Category: How Did You Do That

An Interview With Laurie Wagner

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Laurie Wagner

Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”

I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story” — who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door — the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.

HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.

To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Laurie Wagner

Name: Laurie Wagner
Location: Alameda, California
Profession: Author, Writing Instructor, Founder of 27 Powers


You started out wanting to write music for a living, but then changed your mind and decided to focus on writing stories instead. You found success pretty early on; you have written five books (all published by Chronicle Books) and have been published in numerous magazines.

Writing is a tough way to make a living, at best. But you have persevered. You have allowed yourself to define what it means to be a writer in very broad terms. Can you talk about that a bit? How were you able to allow yourself to grow as a writer and also figure out a way to make money?

Everything that I’ve done in the last 25 years has had something in common. I worked in book stores, I went to work for a major N.Y. publisher, I wrote for newspapers and magazines, I wrote books, worked on documentary films, and then I became a writing teacher. I never had a strategy or a game plan – but I see now that all of those jobs had writing/publishing/creating in common. My love of words and writing, my love of books and stories – – that love got to express itself in a variety of ways – so I was lucky like that.

And I’m also practical. So while I’ve always been an artist, I’ve always had my eye on where the money was going to come from. Making a living writing for magazines or writing books was wonderful, but it wasn’t always practical to make things for the market and depend on that market for my income. I had little kids, my husband was an artist and I needed a stable income. Teaching became that.

Today I teach nine writing classes a week on a video platform to people all over the world, and also live, here at home in Northern California. And I also keep my own writing alive, writing every two weeks with friends.

Take us back to the very beginning of your writing journey. Can you remember your very first piece of published writing? What was it? What happened? Were you nervous? How did it feel to put a piece of your artwork “out there” into the public eye?

My first published piece was for a Bay Area art magazine called Metier. I think it was a piece about naked models. I really loved the interview process. I loved asking questions and getting to know people. It was like permission to be nosy. I was probably stunned to see my own words printed, and a byline. I probably collected 20 of the magazines so I could share them with friends and family. It added a new and vibrant quality to my life. I don’t remember being nervous about being “out there.” I think I wanted more of it.

There are so many ways to be a writer. In the last 15 years, you have pivoted from writing books to teaching others how to express themselves on the page. You teach a practice called Wild Writing that is a timed writing process designed to bypass the inner critic in order to show up authentically on the page. What caused you to make the shift from writer to teacher?

Purely practical. I’d written a few books, they were beautiful, and they did nicely. But I had small children and my husband was an artist, which meant that his income was up and down and that made me crazy. Creating things – like books – for the market was unpredictable, so I needed to have work that brought more stability. Teaching was the way to go. I didn’t mean to become a teacher, but I was good at it. I never got an MFA, which meant that I didn’t teach at the academic level, and so for the last 20 years I’ve been building my own teaching practice. I make all the rules, I create the classes, I teach what’s interesting to me. I’m not beholden to anyone, and because of that I’m free to do exactly what I want. Doing your own thing has a lot of benefits like you can make your own schedule and go in any direction you want. But you also have to work really hard. Being a creative with a strong work ethic has turned out nicely for me.

I am curious… after you decided to really go for it with your writing business, how long did it take before you felt financially secure, like, “OK, it’s working. I’ve arrived where I want to be.” A few months? Years?

Years. I started teaching one writing class a week at my husband’s art studio, and it went to two, and eventually three – but over time – not overnight. Now, 20 years later, I teach four writing classes on video every week, as well as four in person classes every week. I also have virtual classes and I travel and teach – but it really took years to build everything and I’m still creating and building. For a long time – probably the first 10 years of teaching, I was also teaching at a website called Writers.com because I had a lot of classes there, because I didn’t have to do the marketing and because I needed the income. You’ll hear me say it over and over, I’m practical. I only quit teaching there a few years ago. It took me years to build what I have now at 27 Powers – I always kept one foot on something secure until I could handle things on my own. And again, when you work for yourself, you’re always changing it up, making new things. I create new products all the time. I want to offer new things to my clients, but I also want to keep myself interested and challenged.

In addition to teaching writing, you’ve been trained as a professional Co-Active Coach at The Coaches Training Institute. Did this training help your writing and teaching practice? If so, how?

I think learning to be a coach and learning to step into leadership is always important when you’re working with people. I coached for a while, but ultimately took what I learned about people and myself into being a better teacher, a better human being. What I learned there touches everything I do.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Laurie Wagner

What’s been one of the scariest or most discouraging moments of your career so far? What happened? How did you feel? And how did you get through it?

I’m not sure I’ve had a scary moment per se. But I have had some dark times where I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin – where I might have chosen to stay behind closed doors for weeks just because I was going through something. But the thing about my work is that I need to be there. I teach those classes. I have to show up. So I had to find a way to be where I was – to be myself even in the midst of other people – and not only that, to lead from that place. Teaching is a very naked art and I think part of why people trust me is that I am always myself, which gives them permission to be themselves.

I will say that last year – after nearly 20 years of teaching Wild Writing, I heard this tiny whisper in my ear that said, “maybe I’m done with Wild Writing.” But just as quickly a much louder voice came in, “Oh no you’re not.” At 57, I’m probably not going to start a new career, so I had to find a way to keep my own work interesting to me. I ended up creating a 5-month teacher training as well as a new product called 27 Wild Days, for writers. I got busy, I got creative, I upped the ante. That’s my response to fear!

So many writers—and people in general, non-writers too!—struggle with self-criticism and perfectionism. It can feel so difficult to publish a blog post, for example, while feeling like it’s “messy” or “not perfect yet.” Do you have any advice for someone who struggles with perfectionism, who feels like their work is “never good enough” to be shared publicly?

We all go through this. No one is exempt from a little bit of perfectionism. I think deadlines and accountability really help. For instance, I was on stage a couple of nights ago for a story telling event. 12 minutes on stage, no notes. I’d worked for months on this story, and honestly, I was still trying to figure it out the day of the show. I could not get to the heart of what mattered in my story, but I said I’d be there, so I had to find a way to make peace with my story. Was it my best story? No. But I delivered it the best way I knew how. Of course I was afraid that people would judge me or write me off. I wanted to have a great story, but I had what I had. If I hadn’t had that deadline, I’d have dumped that story a long time ago. Deadlines inspire you to keep working and eventually to let the piece go – put it out there. Hopefully there will be many more pieces behind it. Think of the big picture, the long game.

Same with blog posts, which I post every two weeks. They’re not always easy for me. Sometimes I stress that the one I wrote two weeks ago was better than the one from this week and what are people going to say? Will people drop off my mailing list? Maybe. But I need those blog posts. They’re part of my marketing plan to sell my writing classes, and that means I’ve got to do my best and make peace with what I’ve got. Deadlines. Accountability.

Ten years from now, what type of work do you imagine yourself doing? Exactly what you’re doing now? Or something different?

Well, I’m 57-years-old and I probably won’t be teaching 9 classes a week in 10 years. My dream is to teach fewer classes, travel and teach more, make more art, listen to more music, write at least one more book. My entire life since I was a kid, has been focused on creating things. I don’t think that’ll ever end. People talk about retiring. I’ll never retire, though I’ll probably pull back from working with so many people each week.

Lots of people stop themselves from writing because they think, “So many other people are much better writers than me! What could I possibly have to say that anyone would want to read?” Any words of advice for those people?

We’re just human beings trying to communicate with other human beings. Thinking that we need to be smart or special or better than other people in order to share something of value is a tough way to go. It’s too self-critical. We have to trust that what matters to us will matter to others. There’s a good chance it will.

