Ep 19: Blending Strategy & Design with Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna

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Ep 19: Blending Strategy & Design with Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna

Lorilee is joined by fellow designer and VCFA graduate, Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna. Shruthi is an accomplished creative who draws from many different fields for inspiration in her design aesthetic. Her work is deeply influenced by her interest in anthropology, philosophy, and behavioral psychology, as she strives to create with a human-centric sensibility. In addition to her role as Design Director at Austin, Texas based firm, FÖDA, Shruthi is also an educator, speaker, and researcher, exploring the effects of design on human behavior through her position as a Doctor of Design scholar at North Carolina State University. Shruthi and Lorilee discuss the balancing points between strategy and creativity, the importance of using both sides of our brains, the intrinsic value of listening, and how data can be an essential resource for designers, just as creativity can be equally as valuable for strategic teams.

Highlights: 

  • On Shruthi’s playlist: silence…and Bollywood music! 
  • How she got her start in advertising strategy
  • The importance of synthesizing art and science 
  • Bolstering efficiency and efficacy in design by maintaining inclusivity between creative and strategic teams
  • Internal/narcissistic listening vs. focused listening vs. 360 listening
  • How the psychology of consumption informs the psychology of design and vice versa
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

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Episode 19 – Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager, and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want; one that not only grows, but also gives. 

Before we start the show, I want to tell you about our sponsor, Her Bank. Her Bank by Legends Bank goes well beyond banking for me, they have filled in the gaps in areas like financial literacy and helped my own confidence when it comes to banking and business decisions. Trust and relationship really are first and foremost for Her Bank. Visit her-bank.com to learn more about banking from a woman’s perspective. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank and Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender. Now onto the show.

My guest today is my incredible friend Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna. With more than 15 years of experience, she has been many things; a strategist, a brand manager, a student, an educator, an award-winning designer, and a creator of acclaimed projects for Google, eBay, University of Texas and Austin FC– just to name a few! 

Today, Shruthi has evolved into a creative who observes and listens, investigates and experiments all through design. And she has a deep love for behavioral psychology, philosophy, and anthropology. Shruthi is also a Doctor of Design scholar at North Carolina State University, where she is investigating the influence of design on consumption patterns using empirical evidence as it relates to the COVID 19 pandemic. I am so excited to have her on the show today to talk about how she combined her creative center all with her brilliant strategic mind.

Welcome Shruthi. Thank you so much for being here today. I am so happy that you made some time to be on the podcast. 

[00:02:24] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Thank you so much for having me. Um, I’m so excited to be here and I’m glad I’m able to see your face, although, um, nobody are actually looking at our faces. It’s helpful to just have this face to face interaction through our screens.

[00:02:38] Lorilee Rager: It really, really is. Well, okay. So my first kickoff question is one that I really enjoy hearing from every single person that I’ve talked to, because we know every- we know each other in different ways, but it’s always interesting for me to hear what song is on repeat on your playlist today? Um, and why? I’m gonna add that. And why? 

[00:03:03] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: That’s actually a tough one for me to answer. Um, as, as a first question too, because, um, I think I fall in the very unpopular category of people, um, especially considering, uh, my practice as a designer that I do not listen to music as often to have something play on repeat 

[00:03:25] Lorilee Rager: Uhhuh. 

[00:03:25] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Do you listen to music when you’re designing, Lorilee?. 

[00:03:28] Lorilee Rager: I do, but it has to be um, oh, the study beats, the lofi study beats 

[00:03:35] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. 

[00:03:35] Lorilee Rager: Or I have a custom playlist I made for writing that’s a lot of classical instrumental. 

[00:03:41] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Ah, gotcha. 

[00:03:41] Lorilee Rager: Um, almost movie themes. 

[00:03:44] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:03:44] Lorilee Rager: But not movies you know because that will distract me. Like if you start to play the Forrest Gump theme song, I’m going to be pulled out of- 

[00:03:51] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Uhhuh 

[00:03:51] Lorilee Rager: -creativity. So I do wanna hear something. 

[00:03:54] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:03:55] Lorilee Rager: But it can’t have words. It can’t be catchy. Can’t can’t be familiar. 

[00:03:59] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Gotcha. Yeah. It’s just fascinating. I, I think I’ve always just felt that I just lack multiple cognitive processing. 

[00:04:08] Lorilee Rager: Mm-hmm. 

[00:04:09] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Um, I, I, I feel like, uh, sometimes music impairs my focused attention, especially when I’m working.

[00:04:16] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. I feel that. Really do. 

[00:04:19] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: And you know, sometimes you engage in like idle mind wandering, when you’re letting your brain incubate. Um, and there are these moments of “aha” that just surfaces, uh, from an unconscious level. I think it’s that perhaps, because I’ve always struggled um, to be that one person in the room, especially when you’re part of a team, um, who likes to play music as the day is going by.

And you’re like, “um, can we turn that down? Or can we not play music?” Um, kind of a thing. Um, however, but, uh, when I do listen to music, I’m a huge fan of Bollywood music, uh, I grew up listening to Bollywood music, although it’s not a pure genre of music and there is not perhaps one song that I can point at and be like, that’s I listen to something on loop. Um, it’s, it’s, it’s a cocktail of so many things, um, of classical tunes as well as, um, some based on folk or Western music, um, or even ghazals and qawwalis that come from various, um, um, um, portions of the world.

Um, I think it’s a rare fusion of like, music and poetry and screenplay and fiction. And you know, and when you watch Bollywood music and you add context to it, um, I do enjoy Bollywood music a lot. And when I do listen to music, 

[00:05:43] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:05:43] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Um, that’s probably one kind of music I listen to. 

[00:05:47] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, I could tell the way you lit up actually just talking about it. And it’s interesting, you said to watch it too, because I also came from the, the eighties MTV era. Where I very much enjoy watching music. Even to go to a YouTube channel and watch music videos. Like we still do that here in, in our house. And, it’s, it’s not a lot- a normal thing. I don’t think that people do with streaming radio and, and things like that.

But yeah, that’s really interesting. Well, you know, and I’ll listen to something different if I’m cleaning the kitchen, if I’m, you know, uh, taking whether it’s an afternoon shower to go out or do something… like there’s music based on the mood, um, or working out or yoga, but . Work music has to be those lofi study beats with, I can’t, like I said, if I identify whatever it is at all, it’s going to destroy any creativity or focus. And in my office, I’m a huge distraction. I’m that person in the team meeting, that’s playing fun music, because I’m not needing to focus. And everybody’s like, “uh, can you turn that down?” 

[00:06:55] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: “We’re actually doing some work here.” Just kidding. Just kidding. 

[00:06:58] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah, “we actually have to work,” but yeah. Yep, yeah. 

[00:07:02] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Gotcha. 

[00:07:03] Lorilee Rager: So, and I do I find it fascinating. That’s why I have it as the kickoff question, because everybody completely is different. And from a creative standpoint, I find it really interesting too, because I find more and more that are distracted in the same way. Um, so the, the way we hear music and process it while we’re trying to be productive, it’s definitely something that’s interesting.

[00:07:28] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Have you like come up with like a common category or an archetype where many people listen to a certain kind of music? Um, I’m just curious, is it like classical mostly? 

[00:07:39] Lorilee Rager: You know, you know, most of the time they say no words, it’s definitely that, um, we, I do, I’ve had one or two also say none. 

[00:07:49] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Gotcha. 

[00:07:49] Lorilee Rager: Like you started out with yeah. And, and say “I’m a rare person.” Just, you led it out the same way they did led with it. Um, but yeah, it’s definitely instrumental. They don’t necessarily say classical, but, and definitely instrumental. Um, that, or they’ll come right out of the gate with something that’s really popular in a big hit, like right now, like Lizzo or something. That’s just like their pump up song- 

[00:08:13] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yes. 

[00:08:13] Lorilee Rager: -to start their work day. You know? 

[00:08:15] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Gotcha. 

[00:08:17] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, but we’ll, that’s what, we’ll gather this data and reevaluate what people say in a year. Because that’s what we do. 

[00:08:25] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, absolutely. I love the sound of that. It’s music to my ears. 

[00:08:31] Lorilee Rager: No pun intended. Oh, great. Okay. Well, so diving into our next, or first, topic. Even though music really became the first one. I wanted to talk about some things that interest me about what we do for a living and some things you are especially very, very good at is, um, strategy. And creativity, and they’re not, they’re not powers that everyone has. And I wanted to know, as you say, in your bio, that you are the “love child of strategy and creativity.” When did this first become, you know, something that you noticed about yourself, where did it originate from? 

[00:09:18] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: That’s an interesting one. Yeah. So I, I for, I don’t think I noticed it at any point. I think it was certainly built on and, um, developed, um, intentionally developed on that, um, aspect of wanting that balance of being a strategist, uh, that I was in my past life um, and then wanting to move over to the other side of the table. Um, the fun side that I would consider today to be a creative. 

[00:09:51] Lorilee Rager: Yes, it is fun. 

[00:09:53] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: I started my career in advertising, um, as a client servicing intern, uh, which is basically a project management intern as we would call on the Western, um, in the US, um, in India my title was client servicing intern. And from there on, I started participating, um, in the strategic aspects of the advertising business and I fell in love with it. Um, there was a lot of data to explore. Um, um, there was a lot of budgeting, a lot of client interactions, a lot of, um, asking the whys and, uh, arriving at a problem.

