Category: How Did You Do That

An Interview with Lauren Chiarello

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Lauren Chiarello

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 Lauren Chiarello

Name: Lauren Chiarello
Location: New York
Profession: Fitness Instructor, Events Guru, 2x Cancer Survivor


Lauren, you’re a fitness instructor based in NYC, and you’re also a 2x cancer survivor. You’re involved in lots of fundraising efforts, you do event planning, and you’ve raised over $75,000 for cancer charities. You’re a strong, generous, and busy woman!

Can you walk us through a typical workday in your life? Are you by a computer? Riding the subway around town? Meeting with clients? At the gym? Describe a “day in the life” of Lauren Chiarello.

I’m up early every weekday – either teaching a group Pilates / TRX class at Flex Studios or Barre class at exhale or training my private clients. I also teach in a corporate setting – I have 3 groups that I see regularly. I try to stack my days as much as I can to reduce commuting around the city. I live uptown + sometimes I’ll need to commute twice in one day so that’ll add up to 2 – 2.5 hours a day. Not ideal! During my commuting time, I’m usually working from my phone — scheduling / answering emails / planning fitness events / charity work. Whenever I have an open time slot – I grab my own workout. I try to take class or run outside. The days can be quite long so over the past few years, I’ve tried to learn how to conserve my energy. It’s tricky but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.

Working in the fitness industry seems really fun! You get to move your body all day long, listen to energizing music… it sounds like a dream gig, especially for someone who loves helping people feel better. What’s your favorite part of your work? Also, what’s your least favorite part?

I adore meeting people. My students are the reason I teach. I’ve seen firsthand how movement can transform the body + mind. I teach to educate and my hope is that my students walk out learning something. It’s truly a gift to lead others and I never take it for granted when my rock star students carve out time to get stronger, both physically and mentally.

Working for myself, I wake up everyday unemployed. It’s been challenging to set boundaries. Teaching a lot of hours can put a strain on my body and voice. I try to listen to my body as much as I can so I can rest properly and continue to hold space for my students.

Do you have a morning routine? What is it?

Sorta! I build in time to drink hot water with lemon and eat something nourishing before starting the day. I also try to take time to sit with a clear mind. I have a full schedule (sometimes up to 8 different pieces of goodness per day!) and my brain wants to start darting in 897347 directions. It’s a practice to try to find stillness to start my day. Work in progress!

Have you ever had a project that didn’t go very well? A class that nobody attended, a fundraiser that didn’t raise much money, or something else? What happened? How did you feel? And how did you pick yourself up and convince yourself to keep trying?

Oh yes. Funny enough, I revel in the failures. Even though they’re tough, I always feel like there is so much to learn.

In 2016, I started an outdoor workout event series called #ChiChiSweatSesh. I love exercising outside and I was super stoked to bring community and connection into Central Park. I teamed up with a fellow fitness instructor to lead a combo workout, followed by a potluck picnic. My friend and fellow coach Rachel led a running workout, and then I taught a core class. Around 5 people signed up; all but one canceled last minute. We still had a truly lovely evening but I remember being so bummed about the attendance numbers. It’s a struggle to get people to come out for events – people in NYC have a lot of commitments! The lack of attendance lit a fire in me to figure out how to rally more people. I thought to myself, How can I make this event stand out?

I decided to start bringing in food and beverage partners to offer samples as well as a charity partner. I ask my teachers to select a cause that is meaningful to them and we invite the charity to participate. Last year, one #ChiChiSweatSesh supported a mental health organization, This is My Brave, and we had a participant perform a poem she wrote to kick off the evening.  It was the most memorable one of the year.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Lauren Chiarello

I’ve known many cancer survivors in my life. Nearly all of them have told me that—even though it’s scary and awful—cancer has also brought many positive lessons into their lives. Lessons about resilience, about being present and appreciating each moment, about going after your goals and not waiting for someday later, about mindfulness and gratitude, and more. I am curious to know… what kind of imprint has cancer left in your life? How has this illness shaped you into the person you are today?

Literally all of the above lessons you mentioned! I was recently on my friend Jill’s podcast, The Career Passport, talking about “How Gratitude Can Save Your Career (And Maybe Even Your Life).” Being grateful allows us to focus on a life of abundance. When we have a tough day, if we can bring a sense of gratitude into our minds, our energy and attitude have the potential to shift in a positive direction. I often say, no day but today.

I was quite young when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — 23 years old, fresh out of college + ready to tackle life! I was completely sidelined when I learned I had cancer. I led a healthy lifestyle – grew up an athlete and have been a vegetarian since I was 14. Going through treatment at such a young age helped me to put life in perspective and changed the trajectory of my entire life. I doubt I would be a fitness instructor. I fell in love with movement after my treatments. About one year after my stem cell transplant, a friend introduced me to Barre classes. My teachers helped me discover strength I didn’t know I had.

My mantra is Yes. You. Can. I believe that everyone has the ability to lead his or her best lives. We must be relentless in the pursuit. Cancer taught me that.

Also, every day is a gift. I start all of my classes by saying “it’s a beautiful day to be alive.” Because, it just is.

You were recently nominated for Reebok’s Most Inspiring Trainer in America Award—and you became a finalist! Congratulations! How did this happen? Did you apply? Did a client submit your name for consideration? Tell us more about this wonderful achievement.

Thank you so much! The nomination was a true honor. Friends / clients / family submitted my name for consideration. My cousin made this amazing video which I feel helped me get noticed. Even though I didn’t win, it was a wonderful platform to share my story. In sharing my story, the hope is to help others feel less alone.

You have such a positive outlook on life. One of your favorite mantras is: “It’s a beautiful day to be alive.” But do you ever have moments in your everyday life where you feel discouraged or overwhelmed? When? And how do you pull yourself out of those moments?

I definitely have those moments – probably everyday. If I am feeling overwhelmed, I try to step away from whatever I am doing and look at it with a bird’s eye view. If I am feeling discouraged, I look to find tiny moments of joy that can lift my spirits.

I truly enjoy reading quotes + passages. One of my favorites is Ralph Marston’s The Daily Motivator. He writes about different life themes and they always seem to resonate with me at just the right time.

You’re obviously very passionate about health, fitness, and self-care. What are some ways that you take care of yourself, and invest in your own wellbeing? Do you have any favorite rituals, classes, products, or…?

This area had been lacking for a while as my schedule had gotten overloaded. Over the past few months, I’ve made active changes. I make my workouts a priority (Barre / Pilates / TRX / Running / Cycling / Yoga) … I like it all!

I was having constant pain in my SI joint + I decided to go for regular therapeutic massages. These have been super-helpful. I schedule them every other Friday and it’s a beautiful way to kick-off the weekend. Since I use my body for my work, I have to keep it healthy!

