In this Voice Studio episode I get really personal with a story about my dad, interviewed in episode 15. If you’re struggling to believe if your dream is possible or if you have what it takes, this is for you.
Mentioned in this episode:
In this Voice Studio episode I get really personal with a story about my dad, interviewed in episode 15. If you’re struggling to believe if your dream is possible or if you have what it takes, this is for you.
Mentioned in this episode:
The concept of leadership is a good one, but is it possible that we’ve turned it into a list of behaviors we “do” in order to get people to do what we think they should do? Dr. Neal Schnoor, Senior Advisor to the Chancellor of UNK, presents an interesting proposition to focus on influence, rather than leadership.
In this interview we discuss:
Connect with Dr. Neal Schnoor here:
Dr. Schnoor provides counsel and assistance to the Chancellor relative to the comprehensive executive portfolio. He is a member of the Chancellor’s Cabinet and Administrative Council and serves as UNK’s chief compliance officer. Previously, Dr. Schnoor served as Dean of the School of Education and Counseling at Wayne State College. For thirteen years prior he was a member of the faculty at UNK, where he held tenure in both the College of Education and College of Fine Arts and Humanities and served as Coordinator of K-12 and Secondary Education and Director of Bands. He has published articles in state and national journals and presented papers at state, national, and international conferences and served as a higher education representative to the Effective Educator 2020 Summit and on Nebraska’s statewide committee for developing state teacher/leader standards. Dr. Schnoor is one of only a few individuals to have been elected President of both the Nebraska Music Educators Association and Nebraska State Bandmasters Association and he continues to present clinics and leadership development sessions for students and educators. Dr. Schnoor earned PhD and MM degrees from the University of Nebraska Lincoln and BFAE from Wayne State College.
Hey, it’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence Podcast. I am honored to have Dr. Neal Schnoor with me today. When I first decided that the premis of this podcast would be helping creative leaders develop their message and their voice of influence, there were a few names that immediately came to mind as people I want to interview and Dr. Schnoor was one of them.
I met him at the University of Nebraska, Kearney when I was a music education student and he was the director of bands. And he also taught a secondary education class that I was in and it really felt like that secondary education class felt a lot more like a life leadership kind of class. So I gained so much from his influence and I loved the way that he communicated and it just seems to resonate with me.
Andrea: So today, I’m so thrilled to have you with me on the podcast, Dr. Neal Schnoor.
Dr. Schnoor: Well, Andrea it’s just a thrill to catch up with a former student and find the wonderful things you are doing to help people and to see your life unfold. That’s the best part of being a teacher. It’s sort of like being a parent; you get to watch your kids grow up and it’s just a pleasure.
Andrea: Well, thank you. Now, you’re not a director of bands of UNK anymore, what is your position now?
Dr. Neal Schnoor: So currently, I serve as the Senior Adviser to the Chancellor for executive affairs. While I was band directing, I got involved in teacher education and kind of did both of those things and then have the opportunity to go back to my alma mater, Wayne State College and served as the Dean of Education and Counseling and then I’d been back in this role for about five years now.
Andrea: So what all does this mean that you’re a Senior Advisor to the Chancellor, it’s sounds like right hand man king of thing, it’s that kind of description of it?
Dr. Neal Schnoor: It is and it’s a little hard to describe to people because it just sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. But in general, I work with strategic planning, compliance. Chancellor refers to me as this crisis manager, so I can get some of the sensitive, legal and personnel things, just really trying to help the executive team here function best, and think short term and long term. So every day, is an adventure and that’s what I love the most.
Andrea: Are you in a classroom at all now?
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Not very often, although, I still try to do at least one honor band every year and I’ve probably stayed more active trying to do leadership. I just love working with teenagers and we’ll probably talk as we go on. I’ve almost gotten to where I hate the word ‘leadership.’ I’m really more into influence and helping kids, not to get sidetrack at the beginning, but to help them deal with the anxiety in that process because I’m just seeing them what are college students here, adults or high school students, their level of anxiety are so high. So I try to work that in as well.
Andrea: Oh yeah, we definitely need to get into that. But before we go there, I’m excited about that.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: I sidetrack you are ready, didn’t I?
Andrea: No, not at all. You know, I was thinking today again about how…I just cannot help but go deep fast. I invited you to take the Fascinate Assessment®, which you haven’t heard of before, and you did and it was so fun to find out that you and I are so similar in our voice.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: But it’s really interesting, isn’t it?
Andrea: Yeah, so the two things that come out on top are Innovation and Power and they’re just flipped for you, Power and Innovation which is kind of a language of leadership. But you don’t like that word, so I love that you don’t like that word, you’re ‘going to tell me more about that later. But I suppose, it’s a language of influence then willingness to share your opinions and guide people and then innovation is creativity. So you come out as like the Change Agent as what the thing says and so the archetype is. So I’m wondering what was your impression when you found that out about yourself?
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Well, my first thing is I ran it across my filter, my wife, Theresa, and I showed her those things and I said “Do this described me for better or worse?” And she said “Yeah, most of them. That really is you.” I’ve never gotten too hung up on it but as I read those descriptors, I really did feel like they fit a lot of aspects of what I hope to do. Some of what I do in this job, again for better or for worse is just to ask good questions. I think that just, is there another way to do things? Are we looking at all the information? Are we considering people’s strengths and weaknesses and things like that?
So the word probably caught me, you have to explain it to your listeners better but the word power kind of took me aback because I don’t want to be authoritarian. I think I explained in our class one time, that that’s how I started teaching. I simply was demanding and, kind of my way or the highway, and the kids taught me pretty quickly that there were a lot better ways to engage them. So tell us a little more about power, Andrea, what that means?
Andrea: Yeah, I was definitely taken aback by that word too and that was my exact experience is that I think I have this natural bent towards telling people what to do, which is not a form of real influence. I mean, you can tell people what to do and try to get them to comply with you, but that doesn’t really change who they are in the inside.
So I really struggled with that word as well. But at the same time, I realized that for me, when I looked at it, because I didn’t want that, I pulled back in some ways where I wasn’t sharing as passionately or intensely or whatever as maybe I could in a way that was not. I guess in a way that’s compelling instead of, I don’t know what’s the different word, yeah authoritative.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Yeah, instead of drawing people in, it can kind of turn them off. And so I think sometimes in our passion, some people misread that as maybe even arrogance and so on. So yeah, such fine lines in there.
Andrea: I always considered you to be very powerful. In this more positive way, your voice is that way and when I say voice, I’m talking about your style, your tone whatever. I mean, it’s confident.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Yes. You know, one of the things I was thinking about, Andrea, and again this can go a lot of directions, but you had kind of talked when we initially visited about have we always had this voice, or have I had this voice? It really made me think really hard about something we’ve talked in class as Stephen Covey described to as secondary traits people have a hard time seeing that. And the more I’ve developed, the more I think I’m finally catching up with where we really are, our intellect, our passion, charisma, and communication skills, those were actually all secondary traits.
And I guess one way to understand that as he explained it, those are things you could lose. Say you had a traumatic brain injury, those things would go away. But the essence of who you are is still the same and will hopefully .. a little bit but some people call it the soul or consciousness or those kinds of things. But the real challenge for me is that I think I’ve always been able to use those secondary traits that I had to influence other people, where over the years I’ve tried much harder to get at the “But am I doing it for the right reasons?” Because you know, there have been a lot of leaders who have all these leadership skills that we’ll talk about.
And if you go down as I often talk in my leadership presentations, I’ll ask the students when we set lists who are your leaders and always was positive ones. But I’ll draw them to figures like who are some other leaders that who really had these skills very powerfully and some horrible leaders have had those skills that even Adolf Hitler had all these leadership skills what’s missing? Well, we might argue consciousness. So yeah, have we had this voice? I think so. Have we always used it? Well, that’s another therapy session for me I think.
Andrea: That’s the reason why I love the idea of developing one’s voice. Yes, we have a style or we have these secondary qualities that you’re talking about. We have even a message and things that we’re wanting to share but then it’s really important to take it through a process of development that edits the message and turns the voice into a tone that is compelling, that is drawing in and inviting instead of pressure and that sort of thing. Who have you read or what are some of the things that you have encountered over the years, beside your students that you’ve already mentioned, that have influenced the development then of your voice.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Well, you know, it’s interesting. And we may work into faith but my Christian faith has been strong throughout my life, and yet I think as all people are aware the stronger that is probably the more you question it. And to me that’s always actually a good sign, but it is interesting. I started reading a philosopher, his name is Jacob Needleman, and what attracted to me initially is his efforts to put together Judaism, Christianity. He looked in Hinduism and so he’s looking for some central truths, so to speak. And I just like his voice, his message, and how he looked for rather than differences similarities.
And so that kind of led me looking for things and lately, I’ve really, really found Michael Singer’s work to be powerful, a book called The Untethered Soul. It kind of profoundly moved me to look more at that consciousness. And I’ve shared it with family members, nieces and nephews and they’ve all found it to be compelling. There’s another one called, The Surrender Experiment, The Power of Now is a very strong book and then different things I just looked at these universals and what I’ve gained is somewhat say that’s leading away from Christianity, it’s actually kind of reinforced that stronger.
So I guess digging, you say, you like to dig deep. For me, it has been a real challenge just because of my nature to quite the voice in my head. So I was drawn to your voice because for about the last four or five years, I have tried to really identify with it’s not a false voice, but our thinking minds will think around problem. And if we allow it to do that and where are psyche in it’s kind of overactive, freaked out way to constantly talk in our head.
If we can identify those for what they are and realized where the consciousness within that perceives those voices, that perceives the emotional state where in, then those things quit running our lives and instead, we simply fully experience each moment. And we know that we’re the one watching even though we might be sad, even though we might be happy that’s not us. That’s just something we’re experiencing.
Andrea: How does that tie in to your message about anxiety?
Dr. Neal Schnoor: It’s actually the major point. We really do talk, you know, our psyche to put ourselves in touch with it, that’s what I think Singer talks about it really eloquently which is, you know, for hundreds or thousands or millions of years with these biological creatures for a great period of time, the psyche kept us from – it’s that hair on the back of your neck that told you a bear was coming and you reacted. Most of us don’t have to fear for our physical safety walking to work in the morning, and so we kind of set this psyche, we’ve given in a different job which is to really kind of fuss about how we feel all the time and it just talks to us if you hear it.
The best example I always give to kids is that’s psyche and your thinking mind, if you pass a friend in the hallway and you say hello and they ignore you, just pay attention to that mind “What did I do? I didn’t deserve that. What’s wrong with her today? Oh my God, I’m so stupid. I bet she’s mad because I didn’t call.”
It’s everywhere. If you start listening to it and paying attention to it then you see that it’s not going to solve your problems, it presents every possible option that’s out there. And if you become aware of it and simply watch it, it’s amazing how much power you have to not live in that reactive state.
Andrea: So watching it is the answer. Is that what you’re saying?
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Yeah. Just watch it; do not get involve with it. If you do, it will suck you in. I mean, we’ve all done it before. So for instance, it could seemingly a silly example but we spent 90% of our lives in that silly example. My wife is quiet. My mind starts working. I wonder what I did now. I wonder if she had a bad day. I wonder for something I can do to help. All of those are not bad in and of themselves but that’s just are thinking mind. And if I sit back for a moment and say “Wow and how’s that making me feel and some of those things?” I’m less apt to say, “Well, what’s wrong today?” It’s just amazing how reactive we are, not even fully reading.
So back to the example, then I ask the kids the person passed in the hallway and your mind is going a thousand miles an hour and 15 minute later, your friend comes back up and says “I think I just passed you in the hallway but I get a text and my pet died, I was really busy.” And all of those negative thoughts that we wasted 15 minutes crucifying ourselves didn’t even need to happen.
So much a more proactive responses might even be to give them a little space or simply to follow them and say “Hey, just now I said hello. Is there anything happening with you or something?” You know, it’s just more proactive ways. It’s been a journey for me for five years to see how frequently my perceptions, attitudes, emotions, thoughts, or mood can negatively affect a reaction. It’s not about me. My job here is to solve problems or help others find their solutions to their problems. And the clearer I can be and the more I get my emotions out of it, the more help I can be to them.
Andrea: That is so true. I think there was a time when I realized that…I mean, I’m sure everybody kind of goes this at one point I hope, but when you start to realize that not everything is about you, people’s reactions are not necessarily about you. It’s hard a thing to swallow at first because when you’re a baby, everything is about you.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Yeah!
Andrea: And then as you start to realize that other people are having other experiences that are unseen. And you may never know about, you may never understand what’s going on inside of somebody then the question for me became “What do I have to offer them?” Instead of “What do I need from them? Do I need them to tell me hello? Do I need them to acknowledge me?” Or “Do I have something to offer them instead?”
Dr. Neal Schnoor: You know, Andrea, it’s along those lines reading your book and we could talk about that for an hour. I so enjoyed that, but one key thing that really hit me is that I got to know you better. I realized I was interacting with you every day and had no idea what was going on in your mind. You know, we get so focused on, well it’s a class and…
I perceived whether you might be understanding a concept, or you read your students to see if they have a performance look. But we frequently looked true life either assuming or not paying attention but there’s a whole consciousness in every person we talk to and we’ll get very complex. You know, it hit me very powerfully and wonderful reminder for me.
Andrea: Thank you. I think the other part that’s hard is me knowing that I have so much going on in my head. It’s easy for me to assume that other people have a lot going on inside of them. And I think that one of the hard things for me is to say, it’s okay if I don’t know and to let people just have their experience and not need to be a part of it that inner experience. I don’t know if that’s very common but…
Dr. Neal Schnoor: I think so and the other piece there is you talk about, for instance my work here in this current role and what a slippery slope it can be. I mean my job in some ways is to be problem solver. And so I find a world of difference in a very slippery slope between problem solving and helping people come to their solutions or help them find some that are inevitable. And doing that for the right reason which is to serve or that slippery slope because 180 degrees worse I derived my value and sense of worth and it strokes my ego to be seen as the problem solver.
It sets a challenge I think in all of our lives that we identify with our roles, and yet, even the most noble “service” we do or the donation we give, do we give it in the spirit of true for giving. The right hand doesn’t know what’s the left is doing, although we do it to stroke our own ego to feel better about ourselves that we’re a “giving” person. I find that to be a dilemma I’ll continue to wrestle with for my life.
Andrea: I agree. I think that that’s something that is, especially for people as we have both described ourselves to be, we care about that motivation. Sometimes, it can be tempting to like you were talking the voice in your head and it can be tempting to analyze that and pick up that part so much that we don’t end up offering what we have to offer them because it feels, am I doing this for the right reasons? And it can become that cycle inside of the head that’s just like “Well then maybe I shouldn’t offer that at all.” What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Well, that’s interesting. My first reaction there to what you said is absolutely, many of the things that I share aren’t that place of consciousness I’m talking about, it’s my mind. There are wonderful instruments. I hope anyone that listens doesn’t think I’m negative about that or think that “No, that’s the beauty of it.” But our greatest asset can be our worst weapon, and so that constantly thinking, I mean, Singer’s book made me just sits back. And he describes it in this early chapter that he was just sitting there and you started listening to this.
I mean, when you first do it, you will be amazed that it’s just an incessant noise in your head. It is a voice that constantly talks to you and we can so identify with it. Don’t get too involved, just watch it. It’s a notorious flip-flopper like I did the example in the hallway. She did that. He did that. Why is that? I’m so stupid, I mean there’s the self-blame and self-loathing comes in then it would be followed up almost immediately if you watch with “Oh but I have the right to do that.” She’s just unfair. She’s unkind and that’s not right.” It’ll switch to righteous indignation. It’s just everywhere.
So that’s our thinking mind and it’s not bad. It’s not trying overtly to harness it. Honestly, both in The Power of Now, I think that’s where it’s presented and in Singer’s book most directly, I’m sure many, many, many other excellent resources. Just notice it and don’t get involve in its energy and overtime you become quieter inside. And the quieter I can be then I’m tapping into that ability to think beyond my history, my own perceptions.
Honestly, Andrea, I see it in myself and maybe I’m just the scoundrel out there. But we really build up a veritable wall of our mental perceptions how we think the world should be. We even have a belief system and some of those beliefs, we don’t question very often and then we turn around and either judge ourselves or judge others based on not reality, just the reality that we’ve created of how we think the world should go and often how the world should go just to make us happy. It gets really, really complex but my take away and what I’ve tried to do is to be quieter. These things happen and I think we touch the Divine in those moments of quiet.
Andrea: I’ve recently, and when I said recently pretty much since I don’t maybe last few years, and I think that this is part of when I was trying to accomplish with the book has explained this change at least the start of the transformation of me being so in my head starting to realize that I could let that go. I didn’t have to or I guess like what you’re saying engage with it. When I get stressed out now, I think what I end up doing is, I see things that happen. Like the dogs, the dogs get into the trash.
This happens quite frequently at our house and I feel attacked. I’m like “Uh these stupid dogs,” and start to get really frustrated inside and then I start to realize that I’m doing that. “What service is this to me?” Like these dogs could care less what I think about the fact that they got into the trash. Only it’s doing is making me more frustrated, burning these pathways in my brain to negativity and victimization and those sorts of things, which puts me in a position where I end up being more bitter or irritated or whatever. I have less of the things that I really want to offer my family. I have less of that to give.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Yeah, it does. I love that example because we often think of such things and we’re going to change the world, but the dog knocks over the trash is so immediate. I mean, you just nailed it. Why did that hit your stuff so to speak so hard? Well, one reason is because you’re busy, you got something else to do and you got to go clean up that trash. But really, it goes that step further to think for whose mental model thought they could set the world in a place the dog wouldn’t knock over trashcan and that’s what we do.
We, literally every day…we don’t even have control of our own thoughts and emotions many times, and yet we project that and think somehow we can influence and control other people’s thoughts. And there’s a whole a lot of consciousness that work in there, but yeah, what a great example. Those things still suck me up, you know, like “Oh man, I don’t wanna go clean that mess up.”
Andrea: And what’s funny is that Aaron will try to tell me, “Andrea, they’re dogs” and try to tell me that “that’s what happens.” In which actually this makes me think of something that you’ve said before in that class that I ended up writing about a couple of years ago because it was burned in my brain. Well, what you said in class was “don’t you dare yell at the kids in your classroom essentially, don’t you dare yell at them for your lack of classroom management.” So I’m thinking about how Aaron would say to me, “these are dogs. This is what happens and probably we should have let the dogs outside or something instead.” But now, it feels like “Okay, well, I’m gonna look it that way then it’s my fault.”
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Oh I see, yeah.
Andrea: So how do you balance that you know just sort of saying “Well, I could have let them out. I guess, we’ll let them out next time and not let emotion get tied with it,” or what would you do?
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Well, I mean that’s certainly one thing right there because there are four different directions we can go. But if I think about those and I’m going to tell on myself here, so I’ll sound like and might be a little arrogant first but then the next part will come. So one of the things when I do presentations, the best comment I like and especially with the young teachers, one of them come up and say “Oh, it was so good to hear that someone like you had those problems.” They feel like and we often listen to gurus, we seek out all these resources and we think that person has the answers.
So now, to tell on myself, why could I tell the class with such genuineness and honesty and seemingly know-at-all-ness these because I’d screwed it up for three years, because I had gotten mad at students for how they were acting when I realized that had I done my sitting arrangements the first day, so they knew what to sit. Had I spent the first day or week even if needed to be to explain to them what my expectations were or behavior for how to enter the room so that we could maximize…again, the end goals, some people think that’s a power trip. No, I wanted to maximize every possible second of making music, and I didn’t want to waste it scolding a kid or whether they needed to ask for permission to use the restroom.
So all of those discipline problems, that hundreds of thousands of fires I put out every day or simply a matter that at the beginning I didn’t think through of a set of procedures and explain my expectations to those students because I still believe, sure I was a willful child and I broke the rules and did things like that. But in general 85% of kids will do 85% of the things you asked them to do, simply because you clarify and didn’t ask them to do it.
So that really resonates with me but not to miss that fact that how do we know this? I tell my kids all that or “How do you know how to get around there? How do you know not to drive there?” Because I did it and I blew up my tire and I had to learn the hard way. So yeah, part of it, you would go back and say, “You and Aaron must go out and buy a trashcan with a lid on it,” because you might say…you spent this whole psycho analysis of “Why does it bother me so much that the dog knocked over the trashcan and it shouldn’t bother me. Haven’t I grown up that these things don’t hit my stuff or whatever?” And the solution is perhaps, to buy a trashcan with a lid on it, you know. It’s kind of fun.
Andrea: So first of all, it’s such a great advice about the classroom management.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: About trashcans.
Andrea: Yeah and about trashcans. I knew this is going to happen, you know that right? Anyway, it’s a joy to be able to talk with somebody when you do kind of speak the same languages and that sense that we’re talking about before. And I think anybody, no matter what your style is, it’s just easy to have those conversations with people they’re kind of like you. I want to go back to what you said about why you’re able to share that message about classroom management with such conviction. Now, you hesitated, you didn’t want to use the word power, but I would say that was powerful.