And I, it kind of felt like your job kind of stops there. And then you pass on the problem to the creative, to the creatives who come up with a solution. Um, I, I really wanted to become, to get to that side as well. Um, and I wanted to do both because I did really enjoy what I was doing as a strategist. Um, and throughout the process, I think storytelling remained a paramount and I did not want to lose either of the aspect of asking the why’s or coming up with hows and whats. Um, and so I wanted to combine creativity with data, um, of course, to explore experiences in its many forms and still understand, uh, strategy holistically. Um, and especially today, um, I kind of hold onto that very dearly, uh, because data plays, um, an ever more influential role, um, as, as, as you know, as human beings, we are very complex. We live in a very complex landscape, um, and both of these elements are important, uh, vital, critical. However, we wanna call that to unlock key insights, um, especially to put human experience at the very core. 

[00:11:50] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. 

[00:11:51] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: And as creatives, I think we are almost always told that, you know, you think with your right brain, you know, and number, numbers, people think with the left sides of, of, of their brain. But I think in reality, we all need, and we do think with both sides of our brains, um, but in many organizations as well as in educational systems as well um, um, that I have been part of, um, I always felt like creativity and strategy sit in separate silos and it’s, it’s become a, like a, kind of like a natural divide.

And we are labeled from a very young age as um, creative or a quant or a quantitative person, quantitative/qualitative. 

[00:12:36] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:12:36] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Either we are art or we are science. Um, and, um, I think early on in my career, I did realize we needed to break down the silos or for me, it was important for me to break down the silo to kind of understand design the way I understand design and understand the problem, the way I understand problems. Um, and today I find myself, um, wanting to break down these silos even more to empower, um, my students, as well as, um, uh, my creative team that I’m a part of, um, to access and understand more strategy, uh, while data and strategy teams, um, begin to start thinking more creatively. 

[00:13:19] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes, that’s really, you said a lot there that’s really, really important. Even also as a teacher and in teaching, you know, the students to learn yes, the principles of design, but the “why,” which you mentioned, and, and I think going back to storytelling, I don’t, I don’t think we, we can’t design and create the story if we don’t have the strategy behind it. And I think it’s really, really an important piece. Um, looking- thinking of my own career of just starting out as a creative, “the fun side,” but I was never going to be successful. I didn’t, I didn’t think, if I didn’t force myself to appreciate and understand and explore strategy once I got into the career. 

[00:14:14] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. And I’m aware you function also function as a strategist in your firm, right? Is, is, is that something you kind of encourage your team to kind of, um, you know, strategic creativity or strategic thinking? Strategic, creative thinking? I forget all the, all the different terms that there are… 

[00:14:34] Lorilee Rager: The key terms. Yes. But yes, it has. It has to be, we used to, you know, I used to start out with what’s your favorite color?

[00:14:43] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Gotcha. 

[00:14:43] Lorilee Rager: And you can’t – you can get down the road and ask them that and, and see their opinion and see if there’s a why behind that. But again, we really need to start at the strategy of what are your goals? And what is your why before we ever think about colors and fonts and the fun side of the table.

[00:15:08] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Absolutely. 

[00:15:09] Lorilee Rager: And so, yes, you, you really have to start out with this pretty intense level of questioning this, digging deeper with a client and, and that’s something through the years that I think in my firm, we wouldn’t have been as successful if we just took the orders from- at the early days where you just took the orders from the client that came in and said, well, “I like green and I want it to look like this football team.”

[00:15:37] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Mm-hmm 

[00:15:37] Lorilee Rager: And I needed to go on this storefront by Friday. 

[00:15:41] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:15:43] Lorilee Rager: And those people never came back. Those businesses didn’t stay open and you know, and I really think they were lacking strategy. 

[00:15:51] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Gotcha. Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:15:54] Lorilee Rager: And I didn’t, I didn’t know it was even a strength. I didn’t even know it was “allowed,” as I do air quotes, for creatives to even do that. I was like, “oh, who’s gonna do that in your team?” Or, or in my world, there are a lot of small business owners that wear many hats. 

[00:16:11] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:16:12] Lorilee Rager: And that’s the last thing they actually have time to think of. So it, it becomes a level of consulting and trust that they build with us. 

[00:16:20] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, absolutely. And especially, yeah, within, um, you know, of course the world of design and the way studios are structured, are evolving and changing. Um, I remember back in the day I say this literally back in the day, like 15 years ago, 10 years ago. And I’m sure agencies, especially advertising and marketing agencies are structured in a way where you have, um, um, a planning team, um, which is also the strategy team and then the media team and creative team and the production team where, um, um, business development managers or, um, officers bring in the business and the strategists, um, and the media planners kind of come up with a strategy ask the whys, um, basically develop the creative brief for you. And the creative brief is passed on to the creative team. Um, listing things out that needs to be solved. Um, and it, it, it it’s quite.

Cumbersome process, if you think about it, because of course, creatives do go around asking, you know, why are we doing this? And, you know, what’s the intent behind this. Um, but then you go through the whole process again, but, you know, opening up the room um, and, the creatives involving the strategist and vice versa from the beginning.

Um, I don’t know. I think maybe there is value in doing that and keeping it open and more inclusive from the very beginning. You might end up saving on the hours, saving on the redundancy of passing on information from one team to another. Um… 

[00:18:04] Lorilee Rager: You just nailed it on the reason why in my world that we changed that way. 

[00:18:09] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:18:09] Lorilee Rager: Because we, we started out in silos for numerous reasons. Maybe, maybe the designer was an introvert and scared to sit in front of a client. And I thought I needed to protect them. So I only met with them, but when we started bringing myself, the marketing strategy team, and a designer to the table to hear the same words from the client, we absolutely became more efficient. We actually got more creative ideas. Uh, the designer, you know, interpreted it a little bit different than I did, which was also a little bit different than the marketing manager. So we could explore all three ideas to solve the same problem. 

[00:18:50] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:18:52] Lorilee Rager: There wasn’t a lot of unknowns because right then if there was an “aha” or a question, the designer could ask it for clarification. Um, but we absolutely started out you know, many moons ago, 15, 20 years ago, where just me trying to listen to it all and gather it all. 

[00:19:12] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:19:13] Lorilee Rager: And, and read their body language to see if they were even telling the truth. Because it’s a really vulnerable place, I think, for a client- 

[00:19:22] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: yeah.

[00:19:22] Lorilee Rager: -um, to tell you everything about their business and they’re either there because they need to grow their business, because they’re new and excited or maybe their business numbers are bad and they’re failing and they have– it’s a lot of vulnerability there. So it’s really important to really have an honest conversation with everybody-

[00:19:40] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:19:41] Lorilee Rager: -with a seat at the table. 

[00:19:42] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: That is so true. I never thought of it like that. You know, that the client is actually at a very vulnerable position as they sit in front of you and actually share the problems that they’re facing. Um, and-

[00:19:55] Lorilee Rager: Yes.

[00:19:55] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: -uh, it requires, um, a lot of it requires them to be really vulnerable to actually get to the core of, you know, how can we best find value in conducting business with each other? And me actually, it’s like sitting in front of a therapist and saying what the problem is. 

[00:20:12] Lorilee Rager: It’s exactly what I was gonna say.

[00:20:13] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:20:14] Lorilee Rager: It’s like, you’re sitting in front of your, therapist and your lawyer. 

[00:20:18] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:20:19] Lorilee Rager: And maybe your accountant. And I think the strategist and designer, which actually could be the same person, as you are, um, all are there because yeah, they maybe also could be complaining about an employee personnel problem that’s really causing the low sales or, you know, there’s so much more to it. Again, than what’s your favorite color? 

[00:20:42] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. Yeah, totally. 

[00:20:44] Lorilee Rager: So I th- I think, I just think when, when I was, was thinking about, you know, this, this podcast with you about really, it just really stuck out to me how important these two simple things and thoughts are of strategy and creativity, and you saying you’re the love child of that. And I was like, yeah, yes, you are. So good. It’s so good. Um, well kind of merging off of that, the, the next thing I wanted to ask about was I do feel that you are very, very good at observing, listening, and investigating and that’s what I all know– I also know and feel that creatives that are successful and even happy in their own life do well. So I wanted to talk a little bit about your thoughts on the importance of really just listening. Because to me that’s observing, investigating all kind of wrapped in together, um, through design and, and maybe life too. 

[00:21:51] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, that’s, that’s an intense one. Um, yeah, I, I do truly believe that, um, listening is a form of appreciation. Um, 

[00:22:05] Lorilee Rager: Yes.

[00:22:06] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: You know, when we appreciate others, we recognize them as a separate entity. And one way of doing that is like, truly um, listening to what the other person is saying. Um, and I think when it comes to just everyday listening, it’s just hard to survive in an environment where your opinions are not appreciated, and it’s not necessarily in a work situation. That could transpire within your personal relationships or you with yourself.

Right. Um, and, you know, and with, in a work situation, imagine working for somebody, whether, or if you are a CEO, well, you are a CEO, um, or a manager or a director, simply asking the question, what do you think? No matter who is sitting on the other side of the table. 

[00:23:01] Lorilee Rager: Yes.

[00:23:01] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Including your client, including your peers, including, um, team members, or maybe it’s just an observer. Um, who’s in the room, just simply asking the question, what do you think? Kind of opens up doors, windows, whatever it is into that conversation in, in, into that relationship. 

[00:23:19] Lorilee Rager: Gosh, that’s so simple, but just such a, brilliant phrase that should be on the agenda. 

[00:23:27] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Right? Like how many times we walked away, um, from a discussion where you’re like, you didn’t ask what I think or what I thought?

