In this Voice Studio episode Andrea shares the Teacher Ball high performance strategy.
Mentioned in this episode:
Episode 31: Find Your Why and Get Stuff Done
Download the Focus Your Brand DIY at www.voiceofinfluence.net/focus
In this Voice Studio episode Andrea shares the Teacher Ball high performance strategy.
Mentioned in this episode:
Episode 31: Find Your Why and Get Stuff Done
Download the Focus Your Brand DIY at www.voiceofinfluence.net/focus
Amy is an online marketing expert and educator and the host of the top-ranked podcast, Online Marketing Made Easy. Amy has worked with mega brands like Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and Peak Performance Coach, Tony Robbins, where she oversaw the content development team and collaborated on ground-breaking online marketing campaigns. Through her bestselling marketing courses, thriving social media community and popular podcast, Amy inspires a grounded, tangible and self-affirming sense of “Wow! I really can do this” for over 250,000 online entrepreneurs. She proves that by moving away from “step-by-step” and into “action-by-action”, even the newest online entrepreneurs can bypass overwhelm and self-doubt, and instead generate exciting momentum as they move closer to building a life and business they love.
You can find Amy and her offerings at www.amyporterfield.com.
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Andrea: Welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast, Amy Porterfield!
Amy Porterfield: Well, thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here!
Andrea: Well, it is definitely an honor. I definitely consider you to be one of my biggest online mentors for this business building, message sharing process, and I am so grateful to you for all the things that you’ve taught me. So it’s great to have you.
Amy Porterfield: Well, it’s always nice and I truly mean this to have a student that dives in and does the work and it’s so obvious that you do that. You’re a little go-getter so I wish I had a million of you inside of my courses, so thanks for having me again.
Andrea: Well, we’ve already introduced what you have done in the past a little bit. Why don’t you give us a snap shot of what you’re doing today.
Amy Porterfield: Oh yeah, I’d love to. So in my business today, what I do is I create online training courses, digital courses. And specifically for my business, they are around this building and course creation and webinars. So I put together the courses and then I do online launches or evergreen launches, which means I prerecord all of the promotional pieces and I run Facebook ads to the prerecorded content to sell my courses. So I do evergreen and live launches and that primarily is the only way I make money in my business.
I don’t do small group coaching or consulting or any kind of service-based business. And the only other thing in my business that is a big piece is I will promote a few of my partners program so like B-School is one of those. You’re familiar with that so I’ll promote B-School because I went to the program. I’m a huge fan. I had a lot of success with it, so I’ll promote that to my audience. But the bulk of my revenue comes from digital courses.
Andrea: I’m really wondering, when you first started, when you got going with your own business, were you thinking about it in terms of personal brand business or was it just something that kind of happened as you got going?
Amy Porterfield: It really was something that happened as I got going, but at the time back then, I don’t think I was savvy enough to know “Am I going to do a personal brand business, or am I going to do more of a general brand that I’m not the face of the business?” I think at the time when I was just leaving corporate, I thought “Well, I wanna teach and so I’m just a one-woman show at this point so I guess I’m gonna be the face of this.” And it really was more into that but it wasn’t an incredibly thoughtful decision because you don’t know what you don’t know. So I was very new to all of this just starting out.
Andrea: I know that you’ve mentioned before that you’re an introvert, so was that a difficult thing for you to do, to put you as the face of your brand or was that something that you could kind of accept by the time you got to that point?
Amy Porterfield: You know it was difficult. So coming out of corporate, I think I have to mention, I work for Peak Performance Coach Tony Robbins, which meant that he was this literally this huge guy. But more so he has this huge presence. He still does today. So he was, obviously the face of the business, he was front center onstage literally. I used to travel to the events and support the content he would do onstage.
So that was my model and I never wanted to be that front and center. I was very comfortable behind the curtain, behind the computer screen and I felt pretty good there. And then I realized, if I wanted to create this business, you know, social media was a big part of it. I had to put face out there; even putting my picture on social media was a big deal to me. I just had never had never had to do that before working in corporate.
So I started my own Facebook page and my own Twitter page outside of corporate and I’m thinking “Oh my God, people are gonna think I’m crazy.” What am I doing? I’ve never not been attached to somebody else being my boss.” So there was a lot of trepidation there. I was worried about what my past coworkers would think or my friends. I was worried about someone saying “Who are you to be doing that?”
So there was a lot of that worry that as an introvert, there was a lot of “Wait a second, I have to put a video out of myself?” I hated that thought. I still struggle with video all these years later. So I think we all just kind of have our challenges and that’s one for me. But a million percent, it was very difficult being an introvert and having to be so front center with the personal brand. I wanted it so bad that I moved past the fear but the fear never went away. I just kind of said “Hi, I see you there,” and I just kept going.
Andrea: So you said you wanted it so bad. What was it that you were wanting? What was the motivating factor?
Amy Porterfield: I wanted to be my own boss more than anything. So I was so tired of my hours, my efforts, my decisions, my creativity being dictated by somebody else. Now, I have an amazing job with Tony Robbins. So it’s not too bad having your time dictated by this amazing man who had so much great content that I got to play around in as the content director. So I got to work with some great, great content and with some great people.
However, there’s still came a time that I thought “I wanna do this on my own and I don’t want to answer to anybody else.” And it felt like there’s like rebel soul came up inside me that said like “It is your time.” Now, when that rebel soul started to talking like “It’s your time,” and I’m thinking “What are you talking about. I’ve never ever done anything out on my own.” It took me a good year to take the leap and actually go for it and ease into it, but I’m so glad I listen to it even though it means no sense at the time.
Andrea: So you had that drive to move forward. Is that something that you’ve always had? I mean, you landed a job with Tony Robbins of all people. What draw you to seek that? Have you always had that kind of aspirational goals for yourself?
Amy Porterfield: Great question. So no, is the short answer. But a little bit of the longer answer is I never ever thought about being an entrepreneur. It was never even in my mind. I like structure. I like following the rules and for a long time, I like answering to somebody because a little bit of a show up in the sense that I like to do a good job and say “Look, what I’ve done.” And I like those words of affirmation.
So when you’re in corporate and everyone’s like “Look at her, she’s doing a great job.” I really enjoy that so I never had that sense of, “I wanna be an entrepreneur when I grow up.” Or “I wanna create a business or do this or do that.” Never at all, and so what’s interesting is that that was never part of the plan. However, I’ve always been a leader, just ever since a little girl. I mean as a little girl, I think they call me bossy.
But from there as I grew up, I was always in a leadership in student government. I was captain of the cheerleading squad. I like to call the shots in that respect and so looking back, I know how I got here with that type of drive. I always wanted to be the best. I always got good grades. I always wanted to be the leader. And so some of that definitely has played a part of “I wanted to run my own business” but I didn’t know it until way into being in a corporate for a long time and in my early 30’s actually.
Andrea: Yeah. I can really relate to that because for me, when I decided to take B-School because I was writing a book and I just wanted to know how to market it. And so it occurred to me while I was in B-School, “Oh if I wanted to do something with this, maybe I need to do something more with this,” and so just the idea of having my own business really came then. And as we got going through the process, you in particular because I’ve really dove into all the things that you had to offer through that experience, it was this dawning revelation that “Oh my goodness, this is what I made for.”
Amy Porterfield: And isn’t that interesting that just comes to you like all of a sudden if you really listen to your inner gut saying like “This is what it supposed to be about,” and you listen, it’s very truth-telling in a way that I just never knew until I got a little bit quiet and trusted my gut in that respect. But I got to say this really quickly speaking of B-School, you and I kind of getting to know each other even more and sharing insights and thoughts, is because I did this contest with B-School. And I asked people “Hey, if you got a great idea for a bonus.” So just put in together a big promotional launch and I wanted to do a great bonus.
So I went to my B-Schoolers and said “Does anyone have a great idea for a bonus that you think would be valuable?” And we got so many responses like probably 50 or 60 people with great ideas. But I chose yours and it was all around the profit plan reality check, diving into your profit, how you’re making money, what are your expenses look like, how are you evaluating this, and how are you planning for this. That idea would have never came about if it weren’t for your amazing bonus idea, which I know that whole area is actually a big strength of yours, right?
Andrea: Yeah. Through that process of being in your group and having interactions with other people, I really noticed that the questions that I was drawn to answer had to do with who people are and how that can translate into a business for people. And I’ve just so drawn to those conversations and then as I would hear people talk that have these great aspirations and noble ideas even a noble message. But I could tell that it wasn’t going to go anywhere if they didn’t really figure out how they’re going to monetize it and all these things that I had never thought before, honestly like it was just crazy. When you made that contest offer, I looked at my husband because he was with me. I looked at my husband; I’m like “Oh my goodness. This is so me. I’m gonna nail this.” And I worked my tail off.
Amy Porterfield: You nailed it! This might be a little bit off topic but I feel but I feel like this is so important for people that are building their brands, they need to hear this. And that is so many times in my business, I’ve had whims along the way because I’ve gone the extra mile. So for instance I was speaking on Michael Hyatt’s stage. I hired a speaking coach. We put the whole presentation together over a series of months. I got on stage and I killed it more so than I ever would if I didn’t spend the time and that created this beautiful relationship with me and Michael.
In your situation, a lot of people submitted bonus ideas with a few different sentences and maybe a little paragraphs, oh not you. You definitely spelled out the entire thing. You showed me where I could show up and give a little tough love because you knew my personality and you know how I like to do things. You gave me examples. You gave me stories and you made me a video to go along with it. And so there’s something that you said about people that would go the extra mile because now you and I have this great friendship. We know each other. We talked to each other about our businesses, like it go so much further when I feel like people are making that effort and I think that’s overlooked.
Andrea: Yeah and I think it’s also really cool when you can be something that just arises out of you, you know. Like you said, it just turned into something that’s really natural and you never know where it might go.
Amy Porterfield: So true, so very true.
Andrea: OK, so now I’ve got to ask you this because this is something I have a little bit of an issue with. I’ve always kind of struggled with a little bit and that’s just my voice as a woman and especially as a woman leader. So as you started in this online business space or actually, I don’t really care what you want to talk about, I’m curious. What is it like for you to be a woman leader and to find your voice both in your corporate experience maybe and then how it’s really come to the point right now where I see you and you’re just on such a different level at this point, right? You know your stuff. You know your voice. You’re really comfortable even though you still feel fear at times; you seem to just conquer it because you’re not going to let it get in your way and that sort of thing. So I’m curious, tell me about the development of that voice for you particularly as a woman?
Amy Porterfield: That’s another good question, I love this. So it has definitely evolved. If I go back into how I was raised. I was raised by a really strict father who always had the last word and actually had the only word. You never ever talk back or show a lot of emotion. I love my dad dearly but that is truly how I was raised. And so coming from that and then getting into the business world where in my industry, you know, there’s a lot of man. There are a very few women doing this kind of thing and so I definitely was more quiet in the beginning. And I had a sense that the men that were doing that before me, they were all knowing. And I didn’t really have an opinion because I was scared to have a voice. I was very new and very few women. So there was a lot more fear in the beginning and I was a lot quieter.
However, because I can draw from wanting to always be a leader, I had this self confidence that was hidden deep down, and I recently listened to a podcast episode of Brooke Castillo. She had a podcast I love and I was listening to it and she was talking about self-confidence. And she was saying that self-confidence comes before you actually do anything. So confidence comes from knowing that no matter what’s going to happen, no matter what emotion comes up or feeling comes up that you know that you can tackle it and that you can move beyond it.
And looking back, I did have that self-confidence that I thought “Well, no matter what happens, I know I’m strong enough to move past this.” So I just started speaking up a little more and little more. What the difference then what I did then and what some of the men were doing is I got into the content. I found my sweet spot. So I would teach step-by-step where a lot of the men in my industry kind of just give me over it and talking about the big picture, the big fat numbers, and how much money they were making in. All the really good sexy stuff but no one was slowing down enough to say, “Okay, here’s exactly how you do it.”
So I found my little sweet spot and I found more confidence in that and my voice got louder and louder. And I never was mousy about speaking up as I grew in my business. So I think it was a total evolution and I will say, it is intimidating when most of the big shot influencers, especially when I was starting out, were men. That did make me very nervous but I was able to just kind step-by-step, I love baby steps, I found my voice over the years.
Andrea: Yes and there’s no question about it. I purchased other online courses about different things and yours always standout as being so much more in depth and clear and easy to follow. It’s just so much easier to get to the end result that you’re promising than anything else that I’ve really participated in. OK, so I know that you were in Mastermind or maybe it wasn’t Mastermind, it was with Marie Forleo for a while…
Amy Porterfield: Yeah.
Andrea: Yeah, it was the Mastermind?
Amy Porterfield: Yeah that’s what we call it.
Andrea: Were all those people in there women and what was helpful to be around other women at that time?
Amy Porterfield: Yes. So for two years, I was in this live, I called it live because we would meet in person four times a year Mastermind like you said with Marie Forleo. It was called Rich, Happy, and Hot. OK, the name pretty much fails me because at that time I wasn’t rich. I wasn’t happy, I was just leaving corporate. And hot, well, I didn’t look at the mirror and sees that so that was a little bit tough. But I did it anyway and for two years, we would, like I said, meet in person and they were women from all different industries and all different levels of business.
Some didn’t even have a business yet. Some had been in it for five to ten years and then I was just starting out as well. So it was really good for me to see other women doing what I was doing further along than me or a little bit behind me and also I learned from Tony Robbins that you’ve got to surround yourself with people doing bigger and better things than you so you can strive and move forward and there was that element. I love that. Marie had done so much of what I wanted to do in my business.
So it was so important that I was around these really powerful women that were driving things forward. So that made a huge impact in my life but also at that same time, we would do hot seats and Marie typically was the leader because it was her Mastermind. So I get in the hot seat and every time I have to admit it, it was the early years I’d played small. And I’d say something like “Well, I wanna do a launch but not a big launch. I’m wanna do a video or I’m not gonna put myself out there like that. I’ll just gonna send a few emails.” And then this woman, Marie, who had gone before me and who had done amazing things said “There you are, you’re going to show up in a really big way.”
And I think surrounding ourselves with other women who have gone before us and will challenge us and will call us on our BS and say, “That ain’t gonna happen.” That was a pivotal moment for me when she said “Don’t play small and if you’re planning to play small, please get out, you’re wasting our time.” She didn’t say it like that but I’m sensitive so that’s what I heard. So I think we need to surround ourselves with people that would be honest with us and it’s hard to find that group but it’s worth looking for.
Andrea: Hmmm yes! OK so I love how you target both the very practical things that practical needs of your students and like you said, step-by-step and here’s how you do it, and you lay it out. But at the same time, you also had such empathy for your students and really care and you bring that heart. I’ve only been around for a couple of years now with you, so I’m curious about beforehand, have you always addressed the heart of people when you’re also talking about their step-by-step process? Is that something that you’ve always done?
Amy Porterfield: I’m so glad you asked this because it’s something that I felt called to do more so than ever. And what I noticed in at online marketing space especially among women, but there are some gentlemen that are doing it as well is that they are authentically becoming more transparent. Like we heard the word authenticity, transparency, and genuine; we hear it all the time. But there are some people out there that are really showing up in that space talking about their struggles, their stories, their triumphs in a way that there’s real truth behind them, like “Look, what it took to get here.”
And they’re talking about their every day struggles as well and I gravitate toward that. Over the last year, I looked at someone and I’m like “Are you kidding me?” Like I have great friend, Mary Hyatt, and she is a body-positivity acceptance kind of niche. And she appeared on Instagram in her underwear and bra and that is the cover of her online training program. There’s a bunch of women, all different shapes and sizes, there she is my dear friend in her bra and underwear looking beautiful, but she doesn’t have that typical size to a body, like she’s putting out her authentic self.
And I looked at that and I thought “I know that Mary didn’t think even a year ago, yet alone three or four years ago that she be on Instagram in her bra and underwear. And in that moment, I thought “You never know where honesty and the real stuff will take you.” And so I decided I wanted to me more like that. So I started to infuse more compassion in the things I was talking about, more heart, and more honesty. I know the struggle. I know what it takes to get there. I know the fears and the lack of confidence. I’ve lived it and I haven’t talked about it enough, so let’s do that.