I love to travel. It expands my heart and mind. I truly enjoy learning about different cultures and immersing myself in new environments. My husband and I try to take lots of adventures when our schedule allows. On the deck in 2018: French Alps with Sharing Bali + Beyond.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Lauren Chiarello

3 THINGS

We always end each HOW DID YOU DO THAT? interview with helpful pieces of advice. Imagine someone, out there, who would love to work in the fitness industry… but isn’t sure how to begin. What are the first 3 steps this person could take? Any advice?

1. Find what excites you!

Do you love yoga, Zumba, HIIT, cycling? Find the one you’re most passionate about and start to build consistency. Try taking the class 3-4x/week and see how your body, mind and heart feel.

2. Build Relationships!

This one takes time. I was a Barre student at exhale for 5 years before I became a teacher. I fell in love with the method. I got to know the teachers and from there, it was a natural fit to train.

3. Start to investigate!

Ask your local gym / studio how you can become certified. You’ll also need to be CPR / AED certified which you can do through your local Red Cross. Most studios require a group exercise certification as well – I received mine through AFAA.

You can follow Lauren on Instagram at @chichilifenyc. For all you lucky people in New York City, she offers great classes and events.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Lauren? 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: Foxes and Wolves

An Interview with Nicole Antoinette

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Nicole Antoinette
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 Nicole Antoinette

Name: Nicole Antoinette
Location: Bend, Oregon
Profession: Writer, Podcaster, Athlete


Nicole, you run an amazing podcast called Real Talk Radio, where you have conversations with all kinds of people about all kinds of topics—alcoholism, debt, divorce, mental illness, and racial discrimination, for starters.

The purpose of the show is to have real, honest conversations about life—particularly the “messier” parts of life that many people struggle with but don’t discuss publicly.

When—and why—did you decide to create this podcast? Is it something you thought about doing for a long time? Did the idea hit you out-of-the-blue one day? Tell me about the origins of this show.

The first season of the show came out in August 2015, but through blogging and other mediums I’ve done honest personal story sharing online for over a decade. So while the podcast itself was a new creative project that began only a few years ago, the motivation for creating it (to give myself and others the space to talk honestly and openly about our real lives) is one that I’ve deeply valued for a long time now.

My “why” for creating this podcast had a lot to do with the personal burnout I felt from self-help fatigue. Everywhere I looked, someone was trying to sell me something to make my life better, and that constant messaging that you aren’t enough (but you will be if you buy another e-course or follow ten more life hacks!) was exhausting. So to be honest, I created the thing that I myself was craving: a space where folks could come together to share about their real lives in real time, to talk about fears and dreams and challenges and goals, to learn from each other’s lived experiences, and to discuss the messy truths of being a human in the world without an agenda and without needing to have any of the answers.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Nicole Antoinette

What’s your favorite thing about running a podcast?

Hosting an interview-style podcast is basically a secret weapon for making friends with all the incredible people whose work you admire! I’m beyond grateful for each of my guests, and for the fact that they give two hours of their time to get real on my show. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my guests, and how their stories have shaped and changed and bettered my own life.

And I will also say that for me, with the listener-funded model of my show, the other best thing is the community that has formed around this collective vision of bringing more honesty into the world. Getting to know the people who listen to and financially support Real Talk Radio each season has been an indescribably rewarding experience.

What’s your least favorite thing about running a podcast? Are there any icky moments or challenges that happen behind the scenes—moments that, perhaps, your listeners don’t see or know about?

Well, on a practical tactical level my least favorite part is the editing work, which is why I’ve hired a sound engineer to edit and produce the show from the very beginning. Adam Day, the sound magician I work with, is talented and supportive and has been an integral part of the show’s success (and of my continued love of hosting it).

Other than that, I’d say the biggest challenge of hosting a podcast is facing the usual fears that come with lots of different types of creative work. Fears like: imposter syndrome (who am I to do this work?), general insecurity about not being liked and about not being good enough, fear of misspeaking or being misunderstood, frustration when you don’t feel like you’ve done your best on any given day, etc.

How do you prepare for each episode? Do you research the person you’re interviewing? Do you come up with a list of questions in advance? Do you just wing it? Tell me about your process.

I spend hours preparing for each episode. Since I release an entire eight-episode season all at once, my first preparation step is to map out which topics I want to cover in a given season, as well as which guests I most want to invite. I’m constantly making notes as I come across folks who are doing important and interesting work, and I’m grateful to the past guests and members of the community who often introduce me to folks whose work I might not have found on my own.

The next step of the process is sending out invitations to potential guests and getting their recording dates scheduled. By the time I send an invite, I’ve already done quite a bit of research about the person’s work and story, which is how I know for sure that I want to have them on the show in the first place. So once they’ve booked a recording time, that’s when the research and preparation gets much more specific, and I spend another hour or two creating an outline of the episode, the questions I most want to ask them, etc. Prior to recording, each guest also has the chance to tell me what they’re most interested in talking about, which is helpful in structuring the conversation around the topics that are most important to them.

But of course, even with a ton of preparation, I never know quite where each conversation will go once we’re recording. That’s part of the fun! I’m always open to discussing whatever comes up naturally, and I do my best to just stay curious and let the guest share the stories they’re most excited about.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Nicole Antoinette

Earlier in your life, you ran a successful web design agency. But then you decided to shut down that business. Tell me about that decision. Were you bored? Unhappy? Was it simply time to move onto other projects? How did you know, “It’s time to walk away”?

For almost four years I co-owned a boutique web design firm with my incredibly talented friend, Jamie Varon. She’s a designer, and I handled all of our business operations, which is something I enjoy and am intimately familiar with after five years of running a children’s summer day camp in my early 20s.

I loved working with Jamie, and yes, the business was successful and profitable. It still is in fact, since Jamie now runs it as a solo venture. But I left in July of 2013, not because anything was wrong but because there were other projects I had really gotten into and felt excited about, and I had taken those projects as far as I could while still being committed to our business. There’s only so much you can do part time, you know? And I was definitely scared to leave – it’s much harder to walk away from something that’s good but not great than it is to walk away from something awful – but it was time to make the leap. I had been saving money for months before I left, to give myself the mental comfort of a financial cushion during a time of transition and uncertainty, and that definitely helped to make the change possible.

As for how to know when it’s time to walk away, for me the key is to pay attention to how long it’s been since I first began to feel the pull to do so. If it’s only been a week, that’s usually not long enough for me to go ahead and make a change, because we all have slumps and dips from time to time, even with projects we truly love. But if I’ve been feeling the pull to change for multiple weeks or months, that’s when I know that it’s more than just a passing feeling, and that it’s time to take action, even by just doing one small thing to change course.