[00:23:34] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:23:35] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Um, I, and I, I had, I had something to contribute and not everybody is equipped in a way where you’re like, I have a thought that I would like to share by intervening-

[00:23:44] Lorilee Rager: Correct. 

[00:23:44] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: -this discussion. 

[00:23:45] Lorilee Rager: Correct. 

[00:23:46] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: That rarely happens. 

[00:23:48] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Or the ones that it, that, that do do that, do it too much. And no one wants to hear from them right now.

[00:23:56] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: And it’s a boon and a bane, right. When you’re a listener, you’re like, I had things to share, but we’ve, we’ve finished our 10 minute meeting. Looks like we’ve gotta wrap it up. 

[00:24:06] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:24:07] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Um, yeah. And it’s not an easy thing to master. And I don’t know if anyone really can master, um, the art of listening, as people call it. Um, because it’s, it’s natural. I think just as human beings, um, I was recently reading about this, um, for, um, um, um, one of my coursework where there are different kinds of listening, apparently, you know, I think one’s called the internal listening. I think Yoon Soo, if you, this was probably before your time at VCFA, called this as narcissistic listening, and I love that phrase and I try to um, uh, I, I try to, uh, uh, use that, um, term to explain things very often. Um, the concept of narcissistic listening is basically internal listening, where you are concentrating so much on your stress, your needs and your priorities when the other person is talking and you’re automatically, not automatically, you’re already thinking about your response of what can I, what, what, what do I say when it’s my turn to talk? And so you kind of stop listening, um, to what the other person is saying. It happens all the time. It’s not like an intentional thing. It takes a lot of work not to do that, but we are just wired perhaps like that as human beings. 

[00:25:33] Lorilee Rager: We have– but bringing it out to the forefront, making you aware instantly, already makes me-

[00:25:39] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:25:40] Lorilee Rager: -want to change or consider, my next conversation to be like, oh, let me stay present. Stop stop the narcissist in my head. 

[00:25:47] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. But it’s not always like a negative thing because it’s a natural thing. Right? Like I think that’s how we sometimes empathize with another person. Like I come to you telling, you know, “Lorilee, my dog has not been eating his food. He’s so picky.” And your way of connecting with me is perhaps with a response like, “oh, my dog does that all the time.” Without realizing you are suddenly, you know, making this whole problem that I’m bringing to the table by relating to it, you are relating to it by making it about you know, pulling an anecdote from your life and, and sometimes, yeah, I don’t know if that’s even a good example, but you get the point. 

[00:26:32] Lorilee Rager: And sometimes it’s, it is, but it’s just not appropriate sometimes. 

[00:26:35] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:26:35] Lorilee Rager: And if you were listening appropriately you would know to pause and, and not immediately, possibly negate what they just said. 

[00:26:45] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Totally. Yeah. Yeah. Which, which then there is the focused listening where, you know, you are sometimes just not able to fully connect with the other person. Um, um, even when you’re not doing anything else, it’s it’s, you know, just sometimes we are just not capable of just being 100% present for the other person. And, and so you sometimes, you know, like we say, you just hear what you want to hear. Um, you just walk away with just a selective, uh, listening is perhaps another way of putting that. Um, but then there is the 360 degree, not degree minus the degree, 360 listening, where you’re not only focusing on what the other person is saying, but, um, I think it also means where you’re noticing how they say it. And the things that they’re not saying, you know, because you are there you’re present. Something, what you were saying earlier. You know, when you’re sitting in front of the client, it’s not about what they say, but it’s the body language. It’s the tone. 

[00:27:49] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:27:50] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Oh, which is so important. And I think all of those things kind of come down to your connection, to the other person of how good a listener you are. ,And, and sometimes you might just have to, there are, we are certainly in situations, in full transparency where you’re making the other person feel that they are heard and that you’re being a good listener. And you’re like, maybe I didn’t, didn’t need to listen to the whole thing. Um, because it’s not adding any value either um, to the conversation, to the situation, or maybe it’s just a venting kind of a situation where you’re like, you know, you’re heard, I’m listening to everything you’re saying I have nothing to offer. Let’s move on from this. But sometimes, um, it’s important um, where we just really, really listen to the other um, individual’s, uh, needs. 

[00:28:40] Lorilee Rager: Yes, yes. Oh, Shruthi. This is fascinating. So it makes me come back again to what we first started talking about, about everyone at the table. 

[00:28:48] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:28:49] Lorilee Rager: And the roles and what we do in, in, in our agency is I, I’ve understood that my best strategist and analytical compliant thinker is very methodical at note taking and, and documenting what’s going on in the meeting. And the designer is sketching a few ideas and I’m doing the 360. And when we leave a meeting, we each have different responses and it’s one of those feelings where they laugh at me and ask what kind of gut feeling that I have, because I will say now I want you to go email the client now and confirm was that really the correct, uh, budget that they gave you and I want you to confirm, do they really want to kick off, you know, a $10,000 pay per click?

Because I read body language and, and tone, posture that meant they didn’t, but they agreed with the strategist that asked. Yeah. And they clearly said, yes, they did say yes to her. But I, but because I’m watching in 360, as you explain, I knew it’s really a no, but again, they’re vulnerable. They don’t wanna admit they don’t have that budget. They don’t admit possibly they just didn’t tell the truth or misled us, or, you know, like I said, there’s so much going on and we could really damage a whole campaign. You could take a whole business under, like, it’s why it’s so important to listen in all those different ways. 

[00:30:28] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:30:30] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. So that’s really fascinating about listening and observing and then, and then that’s when you take it into design. And begin to experiment and play and create something. What that is that message that we just tried to listen and hear. 

[00:30:53] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, totally. And you put in so much effort towards listening um, in our personal relationships. You know,, don’t we? I feel like we’re, we all get to a point at some point, um, where you’re like, you’re not listening to me. 

[00:31:08] Lorilee Rager: The successful ones, right. 

[00:31:11] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Where you’re like, or you’re, you are striving for that all the time. You’re like, you know, you are not listening to me, you know, or yes, I’m not, I’m hearing you, but I don’t really understand what you’re saying um, kind of a thing, but, um, it’s it, it’s so important. I, I feel like, um, since, I don’t know if they’re, we are really taught how to be good listeners. I don’t know if that’s like a teachable… 

[00:31:37] Lorilee Rager: I don’t know if they are as… 

[00:31:38] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:31:39] Lorilee Rager: I would say as a child we’re taught we must listen or else, you know, punishment. 

[00:31:45] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:31:45] Lorilee Rager: We’re just… but that’s more, do what you’re told. 

[00:31:49] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. That’s more obey. So like, not like — or we are asked to shut up and just listen. 

[00:31:55] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:31:55] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: That basically can mean, um, sure. I’m just gonna stop talking, 

[00:32:01] Lorilee Rager: I was told, uh, children are to be seen and not heard. And that’s terrible. 

[00:32:07] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:32:08] Lorilee Rager: I’ve apologized to my children for also saying that to them. I was like, you know, I should not have done that. So… 

[00:32:13] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: How did they take it? 

[00:32:14] Lorilee Rager: We’re not taught. 

[00:32:16] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: What did they say? Whatever mom. 

[00:32:17] Lorilee Rager: They have. Now, they– it’s funny. My youngest who likes to talk a lot has thanked me for saying, I’m sorry for saying that. He said, “yeah, mom, it used to really make me angry when you said that.” 

[00:32:30] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Oh, that’s so sweet that he acknowledged your apology and that’s so sweet you actually recognized that was something you were doing and apologized. 

[00:32:37] Lorilee Rager: I was like, why would I hush a child? Um, we should be teaching them to listen in a healthy relationship. Whether it’s mom and child or best friends or partners or clients or students. 

[00:32:51] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:32:52] Lorilee Rager: Listening really could be the key to it all possibly. 

[00:32:56] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. It’s a very, it’s, it’s a thing that you, you can even put on your resume at some, at some day. I’m a really good listener. Try me out. Call me in for an interview. You’ll know. 

[00:33:08] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Oh, that’s so beautiful. Really, really. Okay. Ooh. I, I really didn’t expect to get on such a, a soapbox on listening, but this is good stuff. And I think this still all ties in to the third thing, you know, in my, of course, thesis and grad school work and which has turned into life work and personal work and, and understanding the addicted artist. And I’ve learned a lot about similar behavioral styles in creatives. And so that brings me to the point of behavioral psychology. And I wanna hear your thoughts on, on that study and using it in design and life. 

[00:33:57] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Well, as you already know, uh, my thesis was also, um, around the psychology of consumption, psychology of design. And… 

[00:34:10] Lorilee Rager: Tell us about that. 

[00:34:10] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Um, how we consume design and I’m continuing my research around, um, the psychology of the effects of pandemic on how we consume things or how has our consumption changed um, since, since the pandemic, since COVID 19 and how has it affected our psychology, especially when it comes to consumption around design? Um, and I think as designers and I’ve, um, this is my belief that as, as designers, we can leverage psychology to build more intuitive human centered experiences, of course, as well as products. Um, and you know, because instead of forcing human beings to conform to any design, whether it’s an experience or a product, um, um, using some of the key principles of psychology, um, as a guide, um, to design, um, um, you’re just tapping into how people behave and think.

I think one thing that comes to my mind is probably, um, Hick’s Law, um, wherein you know, he talks about, um, um, the time it takes to make a decision increases, um, with the number and complexity of choices available and choice again was, um, one of the things that I deeply dived into, uh, um, uh, when I was working on my thesis and that kind of, uh, ties to, uh, the cognitive load, right?