And just recently, it’s interesting you’re bringing this up now, one thing I never talked about is my weight. I’m embarrassed by my weight and I’ve been a lot thinner in this industry when I first started out and it’s like a topic that… it’s funny, you’ll see me. You’ll all know what I look like but I still just want to pretend like it’s not struggle that I face. And so because I wanted to change the way I talk about things, I don’t need a platform to talk about my weight in the sense that I’m not changing my business. I’m still all about list-building, course creation or webinars but I did one podcast episode and it was just me solo on my own podcast, and usually my podcast like 45 minutes. It was only 9 minutes and it’s not even out yet but it’s me saying “Here’s a challenge that I face, it’s my weight.”
And I talked about the fact that I always say I don’t love video but in my darkest and most truthful hour, I don’t like video because I don’t like looking overweight on camera, and so I just put it out there. The audio wasn’t to teach a big lesson and show my audience what to do instead; I just need to say it out loud so that there’s less shame and embarrassment around it. And then of course, I can’t help myself, I’ve got to say “And if you have something like that I want to invite you to be more open about it as well.” But just hearing myself saying it literally took some of the shame away, because let’s not be shameful about any of our insecurities or weaknesses or challenges. We’ve got to own it. So thank you for the opportunity to talk about this. I wasn’t planning on it but it kind of lend itself to exactly your question around that but I think we all have to have more heart in our marketing in a way that we feel good about sharing. We don’t have to be over the top or too mushy if we’re not that way, but there’s a way to be honest in the marketing that you do.
Andrea: Yes. Oh Amy that’s so powerful. I think that people oftentimes have a hard time finding the balance between the head and the heart. I think you mentioned this before but I definitely agree with you that you kind of have to have dealt with the heart a little bit before you start to share it real publicly. You don’t want to just throw out something out there before you’re ready or before you accomplished, you know, maybe gotten ahead on it a little bit. But for you to come out and be able to say that and bring something out of the dark and into the light and then show us that there hasn’t have to be shame around that. I mean, that is super empowering to the rest of us for sure.
Amy Porterfield: I love that and there was a fear and I talked a few friends about it, like I don’t want my strength as a marketing expert and trainer to be diminished by me being vulnerable around these topics which happens to be weight for me. And so I was nervous that this is going to make me look weak. And so I had to have some reassurance from some of my peers, which is so important to have that small circle around you that they could read what I wanted to say and say “No, that doesn’t make you look more weak, and yes, I do need to be honest about this or whatever.”
So I had to do some consulting with some peers of mine in the industry because you make a great point. I couldn’t just come out there and just vomit like “I’m struggling with my weight. I’m so unhappy. This is so horrible, goodbye!” Like that is offering no value to you or anybody else. So I did need to process it a little bit. I’m still deep in it, like I’m thinner because of it but I see what you’re saying that you got to process it a little bit and make sure that you know why you’re doing it. That was another thing.
Before I put it out there, I kept asking myself “Why I am doing this?” Part of it was selfishly, I wanted to eliminate that shame and the other part is I want audience to feel comfortable doing the same. But I got clear about that. I wasn’t doing it for likes or people to like me more in general or anything like that. But I need to be honest with myself before I did it. So yeah, I totally, I’m with you there.
Andrea: Yeah, I mean I wrote a memoir and I didn’t plan on it. I didn’t plan on sharing inner thoughts and feelings with the world. But as I got going, I realized that this is going to communicate something totally different to people in a totally different way and if I were just to outline it for them and give them the step-by-step because sometimes a step-by-step is important. But it’s not really reaching and touching the heart, it’s not as effective. It doesn’t do the transformational work that you wanted to do and so I love that you have moved more into this transparencies space, I kudos to you for having the courage to do that.
Amy Porterfield: Thank you!
Andrea: Have you noticed the difference in engagement with your students because of that?
Amy Porterfield: So it’s just happened. I didn’t put the episode out yet, however, I have noticed that when I get on video, especially with my private Facebook groups with my students, I am more at ease, just a little bit but it was very apparent. And I know that when I’m more at ease, I am more willing to share with my audience and accept and listen and all good stuff. So I can’t imagine it’s not going to make a difference.
Andrea: Yes, and I’m wondering too about just in general as you have shared more heart, has that changed the relationship with your audience?
Amy Porterfield: Yes, yes definitely. I feel that they have a sense that I’m their friend. Although, we’ve never met, when I met in person with people, more often than not, I will hear them say, I feel like you could be my bestfriend. And I know what that feels like with my people that I follow and feel really connected to and so that’s what I live for. I live for the fact that they have that connection. So 100%, they feel like that they know me. They love when I talk about with my mistakes because I’m more human to them, so yes 100%.
Andrea: We’re really dwelling on this voice stuff that I’m loving this. I have a couple more questions that I actually came from some of your students and one of those questions has to do with fear. How do you handle it now versus how you handled it maybe 10 years ago or five years ago?
Amy Porterfield: So how do I handle, say that again?
Andrea: How do you handle fear? Like if you have fear, soft out, you just now told us what you’re doing now which is more being transparent about it. How has that changed over the years?
Amy Porterfield: Before, I would let it consumed me to be quite honest so I’d be fearful. And what would happen is that it would stop me from experimenting in my business or taking big chances and so I played it really safe in the beginning. And here’s what happened, for the first two years in my business when I left corporate, I was doing social media marketing for big businesses as my own business.
So I was in the trenches working on their social media, posting for them, doing analytics all that good stuff. And I hated it and I was so fearful that I won’t be able to make money on my own that I wouldn’t have enough customers or have business model that didn’t work. I wanted to create online training program but I was so fearful because I didn’t know how to do it that I started to just take a bunch of clients for social media. So my fear led to building a business when leaving corporate for two years that I hated. I didn’t like having a bunch of clients. I didn’t like the business I created but my fear was driving my decisions I was making.
I’m not happy and this is why I left corporate, this isn’t worth it. The hours were longer. The pay wasn’t as good. There was no security in it and I didn’t like the people I was working with and so that’s finally when I said, “Okay, I see the fear. I hear the fear but I’m going to do it anyway.” And that’s when I let go all of my clients and started creating my online training programs. I’m still not sure that’s going to work out but I was just so tired of letting that fear drive me. So it stayed with me for the first two years of leaving corporate.
Andrea: Do you think that you’ve gotten more courageous as you confronted your fears?
Amy Porterfield: Oh yeah. It was like every time I would do it in spite of the fear, I would grow more as an entrepreneur, every single time. So now, I’m working on some stuff in my business and some things might not go as I had I hoped or planned and I’m fearful of that because they’re new things, new experiences. I’m very fearful in the sense I could feel the fear right now just talking about it and thinking about it. I could feel it kind of bubbly enough inside me.
And when I do, this is so very true because I was talking to my husband about this, I tell myself, no matter what happens, no matter the feelings that come up, the emotions come up, the circumstances of whatever happens, I know I can rise above up. It might not be pretty for a while. I might be in the fetal position for a little bit but I know based on my track record, I will be fine and that’s the cool thing about slowly but surely pushing past that fear. All of those little wins are evidence that you are going to be okay even if it’s a little tough for a while.
Andrea: So good. Let’s move in to talking a little bit more about strategy and tactics and this stuff that you really dive into so well on your own podcast and all of your trainings and things. I definitely want to make sure we touch on this before we’re done because this is your specialty. What do you say are the most important building blocks? If somebody is going to use their own personal brand or even if it’s not a personal brand but somehow they’re building a business around themselves, what are the things that you feel like are really important to understand or know about yourself so that you can move forward?
Amy Porterfield: One of the things that you want to understand about yourself in order to move forward, did I get the question right?
Amy Porterfield: OK so a few things that you want to get really clear about is number #1, who is your ideal avatar? Who do you want to speak to and importantly, who do you want to ultimately work with, because getting clear about who you’re marketing to kind of like one of the biggest steps that you really need to figure out. You don’t have to have it all figured out but you got to start somewhere. And so getting that done on paper and saying “This is who I want to attract,” is one of those things that you just need to know in order to start building your business.
Another thing is you got to be clear on your messaging. So who is it that you want to talk to and what do you want to talk about? What do you want to stand for? What do you believe in? What do you love to teach because you know you can get people results, whether it’d be physical results or results in their business or their mindset or whatever it might be. You’ve got have a message that leads to something that will improve their life. And then from there, I think it’s also important that you start to think about what you want to sell.
So you might have not figured this out yet. A lot of my students don’t. They’re just building their list and putting out great value to attract that avatar but eventually sooner than later, I’d like to see you put a stake in the ground and say “This is what I want to sell.” And then you can decide from there on how do you want to package it? Do you want to do live workshops, masterminds, digital courses, live events, whatever that is? First, get clear on what is it? What kind of information or physical product do you want to sell and then we can talk about how you kind of wrap it all. But these are things that are important for you to consider because they really dictate the type of business model you want to create.
Andrea: And you mentioned building an email list and I know that this is such a foundational part of what you talk about. What exactly does that mean and why is it so important?
Amy Porterfield: Yes. So I would say that the energy of your business is directly tied to the strength of your email list. And the reason you need email list, which are just people signing up let’s say for your newsletter or for a really great freebie or checklist then get on your email list and then you start nurturing that relationship by communicating with them let’s say on a weekly basis. The reason why that email list is such a huge asset in your business is that you basically own it and you get to control it. Facebook changes tomorrow and algorithm changes and none of your stuff is getting seen.
Instagram is constantly changing right now because they’re growing so rapidly. They could change something and it totally takes away from the strategies you had in place. You never know. Never build your business on top of social media. I see social media as icing on the cake. But my foundation is what I sell and who I’m selling to, and who I’m selling to is my email lists. So I would never have a success of building a multimillion dollar business without my email list. That is cool response to my promotions the most.
They might see in on social media but with an email come and says “Here’s the link to buy now.” It’s way more powerful in email than it will ever be on social media, so you really do want make it a priority to focus on this building.
Andrea: Yes. When you do build your email list, you kind of guide people through a process from there. You don’t just send an email every once a while and throw something at every once in a while. You have a meticulous plan that guides people through process, to the point where they know whether or not they want to buy something from you. And that’s been really inspiring for me because I hate the idea of selling. I absolutely hate it and I think a lot of people do. But at the same time, when you look at it, you know when you’re offering something to somebody that could help them and it definitely changes things. Do you have any suggestions for us if we are looking at selling? Whys is it the people are so happy to buy from you?
Amy Porterfield: Hmmm, why are they so happy to buy from me? OK, so here’s a few things. I am very intentional with my marketing in general but also with my promotions, and so I think that people are willing to buy because I am not pushing the product or whatever it is I have in front of them in a way that they feel like “Oh my gosh, this feels aggressive,” because I don’t like that kind of marketing either. So what I mean by that is I ease into my marketing just like I ease in everything else I do in my life. So that means that I might start out with a really great blog post with a great freebie kind of get in their feet wet around the topic that I want to sell.
And then from there, I’m inviting them to a webinar and on the webinar, I give, give, give before I ask anything in return. And I think it’s important to remember. I have this motto when I do a webinar because on all my webinar I sell but on my webinar, I had this motto that says no matter if they buy or not, they walk away today feeling excited, inspired, and driven to take action no matter if they buy or not.
And so if I’m coming from a place of total service knowing that not everyone’s going to buy but I want them to walk away feeling really, really good about what they just learned that come across as trust and affinity with my audience. So I really do believe that it’s a mindset kind of thing. Give more than you take. And I always say I’ve got to earn the opportunity to ask for somebody to buy something and the important thing is giving great impeccable free content again and again and again just like you’re doing on this podcast. You give, give, give and when it’s time for you to say “I’ve got something incredible for you to check out, your audience is listening.
Andrea: Is that something that you kind of did naturally or did you figure that model out on your own? Or is it something that gleaned from other people along the way?
Amy Porterfield: I want. I definitely, you know, I would come back to Tony Robbins because he taught me so much about being an entrepreneur. But he also taught me that you want to model the best of the best, not copy them but model what they’re doing. There’s no need to reinvent the wheels especially in the market I’m in. It’s oversaturated anyway. People are doing a lot of stuff here.
And so because of that, I would watch Michael Hyatt, Marie Foleo, and some others in the industry that I knew were doing great things and I love their style and never felt like they were too pushy and so I studied. I made a big study of what are they doing. How are they saying it. When are they saying it. So I became a student of the type of marketing that felt good to me and I modeled it then I kind of made up my own.
Andrea: Yeah that’s some really good advice. You also seem to really get focused on not offering too many different things like I think you mentioned before to just have three offerings. Don’t have these whole smorgasbords of things you could pick from and maybe it’s not just three but you get really focused. Why is focus so important when it comes to your strategy for your product offering?
Amy Porterfield: You know a lot of people are chasing the next shiny thing and it’s so easy to say “You wanna do this, you wanna do that.” I have a good girlfriend that I watch her, and she’s not making the kind of money she wants to make and she has an audience. She has an email list and she is constantly changing directions, “I wanna do this. I wanna do that. What about this? I wanna create this.” And nothing gets completed and so I understand why that happens. I truly do, but I feel like the secret to success here is that you commit to something and you get to the finish line.
There are five things right now that I would love to be working on my business. But I’m not even entertaining the idea until I reach my commitment of finishing this program that I’m redoing. I’m literally down to like three videos but I can’t move on because I give myself my word and my team my word. And so quite honestly, my students are waiting for it. I’ve talked about it too much. That’s another thing. If you really want to hold yourself accountable and get really focused, tell your audience what you’re doing. And if you’re a person of integrity which I’m assuming you are, you’re not going to be away from that.
These things that I’m doing, I’m redoing a program, I told my audience “Who’s going to be out there?” And quite honestly, I said I’m going to be out there a little sooner than I was able to do. So now, I’m really committed to get it done because I actually miss the small deadline. So share with your audience, it will keep you more accountable. But I do feel that it’s just one thing at a time get to completion and that’s where confidence comes in as well and then when completed that “Alright, here I go.” There’s major momentum in that.
Andrea: Yes, yes. That’s something I definitely took away from you. OK this has been amazing. If you could just say one thing to the person that’s listening, and some of the people listening might already thinking about doing something. They might be doing something on their own. They might have their business or thinking about doing a business. There might be also some people in the audience who actually have some really amazing expertise in their job but maybe they toyed with this idea of doing something different. What would you have to say to them about what it’s like or why you would encourage them to explore the idea of becoming an entrepreneur?
Amy Porterfield: I would say that I don’t think you’ve ever experienced true freedom in your creativity, in your time, in your effort until you are the one calling the shots. And I also know it’s not for everybody. I have some friends that would hate being an entrepreneur because there’s more uncertainties. It’s a little bit scary at times when you’re just starting out. However, if you have that desire to call the shots and you don’t want to answer to anybody and you want complete freedom with your creativity.
And one more thing, you want to build a lifestyle that you absolutely love. I believe when you do entrepreneurialship right that the sky is the limit. You do get to free that life that you want. It’s funny a lot of the time there’s something is going kind of tough in my business, I’ll complain to my husband, Hobie, and I’ll say “Uh, I’ve got to record one more video and I’m gonna be working till 11:00 o’clock tonight. And he’ll say “You should talk to your boss about that.” And I realized, “Wait a second. I’m creating a silly deadline.” And is like “What am I doing?” And it puts me right back into “I’m calling the shots and I’m not working ‘til 11:00 o’clock tonight.”
So anyway, it really comes back to freedom and creativity and really owning your lifestyle however you want it to be. And I do believe that you are held back in corporate in that sense. So if you have those desires, I really hope that anybody listening is going to at least explore them.
Andrea: Alright, Amy. So if people are wanting to find you, it’s not going to be difficult but where would you like to direct them?
Amy Porterfield: Thanks a lot for asking. I’m at amyporterfield.com, and my podcast is Online Marketing Made Easy.
Andrea: Thank you so much for being here today and thank you for your voice of influence in my own life and my business and the ripple effects that that has in other people not just me but all of your students and the people that they serve as well.
Amy Porterfield: Oh I’m so very happy to be here. I’m so glad we have found each other and we are friends and I hope this little podcast audio makes its way that people I’ve seen away that makes a big impact. So thanks again!
