from when I started as a coming out coach, and then kind of got derailed, and chased different things, and then the book was being written, and then a year ago I said, "I just want to get this book published." And now here we stand and I am fully embracing that I am the coming out coach, I help people come out of numerous things, I am an expert in that arena, and that the core of who I am is around uniqueness, and confidence, and making these quirky little things in our life work, which so aligns with coming through the closet doors and saying, "Frankly my dear, I'm gay." That was like the big impetus to everything. So in a weird way it all worked together. I feel really proud of it.
Jenn T Grace: And what did writing a book do for your business and for your speaking? What type of impact did you see once that was kind of out there in the world?
Rick Clemons: Well first of all for me personally, it was very cathartic. And there's even moments now when I will be at a book signing or a book reading and I'll read something and I'll kind of go, 'Wow I really wrote that. That's kind of scary that I put that out there in print the way I did.' But as far as for my business, what I've seen- and in fact this was really beautiful. I got to LA yesterday morning and there was a text on the app WhatsApp. I don't know if anybody's familiar with it, but WhatsApp is a beautiful texting tool you can use when you're travelling, especially out of the US. It's free and it helps you text and stay in touch. And I noticed there was a text on my WhatsApp, and it was obviously from a foreign country, I could tell by the number, and the message was this. 'Hi Rick, I've received your book. I've been reading it profusely and I just need you to know that it's helped me see that everything I've been thinking and feeling is exactly okay to be thinking and feeling. I'm a father of two, I love my wife dearly, but I realize the rejection in myself has to quickly in the near future come to an end. I look forward to meeting you someday, and hopefully when I can do it, possibly working with you.' And this was from a man in Barcelona, Spain.
Jenn T Grace: Wow. That's amazing.
Rick Clemons: And those moments there, when you say, 'What does your book do for you and your business?' It’s become the calling card in what I believe I was put here on the earth to do, which was be a support, be a warm embrace, be a different way of looking at things when you're deep in the heart of that thing that's got you in the clutches that you just believe you can't come out and say, 'This is who I am.' Again whether it's coming out to say you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender; I don't care what it is, or you're saying I need to escape cubicle nation and I need to go start my own business. All these things are the things that it's done for me in my business. It's helped me get really clear on how I go take this to the next level, and what the evergreen conversations are that I can now have because it's my calling card. It's the thing that says, 'This guy has some expertise in this arena and he's worth listening to.'
Jenn T Grace: That is so beautifully stated because that really I feel like is what it's all about. It's not about selling a million copies, it's about impacting the lives of individual people who need to hear your message to better their lives.
Rick Clemons: In fact I purposefully carry- you may do this too Jenn. All of us authors kind of tend to do this whether we're with a big publishing house or not. I carry a box of books with me in my car wherever I go.
Jenn T Grace: I do the same.
Rick Clemons: And I find it really interesting- yes I have them available if somebody wants to buy them of course, but I've found it very interesting how many times I've been having a conversation with someone and I just feel compelled to say, "Excuse me a minute, I want to go get you something." Because I just feel like I want to hand them this book and just say, "I think this might help you in some way." And it's interesting because yes it's geared toward the late in life bloomer who's been married, coming out so to speak. But two things that have shocked me the most- or I shouldn't say shocked, I mean I guess I'm just in amazement is number one, the number of heterosexual friends and acquaintances of mine who have bought the book to support me, but then they have turned around and they've actually read it. I know that sounds really weird. It's like, "Yeah I know you're just buying the book to support me and you're never going to read this." But it's amazing that they have read the book, and they have come back to me, and a couple of them have even posted these reviews on Amazon unsolicited saying, 'I'm a heterosexual female, single mother of three, and I know this sounds weird that I would be reading this book, but this book opened my eyes to my own sexual orientation stuff as a heterosexual woman, that I didn't realize I'd never dealt with. All the stuff from teenage and puberty that I still have not really contended with, and Rick helped me see how beautiful it is to just be who I am.' Those are the ones that I get really blown away by. The second one that really surprises me is I intended this book to be the 35 on up crowd. I've had more young people- so now I'm really aging myself when I'm going to say, 'You know people in their twenties, young people,' who have come up to me and said- in fact the last networking event I was at, a young guy bought my book, he's 26 years old and he goes, "Yeah I think I really need to read this because I just came out last year and I'm kind of late to the game." And I'm looking at him going, "Hunny, 25 years old, to me you're kind of early to the game." But in his mind, many of his friends came out when they were fourteen, seventeen, eighteen, twenty, so in his mind he's a late bloomer. And so I think that's just really powerful stuff to see how a book, no matter what you, the author- what frame you put it in, it has so many more different ways that it can reach out and really impact people.
Jenn T Grace: And I think that books are amazing because they will stay around long after you're gone. So I think for me it's kind of knowing that my words will live on if I am not around; they're still impacting people, and that's really kind of the ultimate goal that many of us have, and I think that's why you and I connected so well when we did, was that we both have this much bigger purpose in life than just ourselves.