Like, um, basically, um, Um, it, it, that the cognitive load refers to the mental processing power, um, um, being used by our working memory. Our brains are very similar to, let’s say our computer processors and we have limited processing power. And when the amount of information comes in, um, exceeds the space available the cognitive load happens. Um, so our performance suffers and the tasks that we are trying to, uh, uh, uh, finish, become more difficult and, um, you know, the results sometimes could be frustration. And when you apply, basically that law into design it’s pretty straightforward. 

Um, um, I think my favorite example pertaining to this law is how remote controls were designed back in the day. And as technology was, um, getting better and better and was evolving, the buttons on remote control kept increasing. It was obnoxious. We still have some of those laying around where you’re like, what? Like when you go to a hotel room probably at a Holiday Inn then you see a remote control and you’re like, “79 buttons and what do I do to just watch that one channel?” Or you just turn the TV on. There are like three power on and off buttons. And you’re like, they all look the same. 

[00:37:06] Lorilee Rager: Or there are four at the top. 

[00:37:07] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Exactly. 

[00:37:08] Lorilee Rager: In, in, uh, colors. 

[00:37:09] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Right? And you’re like what do we press? What do… 

[00:37:13] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:37:13] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: And I think at some point, um, um, I, I cannot recall if this was part of a research or if it was just an experiment. Um, there, there, there is this phenomenon called as grandparent friendly remote, where, and you basically duct tape all the buttons, um, that’s not required and you just leave the buttons that are essential to watch TV. 

[00:37:37] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. 

[00:37:38] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Which improves the usability of remote control. Uh… 

[00:37:41] Lorilee Rager: 1000%. 

[00:37:42] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Right? And well, Apple picked up on it and, uh, today’s, uh, Apple TV basically has what, 5, 4, 5, 6 buttons on it? And you can do the everything that 79 buttons could do with just those four buttons. 

[00:37:58] Lorilee Rager: Completely simplification. Yes. 

[00:38:01] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: And I think that’s an, that’s really a good example of just understanding psychology and applying that to, um, um, consumer psychology and what human beings actually seek and want.

[00:38:14] Lorilee Rager: Fascinating. 

[00:38:15] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Um, it’s, it’s kind of, it’s, it’s fun. It it, or, you know, applying another piece of, uh, I forget what, what this is officially called in the textbooks, but how human beings’ memories kind of like to chunk things, um, and chunking, uh, is I think is, is actually a term. And it’s a incredibly valuable tool where we visually group, uh, related information into small distinct units of information like layout design, or, you know, it’s basically a chunking you’re bringing in hierarchy.

Um, uh, you are giving visual uh, notions, uh, of what’s important, what’s not, what could be passed. What’s just a disclaimer, things like that. Or how we write phone numbers today, because there are a string series of numbers, uh, a string of digits, which is difficult to read, memorize and understand. So we kind of chunk it. We break it down.

[00:39:14] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:39:14] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Um, when we design business cards, for example. 

[00:39:18] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:39:18] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Some of these ideas really fascinate me on how you design anything. 

[00:39:22] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely I mean, just mind blown. I mean, every example you gave, but I’m really currently immersed in the remote situation because I, I help and take care of my grandma who’s 91 and when we moved her to assisted living, everything was broken down to the most simplified version. I mean, from, yes, the remote to the call button that gets you anywhere to, you know, there was not a complex phone system. You know, it’s, it’s every single thing is as simple as possible to make it easiest for her.

Or I remember in the nineties helping some, growing up in a rural farming area, there were many, many landlords that we had that were widows. They were women whose husbands had passed. A lot of women alone and they were elderly and we would bring them, um, phones with just the very, very, very large keypads as their vision started to fail or bring them audio books on tape from the library, because they couldn’t read the, the novels that they loved and, and we helped them with brighter lights or all these different ways that we were trying to do to make their lives a little easier, because they had gotten older and they didn’t understand their new TV because the first TV I ever had, I remember, I mean, growing up had one square like, Pepto Bismol color button. 

[00:40:55] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yes. 

[00:40:55] Lorilee Rager: And you just hit it and it went dunk dunk and it just chunked chunk… it just turned really hard to channels two, four, and five.

[00:41:04] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Right. 

[00:41:06] Lorilee Rager: You know? 

[00:41:06] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: And you had three channels, so you watched anything and everything. 

[00:41:08] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And one volume knob. So there were two buttons on that TV. And then when we got a VCR, it came with a wired remote that fit in the palm of your hand. 

[00:41:19] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Oh, wow. 

[00:41:20] Lorilee Rager: And it just had one button that just said pause and it was just a switch, a very hard click. And that stopped the whatever was playing and you ran that wired remote all the way to the couch. And if somebody needed to go pee… 

[00:41:36] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Oh, I love this so much. 

[00:41:40] Lorilee Rager: You clicked the pause. That was the, that was it. That’s my first remote experience. 

[00:41:42] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Oh, that’s amazing. I wish they’d come back sometime. 

[00:41:45] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah. But then coming home from college at Christmas is when my parents handed me basically a mini iPad with a huge screen of a thousand buttons. And when I like, look, we’ve upgraded our TV in our whole surround sound system. And I was like, I just wanted to play “Jingle Bells” and I don’t even know how to get music going. 

[00:42:03] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Right. Oh gosh. 

[00:42:05] Lorilee Rager: So this is fascinating. Sorry, I’ve talked about that nonstop, but this human-centered design and tying it into psychology, which I love. Philosophy. This is fascinating work you’re doing my friend and understanding. 

[00:42:20] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Thank you. I appreciate that. Um, I mean, of course there is so much to learn and understand and, you know, even connect the dots. Um, I’m, I’m quite certain it’s, it’s gonna keep all of us on our toes as we continue to evolve um, as human beings. I think psychology evolves faster than designers because we are just wired that way. So I just do think that, um, design and psychology are intrinsically tied together. If not, it should be, or it should be taught- 

[00:42:56] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:42:56] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: -that way and learned that way. Um, 

[00:42:59] Lorilee Rager: I agree completely. 

[00:43:01] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, because that’s how we talk about typography or layout design or color, the basic competence of what makes a design good or bad is rooted in these things that you’re like, you know, why that color or why that typeface? It’s psychology of how somebody interprets something that they’re seeing. Um it’s such a sensorial thing. 

[00:43:24] Lorilee Rager: It absolutely is. And it, it, it kind of dances around everything we’ve talked about when you also said choice, which was a big, it’s a big word for me because it’s something in recovery that I learned. You forget, you have a choice to not take the same path you’ve always taken or eliminate the choices when you feel overwhelmed in order not to drink and things like that. So choice is important, but I think in the strategy, creativity, the storytelling, I think it’s really important to teach in design all of this. What is the psychology behind, uh, the humans that we’re making this for? What’s the message? What’s the strategy and how do we create creativity- creatively, creatively? That’s the word ,creatively? Um, produce it? Deep stuff. And I love it. 

[00:44:21] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Gosh. 

[00:44:21] Lorilee Rager: I could talk about it all day. 

[00:44:22] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: This is too deep for a weekday evening. 

[00:44:24] Lorilee Rager: I know. This is too deep for my brain today. Gosh. It was so good.

[00:44:30] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: I know. I thought this was the easiest thing that I’d be doing today. I’m like, I’m just gonna sit in front of my computer and chat with Lorilee. We’re going to have an amazing, well, it was amazing. But then now I’m like, I think I need a walk. 

[00:44:42] Lorilee Rager: My mind is blown. Yes. We need to just go look at some trees.

[00:44:45] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Exactly. 

[00:44:46] Lorilee Rager: Blowing in the wind and the clouds just float on by. We do need to do that after this.. 

[00:44:49] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: As a grounding activity. Totally. 

[00:44:52] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Agreed. Agreed. Well, speaking of grounding, you just brilliantly put me right into the final question. 

[00:45:00] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Okay. 

[00:45:01] Lorilee Rager: What, what tool would you leave in our ground and gratitude toolbox for others? After all this fascinating conversation. 

[00:45:13] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Oh my gosh. 

[00:45:13] Lorilee Rager: Or something that helps you. 

[00:45:14] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yes. I feel like every question you ask, um, it, it takes me like a solid second. I’m like, I think I knew what I needed to answer, what I should be answering. And then you kind of, you know, you go back to like, oh God, that’s a tough one. Um. 

[00:45:28] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, it is tough stuff.

[00:45:30] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Well, I think personally, things that ground me keeps changing very often, which I think is a normal thing. I think it happens to everyone. No? Yeah. Okay. I see your nods. 

[00:45:46] Lorilee Rager: I agree. 

[00:45:46] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:45:47] Lorilee Rager: Yes. I agree. I do agree because what used to work three years ago-

[00:45:50] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, exactly. 

[00:45:51] Lorilee Rager: Doesn’t. 

[00:45:52] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Doesn’t anymore. 

[00:45:53] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, doesn’t soothe. 

[00:45:53] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah.

[00:45:54] Lorilee Rager: Right. 

[00:45:55] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Um, lately when I say lately, I think since the pandemic, um, I have found a lot of, um, peace and calm and grounding, um, in gardening. Um, and I also say this, if, if, if Akhil, my partner, was here or if my mom was here, me saying this out loud, they would’ve cracked up because I think the super, I have a super power of being able to kill a succulent or a cactus that has survived for years. 

[00:46:32] Lorilee Rager: I have the same one. 