In addition to running your podcast, you’re also an athlete. You’ve completed several marathons and ultra-marathons. You’ve also completed two long-distance solo hiking treks through the wilderness. Your last trek was over 800 miles through the scorching hot desert! Incredible! How do you prepare for that kind of journey? Tell me about your training regime, both mental and physical.

I’ve actually never done an ultra-marathon, but yes I’ve done marathons and lots of other running races and am now deep into a love of long-distance hiking. In 2017 I thru-hiked the Arizona Trail, an 800-mile backcountry journey from Utah to Mexico, and my physical and mental preparation were a key piece of why I was able to complete the entire trail.

Physically, the best way to train for hiking is by hiking, so I did as many training hikes as possible, often with my weighted backpack, to just get used to spending hours on my feet while carrying a heavy load on my back.

Mentally, it helped to do in-depth research about the trail and the conditions and challenges I would likely face. I read the official guidebook, lots of blogs written by different hikers from previous years, as well as the information curated by the Arizona Trail Association. My biggest concern leading up to this hike was the lack of water – the Arizona Trail is very dry, especially in the fall, which is when I hiked – so a majority of my preparation and research had to do with the water sources on trail.

The majority of my preparation was similarly practical and logistical – planning a loose itinerary, figuring out which towns I’d need to stop in to resupply, putting my resupply boxes together, gathering and testing all my gear, etc. There’s a lot that goes into planning a long-distance solo hike, but luckily I really enjoy that aspect of it.

And then lastly, but perhaps most importantly, there’s the emotional preparation. Doing an 800-mile hike is physically challenging, no question about it, but success really comes down to how well you can handle the psychological side of the challenge. What are you most afraid of? What will you do if and when you need to face those fears? Who will you be when things get hard? Why are you doing this? What will it mean to you to complete it? How will you keep going when all you want to do is quit? I thought about those questions (and so many more) in the weeks leading up to this hike, and it helped enormously.

After completing your first solo hike, you recorded a special podcast episode to talk about your experiences. You explained that the journey was horrendously painful and terrifying, at times. You encountered a bear. Your feet got swollen and you had nonstop blisters. It was mentally and physically excruciating. And yet… about a year later, you decided to do another hike. This time, almost twice as long as the first one. Why? What compelled you to do it again?

Ha, that’s what my mother would like to know.

When I finished my first hike, the 460-mile Oregon section of the PCT, I was absolutely convinced that I would never do a hike like that again. For all the reasons that you mentioned and more, I finished that hike feeling broken and miserable.

And yet I have dear friends who love thru-hiking, and I wanted to love it too. In a lot of ways it seems like the right-fit activity/lifestyle for me. I don’t like a lot of material “stuff,” I genuinely love doing hard things and challenging myself, and I like to push the boundaries of what I believe is possible for myself and my life. I also love the idea of a pilgrimage type of journey, a quest, and I love being in nature. So I decided that I would try again, that I’d do one more long-distance hike to get a better sense of whether or not this is something that I could love the way I wanted to love it.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Nicole Antoinette

One of your personal mantras is: “You can do hard things.” Tell me about that phrase, and what it means for you.

For so long, I gave up when things got too challenging. If a project or physical activity felt hard, I automatically assumed that that meant I couldn’t complete it.

When I first started running, back in 2011, I had never been an athlete. I had never done anything even remotely athletic or outdoorsy in my entire life, and I could barely run for two consecutive minutes. Running was the first thing that I ever tried, found that I was terrible at, and didn’t quit. And that changed my life.

I learned that something can be hard, and that I can still do it. It can be raining or I can be tired or I can just generally not feel in the mood to run, and I can still run. I can feel afraid of the blank page, and I can still write. I can feel lonely in the wilderness by myself, and I can still hike. That might sound simple or obvious, but for me this deep belief that we can do hard things isn’t one that came naturally, and yet it has helped me grow and change in so many powerful ways.

Now, when something feels hard or scary or uncertain, I just remind myself that that’s okay. I am stronger than I think. I can do hard things.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Nicole Antoinette

We always end each HOW DID YOU DO THAT? interview with helpful pieces of advice.

Imagine someone, out there, who’s mid-way through a big, difficult journey. Maybe he’s 200 miles into a 500-mile hike and he’s getting weary and thinking about giving up. Or maybe she’s been job-hunting for six weeks, but nothing has happened yet, and she’s feeling tired and discouraged.

Can you share some advice on how to get back on your feet and finish the journey, no matter what?

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I actually don’t value the philosophy that we need to finish something no matter what. I’ve quit plenty of things in my life – relationships, jobs, hobbies – if something truly isn’t the right fit any more, for any reason, it’s okay to make a change. So I think that’s my first piece of advice: remember that quitting is always an option, and that you are allowed to change your mind.

For those situations where you’re sure you don’t want to quit though, but when the task at hand feels excruciating, I’d share these two self-reflection questions:

1. What would the audience want you to do?

My friend Bryce asked me this once. She said, “Imagine that you are the heroine of a movie. In this moment, during this challenge, how would the audience want the heroine to act?” That might sound silly, but I find that I can often be braver if I’m able to get a little bit of distance and perspective on my situation. As the protagonist in a film, the audience would want me to keep hiking, or to apply for one more job, or whatever else it would take to honor the story. Because the structure of a good story is when a character wants something and has to overcome obstacles to get it, so if you’re the character and you’re facing an obstacle, you know that living a good story means doing whatever it takes to persevere.

2. What if this were simple?

I struggle a lot with over-thinking, and with making things more difficult and complicated than they need to be. When I’m in a rut of some kind, when I’m feeling tired and discouraged, I like to ask myself how I would move forward and what I would do next if this were simple. What if I stopped over-complicating things? What if I just chose the next right step and trusted that the path would become clear, one step at a time, from there? That reframe is often enough to get me moving again.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Nicole? 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: Foxes and Wolves

An Interview with Linda Mercury

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Linda Mercury

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.

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Name: Linda Mercury
Location: Portland, Oregon
Profession: Author


Tell me about yourself. What made you decide to become a writer?

I’m a writer and creator of really unusual fictional worlds. More than anything, I care about compassion, connection, and intimacy. Prior to becoming a writer, I used to be a librarian, historian, and professional clown (but not all at once).

But then, something happened: September 11, 2001. After the attacks, I felt great sadness and even greater determination. I knew there had to be a better way to bring people together, make good times happen, and transmit the values of love and caring.

So I started my research. I read a lot, I wrote a lot. Now, seven books later….here I am.