When classes sit around my dining room table to write, I tell everyone that we’re making a witches brew, and that each person has something essential that is needed to make the brew – their own voice – their words. We can’t make the brew without each person – we need their voice. This lets people know that they matter – that the way they think and write matters – and that we can’t create the gold without them. So trust that what matters to you will matter to others.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Laurie Wagner

3 THINGS

Imagine that you’re having a cup of chai tea with someone who dreams about being a professional, full-time writer. They have no idea how to actually do this. What are 3 things you would advise them to think about, or do, or try?

1. Keep the day job.

Don’t put pressure on your writing to pay your bills – maybe ever. Try to find venues to publish your work in, but don’t be sorry or embarrassed that you still have a day job. Be grateful. That weekly paycheck will give you freedom to explore your work and try new things.

2. Write about things that you love.

Cream rises to the top. What you have a deep interest in will shine on the page and readers will feel your passion.

3. Take yourself out into the world and meet people, try new things, get out in to nature.

Being a writer isn’t about chaining yourself to a desk. The best writers have lives, they let things touch them, they have experiences which they then bring back to the page.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Laurie? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)


YOUR #1 CAREER GOAL: ACHIEVED

Do you need some encouragement to help you achieve a big, daunting career goal? Would you like to have a career coach/strategist in your corner—feeding you ideas that you’d never considered before, helping you figure out who to contact, and what to say, and checking in to make sure you don’t procrastinate? If so… click here to find out how we can work together. I’d love to coach you!

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An Interview With Jules Blaine Davis

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Jules Blaine Davis

Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”

I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story” — who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door — the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.

HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.

To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Jules Blaine Davis

Name: Jules Blaine Davis
Location: Los Angeles, California
Profession: Kitchen Healer


You call yourself a “kitchen healer,” which is a pretty fabulous job title, if you ask me! You go into people’s homes, you talk to them about their relationship with cooking and food. You help your clients identify what they’re truly hungry for, both physically and spiritually, and then you help your clients come up with new cooking traditions that help them feel nourished and energized. It’s kind of like therapy or life coaching… but with a foodie twist. How did this all begin? Did you just wake up one day, and decide, “I’m a kitchen healer, that’s my job, now?” Or was it a more gradual process?

I would say that I’m still becoming a healer. So let’s just put that out in the space.

The beginning of the work began when I became a mother. Being a home for a body began many conversations for me. Of course, you want to nourish that being and to do that you need to nourish your own body, even look at your own body, even remember that you have a body.

I’m someone that loves to find out about fun things and then invite the person to come to my house and do them. At that time especially, I loved having people in my home, and so I had a music class in my home, and moms would come and I would be roasting some veggies and quinoa in the rice cooker, and my son would be napping, and then by the time the class started hopefully he would wake up.

Everyone would be breastfeeding and banging the drum and just connecting with each other in the only way we really knew how at the time, through deep exhaustion and knowing that this was our one outing of the day.

And inside that, I just really loved nourishing people and it was never an “event” for me. I never felt like “Oh my gosh, people are coming over and it’s an event.” It was simply “Oh great, more bodies to feed.”

I would just throw stuff in the oven and turn on the fire. The women gathering in my home were sharing such profound stories, and also they would share about how they have no idea how to be in the kitchen and create a sense of home. They didn’t know how to boil water, they didn’t know how to feed themselves, they didn’t know how they were going to nourish their baby.

And listening to all the stories and reading the few Michael Pollan books that had come out, and Alice Waters, and also Rachel Naomi Remen and Mary Oliver, and just my background in what I hunger for, I realized “Oh my gosh, these women are starving.”

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Jules Blaine Davis

You say “these are women are starving.” Starving for what? For food? For something more than food?

Starving for nourishment on every level, I would say. Physical, emotional, spiritual. That is not to say I wasn’t hungry! I was hungry for their stories. I was hungry for their hunger. So the gatherings with women and food and beauty and healing began. We were all hungry for each other. We still are. We need each other.

It was about food, but also not about food. Because really, where we are nourished or where we aren’t nourished shapes our entire body. It shapes our life. It shapes the relationships we’re in. Our physical shape and our emotional shape. And so the beginnings of my work were really about just going into women’s kitchens.

So, women in your community would invite you into their kitchens… and then what would happen? Cooking? Talking? Counseling?

At first what I did was organize. “Oh the foil can’t afford to be in the drawer next to the oven ’cause there’s only one drawer and you need other things in there in order to put the fire on.” These kitchens were not being used and even if they were, it was hard to get in there. All of the beauty that was their kitchen was just an empty vessel that needed fire and love and tending and wisdom. The lineages that were in that woman needed to arrive.

I would ask her questions like, “What do you think about this peeler? What do you think about this knife? Do you use this? What do you think about it over here?” I’d move all the wood spoons—if they had maybe even one—into a cracked pot from a cactus outside that was dying and then just do that, put some salt in the jar, put the butter out. Get a big old Straus milk bottle and fill it with  water and just get the lentils in some Ball jars. The major movement in their homes that these small changes made,  blew them away.

Whatever the stories are, they all live inside what happens in the kitchen or what doesn’t happen. And so, we get to rewrite that story in how we set the kitchen up, in how we tend to it. And that is where I began.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Jules Blaine Davis

And then what happened after you re-organized the kitchens. Was that enough to make a deep, lasting difference in your clients’ lives?

I would work with all different kinds of women, wherever they were. It was like restructuring, re-building, getting the mortar and pestle out to build a culture that where one did not exist

Some people naturally have an aroma in the home—the chicken soup on the stove, the beans and rice in the oven, because it’s in their culture. All of us long for that deeper warm nourishment and where one does not exist, we need to build it.

So, I would do that. We would go to the market, we would gather, I would show up the next day and cook with them, make tons of food, bring the smells and heart into the kitchen. We’d do it for a few weeks, I’d leave, and three months later, I’d come back and see that our work didn’t fully integrate into their day to day lives.

I realized that the stories they would share with me while we were cooking, while we were gathering, all they had to say about this bowl or this teacup was where the medicine lives. This was the bridge to where they wanted to get to and who they were becoming as women, mothers, nurturers.

On this bridge was grief of what didn’t happen, or what did and how wrong it was or just the deepest longing to be held and loved in the way they could feel. There was shame and vulnerability and hunger. All of these pieces were the medicine they brought me so they could heal and turn on the fire in their kitchens and in their lives.

The “kitchen healer” was born in that realm, but really it was like, kitchen and then healer came later.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Jules Blaine Davis

As you began doing this work as a kitchen healer, were you able to find plenty of clients right away? Or was it difficult?

It was word of mouth and it was not easy. The answer truly is that I just kept showing up for the conversation because I was so hungry for it. I’d show up in many ways; I’d show up catering something for a group of doulas, I’d show up doing different things with food, that really wasn’t aligned with what I was doing; but then I would share while they were eating. I got a few clients, but it wasn’t sustainable. But those few clients got me to the place where I could buy the food for the next gathering of women that would come over.

It was also a time of grief for me. I needed to learn how to make money as an artist, and in the beginning I felt horrible that I couldn’t figure it out. But I just kept saying “yes” to everything where I could share what I was up to. I just kept showing up to myself. I had lots of doubts, to be sure. I just think that I knew I was hungry for this connection, and I figured if I was hungry, they must be hungry too.

Now that you know the depth and the complexity of what you’re unpacking, what are the different ways you work with people? Do you work with them one time only? Do you work with them over the course of a month, over five months? Do you have packages? Or is it more organic than that?