[00:46:33] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:46:33] Lorilee Rager: If my mom says you can’t kill it, I’ll go just gimme a few weeks. 

[00:46:36] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Watch me. Exactly. It’s um, but then, so I have never, um, explored the idea of what does it mean to like grow something or nurture something? Um but I think uh, when we went on that amazing lockdown of a year, it kind of opened up- you had, you seek for things that kind of keeps you in touch with, you know, life, as you know it, and you’re finding activities to do. Uh, and gardening was the one thing that I could do within the vicinity that we were not allowed to cross.

And I’m gonna give this a try and, you know, perhaps see how it’s gonna work out. It’s a new thing. And it was like a leap of faith. And at that point I realized how much gardening is like, you know, nurturing a relationship. It’s not like a one and done acquirement. 

[00:47:31] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. 

[00:47:33] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: But then you, you prep for it. You understand what you’re doing. You put in effort every single day. Um, it requires choices. Um, it requires knowing yourself and knowing the person you’re choosing to stand beside all of these things was such a philosophical connection for me with gardening. I’m terrible at it even to this day, I’ll- I- full transparency again, like, I, it would take me an entire summer to nurture, to do, to raise this little tomato plant and I’d get like one tomato, which is like… 

[00:48:05] Lorilee Rager: That’s exactly what I was -that’s what happened to me… 

[00:48:08] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: To save 50 cents. One tomato. And I’m like, what’s wrong with the plant? Like just biologically you, shouldn’t you produce at least three of these? Why is there one, like, how can I be so bad? 

[00:48:20] Lorilee Rager: Yes. I love it. I love it. But you know, the beauty of what we do for a living when we fight perfection and, and all of that as designers in our career, how fun is it to do something like gardening?

[00:48:34] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:48:34] Lorilee Rager: That you don’t, you get to let go and you don’t have to be perfect and give a presentation for it. It’s just you and that plant. 

[00:48:43] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, absolutely. That’s actually beautifully said, um, wherein, you know, you’re just being there, you know, you’re not prepping. 

[00:48:50] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:48:51] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: As in, you’re not, you are hoping you, you just do, you are gardening, always with such positive. Um, and it’s not the false positivity. You’re just hoping for good to happen. 

[00:49:02] Lorilee Rager: You’re just hoping no matter what the outcome. 

[00:49:04] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:49:04] Lorilee Rager: You’re still nurturing. 

[00:49:06] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: While you’re completing completely aware that, you know, if you’re planting an annual, perhaps, you know, that’s just gonna last this year. Um, yeah. And you know, the winter is gonna be here and maybe that little thing, whatever you’re planting is not gonna be here. It’s a good realization that beauty is fleeting. And you’re not working towards that part. Um, it, but it’s… 

[00:49:27] Lorilee Rager: And that all this is temporary. 

[00:49:29] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Absolutely. You know, that you want to capture them or, uh, uh, um, just live in the moment and while you can and hold onto them, um, like, like how plants are, you know, they’re just resilient. They just hold onto things in the icy depths of winter. It’s just kind of motivating. No? 

[00:49:50] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:49:50] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: But yeah, having said all of that, um, I do really need, I feel like a lot of research is required just to understand, like, let’s cross the number one, go to two tomatos this year. 

[00:50:03] Lorilee Rager: The light, the location, the dirt, the watering, the, yeah.

[00:50:06] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah.

[00:50:07] Lorilee Rager: It is a lot of research, which is right down our wheelhouse- 

[00:50:09] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:50:10] Lorilee Rager: -as designers and strategists. 

[00:50:12] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yeah. 

[00:50:13] Lorilee Rager: So, beautiful. I will take gardening all day long as a wonderful tool for the toolbox. It’s perfect. This has been amazing. I don’t wanna take up more of your time, but I seriously could talk to you for the rest of the night and tomorrow..

[00:50:28] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Oh my gosh, likewise I know. I feel like, is it, is it, is it, is that it? Was that your last question? Please talk to me more. 

[00:50:35] Lorilee Rager: That is it. I’m so sorry. Oh my goodness. We could keep going and we will. We’re gonna do this again. 

[00:50:42] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Yes, we should. 

[00:50:43] Lorilee Rager: I’m gonna ask you. Okay, well for now we will have to end it there my dear friend Shruthi. Thank you so much for being here today. 

[00:50:51] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: And thank you so much for having me. This was pure pleasure, just talking to you about all the things that matters um, so much to the both of us. 

[00:51:01] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah, it really does. It really does matter. And you matter to me too, so thank you so much, friend. I appreciate you. 

[00:51:08] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Appreciate you, what is it we say at VCFA? Right- right back atcha? 

[00:51:14] Lorilee Rager: Right back atcha. 

[00:51:14] Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna: Right back atcha. There you go. 

[00:51:18] Lorilee Rager: Good job.

Thank you again Shruthi for sharing such interesting insights with us today. Thank you for tuning in to Ground and Gratitude. If you’re enjoying the show, you can leave a review on Apple Podcasts and find us on Instagram. Our handle is @groundandgratitude. You can find more info about the show and our topics and blog posts all at groundandgratitude.com.

Be sure and join me next time for more honest conversations, exploring what it means to be a creative in this world and how to bring all the love, joy and laughter back to the process of design and to life too. I’ll be talking with Art Conn about his creative journey from childhood to now. 

[00:52:06] Art Conn: My mom was also an actress and I thought, what in the world are you doing? I had just gotten out of high school and I watched her rehearsing and I thought that looks like fun. So I tried it.

[00:52:19] Lorilee Rager:Ground and Gratitude is produced by the dream team, Kelly Drake and Anna McClain.

Ep 18: Finding Your Light with Susan Bryant

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Finding Your Light with Susan Bryant

In this episode, Lorilee connects with her friend and former professor, Susan Bryant. The two met in Susan’s class at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee where she taught analog photography for 37 years. Her work has been featured in numerous exhibits across the country, and she has been the recipient of several distinguished artistic fellowships throughout her career. Though she retired from full time teaching in 2019, Susan continues to instruct online and in-person photography workshops, while also maintaining a robust and active studio practice. She and Lorilee discuss the nature and value of creativity in different phases of their lives, as well as their intertwined paths to recovery.

Highlights: 

  • On Susan’s playlist: ‘I Am Light’ by India.Arie
  • Susan’s early love for painting and photography 
  • Analog art versus digital art in the pursuit of play and discovery
  • Her Light Catchers workshops
  • Their respective and overlapping journeys toward sobriety
  • Using therapy to break down the walls that we build
  • Susan’s ‘third act,’ now that’s she’s sober  
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

🎧 Listen wherever you get your podcasts on Spotify or Apple. 🎧

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Episode 18 – Susan Bryant Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows, but also gives. Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about wherever. Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me.

Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions, while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out her-bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC Equal Housing Lender.

If you’re enjoying the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and you can find us on Instagram at Ground and Gratitude. 

Today’s guest is someone very dear to me. Susan Bryant used to be my professor when I was an undergrad, and since then, she has become a lifelong friend. She is retired now, but Susan used to be a professor of photography at Austin Peay State University.

She is also a brilliant photographer herself. Seriously, you have to check her work out. Susan was the first person that I reached out to about my drinking, and she has helped me a lot through my journey with getting sober. I am beyond excited to have her on the show today to talk about everything from creativity to sobriety and much more.

Welcome, Susan, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. 

[00:02:09] Susan: Thanks for having me, Lorilee. 

[00:02:11] Lorilee: Well, I’m so happy to have you on here, and I wanted to just dive right in with our big kickoff question, as hopefully the listeners are used to, but I do love music, so I like to know what song is on repeat on your playlist today? 

[00:02:30] Susan: Well, um, I, uh, chose a song, um, to, to share on my thousand days on TLC with Louise, which was, I don’t know how many months ago, many months ago. And it was, ‘I Am Light’ by India.Arie, and then, a few weeks ago, I was listening to your podcast with Kirbee Miller, and she had chosen that song too. And I said, “Oh, that’s my song.” But anyway, I mean, I love the song. You know, it’s about light, but it’s about divinity and God inside, and it just really speaks to me. 

[00:03:14] Lorilee: Beautiful. I think we need the reminder, but if we’re going to do a reminder song, that’s a great one, and it’s allowed to be your song too. That’s great. I’m so happy to know. That’s one of those synchronicity connections there that I like so much. So good. And, you know, just to, just for our listeners that don’t know, I know you and I know the lingo, but TLC is something we’ll talk about later that we’re both members of The Luckiest Club. And, um, so yeah, that’s what TLC stands for.

All right. Um, diving into our first topic, it would really be obvious, uh, and appropriate to talk to you about both photography and creativity. Um, so I would love to just get a little intro from you about your personal work and your photography process and your career. 

[00:04:12] Susan: Okay. Um, well, I have loved art as long as I can remember. Um, I have a vivid memory of, as a child, loving Paint By Numbers. And there is also a family photo of my step sisters and brothers and half-brother when I was nine, and I’m not in the picture. And I remember, as an adult, asking my family, do you know why I’m not there? And they said, “Don’t you remember you wanted to take the photograph?”

And I said, “No, I didn’t remember that.” But, obviously, there was, um, you know, something in me from, from, uh, early on that, uh, uh, you know, draw, drew me to both, um, painting and photography. So, um, you know, and my parents were very encouraging, um, of my interest in art. And so, I mean, it was never a question in my mind that I would major in art in, um, undergraduate school.