Rick Clemons: And you know to that point Jenn, I wish people would embrace that to leave a legacy, whatever that is and however big or small it is, is part of your purpose here on earth. Every one of us has a legacy to leave. Even if your legacy is somebody saw you stop and pick a ladybug up in the middle of a sidewalk, and move it over onto a plant so that ladybug continued to have life. If that's the only legacy you ever leave on the planet is someone saw you do that, then own that, and be it, and let it be. And I think often we think we have to have these grandiose things we do. Yes I agree with you 100%, I know there's words that I have now written that are there. They're never going to die. Someone, somewhere- I mean how do we have all these beautiful works of the masters still that we can see and read? It's because someone said this was important enough to keep around. I think each of us has words, and pieces of ourselves that are important enough to keep around, and that's another reason why I do the work I do, is to help people realize you have something to leave, and you have an impact to have on this planet.
Jenn T Grace: I love that. I feel like this is such a good way to end it. I feel like we could talk all day, and I feel like you have- and this is not a back-handed insult, you have the voice for radio. You have such a soothing quality to your voice that I feel like the listeners could probably listen to you all day as well.
Rick Clemons: Oh well thank you.
Jenn T Grace: So for those who want to get in touch with you, how- what is your preferred means of them doing so?
Rick Clemons: The best way is probably to literally either hop on my website, you can fill out a form on my contact page, but I really like the direct contact. You can email me at Rick@rickclemons.com, and again as Jenn said that's Clemons with one M, -ONS. So just think C and then lemons, that's the easiest way to always remember that Clemons. Rick@rickclemons.com. Shoot me and email and say, 'Hey I heard you on Jenn's podcast, and I just wanted to connect,' and especially if you want to do the True You Assessment make sure you say, 'I want to do the True You Assessment, I heard you on Jenn's podcast,' that way I can get you that $99 rate to do that, and I'd love to be a part of that and bring that into your life to help you open up to all the beautiful possibilities of what it is for you to be truly you.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah this is amazing. Thank you so much for spending the time today. I feel certain that the listeners are going to love this.
Rick Clemons: Well thank you for having me, Jenn. It's always a pleasure and I look forward to many, many things we're going to do together.
Jenn T Grace: Oh you bet.
Thank you for listening to today's podcast. If there are any links from today's show that you are interested in finding, save yourself a step and head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And there you will find a backlog of all of the past podcast episodes including transcripts, links to articles, reviews, books, you name it. It is all there on the website for your convenience. Additionally if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, you can head on over to the website and click the contact form, send me a message, you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all at JennTGrace. And as always I really appreciate you as a listener, and I highly encourage you to reach out to me whenever you can. Have a great one, and I will talk to you in the next episode.
Thu, 18 August 2016
#91: Building a Speaking Career Based on Passion with Michaela Mendelsohn
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Podcast, episode 91.
Jenn T Grace: Well hello and welcome to episode 91 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and today, guess what? I have another interview. So we are on quite a streak. I'm actually trying to see how long I can make this streak last at this point, so we're doing pretty good. So we're on episode number 91 and I have another interview for you, and it is with Michaela Mendelsohn. I have to say this was such an incredible interview to have. Michaela is absolutely amazing in terms of the amount of work she is doing to move forward the trans community, and the exposure, and the education, and the awareness of the trans community. So she is a transgender activist, she's a public speaker, she's also been a business person for over forty years running one of the largest franchises in the western region of the US, and she's recently founded the California Transgender Workplace Program which is designed to promote transgender employment opportunities. So she literally has been involved in so many incredible things, which it was so great to talk to her because she's just so humble about the amount of things that she's accomplished. And one of the cool things that we started to talk about toward the end of the interview is the fact that she consulted with the producer of Orange is the New Black on Laverne Cox's character, and that was about five or six years ago she was saying. So she's definitely had her involvement in a lot of different things around the trans community, and we can attribute some part of how Laverne's character came out in the show to a lot of the consulting that Michaela was doing behind the scenes. So I think that's kind of a fun little fact, and we do talk a little bit about Caitlin Jenner toward the end, and what she's been doing in regards to advancement of the LGBT community, specifically the trans community, but these are two things that we just kind of briefly touch upon. We really kind of go deep into the mindset, and transitioning, and what that looks like, and transitioning even from being a business owner to being a speaker, and really it was just an amazing conversation. So if you are listening to this and you want to check out the links to Michaela's website, or to any of the organizations that we talk about, you can head on over to my website and go to www.JennTGrace.com/91, that is for episode number 91. And yeah, you can find Michaela's contact information, her website, we talk about the Trevor Project, we talk about a lot of things so there's a lot of information to be had. So without further ado, please enjoy my interview with Michaela, and reach out to her and give her some social media love because this was just an incredible, incredible interview. Enjoy the show, thanks so much.