Today, my life’s work is to share what I know about love, history, and passion with as many people as I possibly can. Sometimes, my work looks like very sexy paranormal romance novels. Other times, it is blog posts on history, feminism, and intercultural understanding.

Ultimately, all of my work is about coming together. Because life is way better when people tell each other the truth of who they are.

For many people, writing a book can feel like a daunting, impossible-feeling project. So many pages. So many details to keep straight in your mind. So overwhelming! But Linda, you’ve written not just one, not just two, but six novels! That’s quite a feat!

I am curious to know… When you’re writing a book, what is your process? Do you do a bunch of research before you start writing? Do you just start typing and see what comes out of your brain? Do you figure out the characters first, and then the plot, or vice versa? Walk us through your process.

I’m so thrilled you asked. My books usually start with a character, usually the heroine. For the Blood Wings series (Dracula’s Secret, Dracula’s Desires, and Dracula Unleashed), I realized that a lot of the myths and legends about Dracula would make perfect sense if this historical character had been born a woman and had to hide her gender her entire life. From this tiny thought, a whole person emerged.

For Curse of the Spider Woman, I thought about a woman who had nothing left to lose. Where would she go from there? How would she handle having someone put demands on her last days of life?

After I get a glimpse of the woman, I wonder what she wants. Who would love her? What kind of world does she live in? What are her secrets?

I usually hand-write while I brainstorm. I research as I go along, seeing what I need to know. I have an academic background in history and librarianship, so research is really second nature at this point. (Side note – if anyone needs tips on how to do research that makes your writing shine, contact me!)

I do write a synopsis to give myself a general idea of what has to happen, but I have learned that the story and the characters will change as I write along.

Every project has the same stages of fear, anxiety, and confusion, but as you write more and more, your process gets more efficient. Instead of worrying for months if what you have to say is worthwhile, you get it over with in a few days.

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You’re known for writing sexy, sensual stories with lots of risqué themes. When you say to people, “I write romance novels,” or “I write erotic fiction,” how do people react? Have you ever gotten any negative responses? Raised eyebrows? Shocked gasps? Unfriendly words?

Rarely! I tell people, “I write very sexy paranormal romance”, and they usually respond with a big smile. One time, I did have a gentleman make a crack about how I wrote porn/smut. I looked him right in the eye and politely said, “Nice try, but you can’t shame me.”

Because I refuse to feel shame for my writing, I will reframe comments on how a person prefers something more “substantial”. I ask them what they like to read. This leads to a fun conversation about books, reading, and literary themes. Once they realize I’m not going to call them a prude, they relax and we have a good time. Sometimes, they will then buy my books because they now know me and realize I write smart, feminist fiction.

I don’t take anyone else’s responses personally. Their thoughts about the suitability of romance or sexually honest books are not my responsibility.

Recently, you got invited to be a panelist at a writing conference in Oregon, where you live. There’s a stereotype that writers are quiet, solitary people who don’t enjoy speaking in public. Is that true for you… or not? How did it feel to be on that panel? Would you do it again?

Writers are quiet people- until you get them going on something they love! I was nervous before the presentation, but once I got up there and saw that people wanted to hear what I had to say, I was on fire. I would absolutely do it again.

I gave a presentation called, “From Arousal to Zipper: Writing the Best Sex of Your Life.” Much to my surprise, the room was packed. Everyone had something fabulous to say, especially about how much readers want love scenes that are emotional and integrated into the story. We had so much fun, a number of us ended up talking in the lobby of the hotel for an hour and a half after the lecture.

Do you ever get stuck with your projects? What do you do to bring yourself out of a creative slump?

Oh, boy, do I ever get stuck. It can be very painful, for upon that road lives the squalid houses of Despair, Depression, and Self-Loathing.

I have taken a long time to figure out that getting stuck is part of the process. It’s a sign that I need to go back to the beginning, read my character studies, look over my plot, and see where I have written myself in a corner. In addition, getting bogged down means I need to take a break to feed my imagination.

To get out of the slump, I must get some intellectual stimulation, if by traveling (even just over to the park), looking at art, or listening to different music. A rich life of the mind is not optional if you want to create or problem solve. Everything I take in gives my writing depth and power.

Don’t ever starve yourself of what your soul needs. I do it all too often and I always pay for it.

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Have you ever gotten a nasty review about one of your books? What did they say? How did that feel? Do you have any advice for someone who’s terrified of receiving criticism?

I have gotten truly nasty reviews. The very first two reviews on my very first book were mean. The first review left on GoodReads called my romance novel “Nazi Snuff Porn.” The first review on Amazon called it, “The worst book (she) had read that year.”

Those were a shock. My poor little book! Don’t we all want people to love our work and call it genius?

Fortunately, I had already read Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. She had the best advice ever on dealing with rejection and bad reviews. Here’s a tiny taste of her smart, wonderful, compassionate, funny, and genuinely useful book:

It goes without saying that ever since you say your [rejection]…, you’ve been suffering the tortures of the damned. It’s as if every ion of your body has been reversed; as if you’ve literally been struck by lightning, as if your liver has ruptured and your spleen’s been set afire and your vision has blurred – is it just tears or a brain tumor? It’s going to last, this ghastly, terrible, unspeakable rejection, from a period of about two hours for the rest of your life….
There’s a better way. Remember the hypothesis that life (and writing) are like courtship, romance, even sex? Instead of thinking of rejection as a life-blighting event, make it into a dating game. (p. 88-89)

I applied her suggestions to my life and bad reviews don’t bother me much anymore. Also, living well truly is the best revenge. Keep writing, keep doing what you love, and the nasty stuff will be much less important.

How did you select your pen-name, Linda Mercury?

It wasn’t easy! I needed something with more pizzazz than my legal name, something that said fast-paced, sexy, thought-provoking.

My favorite band is Queen. I took Freddie Mercury’s last name for my pseudonym since he has inspired me since I was a young woman. His fearlessness, his willingness to be different, his stage presence, his unique soaring voice – all of his attributes have helped me be brave and honest in my writing.

Has there ever been a period of time where you got really frustrated with writing… or even wanted to quit all together? What happened? What changed your mind and helped you to keep going?

I had two major crises of faith in 2017. In the early part of the year, I got really down on myself because I wasn’t on best-seller lists after writing since 2001 and releasing six books. I had to take myself to the coast for a few days for journaling and re-affirming if writing was really what I wanted to do or if I was fooling myself.

I was fortunate. I was able to find compassion for myself. I had created the goal of being a “Best Seller” without putting together the framework of support that a writer needs to achieve that dream. I remembered that I loved writing; I loved moving people; and finding ways to create a better world. I had to start over with the tragedy of September 11, 2001 and what drove my passion.