When you communicated that we shouldn’t blame kids or yell at kids for our own lack of classroom management, it was an incredibly powerful statement. And I want to suggest that maybe it’s because like you have said, you could speak that because you would experience it. And I would call that a redemptive message. I would call that, you know what, this is something that comes out of your experience of either pain or messing up, whatever it might be.
There was some sort of transformation that occurred that got you to a point where you could say, no that is not the way. And then it comes across so authentic, genuine and powerful because it is born out of that pain and that experience that you had previous. I feel like maybe that is where the power really comes in. And I say power again as we’re talking about before I guess. It’s powerful because it comes from that place.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Yeah, and I think we’re unpacking again that word power, gave us both pause, but I like where you’re going with it. I noticed my power wasn’t being smart and what I knew about classrooms. My power was learning from experience trying different things, being able to share that with you. And I think hopefully the other message that came across is you all have unique gifts and some of what I do may not work for you and some of what you do won’t work for me. And so it’s kind of aligning with those elements of ourselves that are authentic I think.
Andrea: I think it also helps give us permission to not look at those difficulties that we face, the struggles that we’re having with so much, I don’t know and feeling like it’s a catastrophe. Because then when we do experience that pain and that suffering that messing up essentially, hurting other people or messing up yourself that there is potential to turn that into something really beautiful in the end.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Absolutely!
Andrea: And so when we’re in the middle of it, though maybe we need to feel the weight of it, there’s still hope.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Absolutely! I’m so glad and just like you said, I knew that something would come out that we weren’t thinking. And for me is how many times you’ve mentioned and what a great topic that I think we avoid and that’s pain. And in general, and this is very general, we tend to either look at the past and cling to those things which we should not do that led to joy. We want to feel good and we reject or repress pain.
And so it’s a hard step for some people but we should experience pain fully. And when I said to be quiet, I’ll use the phrase, I haven’t use it a lot but I used it a lot is to sit with pain, is to sit with joy, sit with jealousy, just be present with it. Don’t try to change it. Don’t judge yourself. So when I get back of that, I know it’s going to sound freakish to people but the answer is not to try to fix it. They answer is to get quiet simply experience it. And really, most people who have done any kind of meditation, always talking about meditation. Yeah, I am but a lot of people meditate with the purpose of becoming a better person and you’ve missed the point already.
It is a process that can happen and will happen by itself if you’re able to sit with, and I hate to say it but people think “You’ve lost your mind, dude.” But sitting with pain, pain is part of life. I don’t want to not experience part of my life but then to bring in that other piece we talked about, so we start building these mental models. And here how dangerous it gets, people think it’s Muslims versus Christians.
I grew up in a little town of Nebraska and there was literally sort of a philosophical and almost we don’t talk to each other. We certainly don’t date each other between Lutherans and Catholics. We’ll find ways to differ if we allow ourselves to and so sitting with these experiences of pain and not building these walls of our concepts. Because as soon as those walls get hit, we experience discomfort which leads back to that word, anxiety which causes us pain. And if we repress those, it’s not good. So just sitting with it, just recognizing it that this is just something I’m feeling. It’s not me.
So my big message to students, if you looked in the mirror this morning and saw your face and then you had plastic surgery tomorrow that totally transformed that face, would that be the same you in there that’s looking at that image? And they get that. They connect with that. Is it the same you that’s sitting there, that’s experiences pain as well as joy, as well hurt? It is unless we allow our emotions to be us, and then we’re simply bouncing all over the world wishing that would make us happy. It’s tough. It’s really tough to not get involved in that negative energy.
Andrea: I like the idea of… like I don’t want totally separate myself from my emotion. I like the idea that my emotion could still be an indicator of what’s going inside of me or who I am as a person, and yet that I could ground that in something deeper like observe it like you were talking about. But then run it through, you know, ask myself then what do I really believe about this.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Yes. I’m really with you, Andrea, because I think I could negate that. It’s a human endowment. Well, as we talked about with learning, if there’s an emotional tie in, people learn. If it’s a purely academic tie in, they tend not learn as well. So I guess it’s just flipping the onus. It’s the you that experiences all these things, but you are not just what you experienced. There’s a level of control. So here’s the simple one, the next time the dog knocks it over, instead of going right it, my thinking mind kept this and I’ll say “Well, go buy a trashcan with a lid on it.”
You might spend two minutes simply going “What part of me is so bothered by that being knocked over.” It would be an interesting two minutes. I don’t know what you’d come up with. I guess that’s where us going with leadership and not lose that way. We go out and we talk about having charisma, having passion, discipline. What are some other ones, Andrea? Great communication skills. Those are all secondary traits. Where do we have to go to find that core that allows us to be disciplined?
When I’ve had a disagreement with my wife, it affects my mood. I sure hope people hear when they come to me, don’t think in their mind “Well, don’t go to him today, he’s in a bad mood.” We have to be deeper than how we feel at the moment but that is not negated all of sitting with those emotions and what they teach us. Does that help a little bit because I don’t want to say the emotions are childish and we should get rid of them?
Andrea: Right, I do think so. I think that’s good. So when you were talking about leadership then, you’re saying, we don’t want to…I want you to explain this leadership concept here before we go. I want to understand what your distinction between leadership and influence.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Okay and this is maybe just my hang up, but as soon as something becomes a $10 billion cottage industry, I get fearful. So I’m telling you if you want to make money right now, if you’ve got a shlick thing and you go out there and tell them, you know, great leaders are purpose driven. I have nothing against purpose driven leadership, it’s good. Okay, so the real challenge is finding your purpose because it’s the most searched for. So anyway, that’s just a silly example probably shouldn’t be used because that’s way more in-depth.
But 90% of time when you go to them, they talk about this secondary traits. We have to be more confident. You have to be firm but approachable, communications strategies. They’re all good. But how are you able to come to a place where you’re able to truly open up and listen to what another person’s saying without already trying to solve their problems. So where I’m going with that is, I started thinking less about leadership which implies, you are going to go out and do something that move these other people and try to bring it more inside, “where do I develop that inner sense of right and wrong of consciousness, of awareness of openness to the needs of those people?”
I rarely see those presenters get up and start and say, “what are you hoping to get today? Where are you at your life because it will be all over the place?” And I used the word carefully because I don’t mean to their deep concepts that are quite superficial. If you just tell somebody, “You got to be more positive.” “Oh people say, that’s it the power of positivity.” Well, what is that mean when you just lost your job or your child is sick? There’s another powerful book out there that I didn’t talk about called the Prosperity Gospel. There’s a very dangerous that a lot of people and this happens to be Christianity but I put it in leadership. They go out and say, “If you do these things, you will not only be successful but you’ll be rich.” Not true, not true. I mean, if we take at the core as a Christian, Christ, was he happy all the time? Was he rich? Did he have a nice house?
It so subsumes to me the gospel and what it really means which is to find that internal presence, that connection with the divine moving. It doesn’t matter if you’re sweep on streets or president of the United States, it influences us. I’ve often thought, maybe my role here is not the work I do. Maybe my work was to be a good dad to Graham and Graham is going to do something in the world that’s transformation or maybe he is the transformational figure. And I was simply the support network or the training ground.
So I hope that’s not too vague of an answer, but to me when you go into leadership, too much of it is about do these things and you will be successful, win friends and whatever rather than, you need to get in touch with yourself and be really authentic about that and really think about what success means for you. If it’s having a nice car, nothing wrong with that necessarily but you find out, you buy that new car and a day later, you’re just worried about the payment you got to make. That’s a rumbling answer, I apologize.
Andrea: No, no. You got me thinking. I find that I also tend to shoot for the being of who we are instead of a doing and I’d like to talk about that. I’d like to figure out why we do the things that we do and all those sorts of things. The difficulty I find is that in communicating this message of being an influencer versus doing leadership, it’s easier to communicate how to do leadership. It’s easier to say, this is the path because when you’re talking about becoming an influencer, you’re talking about things that are harder to pin down.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: It really are, and I think too and not in a bad way, but we often project this out in the big thing, changing the world. I’m ever more challenged to be a positive influencer just in my own home and in one-on-one relationships. I find it much easier to go out and say motivate or large crowd and not one-on-one. Sometimes it’s really hard to explain this but I think that’s the importance of your work because all around this, I think I’ve seen it on your website so much, none of this stuff can we give to someone.
We can only hope to inspire them and get them on a path, but for instance when I talk about solitude and taking the time to think to realize this becoming you’re talking about or I might have called it consciousness or awareness or enlightenment as good Buddhist would call it, you have to do it. No one can do it for you and you can’t read it in a book. As a matter of fact, one of the favorite things I’ve heard, her name is Pema Chodron, a Buddhist priest who said “Quit looking at this library of resources, just pick one and do it.”
I think there’s tremendous wisdom. I go to a lot of workshops and good friends of mine “Have you read this? Have you read this? Have you read that?” I’ve actually slowed down my reading in some ways and I tried to pick a few that resonates and go deep and try to really do what they say rather than just being able to go out and say “Here’s what you can do” to experience it myself in some way.
Andrea: Hmmm, because when you experience it then you can offer it in a different way than you could before and then you could if you just learn it.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Absolutely! Well, the other thought Andrea, and I don’t want to interrupt where you’re going as you think through this, but I think we’ve also given ourselves, our mind that says but also our emotions and our sense of who we are. We’ve given ourselves an impossible task. We have said to be authentic, we have said to be open and all those things and yet we’ve given ourselves the impossible task in our mind, we want everyone to like us. And so you want to talk about another one. None of these things I talked about as in either/or.
When I interact with people and I get feedback from them that can lead me to “Oh Neal, you’re being a jerk, you need to stop doing that.” So it’s valuable feedback. At the same time when you’re authentic and you share your voice and you say it very passionately and openly, there will be some that not only dislike you but truly hate you because they disagree so passionately with you. And to be comfortable with the fact which I’m not yet, it still hurts me especially if I offended them in some way.
But we’ve given ourselves the impossible task. We’re going to be a mother or a father and my wife is going to like this because of what we do and people will all like me. There are two different people and they will like and dislike different things. So we struggle with it and if anyone has answer, I’ll be tuning in to your future podcasts. But anyway, we have to surrender to the fact when we thought through well and we’re confident in who we are without offending or judging or hurting other people, simply speaking that truth with our authentic voice is going to make us some enemies or at least cause some people to be aggravated. The best compliment you could ever pay me is when you said I made you think. If I did that, please don’t say “I’m gonna do what he said.”
Andrea: Right and that’s what I look for in their leaders. That’s what I look for people to have influence. They have more influence over me when they get me thinking than if they were to tell me what to do and I went out and did it.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Yeah, yeah. I agree.
Andrea: Yeah because when we really integrate that into who we are and we apply it, we think through it and we decide, we start to become that, you know. Maybe we move in one little step in that direction where the person was trying to lead us. But that’s more powerful than it would be to just put on whatever they told us put and doing it.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Uh-hmm, absolutely and staying open to the influence of others. Obviously, there are some bad ideas out there for people. On the other hand, we are snap judgers. We often look at something that they tell you and say I either like it or dislike it. It’s just what we do. We categorize traits if you think about. Again, let’s take it out of the realm of psychology and the incredibly complex human. We walk down the street and say I like that kind of tree but I don’t like that kind of tree. What’s wrong with just letting the tree be a tree? Why do we have to label it?
Well again, it’s not psychosis but we just have a tendency to build these mental models of how the world should be and that’s our likes and dislikes and even our beliefs. Just to take a step back and say “I can just appreciate that tree,” rather than say “I like the color of its leaves.” Yeah, if you catch yourself doing these simple things, I think you’re on a good path that many traditions have pursued which leads believe it or not to some really, really deep understandings. But if we jump to “How do I solve this problem myself?” And “Why I’m aren’t getting better at this?” Or “Everything is gonna go well.”
I know when I’m near where I can sit quietly for 30 minutes. Sit for three and then tomorrow, it’s four. That’s growth. Many people set health goals. I just experienced it myself. I’ve workout for three weeks because I got this nasty virus and it’s driving me crazy. But if you start a goal and you get sick and then you don’t exercise for a week, often that’s all it took for us not to start. And so we get dissuaded very quickly. So it’s a journey. I just love folks like you for taking the time to help us think through that.
Andrea: Oh yeah, I feel the same way. Okay, so Dr. Schnoor, if anybody wanted to engage you in conversation about this or invite you to come and speak to their teachers, their students to do a band workshop, where could they find you.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Where they can find me at schnoorn.unk.edu or I got a Gmail account, schnoornealatgmail.com, LinkedIn, Facebook. Again, to me it’s that interaction with other people, I would love to talk with folks about this.
Andrea: Awesome! Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking time to do this and this has been just a great conversation for me. I love just the fact that we could dive in so deep, and hopefully, there are people out here, the Influencer listening that maybe even us digging in-depth like this makes them feel less alone, because I think it’s hard to think about things like this and feel like you don’t have anybody to talk to. So thank you for engaging with me and engaging with the listener.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: Well, it’s a pleasure, and Andrea, if you ever get the chance in the future if somebody, I’d love nothing more than somebody call and say, that guy is full of it and I’d love to talk again.
Andrea: Yeah that would be fun.
Dr. Neal Schnoor: This could sound condescending, but I mean it with all good thoughts. I’m just so proud of you, the work you’ve done and to catch up with you and to see the journey you’ve been on since you sat in that classroom. Well, I won’t say how many years ago. We won’t give our age or what, but the work you’re doing is so important and I thank you for it.
Andrea: Thank you!
For the past 20 years, Josh Erickson has been utilizing his experience, intuition, and insatiable drive for success to help transform businesses and teams into champions. After being proven successful in his own ventures, his innovative methods have expanded in reach, helping institutions like FedEx, Catholic Health Initiatives, and the University of Nebraska take their employee engagement and team collaboration to new heights. His ability to navigate the cyclical patterns of human behavior, coupled with his dynamic and personable presentation style have established him as a pioneer in his field, paving the way for emotional and professional empowerment in collaborative environments, large, small, and everywhere in between.
Mentioned in this episode:
Hey, this is Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence Podcast. I’m really glad that you’re here with me today. And today I have a fun guest. His name is Josh Erickson and Josh and his wife, Nikki – we, Aaron and I knew them back, I don’t know what was it, 10 years ago or so and when we’re living in the same town. Now, we both moved away from that town and we haven’t really kept in touch. I’m really looking forward to hearing from Josh about what he’s doing with his business, Team Concepts.
Andrea: Josh Erickson, it is really good to have you here today!
Josh: Hey thanks, my pleasure to be here.
Andrea: Let’s start a little bit with maybe where you’re at right now and then we’ll go back and find out how you got to where you are right now. So what is Team Concepts? What is this business that you have?
Josh: Well, Team Concepts is a consulting company. Basically, we work with all size of organizations to improve employee engagement organizational proficiency. We really believe that in order for an organization to be successful, everybody needs to lead. People need to take ownership and they need to figure out how they can lead within that organization. And we have a phrase that says “When everybody leads, everybody wins.”
And so we try to help organizations build the team where everybody is leading. And in order to do that, we need to understand personalities, styles, profiles, and the different leadership components of any group. So we worked with athletic teams. We work with, obviously businesses, schools, with the high schools assemblies; middle schools assemblies, teachers and services. We work at nonprofit organizations and just any organizations that require teamwork which is pretty much everything.
Andrea: So true. So I know that you have been always doing Team Concepts, so why don’t you take us back to kind of…I guess, I’d love to hear about where you started out and how you’ve gotten to this point right now. So what were you doing when we met you guys like I don’t know, was it 10 or 15 years ago?
Josh: Yeah, 2003 or 2004 I suppose. I’ve always done Team Concepts on a part time basis and that is ever since college. I really got into this idea of team building in order to be a more successful coach. I was a wrestling coach, so just figuring out how to get my team to collaborate together and to develop leadership with my team because I know if I could just get them to lead themselves, it really just made my job easier. And so I started practicing different methods and investigating
But the whole time I was coaching wrestling, I taught school. I was a youth pastor. I started a nonprofit organization and I really give my life to public service, different groups, and being involved. But I always did this team building stuff on the side. And then about eight years ago, I really started a sense of change in what I wanted to do, obviously still serving the community but probably from a more influential role. I felt like my overall community influence as a youth pastor or somebody, ministry, or nonprofit was minimal.
And I really want to have that ability to impact the whole community with the things that I felt and the way that I see the world. So I realized, in order to do that, I would have to be a successful member of the business community also. My wife and I started dabbling in some different business ventures trying to figure out how we could really just kind of gain influence in the community. And we knew that it had to be from a financial aspect that we just had to be seen as successful.
So while I was doing Team Concepts and doing these other things and I also started doing investment properties, flipping houses and some commercial properties. Then we got into a restaurant business and started several restaurants and owned and operated. At one time, we were doing 13 restaurants at a time and then when the opportunity presented itself, we started getting out of that.
And four years ago, I had to say just kind of pivotal moment from myself. I just realized “You know, instead of Team Concepts, and teambuilding being my hobby, this is really what I wanna do. And I wanna run it like a business not as a hobby.” So the business experience that I’ve gained from the construction and then the rental property management then the restaurants, I just started applying that to Team Concepts. I thought “You know, I’m gonna put a budget together. I’m gonna put a business plan together. I’m gonna start advertising and will start marketing and really solidify the product offerings that I have for different organizations.
And so I would say that that journey is what’s that kind of led me here. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I didn’t know that it’s what I wanted to do until I went through some other things. And it’s been unique because I find myself in a very influential place for a definitely a lot of organizations especially my clients. They allow me a lot of power when they hire me to come in and work with their employees and work with their staff and help lead and guide their organization.
Andrea: I find this really interesting because I think that there are a lot of people who do have that heart. They want to be an influencer and so the gravity towards those… I mean, the two things that you were doing beforehand, teaching schools and being a youth pastor, and being a coach those are really great ways to influence people. But like you were saying you kind of had this. I don’t know, did you just feel it like a deeper call? Did you just keep feeling called to more, how did you know?
Josh: Yeah, I think as I matured and just had more experiences in life, you know, I used to believe that I have the best ideas for kids and how they should look their lives and had the best ability to influence them. And so when I was younger that’s young in my professional career that’s really all I saw myself doing. I supposed as I gained experience and just life grew, I started realizing that I wanted to impact, not just kids, but I wanted to impact the city.
We started a nonprofit organization in 2003, called One City and that was a city-reaching organization to really empower people to take responsibility for the condition of their city. As I started doing that, I just realized that there’s only so much influence you can have as nonprofit which is great. It’s a great influence but yeah, I just needed more. I really felt like even governmentally like I had ideas and things that I wanted to be able to share. And not just share through a letter or not just share through an empty, you know, a blank stare from somebody who didn’t respect me. But I really wanted to gain the ability to speak government policy to political institutions to the business community.
And I didn’t want to counterfeit it. I didn’t want to find the way in. I knew the only way to get there was to really get involved in business and feel the struggles. You know, we got some successes and we’ve had some failures. And we had to make some really hard decisions when it came to the cost-benefit ratio and the return of investment. The experience gained in running my own businesses and having the employees has really helped me feel a big part of society. I can emotionally relate to people at all different levels.
I know what it feels like to be a teacher. I know what it feels like to be a government worker. You know, I was a soldier in Nebraska Army National Guard. I remember that feeling and then I also remember the feeling when people started to perceive us as successful when we bought a bigger house and we drove nicer cars. And when we started to do that to feel the different perception of how society feels about us, it’s just different. And to live the experienced life on both the sides where people perceived you as not successful and then the other side when people perceived you as successful or at a higher social status.
I don’t think you can really empathize and lead effectively. And so through the process, I’m just thankful for the journey that Nikki and I had been onto, to really understand where people were at and how to influence people at all levels of socioeconomic status.
Andrea: You know, just personally, I always thought that it wasn’t good for me to try to gain different kind of status in society or whatever. You know, I almost thought that being in ministry or having that kind of mindset that I shouldn’t try to get people to perceive me in a different way. Does that make sense?
Andrea: Did you ever feel that way? Or did you just kind of…
Andrea: I mean, was that a struggle?
Josh: You know, I would say the first part of our marriage in our life; we never officially did it but we kind of talked about poverty that we were not going to be successful for the sake of our ministry because we didn’t want to make anybody believe that we were any better than anybody. So we lay that aside, although, it’s kind of funny because Nikki and I, we’re just very gifted people. And I think that they led me out of that realizing that I have the ability to be way more successful with even very little effort than a lot of people do. And it’s not because anything I did. It’s just that the way that I see the world, people find value in.
And so when I expressed it and when I used the intellect and the lens that I see the world with, it adds value to people. And for me that’s really what influence is, is the ability to add value in a simple way to other people because we can be influential over our children because we add so much value but that’s not really scalable. I mean, I have five kids but I don’t think we can handle another one because they’re so time-consuming.
But when we started talking about influence, it’s really the ability to add value or even to have the perception of adding value to somebody’s life. And when you can add value to somebody’s life, you have influence over them. And to have that the scalable model of influence in order to grow in your ability to influence others, you have to add value with your words. You have to add value with your ideas.