I received a BA in painting from Indiana University and then an MFA in photography from Indiana State. So, um, I was able to combine, from the beginning, my love of painting with photography. And, um, I’ve been a practicing– an exhibiting artist ever since, so, a little over 40 years. 

[00:05:40] Lorilee: Wow. 

[00:05:41] Susan: But my, um, my career in higher education, um, just came about by, uh, a series of synchronicities that, um, in, uh, are– the details aren’t important, but what, what is important is that I was hired in 1982 by, uh, Austin Peay to, uh, head up the photography area of the Art Department. And it began a 38 year career that I absolutely loved.

I, um, I loved teaching. I was even chair of the department for a few years, but realized I really preferred to be in the classroom. I loved sharing my passion for photography with students and, um, just everything about it. And so, I had this rich and wonderful career and, and also, uh, during the summers is when I would have time to pursue my own creative research in my own work.

And Austin Peay, um, you know,, generously provided funding for faculty creative development. And so, during the summers, I often went to workshops. I’ve never stopped being a student, so I would go to workshops as often as I could and travel and photograph and, um– and my own personal work, I shot film. I was an analog photographer, most of my life, um, hand coloring photographs.

And then, 10 years ago, I began experimenting with and using, uh, the 19th century wet plate collodion process that was, um, used in the 1860s and -70s, making tintypes and glass negatives. 

[00:07:37] Lorilee: Yes. Yeah. I love your work of that stuff. It’s so good. 

[00:07:41] Susan: And now I’m back to hand coloring, uh, digital prints this time, and– which is a whole different sort of, uh, combination of media, but, um, I’m sort of back doing that and, uh, and teaching. Teaching that.

[00:07:57] Lorilee: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and you also early on, you said something about Paint By Numbers, which I haven’t thought about in years and, man, I loved Paint By Numbers. It was so fun. 

[00:08:08] Susan: When I, you know, when I hand-color my photographs, you know, it’s sort of similar, except I get to choose the palette. You know, I get to choose the colors. I don’t have to go with the colors and the numbers that are given me. And so, and I, I teach it now, um, through, uh, the Light Catchers, which I’ll talk a little bit more about, but, um, the students just really love it, just that, um, you know, to get back to that hands-on experience of, you know, getting the, you know, pastels and colored pencils, you know, on your fingers and smudging it around and stuff like that.

[00:08:47] Lorilee: Yeah. I think that is so great. I mean, I know we all know this, but in a digital world and we touch screens all the time, it’s so– it’s actually kind of sad to me to think about, but it’s so rare to get your hands messy, and to play, and to smudge, and to color, and to do all that. So I love, I love that you’re doing that with, um, with your classes and your workshops now.

And I think it’s, I think it’s a beautiful way to continue to still be creative, um, as you’re, as you’re kind of still continuing your career after, um, retirement. 

[00:09:29] Susan: Mhm. 

[00:09:30] Lorilee: Yeah. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I do, I do really– I remember taking your classes, and I remember loving them and that was a film dark room, um, you know, in the basement of Trahern, uh, and just hours and hours, how I just loved to take photography and how you taught me. I remember one of the first things is, is even just things like perspective and depth of field, and um taking the same shot at multiple different angles and perspectives.

And because I remember, I remember just seeing life in a completely different way through a camera lens in, in your class, and, and so, you know, I, I’d love to learn or hear more about what you’re doing now with your Light Catchers workshop. And that may be something that you talk about later, but, um– 

[00:10:29] Susan: Uh, I can talk about it now. And, um, but back to your memory of my, uh, photo classes, I um, I s– my first assignment in my Photo 1 classes, I had an assignment called ‘Toolbox,’ and it was about four major elements of photography. Light, vantage point, depth of field, and time, and light being the most important of them. Because, obviously, I mean, I think it’s obvious that light is required, uh, to make a photograph.

Uh, you can make a photograph without a camera– it’s called a photogram, but you cannot make a photograph without light. And it’s the quality and the– of light, also the direction of light, what happens with the light, that can, you know, uh, make a photograph beautiful and, and, and meaningful. And so with my Light Catchers group, which is, um, now, after retiring, I still missed, I mean, I missed photography. I mean, I miss teaching. And so I developed, uh, a series of courses– online courses and in-person workshops that, um, I’m calling Light Catchers. And even though the students are primarily using their iPhones as their cameras, I’m still giving them the same Toolbox assignment at the beginning. And yeah, it’s really been interesting to see how it can translate from film into digital, uh, and be, uh, equally I think, um, you know, important.

[00:12:11] Lorilee: I agree completely. I, you know, I know, I remember, as I got a little braver and, and took Photo 2 from you and, and moved on in the career, um, I still today take those elements with me. And if I’m in a setting to do a photo shoot, or even if it’s personal and for fun, and I’m out at the farm, I think right then of all of those elements.

And I also think if it’s this really magical, beautiful light and sunset, or whatever it may be, to take it multiple different ways and angles and per–perspective, and, uh, perception and all of that, because you may not ever get that moment again, that exact light and that exact nature and, and just taking one snapshot just isn’t enough, if that makes sense.

[00:13:00] Susan: And also I think the light at twilight, like right before sunrise or right before sunset, that is so fleeting, and it’s the most beautiful light. And I encourage my students to try to, even if they’re, if they’re not a morning person, then look at the light right before sunset. Um, or, you know, it’s just golden and it, it, it’s magical, just magical.

[00:13:27] Lorilee: Yes. Yeah, it is. Well, it is, it really is so wonderful. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. That’s a good memory. Good memory. Um, all right, well, so, uh, wanted to ask you if you were wanting to, or willing to share a brief version, maybe of the current journey that you’ve been on, um, with a topic that’s near and dear to me, and that would be sobriety.

[00:13:56] Susan: Yes, I would love to, um, you know, it’s interesting, well, I’ll be celebrating three years in about five weeks. 

[00:14:07] Lorilee: Yes! 

[00:14:07] Susan: Yeah. I’m, I’m just thrilled. And I, uh, I had not– I had told my, my good friends in Clarksville, my family, my close family knew, but for several reasons, part of it being the pandemic and not being around people, or just not knowing how to tell my cousins in Michigan or, you know, so finally this year, right after my birthday, um, a few weeks ago, and people were sending me birthday wishes on Facebook and I was was getting birthday cards that had to do with celebrating your birthday with champagne and wine. I thought, well, maybe this is a good time to just, like, come out, um, so to speak, uh, online. So I’m gonna read you if it’s okay — it’s pretty short — but the letter that I posted to, um, yeah, to, to share this with my friends and family. It starts with: 

I broke up with alcohol on July 1st, 2019. It wanted to kill me. I wanted my life back. I wanted my soul back. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It was the best thing I’ve done in my life. What I’ve learned: I’m stronger than I thought I was. It is never too late to change your life. Life is better on this side. Asking for help is humbling, but essential. Community and connection are crucial for recovery. Miracles are real. 

How I’ve changed: I am present. I am honest. I am happier. I’m lighter. I’m softer. What I’ve gained: acceptance, security — I’m sorry — serenity, trust, hope, faith, strength, dignity, grace, courage, connection, community, contentment, compassion, kindness, possibilities, opportunities, and so much more. 

What I’ve lost: hangovers, shame, regrets, and financial debt. Promises I can make and keep: I will not preach or try to convert anyone. I’m here for you or a friend or loved one who may be struggling and wants or needs to talk any time of any day.

Why I’m sharing this with you now: being sober is part of who I am now and I, and how I live in the world. If sharing my story can help even one person, it will be worth all the uncertainty and second guessing of how to come out and tell my truth on social media.

So… 

[00:17:04] Lorilee: Deep breaths. Wow. Wow. Wow, wow. I mean, how, how do you feel? How do you feel about those words? 

[00:17:16] Susan: I feel really good. And there were two quotes by two different people that really, um, kind of helped me think about this. One is, uh, Rob Lowe, who, you know, now is a sober person and has a podcast. And it’s so simple, but he said, “Sobriety was the greatest gift I ever gave myself.”

And I think of that all the time. And then the other is Brené Brown’s quote that is, “One day, you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through, and it will be someone else’s survival guide.” And I think about that too, that telling my story was a way to say to anybody out there, you know, if you’re struggling, I get it, you know, give me a call. Let’s talk. Um, and I think, you know, that’s what happened with you and me, which was, um, you know, so magical. And, um, so should I talk about that? 

[00:18:17] Lorilee: Yeah. I love, I would love for you to tell our story. Please. 