Later in the year, my normally manageable chronic pain issues went nuts. I was on a merry-go-round of physical therapy, exercise, and depression. I had to completely rethink the way I worked – not just my physical writing space (I got a sit-stand desk, a new office chair, and other ergonomic fixes), but my emotional needs. I have amazing friends – they willingly gave me good advice and reminded me that I do write well.

So surround yourself with people who love you, want you to be happy, and tell you when you are doing a good job.

I highly recommend joining the Romance Writers of America. RWA is the best of the professional writer organizations out there. They work tirelessly to educate writers on the art, craft, and publishing aspects of writing. Finding a local chapter will go a long way to finding a support group.

Prior to becoming a novelist, you worked as a librarian! What was the best part about that job? What were the parts you didn’t particularly love?

I loved being a librarian! Helping people make their lives better is one of the best things in the world. Information literally is the lifeblood of a society and librarians are the heartbeat that keeps that blood moving. For example, I helped people find resources on landlord/tenant agreements, on life-threatening diseases, and especially on job-hunting.

The hard part? Knowing my career was at the mercy of funding measures. So vote for libraries!

I’ve heard a rumor that your next book will be a different genre than your previous books. You’re working on a YA (Young Adult) book featuring a teenage girl as the heroine. Can you reveal any info about this new project?

This new project is eating my brain! It’s been years since I’ve been either a teenager or a young adult. I am diving into research, learning what young people today care about and need from society.

Unlike my other books, this book, tentatively titled The Dream Factory, will not be a romance. Instead, it will be fantasy – a coming of age story about a young woman who revitalizes a depressed town with her new job in a costume shop.

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Imagine someone out there who dreams about writing a novel, but feels intimidated, or doesn’t know where to begin. Can you give 3 pieces of advice to that person?

Absolutely!

Far too many beginning authors never get started because they worry about what other people will think. Start small and write what makes you happy.

• Protect the Work

Too often, beginning writers get all excited about their story and show it too soon to people who have no idea how to give proper feedback. We share our passion with those whose approval we crave, with people who can hurt us like no others.

Second, once we do start writing, we shove it aside for everything else. We start refusing to take the time to do this thing that makes us happier than anything. It brings richness and joy, but we don’t guard the writing. Protect what makes you happy, protect what feeds your mind, protect yourself from unnecessary cruelty.

• Dare to be Average

Don’t be worried about writing deathless prose! I’ve had so many writers tell me they want to write books that will be studied in college for decades. Seriously, just start with writing a book. Write two or three or ten. Have fun with it. Learn. Play. If you don’t agonize, you will get so much more done.

Lower the stakes for yourself. Ease out of perfectionism and enjoy what you do. If you having trouble with perfectionism (and who doesn’t!), check out Chapter Fourteen of Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns. I also recommend reading up on imposter syndrome.

I’m darn sure that once you embrace being average, you will find out that your writing is pretty fabulous.

• Feed your head.

Writing needs its writer to be immersed in life. Listen to music, look at both the visual and performance arts, watch a tree drink the water pooling at its base. Your brain takes in so much stimuli during the day – make sure you take in information that stimulates you, which makes you laugh, dance, and feel grateful. You don’t have to go on an expensive trip to experience magnificent food, get near water, or try something new. Read books on writing, hang out with your friends. Live your life zestfully and your writing will sing.

Good luck and keep writing!

If you have any questions for Linda, you can drop her a line at LindaMercuryRomance@gmail.com. All of her books are available on Amazon.com.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Linda? 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

An Interview with Melissa Cassera

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Melissa Cassera

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 Melissa Cassera

Name: Melissa Cassera
Location: Los Angeles, California
Profession: Business Strategist and Screenwriter


Melissa, you’ve gone through many chapters in your career. In your twenties, you did some acting work for TV commercials and independent films. Then you worked in advertising, marketing, and sales. Then you started your own PR and marketing agency. And today, you’ve come full circle, and you’re back in the TV industry working as a screenwriter. Whoa! It’s quite a journey! I am curious to know… what’s one of the biggest “high points” in your career so far, and what’s one of the lowest “low points”?

One of the biggest high points was seeing my name on screen as a writer for the first time! When my Lifetime Movie Girl Followed premiered earlier this year, all of my family, friends, clients, etc. took photos of their TV screen and texted them to me. It was the BEST feeling! Especially because so many people told me that it would be impossible to begin a screenwriting career in my late 30s, or they said it would take between 7 and 10 years to even sell anything, much less get it made. 

One of my lowest low points was very early on in my business, I took on a marketing client that my gut was screaming not to. Lesson learned. I ended up getting sued, even though I wasn’t at fault for anything, and I learned anyone can sue you if they have enough money and bizarre personal vendettas. I guess everything does come full circle because that situation was like a Lifetime Movie!

Have you always loved writing? What are some of the earliest writing projects you can remember doing–as a kid, or as a teenager?

In elementary school, I was a big fan of soap operas (General Hospital!) and I used to pen these salacious, soap opera-type tales about my classmates. They were pretty naughty for a 5th grade audience (oops!), and eventually a teacher caught me and terrified me enough that I didn’t write fiction again until my mid 30s when I began screenwriting!

I do have a business writing background, and cut my teeth as a publicist and copywriter for years – landing clients on Oprah, The Today Show, etc. I also worked with several ad agencies developing campaigns and writing copy for brands of all sizes. Eventually I moved that experience into consulting and teaching entrepreneurs how to craft their own stories, message & copy.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Melissa Cassera

I’ve heard lots of horror-stories about how it’s so difficult to “make it” in Hollywood. Stories about people getting crappy internships for no money, trying to rise up through the ranks, toiling away for decades before ever getting noticed or getting their “big break.” Is this depiction of the TV industry accurate? Has that been your experience? Or not?

Oh goodness. One of the first pieces of advice I got in LA was: “if you want to be a screenwriter, you have to be an assistant first – for many years. And your biggest responsibility is making sure the cold sodas are moved to the front of the refrigerator so the writers don’t get the warm sodas.”

Warm sodas = death of creativity, I guess?

The answer to your question is: yes and no.

It really depends on your definition of “making it.”

Here’s an example:

Many writers have a very specific goal of getting staffed on an existing TV show.

This is attractive because it’s really the only “guaranteed” paycheck for a writer. If you are “staffed” that means you can expect to have a job for at least one season (often more if the show is picked up for another season.) That means you get paid well to be in the room pitching ideas, you may get to write an episode (or 2) and you hope to move up the ladder to become a Story Editor, Producer, etc. This is a very typical path and the one that’s most common for people to pursue.