And because you can add value to tens of people or maybe even hundreds of people physically, now you can share, you can invest in them. You can be one-on-one with them or you can help meet their physical needs or even their emotional needs. But in order to really have them influence on society, on cities, on a larger organization or even worldwide influence, you really have to be able to add value with your words, your thoughts and your ideas.
And I think what led me out of or into this next season of life, it’s not even out of anything but is when I started to realize that my ideas and my words were influential no matter what audience I got in front of. I used to believe that they were just influential for kids. Then I just had some opportunity to speak to larger groups of people, adults, and I got the opportunity to speak to some politician and through some different experiences. And I just started realizing that every time that I had the ability to voice my opinion that it’s influential to people at all varying levels.
I just realized that my ideas, my thoughts, my words, add value to people at varying levels. And for me to stay at one place and just say this is my position would really be kind of robbing me of my destiny and maybe robbing God of the glory that he deserves who created me the way He did. He put ideas and thoughts and creativity in me in order to really live out my destiny and live out my purpose in life. I have to expand that and see how much influence do I have and what platform can I build to just share my ideas and my thoughts with the world and how far would they reach.
And now that’s where my goals has changed in life is to see how far this voice that God has given me can reach and see where He wants it to go and how He wants it to look. And in that Team Concepts as a platform I’m using right now, because I just seen more and more difficulty for organizations to really build a solid team to understand the concept of teamwork as we deal with, especially with multigenerational organizations, the lack of communications and understanding between the generations as we lead in a world we’re leading.
A generation of people that in the baby boomers that really believe in positional leadership and authority that you respect authority for the sake of authority and we’re entering into a generation, the emerging workforce generation does not believe in positional authority. They do not have a respect for any title or position. They have respect for people who show them respect.
Then we have this organizations that are really struggling to find the balance of “Okay, how do we attract or retain new people to our organizations with this multigenerational concept, and how do we have the influence over different generations all at the same time?” And it really requires some skill, some understanding but I really believe that I developed the system with Team Concepts that’s easy to remember, easy to use and that can benefit organizations of all type.
Andrea: Wow! Yeah, that’s a huge need. I find myself being a person who resonates with the younger generation maybe, who wants to be respected and have a hard time grappling with or putting myself into this position where I really appreciate positional authority if you will. So I find that a very personal thing. Do you have any suggestions for people about how to communicate with somebody who really just wants to be respected not just told what to do?
Josh: We did them look at the life experience and the quality and just what life is teaching people in each generation. So it take the baby boomers, you know, they were born shortly after the depression. Their parents lived through depression and they were taught that if you don’t work, you starve to death. They were thankful for the opportunity to work and they were also thankful for education because anytime they got out of school, it didn’t make any difference how boring school was or what was being taught, it meant that they didn’t have to work.
So school and education was just so much different because it was either “Oh if I’m not here working on blackboard then I’m gonna be digging potatoes.” So it’s obviously was a much better thing to be educated. So the teacher became the one who is the one who got them out of this work. And the teacher was seen as a hero because their position of authority that they had was automatically respected because it was an improved quality of life but what they’re being asked to do, right?
And so anybody who was in a depression or let’s just say a boss then, let’s say this baby boomer got his first job, well they remember that if we don’t work, we don’t eat. That we’re going to starve if we don’t eat. So that position was being shown to automatically give them respect because it improved their quality of life. They gave over the influence because the title alone of being a boss meant that “My family is not gonna starve or I’m not gonna starve.”
And so positional authority, those people had influence because they were adding value to life. And so the switch is comes over the last two generations is that work no longer adds value to life. So it’s not a direct comparison because nobody remembers or nobody thinks that we’re ever going to starve, that we have to do these things. And so I think about teachers now instead of being respected automatically, they’re giving a classroom full of students that could be playing video games or doing some incredibly fun but instead, they have to be sitting, they’re listening to them.
And so the difference in the educational environment and the culture is just…I mean, you can’t even compare them in how they grow up. So what we have here is people, the older generation and baby boomer generation that they’re in a position of leadership right now. They believe that “I’m adding value to your life.” They believe that intrinsically where young people come into a job thinks “I’m adding value to your life; you’re not adding value to mine. I showed up to work today.” Obviously that adds some value and neither one is wrong.
That’s what people realized is that nobody is wrong. It’s just as our culture has emerged and changed and we transformed into a much more prosperous culture, there’s a negative and positive consequences. Obviously, we don’t want anybody to think about starving because it’s not fun. But fear-based motivation is effective and it does work. It’s not where we want to live, but it does work. But now, we’re trying to motivate the kids and motivate this emerging workforce just from a compensation package.
Well, compensation really doesn’t even work either because you have to find the way to add value to who they are as a person. And I would say that the baby boomer generations never even dreamed that finding convergence. They didn’t care about convergence, they just wanted survival. And if they found more than survival, they were thankful and they work harder to start giving extra and to start allowing their kids to do extra and then their grandkids to do extra, to do more. So it’s the very fact that they paved away for people to do more that has led to the change in culture where people automatically thankful. People are automatically appreciative of a gift or appreciative of an opportunity because they have millions of opportunities.
And so this idea that everybody can come into the environment and just know how to get along is ludicrous, because it takes a lot of thought and it takes a lot of skill to navigate that all the different world views that are coming into the workplace right now, because they’re so opposing. It just really becomes important to understand that “You know what, if you don’t know how to navigate, they said, nobody is wrong.” And they can’t throw us aside because it’s people world view. It’s how they experience life and experience culture.
So as far as like for me automatically, you know, I’m in between and if somebody who automatically wants respect because they’re human being or because they have a title, they’re both right. Everybody deserves respect, but it’s how you give it, how its felt. And so with the emerging generation and I really just try to focus on what I’ve already talked about here today and it is how they add value by being just who they are. How do we help them find convergence as quickly as possible because obviously, the younger we get, the less patient people are too.
You know, I’ve got a millennial employee who wants to find convergence in his 18-months in. He’s like “I’ve done convergence this life’s over.” I was like “You know, it was a 25-year process for me to find convergence.” And my father and my grandfather didn’t care and didn’t even understand what convergence was. They didn’t care because they were just happy not to be starving. And now we have a next generation who’s trying to find convergence and they understand it even if they don’t have that as their title. It’s what they’re looking for that ultimate value satisfaction and stuff. But they want it quickly and so there’s just a lot of balance there.
Andrea: I love hearing your thoughts on this. It’s definitely something that I’ve thought about as well and the idea of having a voice of influence and one of the things I say is “Your voice matters but you can make it matter more.” And it sounds like we’re talking about both of those things. It’s like yes, inherently, you matter inherently you add value. But at the same time there is a perception and putting yourself in a position where people are ready to listen to you is different.
How did you get to this point where you had built yourself this platform where you could speak, where you did have the opportunity to speak to people in all kinds of different scenarios? Was that something that you also set out to do or did you just find yourself in these different positions and the doors just kept opening up, or how did that build for you?
Josh: Yeah. Whenever I try to build my platform, I fail. Whenever I just try to look at the world and see where I can add value, my platform grows. You know, the even flow of economics, there’d been times when my families has been in need and I really thought “Man, I really need to build my platform and need to get out there because I prosper financially when people want to hear what I have to say.” But it just that never seems to really work for me. So how I’ve grown more than anything is just really looking at organizations, looking at people and start really giving away my advice for free and just see how I can add value and then build rapport with those people and that’s where my clients came from and referrals.
And I’ve got several from advertising also but the majority of the clients that I’m working with have just been because I care about their organizations and I really want their organizations to succeed. And I thought, “You know, I got these thoughts and ideas that I believe can add value to you, do you think this is valuable?” And we see if there’s a mutual beneficial situation there. But I would say more than anything, my platform has grown just when I observed the world around me, organized my own thoughts about it and then share those thoughts in a way that I believe that’s right to the people involved and that’s really how it’s grown.
Andrea: Uh-hmm, so it’s that been mostly in person? Have you done much building online or is it mostly been in person?
Josh: Yeah, all in person. Yeah, one-on-one phone calls and personal. Obviously, you know after our little staff this morning trying to get this thing done that I’m not very tech savvy guy, so I don’t… I barely uses technology for any of my platform.
Andrea: Well, it sounds like you don’t have to because you have that natural ability to connect and the desire to share what you’re thinking and what you’re learning. I mean, that’s powerful in it of itself. I asked you before I noticed that you’re strengths finder coach, Gallup’s strengths coach, is that right?
Andrea: So do you want to share your top five for anybody that is listening.
Josh: Yeah, I’m a big fan of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. Yeah, I was part of the second class they offered when they decided they were going to outsource their coaching and I let other people from outside their organization get certified. Anyway, my Top 5 – my number one is Activator. My number two is WOO, which is Winning Other’s Over. My number three is Maximizer, which means nothings ever good enough for me, and number four is Strategic, and number five is Self Assurance.
Andrea: Hmmm, I mean it’s just sounds like you to me, especially after everything that you just described in your story and everything. Of course, I have a pretty good idea of what all those things are but that activator, that desire to get people going, right?
Josh: Yeah definitely.
Andrea: And the WOO is being able to easily connect with people and draw people in. I mean, all those things together I think are really just powerful combinations. So do you think that you’ve always been all those things? Have you seen that in yourself since you were like a kid?
Josh: Yeah, you know, seven on my top 10 strengths are in the domain or the category of influencing others and this is what my life is has really I think always been about. I tried to be great athlete, but I wasn’t that great. I was good but not great. I was an amazing coach. I was a much better coach than an athlete and I think that’s kind of been my life, my skill sets are, not that outstanding in an out of themselves. But when I have the ability to activate other people and when people around the cause share ideas and get people excited, motivated, and organized around an idea or concept that’s when I really get to add the most value.
I kept talking about adding value because I believe that’s the source of all influence but great things happens when people get to add value by being who they naturally are. And that’s when you start to hit what I would call convergence in your life or the switch part of your life is when you get to be who you are and you’re adding value to a lot of people. That’s where influence really starts to increase exponentially. And through strengths and through self-evaluation processes, I just realized that what I bring, I had energy and ideas to any organization. But I don’t add a lot of work value. I don’t add a lot of hourly value for the stuff that I do. I can do those things but it’s very minimal value that I add.
But when I have the ability to share ideas, when I have the ability to encourage and motivate and get a platform to set an objective and tell people why it’s important to objective, that’s when I have the ability to really be influential at the highest capacity and I love the idea of convergence where you find the thing that you love to do, that’s your passionate about and that becomes the thing that you’re able to provide for yourself and your family through.
And I think that’s what I’ve been able to do through Team Concepts is I’ve created a platform where I just going to be myself. I get to add value the way that I add most value to an organization and be the most influential. And it’s now the way that I’m providing for my family. First is running a restaurant. I mean, it’s a tough thing to do but it didn’t need my specific skill set to do that and I was moderately successful at that but nowhere near as influential as am in this current role.
Andrea: Yeah and the journey that you been on to get to that point where you could find that convergence, that’s a long journey. It wasn’t just overnight. You didn’t just decide and then it happened. It sounds like you had a vision and you started walking down that path. Did you feel like you had a pretty good idea of each step along the path?
Josh: No, not at all. I really believed that my life have been a little more just like Forest Gump. I say that often that I’m just going to force my way through this. You know, you try to make the best decisions with the information you have at different stages in life and try to pick opportunities when you see them. Whenever I create, I try to create an opportunity for myself, it fails. Whenever I just sit back and look and see what opportunities are available to help others or add value, it works.
I would say that the biggest pivotal moment, the only time I knew that there was a moment was when I just realized we had just kind of suffered a business loss and some hard time and I knew that I had to find to make up the difference for the money we had lost in one venture and I say “You know, the only way that I wanna make this money back and the only I wanna provide my family is Team Concepts.” And I said “That’s what I love to do and that one was a pivotal moment for me where I said “You know, I just got to do this. It’s either gonna work or it’s not, I’m gonna go all out. I’m gonna give everything I have and try to find this convergence.”
You know, I’ve been doing this for 16, 17 years on the side and loved it but you know all of my…I don’t think anybody except for my wife told me that it was a good idea. Everybody said, that’s such a…well the first thing is I’m creating a market especially in the Midwest. There’s people that do some other things on the Coast, but in the Midwest, there’s really none. I don’t really have a direct competitor here. For that different thing I do, some competitors that indirectly compete with some of the services I offer. But as a whole, nobody offers the services we offer.
So you have to create a new market. You have to create the need around that new market and let people know that they have a need and then you also have to tell them that you’re the person to meet that need and that your organization is going to meet that need. So we go through a lot of difficulties in our sales process because very few people are out there looking for “Hey, I need somebody to come in and teach my team how to work together, how to be more efficient and effective.” It’s because it’s indirect result from a bottom line for an organization, not a direct result.
Andrea: Right. And it’s so valuable but like you said it’s indirect, so people don’t necessarily feel that right away especially with small businesses, it can feel like you’re just trying to survive anyway and not necessarily financially. Maybe just trying to survive the day-to-day, and the idea of taking time away from whatever you’re doing with your employees or whatever, that’s a hard sale but so worth it in the end. And I’m sure that you have plenty of testimonials to attest to that.
Josh: Yeah, you know when people are busy living life; it’s tough to work at improving your life. The same way most home owners go through or business owners and/or business managers is that you know, the only time my houses ever done is the week before we list them to sell them. The rest of the time, we’re just too busy living to actually work at our home improvement and do the projects that we wanted to do and make things actually the way that we want them. But when we get to the end or we decide we’re going to sell our home or we’re going to move on then we’re like “Oh we got to make this look like we’ve always want it to look so other people would buy it.”
And I think business owners get in that in their mind, they’re like “Oh this is gonna be great. We’re gonna be like this. We’re gonna be like this.” But yet, day to day living in an existence where their company isn’t, their workplace is not the environment, it’s not the culture, or it’s not all the things that they want. But in the back of their mind, it is and that they’ll get there someday but how do you create that deadline for yourself when it’s not. We’re going to sell that over, we’re going to move.
And unfortunately, a lot of the times for business owners and managers the deadline creates itself and that you have a crisis. You start losing key employees until it affects your bottom line because your culture isn’t what it needs to be then that crisis will call them to action. But I would much rather see organizations work on the top end and that is “What are you dreaming about? What are you trying to look like?” And make them believe that “You know what, you can’t have that, you can’t be like that but it’s really tough to do yourself.” But when you bring somebody else in that knows exactly how to influence people to create that culture, it just works better.
Andrea: Yeah, it actually kinds of reminds me of your story and how you’re kind of dabbling in Team Concepts until there was an actual financial loss and then you went for it. Do you think it would have happen quite like this if whatever business opportunity didn’t fail?
Josh: No. I don’t think so. I think it’s actually what had to happen for me to launch into this business, because it was hard for me to really push or sell this because it’s so personal to me. It’s like selling myself.
Andrea: Yes, I get that.
Josh: And that part is really tough to do aggressively. It’s easy to do when it’s passive and people are talking great about you and they’re friends and that but to aggressively say “You know what; you need what I have to offer.” It takes a lot of confidence and it takes a lot of drive. But it’s amazing if you go home at night and you realize that if you don’t do this your kids are going to be hungry. It’s pretty easy to find that confidence and it’s very easy to find that drive. So when we found ourselves in a hard spot, I realized that there’s only way out and that was for me to really find convergence and get paid to do the things that I love doing the most and what I’m best at. So we had to create that opportunity.
Andrea: Yeah, I love that. This is all very, very interesting. And I’m so glad that you’re doing what you’re doing Josh. I’m glad that even though you had to experience some loss and frustrations and whatever else came with that a few years ago that you could come to this point where you really living into who you are and sharing that with others in such a powerful way. So thank you so much for that.
Josh: Oh thank you!
Andrea: And so now that we know who you are and everything, if somebody were to want to get in touch with you, are working on mostly of local level then or do you do any travel?
Josh: No, we work nationwide. So if a local in the Central Nebraska area, I have some different program and a more in depth program available, obviously logistics. We have three different training facilities that we use here in Central Nebraska. But when I travel nationwide, we have scaled activity based programming, obviously my speaking and consulting. Team Concepts is pretty…we have a lot of different products offered.
We offer activity based learning Low Ropes training for larger organizations and schools. And so those require vehicle travel with trailers so that scale is different there. But when I travel and speak and consult on managing millennial engagement, managing the engagement cycle of others and building teams that lead themselves, all three of those topics I travel nationwide on because it’s just me who showcase of activities.
Andrea: Yeah that’s cool. Well, how can people get a hold of you, Josh? Go to teamconcepts.com?
Josh: Yeah that’s perfect. And my phone numbers are on there too. I don’t mind people to contact me directly and just see if there’s anything I can do to add value to any organization or anybody’s life. That’s what we’re here for.
Andrea: Awesome! Well, thank you so much for your Voice of Influence and for sharing it with us today.
Josh: Oh thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.
In Part 1 of this interview with cousins, authors and polygamist cult escapees Anna LeBaron and Ruth Wariner we learned the back story of what makes their relationships so extraordinary. In this episode we hear how the cousins relate to one another’s painful experiences, healing journeys and the messages they feel called to speak to the world.
Share this one with a young woman you love (teen+). There is so much we can relate to here and their examples are powerful for helping others realize that their voice matters.
Mentioned on this episode:
The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner
The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir by Anna LeBaron
Thank you for subscribing, rating and reviewing the podcast on other platforms! It really does make a difference!
Hey, it’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence Podcast. Today, we have Part 2 of extra special interview with Anna LeBaron and Ruth Wariner. Now, these ladies are both authors, they’re cousins, and they’re polygamous cult escapist. And if you have not heard Part 1 of this interview, you need to go back. Stop this right now, and go back and listen to Part 1.
So many amazing things that they share about the way that they met, their interaction, and how that’s been healing for them. It’s fabulous. Now, in today’s interview and today’s episode, we’re going to dig a little bit more into what it was like for them to not have and then find their Voice of Influence.
Andrea: Welcome back to the podcast Anna and Ruth!
Anna and Ruth: Hi!
Andrea: Okay, so we’re we left off in the last episode was that you were discussing the fact that sharing your stories, even quoting your stories out there for each of you was healing for you. But it kind of brought up some other things with other family members know that it’s difficult for them. So have either one of you had any resistance to sharing your stories with the world?
Anna: Oh my gosh, I know that for me having witnessed other people in our family, having written their stories and then listened as people reacted to and responded to the things that we shared, the difficult situation to be in telling such an intimate details about your family. And then finding out those things have impacted other people sometimes in negative ways.
And that has been a reality for me hearing from family and then hearing from others who hear from family where you know that what you’ve done by sharing your story has impacted others negatively and that’s a hard thing.
Ruth: Uh-hmmm. It is.
Anna: It’s a hard thing to process and navigate and work through; however, I knew that it will impact people just because I’ve seen it happen so many times before because there have been so many books written about our family, even made for TV movie that was just horrible and horrifying to watch myself.
Ruth: It was for me too, yeah.
Anna: Just watching what happened, and the fact that these things transpired in our lives and then having to _____ them through other people’s lives.
Ruth: Through another perspective, absolutely.
Anna: And the key was that, it’s somebody else’s perspective.
Anna: So when I watched that made for TV movie in 1993 on television, it was impactful and that it was told through somebody’s eyes that I wasn’t very familiar with. And so the scenes and the things that played out, I was a little bit surprised like “Oh my gosh, these things are odd or unreal.” But it was actually very real but it wasn’t my perspective. The story wasn’t told [crosstalk].
Ruth: It wasn’t your experience.
Anna: And so when I started writing, I had gone to the place where I knew that everyone has a story and every story matters. And even me writing my story was going to impact people that my story mattered. And so, me being able to tell my story even knowing that people were going to be having to make shift their inside….
Ruth: In their own understanding.
Anna: Their own understanding of what happened. Those shifts were going to happen and it was going to be difficult for some people, I just felt like I needed to…I’ve known, I needed to tell my story for decades.
Ruth: Me too.
Anna: And had to go through a long healing process personally before I could get to the point where I could tell my story and share that was really intimate, really impactful things that happened to me with the world.
Ruth: And that was something, as I was writing, it was a conflict that I had honestly I was writing because it was so important for me to be honest and for me to share my truth and my experience because I hadn’t felt this as a child. And really when I started writing my book, it was more for family. I wanted my younger siblings to remember our mother and to know who she was because they didn’t have a memory of her.
But I wanted them to know who she was through the experience that I have with her from my perspective and that part of it was really important to me. And so my memoir ended up becoming more of a we-moir I guess. It was about our family experience but I was very concerned about how that was going to affect my family. And that definitely influenced the way that I wrote about the religion in the book because I have so many family members that are wonderful and I adore that are still practicing polygamous and practicing Fundamentalist and still believe that my dad is the prophet.
I knew that I was writing and I took that into consideration. But at the time I was ready to share my manuscript with the publisher, I had my siblings that I’m closest to, which are all of my mother’s children, I had them read it and I want a feedback from them. And I wanted them to be okay with the way that I told the story. But it was impossible obviously to break outside and to get feedback from people outside of my nuclear family.