Wes Gay is a writer, entrepreneur, and marketing consultant. He is a StoryBrand Certified Copywriter and Guide, helping businesses clarify their marketing message and strengthen their position in the marketplace. As a regular contributor to Forbes.com, he discovers how millennials change the workplace. He lives with his wife and two young sons in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA.
In this episode we discuss:
Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast. Today, I have Wes Gay on the line. He’s somebody that has actually helped me with my own copy, which means the words that I’m using to try to figure out what it is exactly that I’m trying to say I do. I will talk about that a little bit more later.
Andrea: But Wes, it’s good to have you on the Voice of Influence podcast!
Wes Gay: Thanks, Andrea. I remember, it was five or six months ago when you and I first met and worked together. You already had the ideas for this podcast so it’s been really fun to watch and the last couple of months as it’s grown and you’ve got such great traction and had such great feedback. So I’m really excited for you. I’m glad to be on today.
Andrea: Well, thank you, and I appreciate your voice of influence for me. I always really appreciate that. That’s one of the things that I love about starting the podcast. I don’t know how long this will go. But so far, I’ve pretty much interviewed people that really have had an impact on me. So I’m just really glad that we could connect today. So Wes, why don’t you tell the listeners what exactly you’re up to? What are the different facets of your job, your career right now?
Wes Gay: Sure. So it really breaks down into three lanes, is the best way I can think to describe it. The first one is, and this is actually how Andrea and I met, through an organization called StoryBrand. I’m one of their certified copywriters as well as one of the certified guides. That means I help business owners and leaders and influential folks like Andrea use seven basic principles of storytelling to create a clear message so that they can resonate better with their customers and ultimately grow their business.
I’ve done it with both profit organizations in the billion-dollar range even down to, all the way, including different nonprofits, established ones and ones that have just launched out. So that’s the bulk of what I do, spending a lot of time on the phone or on video calls or helping people work, what exactly is their message? What are they trying to communicate? And how do we do it better so that they can help more people and serve more folks with the good products or services that they offer. So that’s the Lane One.
Lane Two, I am a Forbes.com contributor. I’m one of the paid writers for the Under 30 section, which means I specifically cover millennials. Typically, when I say the word millennials, I can just feel everybody’s eyes rolling. They’re like, “Oh gosh, we’re talking about millennials again.” I just sense it.
But what I specifically talk about is millennials in the workplace, how it’s kind of shifted the nature of workplace culture and benefits. I’ve talked to a lot of really interesting millennials who are leading some really interesting companies and doing great work. So that’s Lane Two.
Lane Three then is speaking. And the reason I separate Lane Three is because sometimes I speak on the marketing and the messaging side. Sometimes I speak on the millennials side. It just depends on who the audience is and what’s they’re asking for. But those are the three lanes or the three primary things that I do really every day.
Andrea: So do you see a connection or what is the connection for you between StoryBrand and the millennial message? Do you have a connection there in your mind?
Wes Gay: Yeah, it is. Rarely do those two lanes overlap. Nobody is really calling me to do StoryBrand for millennials, which is fine because it’s such a hard thing to do, because millennials are the largest generation in history. They’re the most diverse generation in history. So to try to pinpoint them down to any one overarching stereotype is impossible.
Andrea: Nobody wants to be thrown into a box like that.
Wes Gay: No, nobody does.
Andrea: Especially millennials.
Wes Gay: Oh gosh, you’re not kidding. I’m right in the middle of them so I get it. To me, the way it overlaps is StoryBrand is very consumer-focused. So what I’m trying to do is help people use a framework to create a clear message to communicate to their consumers, because that’s how they grow their company. Now, in the Forbes side, what I’m discovering is that companies needed to do a better job, and they’re doing a better job of communicating their story to their employees.
So at the end of the day, it’s two different side of storytelling. It’s an external story. What are we telling the people who we want to buy our product or services? And then it’s also an internal story. What do we want the story of our company to be so that we can engage, specifically millennials, because that’s what I talk about, but it’s also because this is the largest generation in history. It already represents a third of the American workforce. It will represent half of the American workforce in just a few years.
One of the individuals I’ve gone and talked to is the Chief Human Resources officer at Hilton. They have 350,000 employees worldwide. And Hilton projects within the next three years that 75% of the entire workforce will be millennial. That’s unheard of to have that many people… I mean, I’m from public school so I’m a little slow in doing that kind of math. I have to use my calculator.
That’s over 260,000 people who are going to be within a 20-years span and age. So how does Hilton communicate who they are and tell their stories and company in a way that engages and really recruits and retains the top talent so that they can continue to grow their company? So it’s two different sides of the story, one is internal and one is external.
Andrea: Thank you for tying all that altogether.
Wes Gay: You’re welcome.
Andrea: Okay. So I do want to come back to StoryBrand because that’s how I got connected with you in the first place, and I’m definitely a fan. But also part of this podcast, the reason why we’re doing it is because I want people to know that people that are in the space of “I’m doing what I feel called to do based on my gifting,” which is where you’re at right now. How did you get to that point?
Because so many of us grew up thinking that we needed to go to college and then we needed to go get a job. And then we kind of get stuck in this rut of being in maybe a job that doesn’t fit, or that sort of thing. Or maybe we feel a different kind of calling in our lives. So I’m really curious, Wes, what was the switch for you? When did you start moving in this direction?
Wes Gay: The general answer is by accident. I’m not one of these guys who’s like, “Hey, you can take my course to follow me to your dream career path.” I have no any idea what that is. So my journey is pretty simple. My dad has been a worship pastor in Southern Baptist Churches for about 35 years, and he’s still doing it. He’s probably going to step into eternity as soon as the choir special is done one Sunday. That’s probably how he’s going to go. My mom said on Easter Sunday, he looked at his Apple watch after the choir sang and his heart was like 108 or something crazy, because he just gets so excited about that.
So I grew up in that world. I grew up in church. I went to a Christian college. I started working in churches while in college and then after that I spent about 10 or 11 years working in churches and nonprofits in all kinds of roles. But they typically wound up in marketing and communications even though I have a music undergrad degree, which is totally pointless. I’m never going to get paid to do music ever again, but I’m one of those people who has a degree.
So I started, I thought, “Well, this is where I feel I’m good at.” I’ve always known the church world and I’ve always lived in that space. Then when I was in college, I was in a couple of music groups, scholarship groups that performed in churches all over the southeast, really. So we were in some of the biggest churches every weekend.
So that’s the world I was very familiar with and I thought, “Well, I need to go serve the local church.” So I left college, started working for a nonprofit about a year then went and served. Got involved with the local church doing marketing and communications, because that’s just where my mind went and that’s just was my natural bend.
Andrea: How did you know that? How did you know that your mind just went there?
Wes Gay: I just did. Like for me, it was a bit intuitive. And you talk about millennials getting pigeonholed. I got pigeonholed a lot because my dad… we grew up in a small churches, so when I was in like eighth grade, as I say I was voluntold into media ministry because my dad was over that. He’s the music guy. So I started doing the media production stuff in like eighth grade.
And I’ve always been interested. I’m a tech guy. I love gizmos and gadgets and all that stuff. So I always just had a natural bend for it. So what wound up happening a lot is, early on, I got stuck in this media role of production. So like how do you plan a service? How do you make sure the lights are working? Get the sound right, and all this really highly technical stuff that I knew how to do.
But for me it was one of those things that I could do it but I would be exhausted and just completely wiped out when I got done. And it wasn’t interesting day to day. I just dreaded when I had to go do it. I could do it, and I do pretty good at it, I just hated it. So I got pigeonholed in that space and tried to get out.
So one of the ways, I ended up going to another church, eventually, and doing a similar thing – media. Then I kind of took over communications. Because, again, just for whatever reason, my natural kind of bent is towards how do you communicate things. How do you make things clear? I’m not really a fluff guy so when you talk about in the space of copywriting, I’m way more in the direct response space. I’m just not with the fluff. And so we just drive right at it.
So I would notice anytime I would preach or anytime I would lead a marketing meeting or communications meeting, people would always affirm me. But when I would do production, when I would run a video shoot, when I would plan a Sunday service, when I would get graphics done, ,all that kind of stuff, they would always compliment the product.
Andrea: Oh, I like that. It’s a really interesting observation.
Wes Gay: So I realized, like the last church I was at, I was the media guy but we went over a year without a senior pastor. We run about 1500 on Sundays. So like in most the churches, the Sunday after Thanksgiving when nobody is there anyway. So I’m like, “Well, somebody’s gotta preach because we still have to have church. Hey, Wes, you’re here why don’t…” They go “Wes that was a great video,” or, “That looks great,” or, “That XYZ was great. I really appreciate that.”
I started to realize that dichotomy of, okay, the things that people are personally affirming me on or the things that actually energize me, I can do them all day long. Yeah, I’m tired but I’m not drained, and those are two are different things. So once I started to realize that more and more, I thought, well, this is actually what I’m pretty good at. I began to get really comfortable with it and say, you know what? Because I’m good at this, I also am not good at these things, and started to delineate where I’m good and where I’m not.
Andrea: Okay, you were pigeonholed into doing media and what not. Did you ever feel guilt over the fact that you didn’t want to do that? Because I think some people do. I think some people are like, “Oh I’m in this thing. I’m doing this way. I’m doing the right thing. I’m supposed to be here, but I really don’t want to be here, but I should be here because…” And they kind of end up with really a martyr kind of complex, “I shouldn’t enjoy what I’m doing.”
Wes Gay: I never felt that way. I always felt frustrated because, again, I thought I’m doing the things I feel like I’m supposed to be doing, or I feel like I’m taking the steps I’m supposed to take. I’m just making the progress I think I should make. So like in the middle of all that, in January of 2014, I started doing Seminary Online, thinking what if I get a masters degree? That will help me break out of this rut of the media guy and tech boy who everybody thinks all I can contribute is changing batteries on a microphone, or I’m the guy that gets yelled at on Sunday, or beat up Monday morning because the guitar was too loud or whatever.
So I thought, that’s not me at all. I don’t enjoy that. And my personality is not bent to really thrive in that environment. I went to seminary distance degree for two years, and really flew through it. I thought, well, this is the next step. But I just kept getting frustrated. And I would be told by different leadership, “Hey, if you do these things then you can move in the roles that are better fit for you.”
Again, in the comparison trap of 2017 and before with social media, I’d see all these friends of mine, they were doing what they wanted to do. This is exactly what they say it in college that they were going to go do now they’re doing it. So for me, it was more like frustration and annoyance in like, “Why not me?” I didn’t really ever feel guilty about it. I just got annoyed with it.
Which ultimately led to, we had a really… unfortunately, for your listeners who don’t know this, there’s a lot of bad experiences that can happen in churches, and we had a really bad one in the church staff, which put me on an opportunity to take a different path, and say, “Okay, God, where are we going next? What is our next step? Where do we need to go?” That eventually led us to StoryBrand.
I’ve been reading down on Miller’s books for 15 years, or whenever Blue Like Jazz first came out. In fact, when clients do a video call with me now, I’ve actually got two of his books on the shelf behind me. It was pure accident, but I realized that one day when I was on a client call.
But I’ve always been a fan of his work, always been a fan of his writing. I was a big fan of the StoryBrand process when I started hearing about it even when I was on the church staff. Then I went and I thought, you know what? I think this is the next step.
So I took the plunge, made the investment in a copywriter certification and that’s opened up doors I would never even imagine. I mean, sometimes I sit back and go, “This is a little ridiculous because I’m a guy with a church background from the seminary and I got, literally, one of my clients is like $1.4 billion-a-year company, and they’re asking me all kinds of marketing questions. And they’ve got people who have been at some of the top brands on the planet on their marketing team. They’re looking at me like I’m the expert. So I now have to be the expert.
So it’s crazy how it’s… and again, I’m not going to run Facebook ads and say, “Here are seven steps to find your true path for life,” because I don’t know. I’m still kind of in the middle of that myself. But to see how it’s pivoted and even my church experience is a huge asset to me now in the space I’m in. And you know, as you were growing up, when you’re in that space, you’re very much on the frontline, so to speak.
You’re constantly dealing with people, but you’re also serving people and helping people and that’s kind of your bend. So it’s that mindset and mentality that’s so natural for me, because that’s the world I came out of, it’s been a huge asset for me in the marketing space. Whether and regardless of faith background, it’s just the mentality of how you approach and serve.
So one thing I would tell your audience is, if you’re frustrated in where you are now because you don’t really feel like that’s where you’re supposed to be, at least figure out what can you take away from where you are now and what are you learning that can help you in the future. For me, it was how do I interact with and approach and deal and serve my clients? That’s a lot of my perspective on that comes from by background in the church.
Now, could I go back to that one day? Not production, heaven help me. Nobody wants to pay me money to do that anymore. But it’s that mentality and kind of those things that I learned, and all that process that I think really has helped me get to where I am on the journey today.
Andrea: You know, I see a thread and I had a theory before I started this podcast, but I definitely see the thread that people are often drawn to and are able to move down a path toward perhaps their calling after something really difficult happens. A lot of times, it’s that pain point that really moves them and gives them that permission or sets them on that path where they’re like, “No. No. Now, I need to really figure this out.” It sounds like it happened to you too.
Wes Gay: It did. And where I’m at now, I’m only 30, I turned 30 a few months ago, and I said for years, even right out of college, I was serving in a nonprofit that worked with a lot of churches all over the country. And even at 22/23 I thought, you know what? One day, I wanna be able to serve a lot of churches, because I grew up in it. I’ve seen the good, bad, and the ugly. I mean, I know all sides of it and I thought, I wanna be in a place… But like most people, I thought, well, I’m not old enough yet. Like the people who are doing that are in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. I’m 22/23.
So now, I have the opportunity to be of a voice of influence to people who are older than me. But because of my experience already and the things I’ve gone through and the things I’ve kind of watched and observations and some opportunities I’ve been able to have so, already, I’m now able to do that much sooner than I ever thought I would.
So for those of your audience who’s younger, I would say two things. One, don’t discredit where you’re at in your own journey because you can be more influential than you realize. And two, and I was going to say this earlier, everybody gets frustrated in your 20’s. So it’s not a uniquely millennial problem. Everybody who’s ever been in their 20’s have been frustrated about their life and career at some point.
But what I finally realized one day is that, I was about like 25/26. Lord willing, with good health, I’ve probably got 40, 45, or more years of fulltime work in me easy, maybe longer because I don’t know that I could really be fully retired. That sounds miserable and boring to me. So I thought at that point, I have almost double of what I’ve lived so far left in potential working years. So if I don’t hit that job in a year or so that I really want, I’m okay. Like I’ve got 40 or 50 more years to figure this out, so I just need to calm down and just keep pushing forward and then keep taking opportunities where they come.
Andrea: Sounds good advice for yourself.
Wes Gay: Yeah.
Andrea: So Wes, how long ago was it that you went to the StoryBrand workshop? Because I think now we should probably give some context for that and explain even what StoryBrand is.
Wes Gay: Yeah. I went to StoryBrand with what they call the copywriter certification in late October 2016. I didn’t realize that I actually had been a copywriter. I just didn’t realize that’s what I did. The easiest way to define a copywriter was the definition for over a little hundred years ago which says, “You’re a salesman in print.” What that means is you’re trying to write words, write phrases and create a message that will sell somebody on something.
So like in the churches, I was trying to sell people on the ideas that we were talking about, whether in sermons, or I was trying to sell people the idea of coming to our events, or getting involved in our small groups, or whatever it was. I was trying to convince them of something by what I was writing. So I already had that skill set. I just didn’t realize, I didn’t have a way to define it.
So I went to the copywriter workshop because people were going to StoryBrand and saying, “Hey, I now know what my company’s message is. I know how to talk to my customers. I’m just not a good writer. And when I write it, it sounds terrible, so can you help me?” So they created a certification.
StoryBrand, I guess like you said to give a context to that is a workshop created by a guy named Donald Miller. He’s got six or seven, I should know the number. It’s six or seven New York Times Bestselling Books under his belt. He’s been a writer for 15 or 20 years. His stuff is great. In fact, one of my favorite books of all time, and he doesn’t pay me to say this, but one of my favorite books of all time is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Have you read that one?
Andrea: I haven’t read that one.