[00:18:20] Susan: Okay. Um, so, well, anyway, I just a, a brief, um, you know, past drinking, you know, I, I grew up around alcohol. I mean, it was in my– it was normal in my family, everywhere. You know, I drank in high school and college and nothing really problematic. Um, you know, it was one of those things that just, as I aged, you know, my tolerance, you know, I had a high tolerance, which I used to wear with a badge of courage, you know, that I could drink you know, with the guys and, uh, you know, keep up, but, you know, one bottle, uh, a night, uh, turned into two and my husband, my dear sweet husband, is not a drinker. He’s, uh, he was a normal drinker and, um, of course, he worried about the amount that I drank. And so, uh, like any other, um, alcoholic who is, um, presented with, um, a decision they’re not ready to make, I hid the alcohol in my house. And I felt horrible. I felt so much shame, and yet, I didn’t feel like I had a choice at a certain point. You know, I was drinking, not because I wanted to, but because I had to, and I was out of control, but I was, nobody knew it. I mean, I, um, you know, I could drink, and I don’t mean to say that, well, I guess, I mean– nobody knew it. I did most of my drinking at home and mostly I– in my, you know, by myself. After my husband went to bed, um, I would stay up and drink more, but I was still able to get up at seven in the morning and, and go to the Y, and work out, and teach yoga of all things. And then on my way, home stop by the liquor store, but, if I had gone to that liquor store yesterday, I would– needed to find a different liquor store today and then go home to let the dog out, to go to school, to teach my classes, and then get home, uh, to start, you know, the evening wine. And yeah, there was this part of me that thought: “Well, you know, how could I have a problem? You know, look at all that I’m able to do. I can do this and I can do that. So of course I don’t have a problem.” But, um, but it finally came to, uh, to a surrender for me, it was, uh, it was definitely a, a sort of a spiritual intervention, so to speak, um, on the morning of July 1st, 2019, I woke up to discover that my husband had found empty bottles and, um, I just, I just had had enough. I couldn’t do it any longer. And, uh, at that moment, I heard a voice from inside, a very calming voice. You know, my higher power called me by name and said, “Susan, it’s time. Let go. I’ve got you.” And I felt such relief and such fear at the same time. I mean, the relief was finally, I just said it. I just said, “I can’t keep doing this.” The fear was, you know, not knowing how I was going to live without alcohol. I mean, it had always been there for me. And, um, but I had a friend who I knew was in the program, and I asked her to take me to a meeting and I, I, um being retired at that time from uh, from teaching, I’ve put all my energy into, uh, getting sober.

You know, I went to meetings, I got a sponsor, I did the steps, I, you know, I was serious. I read the books I– and then, eight months in, COVID came along and closed down, you know, the meetings. And, at that point, I was, like I said, I was eight months in and feeling pretty secure in my sobriety. And I read– I was reading a lot of Quit Lit books, and then I found Laura’s book, um, We Are the Luckiest, and it just blew my mind. It absolutely– The Nine Things, for me, were just like, oh my gosh. I mean, it just, yeah. And so about that time, you and I had lunch with a mutual friend. We used to meet at Mexican restaurants where we drank tequila. But on that particular day, we met somewhere else, and I just kind of mentioned that I had stopped drinking.

And, um, I think you said, you know, “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” And I did, and then, uh, I can’t remember, but sometime you gave me a call or texted me or sent me a message about talking more about it. All I know is that in the spring of 2020, we met at your office and maybe around March or something, and we joined TLC and, and kind of started that journey together. And, um, that–

[00:23:43] Lorilee: Thank goodness. 

[00:23:43] Susan: It’s just– yeah. 

[00:23:45] Lorilee: I want to read Laura’s Nine Things. While you said that from Laura McKowen’s book, We Are the Luckiest. She has her Nine Things that we love and adore, and they’re read at the end of every meeting. And I think I’ve heard her next book is going to be about these Nine Things, which I’m very excited to read after her beautiful, authentic, vulnerable memoir.

Um, but yeah, Number One: it’s not your fault. Number two: it’s your responsibility. Number three: it’s unfair that this is your thing. Number four: this is your thing. Number five: this will never stop being your thing until you face it. Number six: you cannot do it alone. Number seven: only you can do it. Number eight: I love you. And Number Nine: I will never stop reminding you of these things. I just love that. Every single time. 

[00:24:50] Susan: And I, I love the, um, you know, the fact that two things can be true at the same time.

[00:24:56] Lorilee: The paradox.

[00:24:58] Susan: It’s not my fault, but it’s my responsibility to take care of it. Um, you know, you can’t do it alone, you need connection, but only you can do it. And my, you know, I love the, um, it’s unfair that this is your thing because in the beginning, you know, I think most people, you know, it’s like I was pissed, I guess.

I didn’t want it to be my thing. It was– I felt like this victim. It’s like darn it, I want to be a normal drinker. I want to be able to drink two drinks and stop, but I couldn’t. And, you know, we talk about sometimes in the meetings about looking for that third door, you know, but you know, once you, or anyone, sort of says, okay, this is my thing, I’ve got to deal with it.

You know, then, you know, if you are lucky enough to find a community like TLC and people who get it, who get you and understand you, and you can see yourself in others’ stories, it just makes such a huge difference for recovery. 

[00:26:08] Lorilee: It really does. So tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned in your sobriety toolbox.

[00:26:15] Susan: Well, uh, meeting– meetings are important and the, uh, TLC, for me, has replaced AA. I, I really, um, I just feel, um, it just is the right fit for me. So, um, attending meetings. I attend at least once a day, unless I can’t. Uh, sharing at meetings. Um, connection, you know, I have a group of, uh, women, um, mostly through WhatsApp and text threads that, if I’m feeling, if I’m somewhere and I just need to talk to somebody, uh, you know, I have, I have connections and, um, therapy has been essential. I, I got a therapist, um, about three months before I decided to quit drinking, but, um, I was lying to her about, about my drinking, but then after, yeah, after I, um, I stopped and I was serious about sobriety. Um, my husband and I knew that we needed, uh, couples therapy,

and so we found a fantastic therapist who I’m still seeing, and we’re still seeing. Uh, we see her together, um, more in the beginning than now, but I continue to see her alone. And, you know, in the second year of sobriety, you know, we talk about, um, doing like emotional sobriety, which is, you know, after that year of just, you know, getting over the cravings, uh, then finding, looking deep into like childhood trauma and, and, uh, things like that, that shed light as to why you drank and what those emotions deep down there were. And I was able, through her guidance, to remember traumas from when I was seven years old, sexual assaults from I was 15 — things I had buried so deep that, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t want to confront.

And, and then being able to do that as a sober person, with a therapist there in a safe place, um, it has made such a difference because I had built this wall around me, as many of us had, and my husband was so supportive of my recovery, and yet, I needed to learn how to become vulnerable, to, to become, um, to open up to experience intimacy, which, you know, was a scary thought from somebody who had built this, you know, wall around them.

[00:29:04] Lorilee: Yeah. The numbing, even about alcohol, you built the barrier through all other ways and blocking emotions, but alcohol helped to help that barrier stay up and… Living out loud and clear and vulnerable is, you know, it’s, it’s like a turtle without its shell or maybe I feel like a porcupine– prickly, you know? Yeah. So I get it. I really do get it. 

[00:29:29] Susan: And another really great thing that has happened in my sobriety is the ripple effect in my family. So I have, um, my sister, my older sister, um, who’s two and a half years older. It started with her son, my nephew, who is 35 and lives in China. And he has, um, had a, you know, a problem with alcohol for some time now.

And when he would come home to visit, my sister would have a dry house and she wouldn’t drink. Um, and, but then, um, circumstances happened, her husband passed away, and then COVID came, and she was alone in her house. And her drinking, uh, ramped up and I didn’t know any of this. Uh, and, um, but, uh, so when I went to visit this last week to go to attend the TLC event in Indianapolis, she told me that she was almost two months sober, and this time it was not for her son, she wasn’t doing it for him, she was doing it for herself, and that I had been a really great role model, and that just, you know, made my heart smile so big because, you know, for generations, alcohol has been in my family, as I think it was in yours too, but nobody talked about it. It was just this silent thing. Everybody was ashamed to talk about it.

[00:31:00] Lorilee: Yes, we called hangovers sinus infections. No one would admit the next day after we all secretly drank from our coffee cups or whatever the night before on a holiday that we all had sinus infections. I’m like, what was wrong with us? But, you know, really just, you’re such subtle mention at that lunch that day, like we had always done our lunches, and I think maybe our friend Cindy had said, she– we– let’s not do margaritas, ’cause maybe, you know, she had had some medical stuff and she definitely needed to not have our normal, big fishbowl margarita fest parties. And she didn’t know that secretly I was also trying to quit on my own, a side project, completely secret. You didn’t know, I didn’t know anything you were suffering with.

Um, and we have this sober lunch at a tea shop and you just, I mean, I don’t even think you spent two minutes on it. You just, you just casually, as our food, maybe it was being set down, I think, was like, so I’ve stopped drinking and I’m in AA and I’m getting a handle on my problem and you just kept eating and I just kept eating. I was like, oh my God. Like I wanted to scream, like out, “Help me!” Like I wanted to grab your shoulders and go home. But you know, just mentioning that. And like, you didn’t know about your sister and like– we don’t talk about what we’re struggling with. It’s just not something we do. And of course, Lord knows we do now. That’s what we’re doing now, but just subtle little mentions and Laura feeling this calling to tell her story in a beautiful memoir, like it just look at the ripple effect and that’s really beautiful about your sister. It really is. So I really think it’s beautiful. Okay. So I want to ask a little bit more about this life after retirement, as you call it, your third act. And this, this third act as a sober person. Um, and how it’s all come together in this beautiful photography and light and spirituality. Tell me. 

[00:33:10] Susan: Okay. Um, well, you know, I, I was 65 when I quit drinking and I just turned 68 a few weeks ago. So, if I’m lucky to live to be 90, I have at least 25 more years and I get to live those years sober. 

[00:33:29] Lorilee: You get to. 