So my brother Matt, he was still in the religion. He still lives in Colonia LeBaron, he read it and he loved it. So for me, that was important and he also helped me. You know, I had been 20 years removed from my childhood in LeBaron when I first started writing and I was reflecting and remember. I used a lot of photographs. I’d been back to the Colonia LeBaron a few times and it helped with my writing and my memories.
But he definitely helped fill in a lot of little memories and little stories that we both remembered. We spent a lot times of impactful conversation about what happened. And I remember asking him, I’m like “Did this happen? Is this true?” You know, because it was so bizarre to me after having left the town for 20 years basically. It was important for me that it was okay with him because I didn’t want to hurt our relationship in real life.
It was exciting that he was able to not only understand my perspective. And he said that, he said “I know that this is your perspective.” He was very understanding of that and not only understanding but he was excited for me and he wanted to know as the book was being released. He wanted to know how it was doing.
So that part, I felt really good about that my mom’s family, the family that I’m closest to was okay with the story. And not only okay with it but they loved it and they all said that it was healing for them to read from my perspective and understand where I was coming from and really understand why we ran away. That was a very big part of me for my little sisters to understand that.
Andrea: Because you played a big part in getting your sisters out as well.
Ruth: Yeah, my mother passed away in a tragic accident and we lost a little brother and they were 5 months, 2 and 4 years old. And my brother Aaron was only 10, and I a special needs brother who was Luke was 17 and I was 15. And we grew up with a stepfather, another polygamous man who also believed in my father and his priesthood. He then incredibly _____ us as we were growing up and I found out not long after my mom died that he was continuing to abuse my special needs brother.
And it was at that point that I called my brother Matt working in the States – he was only 18, already out on his own. He left home at 14 and has been working hard labor in construction for those four years. I called him. I explained situation the situation. And you know, after my mom died, there was this part of me that was so profoundly just this really strong primal mother bear instinct that I had for my sisters because my stepfather even right after my mom’s funeral wanting to take my little 4-year-old sister and be alone with her.
And I was like “There’s no way you’re taking that little girl anywhere without me.” And you know, he had apologized for his abuse of all different kinds. He apologized and everybody was like “He’s repented, you need to forgive him.” And that’s how the community responded to him. When I found out about my brother, I was like “There’s no way, we’re staying. There’s no way that he’s gonna start taking my little sisters and being alone with them.”
And so I called my brother Matt. My stepfather had left. He had work in the States so we didn’t know when he was coming back. And I called my brother, I told him exactly what was going on and I said “You are not gonna leave us here anymore.” I was just like “There was no way.” My mom wasn’t there anymore. She wasn’t keeping us and that had always been. She had been the rock. She was the person that did everything for us.
And he came down literally the next night and in an old ____ station wagon. We throw all the kids stuff in the car. We turned off the lights and we literally just lurched out of town so nobody would notice in the middle of the night. It was terrifying because we didn’t know when he was coming back. We didn’t know his family was going to see us leaving. And by the time we got to the border, the sun was rising and going into the border at Arizona.
It was probably a few of the longest seconds of my life as we were waiting. I don’t know for people that have been in border town situations, the lines are long. And it was always frightening to me to cross the border either to Mexico and or to the United States, but it was something that we were definitely well practiced with. But we had never crossed the border without my mom.
And my brother was in the car. I was in the car with my sisters and I was teaching them how to say, you know, to say Americans, so that when they ask us our nationality, we’d all be ready to say American. The border patrol woman, I remember she shined a flashlight inside the car. She looked at each of us and said “Why were you in Mexico?” And so my brother said same thing that my mom had always used to say and it was “We were buying clothes for the kids over the weekend.”
She looked around. She didn’t have any reason to believe that we were newly orphaned or that our mother had just passed away. We were taking the kids away from their father and she let us through. And that was literally the moment in my life definitely when my time and my childhood in LeBaron….it was like that night that cut my life into parts. Yeah, coming out of that was we were safely lived at my grandmother. So that part of it was good but also left behind my family and life that I knew and I was raising a family at that point, my little sisters. My grandmother wasn’t in position to take care them by herself, so I stayed home with them and her with them and then eventually moved out when I was 19 with my sisters and I raised them in Southern Oregon.
When I was raising my sisters, I first just a teenager, a woman in her early 20’s, a single parent with them and you know, it was so important for me for them to understand what had happened that they have a memory about. But since the book has come out, I’ve had a little bit of resistance from the people in Colonia LeBaron, my family there. And I think really the hardest thing for them, you know, my half sisters like I said who they’re wonderful parents and they’re wonderful people but they don’t understand the situation that I left in. I think that they’re the most resistant that I’ve had or had been from people that haven’t even read the book. They haven’t read it and they don’t understand the perspective.
I’ve had one sister in particular call me out pretty _____ on social media on Facebook publicly. She hadn’t had a conversation with me in years and in fact, I don’t know her very well. She’s quite a bit older than I am. But I also realized too that she’s in her 60’s or in her late 50’s, and she remembers my father. She remembers the man who was charismatic and who was a leader and who created this church.
He was obviously very confident and a visionary and that’s the person she remembers him being and I don’t have that connection with my father. And I think that just the fact that I’m questioning whether or not what he said was true, whether or not he was a prophet has really impacted her personally that I would consider that “no, he was not a prophet.” Does that make sense?
Andrea: Oh yeah.
Ruth: Yeah, so that part of it is very personal and very real for her in a way that’s not for me and I understand that.
Andrea: Yeah, Ruth, this idea that the people who have provided the most resistance to your book and to you. Those people haven’t even read the book that sounds a lot like growing up and not having a voice, not being able to share the story, to share your perspective. When other people were telling you, you needed to forgive your step father, when they were saying he’s repentant, you know, you need to just forgive him now; did that cause you to question your own perspective?
Ruth: Oh I definitely did not feel this in to and the fact that so many people supported my stepfather in spite of knowing this had he’d been definitely affected the way that I felt about myself. I’ve struggled with feelings of very insecure feelings and also not knowing how to value myself because I didn’t feel valued. I didn’t feel heard, and that was definitely part of it. The way that the community reacted, but really more importantly the way that my mom reacted and her decision to stay, had a profound impact on my life.
I did struggle with a lot of self doubt. I thought I was going crazy like I know. I had always been very intuitive that there was always something about my stepfather that really bothered me. I didn’t want to be around him. And even before he became abusive, he was very religious and I knew there was something that wasn’t right about him. So part of me learned to trust that little voice inside me, that intuition that I felt and that I felt very alone in feeling.
But as my stepfather became more and more abusive, I realized that there was something real about the way I felt and that I needed to listen to that. And it was the same intuition that when I found out he was abusing my special needs brother, it was that intuition again that told me I needed to leave. And because I had been right before just in that instance, especially in regards to my stepfather, I knew that I needed to listen to it.
Andrea: Yeah, your book indicated that you’re really resolute at that point. You just knew.
Ruth: Oh yeah. No doubt.
Andrea: Whereas before, you might have been questioning but then when it happened to somebody else and when it was possible that it might be happening to other people in your family that mother bear said “No.”
Ruth: No way.
Andrea: So Anna, Ruth mentioned her mother and the fact that her mother stayed was a significant difficulty for her, what it was like for you knowing your mother and her background and the fact that after you left, she stayed?
Anna: Well my mother is still alive so that was one of the things that I had to consider strongly in deciding to write my book. For the longest time, I thought I’ll wait until she passes because she didn’t know a lot of these things that happened to me and I know it would just break her heart to read about them. But then that’s not how things ended up being which I wrote the book even though she was still alive and with us. And I knew that it would impact her life to read these stories and for me to talk about the ____ of polygamy that she’s still very strongly believes in and resonates with and that guides her faith and her practices.
And so I had to overcome some of that resistance within my own self to talk about the things that happened to me knowing that it would be very difficult for my mother to read those things and to share those things like a lot of people don’t tell their parents when negative things happened to them. There’s just some kind of silence or something that happened inside of children when bad things happened to them and telling others is just hard especially telling your own parents. And so that was something that I had to overcome.
Andrea: Why do you think that it is the way that is? Why is it so hard to tell your parents?
Anna: When things are happening to children, oftentimes they’re being told don’t tell and threatened and bullied into not telling so that’s part of the experience. But then you also have that internal dialogue that happens that makes you afraid to speak up or to say what’s happening.
Ruth: Absolutely! I think there’s a tremendous amount of my experience with the same and that there was a tremendous amount of emotional manipulation from stepfather. He was always saying….as I was watched my mom, she has 10 kids and was 38 when she died and she had three special needs kids. It was a tough situation and I had watched her suffer so much. And so when my stepfather was abusive, he asked me not to tell because he didn’t want me to hurt her and so that was something that was very sensitive to me.
And because of the narcissistic personality that he had, he knew the part of me that was easy to manipulate. And there’s also the part in children that blames ourselves and so it’s scary to tell somebody else that we may have done something wrong. It was hard for me really as a child not to blame myself to what was happening in my life and to not have as sense of shame for myself and my body and who I was. And that made it harder to talk about for sure.
Andrea: Yeah. So Anna, you eventually did share your book with your mother, right?
Anna: Yeah, I did.
Andrea: Will you tell us about what that experience was like?
Anna: When I started writing, I knew I needed to tell my mom that I was writing and she was actually very nervous about what I was going to say. So one of the things that I did during the process of writing book was I just maintained some contact with her periodically and sporadically letting her know what was happening in the publishing process, because it was a very long process.
So it was several years of updating her and letting her know where we’re at and then I told her that once I had turn in the entire manuscript to publisher that I would get on the plane and come visit her and talk with her and read it to her. And I wanted her to know what was in the book or what was going to be written about before that book showed up on her doorstep delivered by the postman.
I didn’t want her to be blindsided and to _____ understanding that her choices, her actions and decisions impacted my life so negatively. I didn’t want her to sit with that alone. I wanted to be there beside her and allow her to see that I had grown and matured and healed. I wanted her to see with her own two eyes in flesh and blood. I wanted to be in her presence to be a comfort to her heart with my very presence.
Ruth: Giving you that space that you talked _____.
Anna: I know that like so many people in my family, especially my immediate family. My mother’s children – they have a lot of conflicting feelings as well as I do. I have conflicting feelings about my own mother because she holds to those faith practices that were so devastating to so many people’s lives. So there’s a lot of conflicting feeling even though I feel tenderly towards my mom, there’s still that aspect of being in a relationship with her that’s in conflict with my own values, moral standards and things that I hold as dear in my own faith practices.
So that conflict is there. It’s internal and it’s ever present in every interaction I have with her, however healing or whatever. But I will say that having her grieved and mourn while I was reading even though she regretted because one of the things that you touched on earlier is that there are people in the community we’re born and raised in, they’re still believe that Joel was the prophet. I will say that there is nobody that I’m aware of that’s alive today that believes that Ervil was any kind of prophet at all, not even my own mother who followed him through his death.
Ruth: Wow, I didn’t know that.
Anna: She does not believe that he was a true prophet anymore. She does believe that there’s another that was and you’re probably familiar with that thinking that would cause her to kind of shift gears in that way. So just knowing that she shift and make that shift away from that kind of thinking and that mentality that kind of keeps you _____ sort of kind of stuck. In her mind, she’s not stuck. She has a different [crosstalk] than I do. But from where I was sitting, she was very stuck and the fact that all of her children have now left that way of thinking as far as that who she believes as a prophet currently.
It’s just a lot of conflicting feelings that’s where I was going with it. There’s conflicting feeling in this relationship that I have with my mother and yet, the community that she’s involved in right now doesn’t require her to not have contact with people that are outsiders or considered outsiders. So for that I’m grateful because I have been able to have this experience with her even though internally there’s still that conflict.
Ruth: Absolutely. That makes sense. It totally makes sense and that’s something about my story that has been really hard for me as to not have that opportunity to have a conversation with my mom.
Anna: Is there a part of you…now, I’m talking and…I’m having a little…
Ruth: She’s having a little interview right now.
Andrea: Please, please, please feel free.
Anna: Is there a part of you that can look at my experience with my own mother and think she might have had that thing response.
Ruth: She might have and that’s a good question you know when I think about my childhood. Had my stepfather been the one who passed and not her, would she had married another polygamous and stayed?
Anna: I have not thought about that.
Ruth: Yeah, so you know that’s a good question and I spent years in therapy. And my idea about my mother was always that she would have eventually left because all of my stepfathers’ wives did leave him eventually and you know that we would be friends because I still felt so close to her as a teenager when she died and there were so many feelings of betrayal that I didn’t get to resolve with her.
And thinking back during my therapy actually and this is something that my therapist said to me, she said, do you think you’d have a close relationship with your mother had she survived? And my initial feeling was, yes of course. I would have forgiven her. It would have been amazing. She would have been my friend and I would have known her as an adult and all of my life’s problems would have been solved.
But you know, that might not be the case. I mean, I don’t know extensive the abuse might have been towards my other siblings and how disturbed I might have been have my mother never left. Those are all unanswered questions for me.
Anna: Well, I have siblings. We have _____ feelings with my mother.
Ruth: Yeah, I can imagine.
Anna: Because she still believes those things and still practicing and still…she’s walking down that road.
Ruth: Yeah and hearing your story about your relationship with your mom too, I realized that mine probably wouldn’t have been very perfect either. I probably wouldn’t have been dealing with a lot conflicts and in fact it is true for me and my brother and I. My brother, Matt and I were very close when we’re young. And when he decided to go back to LeBaron and take a second wife, he has 15 children now and has been married a few times but that’s something that’s hard for me.
It’s been hard for us to be able to continue to have that close relationship and relate to each other’s experiences in life because the decisions that my mother made and that my stepfather made in polygamy were so devastating to my life. And so it’s hard for me to watch and go back to it even though I don’t think his situation is not as harsh as ours was growing up. So he has evolved in that since and he’s not nearly as abusive. They have a better lifestyle than I did when I was there but yeah definitely the way women and children were treated, it’s hard for me to watch. It hard for me to see that happening again in my family.
Andrea: At what point did you each begin to believe that you voice actually did matter, that you mattered and that you expressing your thoughts and feelings, that people might actually listen? At what point that that actually happens for you?
Anna: Well, I’ll just start and kind of ____ with what was being said earlier about therapy.
Andrea: Please do.
Anna: It was for me was when I started my down the road in the healing path that I took when I accepted an invitation from a friend that offered to make an appointment for me with the lay ministry counselor at her church. And I didn’t know I needed therapy but she could obviously see the signs that I was in distress emotionally. And so she made that appointment for me and then after an hour with this woman, she wisely referred me to a licensed professional therapist and that began a five-year journey of what my therapist called ‘peeling back layers of an onion.’
And when I first sat down in her office with her emotionally, I was very stuck. I was very shutdown. When you’re raised in that environment and even after getting out, finding your voice, finding your feelings, or finding expressions for the emotions and the thoughts was really big part of my healing process. I learned how to cry, how to grieve, which those are things that I…I was a grown woman with children of my own and did not know how to express grief. I didn’t know how to express emotions.
I had what I called ‘a very limited range emotionally.’ I couldn’t go very far negative, I couldn’t go very far positive just because being raised in and groomed for eventually becoming just wife, you’re taught to shutdown emotionally.
Ruth: You have to.
Anna: You’re taught to restrict your emotional expressions and so you live a very limited human experience without that big wide range of emotion that’s possible and that’s very normal.
Ruth: That’s human.
Anna: That’s very human and so just being able to tap into and access that emotional expression was such a big part of my healing journey. Just having tears come out at the corner of eyes, you know, it took my five years to heal.
Ruth: To give yourself permission to feel.
Anna: Yeah. And so the way I talk about it now is because I’m now able to express the negative emotions, grief, and anger and you know rage, sometimes I have permission for that expression in a healthy environment, in a healthy way. There’s a healthy expression of anger and just having access to those negative emotions and the freedom to express them has given me access to the range on the other’s end of spectrum to all the joys and the peace and love in its very wide space.
Ruth: Yeah, it’s so inspiring. That’s amazing.
Andrea: How did other people respond to you when you did start to express yourself? The people that were around you, did they notice sudden change? Did they accept this new expression of your humanity?
Ruth: Good question.
Anna: It wasn’t sudden. Like I said, it took five years for me to open that inner space inside of me that had just been held down for so long. And then I mean, once the dam broke I think I cried for days and months to have let all that grief out that had just been held in for so long. Even years after that, my healing journey has been decades long and I would say that my sister that’s closest to me, Cecelia, that I write about a lot in the book just because we have so many shared experiences.
She has said probably in the last two years or so, that’s why I’m saying this is a decade long process. So none of it was instant, none of it happened quickly. But she has watched me just locked them into the person that I naturally am, the person that’s me, the real me. And just seeing from her perspective and from her eyes and hearing her talk about what she sees in me and how beautiful it is to her that I have finally found my voice. That I have found my full expression of who I am and just seeing that through her eyes and having her expressed that to me has been such a powerful experience.
Ruth: Yeah, I can imagine.
Andrea: How about you Ruth?
Ruth: We’re still healing. We’re still in the process, we’re still finding our way and I’m still finding ways to express my voice to say what I have, find the confidence within myself too. Express myself and to feel those feelings too.
Anna: Yeah because you are.
Ruth: For me while I was raising my sisters, I really feel like I was on autopilot for so many years and I just got up. I got up and I make sure everybody was fed. I was in a state of survival for many years. And when I finally finished graduate school and started teaching and I had the benefits to get help. I started to go first to counseling and I started there and sat down in a group situation with a minister and there were other.
You know, there were other people who have just suffered tragedy and I started to talk about my mom and my brother and my little sisters and my situation. I was shaking and crying and after the meeting, a couple of people walked up to me afterwards and asked about how long it had been since my mom passed and we left LeBaron, and I said, it had been 15 years. And they were like “You know, you looked like it something that happened yesterday.”
And I realized, you know, there was so much going on inside of me that I had not given myself the permission to feel and to heal and in a lot of ways raising three kids by myself was a distraction from who I was and how I was suffering. So because I was so young, I think it was something that I eventually became okay because I started to seek counseling and help.
When I was about 30, I was 29 I guess when I first started going to therapy. And I think I was ready, you know, I was ready to express that trauma and I was ready to begin to let go of it. It was definitely…I felt like I started to learn about who I was really when I was going to college. I took a lot of world’s religion classes and I was just fascinated by the idea of comparative religions and the philosophy. I wanted to dig so deeply into that because I wanted a loving God, and I wanted a God that was not what I grew up with.
So I just looked for that everywhere and I found little negative truth everywhere and it ended up becoming a very personal journey for me that part of it. And I really felt like sitting in some of those classrooms and thinking about those things and feeling inspired, I remember sitting down just being lit up with inspirations about what I was learning and how exciting it was that I got to choose what I believed in. Yeah, so I think it started there and then it was the way that the therapist called it peeling away layers of an onion. It was definitely like that for me too and it’s still is that way.
I was seeing a therapist for ____, gosh I think I still go, I probably need to. But that’s where I really started to find different ways and started to break away from that fundamentalist way for women where they didn’t really get to express their feelings or ask for what they wanted. And even as I was raising my family, when my sisters finally moved out, when they were teenagers going up to college and everything and I was on my own for the first time, I think I was 33 years old. I’ve been in therapy for a few years at that point.
But I had a major identity crisis because I had never learned, like I taught my four younger siblings all how to drive and we always were in the car together. We took our trips together. We did all together and I always listen to their music. You know, they were listening to Pearl Jam and all the 90s, big 90s rock people. And you know, I love that music too, but it was always their choice. It was what they wanted and so when my youngest sister moved out, I literally like “What do I like? What do I want?” And I was in my mid 30’s.
I had never considered those things before again, because I never had the permission to do it. I was on this earth the way I was raised and as I was on this earth to get married and have children, period. There was no room for wants and desires and choice. And I found a tremendous amount of healing and freedom and realizing that I had that choice. Yeah and it’s been actually…it was intimidating at first having so much choice and trying to decide and really taking responsibility for my life and what I wanted to do with it. Those were huge steps for me. Therapy definitely helped me get there.
But you know now, it’s fun for me. It’s exciting to plan a trip and go somewhere and you know, to have the freedom and money to be able to do that. So that it was a tough road but really, it has been incredible to me to realize that who I am inside of me that what God gave me was a spirit that could survive and that’s stronger than the circumstances I grew up in. It’s powerful. It’s been empowering for me to recognize that.
Andrea: Wow, I look at both of your stories and I realize that you both left your families, the polygamous cult at a young age. And Ruth, you were 15?
Ruth: That’s right.
Andrea: And Anna you were 13?
Andrea: Just think about that for a minute. You know the children who are out there who are 13 years old or 15 years old, how strong they are and could be. I was also just really struck by the idea that what you did and the way that you have continued to heal since then has said so much about what it means to escape this feeling of being trapped and emotional manipulation or physically being trapped. So I would like to ask you to consider here for a minute, what would you want to say to someone, be a young woman or an older woman even a man, who feels like they are trapped in a situation that is not good for them? What would you want to say for them?