Michaela M: I transitioned about nine years ago, and it was a difficult transition as it is for many people who are late transitioners who have families involved, and we can come back to that if you want to hear more about it. But first I'll talk about the transition itself. You know I lived my whole life mentally feeling inside different, and when I realized that what I had to do finally after years of suppressing it and trying to make it go away, that wasn't going to work anymore because I was getting very sick. I moved forward with my transition, like I said about nine years ago. The first few years of my transition were very confusing for me in that I'd gone from- and I think this is pretty common too, I'd gone from one box to another. So here before I was confined in a place and a body that wasn't mine, but then we have a tendency I think in transitioning to then try and become that perfect billboard, in my case of a woman. So here I am, you look at women in the news, in a magazine or billboard and think, 'Hey this is who I'm supposed to be,' and you're trying to- you worry so much about what you wear, how you talk, how you dress, your mannerisms, how you look, your makeup, your hair, and even worrying about every thought I had. You don't go from being a macho male, I did a great job of that for over fifty years to cover up, and to changing all your thoughts and who you are in an instant.
Jenn T Grace: It's a process for sure.
Michaela M: Yeah, so it's a tough thing to do. So I created this new box for myself, and found after a few years of getting totally frustrated with that, it was even more confining than what I was in before. Until I finally was able to go inside and through some deep meditation, and working on myself, I was able to just accept all parts of myself and stop judging myself, labeling myself anymore. I really like the term that young people are using these days called gender nonconforming. I think the word transgender will even be obsolete within ten years from now because it's just another box that I think many of us put ourselves into to try and be something, some other gender in a perfect way rather than just being who we are.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, absolutely. So in looking at the information that I have about you that Mona was so gracious to send over, how do you go from what you're describing where it's a rough transition, because you're going from essentially one box that you've been in for fifty years, now kind of jumping into another box? I know that one of the things that she noted was that you took part in Miss Senior California. How do you go from kind of being a little bit uncomfortable in this new box to really putting yourself so out there in something like that?
Michaela M: Well I went through extreme bullying as a child, and the chip on my shoulder that lasted, which isn't too bad most of the time, is that whenever there's a challenge presented to me, and if I'm feeling afraid of it, it tends to really motivate me where I say, 'You've got to go through this.' It makes me want to just walk through the fire. And so that was one of those things where I was doing some modeling, and one of the models had done Miss Senior California the year before and suggested it to me, and I thought, 'Well this is a great challenge, something that no transgender person had done it before,' and of course it was another mountain to climb, but also it was a way to open doors for other trans women, and that became really important to me. [Inaudible 00:07:25] and to normalize things, and to create a socio and economic playing field that's more level that we can all step into, that we don't have to feel- you know, we can break down barriers.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and so I know that you are now a public speaker, you've been a business person for over forty years. So how did you go- again because I think this is kind of a different type of transition in terms of a career transition. So how do you go from owning one of the largest franchises from what I'm reading, to transitioning into being an activist, and being a public speaker, and really putting yourself out there for a living at this point? So what did that feel like and what was that transition like?
Michaela M: Well first of all I've been through so much in my life that I've always had a Buddhist philosophy that our challenges are what makes us stronger and wiser. And so I feel very fortunate that I'm at this place in my life that when I look at so many of the other trans women especially that are suffering, I just feel like I have to give back. I made a decision to devote the rest of my life to things that I would feel I could help as many people as possible. And so that's kind of my motivation right now for waking up every morning, is what I can do to help, and it just fills me up.
Jenn T Grace: So are you still running your franchises? Or is that kind of part of your past and you're really just pursuing this?
Michaela M: My day would make you dizzy, but I usually get in the morning about 6:00 to my little one coming in and waking me up, but that's how early my day starts and it usually goes to about 12:30 at night. I'll take about three hours out for family time from 5:30 to 8:30, and other than that I've just got so many things that I'm involved in, and running my business is still one of them, but I'm so fortunate to have great people that work for me that can do so much of that so that I can focus on these other things.
Jenn T Grace: And speaking of other things that you're focusing on, I see that you are launching the California Trans Work Project. Can you talk about that a little bit? Because I'm sure that that is something that can make a huge, huge impact.
Michaela M: Okay well CTWP, California Trans Workplace Project is something I started- well the idea formulated in my mind about four years ago when one of my managers hired our first trans employee, and then I sat down with her and I heard her story where she had worked for another large franchisee of a different chain, and she was even though clearly identifying as a woman was forced to use the men's restroom, and was actually molested. And then she kind of felt like, 'I've got to keep this job, I can't get another one, it's so hard for trans women to get jobs even in California.' And she was told, "Okay you can use the women's restroom but make sure no one else is in there." One day she had someone scout it out, no one was in there, she went in but afterwards another woman had gone in and went out and told her husband, "I think there's someone in there that might be a man," so he got upset and pushed the manager until the manager fired her. So that opened my eyes to the problem. I'm just lucky being a boss, of course it was emotionally a difficult thing for me to come out to 500 employees which I did all at once at a Christmas party after having disappeared for a year, but I don't have to worry about being fired or getting a job. And so these- especially trans girls who may not fit in as easily as trans men that walk into a job, I've found the more I learn and I've hired 8% of my employees now are trans, by the way.