I mostly work virtually. Right now, I’m doing a five-month journey and I’m only working with five women. The journey might begin with me learning their emotional landscape, their story, and it’s not always about food, but of course it always comes to that. And then we’ll go in the kitchen, virtually, and I’ll see where they’re at and what they’re inside of, and also just how they’re eating, what they’re eating, but it’s not so much nutritional as it is how they feed themselves. Over the course of five months they get to reshape and rewrite their story inside their lives. And of course my ultimate goal is that they integrate all this learning, so that these are real changes.

What’s beautiful about the journey is that they have me at any point. Some clients write me every single day, some clients write me every week, some clients just see me for our 2-hour session each week. The more you lean in, the more you’re held accountable, the more you’re willing, transformation occurs. Accountability is a big part of it. There’s a lot of different modalities inside the therapy that helps reveal and unravel deep needs and deep hungers, and so when they come up, they’re held in it. I’m right there with them the whole time.

I also teach a class once a month in Culver City called Body, which is a two-hour experience where we move our bodies to phenomenal music. There’s poetry woven in, and then we circle and have wood board love—where I put beautiful food out on handmade cutting boards and we talk and eat and connect.

The only way to really be with me physically, at the moment, is through that class and on retreat—both in October and May in British Columbia.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Jules Blaine Davis

You recently got interviewed on GOOP, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness and lifestyle blog. How did you feel when that interview came out? Did it feel exciting? Did it feel strange to be thrust into such a big public spotlight? A little of both? Also, how did that interview come about? Did they contact you out of the blue?

It was the first time the work had ever gone out into the world in a translatable way that people could really hear it. It took10 years, and it felt phenomenal. The work was completely seen and held by them. Elise, the main mama of the Goop world, had heard about me for a few years. We know a few people in common. After many years of gathering so many different kinds of women, you never know who’s at the table, and you never know who they’re talking to later, who they’re going to get on the phone with when they leave your house after a day of beauty and nourishment, and so I think over time people begin to know who you are.

Again, it connects to the “showing up” piece. So the Goop article was an amazing “hurrah.” I’m still so honored to have it out in the world. I love that it’s definitely cleaner and more organized than my own way of sharing my work.

The article came at a perfect time in my career. I wasn’t ready before. I had to figure out my business. I had to heal my money wounds. So when women wrote me because they read the article, I was ready.

More than anything, what was the most rewarding result of the article, was hearing from women who were in the women’s liberation movement, grandmothers who wrote me and thanked me for naming something that hasn’t been named. I would just sit at my computer crying. I long for elders. I long to be with women in their 60s and their 70s and their 80s and their 90s.

We so need that. We don’t need a bunch of 30-year-olds hanging out and talking about how much they know. That’s not serving the world. We all need to be together in circle to be talking about what is hunger. Where did you come from? What’s shifted for you? Oh, you made it through that. I’m going to make it through this. That is, I think, the utmost nourishment.

Ten years from now, what type of work do you imagine yourself doing? Exactly what you’re doing now? Or something different?

I would say that in 10 years, I would love things to be with more ease.

I see this work being much more prominent in conversation, definitely integrated more into the culture. I see it taking on many lives of its own. Inside all different homes, inside women gathering more because they’re inspired by the work I’m doing.

I definitely see that I will be writing books, and I see a lot of travel with those books. The other thing I really see and really want is that I want to sit with grandmas. I want to sit with grandmothers in the kitchens of Italy and in all different cultures. I just want to take notes.

I will keep showing up for whatever scares the hell outta me, what is so uncomfortable, continuing to move out of my own way and keep showing up for what is possible. And if that means more books and traveling, if that means meeting the most divine, gifted humans on the planet that don’t have an Instagram feed or aren’t completely famous or whatever that is, I just want to keep expressing and being.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Jules Blaine Davis

3 THINGS

Imagine it’s 10 years ago. You’re just beginning your kitchen healing business. What’s some advice you’d give to that younger version of yourself?

1. What would I say to her? Dance more with your clients in the kitchen. “Put on the music and dance with them.”

2. The second is, “stop over-laboring, you’re enough.” It’s hard to not over-labor when you are just starting and walking in a forest that no one has walked before. But I just kept pushing. I could have taken a breath.

3. And the third would be, it’s going to be okay. It’s a long road. Fill that fear, that loneliness, that “Oh my gosh, wait, I sent this thing out and no one replied”, fill that with yourself. Fill that with a walk, a tea, an amazing book you love. Go away. Fill that, that nonsense, that noise of “Oh maybe it isn’t a good time to do that,” or “Maybe I’m not going to make money doing this.” Fill that fear with something that’s nourishing.

There’s a beautiful quote that I’m going to end with by the poet Rupi Kaur:

“Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself.”

That’s sums up what I try to do with my work. Bring women back to themselves.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Jules? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)


YOUR #1 CAREER GOAL: ACHIEVED

Do you need some encouragement to help you achieve a big, daunting career goal? Would you like to have a career coach/strategist in your corner—feeding you ideas that you’d never considered before, helping you figure out who to contact, and what to say, and checking in to make sure you don’t procrastinate? If so… click here to find out how we can work together. I’d love to coach you!

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Photos: Emily Knecht, Cynthia Perez, Charley Star, Dewey Nicks and TEDx.

An Interview With Adriana Rizzolo

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Adriana Rizzolo

Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”

I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story” — who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door — the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.

HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.

To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Adriana Rizzolo

Name: Adriana Rizzolo
Location: Los Angeles, California
Profession: Yoga Teacher, Kirtan singer, Hairstylist, Healer


After moving to New York in your early 20s, you completely reinvented your life. You went from non-stop partying to doing yoga and meditating three times a day. Today, you teach yoga professionally among many other things. Take us back to the very beginning of your yoga journey. Can you remember your very first yoga class? Where was it? What happened? Were you nervous to walk in the door? How did it feel?

My first yoga class was in a tiny basement gym, somewhere in New Jersey, close to where I was living at the time. I remember it being really dank and there were a couple guys lifting weights on the way into the yoga room that was a separate little room in the back. It was a hot yoga class. I would go with my best friend and my boyfriend at the time. At that time I was still doing a lot of drugs, and so it was very challenging in a lot of ways to do it. But I really loved it.

I love the image of that dank little room. How did your yoga practice grow from there? And how did you use yoga to break from your addictions and to grow your practice?

I feel like it found me. I just started practicing way back then, and then it just kind of continued. At the time, it didn’t even really make any sense. It was just something that I knew resonated with me. When I moved to New York, I began practicing a lot, and eventually just decided that I wanted to do a yoga teacher training. I had started to get more into the philosophy, and wanted to learn more.

Right after my dad passed, was when I really started doing yoga hardcore. I wasn’t totally sober yet, but I stopped doing hard drugs. Instead of partying at night, I would go to a yoga class. After class I would be hungry and tired and go to bed because I wanted to wake up for an early class. Over time, doing drugs naturally phased out of my life.

When I did my teacher training, I met a meditation teacher, and that’s when I went to India, and got totally sober. I learned to use the inner aspects of yoga to help me with deep healing and working with my trauma. I began to pay attention to and listen to the fire that was inside my body, and how to use it as an empowerment tool as opposed to something that just was painful. Instead of needing to numb myself, I began to wake up

I think the yoga practice instilled a deep devotion towards service. That’s what my practice has evolved into: helping others learn how to teach, and to deepen their own awareness to their bodies, to their breath, and to their heart.

I noticed on your website that you offer a service called a “voice empowerment session.” You work with clients who want to feel more confident using their voice, and you do this through primarily through chanting, singing, and conversations about your client’s insecurities, dreams, goals, and what’s been hindering their voice… it’s so fascinating! I’m so curious to hear more. Why inspired you to offer this kind of service?