Anna: I’ll just go first.
Ruth: Go for it.
Anna: What I would say is find a safe person and talk about your experience, about the feeling of being trapped and then see where that conversation goes. Brene Brown talks about safe people in her book, Daring Greatly and the Gifts of Imperfection and even Rising Strong. There are safe people in the world whether that’s a friend that you can have a cup of coffee with, a small group of people that you’ve come to trust with your stories. When you tell someone your story, it’s important to have someone like Brene Brown quotes that somebody that has earned the right to hear your story.
Ruth: I love that.
Anna: So that’s my thing. It’s finding the safe person, someone that has earned the right to hear your story and even if that friend, a mentor, a counselor, or somebody that a minister type person that you have trust their guidance or just a professional counselor. Find someone and speak.
Ruth: Absolutely and Brene Brown too when I read one of her books years ago said that there is a tremendous amount of shame in silent and shame grows in silence. And that makes so much sense to me so I think the methods to speak to someone and to speak your truth, to say your truth and to talk to somebody is very important. And that was definitely my grandparents for me having a place to run to when we escaped.
And also what were important for me in my survival was that intuitive voice and listening and trusting yourself and what’s inside of you and you know develop your intuitive muscles and question your feelings about situations that are uncomfortable. And even though things might seem okay, I think it’s so important that we listen to ourselves. For me I feel like it was that part of my intuition that warned me and told me there was something terribly wrong with our situation when I was LeBaron.
You know, listening to that and trusting that gave me so much strength and it literally saved my life. And we are given this intuition to protect us. I feel that it is a tremendous gift from God. It’s something that I’ve always felt very blessed to have and you know finding that part of ourselves and realizing that is…it is stronger than a situation and it is possible to get help and survive and finding the people you trust, that was a big part of my life for sure in addition to that.
Anna: The part that helped me all along was reading books that shaped the way I thought and felt and thought. And I say books mentored me.
Ruth: Uh-huh, I think me too.
Anna: Because I was a voracious reader and for anyone that feels stuck in a circumstance whether it might any kind of trauma or abuse, there’s a really great resource from an author named Shannon Thomas. She has a book called Healing From Hidden Abuse and that is a resource that I would recommend to anyone who has been through to any type of abuse situation. And she calls them hidden abuses because there are so many abuses that don’t need marks and scars in the body. They leave marks and scars on the skin of your heart and your soul and your spirit. And so healing from those types of abuse that may not be visible for the human eye or the people around you, or even to yourself. So that’s the great resource that I’d love to recommend people who are beginning a journey. It helps you recognize what’s happening around you.
Ruth: What’s the name of the author again?
Anna: Shannon Thomas.
Ruth: Shannon Thomas.
Anna: She’s a license professional therapist specialized even this type of…helping people heal from this type of abuse. So I think a lot of people…you don’t have to grow up in a polygamous cult…
Ruth: Absolutely. It’s just an extreme situation but it happens everywhere.
Anna: Right, it resonate with the things of our story.
Ruth: It’s universal – a lot of universal aspects to our stories.
Anna: And the other part was when work with the therapist who’s very recently been involved in my life in the last few years and she was able to tell me that it was post-
traumatic stress that I being triggered by posttraumatic stress just being able to name it so was so helpful to me. And it was like a relief to me like “Oh my gosh, of course.” You know, it never occurred to me what I’ve gone through was traumatic or even trauma.
Ruth: Well, we didn’t recognize because that’s the way everybody was treated.
Anna: It was normal. It was our normal.
Ruth: It was our normal.
Anna: And so having her identify that and named it made the healing process go a little bit quicker for me.
Ruth: That’s great.
Anna: And the other part of it is that healing is the moment, you know, you can have moment in time where you make huge strides and you think “Okay, this is it.” And then you realize a little bit later “Oh healing is a process.”
Ruth: Yeah, I thought I was better _____. I need more help.
Anna: I still need more work so healing has been long process for me decades long journey. And so I want to encourage anyone listening that if they’re just getting started or they’re significantly down the road and ____ if there’s bump down the road that make you realize, oh I need to kind of seek something out, seek more then it’s okay.
Ruth: I think to your point of stories and books, I’ve always been influenced by them. But I have had experiences that are often just from reading people’s stories even if they’re fiction. But if I can relate to a particular character, I’m one who needs meaning in a story. I don’t always just read for entertainment although that’s been sometimes, but I really love having takeaways and being able to resonate with characters and learn from them and find meaning.
And there have been some books in my life and stories and books that helped created little _____ shifts. I don’t know if you ever read like that amazing good books like you could just feel your self changing and growing as you’re reading because the stories are so incredible. And that’s been a huge part of my healing process. And I think that’s so important for us to find our voice and to find the ability to express it and tell it.
Andrea: Some great advice. I want to close with one more question and this is related to each of you and your mission now, like how do you want to use your voice in the world? You each have a platform now. You’re authors, you’re speakers who would you want to hear what you have to say? And what is it that you want to drive home?
Ruth: The first word that comes to my mind with my own story and my own speaking practice is courage. To empower people to feel courageous, to take responsibility for their lives and to know that who they are is stronger than what they grow up with their current circumstances. And that we all have within us the power to change and to create a life that we live and make choices that are positive and impactful both in our lives and the lives of others.
And also too, I think it’s important that we tell these stories in spite of how sometimes hard they can be in a way that’s powerful and empowering and not victim minded if that make sense. I think it’s so important for us to tell our stories in a way that it doesn’t make other or ourselves feel like a victim because I don’t think that’s naturally who we are. I know for me personally, I had learned victim behavior and I held on to that pattern and it created a lot ____ in my own life.
And I was able to recognize that in myself and the choices I was making that brought that about and how I felt like a victim even after I became adult mature woman. That was something that helped me change quite a bit. I think that’s so important for people to understand.
Anna: For me, I would say that one of the biggest ideas that helped me has been one that I’ve been pursuing for the past decades, or a little more than a decade and that’s the idea of freedom. And the way that was defined by one of my spiritual mentors is freedom is becoming the person that you were created and redeemed to be. And so find that freedom journey that I have been on. I hope that any time I have the opportunity into the lives especially of women. And just because I’m a woman I resonates, I find that women can relate to me even though men have related and spoken out and sent things to me about the way my story have impacted their lives, mostly it’s women that I kind [crosstalk].
Ruth: It has been for me too.
Anna: It’s an incredible privilege and honor to kind of enter to people’s stories and hear them and listen to them tell their stories. Everywhere I’ve been hearing people say “me too,” even though it’s not polygamy other things that resonates. And being able to kind of point out the path for where people can begin their own freedom journey that’s a privilege for me and shining the light on “Here’s my story. This is where I began my freedom journey and here’s the path, I’m shining the light on that path.” So that others can begin walking their own that’s been important to me.
Ruth: The freedom to be yourself.
Ruth: It makes sense.
Andrea: Wow, this has been just truly an honor. It’s been an incredible experience to hear you interact with one another and hear your story, your collected stories and then to really honestly be a witness over the past couple of years, myself personally, to see you guys really stepped into your Voice of Influence in the world. And I want to thank you for your courage and for your freedom that you have found, that you have courageously pursued and that you are now offering others. So thank you so much for your Voice of Influence. Thank you for being on this podcast.
Ruth: Thank you for having us.
Anna: Thank you. It has been an honor.
Ruth: It’s been an honor.
Andrea: Right before we leave here, Ruth, where can people find you?
Ruth: Through my website. I hear from a lot of people through email basically. My website is through ruthwariner.com and my book comes out in paperback this spring. So it’s available in I guess wherever books are sold.
Ruth: Tomorrow but it’s comes out tomorrow but it’s going to be in the future.
Anna: The paperback is already out.
Ruth: Yeah that’s a lot interesting. And my paperback is out and it’s great. I’m really interested about the paperback actually because there’s an interview with me in the back of the book and it’s also got the addition with the book club questions so that’s enough and it’s a beautiful book. And I’m super excited about this next page and about writing again and yeah. This has been awesome.
Andrea: How about you Anna?
Anna: My website is annalebaron.com. I’m on social media AnnaKLeBaron, my social media handle everywhere. So you can connect with me this way. My book is in store everywhere. Both of our books are audible.
Ruth: Yeah, we both write our audiobooks.
Anna: So our journeys have been a lot both similar so my book just came out a month ago, just released.
Ruth: Hers is called the Polygamist’s Daughter and mine is the Sound of Gravel.
Andrea: Awesome. Thank you so much and I hope that you have a wonderful lunch together and time together and so glad that it has worked out.
Ruth: Thanks for being a part of this and for welcoming us. You’ve been a wonderful host.
Anna: Thank you, Andea.
Andrea: Thank you!
I would love to hear from you. Share your personal reactions and reflections below, on social media or join our Voice of Influence Community Facebook Group.
In the fall of 2015, Anna LeBaron (author THE POLYGAMIST’S DAUGHTER) sent a Tweet via Twitter to a new author she wanted to support. Unbeknownst to her, the author, Ruth Wariner, was her cousin. She is the daughter of Joel LeBaron, who was killed by his brother Ervil LeBaron’s followers in 1972. Anna LeBaron accidentally broke a decades’ old silence between their families with a simple Tweet. But after a tenuous introduction through social media, the cousins bridged the gap between their families and Anna offered to help Ruth promote her book, New York Times Bestseller, THE SOUND OF GRAVEL.
Mentioned on this episode:
The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner
The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir by Anna LeBaron
(This is an approximate transcript.)
I’m on the line with authors, cousins, and polygamous cult escape’s; Anna LeBaron and Ruth Wariner. I really knew that I wanted to interview both of these authors for this podcast because I’ve witnessed the emergence of their own voices into the world as an advanced reader for each of their books.
And because of that, I’m also aware of the difficulties that they faced as young girls and women trying to find their voice, while in similar environments but in unique circumstances. In fact, Anna and Ruth didn’t even know each other until recently. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
So I knew that I wanted to interview each of them. But a month ago, it occurred to me that it would be really fascinating to do a joint interview, and they agreed. And so that’s why we are here today.
Now, I’m breaking this interview up into two different episodes. But don’t worry; you won’t have to wait long. If you’re listening right away to part 1, part 2 will be out later this week. Now, let’s get to it with Anna and Ruth.
Andrea: Anna and Ruth, welcome to the Voice of Influence Podcast.
Ruth: Hi, thank you for having us. This is exciting.
Anna: Hi Andrea this is a long time coming.
Andrea: Hi! Yes, it really is. It’s actually amazing when I think that to a couple of years ago when you and I met online to how this has come and this is just a full circle in the sense. So I’m so honored to have you here and excited that we’re getting to do this together. So thank you!
Anna: I’m excited to talk to you and I’m excited to get to meet you in person in a few days basically.
Andrea: Yes, like after we air this interview, the full interview very next week that Monday, you’re going to be at my house and I’m so excited. And Ruth someday, we’re going to meet too.
Ruth: Oh yes, we are.
Andrea: There’s no doubt about it.
Ruth: I keep making it a habit to meet people online and then become real life friends with them.
Andrea: That’s a very good habit to have. Okay, so I want to introduce you guys to the Influencers that are listening with us today. I’m going to read your bio just to start out with.
Anna LeBaron is one of more than fifty children of infamous, and polygamist cult leader, Ervil LeBaron. Anna LeBaron endured abandonment, horrific living conditions, child labor, and sexual grooming. At age thirteen, she escaped the violent cult, gave her life to Christ, and sought healing. A gifted communicator and personal growth activist. She’s passionate about helping others walk in freedom. Anna lives in the DFW Metroplex and loves being Mom to five grown children.
RUTH WARINER is an internationally renowned speaker and author of the New York Times bestselling memoir THE SOUND OF GRAVEL. At the age of fifteen, Ruth escaped Colonia LeBaron, the polygamist Mormon colony where she grew up, and moved to California. She raised her three youngest sisters in California and Oregon. After earning her GED, she put herself through college and graduate school, eventually becoming a high school Spanish teacher. She remains close to her siblings and is happily married. The Sound of Gravel is her first book.
So it is significant that you guys are cousins but you didn’t meet until just recently. So Anna, since you kind of got the ball rolling on that, why don’t you tell us how you met?
Anna: Oh my gosh, that’s a fun story! I love telling it if it wasn’t so…it was very emotional. Here’s how we meet, let me just start from the beginning because you have to start there. I was on Twitter one day and Ruth’s publicist (that I was following because of another author) posted a tweet saying “Here’s this new memoir coming out in January. It’s a must read.” And there was nothing on there that would have alerted me that Ruth was my cousin.
So I tweeted the author of the book. And one of the things that I enjoyed doing is promoting new book. And so I tweeted the author and said “Ruth, I can’t wait to read your book. Do you already have a launch team,” thinking that that would already be a work on progress and I could join in and read and promote the book because I love memoir.
So a little bit later that day, I’m reading a Goodreads review on the book and I haven’t think I told you this, Ruth. When I was reading the Goodreads review because I thought “Well, shoot. I’ve already offered to promote book, I should see if it’s any good.”
So I’m reading the review and the review was amazing but there’s still wasn’t any clue that there was any connection between myself and the author. Then in the comments of the Goodreads review, someone says “I’ve read a lot of books about polygamy and this is one of the great ones.” And I went “Whatttttttttt?”
So in my mind, I’m thinking “There’s a lot of polygamous communities and I wonder which ones she’s part of.” So I went back to her Twitter feeds, found her website, started scrolling through her history tab, and long before I see a picture of her father, my Uncle Joel. And my blood kind of ran cold at that minute and I went “Oh no!” Then I kept scrolling and I’ve seen my father’s mug shot from when he was arrested.
And there’s a long story behind, that whole sentence that I just said. I sat there and went “Oh my gosh what have I done? I’ve tweeted the author publicly and she’s part of my family that we haven’t spoken to of more than four decades because of the events that transpired more than four decades ago that separated our family.”
So I felt horrible at that moment in time and didn’t want to go and delete the tweet because that would even make it more awkward if Ruth had already seen it. And so there was a little bit of awkwardness there while I decided what to do.
Andrea: Now, would she have known who you were based on your Twitter handle? Did it say Anna LeBaron, would she have recognized that?
Ruth: It did say Anna LeBaron. When she tweeted me the first day, I was in New York City, which is why my publicist was tweeting about me because I was doing a media event and I was also recording my audio book. It was in October of 2015, and I was stuck in the studio for three days and she had reached out to me literally on the first day that I was in the studio.
It was a Wednesday afternoon and I saw that the Twitter handle, and I was like “Who the heck is Anna LeBaron?” Because I didn’t know, and so at that point literally, I was in the studio for 10 hours that day. And when I got back to my hotel room, I Facebook messaged one of our aunts and I just asked her if she knew who Anna was and what her story was.
So she responded almost immediately, Irene Spencer was her name, and she said that Anne was a really positive person and had nothing but wonderful things to write about her. And that point I don’t think I even realize then that it was Ervil’s daughter. I knew she was my cousin but not that it was Ervil’s daughter.
And then the next day, I still hadn’t responded to Anna, and she tweeted me back and totally apologizing for reaching out to me so casually and not understanding that I was her cousin, which I totally understood. So I private messaged her at that point.
You know, my initial thought when I found out that she was Ervil’s daughter, because she tweeted me that she was at that point, so I private messaged her and I said “Hey, if you want to talk, if you want to connect, and if you want to help promote my book, I’d love that.”
But I wanted her to read a copy first, you know, before we decided to meet or to talk on the phone or to do anything just so that she knows who I was. And I wanted people to believe in the story and to love the story because that really – it’s the springboard for making things happen.
Andrea: It’s also very, you know, the story itself is an intimate story, so if they don’t understand that and yeah…
Ruth: Yeah, and it was an opportunity for her to get to know who I wasn’t and for her to know if she wanted to meet me and to help me with my book. So we set up a time to call. I had sent her the book to her home in Dallas in the meantime right when I got home back to Portland, Oregon. And we set up a time to call within a week and a half, within the first two weeks of the initial tweet. She had finished my book at that point she received it. She finished it.
Andrea: I’m sure!
Ruth: And it meant for a very emotional conversation, obviously. I mean, both of our stories are so intense and emotional and so profound and powerful that the phone conversation…I heard her voice when we called each other for the first time and it was like “Oh my gosh, she totally sounds like LeBaron.”
Ruth: It felt like family right away totally and so interesting because even though our families broke apart so many years literally – I was born in 1972, and the brothers and the churches had already split at that point. And so, I had never in my life thought about my Uncle Ervil and his children or what they might be doing in life.
So it was such a shock but also such a nice surprise to realize that because I had ran away from the LeBaron when I was so young, I didn’t have that family attachment that I left and I really felt like I’ve missed out on not knowing my sisters and my half sisters from my dad’s side of the family.
So it was a delight. She was a delight and I was so excited that we were able to connect. And it was so interesting to meet too because even though our family had split, there was so many similarities in our stories which I thought was, you know, really speaks to that mentality, the mentality that we were raised with and how that affected our lives.
But as we were talking on the phone, she said, “You know, Ruth, I have sisters in Portland.” And I was like “Are you kidding me?” Like I had no idea that Ervil LeBaron’s children were here in Portland. So at that point, my husband, Alan were like “We really need to meet these women.”
So Anna ended up visiting that December. So it was literally within three months. She was up here. I met two of her sisters that live here and it was an incredible experience. It was amazing and it was enlightening in the sense that it was familiar and I felt connected to family again, to the LeBaron side of my family. And so that part of it was very special for me.
Andrea: Anna, let’s go back to that phone conversation when Ruth sent you her book and you read it. What was it like for you to read The Sound of Gravel?
Anna: Well, it was completely an emotional experience, like overwhelmingly emotional. I cried my way through it, and I had received the book the day before our scheduled conversation phone call. I started at that night, stayed up until probably 2:00. I could not put it down.
It was so riveting. I couldn’t put it down until my eyes just refused to stay open. I woke up at 5:00, made a pot of coffee and kept right ongoing and I finished the minute before our conversation was going to happen.
Andrea: Really? Oh my goodness, I just get goose bumps.
Ruth: So did I.
Anna: I was so grateful to have completed and finished reading the book because my heart was just split right open at that point when the phone rang and I was talking to Ruth. And just experiencing her life through her eyes and through her writing and then getting to talk to her after the history that our family shares, was an honor. It was emotionally impactful and I won’t ever forget that conversation ever, just because of what it meant to both of our families.
Ruth: And there has been a ripple effect, don’t you think?
Ruth: From just our conversation and then meeting in person.
Ruth: So it was early December, right that you’d came?
Ruth: And Alan and I picked her up at the airport and we were supposed to videotape it, but I was pretty emotional and nervous. So I forgot to take pictures of that moment but…
Yeah, I saw her waiting outside the airport and I was just like “Oh my God, she even looks like me.” It was pretty incredible so yeah. The familiarity with her reminded me so much of LeBaron and my childhood.
Andrea: Now, I think it’s pretty important for us to give some context, just a little bit more context about the background at this point, because you’re saying Ruth that when you saw Anna and knowing it was Ervil’s child and everything that you were feeling familiarity. You were not having bad feelings it sounds like about it, but can you tell us why that is so significant?
Ruth: Well, I had never known my father. I was three months when he was killed. And when I was a child, I had always been told that it was Ervil LeBaron that had my father assassinated. And so, you know, later on we found out that definitely it was true and it was a scary childhood because Ervil had been like literally this very real threat and shadowy ghost that haunted our community. There were threats.
He and his church members were threatening our people, as we used to call them, are the ‘LeBaron people.’ So he had always been like that monster in childhood, that terrifying thing that I knew had my father killed. But when I talked to Anna, I realized, the meeting was so important for me and meaningful for me because I had escaped too.
And so once I talked to Anna and she told me her story, I identified so well with that part of it. I identified profoundly with her experience and her need to get away and her need to tell her story. And so there was that connection and I also because I was able to break a way. I knew that it wasn’t, in spite of what had happened with our fathers and me having grown up without a dad as a result.
That was not her responsibility or was not her family’s responsibility. And you know, I think because of our stories in our childhoods, I had a natural compassion for her and her story that really reflected unto me.
I mean, it helped me be more compassionate for myself too, understanding that other people had gone through similar stories. Again, like I never imagined in spite of how scary the idea of Ervil was growing up, I never imagined that he might be inflicting that kind of horror unto his own family in different ways.
And you know, after reading Anna’s book, it was incredibly eye-opening and so heartbreaking too. But yeah, for me, it was meaningful to reconnect that part of the family because I had shut the door on them in a lot of different ways. And so it was that opportunity to heal even a little more and a little deeper.
Andrea: So Anna were you nervous? I mean, it sounded like you were nervous when you realized who Ruth was. Were you nervous to break that ice? Were you nervous about what she would think of you?
Anna: Yes. I was absolutely nervous about that because there’s always been a stigma attached to being Ervil LeBaron’s child and because of the atrocities that he was responsible for and that he had ordered and committed against people that we love and care about.