It is very difficult to get staffed. The most common paths in are to work your way up from an assistant (sometimes for several years) before getting a shot a staffing job. You could also luck into a network diversity fellowship, which most of the major networks host and accept a handful of people each year (though there’s no guarantee you’ll get a job after your fellowship). Tens of thousands of people enter those fellowships and they are a TON of work to enter, so it can really feel like a very tough uphill battle.

While I’m not opposed to staffing, and would give my left arm to work for Shonda Rhimes or Alan Ball, it’s not my goal. My initial screenwriting goals were 1) to write a Lifetime movie (accomplished!) and 2) sell my TV pilot (accomplished!) and 3) Get representation (I have an awesome literary manager!)

 I’m now writing what I want to write (dark, independent drama films) and shadowing directors, producers and casting directors to see if there are other areas of the business I’d like to pursue.

Another goal I have is to be known as the “punch up” writer for strong, layered female characters – meaning I’m hired by studios to go over an existing script and make suggestions of how the women characters can be stronger/more diverse.

I love writing my own scripts, but I’m equally excited to collaborate with others on existing ideas/scripts and make them the best they can be!

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Melissa Cassera

One of your TV writing mentors once said to you, “Good work always gets found.” Tell us more about this statement. What does it mean to you?

I was so lucky to get this advice early on from a working TV Show Creator/Showrunner. It took so much pressure off of me to follow all the other advice out there (like cold sodas) and really focus on my craft.

I learned to focus on my writing and tune out the noise and “advice.” If you have a great script, EVERYONE will want to read it.

You can network, schmooze, grind away as an assistant, etc. – but if you don’t have a good script, none of that matters.

My mentor told me to read tons of scripts. Watch TV and movies. Write. Write some more. Hire a story consultant. Create a “circle of trust” – people in the industry that can read your script and give you amazing notes to move your story forward. So, that’s what I did!

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re having a stressful or discouraging day? What helps to shift your mood?

I love downloading soundtracks or trailer music and going for a long walk. Epic beats almost instantly put me in a better mood! Plus, I start to fantasize about new characters and storylines, so win-win!

Your first movie, Girl Followed, recently premiered on the Lifetime Network. You sold a TV show called Addicted to a production company. And I’ve heard rumors that you’re pitching some movie projects, too. What’s next for you? What can we expect to see from you in 2018, 2019, and beyond? I know that you might be bound by some confidentiality agreements, but is there anything you’re able to share?

Yes! I have a second movie in post-production for Lifetime (can’t say the name, unfortunately)

ADDICTED (my TV show) is in development currently with a studio, which means we are writing all of the first season’s episodes. It’s a really exciting process!

My manager is currently shopping around another feature (movie) script – it’s a dark & sexy psychological thriller!

In 2018, I’d love to sell another feature film script and really amp up my industry connections. I’m aiming to make 100 new connections in 2018!

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Melissa Cassera

3 THINGS

Can you share 3 pieces of advice for someone who wants to pursue an unusual (or, some might even say, “unrealistic”) career, like becoming a screenwriter?

1. Be careful of the advice you take in.

There are lots of well-meaning people that want to advise you, but no two paths in are the same. Take in less advice and spend that extra time honing your craft.

2.  Find a few mentors, and adjust your expectations for them.

A mentor doesn’t necessarily mean that they are always there at the drop of a hat and will look over your work and give advice constantly. Remember that these folks are BUSY and you want to respect their time. I have a few different mentors, and I probably only see them a few times a year, but their help is so powerful and I completely respect their time and their own projects and dreams.

3. Look for inspiration outside of the career path, or come at your work from a fresh perspective.

For example, most writers are in writing classes or writing groups (which can be amazing and valuable). But, I once had a top literary agent tell me that he requires all of his clients take improv classes so they are better in pitch meetings. I thought that was so smart, and of course enrolled immediately at UCB (and yes, it DID help me in pitch meetings!) I also just finished up a class that was about “directing for actors.” Do I want to be an actor or a director? Not necessarily. But, it was so helpful getting to see things from their perspectives and my writing improved because of it.


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Melissa? 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

An Interview with Heidi Rose Robbins

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Heidi Rose Robbins

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 Heidi Rose Robbins

Name: Heidi Rose Robbins
Location: Los Angeles, California
Profession: Astrologer & Poet


How does someone become an astrologer? Do you have to take classes? Is there an exam you need to pass, or something like that? What’s the pathway?

There are many paths! I was born into the profession. My father is the best astrologer I know. I grew up learning the zodiac with my ABC’s. My training was with my father and then later, I read and studied a great deal on my own.

I studied with Alan Oken along the way and I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with astrologers world wide. I have always loved and been inspired by Caroline Casey as well. Certainly, there are classes and certifications available, but my route was a more organic one. The only exam you need to pass is the test of your clients. If they want to work with you, you’ve passed.

When you say, “I’m an astrologer,” do people ever scoff at you, or raise their eyebrows, or say rude things like, “That’s not a real job”? Has anything like that ever happened to you? Did it upset you?

There is almost always a pause after I say that I’m an astrologer. It halts party conversation. People choose their words carefully after that. I always think it’s funny and assure them that it’s all very grounded and has nothing to do with fortune telling. I am always trying to uplift and redeem the science and art of astrology. It’s had a rocky ride.

Then again, more and more people are open to seeking guidance in new ways. Hamlet said, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.” I try to live open to all that wants to grow us. I think within 25 years, astrology will be much more mainstream and many, many more people will be seeking astrological guidance.

In addition to being an astrologer, you’re also a poet. That’s such a beautiful and unusual combination! What does a typical workday look like for you? Walk us through your daily routine.

My astrology business is pretty straightforward. I see several clients each day either in person or via Zoom or Skype. I like to give myself a little time in the morning after dropping the kids at school. But I generally get underway by 9:30 am. I’m best in the sessions if I don’t see more than four people a day and I generally see only three.

My poet self needs a bit more spaciousness so I generally find that I write poems in small spurts. I love to go to Ojai on mini personal retreats and I find that after I’ve been there for about 12 hours, the inspiration starts to come. I wish I could say that I’m great at writing poetry amidst the fray but I need a lot of silent time to let the poems in!

I combine both astrology and poetry in my Radiant Life Retreats which I offer for women 2-3 times a year. So during those retreats, my ‘workday’ becomes a work week, full on, in the most beautiful way.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Heidi Rose Robbins

You mentioned that you learned astrology from your father. Your father was also the director of an opera house in Fargo, North Dakota, where you grew up. You’ve studied acting. It sounds like theater, music, and the performing arts have always been a big part of your life. How has this influenced your career?

I had a very spiritual upbringing but an artistic one as well. I did in fact grow up in opera houses watching my dad direct. I loved it. And I was also deeply influenced by mother choosing to go back to school to become an architect when I was 10. She was one of the first female architecture students at North Dakota State University.