A big part of my journey with yoga has been learning how to use my voice. For a very long time I was really unable to make myself heard. When I was in college, I would never be able to speak in front of a room full of people, or just really speak honestly. I was very quiet, and contracted, and checked out. Over the years of doing my meditation and yoga practice, I learned about a chanting practice that is called kirtan. Kirtan has really helped give me a very concrete way to uncover what I call my soul voice. I am a bit of an authenticity junkie, so it is important for me to speak from a true place. The ways that we connect and heal and transform is through experiencing one another’s true and authentic selves. That is what lies at the heart of my teaching and lies at the heart of all of my work.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Adriana Rizzolo

In addition to teaching yoga you’ve worked as a hairstylist for almost 20 years, and you’ve been called a magical hair witch. You offer a service called “healing haircuts”. What happens during a healing haircut, and how is it different from a regular haircut?

I’ve been cutting hair since I was a kid. What happens during a healing haircut is that we focus more intention on healing. I still give a haircut like I normally would but the intention is one of healing and of holding a space where a woman can really share where they’re at on a deeper level. Sometimes I ask questions or inquire if there’s something that they’re ready to really let go of at this point in their life. Sometimes it’ll be a meditation. It just depends on the timing and how long it takes me to cut the hair. I cut the hair dry, and throughout the cut, do a Reiki energy healing, or an energy clearing with some sage. I really prefer to set the tone of a higher vibration for people to fit inside.

Recently, you got profiled in the New York Times. What an amazing coup. A journalist wrote about your hairstyling work and wrote a review about her experience with you. I’m really curious. Everybody always says, “Oh, I wish I’d get an article,” at least I often say to myself, “I wish I’d get an article in the New York Times, that would be amazing.” Was it exciting? Or did it feel odd to be thrust into the public spotlight in such a big way? What was the experience like for you?

I had this insight about the concept of a Hair Witch, and I said to my best friend, “We should do something with Hair Witch some day,” because both of us do all this energy healing work and yoga, and we cut hair. I put it on my Instagram and wrote “Yoga Teacher, Meditation Teacher, Hair Witch.”

The reporter somehow found that and made an appointment. She might’ve mentioned she worked for the New York Times, but I did not think much about it and I certainly did not think she was writing an article about me. We just had a great time together and that was that.

Months and months and months later, maybe even a year, the Times emailed me saying, “We need to take a photo of you for the article.” And I asked, “What article?” And they didn’t really respond to me. They vaguely said, “Well, maybe it’s for the style section so maybe you did an interview on products or something that you use”. I didn’t remember doing an interview for New York Times, but I wasn’t about to turn them away, so I said “Well I’m in LA,” and they said, “We’ll send someone there.” They sent this really nice photographer, and she also said, “Yeah, it’s for the style section. You must’ve done an interview.” And I still had no idea what it was.

Not that long after, about a week later, I woke up and had tons of emails from people that wanted sessions. I went on Instagram and Facebook and saw that the reporter had tagged me in the story. And there I was, on the front page of the Style section of the NY Times! It was a great article that really was very authentic to who I am.

I was very grateful and also was very scared. I was literally hiding under my covers. I wasn’t immediately saying, “Oh, this is so great.”

It’s been this process for me on an inner level to allow myself to feel really amazing things like that. It’s about allowing myself to feel the love and to feel safe in it. For whatever reason, it’s part of my soul’s journey.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Adriana Rizzolo

There are so many self-employed people that I’m sure you see—yoga teachers, hair stylists, consultants—who really struggle to find clients. And it can feel so scary to look at a schedule and realize, “Gosh, I don’t have anything lined up. How am I gonna pay my bills?” Was there ever a point in your career when you really struggled to find clients? And how did that feel, and what helped you start getting booked more consistently?  And after the New York Times article came out, did you have a huge boom in client inquiries? Did that last? Or did it die down after a while?

I think as an entrepreneur, there is always a struggle with consistency around the earning of money. There are months when things are really slow and other months when there seems to be an abundance of money. After the article was published, there was definitely been a huge uptick in my flow of clients, and I’m much busier now. There were more emails than I could respond to, and I probably even forgot to respond to some. And then it definitely slowed down. But I think it did open the doorway to an energetic abundance.

And yes, I think it’s a struggle for a lot of people. In those moments of struggle, there’s an opportunity to take care of ourselves in different ways or to seek out the other deeper things that are important to us. It’s not always easy to see the upside in those moments because in my experience, I feel disempowered in some way. Instead of saying “Oh I get this month off, I could write my book now.” I feel “Oh my God! I’m not making any money.” At my core root, safety and security disappear, so I don’t feel super abundant and creative. It’s a journey for all of us in terms of the ebb and flow of it all.

Speaking of when it flows, you’ve created such an unconventional career that blends so many of your passions together: Yoga, meditation, Reiki, kirtan chanting, hairstyling and you somehow managed to take these very diverse things and put them under an umbrella that holds them all. Do you ever feel like, “Whoa, I’ve got way too many things going on”? Or not? Or how do you make space for everything on your calendar and find the balance that you need?

I tend to lose track of time because part of my job is to bring people beyond time and space. So being present in the day-to-day realities is a really big growth edge for me. Something that helped me is just writing out my weekly schedule and leaving spaces. It helps me to track my clients and also leave time for myself.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Adriana Rizzolo

3 THINGS

If someone wants to run a multifaceted business like yours, what are the three pieces of advice you would give them?

1. Get support from people you trust and like.

2. Follow the thing that really brings you the most connection and joy, and just stay with it. Stay really committed to your own inner compass and what lights you up.

3. Having fun is a really important thing because part of why we do this as opposed to maybe working a job that has a lot of security and knowingness, is because we have this freedom. Use that freedom as a way to evolve, and expand, and express, and to be an artist in your life.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Adriana? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)


YOUR #1 CAREER GOAL: ACHIEVED

Do you need some encouragement to help you achieve a big, daunting career goal? Would you like to have a career coach/strategist in your corner—feeding you ideas that you’d never considered before, helping you figure out who to contact, and what to say, and checking in to make sure you don’t procrastinate? If so… click here to find out how we can work together. I’d love to coach you!

ELLEN_SIGNATURE

Photos: Meg Shoemaker, Julia Corbett and Melodee Solomon.

An Interview With Laverne McKinnon

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Laverne McKinnon

Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”

I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story”—who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door—the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.

HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.

To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Laverne McKinnon

Name: Laverne McKinnon
Location: Los Angeles, California
Profession: Television Producer, Executive/Life Coach, Grief Counselor, Adjunct Lecturer


Laverne, you are a modern day Renaissance woman. You produce TV shows. You lecture at Northwestern University. You’re a coach. You’re a grief counselor. You help people heal and transform, using so many different mediums. It sounds like you’ve got five or six incredible careers all rolled into one! How do you figure out where to put your energy on any given day?

Wow – thanks so much! I’ve never been called a Renaissance woman before, but I love it! I recently listened to a Ted Talk from Emilie Wapnick about “why some of us don’t have one true calling” and I felt like she was describing me. I get restless when I’m not learning and growing, and have never felt comfortable unless I was doing many things at once. Over the last several years, I discovered that what links what I do altogether are 3 things: 1. when I’m of service (helping people across their finish lines); 2. helping people find and manifest their dreams; 3. and in order to get to the first two, helping people heal in whatever way is needed.