So wearing that stigma and that shame has been a part of my life, of my entire life. And knowing that we were not welcome in that community where Ruth and I were born into and raised in – I was born there too but we left when I was 9 months old. And our whole family had left in the part of that community.
We knew that with Joel’s family and the impact that our father had on that entire community of people that cared and loved and respected and even revered Joel, my father’s brother, and so we knew that there was this Chinese wall, this big huge chasm between the two families.
Ruth: Definitely that was my feeling about. That was definitely me growing up in LeBaron and Joel’s as my father – he was also the prophet of our community and the prophet of our church. And that’s definitely what my mom believed and what our family believed. And they still in Colonia LeBaron believe that my dad was indeed a prophet.
He was 49 when he was killed. He had 42 children and seven wives at that time, and you can imagine the whole in our community and how that affected so many of us. And for me, my dad was more like that mythical Christ-like figure in my life. He was one of the founders of our church and a spokesperson for God, I mean that was I was always taught.
And so, I think there still is, even today, there is a fear. And I don’t know if it’s a fear or a judgment, and I don’t know what the word would be exactly to describe what the LeBaron’s feel – the Joelites which I hadn’t realized. We always called Anna’s family the Ervilites and the Joelites, but I didn’t know that until I met Anna. So now, we distinguished our families between the Joelites and the Ervilites. But yeah, it’s been a wound to that community that has not yet healed, I would say definitely.
Anna: So when I tweeted her not knowing who she was…and here’s the thing, if I had known who she was, I would never have sent the tweets. We would have never met.
Ruth: That’s right.
Anna: Because I wasn’t familiar with the name Ruth Wariner…
Ruth: Yeah, I took my mother’s maiden name. I have never had the legal name LeBaron even though my dad was Joel LeBaron. And lots of different reasons behind that but all of my mom’s children were named after her. Her name was Wariner, and so people have always been that confused, right? And I knew Anna was a LeBaron. I knew she was my relative when I saw her name but there was really no way that you would know that name.
Anna: If I had known who she was and who’s daughter she was, I would have known my place, and my place would be no contact, don’t reach out, or don’t reach that. It’s not my place to bridge that gap.
Ruth: Right and you would have no idea either that I escaped too.
Ruth: She wouldn’t have known my story was what it was and that we have similarities in that way.
Anna: So it was a memoir and I love memoir so…
Ruth: Yeah, nonfiction.
Anna: So I just randomly and off the cuff just tweeted the author and…
Ruth: And Anna had worked on books before. So you had already been interested and she had been working on social media – she’s very good at it by the way. But yeah, so she had a history in promoting books. So it was kind of a natural fit. I mean, interestingly enough about how it all came together. But you’re right about that, I hadn’t thought about that myself that you wouldn’t have reached out to me had you known that I was a LeBaron. That’s interesting.
Anna: Right. So I’m grateful that I didn’t know that she was and that I had the audacity to tweet one of Joel’s daughters and then make this connection that has just become part of our story.
Ruth: It has been.
Anna: And I say that you’re part of my half away ever after.
Ruth: I think so too and in fact, I’m going to write about this in my next book when I get to meet you. It would be awesome.
Anna: And I should write about it in mine too.
Ruth: Yeah, when I’m writing that getting published and reading my audio book. It’s going to be so exciting.
Anna: I’m excited to read that. Can I help you with that one too?
Andrea: I’m in.
Ruth: We’ll take all the help we can get as we know all three of us are authors, we need help from each other for sure.
Anna: That was an experience that I will never forget. I’m grateful that I didn’t know who you were so that this connection could become something what it is now and just so special.
Ruth: It is very special. And Anna is awesome, not only she’s doing tremendous good in the world but are her sisters. They live two neighborhoods away from me. They’re so close, 20-minute drive from my house here in Portland and so that’s been pretty awesome.
Andrea: Wow that connection, a family connection. It sounds like the healing that has come with that has been so significant even beyond… I mean, writing a book about your story, there’s so much healing that can take place with that. But then like you had no idea what would happen when you came together. I mean, you would never been able to orchestrate it. You never would have been able to ask for it. It was such a gift, it sounds like.
Ruth: Oh a tremendous gift, a tremendous blessing for sure.
Anna: For both of us.
Ruth: For both of us and I feel like I’ve been connected in a way to my father in a way that I haven’t been before. And actually, I’ve met a couple of times now with Anna and her family, her siblings my family too. And just hearing their stories and their perspectives about what the stories were about my dad, you know, and what the stories about that side of my family that I didn’t know a lot about. It’s been amazing.
Andrea: Now, Ruth, one of the things that you’ve mentioned was by meeting Anna and hearing her story and having compassion for her, you were able to have more compassion for yourself. Can you expound on that a little bit?
Ruth: Part of my journey with what happened in my life, there’s been a lot of…you know, growing up in fundamentalism that way, I didn’t feel…gosh it was such a big family but not only that, just the beliefs about women and their place. And there was also a lot of abuse in my childhood, and so I was always very hard on myself in my journey. And I separated with a lot of guilt because my mom really wanted her family to be raised in the fundamentalist church that my dad started.
So that guilt and the shame has been, you know, it’s been a lot of suffering and my sufferings has been a teacher in a lot of ways but it’s also been torture in a lot of ways. And just seeing that Anna and her sisters have done so well with their lives outside the church that they grew up in, and to see how far Anna had come, I could see the same in my own life that I was able to do the same thing. Does that make sense?
Andrea: Yeah. It almost sounds like by seeing somebody else experiencing what you experienced in the sense, there was almost like permission.
Ruth: Yeah, to give yourself permission to forgive yourself and forgive the situation.
Andrea: That you’re not the only one and…
Ruth: Yeah that’s right.
Anna: And to know how far you’ve come.
Ruth: Yeah exactly that was part of it too, absolutely!
Anna: They were huge steps.
Ruth: They were huge steps and it was awesome too that it kind of fell in line with the publication of my book. I mean the timing of it that way. I met her in December and it came out in January, and it was time for me to heal and it was time for me to let go a lot of those things, yeah.
Andrea: So, Anna, I can only imagine that there were a number of things that this has brought about healing in you, what for you have you noticed in particular this interaction with Ruth? How does has impacted your healing process?
Anna: Well knowing Ruth, knowing what she has been through and having read her book, knowing our family history, and being able to process that in terms of that I’ve been a part of the healing for both of us. Just knowing that what I’ve done and how I am, just me being myself on social media. And doing the things that I’m gifted at, and just being the person that I’m created to be has helped. It’s just amazing that I can be myself and make an impact in the world and that me being myself is enough.
Ruth: Uh-hmm I love that.
Anna: That has been one of the biggest realizations that has come about in the past two years. Is that I can be myself and engage with the world and make an impact and that is enough.
Ruth: It’s enough and it’s enough to create miracles.
Anna: I know.
Anna: I’m just thinking about it. It still gives me chills. I mean, out of all the billions and billions of people…
Anna: And tweets yeah. All the billions of tweets online and I just happened across the one, that to me is not an accident.
Ruth: I don’t think that’s either. Not at all.
Anna: So I’m eternally grateful.
Ruth: Yeah, I’m too. It’s been awesome. And now, we get a book to do a book reading together.
Anna: I know, oh my gosh!
Andrea: Ah you do?
Anna: So by the time this podcast airs, it will be in the past so probably not fair to talk people…
Ruth: Oh yeah sorry, sorry.
Andrea: Maybe if you record it. You could record it and then air it on your social media channels and we can go back.
Anna: It’s going to be on Facebook Live.
Andrea: There you go.
Anna: Well, combine it on there.
Ruth: Yeah that sounds good.
Anna: We’re not just being really cruel.
Ruth: Oh no.
Andrea: So how did you choose what you would each read from your books for this joint book reading?
Ruth: We haven’t done that yet.
Ruth: We’re going to lunch after our interview with you and we’re going to decide that.
Anna: How exciting.
Ruth: I know it is exciting.
Anna: Oh this was like so much fun.
Ruth: Well, it is a lot of fun but it’s also as you know I am Andrea, is it Andrea?
Andrea: Yeah, Andrea uh-hmm.
Ruth: I know that it’s so interesting because as you point it out earlier, I mean, it’s such a sensitive topic like what do we talk about. It’s like “Should I say something about Anna’s father in public and in front of an audience live? You know, those are good questions.
Anna: And then I say, do I say anything about her father and what happened between us?
Andrea: How beautiful is it that you guys get to asked each other that question. You get to have lunch and discuss what you’re comfortable with and it sounds like you’re both pretty comfortable with a lot of things. So you’re not going to have a hard time figuring this out. The healing has taken place in each of you individually and then in the relationship between the two of you seemed to have freed you to be able to offer what other people might need to hear from you. So you don’t have to worry about all that fear and trepidation of what the other person’s is thinking but you’re able to just…
Ruth: Be ourselves like what I was saying earlier. There’s an authenticity on that. I think that’s really important and that will have an impact on people who hear our stories.
Anna: One of the things that I have read about that I love the idea of is holding space for someone. And I think Ruth and I have done that for each other very well. We hold space for each other to kind of navigate.
Ruth: And be ourselves like you said.
Anna: Yeah, it is.
Ruth: And that is so important and that is so impactful on other people because then they see that they can do the same on their own lives.
Anna: So I’m navigating this relationship as tenuous as it started out and keeping in mind that each of our family which they’re very large and many people are impacted. I know from my perspective and from where I’m sitting, me telling my story has upset the applecart for a lot of people.
Ruth: Yeah, I can imagine.
Anna: And so having both of us in a short period of time, you know, relatively speaking and both of us telling our stories and people being able to see the impact of our family history on each of our lives. And then all the people that are impacted by the fact that we’ve decided to tell our stories. So I feel like in a way, I’m holding space for a lot of people to kind of navigate through the feelings that are brought up and bubble up as a result even if they haven’t read the books. Just the fact that the books are out there impacts people’s lives.
Anna: And so there’s that little bit of “Ahhhh!” You know, or you just hope for the best outcome possible.
Ruth: That’s exactly for everybody involved, yeah absolutely. And I think another important part to this is that Anna and I can be a support for each other because of the type of stories that they are, because of the impact it’s having on our families. We have an understanding for that part of our lives and that the choices that we made to tell our stories and I think that’s been important too.
Anna: But it applies to even small families.
Ruth: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Anna: Normal families, you know.
Ruth: Yeah absolutely…normal.
Anna: Normal family where you know people grow up and there’s any type of trauma or abuse…
Ruth: It happens everywhere.
Anna: Anybody that finds their voice and speaks up and tells the story of what happened that the whole family is going to be impacted.
Ruth: Right, I agree.
Andrea: Man, that is a really good place to break for this part of our interview because I’m really looking forward to continuing this interview and digging more into of how you each found your voice and what this means for the future of both of your families and what not. So thank you for what you have offered us in this short first segment and first part of our interview. And I’m really looking forward to finishing this in the next episode.
Ruth: Thank you, Andrea, this has been wonderful.
Anna: Thank you!
Terry Weaver is a speaker, author, event producer, podcaster, and ideapreneur whose passion is to see others live life alive; whether through helping others see their dreams become reality, traveling around the world challenging students to change the world, leading teams of people to do more together than they could alone, or hanging out with Mickey Mouse.
With a background in the music business, Terry has helped creatives navigate the journey from the garage to the biggest stages in the world. Whether it’s getting to the stage of Grammys®, helping entrepreneurs with a six-figure product launch, or leading conversations with key thought leaders his mission is always the same to help leaders take what they are doing to the next level. Terry and his wife Leslie live outside Nashville, Tennessee with their miniature schnauzer.
Mentioned in this episode:
Michael Tringe co-founded CreatorUp to empower anyone to have the opportunity to tell their story through video and all forms of digital media. He loves helping people learn, and watching the impactful stories and videos they’ve created after learning with us has been incredibly rewarding.
As a teacher in Morocco, he started a film program, and was inspired by his students’ stories. For the first time, Mike could see the world through their eyes. That changed him, and inspired him to go to film school at USC. For Mike, films and videos are not just entertainment. They are a means to get to know each other and ourselves. A way to communicate new ideas in a powerful and exciting way.
Mentioned in this episode:
Listen, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes!
(this is an approximate transcript)
Mike Tringe co-founded CreatorUp to empower anyone to have the opportunity to tell their story through video and all forms of digital media. He loves helping people learn and watching the impactful stories and videos they’ve created after learning with CreatorUp has been incredibly rewarding.
As a teacher in Morocco, Michael started a film program and was inspired by his students’ stories. For the first time, he could see the world through their eyes. That changed him and inspired him to go to film school at USC. For him, films and videos are not just entertainment. They are means to get to know each other and ourselves, a way to communicate new ideas in a powerful and exciting way.
I am truly excited to have Michael Tringe on the podcast with us today. He’s a dear friend going all the way back to elementary school. We participated in a number of activities together throughout our school years and graduated together in stayed in contact since then.
Andrea: Mike, it is an honor to have you here with us.
Mike: Well, it is an honor to be joining this. So thank you so much for the opportunity.
Andrea: Now, before we get to CreatorUp and the work that you’re doing to empower people’s voices through video, I’d like to go back to where it sounds like this part of your story begin. How did you get from Harvard to teaching school in Morocco?
Mike: Well, I really wanted to travel and I knew that I was a little burned out from college, so I applied to a lot of different international schools. Harvard had something called, the Harvard overseas teaching program, and so many of those schools had relationships with the university. That meant that it just a little easier to apply, that didn’t mean that it’s easier to be a teacher.
So I applied to schools all over the world and the one that seemed most interested in me was the school in Morocco. And I think you can appreciate the story, but the last time that I had been to Morocco was on our band trip to Epcot Center and that’s where we had, I think, our first O’Doul’s.
So my memory of Morocco was like you know this little Moroccan hat or whatever who was in the Epcot Center. I was thinking “That sounds like a fun adventure.” But in all seriousness, I really was excited about the chance to try something completely new and different. And that’s why I really was gravitating towards Morocco, even more so than some of the programs that I applied to.
Andrea: You didn’t go to school for teaching right?
Mike: Well, I didn’t and I did. I always knew that I enjoyed teaching and I did take some classes in educational psychology and behavioral science, and so in some ways like it was in the back of my mind. But you’re right, I was premed and I thought I was definitely going to be a doctor and this was, you know, I’d taken [unclear 03:09], so this was my break year where I was going to go teach for a year and that turned into three years and the rest is history.
Andrea: So you went to teach English is that right?
Mike: I did.
Andrea: And I remember you told us a story about somebody that you’ve helped find their voice through writing.
Mike: Yeah I know, I could name; his name is Karim, and I’m really among all of the students remember him because he’s a very quiet student and someone who I knew was intelligent and knew had something important to say but he never spoke up. You know, it’s intimidating, you’re in high school and my classes weren’t huge and most of the students really did know each other quite well since it’s a small school. But for whatever reason, he seemed too uncomfortable talking in front of the class.
So we worked on his writing and I could see that he was starting to get better at articulating his thoughts and then I noticed when I opened up the film class that he was the first one to join. And I thought “Oh this is interesting.” He wasn’t my first thought of a candidate. And man, when he picked up the camera it was just like he was singing.
He was really just like in his element and I think that taught me that this is a medium for, you know, sometimes people who don’t know what to say or how to say it but they want to share their vision in a visual way. So it was just really revelatory for me as a teacher to discover that this is a different form of communication that really works better for some types of students.
Andrea: That’s really powerful. Do you tend to notice these people that have something to say but they just don’t seem to be saying it?
Mike: Yeah. I think every filmmaker I ever met has this kind of sort of background where even YouTube creators. I could say just like maybe they’re not so good at communicating in traditional ways but this [unclear 05:21] thought or vision or idea that they have has to come out on the screen, somehow. That’s the journey that a lot of filmmakers and visual creators I think are on. This is one of “Okay, this is in my head, how do I get it out?”
Andrea: I’m curious. Did you always know that you were going to start a film course in Morocco, or it that something that developed overtime?
Mike: No. No, totally overtime. I had brought my own camera to Morocco and had been filming my own stories. That was really enjoyable for me and it was very natural extension as I was asked to teach a photography class or to coach track or whatever to say “Hey, you know, I have this camera, why don’t we start a film class, you know.” It seems like a natural thing I want to do.
The headmaster was very supportive. And he was a very special person because he started working at the school 40 years into his time there and I came in after he’d already been there for 40 years. He had done a theater program and he had this very famous plays produced. He had people like Tennessee Williams and Oliver Stone coming to this place [unclear 06:43]. And I was like “Who is this person?”
But he was from the Deep South and very connected to literature and plays, and so he was very supportive of the film program when it started even when we were getting this max with 4 gigabytes and one camera that cost $4,000 or whatever.
Andrea: Just for context, approximately how long ago was this?
Mike: 2001, so it’s 16 years ago.
Andrea: So video and using video anywhere outside of your home videos, I think was still really a new idea, right?
Mike: Yeah for sure. It wasn’t really even until, I would say platforms like YouTube came along later when it really became a thing because if you’re going to do more with other than like send it off to festival or share with your family like a slide show.
Andrea: Yeah and the barrier to entry who’s just starting something like that is so much [crosstalk]. You said that you had this sort of revelation in Morocco that film was a big deal, when did that translate into your own personal like “I want to learn how to do this better?”
Mike: I think it’s a very deep question but I think that most of what I realized when I was there was there was I was pretty frustrated with my ability to communicate. I spoke English. I never know how to speak Arabic and so part of it was like “Wow!” And for three years I’m not able to express myself outside of the classroom, and so I have gone better with my Spanish. They spoke Spanish there and I studied French and studied some Arabic.
So I really worked very hard at my capabilities for any language. And I still felt really limited and I was like “Hmm, there’s something about video which is very universal.” I mean you can watch it and see it and experience it, and sometimes there are subtitles and sometimes there are not. But to me, I really saw it as a universal communication tool and one which allowed me to access through the eyes of my students. They’re used of their culture and for my own perspective; I was able to share how I saw the world. And so, I think for me, it was like that desire to really learn another language or visual language.
So I started going to festivals more and sort of experiencing the world of film festivals and people telling stories. And I really feel, they just fell in love with that because I think [unclear 09:39] you than anyone. I feel the same sort of need than I do to kind of deeply communicate with people. And really we are most vulnerable when we’re making films or telling stories for others to see. So for me, I was just really attracted to that as a communication medium and a tool and experience.
Andrea: I’m curious about what you said, “I’m most vulnerable when making something for somebody else to see.” What do you mean by that? Vulnerable because why?
Mike: Well, it’s the artists’ dilemma, right? Which is you’re sharing ideas that you might not normally be able to share in conversation or think about when you’re writing down your deepest thoughts and then you translate those into stories. And then you have a team of people that comes in and helps you tell that story because filmmaking involves other people. And then it goes on to spreading somewhere or out into the world.
So I can see how it’s scary. You know, it’s very scary especially in today’s day and age where media is pervasive and things [unclear 10:55] and I was like “Oh my God, can I really do this? What’s gonna happen? Where it’s gonna go? What are people gonna think?” And all these thoughts and I remember going in festivals and hearing people talked about my films afterwards. And being both like on the edge of seat wanting to know what they said and so being like “Don’t say anything bad about it,” you know, which inevitably happens, some people like it and some people don’t.
Andrea: You know, I haven’t thought quite like this before but I haven’t really done a lot with video myself yet. I think someday I’d like to, but I’ve just been trying my voice in writing and audio. And what I have not done is other than my editor for a book, I have not really submitted myself to somebody else’s win as far as, not their win but maybe their artistic expression of what I’m trying to create.
So I can imagine what it’s like to pull a team together around your own story, around the idea that you’ve developed and then somehow trusting. I mean, I know that you’ve done directing but is that part of the vulnerability too, also just like putting other people and giving them that power?
Mike: Oh for sure, absolutely! And I love being in film’s school because it was very supportive and I think that’s why people go because you really do feel like you’re on the Island of Misfit Toys. It’s like everyone’s there to do something and say something and you want to help them to that because they want to help you do that. So in a lot of ways that’s what you’re paying for to be a part of this community of supporters where’s there’s no judgment and there’s really an openness, yet finding people who are going to get it is hard or it can be.
Andrea: So we’ve kind of moved on to film school then you went to USC, and do you want to share anything about your experience there?
Mike: From an academic perspective, I was all in. I mean, I loved every class and learned so much and I was excited about learning about the entertainment industry, meeting new people, and met some really incredibly talented people. It was like a challenging period though because, on the hand, I was going to school. And on the other hand, I was making films with friends on my own for homework on nights and weekends. And then I was working two or three jobs, so all in student’s paycheck.
So for three or four years, I was really sort of subsisting and I know that’s kind of like whatever grad student says but I was surprised by how hard it was. And I think a lot of people were like “Oh film school that sounds so funny, sounds so easy.” It’s like “No, you’re driving and unloading 2-ton [unclear] trucks and there’s a lot of like physical-ness to it and emotional-ness to it.” And probably one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done you know and it just last a long time.