I studied acting all the way through Graduate School at Southern Methodist University. I remember when I completed my MFA, I thought “Hmmmm. I don’t think I want to act. I think I want to be myself.” I didn’t, however, feel Graduate School was wasted in the least because I learned about presence, connection and creative ensemble. I had remarkable teachers and I formed some of the most beautiful and supportive relationships of my life there too. My artist self was deeply nourished and I think that lay the foundation for my poetry performances and offerings as well.

When I teach astrology, I always teach it in part through embodiment. We feel the energies in our bodies. We enact the energies. This all stems from my artistic path. Even though I’m not acting anymore, I feel that I lead an artistic life.

You just started a new podcast called The Radiance Project. What is it about? What kind of people do you have as your guests? Is this something you have wanted to do for a while? Tell us about this new project.

I love this new offering. Ten years ago, I thought about creating a radio program and I even went so far as to create a demo. Then, it stalled and I worked on other things. A few years ago I began to think about it again and finally, after all these years, I said “Now!”

It’s a podcast of Astrology, Poetry and Good Company. I interview all kinds of people. I feel a little like Mr. Rogers. “These are the people in my neighborhood. I love them and I know you will too.” The people in my Los Angeles neighborhood happen to often be involved in movies or TV, so I’ve definitely gotten to speak to a lot of fabulous actors and actresses. But I also just interviewed a most wonderful fireman.

I ask all my guests if they are willing to talk about the Sun, Moon and Rising in their astrological chart. I also choose a poem for each guest and read it to them. Also, with every guest, we discuss a moment when light or love won the day — a radiant moment. It can be tiny. I’m looking for how we all move through our fear or anger and onto lighter, more loving, more generous living towards ourselves and others. This podcast feels like a synthesis of everything I have been working on for the last 20 years. I feel positively joyous about it! Do have a listen!

Looking back over the last 10 years of your career, what’s one of the most discouraging experiences that you can remember? What happened? How did you get through it?

The most challenging part of the last decade was always how to keep in integrity and alignment with my values and still generate income that was commensurate with my output. It’s been a big journey to make a living as an astrologer/poet and there have been many exhausting and yes, discouraging, days. But along the way, I kept creating and offering because it nourished me and I always received the reflection that it was making a difference for my community. I have found that once an authentic community is established, much can be created and the flow of resources grows!

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Heidi Rose Robbins

I’m always curious to find out, “How do clients find you?” Where do your clients come from? Do they find you through your website? From word-of-mouth referrals? Somewhere else?

My clients find me through word of mouth. It’s always six degrees of separation. I can trace most of my clients to a previous client. Many have heard about me through referrals on podcasts or many hear about me from a friend. I’ve been practicing for 20 years now, so there’s a certain momentum in the word of mouth.

Many people write poetry in secret, but feel like it’s not “good enough” to share publicly. People feel so much anxiety about putting their work “out there” into public view. Did you ever feel that kind of anxiety? Has it ever felt scary to put your stuff out there?

It’s always scary to press send or give a talk or send the newsletter or publish the book. Always. But it’s also delicious and rewarding and simply what I’ve needed to do. I love poetry so much and I want people to feel like they can understand it and not only understand it but be pierced by it.

Poetry can bypass all our mental chatter and remind us of our very palpable heart and its capacity to love. I am moved each time I watch a new person fall in love with poetry. And of course, I’m doubly moved if one of my poems happens to be the one that opens them. That gives me fuel the next time I have to face my fear.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Heidi Rose Robbins

3 THINGS

So many people would love to create an unconventional career, like you have, but they feel scared that there’s no possible way to make a living doing something you love. What are three pieces of advice for someone who’s feeling that way?

1. Keep doing what you love quietly and consistently even if you have to work a day job to do it.

2. Build a community around what you love.

Seek out community or invite people in. Start with three people in your living room. Businesses grow around authentic connection. Build community before you begin to ask for subscribers or customers. Build friendships.

3. Trust that building slowly is still building.

When the moment to dive in completely arrives, you’ll know and you’ll thrive.

Thank you, Heidi! Dear reader, if you’re interested in astrology, be sure to check out The Career Forecast. It’s a free astrological forecast that Heidi and I post each month. Whether you’re job-hunting, running your own business, or wondering about the ideal time to ask for a raise, each Career Forecast reveals the important dates and cosmic shifts that you need to know about. Check it out!


ONE MORE THING…

Do you have “one more quick question” that you’d like to ask Heidi? 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

An Interview with Janet Roberts

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Janet Roberts

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 Janet Roberts

Name: Janet Roberts
Location: Salinas, California
Profession: Artist and Co-founder of Mindful Mats


You’re a full-time artist. You support yourself financially through your artwork. For many people, this is the ultimate dream! Tell us how you found your way into this work.

As a young girl, I didn’t have the fearlessness to be the artist I wanted to be, so I chose work alongside the artists I admired rather than being “one of them.” This led to a 20-year career in art history, first working at The Detroit Institute of The Arts, then at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and then a career as an art buyer, representing contemporary painters in a small gallery I operated.

For a long time, like so many people, I imagined artists were visited by muses and had tormented inner selves which fueled their imagination and fervor. I felt these people were somehow “different” from me, that they possessed something I did not. However, through the years, I began to see that this simply isn’t true. Anyone can be an artist. To be an artist, one must just commit, and commit fully. Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.

Twenty years ago, after my third cancer diagnosis, I determined I wanted to become a full-time creator. I manifested that my work would feed my family despite the fears I had. I decided I would give myself one year to find my inner voice, my true work, the work my hands needed to make. After one year—and several hundred paintings—the gestures and the symbols and the icons became mine.

It was challenging to transition from art buyer to artist, but I feel it was a perfect unfolding and just the right direction in my evolution toward a successful and fulfilling expressive life.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Janet Roberts

You mentioned your battle with cancer. Your mom faced cancer, too. How have these challenges impacted your life and career?

Cancer has been both a blessing and a curse.

The curse…

My Mother suffered from cancer as a young woman, and was diagnosed manic depressive as a young mom. Looking back, it was most likely post-partum depression that went undiagnosed, but she was treated with Lithium. I was a child of the ’50’s—a victim of my mother’s chain smoking, drugs, and drinking—at a time when society seemed completely void of any “common sense” when it came to health.

My childhood was difficult. My mother was frequently ill and I was left, as the only daughter in the family, to pick up the household slack. I was preyed on by my maternal uncle from age 11 to 16, when I finally stood my ground and he stopped. The adults in my home never felt safe, and so I turned to academic mentors for support and guidance. I helped raise my three brothers as best I could, and then at 17, I left home with a college choral scholarship to USC.