So on any given day, I try to make sure my energy is coming from that specific place of purpose — whether it’s coaching or teaching or producing. On a more pragmatic level, I’m a planner and a scheduler. I hate to waste time and have a daily “foundation” schedule that energetically sets me up for success: meditation, exercise and time with my kids in the morning.

You recently were an Executive Producer of the Netflix series GIRLBOSS. Take us back to the very beginning of your TV career. What was your very first TV-related job? What was it like? And how did you get hired?

My first job was writing and producing educational films in Chicago and that laid the groundwork for working in television. I had two great mentors: Gerry Rogers and Duffy Swift who taught me about screenwriting, budgeting, scheduling, hiring crews, negotiating deals, casting. They were ridiculously patient and generous.

From there, I took a “step back” when I moved to LA and became an assistant at an agency. It was my un-official Masters in Entertainment. While there was a lot of “grunge” work, it was invaluable because I was on the front lines seeing how writers were hired, projects were packaged and the spoken and unspoken hierarchy of entertainment.

Both jobs came through Northwestern alumni connections – alums were incredibly responsive to meeting me and advocating for me which was such a blessing because I didn’t have a single connection.

What’s been one of the scariest or most discouraging moments of your career so far? What happened? How did you feel? And how did you get through it?

Probably when I was fired from CBS after being with the network for 10 years. That time period was challenging for me: I was a first-time mother, my marriage was in disarray, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I had been named head of the drama development department at the number one broadcast network.

When the firing happened, I was quite devastated and took about a year off from working, contemplating leaving the business. I lost my identity and self-worth. It honestly took years to re-build through a tremendous amount of work with a gifted coach, reading self-help books, attending leadership workshops and seminars, and brutal self-auditing.

I had to get through layers and layers of loss, and take the meaning that I had assigned to those losses and turn it around. It’s why I’m so passionate about combining my work as a producer, coach, grief counselor and teacher – we all have loss in our lives and frequently it slows or stops us from meeting our potential and living our purpose.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Laverne McKinnon

I am curious to know a little more about the time period when you were fired from CBS after being with the network for 10 years. That’s such a huge life event. How did that feel? What helped you to get through it? How did you survive that?

Any kind of job loss whether it’s being down-sized, let go, a position being eliminated, or being fired is a blow. One study that I read indicates that if both the employee and the employer are in agreement and have a mutual understanding of the circumstance then it helps the employee find positive meaning to the event. In most cases, that’s not the end result so the employee is left assigning negative meaning to the event which was my case.

As I said, my experience was a huge loss for me and it took a “long” time to recover. I didn’t have any tools or skills to figure it out and the meaning I made of the loss was that I was not worthy. The primary thing that helped me through it eventually was asking for and getting help … and to this day, I still work with a coach and am attending workshops and reading books about self-improvement. I’m a huge advocate for always working on one’s personal growth and development. There’s also a great program that I attended called The Hoffman Institute that Billy Bush recently talked about in his getting back on his feet after the Trump scandal.

If someone just got fired, or is going through some other type of grief / loss and feeling really heartbroken, what’s something you’d want that person to know? Like, if you were having tea with that person, or sitting together on their couch, what would you say to them?

To know that they are not alone and that other people have had similar experiences and have recovered. They may be experiencing shame for a number of reasons – “I should have seen it coming, I should have known better, it’s not fair, I’m so stupid, I’ll never find another job, my friends/family won’t understand, etc.” Shame is isolating and can stop/slow the recovery process. Brene Brown’s book DARING GREATLY is a great one to read if you’re experiencing any kind of loss (job, relationship, moving, death – truly any.)

You’re an Executive Producer of the Netflix Series, GIRLBOSS, which is inspired by the true story of Sophia Amoruso, a misfit punk who launched a multi-million dollar clothing company. Sophia’s story is so fascinating to me. What was it about the GIRLBOSS story that made you think, “Yes. I must produce that show!”…?

I love Sophia’s honestly and vulnerably – and having been someone who had felt lost in my life, I related to her story and was inspired that she found her passion and purpose. I also love that Sophia today is onto her next journey post her company Nasty Gal. That’s what life is – we have ups and downs and it’s about bouncing back that defines us, not that we experience loss.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Laverne McKinnon

3 THINGS

Lots of people dream about working in the TV industry. It can seem so glamorous. Red carpet events. Cameras flashing. Splashy PR campaigns. Fancy swag bags filled with diamond-flecked facial cream. But of course, the reality of working in TV can be very different. It’s definitely not all glitz and glamour!

What are 3 things that most people don’t know about the TV industry… that, perhaps, they should?

1. Running with the theme of loss that’s been woven through my previous answers, there is a LOT of loss.

There’s a ton of product and passion that’s generated that will never be seen by audiences. Ideas that never get bought, actors that don’t get the roles they audition for, scripts that never get produced, shows that are cancelled after a few episodes or a season, etc. It takes tenacity and skill to survive because there’s daily heartbreak.

2. Some relationships are meant to last a lifetime and some are for a brief period.

There’s an intimacy that’s created in working hard with a group of people to make something happen – it could be between actor and director, writer and producer, production designer and director of photography, make-up and wardrobe, agent and client, the list goes on and on. Creating extraordinary product requires vulnerability, strength, talent, resilience and intimacy. And that leads to deep bonding which fuels the relationship and the product, but it doesn’t always mean that it’s meant to last a lifetime. And that sometimes … frequently … causes heartbreak and trauma.

3. You’re going to experience heartbreak.

It doesn’t mean that you suck, you’re a loser, you should leave the industry with your tail tucked between your legs. It means that you’re swinging for the fences. No one bats 1000. So it’s critical to develop tools that help you process the failures, mistakes, heartbreaks and trauma that will occur. Because the only thing that’s stopping you from success is quitting.

And bonus round!

Gratitude is one of the best tools to develop to overcome heartbreak. It’s a practice to begin daily now, before you experience failure.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Laverne? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)


YOUR #1 CAREER GOAL: ACHIEVED

Do you need some encouragement to help you achieve a big, daunting career goal? Would you like to have a career coach/strategist in your corner—feeding you ideas that you’d never considered before, helping you figure out who to contact, and what to say, and checking in to make sure you don’t procrastinate? If so… click here to find out how we can work together. I’d love to coach you!

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An Interview With Scarlet Chamberlin

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Scarlet Chamberlin

Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”

I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story”—who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door—the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.

HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.

To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Scarlet Chamberlin

Name: Scarlet Chamberlin
Location: Portland, Oregon
Profession: Personal Stylist


Scarlet, you have one of the coolest jobs in the world! You’re a personal stylist and you help people declutter their closets, figure out their style, and shop for clothes that they love. You also help people choose outfits for important events—like job interviews, TV interviews, red carpet appearances, and things like that. My first question for you is… how does somebody become a stylist? Are there courses that you take in college? Certification programs? What’s the process of stepping into this kind of career?

From what I’ve seen, there’s not just “one way” to become a personal stylist. There are lots of different paths. There are some college courses—for example, I think The Art Institute of Portland has a program you can do if you want to pursue a career in fashion or styling.

There are quite a few online courses too, including one called The Paid Stylist. I took that particular course early on in my career. Later, I got invited to be one of the mentors for the students in that course, so it all came full circle! I’m still in touch with the people who I studied alongside, many years ago. Our career trajectories have all been different, and it’s been really fun to see each other move forward in our own ways. But how I got into styling wasn’t really a linear path. For me, it was a roundabout journey. I had a few different jobs before I settled on styling.

So, when did you start feeling that little intuitive whisper inside, saying, “I think I want to be a stylist”? Were you always fascinated with clothes?