Wes Gay: It actually points to the origins of StoryBrand if you read it. It’s fascinating and such a well-written book. It will really change your perspective on a lot of life. I read it seven or eight years ago. But anyway, StoryBrand takes the seven basic principles of storytelling and walks businesses and leaders through it to create a clear message where your customer is the focus of your marketing so that you can tell them that you can communicate how you solve the problems that they face.
So an easy example is think of all these dumb infomercials that are on TV. When they talk about the features and benefits, it’s always about, “Are you frustrated by X? Are you tired of shedding tears when you chop an onion?” Well, yeah I am, actually. “Well, we have the No-Tears Onion Chopper Matic 3000,” and you’re like, “I need the No-Tears Onion Chopper Matic 3000 now because I don’t wanna shed tears when I cut onions, because I shouldn’t have to.” Because they’re now marketing in a way that it says, “This is a problem I have. They understand my problem and they can fix my problem.” That’s when customers engage.
I help companies take their message and turn it into websites and email copy and other marketing collateral they need. Then fast forward to April 2017, I became one of the first StoryBrand certified guides. So I’m one of about 35 folks that StoryBrand has spent about five days in Nashville, Tennessee. StoryBrand has certified us to be able to work as coaches and consultants with people who have either gone through StoryBrand or just familiar with it.
So I’ve got one lady, for example, who’s doing weight loss coaching for busy career women. I’ve got one client that does high-end security camera installs in the southeast. I’ve got clients covering all the spectrum, but what I do is I literally just walk them through these basic principles and we just keep talking about it and try to find and dig into as much as clarity as we can to help them find the message that’s going to resonate best with their audience. Because what I want to do deep down is I want to help good people tell better stories so that they can grow their business and be more generous with the ones around them.
I don’t want to help jerks. I almost helped a jerk a few months ago and didn’t realize it, until about a week ago. I found out the guy he actually hired told me that the guy I thought I was going to work with turned out to be a jerk. I was like, “Well, I’m glad I didn’t work with him because then I’d wasted my time and that wouldn’t have really fulfilled my purpose. I wanna help good people tell better stories so they can grow their business and be more generous with the ones around them.”
Andrea: That’s good. I like your…what do you call that? For me, I would call that a core message, but I mean…
Wes Gay: Yeah. Simon Sinek calls it your ‘why’ or your purpose or your vision, and that’s not something I started with. I think sometimes, we get in this mood of, “If I’m gonna do something, I’ve got to define my purpose from Day 1.” I didn’t. And finally, it was like six, seven months in, I thought, I don’t know that I’ve ever done this. So I sat down one day and started thinking about why do I like doing this so much. Not like the actual work itself but deeper than that. What is it I’m most excited about when I do this every day? And that’s what I came up with.
Andrea: Yeah, I like that a lot. So how does that phrase or that sentence help you? What does it do for you in the way that you approach your business and life?
Wes Gay: So in my business, I want to work with good people. I feel like I’m pretty good at sensing who’s somebody I really want to spend time talking to, because in my work, I spend a lot of time talking to my clients. So I want to have somebody who’s really good at what they do and they’re great people, like they’re somebody I’d want to have lunch with or somebody I’d want to hang out with for a little bit. The old Road Trip Test. Do you want to take a 4 or more hour road trip with them?
And then how do I help them tell a better story. They’ve got a good product, they’ve got a good service, they’ve got a good message, they’ve got a good opportunity but they just need a little help getting across the line. They have it in them, I just need to help them get to where they want to go. When you do that well then you’re able to grow your business, and I tell people all the time, like this is going to sound so basic, boring, whatever. Sometimes people think it sounds bad. But some people think when I say this, they think it’s not good. And really what my job is is to help people make money, period.
And I tell people that sometimes and they’re taken aback, especially people with faith backgrounds. Like it’s not a bad thing to make money, it’s what you do with it is what matters. What I want to do is help people make more money so they can be more generous with those around them, whether it’s generous to their employees, whether it’s generous with their family, generous with their friends, generous with charitable organizations that’s what it is, because that’s what I want in my own life. I want to be able to give more and help those around me more than I could in the past. So if I can grow my business by telling about our story then I can be more generous with those in my life.
Andrea: Yeah, it’s like there’s an immediate goal, which is making more money, but it has a greater purpose in order to be able to be more generous.
Wes Gay: Yeah. And money is not a bad thing. Money just gives you opportunities, opportunities to do good stuff or opportunities to do bad stuff. Money is amoral. It’s just what you do with it is what makes it good or bad.
Andrea: Why do people come to you to work with you about this? I mean, are most of the people that you work with, are they people that have already gone through the StoryBrand program? Now, that you’re a certified guide, you can just teach them the process as well?
Wes Gay: Yeah, so people who I typically work with are somewhat… maybe they’ve gone through the StoryBrand workshop or they’re somewhat familiar with it. So for example, Donald Miller in the StoryBrand process is really well known in the Dave Ramsey circles with the EntreLeadership and all that.
So I work with a few people who are familiar with the StoryBrand but haven’t gone through it. So I kind of walk them through it. I don’t actually teach them the seven principles but I’ll help them create the message they need by just asking them a ton of questions. I mean, I spent two hours on a video call last week with a lawyer in Texas talking about his practice. And I don’t know… all my understanding of the legal industry is when I used to watch Law and Order marathons, so it’s not accurate at all.
But I had to dive into his business, his customers, people he serves, how he grows his business, what his message is, what’s resonates, all the stuff. So now I’m going to create some messaging for him that would then turn into a website. Just about everybody I work with has either gone through StoryBrand or is familiar with it in some way. I’ve decided, and I’ve gotten really comfortable with saying, you know what? I’m just not going to work with people who aren’t familiar with it, because I have to explain to them the value of it.
Andrea: Right, you don’t want to sell it.
Wes Gay: I don’t. And the beauty of it is the StoryBrand has done so much marketing with their podcast and some of the other things, a lot of the kinds of people I want to work with are already familiar with it.
Like Donald Miller talked about StoryBrand in an event in May with a 100,000 people simulcast worldwide. There’s plenty of people in that space who are going to come and need somebody. If they talk to me, that’s probably the kind of person I want to work with because they’re going to be a good person. They’re not going to be like trying to sell… I don’t know. I’m trying to think of something that’s not good. They’re not trying to sell more drugs or not trying to sell you, traffic more guns across the border. Like they’re doing good work and they’ve got good solutions that people need that can help their lives and I can help them do that.
Andrea: That’s exactly the reason why I came to you because I took the StoryBrand course about two years ago now. My husband and I went down to Nashville and we went through the whole thing. At that time, I really was totally and clear about what my message even was. I think that was something that I didn’t realize that I needed to clarify before coming to the process, before coming to the framework. I didn’t even know exactly what my calling was or what I was trying to accomplish. So for the next year and a half…well, I actually used the StoryBrand framework to help me write my book. That was helpful.
Wes Gay: Yeah. Great book, by the way. I read on a plane to LA earlier this year, and that was great.
Andrea: Thank you so much! It really means a lot to me that you took the time to do that. I don’t know why, but I still feel surprised when people say that they’ve read it. Isn’t that funny?
Wes Gay: You should because it’s really good.
Andrea: Thank you. I think it was better because I had gone through this process, because I had an idea of the StoryBrand elements. So I think that that really made a difference. But then it really became a question for me what is it exactly that I’m trying to accomplish here? What is my “why”? What is my core message? And what am I really trying to help people do, and all that sort of thing?
So that’s when I came to you. I had an idea of something. We kind of worked it through. Then I thought we had something and then you came back to me a couple of weeks later and said, “I read your book. I think you need to change things a little bit and focus more on this writing thing.” I was like, oh man, I really appreciated that feedback and just the process and working with you. So thank you for that.
Wes Gay: You’re welcome.
Andrea: So how did you get involved in Forbes? How did you get to the point where you’re actually writing for them?
Wes Gay: So I first heard from Forbes a little over a year ago. I got an email from one of their editors at the Under 30 section and they had just launched the Under 30 section to focus on millennials six months before. So I had written a few pieces for a blog site that’s somewhat popular. The young lady who runs it is pretty influential in the millennial conversation nationally.
So I’d written a few things there. They had seen my work and said, “Hey, would you write a guest post?” And I thought, well, that is the easiest yes of all time. So I did and then I wrote another one, and then it opened to more conversations about being one of their contributors because they were trying to build that section up and were looking for contributors.
So I think I brought a little bit different perspective. I’m not the typical voice in the millennial conversation. Most people who are millennials like me will say, “You know, millennials is the greatest generation ever and old people are dumb and just get out of the way because you messed everything up and we’re just going to fix it all.” Just like “I’m a millennial. Hear me roar,” kind of thing which is complete and utter nonsense.
And then you have the other end of the spectrum who tends to be the older crowd who says, “Well, you bunch of kids just sit down. You’re terrible. You just clean, you just wipe, you just polish your participation trophies and sit down.”
Well, that’s not really true either. We fall more in the middle and so I tend to be a bit of a contrarian voice to a lot of the nonsense that’s out there. I know some of your listeners who are business leaders and business owners and managers and all that. You’ve probably read millions, seemingly, articles about millennials and most of them are just fluff.
Andrea: And what is fluff about them?
Wes Gay: It’s bad data. That’s the biggest one. Everybody has got a study they can cite, but most of the studies, when you actually read them, are incomplete or inaccurate. I read one a few months ago in a really reputable business site. The headline said, “Millennials would delete the phone app instead of SnapChat.” And I thought, well, that’s not true. Let me read it.
So I read the article and the actual data said like a third of millennials 18-24, so college students, use SnapChat more than their phone app. So if they had to delete one or the other, they would delete SnapChat. I thought well, that is completely and utterly misleading. And any leader who just sees that headline thinks they need to go all-in on the SnapChat strategy, for example, to reach millennials when they’re just talking about college students. They’re not talking about those of us who have kids and who’ve had to test drive a minivan.
You know, 50 million millennials in this country are between 27 and 37, so everything that comes with that stage of life going into your 30’s is who the millennials really are, more so than anything else now. And so a lot of it is people I know. It’s just basically is that they’re to get clicks, they’re trying to drive traffic, they’re trying to be the next big thing to something to go viral, and a lot of it is not just true.
When I talk to leaders in companies, what’s said online is not what they believe. It’s also not what they see in their own companies. These are not like Mom & Pop shops of eight people. These are companies of 10, 20, 50, 100, 400,000 people who are telling me this. So when it comes to generational issues, a lot of it is overplayed, a lot of it is nonsense. What we’ve done is we’ve confused what I call these principles of humanities, like everybody struggles with entitlement.
If you go back to the gospels in the Bible, in what had James and John asked Jesus in the last days of His life, “Hey, Jesus, which one of us gets to sit at your right hand?” If that doesn’t reek of entitlement, I don’t what does. A participation trophy for Little League is not entitlement. So that’s part of the problem. I think for too long we’ve had the wrong conversation and nobody is changing the conversation yet, but it’s starting to shift.
I think what we’re seeing in the millennial conversation is people are getting more clear on what they’re actually talking about. They’re realizing a lot of it is nonsense and a lot of it is just really, really unhelpful. I think data is great because a lot of the stuff I write is driven on data, but it’s good data from valid sources. It’s not like Jimmy Dandy’s Jerky Shop saying, “52% of millennials prefer beef jerky.” Well, yeah, he’s trying to sell beef jerky, so of course he’s going to say that.
Some of the most reputable organizations in the world are saying, “Hey, we’ve surveyed tens of thousands of people, here’s the data we’ve come back with.” Okay, that makes sense. So again, I feel like I’m going back to high school, just check your sources. That’s the biggest thing _____ when reading about millennials.
Andrea: Right. That’s really interesting. I think that there are a number of people listening, so the Influencer that’s listening right now is probably somebody who wants to dig into a conversation and wants to see a conversation shift, like you’re talking about wanting to see this millennial conversation shift. How do you see your voice contributing to the shift of that and what kind of advice would you have for other people that are wanting to shift conversations?
Wes Gay: Yeah, I can only speak from my perspective. So my perspective is not that of a millennial living in… and I live in Atlanta, Georgia. So I’m not living in midtown Atlanta in a loft taking Uber everywhere and not owning a car. I live in the suburbs. We have a fenced-in yard. We have a dog. We have two kids. We drive SUVs. So I can only speak from my perspective, So because of where I sit, and I understand it’s an incomplete view, but I also understand in my specific instance, I can speak from where I sit because it is a rapidly expanding perspective for my generation.
So I can start talking about these things and point out things and people go, “Oh, yeah, you’re right.” There is a big difference between older and younger millennials, for example. A lot of older millennials now are parents, so we are different. Half of our phones have apps that are like kids’ books and drawing games and racing games and farm animal games and all that as opposed to the latest social media network that’s out.
So what I’ve done is I have decided, okay, this is where I sit. This is what I see is based on where I live every single day. So because I understand I have that lens, I just start talking to through that lens. What happens is, inevitably, you’re going to attract people who already feel what you’re saying. They just don’t have the way necessarily to say it. You’re giving them the language from your voice, you’re literally putting words in their mouth to help them understand what they’re seeing and the frustrations they have.
I do this thing every now and then on Facebook where I’ll have a statement that says, “Younger millennial” and then some goofy thing that somebody in their early 20’s says. And I’ll say “Older millennial” this is what somebody in their 30’s would say. For example, a younger millennials says, “I have 10 pairs of fake glasses because it helps me with my Instagram image.” An older millennial says, “Hey, did you know Costco now has their own brand of contacts?” Which is what I said about three months ago when I “discovered” Costco had their own brand of contacts, I was really excited how cheap they were.
So I’ve gotten countless messages from people, which started as a joke. I did it almost every week. Where people are engaging with that and they’re resonating with it because it’s helping them process and understand things from their own perspective in a way that they didn’t know how to say it. So I would say, if you’re trying to shift the conversation, I would love to say, first, make sure that conversation is shifting. I have verified my perspective with other people that I respect who are also in this space who say, “Yeah, I do see these trends happening.”
Then also Facebook is the best way on the planet to test those ideas. You don’t have to go on to blog. You don’t have to on to a bunch of content. Start putting some things on your Facebook posts a couple of times a week to kind of share your perspective as you’re trying to shift the conversation and see what conversation happens around your voice and around your perspective and then go from there.
If people are resonating with it, if people are engaging with it, if people are saying, “Yeah, you know, you’re right.” If you’re getting direct messages, private messages that say, “You know what, I really appreciate you saying that because that’s exactly what I felt. I thought I was the only one who felt that way, or I didn’t necessarily know how to say it.” So that’s where I would start. Just start giving little drops of your opinion or your perspective on Facebook and then see how it resonates with people and the more it resonates then see how you can expand that conversation, whether through a blog or a YouTube channel or whatever it is.
Andrea: That’s great advice, because I can definitely attest to the fact that I also, that’s exactly how I got started in, truly, Facebook. It was the exactly same thing. I was like, well, I’m just going to start throwing out some ideas on Facebook and just see how this lands. And start actually putting my voice out there in a way. Even though it was just an experiment, it still was really hard for me. And I don’t know that it is for everybody, but for me it was a little intimidating, because if I put my voice out there, what are people going to think, and that sort of thing. But the more that I had people messaging me and saying things like, “Oh my goodness, I’ve never been able to say it like that but that’s exactly what I was thinking.”
Wes Gay: Yeah, because if you are an Influencer, you’re helping people live better, do better, be better, whatever it is. How are you trying to help them by the problem you solve for yourself or the problems that you can’t solve based on your skills and experience?
Facebook is great way because it’s a community of people that you should know, unless you’ve added friends you don’t know. But it’s people who are going to probably support you. You’re not going to get bombarded with a ton of trolls. And it’s people who are going to be honest and say, “Yeah, that makes total sense,” or “I get it.” The best part is it’s free. You can do it anywhere.
I mean, Facebook is a great testing ground to make sure that your perspective and how… like if you what to shift the conversation, to make sure that that is a conversation that is indeed shifting and you’re going to be one of the ones leading that direction.
Andrea: I like that a lot. Okay, so one last question about the millennial thing. I’ve heard about this generation crossover…
Wes Gay: I’ve heard people call them “cuspers”. My favorite one is people who say like me, born in the ‘80s, we call ourselves Generation Oregon Trail, because we played the game as kids. But I’ve read all that kind of stuff. What it really boils down to is we have played up the generational distinctions a little too much. Again, it goes back to there are certain things that everybody wants because they’re human, but the difference with millennials that nobody has really quantified well is how technology has changed everything, and how the sheer size of the generation has changed everything.