But having said all of that, it was cathartic in a lot of ways because I was able to write stories that I’d never been able to write and have some success with what I was doing. I had films start to get into the festivals and people started to recognize my talent as a writer, as a director, as a producer, and all of that was really made it all worth it. You really don’t think about the long hours with a low pay. It was more about “Wow, this is really exciting!” The shocking part came at the end when it was like “Okay now, we’re moving into this exciting industry.” And then the industry all changed and all the rules have changed and it’s just kind of like starting all over again but not in a bad way.
Andrea: So when you say the industry changed, was that something that was happening from your experience going from grad school to the industry or was that in general a big change that was happening in the industry?
Mike: It was in general, it wasn’t just my experience. I mean, the digital revolution has happened. This is a sort of the reason I started this company. But in general, the business models were changing; who they hired to do things was changing because the business models were changing. So it used to be okay, well you “break into Hollywood and you get discovered and hired in the other group.” That make it sounds a little easy but at least it was kind of like a system for 30 years you know.
Andrea: And you go into film school thinking that’s their system that you’re going in to.
Mike: That’s a system, yeah that’s the system. I think every industries kind of been disrupted in one way or the other, so that system have changed. Basically, the rules forced you to move into [unclear 16:03] models a little faster. So in order to get funding to do anything, and in that we’re talking about crowdfunding more than getting a production company, to invest in you because original stories are not what studios were looking for. I mean, the big realization for me was like “Wow, what of superhero movies going on?”
Yeah, because the studios were like “Yeah, we’re not just taking risk anymore.” They fired all of the studio heads and they replaced them with marketing directors and that was just a thing because all the studios were required by conglomerates. So no longer was art as important as it once was to the system. Luckily, YouTube happens, Instagram, and Facebook so people have these other outlets, right and crowdfunding happened.
Mike: But in that netherworld from 2008 to 2012, which is when I was working. After I graduated, all these shifts were happening. And I think all of us were really like grasping for what’s the pathway here. You know, one student asked “What what do I do with that?” “I don’t want to take that and make it a thing,” so…
Andrea: It’s so amazing that you were in it right in that time and those things were changing, you were trying to figure out what to do then that eventually led to the new steps that you were going to take. So what was it about industry then that led you to move towards starting CreatorUp?
Mike: Well, it was hindsight. I think looking back at what I saw and experienced in wanting to change things. I didn’t like a lot of things that I saw. And I think you know me well and you know that I’m very principled person when it comes to making things feel right. I saw a lot of privileged in the system in terms of who was given access and why, and I thought back to my personal story, a gay person who had come out and was making and telling gay stories and realizing “Well, that’s not really marketable.”
I mean, it was in some ways starting to break out with things like Brokeback Mountain. And then I think with Moonlight winning an Oscar, it has come to kind of full circle. But at that time, I just realized that for me and other minorities or other voices of people who don’t have as much money or access, what happens to them? And always, those were the stories that need to be heard.
So for me, it was a mission about how can I take the knowledge that I have learned in four years in film school as I was interning and working? Or maybe closer to 10 years in the industry, how do I take that and give it away and make it accessible and give people tools? And so for me that became more important even in telling my own story was “How do I help other people tell their stories?” Because I feel like I have told my story, you know, I have said what I wanted to say and will continue to do that but how do I help other people do that.
Andrea: When you think about the minorities’ story that ideally you were just sharing that does the story that you really need to hear, why is it so important to make sure that those stories are told?
Mike: It’s so, so important. It’s about representation. We go up in Nebraska and we knew what we could see that was that, right? Whatever was in front of or you could read about, but I think especially at this time in our nation, in our society, we need to see more. And if we’re not able to see and hear those other stories then out of sight, out of mind. It’s almost like those other people don’t exist because we’ve never heard about them. We don’t know about them and maybe the reason we don’t know about them is because they’ve never been given that opportunity to share who they are.
Andrea: You know, I also think that empathy…that’s one of the things that were given when we can really experience somebody else’s story through video, especially…
Mike: Oh for sure.
Andrea: I’m more able to really understand somebody else and their perspective and what they’re experiencing and I’m seeing their facial expressions and I’m hearing the tone of their voice. And seeing their perspective I guess to film in a way that even writing doesn’t really quite allow.
Mike: Absolutely! I mean that was like Directing 101 for me in the first semester of film school was that like this emotional element. And this empathetic element is the thing that sort of makes this medium different.
Andrea: You know, respectful dialogue is one of my core principles that I’m longing to promote and get people behind, because obviously there’s demonization of other people all the time. And it’s very difficult to move forward in any kind of way when we can even be respectful to one another.
So empathy and being able to understand other people what’s going on with them, what’s going inside of them and they’re real people. The other people are real people and not just…I think it seems to help me when I think of myself and my experience of film, it helps me get in touch with my own humanity in a lot of ways and what I feel and what I’m thinking. It makes me think more about that.
Mike: On that note, I have to just mention because a friend of mine was involved in this project. There’s a project called Project Empathy, and it’s actually uses virtual reality to help you experience…I mean their tagline is Help us see the world through the eyes of another. So it might just be, you know, I know virtual reality as well is starting to be an extension of filming video in terms of what we’re able to experience in terms of other people’s perspectives.
Andrea: Yeah. So let’s move on to how CreatorUp got started?
Mike: Okay. Well, I think I can give you the idea side of it and I can tell you the people side of it. So from an idea perspective, it was about…I mean, looking back at my time as a teacher and knowing I enjoyed that and knowing I enjoyed film school and wanting to continue that and have that be something anyone could do. I think I mentioned this before but I worked in the admission office at USC. And I remember this, they were rejecting everybody maybe because there were such a limited number of slots or you know…
Andrea: That’s interesting.
Mike: I was like “Hmm, okay…well, a lot of people wanna go to film school, not everyone can get in and it’s so expensive because we all owed over $100,000.” So how can we change that a little bit? And at that time, other interesting shift that was happening was that education models were changing, right? So these massive open online courses were becoming popular. Salman Khan has started the Khan Academy and so our reaction in making things accessible was to start filming ourselves.
So we gather our friends together and said “Hi, you know about cinematography and you know about editing and started making courses and putting money in the internet, 25 bucks a month, all [unclear 24:45].” And that’s literally how it started. So we started as a consumer-focused website that had online courses around storytelling production, marketing, or crowdfunding.
And then as we were going along, we realized “Well, how we can make this even more impactful and more meaningful?” And so we expanded our online offerings to live classes and that soon became something companies wanted as well. So right now, we’ve gone from one, two, three people to 11 or 12 people working here. And we serve primarily schools and companies, but we also serve individuals. And we help people tell their story and use media to reach people with their ideas. That’s what we do.
Andrea: So when you’re doing you have companies, are you doing production work for them or are you teaching them how to produce?
Mike: Both. So I think you know, the people inside of those companies who need a lot of their staff who are working and most of them in the marketing department. So oftentimes, we are working directly with marketing departments to train them around best practices for next generation communication. The big industry trend that I just shared with you is that people are not watching as much TV and they refused to watch commercials.
So what do you do with that? Well, you actually have to make a change. You have to create content that people want to watch and that is the new method by which you reach people, you create value. You create education and you create entertainment. You create inspiration, so those three tenants or some of the tenants behind. But types of content happen to work well on YouTube, which by the way, is now being watched with a rate of 1 billion hours every day. So it’s a thing. It’s a real thing.
Andrea: Wow! How does one even bother getting started? How do you get over the hump of thinking, how do I do that?
Mike: Here’s a dirty little secret, everybody started somewhere and there is so much opportunity around who you are and what you know. And it’s the same thing your grandma told you, “You’re special.” You are, you’re a special person and other people will appreciate that specialness about you because you’re unique and that’s like an easy way of saying that every voice has an audience, every voice has a niche that they’re feeling.
So that’s the beauty of the diverse stories out in the world. We have been living in a broadcast world for a hundred years where it was really like a few channels and one distribution pathway and that has been revolutionaries and that’s great. That’s good for us.
Andrea: One of my mantras is your voice matters, but you can make it matter more.
Mike: Right. I see where you’re going. So the medium allows to amplify that and platforms across social media are one distribution mechanisms. They’re not the only ones, but technically it gets started because this is a technical medium and a lot of people are afraid of that technical element. I think that…yes, it has a small investment whether that’s educating yourself and some equipment or borrowing equipment.
So to get practical about it, you need to identify basically your process and your tools. So from the process perspective, it’s just about mapping out your ideas. I can recommend Evernote for doing that and not necessarily writing all the scripts down or thinking what’s going to be in every video. It’s some of the bullets around you know “What do you wanna say from a big picture perspective? What’s the mission behind your message?”
And then bullet out, what are the topics underneath that that you would want to talk about for let say 10 videos? Once you have those things then it’s about “Okay, well let’s get a camera that works.” DSLR camera or an iPhone could work with a road microphone or something that put into it so that your audio quality is good as well, and editing software which is really just kind of your visual storytelling tool.
You don’t want to do that directly through Instagram stories or Facebook Live with live audience just stream directly which is another medium. But if you want to kind of have that editing element into it, Adobe Premiere is a good tool.
Andrea: Adobe Premiere for both Mac and PC?
Mike: I think it’s probably the best one, the easiest one.
Mike: Yeah, the other element that I want to talk about in getting started this is just more about making time, finding a way signing a way that kick start what you’re doing. And what I found with anything new they’ve ever done is that requires help that requires other people. You know, they say when you go diving, you need a dive buddy?
Mike: I think need a buddy to keep you accountable and maybe to help in areas where you might not make it so good. Maybe there’s some compliment or skills that’s there around and somebody is good at organization and the other person is good at ideas. I don’t know but I think that’s helpful and I think getting involve in your local filmmaking community. That might not so far as you think.
I mean, a lot of towns and schools and cities will have film festivals and film organizations and you’ll be surprised really how accessible they are if you just walk in. In Nebraska, I know the Omaha Film Festival has a really great community, and I think there are festivals all over the state at this point.
Andrea: It seems like I’ve read some place or saw some place that you were doing some work with helping schools get into film a little bit or start a film program in their own schools. I mean, is that something that CreatorUp is involved to it?
Mike: Yeah, we do. That’s one of my favorite parts of what we do. So our course library can be made accessible, video textbooks about everything from cinematography to editing and writing. A lot of schools work with us to provide our curriculum in those materials to their schools.
And so at a base level, schools that don’t even have a program can literally plug in CreatorUp and we can have their instructors, their teachers whether they’re be English teachers or enthusiast teaching this as an extracurricular program, very similar to the type of program that I would have thought when I started high school when I was teaching.
So for that, we are literally plug-in-play solution for any school that does not have a program to have a program and that is one of the things that I want to emphasize is like “This is why we started the company to make this more accessible.”
Andrea: What is that someone needs to do to get started if they’re interested in using CreatorUp in their schools? And who would it be for? I mean, surely anybody could participate but it seems like this is really ideal for students, who, like you mentioned before might have something to say but aren’t sure how to express it. They might be in accelerated learning program but they might not. They might be somebody who just doesn’t know how to express themselves.
Mike: To answer your second question around, who is it for? Is it for teachers; is it for students and what type of students? I mean, it’s for both so we actually offer professional development training for teachers as well. And I really do believe that it’s critical for teachers to teach themselves how to use these mediums because they need to be creating more dynamic materials for the classroom. They need to be empowering their students to create video essays to get into college as an alternative method to turn in homework, whether it’s history or English or math or you name it. It’s another engagement tool for teachers to take their classroom to the next level.
And then on the student’s side, video and media making should be viewed in the same way that other critical skills are. Some people might say that coding is now a critical skill that students must have. But in addition to start learning a language or learning math, to me video should be right in the next. And I think it really just kind of gets either overlooked or people think it’s too artsy or this or that. But I think you and I both know the importance of this type of program, I mean with music or art that it has an emotional development of a student which is so important of that stage of your life.
Andrea: Absolutely! I know and another one as you go through life and just that ability to be able to express yourself in various ways. It seems like film is just a video or is just becoming more and more important culture in our social media [unclear].
Mike: Yeah, yeah and I think a lot of times people look at they’re like “Oh it somebody’s obsessed with the camera,” or something like that. But they don’t see that media and storytelling is also a community-building opportunity, because you’re starting to bring people together in ways that they’ve not been brought together before to think and talk about things that are uncomfortable sometimes. Or if not uncomfortable that are celebratory you know. So it’s just a really, really lovely nice medium to be able to bring people together as well.
Andrea: Great! Thank you for what you’re offering. I think it’s really powerful. And so if somebody wanted to get in touch with you or somehow use CreatorUp, do you just suggest they just go to your website? What’s the best…
Mike: Yeah, go to our website or you can have them email me directly. I’m in charge of a lot of these partnerships, and so just email@example.com and we’ll be happy to start talking.
Andrea: Awesome! Alright, one last question, the aspiring filmmakers out there, somebody who might be a little bit more interested in actually utilizing film or video as their job, what would you recommend? Do you recommend going to some place like film school or where do you suggest they start?
Mike: You know, I think classes are good. I think classes are helpful to create structures and timeline and deadlines and get you to create projects. So whether that’s school or whether that’s something we’re doing or whether that’s filmmaking buddy, you really just have to start making things and showing them to people and getting feedback.
I think the best part about having a small community whether it’s in a school or outside the school is that you can improve. You can get better in a safe place because no one starts out perfect. You’re always going to make mistakes and you kind of have to be open to overcoming some of those challenges if you’re going to get started.
But once you have some videos whether those are promotional for a business or just your ideas, you can put them on Vimeo and then put your Vimeo links on your website and show people you’re real. And that’s when they’re going to hire you and pay you to do the work. So it’s as easy as that if that’s your video or resume but you have something to show.
Andrea: Thank you so much for sharing your story and your passion for video and giving people voice through video. Mike, I really appreciate the time you spent with us today and I’m looking forward to seeing more videos popped up because of CreatorUp. This is fun!
Mike: Thank you so much Andrea! I’m loving what you’re doing and thanks so much for having me be part of it.
Finka Jerkovic is a Leadership Empowerment Coach and Professional Development Mentor whose vision and purpose is to inspire breakthrough transformations in your work and life.
Her passions lie in turning the workplace from transactional to transformational. She believes there’s room for everyone’s potential. Everyone can have a breakthrough. Finka works with professionals, entrepreneurs and organizations to help them discover their `signature brand specialty` using the Fascination Advantage® system
Prior to founding FINKA Communications Inc. Finka spent 20 years in Corporate Canada in the financial services industry, ranging in roles from sales, leadership, HR, training and development. She is a certified CPCC Co-Active Coach, a Certified Fascinate Advisor and Trainer, an Adult Trainer and Educator and a Transformation Mastery coach.
Mentioned in this episode:
(Please note: This is an approximate transcript.)
Andrea: Finka, it is so good to have you here on the Voice of Influence podcast.
Finka: I’m so happy and excited to be here Andrea. Thank you for inviting me today.
Andrea: I met Finka through this Fascination Training because she was somebody who led the group coaching. How you say that?
Finka: I’m the Fascinate Certified Advisor facilitator, so I teach the Fascinate System. I’m the program director for the Fascinate Certified Advisor Training Program. And so for people like you who are interested in using the Fascination Advantage System in their business with their clients or in their work environment. I help people learn how to use the tool, how to integrate it into their business, and how to help people bring the best of who they are into their work and into their relationships.
Andrea: And I can attest to Finka’s mastery of training. She does a great job with that and I’m really excited to visit with you today about your voice, how you came to be where you are now. Then discuss a little about the Fascinate Assessment because I do find it very interesting especially when it comes people finding their voice and really diving into what it means to develop that. So Finka, I’m curious when you first took the Fascinate Assessment, we’ll start there since it’s kind of our point of contact, when was this and how did you get involved off with it?
Finka: So for me, I took the test. I’m going to say about four years ago now. I’m probably on my four year anniversary this March. I’ve taken other test like I’ve taken Myers Briggs. I’ve taken Strength Finders and I’m taken Standout, and they’re all very valuable assessments. But it was this one that really helped me see myself in a different light than I had previously.
So I took the test and it was one of those, you know, just landed in my inbox because I was actually part of part of Marie Forleo’s B-School list and think she was doing an interview with Sally Hogshead and they were offering a free assessment for the first 1000 people and I’m like “Let me do this and see what is this about.”
And so I take the test and it was 3 minutes long and you’re like “Okay, not a big deal.” But man, it was a big deal because the impact it had on me, you know I took it and I listened to the words. I watched the videos, I read my report and I was just like “Ahh this is who I am and this is what I’ve been struggling with to be.”
In the sense that most of my career, I’ve worked in the finance service industry, so manym many years in this industry where it’s very, I’m going to say very trust space, very conservative. You can just picture what a banker looks like and you know exactly what type of my environment that is.
So for myself when I did the Fascinate Assessment, my results were – I was a trendsetter and my primary advantage being innovation is I speak the language of creativity and second advantage being the language of prestige, which is I’m always looking to make things better and improve things.
So as a trendsetter in an environment where trust and the tried and true and the way we used to do things is the way we do things around here. I always felt like a square peg in around hole. I could not find my place and honestly, I felt like an alien. I felt like I fell in the trap so many times conforming to what my leaders wanted me to be, conforming to the environment that I was in and losing myself because I thought who I was was wrong and wasn’t a fit.
So when I took the test, where I learned as a result of it was that it’s not so much that I had this value to bring to the table and I’ve wronged it for so many years. And what I learned was it was different from everybody and that difference was actually here to add value. Over the years, the more I learned to own my difference and to be really deliberate and strategic around where I’m applying it. The reward recognition and just sort of more alignment to my voice than who I am. I feel better. Things take less effort. I don’t have to work so hard because I’m not trying to fit in to a box anymore.
And so for me taking that 3-minute test was eye-opening and it gave me the courage to all my voice. Sometimes, I just think about it and I’d say like “Really?” “How pathetic you have to be that a test had to tell you how to claim courage to own your voice?” And it did. It was the thing that worked for me. It was the catalyst, the trigger that helped me claim my voice. I believe we all have different ways to access our true voice and our authentic self. I know for me my goal has been try everything and I’m going to hit it. Something is going to give me that spark and this is one of the things that really helped me.
Andrea: Wow yeah, I can definitely relate to a lot of what you’re saying here about wanting that alignment with who you are and then also the need to some sort of outside voice affirm yours. And I think affirm specifically that’s one of the nice things about this sort of assessment but this one in particular being so related to voice is that it feels like there’s a really specific affirmation. It’s not this general idea of I like to say “your voice matters” because I do believe it, but that’s very general.
So when you get really specific and say this part of you, this creativity that feels like that’s not fitting into any boxes or whatever. There’s a reason why you’re like that. And maybe there’s a really good purpose or maybe you’re just that square peg in around hole kind of thing and you define the other around holes to fit into.
Finka: For sure and I think that’s the another element of our voice and what we bring to the table is identifying. For me the Fascinate was a real I guess catalyst or trigger to understand the language I speak and that language of creativity and language of prestige and excellence. And so for me that was eye-opening and how it was different from the environment I was working in. And then the other element of the equation I think that helps us get more congruent with our voice is figuring out where you could apply it best.
And so it’s almost like now, I know what language I speak. I know I bring ideas. I know I’m going to look at making things better all the time but then where can I be really deliver and selective of where I’m going to apply that. And again, I got lost in the weeds and this is all just from my own personal experience of trying to understand myself. “Okay, I’m gonna work in my corporate. I’m gonna work in my business. I wanna have these projects going on or this initiative going on.”
And what I learned was I expect myself too thin and so when I figured it out where my – let’s say my skill set, and I don’t know if it’s really skills or gift. But when I figured it out that I’m really good at teaching, facilitating, and helping people kind of self realize where they can be their best then I started really focusing on “Okay, that’s where I wanna apply my innovation and my prestige, that’s where I’m want to be focusing on.”
So it’s like niching down our own voice. We really need to get really specific around how you do what you do but then what it is that you do best. I know I’ve got a strength in this particular area, but it’s something that I continue learning to grow and expand on it. So I’m doing it out my best right now in this moment but I know I’ve got still so much more learning and developing and growth because I want to hit mastery.
When I hit mastery, I’m going to continue to excel in that area. Or I might say “Okay, I wanna to pick something else but I think when we think of our voice on where we’re going to apply ourselves best is understanding how your personality and your communication style where it’s going to help serve you in the best direction. But then there’s also this part of the capabilities, the skills set like what is it that you do that you can apply that whether it’s creativity, whether it’s familiarity, whether it’s relationship, or emotional of connection. Those are some attributes we have but then thinking about where it’s going to be best applied. That’s been sort of my journey over the last few years of really finding that piece.
Andrea: So did you come to the point where you’re at right now, were you’re doing some work with the Fascination Advantage and the actual company but then also you’re doing your own thing? Have you always wanted to have your own business? Is that something that you’ve always wanted or is this something that kind of come up out of your discovery of your voice?