My mother was a fashion buyer for the May Company, which was a big department store that was really popular back in the ‘70s and ‘80s—although it has since gone out of business. But back in her day, working for May was such an exciting job. She got flown all over the world, and was wined and dined, and she was always going to interesting places and bringing us toys back from wherever she was. She passed away when I was 11, but I’d already fallen in love with clothes through her.

Then in high school, I started making jewelry. Gemstones were my favorite thing to work with, so I learned a lot about gems with my brother and we’d go on hunts around Portland, searching for rocks. Eventually, I learned about some of the healing, spiritual properties of gemstones, which fascinated me, too. I started making jewelry pieces and taking them down to the boutiques on Northwest 23rd to see if I could sell them.

I can totally imagine you as a teen-entrepreneur, marching up and down the streets of Portland with a bag full of homemade jewelry! And then what happened after high school?

I’m a really tall woman—6 feet—so I got into college on a basketball scholarship. But really, I wanted to study art. The basketball program was really demanding, and it didn’t leave much extra time for me to pursue anything else. After awhile, I just bailed.

I knew I wanted a big change, so I decided to go to Italy and study abroad for a semester. When I came back, I went to massage school. You wouldn’t think that massage relates to fashion at all, but what happened is that I got to work with women in a very intimate space, and learned a lot about how we view ourselves, our body acceptance levels, and I learned that everyone has cellulite, even guys.

That was when I realized that I wanted to help people feel better about themselves. So, I started making jewelry for people to commemorate things that were going on in their lives—pregnancies, births, new relationships, new projects. Like power pieces, or talismans to remind people of their strength. People loved these jewelry pieces. I started getting lots of custom orders, and even a few celebrity clients, and that’s when I realized that “fashion” can mean something very personal, and it can be a confidence booster for so many people. It’s not just about looking trendy or having sparkly, pretty things. It can be so much deeper.

Around that time, I heard there was this whole industry called “personal styling.” I’d been the unofficial stylist for most of my friends my entire life, so I figured, “I think I might enjoy doing that kind of job.”

So, for two years I worked on the weekends with my friends and jewelry customers to get better at styling, and come up with my own process for working with clients.

Basically, I did lots of experimenting, and I’d ask myself questions like, “Is personal styling something that I love? Is it something that I’m willing to change career paths for? How can I make this a really valuable service for people, and make it a joyful experience for me, too? How can I save people time, save people money, get people interested in quality over quantity, and inspire them to shop local?”

After working with my initial “guinea pig” clients for those two years, I felt more confident in my abilities. That’s when I officially launched my styling business. That was about 7 years ago. The time has flown by!

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Scarlet Chamberlin

It’s so true that what you wear on your body can have so much significance. Our clothes send a message to the world, and to ourselves. Let’s talk a little more about the early days of your styling career. After you officially opened the doors to your styling business, did you have lots of clients right away? Or was it difficult? Was there a period of time when you felt nervous, like, “Oh my God, is this really going to work?”

Like I mentioned, I started out by working with my friends and family and past customers. Those were my first clients. Those people told their friends about me, and word spread little by little, mostly through those personal referrals. Having an existing following, not the social media kind but the community kind, was a huge part of my business’ relatively fast growth. I was also willing to travel anywhere to work with a referral! I’d put it on a credit card and go because I knew this would grow my business in the best way.

I put together a basic WordPress website. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was a great home base with a description of my services and how to contact me. But at that point, I wasn’t really getting any emails or calls from “strangers.” Just from people who were my friends, or friends of friends. I remember saying to my husband, “One day, when a complete stranger hires me through my website, I’m gonna throw a party.”

And then one day, it happened. And then it started happening again and again and again. That felt so exciting—like I’d reached a new level in my business, because people outside of my immediate social circle were discovering me!

I’d love to hear more about your transition into running your own business. Did you have a full-time “day job” during the early phase of your styling business, before you had plenty of clients? How did you support yourself?

Before getting into the styling biz, I had been working at Laika, which is an animation studio. It was my first “real job” ever. It was an amazing place to work. Lots of creative people. I had insurance paid for, and I had a paycheck every two weeks. The downside was that I had a long commute every day, sometimes an hour each way. And, as much as I loved the people there, some part of me knew that it was just… not for me. At least, not long-term.

I left that job and lined up some part-time work with a friend just to cover my bills. I was doing styling on the weekends, in the evenings and weekdays around my part-time job. I worked non-stop. This was serious HUSTLE time! Always at it making or deepening relationships with the boutiques, consignment stores, designers and influencers in Portland when I wasn’t actually with a client.  just dipping my toes in the water, and getting things started. And then my dad died out of nowhere. He had a brain aneurysm. I was really close to him, and his death was completely shocking.

After his death, I took a couple weeks off from my part-time job. The first day I had to go back, I almost had a panic attack. I was laying on the floor and I just was like, “Oh my God, I can’t do this. I have to do my dream 100%.” That’s when I decided to take my styling business more seriously, and really go for it. That’s what my dad would want.

I’m sure your mom and dad are both incredibly proud of you. It’s interesting how, sometimes, it takes a shocking, even tragic event in order for us to wake up and charge after our dreams, or make a big lifestyle change. That’s the mysterious gift of grief. It can bring us more fully alive.

I am curious… after you decided to really go for it with your styling business, how long did it take before you felt financially secure, like, “OK, it’s working. I’ve arrived where I want to be.” A few months? Years?

I think it was around the five-year mark. That’s when I felt like I had a steady stream of clients, and repeat clients, and I was making an amount of money that felt exciting, instead of just squeaking by. That’s when I felt like, “Okay, this isn’t going away. This is working. Five years in, I still love this. Yes!”

And of course, businesses evolve over time. New goals and dreams materialize. A big moment for me was when I decided to sign up for retreat in Tulum that was being led by two of my favorite astrologers, the AstroTwins. I love astrology and I’d always wanted to learn more. It was such a fun, dreamy trip, with so many serendipitous happenings.

On that trip, I started to get this feeling that something was about to change—like I was ready for a new adventure, a new level, some kind of shift.

I’d been renting a tiny little studio for my office. Then, while I was in Tulum, my landlord emailed me out of the blue and said, “Hey, there’s this big space upstairs that’s coming available soon. Would you like to see it?”

When I got home, I looked at the space, and I was like, “Holy fucking shit.” It was my dream space. Big, spacious, huge windows. It was a bit dingy, but I convinced my landlord to let me paint it white (including the floors!) I’d always imagined being able to work in a bright, big, open lofty-type space. As soon as I walked into that space, my brain started whirling with new ideas. “I could have client sessions here, and fashion shows, and workshops, and fundraisers, and racks full of clothes from local designers, and an area to display jewelry, and a mini-fridge full of champagne, and, and, and…”

It felt like a big, wide open canvas, filled with possibilities. And so I took the leap. This meant that my overhead increased a bit, but it was a risk I was willing to take. I’m sure that a year or two from now, another risky-but-super-exciting opportunity will present itself, and I’ll probably leap at that, too! That’s always been my personality. I’m always seeking and stretching, so my business stretches along with me.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Scarlet Chamberlin

You’re very politically active, as am I. During the 2016 election season, you hosted a Hillary Clinton fundraiser at your studio—the big, dreamy white loft that you just mentioned. I heard through the grapevine that it was an amazing event! And then of course, Trump won the election, which left many of us feeling shocked and discouraged. It’s such a bizarre time, culturally and politically. I’m curious to know… how do you keep yourself feeling positive and inspired when there are so many discouraging things happening in our country and around the world?