Jenn T Grace: That's awesome.
Michaela M: And I started actually hiring trans people and found that they're so appreciative to be on a level playing field, many of these girls had been out there looking for a job for a year, and they were very hirable people but people would come up with different excuses of why not they were going to hire them. So California Trans Workplace Project is taking that experience now that I've had for the last four years of hiring trans people, and what it takes to create an inclusive trans environment in the workplace, and going out and educating employers. Right now we're working for instance with the California Restaurant Association, they have 90,000 restaurants here in California, 1.8 million employees. And we've put on seminars for large groups of employers, and some may bring their managers, and then once they're into that and we help educate them in seminars about trans laws and creating that environment, and then we have- we just got a grant from the state of California to do this, and we're putting together a training video, and we use that to train their managers and get them ready to start connecting them with job seekers. Our mission is to make California truly a trans positive work environment and then spread that throughout the rest of the country. We're using California as a model.
Jenn T Grace: Wow, and my question would be for someone listening to this- my audience are primarily business owners and there's a good amount of LGBT people, but also really kind of staunch allies to the community. So for a business owner listening to this who may not have ever considered hiring a trans person; not because someone applied and they said, "No I'm not going to hire a trans person," but just because they haven't proactively thought about it. What do you think that first step could be, regardless of what part of the country they're in, what do you think that first step could be for them to educate themselves or open up the awareness to hiring someone part of the trans community?
Michaela M: Well of course one of the things we find most effective in any of these seminars we do, is the stories, it opens hearts and minds. But the other thing is let me talk for a minute about the business case because as employers right now we can't afford to exclude any talent pool of employees. It's the hardest to find- I know in the restaurant industry, which I've been in for thirty years and I was president of a national franchise association for nine, and very involved in that industry, and I know that the statistics show that it's the hardest to find employees in the last fifteen years even with minimum wage going up. So we can't afford to exclude a talent pool. And we also have a problem in our industry especially with turnover, and now here I am bringing in people, yes trans people that have- are really very appreciative to be on a level playing field, they're wonderful with our customers, we get more customer compliments on them than any other employees, and less turnover because they're loyal and appreciative of the work, they're treated well. And no I'm not just doing it because it's the right thing to do, I'm doing it because it's great for my business.
Jenn T Grace: Do you have any-?
Michaela M: And I think the business owners hearing that, I hope that they'll think about that positive business side of doing this as well as doing it from the heart.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, absolutely it's both directions for sure. Do you have plans on raising that number for yourself personally from 8% and as far as the mission of this new organization are you trying to kind of set benchmarks and numbers to get people rallied up around to achieve those goals?
Michaela M: Well I think 8% is already so much higher percentage than [Inaudible 00:14:13] in our population. But I think for me it's more now- we may go up or down, but for me it's more now about getting people hired and getting employers- open their hearts and minds and train their management to create that trans inclusive workplace, and to get people hired. My dream, my overall dream of doing everything I'm doing with speaking, and my work with the Trevor Project, and my work with the California Trans Workplace Project is to live to see the day where trans people are on a socioeconomic level playing field with the rest society and they can start moving past the fears they have that cause them to live day to day to survive, and the living a normal lifestyle. I mean I feel so fortunate to have a family, to have a wonderful partner, and to have a child, and three grown kids. I have my two families now have come together after years of difficulty and love each other, and I'm so, so fortunate to have that, and I think that's the life we should all have.
Jenn T Grace: I absolutely agree. So when you're out speaking and kind of spreading this message of inclusion is really what we're talking about, what types of organizations are asking you to come speak? What type of topics are you talking on? Are they varied? What is that part of your new day-to-day look like?
Michaela M: Well I tailor my speaking to the group. I mean, okay so I might be- like this last weekend I spoke at a Jewish congregation synagogue and I was talking about my journey not only as a trans person, but as a spiritual person, and then creating that as a metaphor for everyone in the audience to look into their own journeys because as I point out we're all in transition in our lives, and we all have things that we're afraid of, or embarrassed of, or a fear of failure that we can pull out of ourselves and become happier in our lives. My experience is just a metaphor. But if I'm speaking to a group of educators, I might be speaking to 100 school principals, and administrators from a large school district, I'm going to talk about what it was like for me growing up so they can understand the experience, to humanize it, and relate it to the kids and the parents that they're dealing with at the school and the situations they have. And it's wonderful these days that kids that are supported by their parents can actually choose their puberty because puberty is when most of these kids that commit suicide, or attempt it because they're going through a period of time that's totally adverse to who they are. They're becoming something they hate. And now parents that are supportive- and they're my real champions, these supportive parents, that help their children, they'll bring them to clinics, they'll help block the puberty that they were going to go through, and then when they're ready give them the hormones to go through the one that they were meant to. And I've been with these kids and they are just amazingly happy to have that opportunity to be who they are.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, especially when they're allowed to go through it when they should be going through it, versus even your transition of having to wait fifty years before that was something that was possible for you.