For example, Generation X, there’s like 60 to 65 million people in that generation so the generation out from millennials. Depending who you read, there’s anywhere between 85 and 92 million millennials in the U.S. So literally, you’re talking anywhere from 20 to 32 million people difference between back-to-back generations. All of those people hit the workforce about the same time as with the millennials. So you have these massive waves so problems get magnified, right?
So if you have a light rain in your house, you don’t have any idea you have a roof leak. But when you have a massive thunderstorm, you know really fast when you have a leak. So millennials hit the workplace, it’s more like a thunderstorm because there’s so many at one time. So that’s the numbers game. And then technology has changed everything too. I mean, we know the digital world has changed our lives but what we forget is that we grow up in a middle school, high school, and college with the device that came out 10 years ago called the iPhone and where we said, “Hey, you can tell the world everything that’s going on in your life. Do Facebook and Twitter. They’re still brand new. Nobody will understand it yet. So just live your life.” And we did and we lived out the immaturity of our adolescence before the world. And then it shaped us as a generation in ways that I don’t think anybody has really seen the full impacts yet.
But yeah, I’ve read about generational crossover. Again, I think part of me that’s the cynical side of me says it’s somebody trying to drive clicks and drive traffic. But I do think there’s some validity there because anybody that I’ve talked to who’s over 30 for Forbes, they’ve all been like, “Well, I’m not really sure if I’m a millennial. I just don’t know. I just can’t…” You know, they give me that runaround. Because most of the millennial conversation is about a 23-year-old selling essential oils in a coffee shop, not like 34-year-old marketing director or senior vice president, or whatever.
Andrea: Yeah. It seems like everybody is wanting an answer to why people are the way that they are.
Wes Gay: Good luck!
Andrea: And they’re always looking for something like this generation gap and what not to explain things. Then I think we often then just sort of push away the actual mess of trying to understand the other person. So we just kind of put it in these categories. But if we were to dig down and just ask how are we, like you said, there’s these fundamental things that we want as human beings. And if we can tap into those and speak to those then we’re going to be able to speak to anybody.
Wes Gay: Yeah, if you want to solve the generation problem at your workplace, or with anybody you know that’s of a different generation, spend $10, take them to lunch, and just get to know them. It’s that simple. It really is.
Andrea: Yeah. Oh, that’s good. Well, Wes, thank you so much for taking time to share your story and your expertise with us here today. Where can the Influencers listening find you?
Wes Gay: You can go to my website. It’s wesgay.com. And if they go to wesgay.com/voi, that’s for Voice of Influence, I’ll have some more information about StoryBrand and then also a special offer for your listeners as well to help them clarify the message so that they can increase their influence.
Andrea: That’s awesome! Thank you so much for that. And we can find you on Twitter and Facebook, I know.
Wes Gay: Yeah. You can find me on Twitter, it’s just @wesgay. I’m totally unoriginal. And then I’m on Facebook. I think I’m facebook.com/wesgay. On LinkedIn, I’m Wes Gay. On Instagram, I’m Wes Gay. And I’m not on SnapChat. So there you go.
Andrea: Not on SnapChat. Okay. Perfect.
Wes Gay: I tried it, got tired of it.
Andrea: All right. Well, thank you so much!
Wes Gay: You’re welcome.
Dorie Clark is an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, the New York Times described her as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” A frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, she consults and speaks for clients including Google, Microsoft, and the World Bank. You can download her free Entrepreneurial You self-assessment workbook and learn more at dorieclark.com/entrepreneur.
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Andrea: So I want to tell you something before we really get going here to kind of set you and the listeners up why I was so excited to have you on the Voice of Influence podcast. Toward the beginning of this year, in 2017, I was working and developing my podcast concept and I was really struggling to decide on a title, a focus, an audience, and all of that. So that’s when I stumbled on an article written by Dorie Clark in Forbes, and it really spoke to me. And so that day, the very day that I saw that, I actually went to your website. I dove in. I downloaded your 40-page workbook and then when I got your audio version of Stand Out and then spent the rest of the day walking and listening to that book.
Dorie Clark: Wow!
Andrea: Yeah, I really dove in. But I remember watching the tiles on the floor of the mall while I was walking because it was cold. So I remember looking at these tiles and just thinking to myself “What am I gonna do?” And I’m eating up your content and then all of a sudden, you said something that really resonated with me. You said that I could land two different areas of expertise together to come up with a really good standout kind of concept and that’s when it hit me. And so three months later, I started this Voice of Influence podcast combining my expertise as a vocal coach like an actual singing coach and teacher with this idea of communication and personal branding. So I just thank you very much for your influence on the Voice of Influence podcast itself.
Dorie Clark: That is super meta! I really appreciate you sharing that story. That’s awesome! I love your background too because I often will tell people how important it is to get vocal training and you know, it’s so hard and so frustrating sometimes. We all know how important oral communication is as a means of branding yourself and literally getting your ideas. And there are people who just cannot seem to be able to raise their voice to a sufficient level to even be heard in meetings. It’s like the very minimum that a person needs to have this is just literally to be heard and they have not got the diaphragm, breathing thing down. And they’re like “Well, I can’t just do it?” And I’m like “No, you can and you need to freakin’ do something about it now.”
Andrea: Yes, yes! There’s a great clip from Sister Act II or even Sister Act I, it isn’t like the best movie to talk about. But it was such a great clip and there was this kid who was hardly singing at all and then she kind of helped him find his voice and then all of a sudden he just started bursting out and found it. I think that there is something really unique and interesting about each voice.
And every time I hear somebody in particular singing, let’s say, but also somebody that may have expertise or message and they’re playing it down or they have this inner projection of their voice instead of really projecting their voice, it just kills me. And I’m like “I hear what could be but you’re just not quite there yet.” I think that’s one of the reasons why I resonate so much with you and your work because I think you really are helping people to find that.
Dorie Clark: Well, thank you. I appreciate it. That’s awesome and definitely it sounds like you’re doing that as well.
Andrea: OK, so before we dive into the book and all that other stuff, I would like to ask you about you. Why don’t you tell us and tell the influencer listening what is it that you do and how did you kind of get to where you are right now?
Dorie Clark: Well, to make a somewhat elaborate story short, these days, I mostly write business books and then travel around and speak and consult and coach around them. And so I started my entrepreneurial career doing marketing strategy consulting mostly for companies. But my work has really shifted over throughout the years to working primarily with individual professionals helping them establish their brand as thought leaders in the market place.
And so my newest book, Entrepreneurial You, is in many ways what I view is the culmination of that which is once you have kind of repositioned yourself into where you want to be, once you have established yourself as being an expert in your field, how do you then make money from it? How do you make it sustainable? How do you actually turn it into a real legitimate career? And so that is what I explored in an Entrepreneurial You.
Andrea: Yeah and you’ve written a trilogy of books now about creating, developing, monetizing a personal brand in this expertise. Why don’t you set us up with what those other books are and what they are about?
Dorie Clark: Yeah, definitely! So my first book is called Reinventing You. It’s kind of the first step, because for a lot of people you’re not necessarily in the place that you want to be professionally. You may have a different aspiration whether that is getting yourself promoted to a different level or maybe changed in companies, maybe changed in careers altogether. And you have to work and try to reposition yourself strategically. So Reinventing You is about how to work that process to get where you want to go.
And then the next step of course is once you’re in the vicinity, once you’re kind of in the right place, you need to really get known in your field. You have to figure out how to establish yourself as being one of the very best in your company or in your business. That is what enables you to come in premium pricing. That’s what enables people to seek you out instead of having to constantly be knocking on people’s doors and asking for business literally or metaphorically, and so that’s what I covered in my second book Stand Out. And then as I mentioned Entrepreneurial You is my newest and that is really how to monetize your expertise and create multiple income streams off your business.
Andrea: And when it comes to personal branding, do you also talk about people who are in a company, maybe they already have a job but they still need to have a personal brand?
Dorie Clark: Yeah for sure. I think this is a really important area because it’s oftentimes a neglected one. People sometimes assumed that if they are not themselves entrepreneurs, they don’t have to worry about personal branding because their company brand will just carry them. And they’re maybe true up to a certain point but it’s getting less and less true, number one – because you’re going to be dealing with clients, with even coworkers who are all around the world. They’re not necessarily going to know you just from being around the office with you.
So they will get to know you by reputation before they ever get to know you as an individual. And so getting cognizant of what your reputation is and whether it reflects what you wanted to be as an important step. The other thing of course, the other unfortunate reality is a lot of times, jobs don’t last forever. And so if you’re relying on your company to do all the thinking about your brand and just handle that for you that may turn out to unfortunately be a little bit misguided at a certain point.
Andrea: I feel like having a personal brand and understanding kind of that going to that process really helps people to kind of define who they are and what they want to be about. I mean, it seems to me that it’s about more than other people’s perception is also about what you want to express and what you want like a purpose, your purpose and your direction you want to take in life. I mean, have you found that with the clients that you worked with and the people that have been impacted by your books?
Dorie Clark: Yeah for sure. I mean, you know the background that I come out of actually is not a business background. I was a philosophy major as an undergrad and my graduate work was in theology. So I’m very preoccupied with questions of meaning and how people figure out who they are and who they want to be in the world, so personal brand is really just the business application of that.
Andrea: Yeah I just think it’s really…it definitely helped me because I’m I’ve also always just been consumed with my own why’s and what I’m doing and what direction going to. When I started to dive into of what is my personal brand, I don’t know if there’s something really intentional about that that made it more of a priority and gave me a clear picture and gave me a clear direction I think.
Dorie Clark: Yeah that’s awesome. That’s all it should be.
Andrea: Yeah. OK what drives you now with your business? What’s your why?
Dorie Clark: Ha ha! We’re just cutting right to the big picture here.
Andrea: Sorry. Well, we’re just talking about meaning, right?
Dorie Clark: Yeah, exactly. Let’s bring it, yeah.
Andrea: We dive. We dive in the Voice of Influence podcast. We dive in!
Dorie Clark: Yeah, we do. Awesome! You know the really what is what is exciting for me is the fact that you know, I think we all know people who are, you know, they’re good at what they do, right? They’re talented. They have so many to contribute. They’re smart and yet, they are not necessarily succeeding the way that they should. And I would argue that in a lot of ways the reason that that is the case is that in the modern era, the ways that people make money are actually very different.
They’ve changed substantially over the past two decades and this is this is what I talked about in Entrepreneurial You but there has been a shift from making money from something directly from something to making money because of something. And the clearest example that I can say of that is that I started my career as a journalist and that’s a pretty simple business model, right? You’re a journalist so you write articles and then you get paid for the articles, boom! That’s the business model that anyone can understand.
But nowadays, the tricky part is that there’s hardly any journalists left, you know, 40% of journalist have lost their jobs in the United States over the past 15 years. I mean, it’s just this wholesale decimation and the market constantly has gotten worse and so publications are paying you a little of a wage to write anything. If you were continuing to try to do the same business model like “Oh, I’ll write an article, I’ll get paid for it.” You’d be in a really bad shape because they would say “No, do it for free.” Or “No, do it for $20.” And you can’t make a living that way.
However, if you are a little bit crafty, if you decide to make money because of something rather than from something, you can actually do much better. And so in my case, I actually still spend a substantial amount of my time writing articles, you know, doing literally the same thing that I started my career doing, except now I don’t get paid for them. But instead of that being a tragedy, that’s actually an opportunity because I have found other ways to monetize around them through speaking and consulting and things like that.
And I am now able to make a lot more money than I would have had I nearly been paid a couple of hundred bucks for an article. So it’s just helping people understand that shift which is not necessarily intuitive. But once you are able to crack the code, it opens up a lot of possibilities and enables good people to really get their voice heard effectively.
Andrea: Yeah, I love in a prologue when you talked about your why for the book and you said “You can be talented and well-regarded but unless you’re very deliberate about the choices you make, you may end up earning little for your efforts.” And then you went on to say “Learning to make money from your expertise is just a different skill set.” I think that that what you offer through this book is so much to the person who does have expertise. But yeah, they feel like a fool when it comes to trying to make money with it other than in an entrepreneurial sense.
Dorie Clark: Yes, yes exactly. It’s really an entirely different skill set and I think a lot of people just don’t realize how different it is and then they get upset at themselves for not necessarily being able to crack the code. They don’t realize that it’s not something you necessarily would know intuitively. You have to study it. You have to learn about it and that’s really what I try to do with Entrepreneurial You is to create a kind of roadmap for people to follow to make that process easier.
Andrea: Definitely! You know, I could have started to deep dive into all of this space a few years ago or just like a couple of years ago. And I’ve heard about most of the people that you wrote about in your book and most of the ways of monetizing but it took a lot of effort from you to even come across these people and those ideas. So the fact that you put them all in one spot is incredibly valuable to somebody like me or somebody who’s just starting out, either one whether we’ve been in it for a while or we’re just starting out to be able to see a big picture of the landscape of what we could do.
And I think that that is also, I don’t know, it’s just really valuable I think to the person that’s struggling. OK, so in chapter I, you set up the reader to realize how important it is to have more than one income stream and you likened it to having a diversified portfolio and I love this comparison. So why don’t you just explain to us what is a portfolio career?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. So a portfolio career is really just kind of a way of thinking about making money from doing a variety of different things. So instead of the kind of old school, here’s a job, this is what you do, period, a portfolio career is somebody who has multiple things going on. I mean, in my case, my version of the portfolio career is making money through writing plus doing business school teaching plus consulting plus coaching plus doing online courses, etc, etc.
But even if someone has a fulltime day job, they can still begin to create a portfolio career for themselves. It’s a thing that I would encourage heartily because it provides more security for yourself and it could just be a thing that you do once a week or once a month. You know, it’s taking on if you have some expertise, taking on a coaching client on the side or maybe it starting to investigate something that’s of interest to you whether that’s crafting on Etsy, or you know tinkering around and trying to figure out how to develop an iPhone app. There’s a lot of different ways you can do that but if you start to be able to create multiple income stream for yourself based on your expertise, it just insulates you again to risk a little bit more and it open you up to new opportunities.
Andrea: Do you want to list some of them?
Dorie Clark: Sure! Yeah, yeah absolutely!
Andrea: So what are some of those income streams that you write about in a book?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. So in writing Entrepreneurial You, of course there’s an infinite number of potential income streams that the people could do so. I certainly didn’t cover them all but I wanted to provide a sense for people about possibilities that they could undertake that don’t require a lot of capital especially. You know, these are not possibilities where you need to go get a loan from the bank or you have to put your life savings into it. These are all things that you can start doing, basically today or tomorrow snap your fingers and if you decide that you want to learn about it and approach it earnestly, you can dive in and do it.
So some examples would be; coaching, consulting, or doing public speaking. You could start to organize events, you know, you won’t necessarily say “Oh yeah immediately rent a stadium and do a 5000-person event.” But you know, for instance last year for the first time, I pulled together a 10-person Mastermind event and I did it in the conference room in my building and you know, it was low expenses and very low key but high value for the participants and something that brought me some money as well. So that was a really great example and a really great possibility.
If they’re interested in online thing, they could start creating an online community or they could for instance work to monetize a podcast like this or a blog. So there’s a wide range of options of what might be of interest to people.
Andrea: Yeah. There was one in particular that really caught my attention and I actually wrote in a column, brilliant, because I’ve heard most people but I hadn’t heard about the Mastermind Talks and that was such a compelling story. Would you mind sharing that because I think that sometimes we just need to think outside the box and realize that you just never know it could be possible?
Dorie Clark: Yeah, definitely. This is a pretty clever example of somebody who really took what might seem to be an impossible situation and turned it into something pretty cool. So there’s a guy names Jason Gaignard who lives in Canada. And a few years ago, Tim Ferriss, the well-known author was releasing his book. I think it was the 4-Hour Chef. Anyway, he was looking to get bulk sales for the book so that it could hit the best seller list. And he put out an email that if someone bought 4000 copies of his book that he would do two free speaking engagements for that person. The cost for this is about $80,000 – very, very expensive.