For me, it’s about just… doing something. Taking action makes me feel more optimistic. If there’s a cause I want to support, or a candidate, I think to myself, “I can’t just do nothing. How could I help, even if it’s a relatively small way?”

Lately, I’ve been involved with a group called Progress Makes Perfect, which is a group of people here in Portland who want to see our country move in the direction of fairness and equality. We meet quarterly, and we find ways to get involved with causes that need more support. Everyone in the group has different skills—styling, fundraising, social media marketing, photography, writing—so we try to find organizations that are doing great work, but that need some extra help, and have a limited budget. And we offer our skills and pitch in.

I’m also involved with League Of Badass Women “LOBAW” which is now international, in 12 countries with 10k members, but the founder is here and a friend. At first we were focused on resistance and now it’s turning back to leadership, which was the focus prior to the election.

We talked about political discouragement a moment ago. I’d love to ask you about other kinds of discouragement, too. Looking back on your career, have there been any moments when you felt really criticized, rejected… really discouraged? What happened, and how did you get through it?

Oh, definitely. Many moments. As someone who’s sort of a chameleon and a people-pleaser by nature, the hardest thing that I’ve had to learn over the years is to say “no” and to set boundaries.

I’ve had experiences where a client wanted to hire me, and I could sense some red flags, but I took them on anyway because I thought I needed the money. And then later I was like, “Damn it! I should have listened to my intuition. Why did I do this?”

I’ve had a small handful of really, really hard clients, over the years. One of them was somebody who was visiting Portland from out of town, and she wanted to work with me while she was here. My intuition was sending me some warning signals, but I ignored that and agreed to work with her.

I set really clear expectations. I knew her budget. I knew how many pieces I was advising her to buy while she was here in order to create the capsule wardrobe she was asking me for. But then once we met in person, despite all of my communication, I realized she wanted something totally different than what I could provide. I tried so hard to make her dream a reality. In the end, I was just so completely drained and exhausted, and it didn’t feel clean and successful. It felt messy, and she still seemed disappointed no matter what I did.

The lesson, of course, is that we’ve got to pay attention to those red flags! These days, I often remind myself, “If I say ‘no’ to this, it’s just making space for something better to come along.”

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With Scarlet Chamberlin

3 THINGS

If someone is interested in becoming a personal stylist, what are the first three things they should do?

1. Tell people what you’re doing.

Start thinking about who your community is—your existing community of people who can support you, like your friends, family, and co-workers. Start telling people that you want to do this and collecting names and email addresses and phone numbers.

2. Educate yourself on how to run a business.

Get involved with a program that can teach you the business side of things. There are tons of free resources online covering web design, marketing, invoicing, tracking expenses, paying your taxes. Find a mentor or a coach or take a business class. Personal referrals are the best way to grow a styling business so any time you can be around other people in a learning environment, it will lead to collaboration opportunities and potential clients! I always encourage people to get out from behind the computer and go engage in real life. It can feel so hard but it is so important!

3. Spend time with an experienced stylist.

If you’re lucky, you might meet a stylist who’s willing to let you shadow them, or be their intern or apprentice. If you can’t find someone like that, then create your own apprenticeship program by practicing on your friends. Hone your skills. Learn how to work with different body types, and different comfort levels (some people are fine being naked in front of you as they try on clothes, others are not!) and different people’s personalities. Practice. A lot.

Almost anybody can put together a fun outfit, but styling is more than that. It’s about listening to your client—hearing them express how they want to feel, and what their goals are, and who they want to become—and then creating a look that makes them feel confident, like, “This is who I really am. This is the best version of me.”

It’s not about putting together an outfit that you love, it’s about putting together an outfit that your client loves, which is a very different thing. And when things “click” and your client looks in the mirror, beaming with excitement, and standing up a few inches taller, that’s just the best. I love that moment. And that’s why I’m still totally in love with styling, 7 years in and counting.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Scarlet? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)


YOUR #1 CAREER GOAL: ACHIEVED

Do you need some encouragement to help you achieve a big, daunting career goal? Would you like to have a career coach/strategist in your corner—feeding you ideas that you’d never considered before, helping you figure out who to contact, and what to say, and checking in to make sure you don’t procrastinate? If so… click here to find out how we can work together. I’d love to coach you!

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Photos: Artfare and Vev Studios.

An Interview with The Mystery Box Show

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With The Mystery Box Show

Whenever I meet someone who’s got a really cool job, who runs a thriving business, or who has completed an amazing project, I always want to know: “How did you do that?”

I’m always curious to hear the “behind-the-scenes story”—who they emailed, what they said, how they got their first client, how they got their foot in the door—the exact steps that they took to achieve their goal.

HOW DID YOU DO THAT? is an interview series where we get to hear the REAL story behind someone’s success—not the polished, neat and tidy version.

To see a complete list of all the interviews that have been completed to date, head over here.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With The Mystery Box Show

Name: Eric Scheur and Reba Sparrow
Location: Portland, Oregon
Profession: The Mystery Box Show


You run a live storytelling event called The Mystery Box Show. It’s a show dedicated to true stories about sex and sexuality. People get onstage and share incredible stories from their lives. This show has become really popular, with lots of sponsors and about 400 people in the audience each time. How did this all start? Where did the idea come from?

ERIC & REBA: Like most ambitious projects, it’s probably helpful if you have a little bit of blind naiveté about exactly what you’re signing up for!

In the beginning it was just Eric, who didn’t have any experience putting on shows at all. He was just a fan of storytelling podcasts like Risk! and The Moth, and local storytelling shows as well. The simple fact is that he was always a little more interested when the stories turned to the topic of sex, and he thought it would be fun to see a show with only sex stories. He assumed one must already exist in Portland, but when he couldn’t find one, he started his own.

It’s true that the show has grown, but we started off small, in a wonderful and intimate improv space called The Brody Theatre. It only held about 98 people and was the perfect space for an experiment like this. Eric reached out to friends, and friends of friends, and posted on Craigslist to find anyone who would share their personal sex stories on stage—and then he coached each storyteller to refine their story. It was important that the stories were curated and polished so the night didn’t just become an evening of sexual bragging on stage. The stories needed a narrative structure, stakes, and if possible, a character arc.

The first show was a surprise sold-out success, and the audience asked “When’s the next one?!” So that meant we had to do more. It never occurred to Eric that it would be a regular thing, really. All of the energy went into making that first show.

We continued to pack the house almost every time we did a show, and the audience loved the stories and the storytellers. But things really began to grow when Reba came on board a year later. Reba brought a few key elements that the show had been needing: organization, structure, audience care (that’s a big one, deserving an essay in and of itself), and most importantly, emotions!

When Reba started coaching storytellers, she was able to use her background in theatre to dig into storytellers’ tales and really pull out the emotions that the audience connected with.

The change in the stories on stage was noticeable, and the audience related to the stories more than they ever had before. It wasn’t long until we had to look for a larger venue (again, all orchestrated by Reba), and then a larger venue still! Not bad for a show that didn’t think it would move past its first appearance.

Reba, after you came onboard as Executive Producer for the show, what did you want to change–and why? How did you evolve the show into what it is today?

REBA: It was clear that there was excitement at the shows. It was a small theatre and, honestly, when people are talking about sex in a compressed space, it’s going to create energy. These shows felt like a party, and that’s a great place to start from.

I tend to watch shows with the eyes of a producer. This probably comes from my background in theatre, and forensics before that. During the first few Mystery Box Shows I went to, I felt that the stories could have been more developed. They always ended before I’d heard everything I wanted to hear from them: things like “But how did that experience leave you feeling? What changed for you?” or “I didn’t see how this part of the story related to the other part of the story—that could have been strengthened.”