Michaela M: Yeah the late transitioners that we hear so much about now, the Caitlin Jenner's and all, are going to get fewer, are going to get fewer as time goes by because we're more open to it now. I had now idea- when I was growing up the word transgender wasn't even discussed and there was no Internet or talk shows, I had no idea. I was just very confused about what I was feeling.
Jenn T Grace: I find that I know a lot of people within the trans community, and a lot of older people, and that's so exactly what I hear all the time where it's just there was no terminology around this. There were no role models, there was no one to look to, to see that, 'Oh yeah that's what I'm feeling.' So I can totally understand what you're saying. And yeah now kids, some of them anyway, have the benefit of not having to kind of carry that burden with them for so many years of just living an inauthentic life.
Michaela M: Yeah, we still need to get past a lot of ignorance. I don't want to get into politics but just to get help frame it, the bathroom things that are going on and the twelve states that are suing the US government over this. And when you go to these states, and a lot of them are in the south, people have very little knowledge about what transgender means. In fact many of them believe that it's all a rouse, that it's manufactured, it's a devious state of mind, or people are talked into it, or people are using it to become predators. And all of that is just so far from the truth, and if they really experience the stories- that's why I want to go out and speak more in the south because when you're in front of a group of people, and you tell your story, they get to know who you are, it's hard for them to deny the reality and the experience, and it opens their mind. But yeah, there's tremendous ignorance. In some of the churches down there that are considering gay and lesbian affirming are still not on board with trans. They say God makes no mistakes and trans people must just be [Inaudible 00:19:09] the devil.
Jenn T Grace: I can't even wrap my head around the logic that people come up with. So when we're talking about the bathroom bills, and all of just kind of the chaos that's ensuing at least in the twelve states, can you I guess- especially from your vantage point, for somebody listening to this who may not be fully clued in as to what that's all about, could you actually spend just a couple of minutes explaining it? Because I find that a lot of people, they just have a lot of misinformation. They just see whatever picture was on Facebook or on Instagram, or whatever it is and they don't actually know the facts of what's actually happening.
Michaela M: Well when someone is transgender they're often tempted to live in the gender who they feel they are, so they'll present- let's say it's someone who's born biologically a male and they're now dressing and presenting as a female because that's who they feel they are. If they walk into a restroom- a male restroom like that, they're in danger and thousands of them have been sexually molested like that in doing so. In a female restroom they feel safe and comfortable as long as the women there are accepting. But they're certainly in any case feel better and safer than they were in the male restrooms. The people that are against it are using scare tactics saying it's invading their privacy, and these people could be doing this- it's opening the door for sexual molesters, and child molesters, and this is all so far from the truth. Like I said there's been thousands of cases of trans people being molested, but there's never been a case where a trans person has gone into a bathroom and it's been documented that they've molested anybody. And because it's the furthest thing from their mind. A simple way to say it is they just want to pee, but they also want to be accepted and just pee. It's like statistics go off and get used against the LGBT community like when Prop 8- as a metaphor for this, when Prop 8- you're familiar with that, right?
Jenn T Grace: Oh yeah.
Michaela M: When California-
Jenn T Grace: Yes, absolutely.
Michaela M: So during the campaign they had all these commercials showing things like we're getting teachers, and PE teachers, and coaches, and Boy Scout leaders, and people that are going to molest our kids because they're gay. Right? Because they're all- gay people are all predators. When I speak, I talk about statistics. The FBI statistics, and they're not a particularly gay affirming organization, are that 97% of sexual predators, sexual molesters are heterosexual men. So the other 3%-4% are women and all others. And we preclude heterosexual men from doing anything that could be in contact with children? So it's all such a misnomer, it's all scare tactics, but it's based on fear, it's based on ignorance.
Jenn T Grace: What do you think the outcome of these pending lawsuits against the government are going to be? Where do you think if we were to flash forward a year from now, or two years from now, what is that going to look like?
Michaela M: Well it depends on who gets elected as president, and then who gets [Inaudible 00:21:59].
Jenn T Grace: Yeah.
Michaela M: Like I don't want to talk too much about politics on your show but-
Jenn T Grace: No it's fine.