The blessing…

Being a four-time cancer survivor myself, cancer has provided me an insight to my deep inner life. It helped question my intention. It asked me to understand and learn my true north. The disease provided a door into a world I did not know: mindfulness. I learned my higher purpose, my will to forgive and love, to see gratitude everywhere, and to encourage others everyday to see their own infinite possibilities. I became the mentor my young self so needed. In this way, cancer has been a gift.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Janet Roberts

You have four amazing daughters, three grandchildren, and your home and studio are off the grid. You compost. You recycle. You have an organic garden. You’ve created a very beautiful, intentional life. I’m curious to know if you have a morning routine, and if so, what is it?

Every morning begins with my Earl Grey and my horseback ride. Then I stretch, do my yoga, and meditate for 30 minutes, after which I make beds, fluff the sofas, and walk outside to sort out the garden, the decks and the many sweet seating areas around my home. I have as much furniture outdoors as I have inside!

My dog and I feed the horses, water everything that grows in a pot, and then share our avocado on toast and an egg.

Then we walk down to my studio and begin our day, answering emails, phone calls and preparing the day’s work. I try to execute at least two paintings weekly, and I draw and write in my sketch pad every day, always seeking out new ideas and innovations.

When you’re making a custom painting for someone, what is the process? How do you get to know the client and their tastes, and what they might like?

Often, I work with designers and they make the process painless with palettes, swatches and room renderings. Corporate clients—like hospitals and hotels—always have interior professionals. They know exactly what they want and I have no ego when asked to execute something specific. Often in the commission, I find a new direction, breaking free of old shackles, colors, or styles. Other times, I meet the patron and we discuss many of the same ideas but with their wedding vows, or a special affirmation or a poem or a song or even a rap lyric embellished for influence.

I also create legacy paintings for family members who have recently lost a loved one. Together, the family composes a picture with words, icons, symbols, and colors inspired by someone they lost. This painting remains in the core home, and often Giclée prints are made so other family members can view and enjoy it. There is so much love in those paintings.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Janet Roberts

You give 50% of your earnings to non-profits and charities. That’s an extraordinarily generous thing to do. Talk to us about this decision.

Twenty years ago, when the Internet began sharing artist’s work on websites, and the artist/gallery model began shifting, I found myself examining the idea of who I was sharing my proceeds with. If I was giving 50% of each painting sale to someone, who did I want it to be? A gallery? Or my community?

It seemed to me, sharing with my community was the only answer. I began exhibiting my work in collaborations with non-profits I admired. Sharing 50% with them seemed a beautiful “karmic” thing. Some of them are green charities like EMA who plant gardens in at-risk urban schools. Most of them are mentoring non-profits like The Boys and Girls Club and Buddy Programs throughout the country. I also promote meditation and mindfulness in after-school programs and as an alternative to detention.

To date, I have helped raise over $1.8 million dollars for several non-profits, all of whom share my intention of growing a better planet and a whole child. This feels so right, because I know and see the impact these programs make.

You recently started a company with your daughters called Mindful Mats. Tell us about this project. How’s it going so far? What are your future plans?

All four of my daughters—and now my three grandkids—practice yoga and meditate daily. Each has their own unique way to practice, but we are each devoted to mindfulness. Hannah, my eldest, suggested to me that I take my catalog of 1,000 images and print a few on yoga/meditation/fitness/beach mats. It made complete sense since most of my patrons are also mindful people who practice yoga and meditate. And what better way to help non-profits during my painting workshops with the kids… creating meditation mats for them from their own artwork!

We researched eco-sustainable, recycled rubber mats. They had to be printed with soy ink and be made in America. After several prototypes, we now have the perfect product with beautiful images that people are really responding to. Cost is the only challenge as they are made here, printed here, and most other competing mats are made in China. So, profit margins are slim, but Hannah—who is driving this little engine-that-could—knows we aren’t really in this to make lotsa money. This is an absolute passion project.

We are heading to Aspen for the Lead With Love event to sell these mats in their marketplace. Influencers like Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra own our mats, so it’s a good fit. I also have a solo show there in a gallery that represents me, so the timing is perfect. We have no idea how the mats will sell there, but we are hopeful the patrons will love them!

We just launched Mindful Mats in March of this year, and these things take time, but having the mats available elevates my work, and reminds collectors who I am and what I do. Collaborating with other fitness clothing and jewelry designers has been exciting. And I adore hanging out with my girl tribe when we do events and share ideas and take trips. They are my inspiration, after all.

Who are your role models and why?

Survivors. Victims who rise up and triumph. Encouragers. Anyone who sees the magic despite their trauma or tragedies. People who love and forgive and who are fearless in the face of adversity. Anyone willing to assist those in need, who have less, and who reside on the fringes.

Ellen Fondiler | An Interview with Janet Roberts

3 THINGS

What are 3 pieces of advice that you’d give to an aspiring artist?

1. Know your audience.

If you want to be a full-time artist, earning enough income to support your lifestyle, you must know who you are creating your work for. In your heart, you are working for you, to express what you cannot express in any other way. So, know exactly who you are expressing yourself for so you can actually be paid by them to do it.

I know my audience are predominantly female, over 35, and seekers. They are open hearted, open-minded, women who do yoga, meditate, have children, a career, they travel, are curious, active, and know love. Each of them shares a similar constitution. None of them voted for Trump.

2. Do the work.

Don’t talk about creating or watch others create or spend too much time looking at art others created. You must create. Do it. Every day make something. Paint something. Write something. Compose something. Sculpt something. Every day. Just do the work. Discipline. Sacrifice. Commitment.

My friends who are part-time artists, and far more talented than I am, ask me how I do it. How does it work? I explain that when I work every day, eight hours a day in my studio, just like my husband does in his office, the money simply rains on me. The emails arrive, the phone rings, the inquiries are fielded. When I stop working, and the energy is suspended, and my studio is quiet, and I am not “in it,” the money flow ceases. It is like magic. As if the ‘Imagination God’ rewards those who do and not those who don’t. So, just do the work.

3. The power of Manifestation is real.

When I meditate each morning and evening, I place in my head and heart the life I imagine and desire. I ask the Universe for only that which I feel I deserve, always considering my service to others, and I am very specific about what I and what others in my life need. And so far, since beginning this practice thirty years ago, it has been a very powerful tool toward my fulfillment and success.

Give yourself time each day to ask for what you need, be specific, and work toward that goal. Assist the angels who are listening. Together, this practice has proven extraordinary. Write it down, express it within yourself, make it real. Manifest it. Believe in it. Ask for it. Deserve it. Guide it. Enable it. For it is truly yours for the asking.


ONE MORE THING…

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


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