Jason, number one did not have $80,000 and number two, he didn’t have any idea of where he would have Tim Ferriss speak. It’s not like you run a company and is like “Oh yeah, you know, we have a conference next year, you could speak at our conference.” He had no idea but he saw that opportunity and he said “You know what, this is a great opportunity. I don’t even know what I’m gonna do with it but I can do something amazing with it.”
So he said yes to it. He had about two days to get the money. So hustled around to his friends and finally had a wealthy friend that agreed to loan him the money and then he was about trying to figure out what the heck he would do with it. And so he ultimately stumbled on was that he would create a conference which he ultimately called Mastermind Talks and he realized that he couldn’t afford to have lots of speakers. I mean, it practically broken him just to have Tim Ferris, but he realized Tim Ferris is a popular guy. He’s a guy that a lot of people want to hang out with.
And so he thought “Wait a minute, if I have Tim Ferris, I could probably get lots of other people for free just because they want to hang out with Tim Ferris.” And so he essentially used Tim Ferris as bait and he invited all of Tim Ferris’ friends and they’re like “Yeah sure, I’ll come.” He did like a competition. So it wasn’t totally free, there was a chance. There’s a chance, you know, with all these people who were very expensive speakers that if they were voted the number #1 speaker that they would win I think $30,000. But the vast majority of course didn’t go home with that and ended up speaking for free.
But it was a very clever way of solving a difficult problem. You know, you might say “Well, I don’t have any money for speakers; therefore, I can’t possibly have an event. But Jason looked at those constraints and came up with something very different that no one else would have.
Andrea: Hmm and he didn’t just try to pack a stadium with that either.
Dorie Clark: Yeah that’s right. That was the other really interesting. Instead of going for the maximum quantity of people, he decided that he wanted it to have a very intimate event, which is you know frankly a kind of risky move because it’s always a lot easier to get you know, a bunch of people who pay a $100 or $500 or something as compared to people who would put down $300, $4000, or $5000. But he limited the event so that it became very kind of elite and exclusive feeling and he did phone interviews with the people. He said he returned about $40,000 worth of people’s admission fees because after talking to them on the phone, he decided they weren’t a fit. So he just sent it back.
But he limited it up to a 150 people who would attend this conference and tried to create a stellar experience for everyone. And he told me that that his goal with it is that if you really good job the first time and you record it, you get testimonials so that other people can see how great it is, he said at that point, you really never have to market it again because it essentially markets itself. And so he has repeated the event multiple times, I think they’re on maybe the fourth, the fifth year now and he continues to keep it a very small. He’s constantly reinventing it, doing it in a new location every year but he was really able to create a very powerful brand out of this.
Andrea: So what would takeaways be for us when we’re thinking about, you know, we can’t think out of the box. But then we hear story like this “Whew, wait a second, there’s so much opportunities out there. It’s limitless.” What kinds of suggestions do you have for us when we’re thinking and trying to be innovative or thinking outside the box in terms of how to monetize something or how to make money with our expertise then?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. Well, I do some teaching around innovation and one of the common frames that they use in terms of how to teach people to think in an innovative fashion is to reframe “we can’t” to “we can if.” And I think that that’s a really useful framing because it is true. Under the present circumstances and under the present assumptions, it maybe a 100% accurate that you cannot do a certain thing but that just kind of lead to passivity. It’s like “Okay, that’s the reality.”
But the truth is people can change their reality all the time and what’s the more interesting question to ask is “we can if” that means what circumstances would have to be changed in order for this to be possible. And if you can figure out which variables need to be tweaked, some of them may prove to be impossible; others may prove to be far more malleable than you might imagine.
And so in the case of Jason, “Well you know we can’t have a conference because can’t afford speakers.” “Well, okay, we can have topnotch speakers if we can find a way other than money to make it valuable for them to come.” What might be more valuable to them than money? “Oh, they all wanna be BFF’s with Tim Ferris. If we can give them Tim Ferris then maybe that would be worth the $10,000 or, $20,000 or $30,000 that they would normally get to them.”
Andrea: So good! I love that advice and one of the income streams that you talked about is this JV partnerships. I think it’s a really interesting concepts and I know that you talked about your own experience with sharing other people’s products with your audience. I’ve been thinking about people who have a lot of charisma, people who may have a lot of connections, but they’re not necessarily wanting to write a book or share their expertise per se, but yet it seems that they would be able to monetize their connections and their gifts in this way by using that JV partnership concept. So would you mind sharing a little bit more about?
Dorie Clark: Yeah absolutely! So JV of course stands for “joint venture” and it’s basically just a wave that you can earn a certain commission by referring people to a product or service that somebody buys. It’s really kind of a win-win situation because when it’s done right, you are sending people to a person that you like and respect. That you would want to recommend regardless and they are getting a client that they otherwise would not have gotten.
And so as a result, this is especially prominent in digital products because of course there’s no marginal cost increase in selling additional ones. If I have an online course, it’s not like it costs me more effort for having a 101 customers as opposed to a 100, because I’ve already made the digital course. So therefore, you can often have a really generous affiliate commissions, usually anywhere from 30% to 50%. It really is great because it’s a new customer for me. It’s money for you and we’re supporting each other.
So the real trick of course though is making sure that it really is symbiotic that you’re promoting somebody that you do in fact respect. And once you make that introduction to your clients, you know that person will treat them right. That they have high-quality products, that the service experience will be good, and that they’re not going bombard somebody with 110,000 emails a day, etc, etc. There’s a lot of adding that goes into the process but if you’re comfortable with that and you can do that, it really can become positive.
Andrea: Yeah, and I would say it’s a probably a win-win. Really, because it’s a win for the client or customer as well because they were introduced to something that they can really benefit from.
Dorie Clark: Yeah, it’s true. I mean definitely hear it from folks all the time that thanked me for introducing them to some author that they were not familiar with before.
Andrea: Uh-hmm, I can definitely attest to that for sure. OK so Entrepreneurial You is not just a list of ideas, and not just a list of stories that back up those ideas. But you also get really practical and you share things specific things like how much to charge for things. Like ideas about where the market is right now. I was thinking in particular about speaking because I’ve gotten that question before too, like what do I charge or how do I know how much to charge?
And I’ve wondered that at times when I was starting too and so I’ve really appreciate that first of all. I just want people to know that they’re going to get a lot more than just some ideas but some really…you got really practical. But why was that important for you to include? How did you decide that you were not going to share ideas but you’re going to get really specific?
Dorie Clark: Well, you know part the process for me of writing Entrepreneurial You really sprang from conversations that I had in the course of developing an online learning program that I worked on last year called the Recognized Expert course. I have built up this really lovely community about a 150 people at this point who have been through the course. In many ways, it’s kind of a learning lab for me because the things that they want to know, the things that they’re curious about are things that I realized a lot of people are.
And so oftentimes, it’s you know some initial questions that might be basic but are really not basic in the sense that they’re not talked about a lot, like how much do you charge for things. There’s a lot of secrecy. I mean, this is something that I wanted to really breakdown in the course of writing Entrepreneurial You. There’s a lot of secrecy in our culture about money and about you know how do you earn money? And how much do you earn and how much do you ask for something?
And I really came to realize that the more things are not talked about, the more it perpetuates inequality because people just do not have good information. And when they don’t have good information, they don’t know what the market value of something is and they’re not able to ask for what they really deserve. And so I figured, the more we can shine some daylight on it, the better off more people will be.
Andrea: Thank you. I think that’s just really helpful. It’s really helpful for me and it’s helpful for other people that are going to read this and say, “Oh man, finally somebody is just saying what they’re charging or saying what I could do.” And that just empowering for sure because I think we stumble on that concept or the actual naming of a price. And it becomes this block that I don’t even know what I can do and so I don’t even know if I can offer it you know. So that’s great.
Dorie Clark: Yeah, thank you. I’m so glad they resonated.
Andrea: Yeah. I also really appreciated your “try this” section of the book where you really breakdown the concepts into these actionable steps for the reader. So thank you for that as well. And I’m also curious, how much of your writing process was sort of designated to coming with these action steps. Did you do it as you went? I mean, as a fellow author, I’m curious. Did you do it as you went or did you do it when you’re done and how much work was that?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. So creating the “try this” section was certainly an important part of the book for me. It was something that I did while I was writing the chapters and it’s something that I became really aware of with my first book, Reinventing You. When I created the first draft of Reinventing You, I did not have a “try this” section and my editor said to me “Hey, we think you should do this you know with sort of pointers for people.” And I was skeptical I’m like “Oh, I don’t know. Do we really need that? Would anybody really use that?” But you know, it was my first book so I did it because they told me to.
And then like in the years since that book has come out, I heard from so many people that that was the part they liked and appreciated the most was having this kind of “try this” bullet points where it was very specific suggestions about what they could do. That I realized “Oh this is not some afterthought. This is actually one of the most important pieces and I just wasn’t clawed into it.” So I took it really seriously in my next book Stand out and then again with Entrepreneurial You. I decided “OK, if people are really using this, I’m gonna put a lot of effort into trying to make them good and make them useful.”
And in fact, I ended up creating a free giveaway which is this 88-question Entrepreneurial You Self-Assessment, which takes all of the questions or almost all of the questions you know the ones that are at the back of each section and chapter and put it into a PDF document where there’s line and space for people to write things out. So you can really use it like a workbook and a way to take these ideas and questions and apply them to your own life. So if any listeners who are interested in that, they can download it for free at dorieclark.com/entrepreneur
Andrea: Yes, and we’ll definitely include that the show notes because that’s something like I said before that was helpful to me from Stand Out, so yeah. OK, so now I’ve got another question. This isn’t necessarily about Entrepreneurial You; this is going to go back to something that I heard you talked about. I’m not sure where it was that I heard you talked about this. But it really made an impact on me and I think that there are people in the audience who are really message-driven. They might be really talented but they’re not really sure how to choose their topic or how to specialize.
And you talked about one time the difference between, I think it was the difference between being a specialist and being a generalist. Would you explain what the difference is there and I think you said that you’re a generalist, so I would love to hear more about what that looks like for somebody who’s trying to figure this out for themselves?
Dorie Clark: Yeah, definitely. I think there’s a lot of cultural pressure in the business world for people to specialize. That’s a kind of standard advice that you almost always get is “Oh, well you need to take a specialty. You’re not just a marketing consultant, you’re a nonprofit social media marketing consultant,” you know or something like that. On one end, that is not a bad advice because if you are very specialized, it becomes immediately clear who your customers are and by extension where you can go to find them.
It’s a lot easier, you say “Oh I’m trying to do social media for nonprofit as you probably go to this and this nonprofit conference and this social media conference and I’ll be good.”
So it is easier in many ways. But the truth is there are some people, and I count myself among them, that just don’t like to operate that way. You know, maybe it’s making by far for ourselves, I don’t know but I never wanted to artificially choose something and then just specialize in that. And so for that situation what I did instead is I essentially decided “Alright, I’m gonna let the market dictate this.”
I think this is actually a pretty good way of doing it because for anything the market almost always knows better than we do about what would be desirable. And so my version was I essentially created a lot of small bets, a lot of sort of small experiments. In my case, these were blog posts, and I would just write about a variety of different topics and see what seem to resonate with people, what’s getting the most views, what’s getting the most shares, or what’s getting the most engagements.
And it happened that an early post that I wrote for the Harvard Business Review called How To Reinvent Your Personal Brand was one that did seem to get a lot of traction and a lot of engagement and HBR noticed and they asked me to expand it into a magazine article and then eventually that turned into my first book, Reinventing You. But it was not something that I consciously picked in a top down fashion. I never said “Oh I’m gonna write a book about reinvention. That’s my strategy.” It was something that arose organically from being one of dozens of different things that I tried.
Andrea: Yeah. I think that advice was so helpful to me I think in particular. But I think it’s a really important thing for anybody to do when they’re trying to figure out what they’re going to be all about, what their focus is, or at least what their brand is and what they’re showing to the world. Because they’re going to end up still bringing all their other expertise into whatever they end up doing, but yeah, I really appreciated that designation. I felt affinity with you in that and it made me feel less alone and less crazy for not knowing what my specialty was going to be, and not wanting to niche down.
Dorie Clark: That’s awesome!
Andrea: Well, Dorie, I’m so grateful to you for your time here today and for this book and for these trilogy of books that you have offered the world. We’ve already mentioned your website but when does Entrepreneurial You come out? I think by the time I publish this episode, it will be out and so where should people going to find it?
Dorie Clark: Yeah. Thank you so much, Andrea. So the new book is Entrepreneurial You. It is officially released October 3rd. People can grab that on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, you know many different independent bookstores. And if they want to get that Entrepreneurial You Self-Assessment that I mentioned for free, they can get that workbook at dorieclark.com/entrepreneur. So I look forward to having a chance to be in touch with folks.
Andrea: Yeah. I just recommend everybody if you haven’t read the other two books just buy all three at the same time and systematically go through them because that’s an education that’s worth the small price of three books.
Dorie Clark: Excellent point, thank you.
Andrea: Way more than that, yes. Well, thank you so much, Dorie, for your voice of influence on the world and for your time with us today.
Dorie Clark: That’s great! Thanks a lot Andrea!
In this Voice Studio episode, Andrea contrasts the difference between a passionate voice and a reactionary voice. This is an insight very few people understand but that can make a significant difference in the way you communicate.
Are you overwhelmed by the problem of sex trafficking and forced labor in the world? Sometimes it feels like a hopeless reality. What can really be done to make a difference? Well, today I have a leader in the fight against human trafficking and he is on a mission to bring hope to this hopeless situation. Once you hear what he’s done for the fight in the U.S., you’ll see that with people like John at the head of the fight, it just might be possible.
John Cotton Richmond leads the Human Trafficking Institute as it works to combat slavery at its source. Numerous survivors of sex and labor trafficking have found victim-centered advocate in John. He has been named Prosecutor of the Year and expert for the United Nations and every trafficker’s worst nightmare by the head of the FBI’s human trafficking program.
Mentioned in this episode:
Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast. Today, I have with me John Cotton Richmond. I am really, really honored to have him on the show today because he is doing some amazing work, and has done some amazing work in the area of human trafficking and justice in general.
Aaron and I met John a couple of years ago at a workshop. I was immediately struck by, not only his authority and competency in this area but, his ability to communicate it very empathetically and truly care about the person that he’s talking to.
John leads the Human Trafficking Institute as it works to combat slavery at its source. Numerous survivors of sex and labor trafficking have found victim-centered advocate in John. He has been named Prosecutor of the Year and expert for the United Nations and every trafficker’s worst nightmare by the head of the FBI’s human trafficking program.
As you can tell, this is going to be a great interview. So let’s dive in.
Andrea: Well, John, welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast.
John: Thank you so much! It’s great to be with you Andrea.
Andrea: Why don’t you introduce us to this idea of the Human Trafficking Institute, the human trafficking issue and why this all got started for you?
John: I think that it all starts with the realization that there are at least 20 million people in the world today who have the same problem. They don’t get to make the most basic decisions about their lives. Someone else decides when they wake up, where they work, and even who touches their bodies. And I think it’s hard to sort of awaken ourselves to this reality that these people are trapped in modern-day slavery, and they’re trapped by a group of individuals who are traffickers, who are trying to profit by exploiting them.
As I began to be confronted with this over 15 years ago, I was in private law practice. My wife and I decided to move to India to help with International Justice Mission’s slavery work there and I got to direct their office and learned about forced labor in the Indian context and see and meet victims, see and meet traffickers and the law enforcement officers that we’re trying to intervene. And I was overwhelmed by the reality of the problem, by the scope of the problem.
And then I shifted to United States Department of Justice where I was a federal prosecutor for over a decade in a specialized human trafficking prosecution unit, and I started working sex trafficking and forced labor cases across the United States. And again, meeting with survivors every day, hearing their stories,
trying to figure out how do we bring their voice to courts so they can speak truths and let the world know what the traffickers have done to them so that we could stop and restrain them.
By doing that, I got to work with the United Nations on the human trafficking protocol and travel around the world training judges, prosecutors, and police. And through that we just begin to see these really predictable patterns and these proven strategies that can work to stop traffickers. And the Human Trafficking Institute was born out of the desire to help criminal justice systems in the developing world grow in their ability to stop traffickers and bring rescue to the victims.