Michaela M: Hillary's speech last night, and I actually was a Bernie supporter but I liked everything that Hillary stands for and I was thrilled by her speech, and I'm hopeful that Hillary becomes president, and that the right people stay on the Supreme Court, and if that's the case I feel that it's like any other ignorant- you know we have a Constitution- we have a Declaration of Independence and we have a constitution, and the reason for it is so that the majority can make decisions who segregate and hurt people that are in the minority just because they don't understand them, and they don't like them because they're different. And I think that we have a government now that's not letting that happen, and if things move the way I hope they will, that will continue. We've made more progress in the Obama administration for transgender people than we have in the last forty years combined.
Jenn T Grace: It's amazing, isn't it? Do you find that it's startling sometimes to think that we're in 2016 right now and we're having the conversations that we're having, not even exclusive to LGBT, but just even race conversations? Just to see almost how backward we feel like we're going sometimes?
Michaela M: I think for so many of us it's so disturbing to turn on the TV these days, and to see the Donald every time you turn it on, and the kinds of things that he's saying. But the amount of people that have rallied behind those messages, the messages of hate and exclusion rather than inclusion. And maybe it's just I try to step back and say a lot of this is just pushback the ones that really- behind those racial comments, that are just pushback of people that feel like their way of life is being threatened because things have moved so quickly in the last four years in terms of gay marriage rights and other rights for LGBT people that are antithesis of how they were raised and the lifestyle they feel that's under attack. But I think the young generation is really the hope. I mean the younger generations are not buying into it. It's like in the schools when the principals will tell me, "Well we have kids that come in that are supported by the parents, and they come in as first and second graders changing their genders and much, much happier." And the other kids, it takes them one day where they'll just question. They'll just say, "Well I thought he was a girl. Or I thought she was a boy." And teachers explain it, and after a day of playing with their friend and their new gender, everything is fine. But then a week later the parents rally and there's a huge thing going on because parents are upset.
Jenn T Grace: It's ridiculous.
Michaela M: It's the younger generation I think gets it.
Jenn T Grace: You know what's going to be interesting, is your vantage point from the perspective that you have grown children now, and now you also have an almost three year old. So to see kind of the differences and the social acceptance and the social norms of just what's happening in your son's lifetime at this point versus your other children's. I feel like that's going to be so interesting to kind of see, to see how matter of fact this young generation- the future leaders are going to be around all of these things.
Michaela M: Well yes it is. My wife and I were always very open minded and supportive of the uniqueness and we- you could say we leaned as liberal. And we raised our kids to be that way, and my older kids are 24, 30 and 32, and they're doing things with their lives that are very socially oriented and I'm very proud of them. I feel a lot of it had to do with their upbringing. And so there isn't going to be a huge difference from what I saw and am seeing now, but I will say that while I was transitioning, my kids because of society at large, they felt very embarrassed and worried that their life was going to turn upside down. So they hid me, you know I had to stay away from everybody that knew anything in their lives, and hide when their friends came over and such. And I think that was a sign of those times. That was a sign that they were living in a world that was different than what we were teaching them.
Jenn T Grace: Versus how you're now youngest son, how that would have played out if we fast forwarded fifteen or twenty years.
Michaela M: Yeah I mean now it's like he goes to preschool, and after we're done I'll take him over there, and there I'm his mommy, and it's totally okay that he has two mommies to all the kids, to all the teachers, to all the parents. I went through a ceremony at my congregation- we're Jewish, and I went through a religious ceremony this last weekend where I decided I wanted to be renamed in the Jewish religion because at eight days old a Jewish boy gets their name at a birth ceremony and I wanted to get my renamed in the Jewish religion even though seven years ago I legally had my name just changed. And then I got to speak to the congregation to kind of come out to them because I've only been with this congregation a year, and it was such a wonderful experience. The warmth, and the love, and people in the congregation who'd been there for 22 years said it was the greatest night of that whole synagogue.
Jenn T Grace: That's amazing.
Michaela M: And we had a trans chorus sing some songs, we did a whole pride Shabbat around it- a Shabbat, and it was a magical experience, and I don't know how possible that would have been thirty years ago. A lot of people are changing thank goodness, although this might be a little different than most. This wasn't in West Hollywood, this was in suburbia so it was so refreshing. And there were people in the congregation in their eighties that were hugging me and crying.
Jenn T Grace: Amazing.
Michaela M: I'm getting emotional talking about it. I cried the whole night.
Jenn T Grace: I can see why. You know what, I think the thing is, is that we look at the media and we're horrified by what we see because the media is controlled by just a couple of people, and the reality in so many ways is what you're talking about, where there's such inclusion even in suburbia in L.A. County. Like to have that type of experience, and to be so embraced, I feel like the media would twist that around and make it look like some hate-filled act, when really all you experienced was love which is so amazing.