Finka: I guess I’ve always had this entrepreneurial spirit. When I even look at my career in the corporate world, there’s a term for entrepreneur and corporate environments, we just call entra-preneur and so I always the one that was sort of outside the box. I always look at the business I ran within my organization. So whether I was a sales professional or a leader of a team, and most of my career, I spend as a manager or leader of a team. When I was in those roles, I looked at that as my business. I didn’t look at it as I was working for this organization and they give me responsibilities that I need to deliver on.
I really looked at it as “This is my business.” And so for me, I feel like I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. I was just applying it in a different environment. And to this day, I still linked it to my corporate work. I help others uncover and what they’re entrepreneur spirit and helping them find their voice within those environments because I think it’s critical, especially for corporate environments.
But for me when I started…the seed was planted like “Oh I can do this outside of corporate.” And what I love about it is in my corporate environment, you get to work with like so many people and you know how it is when you’re in your business like there’s like your ideal client. And so when I’m working with the corporate world, in a group of 20, my ideal clients maybe there’s two to five are going to be my ideal clients. And what I love about having my own business right now is the fact that everyone I work with is my ideal client.
And so there’s a different impact that I have or there’s a different reward I received from them. It such a passion or there’s such a congruency and I remember when I started my business, I struggling to find my ideal client. And when I was doing that, I was trying to be everything to everyone. And over the years, as I started getting more specific how it is served me, you know, just the value that I’ve been able to offer but also the value that I’m getting out of the client that I’m working with. And so I think it’s really important.
And now how does Fascinate fit within all of this? So I was part of an initial pilot program. I took the test. I fell in love with it and I started asking questions with the Fascinate group around you know “Are you offering this to other coaches to get certified in the system.” And they said “Wow, we’re just happened to start a training program.” We’re running a pilot. We’re looking for 10 people to be part of this program and based on your advantages and who you are, you’d be a perfect fit. Would you be interested in taking the pilot with us?”
I got off the phone with the lady I had a conversation with and I went to my husband and talked. I’m like “I don’t know what it is. I know I just took this test but I got to take this training. I don’t know what it is. I got to take this training.” And so I signed up for the training and during the training, it was the funniest thing. I just said I’m like “I could do this. I could teach this stuff. I know I could teach this stuff.”
So it was just some seed that was planted. And again, I think it’s like when you have that idea planted in your mind like “I know I can do this,” and I really believe that I could. And so over the coming years after, I really started to show how fascinate the tool can be used in the workplace, how it could be used for professionals and helping them build their brand and their voice and their presence. And I really started bringing what I was doing, bringing that information inside the programs that I was teaching around Fascinate into the Fascinate community.
And that’s where I stayed the Fascinate community with Sally Hogshead. They really took notice “Oh look at the work that Finka is doing on Fascinate and look how she’s bringing it out into her workplace, into her business.” And so that was sort of the door that opened for me to give me an opportunity to start leading and facilitating the training for the Fascinate System Advantage and for Sally and her team.
Andrea: So you could sort of be the trendsetter if you will.
Finka: Yes, yeah.
Andrea: Or the Fascinate coaches.
Finka: Yeah and it’s funny because I’ve done the test a couple of times and sometimes people when they do the test they say “Well, I have a different result. What is that mean now? And so what happened is I took the test again and I did get a different result but what was the constant was my innovation that kind of always stayed with me. I would say your first test is always the true test of your results because when we take things for the second or third time, we’ve now know the system. So the way we responded to those questions is going to be biased in some way because you might be leading towards you know, “Well, I’m leading towards my mistake advantage or my priority advantage a bit more.”
I looked at some of the other results and I said “Those are true but I’m always a trendsetter at heart and I know the way my brain is wired and the way I work is always see things two or three steps ahead of everyone else.” It’s a wonderful gift because I can see where things are going and in the moment sometimes I can be like, you know, people don’t listen because I can tell you where it’s heading, “I could do that I told you so.” Like “I told you so we’d end up here,” but what I learned through the process has been where my communication or my voice doesn’t meet another person’s voice.
So we all speak in different ways and we understand things in different ways, and so I speak in the trendsetter way which means, I will go from A to Z very quickly. And that might be on a particular topic or particular segment.
Andrea: When you say A to Z, you mean cover all the things or to go deep really quickly, what do you mean by that?
Finka: Yes, I can go deep very quickly. I can see the end. Most likely I can see the end while we’re in the start like I can see the end, even though the end might come a year or two years or three years down the road. And so where my challenge has been for me is communicating. So when I say A to Z. I go A, Z. It’s B, C, D, E, F. It’s that stuff in the middle that I struggle with.
Andrea: Yeah, I can relate to this.
Finka: And so my challenge has been, you know, if I want to pitch an idea or if I want to get people onboard to what Z is like what the outcome is, I need to do a better job of talking about the process of how to get there. Or what got me to think that this is going to be the ideal solution or that we should get on board or “If we don’t do this, what’s the cause of not doing this?” So it’s been getting me to get more clear on communicating the message in a way that others will understand.
And I think that has been my biggest learning curve because where I went from A to Z like I see end result to where I want things to go or what I want to do very quickly, my challenge has been how do I get, you know, key decision makers to buy into that idea, clients to buy in. And so that has been my biggest learning of getting people on that vision and on that mission as well.
Andrea: The different assessments I know like any of them are very helpful for us to feel more comfortable with who we are. But you just brought us something that I think is really important that just understanding other people who are different on us as well. If you understand who they are and whether it be through conversation and you just figure it out or by understanding their Fascinate Advantages or whatever it might be then you can sort of meet them where they are a little bitter.
Finka: Absolutely! It is so important like it takes two to tango. If you want to dance, you need a partner. And so when we think about communication and conveying our voice, there’s an authenticity and authentic voice you want to convey. You’ve got a certain mission you want to deliver on and you have a vision that you see. But to get others onboard, you may need to and this is where I say, you don’t change your mission, you tweak your messaging.
So again, you don’t change your mission. You’re still going to go for that goal. You still want to achieve that outcome but the way in which you communicate it, the messaging maybe different depending on your audience. So if I’m speaking to someone who relies on the tried and true, who is someone who likes to do things the way we have done them before and not where they want to focus on.
I need to be sure where I’m communicating, you know, something that might be new to them, how it fits into the tried and true model, where I might have been tested before and tried before and getting some of that maybe anecdotal evidence or testimonials. So it puts them at ease and comfort that “Oh this has been done before. It’s nothing new and fresh but it is something that they feel more confident in because we can position it in a language that they understand.” Does that make sense?
Andrea: Yeah. I definitely agree and I think this is something that I’ve certainly thought about for a long time. But I appreciate just the language and structure of the Fascinate Assessment to be able to very easily kind of gain and understanding of other people and myself. And how that communication can actually connect instead of that ideas of speaking to whom I’ve heard is just like you.
Andrea: That’s the hard part. There’s a tendency to talk in a way that you’re comfortable and then you just kind of gather those kinds of people around you instead of ranting out.
Finka: Yeah and seeing how the value of having those different voices around the table, how they actually add more value and can contribute to helping you get your voice and your vision out into the world. And so what I mean by that is…so I speak the language of innovation and prestige. So I give hit with shiny objects very often. So for me, keeping me on task of like “Okay, I’m gonna do this and this is my new bright idea,” and to stay committed to it for a long period of time is a challenge for me.
And so I’ve got partners and I’ve got key relationships in my life that help me stay grounded. So one of my key partners is my husband and he has the trust advantage that’s his primary and that’s my dormant. So for many times, you know, I’ll be like “Oh I’ll do this.’ And he’s doing this already and you know what if he just sticks to this for a while and just see it comes to fruition. And I can’t say enough of how having the other perspective of asking different questions than I would ask that has allowed me to stay longer to some projects and how I could think…
I’m still delivering and teaching let’s say my workshops and that’s part of my work that I do, but instead of teaching new topics which is where my innovation will sometimes lead me to is how do I refine and get innovated in a topic that I’m teaching on. So then I get deeper in that and so I’ve learned to stay longer in certain projects that are serving me well. I’m not getting distracted by the next brilliant idea I get. Finding a place for that idea because I think I incubate it somewhere because my brain needs me to do that. If not, I will get distracted. But how do I not let distraction get the better of me and stay in my projects or in my current venture long enough that I can reap the rewards and benefits.
I’m going to say Fascinate has been one of those, so for me to have stuck with a system for four years is a testament to this Trust Advantage that is not my strength but it’s something that…let me understand the system better, let me get deeper in it. Let me work with it more. Let me teach it to others. If I succumbed to my distracted shiny object syndrome two years ago, I wouldn’t understand as I do now. I probably wouldn’t be the program director working with other people teaching them a system in how they can apply it because I jumped ship too soon.
Andrea: Oh this is really, really good, Finka. I know we’re running low in time so I want to make sure that but first of all, how are you applying this and what kind of offerings do you have? I know you have a course that you’re working on or you’re about to launch maybe, would you like to tell us about this?
Finka: Yeah absolutely, thank you! So a couple of things that I do so I do teach a Fascinate from a personal branding and professional branding so as an entrepreneur or a professional in the workplace. If you’re looking a brand that would be a piece of what I do and for team building workshops, so if you’re owner of an organization or you working out in the corporate environment and you’re looking to use a tool that can help build better communication, a team building, and better engagement within a group definitely it’s a piece of work that I do.
My current and my newest passion project is called the Daring Introvert. It’s really around helping introverts or high achieving ambitious introverts in the workplace or entrepreneurs who are looking to find their introvert voice. There might be some challenges standing in the way that they might feel misunderstood in the workplace or undervalued and they really want understand how to use that introverts super power advantage to their advantage. And they might be hitting sort of a glass ceiling in there. They’re not maximizing their potential.
So this course is really for leaders, for entrepreneurs who are really looking to leverage their introvert advantage and they really want amp up their daring. They really want to unleash this power quiet that’s sitting inside of them. It’s just a small voice that’s wanting to burst through in screen, out from the rooftops because they want to make a difference and make change. And this course is really about helping people do that.
So I’m really excited about it and so this will be my new passion project, one that again is a lot of innovation and prestige of thought into it at the same time, it’s something that I’m looking for the long haul to see of how I can help introverts. I’m an introvert, and so I know and understand the challenges of finding your Voice of Influence as you would say, Andrea, as an introvert and I’m really helping them find your Voice of Influence as an introvert and not just any introvert, a daring introvert. One that’s really willing to come to the edge and say I’m ready to take the jump and leap.
Andrea: I love it! So Finka if you had any advice for the Influencer that’s listening right now related to – if they were to take the Fascinate Assessment, give us your last two minute kind of spiel on what you would advice somebody who’s just taking the assessment or thinking about it. How did they approach it?
Finka: I would say take the test number one, and #2 – Make it a live document. We take tests and we do these quizzes and we do all sorts of things, and then either it gets buried on your C drive or goes in the cloud or wherever it goes, make it a live document and take it out with you into the world. And start really using it to find where you shine in those areas. Whatever those advantages are, go out and ask your friends, your colleagues, your peers, managers, or mentors, coaches where they see you show up in those ways so you can start getting some evidence from your outside world that this is who you are and this is how your advantages show up.
What I know is that the thing that comes easiest to you, the thing that comes most natural to you is the thing that you’re going to take for granted and you’re going to think it’s no big deal. But it such a big deal and it such a big deal to the world, it’s a big deal to your work and going out and getting that feedback from the people that you work with and live with. Your clients, they’re critical because they are mirror to you that let you know what you do well. Because what you do well is going to come easy to you and you’ll say “Oh this thing, it’s no big deal.” It is a big deal. You need to bring this work out and so we take it for granted because it becomes your natural nature and you don’t think it’s a big deal but it is.
And so what I would say is #1 – Take the test. Two – Go out and ask people how it shows up. What the impact to them on you showing up on this way. What is that you do specifically that shows them that you are being innovative or passionate or you’re showing your Trust Advantage so you can get that evidence and #3 – Continue to bring that. You have the power to choose to live in an alignment to who you are, what you do, and what you bring. Don’t let other things that you’re distracted out of that. Don’t let time or you don’t have to do that. You do have that time and the power stays within you, and so you being the director of where you’re going to apply your talent. Your skills is critically important.
Andrea: Great! Thank you so much, Finka. I really appreciate it you taking time today and especially appreciate your Voice of Influence within professionals, with me personally and I look forward to seeing how this Daring Introvert Course really impacts people. So thank you so much. Thank you for this opportunity and I enjoyed having this conversation with you and I look forward to taking with you and I’m excited about the Voice of Influence and the work that you are empowering others to help them find their voice and to use it for influence so that they can make a bigger difference in the world. So I’m so excited about the work you’re leading here for all of us. So thank you for this.
Finka: Thank you!
Andrea: You’re welcome!
In this episode you’ll learn about the premise of the Voice of Influence podcast and what you can expect.
Mentioned in the podcast:
It would mean a lot to have you subscribe, rate and review on these platforms!
Hey, hey! It’s Andrea Joy Wenburg and you’re listening to the first episode – the About episode of the Voice of Influence podcast. In this episode I’m going to share with you just a little bit about myself and the premise of the podcast and what you can expect.
So I am Andrea Joy Wenburg, author of UNFROZEN: Stop Holding Back and Release the Real You. I grew up in Holdrege, Nebraska. I loved my experience there. I had lots of great friendships, amazing teachers and opportunities to learn and grow. And what I found out there was that I could sing. Now, this podcast isn’t about the singing voice, but it relates so give me just a minute to tie it all together for you.
I found out that I could sing and it was something that I really loved to do. I would get up in front of an audience and sing and I felt like I could really connect with the audience. I felt like they were hearing my message and when I was particularly in the zone – feeling the message in the song, I felt like I was really connecting. And I thought, “you know what? I want to do this for the rest of my life. I want to connect with an audience like that.”
So I ended up going to school at Belmont University in Nashville, TN because I thought I wanted to be a recording artist. I wanted to stand up on stage and connect with an audience.
Well, it didn’t take me too long to realize that I actually don’t have the drive to do what it takes to pursue that dream and that though I wanted to be the next Sandi Patty (a gospel singer at the time), I realized when I got down there that there were a lot of other girls wanting to be the next Sandi Patty, as well. So it became evident that I didn’t have that start quality or the drive to pursue that dream.
I redirected my focus to helping other people find and use their voices. I went back to school in Nebraska to become a music teacher. Now, what was interesting is that I refused to even apply to this school when I was in high school because I thought, “I’m never going to be able to stretch my wings in Nebraska.”
Well, when I got back to UNK, my experience with a vocal instructor there went above and beyond any music experience I had in Nashville, which was surprising to me. When I stepped into Dr. Foradori’s office, she asked me “So, Andrea, do you know about this or that” and I said, “Ya, I get all this!”
But as we got going in lessons she realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. And at one point she said to me, “You know, Andrea, once you really understand what it means to connect your breath, you’re going to carry with you a foundation for singing that’s going to carry with you no matter what you sing. Once you understand this one concept and it really clicks inside of you and you get that, it’s going to totally transform the way you sing everything else.”
Eventually I did get that concept and it did totally transform the way that I sang everything else. I did have that support underneath of me with breath and what it took for me to sing like I wanted to sing.
Now, I say all of this because since then I have focused more on what it means to find and develop a voice of influence in the world, because there is something else that I really care about.
I’m somebody who cares a lot about – and I think maybe everybody does – that we want to know that we have a seat at the table. And when I say seat at the table, I’m thinking like when you walk into a cafeteria and there’s a bunch of people sitting and you wonder, “where do I fit?”
And when I say seat at the table when talking about is when you walk into a room and there’s a bunch of people sitting around maybe it’s like a cafeteria and you’re wondering, which table do I fit at? Where do I fit?” This is something that I really struggled with in my life. I wondered “where do I really fit?”
Well, it’s nice to have somebody turn around and say, “Well Andrea, why don’t you sit down at our table. We want you to sit here.” That feels great because then you feel like you belong and are excepted and you connect. With other people. The thing that I really realized, though, was that’s not the only thing I want. I also want to know that when I say something, it matters. That my voice makes a difference. So, if you’re sitting at that table and you’re thinking, “I don’t really feel like these people are listening to what I have to say.” Or you start to speak up and they say, oh that’s stupid.” Or they write you off. Or they say it doesn’t matter, or whatever. They don’t have a respect for what you have to say for your vioce.
That’s a little harder place to be in. Because then it feels like you are being used, not like I belong and I making a difference, “they invited me to sit here, but I’m not actually getting to have an impact on the dialogue.” Which is different than saying, I want to have all of my ideas taken for everybody to believe everything that I say, and that the buck stops here, kind of thing. I’m not saying that.
I’m saying that we want to have our voice matter in the dialogue of life.
So, when I think about that, and I think about the voice of influence and what that means how that relates to what it means to have a voice, I realized that there is something really special about this idea of the connecting of breath on the one side, and how that applies to the way that we connect with other people with our voice of influence. When we have certain things, When we change certain things about the way that we speak that or message or the way that we are communicating, when we change those certain things, or we get those certain things, then our voice, no matter where we go, in our relationships, at home, at work, or in the world. Whatever audience you’re trying to speak to, when you really carry with you that voice of influence, it will matter more with everybody, everywhere you go. And your voice and message has a better shot of actually making a transformational difference in the life of the person you are speaking with.
Because, when we really do have that voice of influence, it’s not just about saying, “this is what you should do, this is what I want.” That sort of thing. It’s not necessarily that, because we can always try to shame people into doing what we want them to do. But that’s not the kind of person I think you are. You are the kind of person who really once to make a difference in the heart of a person. Because you know that when somebody changes on the inside, it’s going to come out in so many different ways on the outside. And that is way more powerful than just changing and outward thing.
So, this podcast is about developing a voice of influence, understanding where it comes from, why we are the way that we are. Who we are. What we really want to say, and how we can say it in a way that is truly a transformational kind of message.
That is the basic premise of this podcast.
I want to mention that last year I published a book called UNFROZEN: Stop Holding Back and Release the real you. And that book is actually my story about me and my voice. So, if you are ever interested in reading or listening to that book – I am currently working on the audio version and it will hopefully be out very soon. So, if you are listening to this in the near future, it’s probably out. You can look it up on Amazon or find it here.
It’s my story about me, and trying to understand what my voice is like. Coming to grips with the fact that I am super creative, but also really sensitive and that being creative, sensitive and having a lot of intensity – that those things altogether became both a great power, and a great struggle. And something that could actually get in the way of me using my voice and connecting with other people.
That is what the book is about, and I would encourage you to check it out if you’re interested. And now I want to tell you what you can expect from this podcast.
We are going to be on a regular rhythm of 1, 45 minute interview and one short after show kind of episode where I will be speaking for maybe five minutes, reflecting on something that came up in the episode before that. The interviews will be interviews with experts, leaders, Thought leaders – people who really have well-developed voice of influence or something they can really speak to that would be helpful or interesting to you.
It’s really important to me that you don’t just listen to the interviews and forget them. So I want to offer these little episodes that you could listen to on the way to work or whatever, and be something you could chew on that would really make your voice matter more.
That’s the basic rhythm, that we will have an interview and then a short segment. And for April we will be doing an interview and a short segment, two times each week. We will be doing a lot of those episodes in here in April 2017 and after that we will settle into a rhythm of an interview on Monday and a short segment on Thursday each week.
That is the basic premise and what you can expect from this podcast. I also want to let you know that I’ve opened up a Voice of Influence Community Facebook group for message-driven leaders. So if you are interested in communicating with other people who want to develop their voice of influence, and discuss different things that come up on the podcast, then that would be a great place for you. I would love to have you.
And the final thing I want to mention to you is that in every beginning and ending of the podcast, we say, “Your voice matters, but you can make it matter more.” And what I mean by that, is that inherently, because you are a human being created by God, your voice – your thoughts and feelings and how you express them, that matters. And no matter what anyone tells you, I believe that you matter, and your voice matters.
However, I do think that there are some people who are able to develop that voice in such a way, that we can make it matter more. Meaning, we can make a bigger difference. So although you really cannot matter anymore or less in one sense, in another sense, in the sense of how much impact you have on the world, and relationships and things like that, you can make your voice matter more. You do that, by developing it. You do that by using it.
It’s just like when I was in Dr. Foradori’s voice studio and she would have me sing, and if it didn’t come out right, she would have me mimic her, or she would give me the tools that I needed, or she would suggest that I try something new and feel something different in my mouth or that sort of thing. And she would also help me find the right music for my voice. Which, I think is like finding the right message for your voice of influence.
There are many different correlations that I will be making or referencing here on the podcast, but my point in the end is that I really hope you will take the time to develop your voice of influence. And rather than just be somebody who sings every once in a while in the car so that nobody else can hear them, if you are listening to this podcast, it is because you don’t just want to sing in the car. It’s because you want your voice to matter beyond the immediate where you are at right now. You wanted to matter in your relationships, in your home, in your work, and in the world.
So, that’s what we’re here for. I am so glad that you are here. And I hope that you will join me in the voice of influence community Facebook group. You can find a link to that here or search for it in Facebook.
Thank you so much for being here in this about me episode. I am truly honored that you have given me a few minutes of your time today and anytime that you come back, man! I am really honored that you would take the time to be with us. So thank you.