When Eric and I started coaching the storytellers together, I was able to ask those questions and the stories got richer. When we coach together, Eric is really good at helping to build the narrative structure, and I’m really good at digging for the deeper emotions in a story. It’s a combination that really works well together, but a lot of those deeper emotions weren’t as present at the first few shows.

The other thing I saw at the live show was that Eric was running himself thin trying to produce the show, host the show, prepare the green room, interact with the audience, and help the storytellers feel comfortable before going on stage. That’s a LOT for one person to do, and I don’t think even Eric realized how much he was trying to do at once. I knew that I could bring my experience of stage managing, which would give the show a more solid foundation.

The stuff that happens backstage before (and leading up to) the show is the foundation of what makes a show suffer or what makes a show great. What I saw was that the show needed more time focused on what happened BEFORE the night of the show: working with the storytellers, establishing the pace of the show, things like that.

It’s all very invisible. The show got tighter, better produced. But I don’t think that the audience would be able to point to a specific thing to say “Ah, this is why the show is better.” It’s just something that the audience walks away feeling.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With The Mystery Box Show

Describe what the very first Mystery Box Show was like. Where did it happen? How did you feel (nervous, excited, both?) Did anybody show up to watch the show?

ERIC: At the very first show we had a packed house. That was a bit of a surprise, to be honest. A lot of those people were my friends, or friends of the storytellers, or people who probably saw an ad that said “sex” and thought, “Ooh, I’ll check that out!”

Interestingly, the second show was the one where only about half of the seats were filled. Who can say why? It definitely felt like a disappointment after the success of the first show. It’s funny, too, because if we’d been half-full for that first show, we would have considered it a runaway success! As the shows continued, audience numbers went up and down, but tended to trend towards getting larger and larger. Seems like a good lesson about perseverance?

Lots of people dream about starting a cool business or project, but they worry that “nobody will care” and “nobody will show up.” You have created a very enthusiastic following for The Mystery Box Show. Talk a little about how that happened. What are some of the specific things you’ve done to build excitement for your shows and sell tickets?

ERIC & REBA: It’ll sound cliché, but we’re putting on the show that we would want to go see. It feels like that’s probably a factor in why the show means something to people: because it means something to us and that resonates. The show has our voice and our aesthetic, which makes it personal. Much more personal than trying to figure out what people would want to see and then catering it to them. We cater the show to us and trust that the audience will find it matches with their tastes as well.

That’s not to say we don’t care about the audience. In fact, Reba is focused very intently on making sure the audience feels special, and this manifests itself in subtle ways throughout the live show, and even in our social media presence. Here are a few examples of things we consciously do, or consciously don’t do:

• We don’t lecture our audience. No telling them how they should feel about a certain story, or about their own relationship with sex, their insecurities, issues of shame, or displays of enthusiasm.

• We curate our stories to be relatable to just about everyone. While most of us have many, many, many different sexual experiences, the emotions tied to those experiences tend to be universal. A favorite example of this is that most of us probably can’t relate to the experience of having sex in a public sex club, surrounded by onlookers. But most of us can probably relate to issues of being comfortable with our bodies, and feeling judged because our bodies aren’t “perfect” according to cultural/media standards. When those emotions become the focus of the story, and the sex club becomes the mere circumstantial details, the audience feels invited in.

• We make sure that our show is an inclusive show. That is to say, everyone is welcome, and we make an effort for everyone to feel comfortable and safe. We’re not just here for kinky people, and not just for vanilla people. No gender expression, sexual orientation, or relationship model is seen as more special or righteous than any other. (This is our own interpretation of “being the change you want to see in the world.”)

We don’t have any charts or graphs that show how those kinds of things translate directly into ticket sales, but we know that it does make a difference.

What’s one of the most difficult things you’ve had to deal with? Has there ever been a setback that made you think, “Maybe we should stop doing this show,” or “This is just too hard.” What was that moment, and how did you get through it?

ERIC & REBA: Ooh, this is a good one! There’s actually been a new challenge in the last year and a half, as the show has grown: negative feedback.

In the early days, most of the response to the show was overwhelmingly positive. And to be fair, that overwhelmingly positive response is still there. But that positive response is now peppered with e-mails or Twitter reactions from people who have been offended by the stories at the show, or whose past trauma has been triggered by the subjects mentioned on stage.

This is a tough one for us, because while we honestly believe in the stories we put on stage (which showcase the range of human sexuality, and can occasionally go dark or extreme), we don’t want to make our audience feel unsafe.

We’re still working through the best way to make sure our audience feels good about the stories in the show, without compromising our vision of what we want the show to be. Our current method is to offer Trigger Warnings before each story that might have some obvious traumatic content such as sexual violence, non-consent, etc. The trouble is that just about anything, obvious or not, can trigger unpleasant emotions, depending on the person. There’s no real way to predict what will be difficult material for certain audience members. And there have been audience members who were not shy about speaking up in e-mail or on social media after having been exposed to material that put them in a darker space.

So we’re trying to find a balance that means we can both take care of our audience, but also still feature stories that exist all across the spectrum of sexual experiences. It’s not always easy, but honestly, it’s nothing that’s ever made us think about stopping the show. It just opens us up to creative thinking about how to approach the problem.

If there’s anything that has made us think about things being too hard, it’s the time commitment. Reba is a single mother and an actor, and Eric has a full-time job as well. When you factor in trying to produce and promote a show, not to mention the hours we spend every week finding and coaching storytellers (it’s a lot of hours), that’s probably been the thing we struggle most with: Time.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview With The Mystery Box Show

Storytelling tips, please! If someone is getting onstage to tell a true story—like at an open mic night—what is one thing they definitely should do, and one thing they definitely should NOT do?

Ha! Excellent question. We’ll try to keep it simple, though ‘cuz here’s the thing: “storytelling tips” can apply to any story, whether you’re on stage or not. But since you’ve asked specifically about getting on stage (or, let’s say, even in front of a group of friends, or a business meeting)…

• DO be vulnerable.

Be yourself and allow your own emotions to come out in the story. Use “I statements” (I saw an apple, I felt frightened, I opened my e-mail) to place yourself in the story. That will let the listener follow along with your experiences.

• DON’T lose focus.

Make sure every piece of the story you’re sharing, every scene you’re building, every character you’re introducing, relates to the point you’re trying to make with your story. (Bonus Hint: KNOW YOUR ENDING) If you are concise and deliberate, your story beats will stick with your listener, leading them through the story towards the end.

If someone is interested in starting some kind of “show” or “live storytelling event” in their city, what are the first 3 things they should do?

1. Be organized.

Plot out the show from beginning to end, almost to the point of making a script you can follow, and then figure out how to make sure all of those pieces end up on stage.

2. Just do it. Dive in.

You’re not going to get it perfect the first time, so embrace those imperfections. You’ll make improvements once you see the show on its feet.

3. Tell everyone and their sister to come to the show and spread the word about it.

Selling tickets is not easy, and you’re going to need everyone to be as enthusiastic about you show as you are. Show them that you have something exciting and valuable, and they’ll be excited to tell more people about it the next time you take the stage.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Reba and Eric? Email me and tell me what you want to know! I might choose your question for my ONE MORE THING… Podcast (Coming soon!!!)


YOUR #1 CAREER GOAL: ACHIEVED

Do you need some encouragement to help you achieve a big, daunting career goal? Would you like to have a career coach/strategist in your corner—feeding you ideas that you’d never considered before, helping you figure out who to contact, and what to say, and checking in to make sure you don’t procrastinate? If so… click here to find out how we can work together. I’d love to coach you!

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