Michaela M: Well I think the media here in southern California is mostly open-minded and maybe somewhat liberal minded about these things. I mean they're very supportive of this direction. I don't know how if that had taken place someplace else in the country, I think it'd be a lot more of what you're saying, yeah.
Jenn T Grace: And how do you feel about not media's representation from a news standpoint or anything like that, but from a what we're seeing on television lately, or what we're seeing in the movies as it relates to the trans community? How are you feeling about what you're seeing and its impact on trans visibility kind of more broadly?
Michaela M: Well a close friend of mine just nine months ago started the first trans talent agency in the country, and the roles that she's getting for people now, there's so much more interest in it now and to get it right. I actually did the consulting for Laverne Cox's character in Orange is the New Black and at that time I met with the creator, Jenji Kohan and her team of writers, and I said, "Look I-" and this was like six years ago and I said, "I don't need to be paid for this, and I don't need any credit, but I ask two things. That you get it right because so many roles have been stereotyped and make trans people look crazy or sick or sexually perverted. And the second thing was to hire a trans actress to play the role which doesn't get done hardly at all." We use people that are not trans to play trans roles in Hollywood. And to her credit, she didn't have to do either because I don't have any power over that production, but she did both and I think that character being so successful and getting so much attention- I mean Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time magazine.
Jenn T Grace: Which is amazing.
Michaela M: The trans tipping point. And I think that started, opened the door, and we're seeing more and more roles and interest in roles in both television and in movies and film that are real to life and not stereotype. You'll still occasionally get characters that are kind of caricatures but I think it's getting better. I think it's getting better. And the film industry is somewhat liberal minded so I don't think the judgment was there, but they do reflect a lot of what the public wants of course, it's how they make money, and it's things like Hollywood often leads the way to doors opening and minds opening. So I hope that's a good thing.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah absolutely. And how does it feel for you to have been able to consult on such a blockbuster type of series that I feel like when- I don't know that anyone knew how big the show was going to be. So how does it feel to know that you had such an integral piece to making sure that trans representation really truly came through as it was intended?
Michaela M: Well I have no idea. I thought the show would be successful because Jenji and her track record, and she seemed to have a great group of writers. But just I'm really pleased to see how well it went over and how that role made a difference. I'm not taking any credit for it, I think it's Jenji who made the right decisions and to do it right. And she made the role a little bit bigger than it was in the book, which to her credit I think she wanted to make a statement.
Jenn T Grace: And I feel like Laverne Cox is such an incredible voice for the community, and I think just knowing how many people love that show, just the amount of impact that she herself is making. It's incredible to watch in so many ways just to see the power that one person has, even yourself, the amount of influence and power that you yourself have because this is something you've dedicated yourself to, to really just bringing about awareness and change across the board. It's just- it's powerful to witness.
Michaela M: Well first of all I just feel incredibly fortunate that I can be in this position and do these things, but it's Laverne- I think was the right person at the right time, and I know she's got other big roles coming up. She's certainly taken advantage of that first well known role to become a spokesperson, and one that we greatly admire. Yes, she's made a real impact.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I think it's because she's using her voice for good. I feel like there's a lot of people who are kind of thrust into the limelight and they may not be the best representation for a particular community, and then they do more harm than good, and in this case I feel like Laverne has really just kind of amplified such a strong message which is so exciting. And like you said, being on the cover of Time is just such an amazing kind of nod.
Michaela M: You know when a magazine takes that chance and does that, they're part of the tipping point. They help move it in that direction. But yeah, she's been great. I'm good friends with Candis Cayne, she's had some roles, and I'm acquaintances- I see her often at events and we sit and talk with Caitlin, and I know there's a lot of controversy in the community about whether she's doing good or bad. But she does want to help, she does enjoy being in a role where she can make a positive impact.
Jenn T Grace: I've heard a lot of controversy in regards to just things that she's said and done, and my response always to that is that everybody is on their own journey, and it's not for me to say what her journey should be, nor is it my place to say what yours should be. So I feel like we all have to just remember that for what good there is, the fact that she is a public figure, that's great, but at the same time I'm sure transitioning in some kind of quieter manner may likely have been her preference, and it's not fair that we're just kind of holding the spotlight on her and judging her for her every move. So I feel like in a lot of ways she's just kind of been hit with a lot of unfairness from a lot of people, including people within the LGBT community.
Michaela M: Yeah well I agree with a lot of that. I think she wants to use that position though of being in the limelight. I think she knew- she tried, as she told me she was initially trying to transition in her thirties and she was so afraid because she was so in the limelight of what was going to happen. But I think at this point in her life, she hit her sixties she realized it's now or never, and that she knew she was going to be in the limelight. And so I think she embraced that as best she could to try and do- use it to do some good, and I think it is a purpose for her, and it's a calling she feels to do some good with this. Of course she makes a lot of money with the show, and people are going to look at that and say she's doing it all for the money, but I can't deny that part of it. But I also know that I believe from my talks with her that she's doing a lot of this because she wants to do some good.