Andrea: Where are you at with this Human Trafficking Institute at this point?
John: Human Trafficking Institute started just over a year and a half ago. I stepped down from the Department of Justice along with Victor Boutros, who was a federal prosecutor with me there and we’d worked cases, like we even tried a case together and Victor co-wrote The Locus Effect with Gary Haugen from International Justice Mission in which he has a ton of experience. And then we added to our team Dave Rogers who’s the former head of the FBI’s human trafficking unit out of their headquarters office. We worked together for years and we’re all in government and we come together with sort of these years of experience.
And the Human Trafficking Institute is actually going in and doing a few simple things. One is helping government establish specialized units so they can actually have people freed up to work these cases and then take them through an academy where they learn not just some sort of two or three days at a hotel conference room with Power Points but they really learn the way adults learn which is by digging into material over an extended period of time. It takes these specialized units through and advanced to county.
And the third thing is embed the inside of those units. Experienced and experts who have done these cases before who have gone to office with the specialized units and worked day in and day out with them as they work on these cases. And then wrapping around that the Human Trafficking Institute is to provide research, writing, and best practices in trying to move the thought leadership in this space towards recognizing ways that we can specifically stop this problem. We really believe that institutionalized systematic slavery can end because we’ve seen it end where it’s been attacked before and that just give us a lot of hope.
Andrea: So what is your role in the different processes that you’re talking about here?
John: Victor and I together had set out the vision for the institute and the different projects we have. And a lot of my works over the last years have been building relationships with government actors in the different countries as well as in the US on bringing people together to think about how we can identify and then use these proven strategies that actually work.
And then I also lead research efforts in terms of the type of work that we’re putting out on understanding the cases here in the United States where justice is going so that we can use these as examples in the developing world when we work with leaders.
Andrea: And I’ve also seen a number of news articles that the Human Trafficking Institute has shared that indicates that you have been at a United Nations, you’ve been at the White House, you’ve been sharing this thought leadership in these various faces what’s that been like?
John: It’s been so inspiring. There really are people of goodwill who wanted to do this work. And so yes at the United Nations, there’s amazing group of people that have been carefully thinking about this issue for a long time. We were very grateful that the White House wanted to call together leaders and just got a briefing and learn about the issue of trafficking. We were happy to participate in that and just share of what’s happening in the field and what’s actually going on the ground.
We’ve also met with prime ministers, attorneys, and generals from different countries and we just hosted two cabinet level, guests from police here in Washington D.C. One thing, Andrea, that is so important is that all of this is driven by people. There are people in government, in places of influence who have a voice on this issue and there are people who are trapped in slavery whose voice is currently being muted.
And the desire is how do we use the voice that is out there from leaders and from the general public as a springboard to un-mute that, to stop the traffickers from actually harming those victims. It’s been a great honor and privilege to have had a career building the relationships that are allowing us to do that.
Andrea: I want to come back to this idea of un-muting voices a little later, but I want to ask you how did you really get involved with human trafficking in the first place? You went to India 15 years ago, you said, and I’m curious why? What brought you to that point where you were ready to go to India and start learning about this?
John: That’s a great question. My wife and I, we’re processing it at the time with our friends and we really felt compelled to go. It was very simple and clear in so many ways. You know, I’ve been practicing law for about four years. We had worked hard and paid off all our school loans, and so we were to taking a fresh look at where do we want to be and what do we want to do. My wife was actually eight months pregnant when we left the United States to move to India.
Our second child was born in India, and she actually never even been in the country before. She went on faith and she went on a belief and a strong, clear compulsion that we could do something to stop slavery. And what was amazing is we had never met a slave before. We had never been involved in this work. I have been doing commercial litigation and employment law but it really sprung from seeing with real clarity the need that exists and then thinking how do we move to a solution. And we’ve been so up close as I began to travel in India and China and different places that there was such a need. There are people who are suffering because they don’t have food or water or shelter and there’s been a natural disaster and those people need aid and we can help them.
But then there’s this whole other set of people whose main problem isn’t that they don’t have food, shelter, or water, their main problem is that an individual is oppressing them and those people aren’t able to get the development aid that is out there. They’re not able to participate in the food program or this child’s fostership program or to go to the educational institutions that are nonprofits funded. They’re trapped.
And so how do we move in to solving that problem. We really feel like it was quite simple. There were lots of lawyers that wanted to work at my law firm. They were really smart and their resumes would flood in, but there wasn’t a whole lot of lawyers that wanted to go and say “We wanna be a part of changing this system. We wanna be a part of liberating individuals in restraining perpetrators.”
And so we thought “Let’s give that a shot.” And so it went and honestly, we built vision, we built strategy, and we built our understanding of the issue after we started. It all wasn’t clear. It was sort of like you start with a limited amount of information and as you go it becomes more clear.
Andrea: So you had this desire to change the world in a different kind of way. There’s such a tendency for people I think to get comfortable and stay where they’re at and a fear of adventure or moving fast where they are in order to be able to do some things significant. What was it about the two of you, you and your wife that made you willing, desiring to do that?
John: I think it was a couple of things. One was this understanding of the status quo not existing that there’s nothing stays the same. I think our desire to not venture out or the desire to not start something new is because we’re worried that it may not work out or that we may lose the safety security or comfort we’re currently experiencing. And the truth is it may not work out, so the risk is real in launching, in going forward. But the lie is that the status quo is real as well. There’s nothing really stays the same. If I don’t take the risk, I’m not guaranteed to have my current status quo remains. Everything is always changing.
The number one running back in the NFL this year is guaranteed not to be the number one running back in the NFL 10 years from now. Life changes: car accidents happen, unemployment, jobs shift, everything is a risk. And so once you realized that “I can’t really keep the status quo, I can’t, in the sense have an ice cream cone on a hot summer day and just hold it and expect it to stay the same. I can either enjoy the tasty treat or I can end up with a mess all over my hands,” right? The reality that if we’re not moving forward, we’re going to deteriorate. And I think that launching forward to do something really stands from the idea that we’re risking far less than we really think we are.
The other thing that motivated us, honestly was our faith, we were motivated by a really clear vision for what could be and by the sense that if I was stuck in slavery, if someone was trapping me or my family, I would want people to go and stop them. I want people to come for me. I want people to love me in a demonstrated way, not just by wearing the right color ribbon on the appropriate awareness day, but I want someone to make my pain stop. And if that’s true for me, I bet it’s true for those 20 million who are currently trapped. And believing that people have value really is a fundamental philosophical pivot point that allows us to confront evil.
Andrea: So you came back and you started working for the justice department at that point, right?
John: I sure did.
Andrea: And you started working with victims, talking to traffickers; what do you bring to those conversations? What did you get out of these conversations?
John: Oh I got so much. But what I brought honestly was time and availability. I’m going to make myself available and I’m going to spend a lot of time with the victims and hear their stories and allow them to tell their story at their pace. So it’s not rush in “Just give me all the facts.” If you ask someone to open up about some of the most traumatic abuse that they’ve ever experienced, it’s going to require a relationship. It’s going to require time of moving forward slowly to help them feel like they’re in a position where they can tell the truth they don’t want to share initially.
And with traffickers, it’s very much the same. It’s coming in and listening to their stories and hearing where they’re coming from and how they approach their crime, what they thought about and how they profit it. And understanding the crime from their perspective, add so much value as we try to stop others from committing it. But I learned a great deal about evil and trafficking and abuse from all of these conversations and then my job was to try to bring empathy.
Try to understand the situations that we could create for juries who are sitting in judgment in these cases and create empathy within them for what the victims have experienced and help them understand kind of how non-violent coercion works. How manipulation really works, how the traffickers was able to solve quickly sometimes to get the upper hand and control someone when it just doesn’t make sense to the averaged person. And so I think creating empathy for people is a real pathway for truth to be shared.
Andrea: At what point did you start thinking there’s another step beyond this one for me and my work in this particular realm and you have this friend, Victor, at what point did you guys start to dream of this Human Trafficking Institute?
John: It was in the last few years that I was at the Department of Justice. The first seven or so years was me just learning how to be an effective prosecutor and working these cases kind one after the other. In the last half of my time where I began travelling a lot internationally and I saw what we were doing to educate and help empower criminal justice systems around the world. We would go into these two or three days seminars or weeklong seminars and then we come back and work our cases and I saw very little changing. It just didn’t seem to have an impact the way we wanted it to and I worried that there was a lot of busyness but there wasn’t a lot of progress.
So we just begun to think “How could we impact this in a more substantial way?” About that time, we were ruling out a new program at the Department of Justice to improve the federal approach to prosecuting human trafficking cases and they were called the ACTeams. And the director of the Human Trafficking Prosecution unit at DOJ pioneered this and I was lucky enough to work with her. We developed the advanced curriculum and we basically created specialized units of federal agents from the FBI and Homeland Security and federal prosecutor counterpart in the region.
We took those groups to an advanced human trafficking course that I got to produce in developing and delivering. And then I would get on the plane fly to those districts and we would work cases together, either I would be on the ground doing the case with them or just advising and helping shepherd those cases and we saw dramatic results, Andrea. In two years, we had six districts that were selected. There are 94 total prosecutorial districts in the United States, six of them agreed to participate. We took them through this and create specialized unit, have significant academy–like training and then we have people working cases within day in and day out.
And when we did that, we saw a 114% increase in two years in the number of traffickers charge in those six districts. The other districts saw a 12% increase. So they still improved some but the difference between a 12% increase and a 114% is tremendous. And what’s most amazing is that those six districts which represent about 5% of all the districts in America were responsible for over half of all the human trafficking convictions in those two years. 56% of all the human trafficking convictions came from those six districts alone.
And so we were like “Wow, this system really works.” And we realized there is nothing like that in the developing world where right now trafficking is exploding. Traffickers feel absolutely no risk that any law enforcement agency is going to come in and restrain them and stop them from making money by harming others. And so where traffickers seeing no risk where you are actually more likely to get struck by lightning than prosecuted for openly owning a slave, traffickers just operate with impunity. They can do whatever they want. So we thought, “we want to change that calculus. We do not want traffickers operating with impunity. We want them to feel a very real risk to engaging in their crime and we want to do it in a way that honors and values the victims at every stage of the process.”
Andrea: Wow, so at that point you guys started thinking about how do we do this? How do we turn this into a global effort?
Andrea: And how did you choose the model?
John: So we’re not for-profit organization. And we chose that I think because we wanted to work with government throughout the world. We wanted to work with the government here in the United States. And to that effectively, we thought the nonprofit model was far better than a for-profit structure. It would allow us to engage a whole community of people in this process as partners with us.
And so we are building a small army of individuals that are passionate about this issue and they want to make a difference. They’re tired of just people constantly telling them stories about injustice and then they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to engage or how to really make a difference. There’s a lot of passion about ending human trafficking but there’s not a lot of clear structured plans about how to make that happen.
I think we just get fatigued sometimes. We experience in a very real way compassion fatigue or awareness fatigue. We feel like, “stop just making me aware and to know more stories in the sense of another 13-year old girl in a moon by brothel. Stop making me aware and making me feel like I don’t have a place to go with my awareness.” We want people to feel that there is hope because we can draw near pain if we have hope. It’s really hard to draw near the pain and have compassion if you think nothing could be done.
But I think what is animating about this is that we not left just to deal with the consequences, just to mitigate the outcomes of traffickers. So it’s not like a natural disaster where we don’t know how to stop earthquakes. So when earthquakes happen to the country, we all rush in with food and water and shelter and try to help out.
Unlike earthquakes, human trafficking is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It’s not a weather pattern. It’s not like a tsunami or typhoon or a hurricane, it’s a choice that an individual is making, and it’s a crime and we know how to stop crime. It’s just question of are we going to do the things necessary that we know where to stop this criminal activity that is trapped in 20 million people.
Andrea: The hope that you talked about, part of it comes from this idea that we’re not victims to the idea that it’s just going to keep happening and we don’t have any control over but there is something that we can do.
John: Absolutely, and I think where there’s hope we can come up with a plan. And when we can clearly identify what the problem is and we believe that a solution is possible, we can figure this out. I think the hard part is that you see a problem, even clearly see a problem but if you think “there’s nothing I can do,” it’s not really going to make a difference. And that causes people to give up and move on to another structure or another project.
I think that people trapped in slavery are worth our consorted intentional efforts over a long period of time, or what Eugene Peterson called “A long obedience in the same direction.” Like if we have longevity in this space and we are willing to commit ourselves, we can see massive change in the next few decades.
Andrea: I’ve also heard you say before that slavery have been around forever and it’s only recent phenomena that we begin to really realize that this is wrong. Could you talk about that?
John: Absolutely! This is one of the reasons for hope. So for most of human history, slavery has been legal. It’s been on every continent, in every culture from the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Romans, and the Greeks and all over. It’s been enshrined in our own US constitution. Slavery has been assumed as something that is always there and it’s been supported even by people of faith. It wasn’t until about 250 years ago that countries began to say “Wait, we think slavery is wrong.” Not that it needs to be regulated or the impacts of it needs to be minimized but just that it is illegal and what is stunning is most of human history, thousands and thousands of years, slavery has been legal. In the last 250, we’ve seen every country in the world pass a law that says slavery is illegal.
That is why in its major pivot point, historically where at least now we have the laws that say, slavery is wrong. Now, we need to take those protections of law that are written on parchment and extend them down to the people they were intended to protect. Now we have a delivery system challenge. How do we get the legal protections that say every human being has intrinsic value and should not be owned all the way to the people that need those protections?
That’s what we get to be about. I think the historic part of that is inspiring because it shares with us that this is doable, where there’s a special place in history that there’s never been a better time to fight human trafficking. As our friend, Gary Haugen has said “It’s not a question of whether trafficking would be defeated, it’s whether this generation will be a part of sweeping it into the dustbin of history.” And I just find that concept motivating and inspiring and it makes me want to move forward.
Andrea: Oh yeah, definitely. Somebody like me who isn’t on the frontline of this is thinking about this problem and feeling guilty, feeling stuck in my own inability to make much of a difference. What kinds of things can I do to help, you know, aside from giving money to organizations such as yours, what else can I do?
John: I think there are a number of things that can be done. One is to get informed about it because there’s human trafficking happening in the United States, in Western Europe but it’s exploding throughout the world. We’ll begin the process of understanding how the problem looks and what it’s like. There’s a lot of myths about human trafficking, a lot of misunderstandings about it and so kind of deconstructing those is a fantastic use of time because it means that we’re going to be able to detect it and we’re going to be better able to understand the scope of it and what strategies would work. So getting people informed really matters.
The second thing that you can do is think about how their talents could be employed in this fight. I think a lot of people think “Well, I’m not an FBI agent and I’m not a prosecutor, how do I get involved?” Or “Maybe, I’m not a trauma certified counselor or how do I help individuals.” But the reality is if you’re a web designer or you’re an accountant, all of these skills sets need to be employed in this fight.
We need forensic accountants. We need all sorts of people who can communicate the vision clearly, who can tell the stories and who can honor these survivors. And so I think thinking through and inventory of our own skills and talents and then beginning to explore “How do I get involved?” Or “How do I encourage young people to go become FBI agents. How do I encourage young people to go and engage as a career these big, hairy global issues and take them on.” So I think that is something that individuals could do.
I think individuals can also find organizations and there are so many good ones out there who are active in this fight and come alongside and learn from them. You mentioned earlier that there’s a group of people that have been joining us as justice partners where there’s sort of a monthly communication about what’s happening around the world with trafficking. There are many organizations out there that they could connect with the local and global and I think that matters.
The other thing that I think people can do is develop a culture of justice in their own lives and in their own communities on issues that are far ranging not just limited to human trafficking. And what I mean by that is that pursuing justice, seeking justice can become a habit. When I was studying philosophy in college and when I was learning about these things, people would bend themselves into pretzels trying to understand what is justice and it’s so unhelpful.
But oh yes, justice is quite simple. Justice is making wrong things right. It seems something wrong and working to make it right; big things, little things, local things, or global things. And I think if people want to develop culture of justice, they start making wrong things right in their community. They’re identified on their street, on their neighborhood, on their school system, or on their companies and they see problems and start working to make them right. And as we build a culture of justice on the local level in the little things in our lives, we build the muscle and create a platform that allows us to seek justice and make the wrong things right on the big picture global level including trafficking in persons.
Andrea: I love this. There are a couple things that come up as questions for me as you’re talking about seeking justice in our own personal spaces. And one of those is that I see a lot of people struggling to know what to do with- recently this issue in Charlottesville, the event that took place in Charlottesville with white supremacy- and there’s a lot of angst and confusion about how to approach the subject.
And for this one thing, I might be against this other things that matters to me too and there’s so much confusion it seems about when to speak out and not to speak out, when to do something about it, and when not to. Do you have anything to say to this confusion that we feel and conflict that we feel about things that might in some ways feel wrong but then another aspect of it feels wrong too, so we’re not sure how to deal with that?
John: I would say where there is that conflict, move towards it. We move towards that conflict because it’s going help us clarify where we’re at. And I think we have to be able to embrace nuance, that there are different positions or different thoughts even within ourselves. But I think the other thing to move forward is really clearly and boldly identifying what is wrong and identifying what is right and then speaking to that. And I think that oftentimes, we don’t want it in their end because we don’t want to even admit to ourselves sometimes that these are paragraphs answers in a Twitter sort of world, right?
John: These things aren’t solved with 140 characters, it takes more information and more new ones but once we process it, I think worth understanding in our own hearts that we want to move towards love. We want to move towards good and I think we go there full esteem ahead. We want to see the problems of the world and we want to bring hope by the truckload, I mean just lots of it. And where there is pain and there’s suffering, we want to push that away and resolve it.
I think that sometimes, we over complicate things. I think sometimes, we want to access that everyone on the team that there’s white hats and black hats out there, good guys and bad guys, and the reality is there’s a lot of us who are just gray hats. We’re messed up and we need to move for its clarity and truth and we’re going to address the issues in our own hearts and address these issues in our culture.
Andrea: I find that for myself it was difficult… You know, couple of years maybe when I was still trying to figure out what do I do with this voice of mine. It was difficult for me to want to identify my voice with any particular issue because I was afraid of being thrown into a box, categorical box and then I would only have a voice with those people in that particular box. So religious, political, whatever it might be but usually a combination of those two things, how do we have a voice of justice to sort of transcends these boxes so that we can actually have dialogue that’s going to move things forward?
John: Hmmm that’s a great question. I would love to learn from you as you maneuver through that. I believe that if we’re going to develop expertise, if we’re going to develop experience in a space, we have to dive in and get into the deep end of whatever pool that we’re going to swim in and figure it out and develop mastery. And so I would, in some ways, tell people don’t worry about getting in the box. Go deep into an issue. Work over the long term and really become good at it. But then find that principles that make it work because the principles out there that are going to really allow you to do well at a specific thing are going to have general impact and applicability across the board. In a sense, they’re going to work in lots to different boxes.
So the real principal behind the idea of trafficking is that people has value and that we should go love other people in a demonstrated way that we can go and actually change systems to benefit people. Well, those same principles applied to lots of things. People have value. We should go address and meet the needs in other spheres and in other topical areas. So I think diving in deep is worth because I think it builds expertise, it builds credibility, and you can have a greater impact on a specific thing, but then find those threads that are common to all and they’re always there. Speaking up close to encourage others in this big, big fight to go and seek justice around the globe.
Andrea: Yeah. You’ve mentioned before this idea of different hats that we see people wearing, these teams that we feel like we’re on and I guess that was sort of the same thing as this box that I’m picturing. But I think we’re looking for identity, wanting to identify ourselves with something that’s bigger than ourselves. And it’s tempting to have it be a pat or box rather than a principle because principles seem to be a little bit more messy. If you’re in a box, you know what the rules are and you just follow these particular set of beliefs or things that we’re supposed to do or to be and to talk about. But if you focus on a principle then you have to kind of wrestle with every issue that comes up based on that principle. It’s just more complicated it seems.
John: Right. I mean, every relationship is complicated and messy and unstructured and these principles of joy, hope, love, and truth that are going to win the day. And so I think that the great joy of life is getting in that mess of all of these principles and figuring them out in midst of all these wonderful relationships and seeing them grow and flourish. When you think about that who would want a tidy little wife inside a small box? It would be much more fun to live out our days pursuing something bigger and more joyful than that.
Andrea: Yes. And I love that you can bring the philosophical side of things but also you’re taking massive action. I don’t know, when we talk about peace, joy, love these sorts of things, it feels a little you know heady and not practical but you’re making it very practical.
John: It is in the practice. It’s in the day to day kind of ordinary moments where I think these ideas are really refined and shaped. And I think that people do want to see practical actions. People want to have concrete plans that they can take and things that they can do and they’re there. If there’s a destination that we want to get to, we can find a path to get there and it’s just going to be a question of are we going to do the hard work of finding that path or creating that path and I think it’s worth it.
Andrea: I do too. I really also appreciate the fact these threads that you said run throughout other things. They really reached to a personal level as well and so I’m curious how you and your wife’s values about the importance of human life and dignity and voice, how these things reached into your own home?
John: Hmmm. You know, it has a huge influence. In fact, the way we parent to our kids and the way we think about our marriage and the way we think about finding trafficking are so inextricably intertwined and I don’t know which feeds the other. They very much go together and our kids have lived this life with us as we have been working on these cases and travelling the world and obviously their time growing up in India has had a big impact on them.
But I think it comes in some really clear ways. We have a group of kind of family rules that apply to every phase of our lives and they really shaped how we think about each other in our marriage but they also impact how we think about work. And so like one of them is that people are more important than stuff. So we have a choice to make and it could be reduced down to whether we’re choosing people or stuff. We should almost always choose people.
And so when we think about what shall we do on this next case, how do we approach this? What’s the cause of it going to be? There’s a person at risk there and we’re going to out that person who’s a victim ahead of stuff or material interests. We also applies that at my kids when they were learning as toddlers to share, building that friendship is more important than who’s playing with that toy. Or it applies as we plan out, now that we have adolescence and two kids and high school, like how we’re dealing with the demands of their schedules and thinking about how we value people at each turn.
And so I think that these ideas of making wrong things right and honoring individuals as well as respecting systems and authority and thinking about innovation or how we want to refocused on getting things done more than the forms that we’re building. Each one of these ideas is just another step towards integration and flourishing and that’s what we want to be about. So we’re really happy to be engaged in this journey both as in the messy parts of resolving conflicts at home and loving each other well. Or the messy parts of resolving conflict at work and loving our team well but also loving survivors well and trying to demonstrate what real love looks like to traffickers.
Andrea: It’s beautiful! So what’s the future for the Human Trafficking Institute and how can we get involved or support you?
John: Right now, we’re in the process of working with agreements with a couple of countries that are interested in building out specialized units and having them trained and having _____ and really trying to end the impunity that traffickers enjoy. So we’re very excited over the next few years to see the results that can come in the individuals that will be free but also how deterrence and ending impunity can be reflected.
We got a group of amazing law students who are joining us in the next few weeks at Douglass Fellows and Dr. Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist who went on after he had gained his freedom and taught himself to read and write. He ended up being; I think most people don’t realize this, the chief law enforcement officer for the District of Columbia. He was a United States Marshals and he had just this amazing life. In his honor and with his family’s initiatives, with their participation, we formed the Douglass Fellowship and we got some law students who are going to be Douglass Fellows this year doing research and writing and helping us build out these practices.
I’m excited that new process and we’re excited about that new process and we’re excited for people and your listeners to join in this movement. They can join us as justice partners on our website and connect to a monthly community that is thinking about this in finding new ways and innovative ways to tackle this problem. And we’re excited for what’s going to come over the few years. We got a great lean team that we’re building. We’re developing the model that we think can have the greatest impact.
Andrea: I love it. I love every bit of it. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention before we sign off?
John: I’m just so grateful for you, Andrea, and for letting your voice into all this and encouraging people to have the influence in the communities that they’re engaged in. I think that as more and more people stepped forward and say they want to be a part of making wrong things right, the world is going to continue to become a better place.
Andrea: Well thank you so much for your time here today, John. I really appreciate the way that you’re using your voice in the world.
John: Thanks Andrea! I’m glad to be with you!
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.
Our family loved offering our performance as a gift to others. However, the wise reminders to use my voice for God raised a concern in me that perhaps my intense desire to perform wasn’t good. I wanted to share the song in my heart, but I didn’t want anyone to believe I was doing it for the wrong reasons. If they thought I was looking for applause, they wouldn’t respect me. They wouldn’t listen to me and truly consider what I was saying.
Excerpt from UNFROZEN: Stop Holding Back & Release the Real You
It was dark out as we drove home from our first of three trips to The Dance Factory that week. As crazy as it sounds, I don’t mind the 15-minute drive. I enjoy the quiet moments to contemplate life while she’s in class and the few minutes of random conversation with her in the car. The ride home that night started like most others.
“How was dance tonight?” I asked my precious almost
-9-year-old who sat staring out the window behind me.
“Good. We got to start learning our dance for recital.” A few blocks and bits of conversation later and Amelia casually inquired, “Why did you put me in dance?”
Her tone indicated a simple curiosity, so I answered simply. “Well, when we first moved here I wanted you to have the opportunity to be in a class. You were almost 4 years old and you love to dance, so we signed you up.” She giggled in affirmation. Our white caravan creaked down the dark road on the outskirts of town as I continued, “You complained about it constantly that first year. I assumed it was because you were required to work at paying attention the whole time. When summer came, I was ready to forget dance. But your dad wanted you to stick with it for a number of reasons and so we did. That next year you started to love it!”
“Because I got to perform!” Amelia revealed. We pulled up to a stoplight and I glanced in the rearview mirror at her softly lit grin.
Ah yes. My eyes went back to the road while my mind went back to the moment we realized we had a performer on our hands. She was 5 the first year she got to perform on stage at the spring recital. Her sequined costume wasn’t the only reason she lit up the stage that night. When Amelia stepped out under the lights, her entire being sparkled with joy. It still does. Every time.
I smiled as the breaks squeaked up to the next stoplight, because I get it. I’m a performer, too. Something in both Amelia and I turns on when we are in the spotlight. I can’t speak for her, but I know what goes on inside of me. I stand taller, dig deeper and release a more expressive version of myself. It’s as if I intuitively know that my self-expression is more than a single person can handle, so I save it for a crowd. The more people in the audience, the less of me one individual must hold. The more people in the audience, the more I can release. And I have a lot to release.
Performers are often labeled as attention-seeking and fake. But great performers are some of the most self-sacrificing and genuine people I know. They are more true to themselves on stage than in conversation. Why? Because they were made for it. Something in them turns on when they step into the spotlight and they are free to release themselves with an intensity of expression that no single conversation can hold.
Performance is an opportunity for artists to transform their intense barrage of thoughts and feelings and turn them into a passionate expression. What feels like a self-centered battle on the inside becomes an others-centered song, dance, poem or painting on the outside. True performance, in my view, is not self-expression for the sake of self. It is disciplined self-expression for the sake of others.
I take my young daughter to dance classes three nights a week because she is a performer. She needs it like she needs air to breathe. And I want my little performer to gain the humble confidence she needs to move with grace so she can express a true and transformed version of herself that blesses everyone around her.
Do any of these descriptions of performing resonate with you? Do you hold back so others won’t judge you as being dramatic or attention-seeking?
Portions of this post were originally published on Her View From Home
It was nearly 9:00, and I was ready to finish tucking my daughter in bed. Amelia, however, wasn’t ready for me to leave. She had more to say, and I could tell by her pursed brow that something was weighing heavily on her heart. I leaned on her pillow and looked into her eyes.
“Mom, do you remember the other day when we saw a man on the street with a sign that said,
‘No cash, just food’?”
“Well, things like that make me really sad. I mean, I wanted to do something to help him. Selah [her cousin] does things for others. She had a bake sale and raised money for a dog shelter in her town. I want to do something like that.”
“What do you have in mind?”
She knew that she didn’t have school the next day, and Amelia is not one to wait around. “Can I have a lemonade stand in the morning to raise money for the homeless shelter?”
I agreed to her plan, but it changed that morning when she realized how cold it was. Rather than selling lemonade, Amelia recruited her brother to sell coffee. They ran an extension cord out to the grinder and coffee pot and put up a sign explaining their mission. In 90 minutes, they sold 3 cups, which, theoretically, would have earned $3. But they finished with much more.
“Mom!” Grant ran inside. “Someone just gave us $100!!!”
Apparently, a couple who called each other “Grandma” and “Grandpa” decided that since the money was going toward such a worthy cause, they’d make an extra donation. My sister shared about the roadside coffee shop on Facebook, and her friend in Virginia donated too. Amelia threw in a little of her own money to total $118!
We decided to meet Aaron [my husband, their dad] at The Connection Homeless Shelter during his lunch, and the kids donated the money they’d raised. The director, Beth DeFreece, graciously accepted the donation and then offered to give us a tour of their facility. As she showed us around, she explained some of their procedures and the services that they offer. Amelia and Grant were particularly interested in the family play area with all the toys. They left feeling good about their contribution, but sad that the shelter is necessary at all. Hearing about the difference the shelter is making in our community impressed and moved us.
How Splashes Become Waves
This blog and my book (here) are driven by my desire to see people live into the fullness of who they’ve been created to be and to use their voices rather than holding them back. I believe that when we each figure out when and how we want to stand up and speak up with love, we end up encouraging others to use their gifts and voices as well. Amelia demonstrated the truth of this today.
The ripple effect is one of my favorite metaphors. I love the idea that one splash can create momentum that reaches far beyond the initial point of impact. The ripples continue and even band together to create waves with an accumulation of splashes. And once they’re moving, no one even realizes where that initial splash originated. It doesn’t matter anymore because the wave is much bigger than any one ripple or a single splash could ever make.
Our kids’ donation to The Connection Homeless Shelter is a part of a much bigger story.
My daughter didn’t get the idea to do a project and donate the money from me. She really didn’t come up with the idea all on her own either. She admires her cousin. Selah used her gifts to do something special for a special cause, and then she shared her experience with Amelia.
Inspired by Selah, Amelia came up with her own plan to help others and invited her brother to join her. Amelia and Grant then experienced the joy of working together and of giving others the opportunity to donate to their cause.
My sister Daniele and I amplified their little “voices” by telling others on Facebook, which gave someone else the opportunity to be a part of their morning mission.
When we visited the shelter, the director accepted their offering and then gave them something in return – the opportunity to learn more about the bigger picture of helping others in our community.
Now I get to blog about it! I’m using my gifts and my voice to amplify the message of the shelter (video below) and hopefully inspire others to keep this little wave going. But the big question is, what will you do with it? Will you read this blog post, feel good for a moment and then forget it? Or will you let it sink in and stir something in you?
Ask yourself this question:
Don’t ask what you should do. That question creates pressure that can cloud the vision of what you’re really called to do. Today was the first time our kids were ready to initiate this action. I’ve mentioned things in the past; but, when they didn’t take to the idea, I didn’t try to convince them of anything. Last week Amelia’s heart was struck by the gentleman on the street holding a sign, and the timing was just right. I’m glad we didn’t pressure them to try to come up with something before today. The impact of the moment was greater because they took initiative rather than doing it as an “assignment” to help others.
So don’t get caught up in the pressure of asking what you should do. Instead, call on that loving, joyful place in your heart, and ask what you want to do with your own gifts and your own voice.
Here are a few ideas.
Do you have a special story to share? In the comments below, please give a shout-out to someone who has inspired you to use your gifts and voice. And if you or your kids do something in response to this story, please let us know!
Please consider sharing this post to keep the message going.
And now, here is Beth DeFreece of The Connection Homeless Shelter in North Platte with a special announcement.
UPDATE: WE DID IT!!!
UNFROZEN made a huge break out into the world with 2,800 Kindle downloads in 2 days! Thank you for helping us reach the #1 Kindle Bestseller for Family Health and Adolescent < Counseling!
It’s a big day around here, friends – Unfrozen Launch Day!
Here is a 5 minute video I made for you. It provides answers to some common questions I’ve been asked about the process.
Please note that the Kindle book promotion will run through Thursday. The book will be free on Sunday and under $3 for the next few days. (Regular Kindle price – $8.99) (Amazon Paperback – $15.99)
Thanks for downloading and sharing it with your friends!