Jenn T Grace: And you know ultimately her money and influence is what has gotten her on TV's in very rural parts of America to expose them to what the trans community looks like, and she might be the first experience somebody ever has, and that is not a bad thing because there is an evolution, there is a journey for getting people to understand, and awareness and education around the trans community and the LGBT community as well. And I feel like for that alone, just being able to get people to listen and pay attention to her, even if she does screw up here and there, she's still helping make an impact on some level.
Michaela M: More than anybody in this country, she's responsible for bringing the T out of the closet and for better or for worse because we talked about the pushback, of people pushing back against this. [Inaudible 00:35:09]. She has increased exposure tremendously.
Jenn T Grace: And how are you feeling about the support from the LG and B of our community as it relates to the trans movement right now? Because I feel like there's a lot of variables in terms of what parts of the country you're in, what types of end goals people have, but I feel like there's still such a disconnect in so many ways between our community broadly.
Michaela M: Well there needs to be- and now there are more every month, organizations that are strictly focused on trans health for children, trans development advocacy and policy like the National Center for Trans Equality, which is amazing what they've accomplished. And on the other hand we still have a lot of- every time you see a major center in a city and it's called the LGBT Center, and the T has for many years felt like the weak cousin of LGB. And to some degree that's changing. I know a board member of the Trevor Project, a lot of focus is going on trans because of the realization of the needs of the trans community being so great right now. These suicides- are you familiar with the Trevor Project?
Jenn T Grace: Yes, but if you could give kind of a super quick overview for the listeners in case they don't, that'd be great.
Michaela M: Oh yeah, so the Trevor Project, they are the largest organization in the United States working to eliminate suicides in the LGBT youth, ages 13 to 24. And suicide is the second leading cause of death in teenagers to begin with, in gay lesbian transgender kids it's much higher, and in those that are not supported by their families they're eight times more likely to commit suicide. So it's an epidemic, it's at its highest level ever because as all this pushback goes on and kids are thrown out of their family and their places of faith, they're feeling hopeless. And so the Trevor Project works to connect these people with their lifeline. I volunteer myself on the Trevor Crisis Line, and every day we're taking hundreds of calls of kids that are in crisis. So the point I was going to make was that about half of our- what we call our high risk crisis calls are coming from trans youth, and that's a much, much higher proportion than kids now that are trans compared to gay and lesbian. And so they're realizing at the Trevor Project the great need for increasing counseling, increasing their outreach and services to the trans community. And I think in every LGBT organization out there, this is what's happening. They're realizing the needs of trans, and so I don't think we're so much the weak cousin anymore as we used to be. Like I said there are the needs for the trans only organizations, but I think for a long time there was like, 'We need to separate the T, we need to not be LGBT anymore.' I don't agree with that. I think it's working just fine.
Jenn T Grace: Which is amazing. So as we kind of conclude here, what is next for you? What are your plans? Like what does your future look like for even five years from now- or a year from now, or five years from now?
Michaela M: Well I don't know if I can keep up this intensity, but certainly my California Trans Workplace Project is really first getting off the ground and I hope that's going to continue to develop in a way that I could have people- staff that- I'm used to building organizations and I want to build this as an organization that doesn't require me to be 80% of its energy, and then keep that moving. Like speaking of taking it to a different level, I've just launched my website, www.MichaelaSpeaks.com to elevate my speaking to move into areas of the country and internationally that I hadn't been speaking before. To not always be speaking- less to the choir so to speak and more to groups that need to hear the message. And so that's another thing, I think I'll be traveling more and my partner and I have to figure out how that's going to work because my family life is so important to me. But you know, I continue to run my business and I think that will still be there because I need a source of income, especially to do all these things. And I live now in Los Angeles, and I don't know if I'll still be here in five years from now, I'd like to experience what it'd be like to live in other areas of the country and the world, but those are things that are on my plate.
Jenn T Grace: That's amazing. This has been such a great interview, I really appreciate your time. I know that you just mentioned that people can go to www.MichaelaSpeaks.com. Are there any other ways in which you would prefer people to connect with you if they want to know more about what you're up to?
Michaela M: You know they can check out my Facebook. For right now, I just have one Facebook and it's my personal and my public profile, but we will be upgrading that into another one that works off of the website. So Michaela Mendelsohn, that's my full name, and they can find me on Facebook. Eventually there will be a separate Facebook just for my community work.
Jenn T Grace: Excellent, and in the meantime they can go to www.MichaelaSpeaks.com and check out what you're up to, and potentially hire you to come in and speak. That would be amazing, right?
Michaela M: That's great, thank you for putting that out there.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you again, this has really been such a great and educational conversation. I so appreciate all the work that you're doing.
Direct download: Epi91_LGBTQ_Interview_With_MICHAELA_MENDELSOHN.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:05am EST