[00:33:30] Susan: And if there’s one thing– yes, exactly. I get to and it’s, um, it’s never too late. And, um, ,and so the opportunities that have happened, nobody could have ever told me that life could be this good. So, one of my, um, long time dreams had been to one day, be able to teach photography at Penland School of Craft, which is, uh, in North Carolina, about an hour north of Asheville, North Carolina. And I’m going to teach there this summer on coloring photography. Yeah. So, um, so after I got sober, these opportunities just happened. Well, first, I had a 40 year retrospective exhibit at our museum here in Clarksville, which was really an incredible experience to look at, uh, 40 years, uh, of my, my work. And that was, that was really, uh, a great experience. And, uh, when I was there, I ran into, uh, a couple of friends of mine who owned a studio in a house, um, in Montgomery County, but out about, um, near Cumberland Furnace, and they had a studio and their look– they were looking for artists who wanted to use the space and to teach workshops.

And it was just like, it fell into my lap. I couldn’t have asked for, uh, you know, I could never have dreamt it. And so, uh, I have been teaching some in-person workshops at that facility, some cyanotype, um, and hand coloring workshops. And then the Light Catchers online classes grew out of a group that I formed– a subgroup in TLC, the, uh, The Luckiest Club has some subgroups. And so I designed the Light Catcher subgroup, which are, uh, TLC members who love photography and want to use it as one of their tools in their sobriety toolbox box. And it was such a great experience and it, and, uh, doing that class gave me the experience with Zoom and with the Slack platform to then be able to offer online classes during COVID where people were paying me a fee.

And so it’s just become now um, what I, I want to do in retirement is to continue to teach, but to do it on my time, on my terms, without having to grade, without all the other things that come with academia. Um, but just to introduce people to the, you know, the wonders of photography and to help them have a voice, uh, with their, their photographs.

And, uh, so yeah, that’s, that’s what I’m doing. And teaching these workshops– I taught one in Georgia last week and I’m going to offer another one in September. So the workshops also gives me this opportunity to travel to different places and photograph different places. And so I’m as busy as I, I want to be with teaching and traveling.

And, um, now if I could just get my website finished, uh, up. Uh, it’s about, oh my gosh, I’m embarrassed to say, eight years old, but, um, at the end I can, I can provide my Instagram account if people are interested ’cause it’s more up to date. Um, yeah, I just, uh…

[00:37:29] Lorilee: It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. How something you had said, um, kind of when we were emailing before the interview about the, the creative process has become this tool for sobriety and this journey of your life that you’ve been on as a photographer and a child wanting to take that family photo and making this career out of it. And I think the stigma that people think getting sober means you lose everything or you stop everything. 

[00:37:58] Susan: Right.

[00:37:58] Lorilee: And actually, it’s brought everything you loved to the forefront. Even more than ever. 

[00:38:06] Susan: It has exactly. I read something or somebody said recently, you know, about, uh, you know, the word sober itself is such a, you know, a downer kind of feeling, but instead, it really is like living in full color when you, without knowing it had been in this dark, you know, black and white place, you know, for so long.

And, and that, um, sobriety, you know, oftentimes I would just feel this wash of gratitude and joy come over me that, you know, it makes me grateful to be sober, but grateful to have not been sober, to know what that was like, so that now I can feel like, “Wow, you know, I was in hell and, and now I, I have the whole world just open.”

Um, to me, that I’m free. It’s a, it’s a freedom. 

[00:39:06] Lorilee: You’re free! Yes. Yes. That’s exactly right. There’s, there’s a quote from Laura’s book, um, that I love, I have on my wall here, that it says: the typical question is, is this bad enough for me to have to change? The question should be asking is, is this good enough for me to stay the same, and the real question underneath it all is am I free? Freedom.

It’s, it’s this I’m telling you, like you said, you could have never told me a million years before and, and having you as a friend and not knowing your own suffering and, but seeing your successes and seeing you as, as this, you know, award-winning photographer and professor, and then, but seeing the growth since then, and, and everything that it’s brought in, in your career and life being sober, it’s really a beautiful story. And, um, what else would you like to share? Any quotes or poems you mentioned? 

[00:40:16] Susan: Yeah, a few things, but, you know, first of all, about telling my story, you know, um, I was, you know, I realize now that, um, to tell one’s story, you just have to wait until you’re ready. When it feels right. Like who to share it with, and so, you know, if anybody’s listening who, you know, was in my position and just wondering, you know, how do I let people know? What do I say? That, you know, I just recommend that– to be patient and, and it will, you know, the timing will be right when it’s, when it’s right. And, um, but, um, yeah, I mean, I have become a huge fan of, of many poets, and Mary Oliver, of course, is one of them.

And, um, you know, she has many quotes about light. I don’t think I thought to print one, uh, oh here it is. Um, one is, she says, “I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing, that the light is everything.” And that’s from her book, House of Light. Another is, “And you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light and to shine.”

And the last is, “Light is an invitation to happiness.” And so, you know, I just feel this, this, uh, the, the word light, the concept of light, um, how it relates to photography, but also how it relates to, um, the sort of, I don’t know, opening of my soul to, to, um, this life of, of living in, in integrity, with honesty and is light as a metaphor of, you know, coming through that, that darkness that had become my life into this light of sobriety. It’s, you know, it’s just, um, a metaphor that I truly identify with. 

[00:42:39] Lorilee: Yeah, that was, that was really there inside of you all along and just, you know, integrity and truth is huge. And I love that you know, you have that in yourself, you have that in your, in your marriage and your community and it’s– and you continue to live it.

It’s, it’s super, super beautiful. And I will ask one last question and that would be, which you’ve already given us so many, so much goodness. What, and you can repeat it if you need to, because it’s worth repeating, but what tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? 

[00:43:15] Susan: Okay, so it is one more quote by Mary Oliver.

And it’s from Instructions for Living a Life: “number one, pay attention, number two, be astonished and number three, tell about it.” And so, for me, those three things just sort of much say it all to, to, um, to pay attention, uh, to be present. I mean, that, that is another gift of sobriety. To not be living in the future or the past, but to really be in the present moment. So to pay attention and to be astonished, you know, in my teaching of photography, one of the things I try to teach is just, um, being astonished with the ordinary, um, And then to tell about it, you know, for me is to make photographs. Uh, for others, it is to write about it, but the telling about it is that communication of, “Wow. Look what I saw that is beautiful, and I want you to see it too.” So I guess if that can be brought down to a tool, it would just be to be aware and to be awestruck and then to share that with others.

[00:44:33] Lorilee: Absolutely. To be present and astonished and to tell it. Absolutely. Yeah. That’s really beautiful, Susan. Really beautiful. I had not heard that one, so… I can’t believe our time is up. This has flown by and this is, we have so much more to say, so maybe you can come back on when the time is right. 

[00:44:54] Susan: I’d love to. 

[00:44:55] Lorilee: Good, wonderful. Well, we will wrap it up for today and I just want to thank you so very much for your time, and sharing your journey, and being a friend.

[00:45:11] Susan: Well, thank you. 

[00:45:13] Lorilee: Thank you again to Susan for having such an open heart and talking to me today. And thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude, you can find more info about the show and past podcast topics at groundandgratitude.com. Be sure and join me next time for more honest conversations, exploring what it means to be a creative in this world and how to bring all the love, joy and laughter back to the process of design. And life too. I’ll be talking with Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna, about blending psychology and design. 

[00:45:51] Shruthi: “So I wanted to combine creativity with data, of course, to explore experiences in its many forms and still understand strategy holistically. Um, and I, especially today, um, I kind of hold on to that very dearly because data plays an evermore influential role.” 

[00:46:14] Lorilee: Ground and Gratitude is produced by the Kelly Drake and Anna McClain, Dream Team.

All right. It’s over! You did it! Deep breath. You did great. 

[00:46:45] Susan: [Exhales] 

[00:46:46] Lorilee: Ahhh.

Ep 17: Singer-Songwriter Lauren Morrow on Performing and Personal Growth

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Singer-Songwriter Lauren Morrow on Performing and Personal Growth

Lauren Morrow is an acclaimed Nashville-based songwriter and performer. Her music is unique, blending genres like rock and classic-country with her adept storytelling skills and expressive voice. Like Lorilee, Lauren has come to embrace and draw on her own background to create from the heart. With this approach, her individual experience has resonated with people from many walks of life. Lauren joins Lorilee for a personal conversation about what drives her as a creative, why she takes risks in her art, and how she pushes through negativity and self-doubt to make incredible music.

Highlights: 

  • On Lauren’s playlist: “It’s About Damn Time” by Lizzo
  • Lauren’s creative roots
  • Using performance as a vehicle for growth
  • Why she tells her own story through music
  • Pushing through negative self-talk
  • Embracing good things
  • How the personal can speak to universal truths
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

🎧 Listen wherever you get your podcasts OR on Spotify or Apple. 🎧

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Episode 17 – Lauren Morrow Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows, but also gives. 

Before we start the show, I want to tell you about our sponsor, Her Bank. Her Bank by Legends Bank goes well beyond banking. For me, they have filled in the gaps in areas like financial literacy and helped my own confidence when it comes to banking and business decisions. Trust and relationship really are first and foremost for Her Bank. Visit Her-Bank.com to learn more about banking from a woman’s perspective. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank and Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender.

Now onto the show.

My guest today is Lauren Morrow. Lauren is a singer-songwriter who is kind, curly headed, and loves her golden retrievers, and cats, and husband. She is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but now lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where her first EP had widespread critical acclaim and landed her on many of the Best Of year end lists, from Rolling Stones to Garden and Gun. She’s about to debut her new album in early next year, which I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of recently. You can find her, like the rock star she is, performing on stage, singing things from a little Americana to alternative indie rock, even a classic country cooner, and maybe even a traditional lovesick ballad. She is a storyteller full of heart who is not afraid to take risks. There is a unique impression my friend leaves with you when she sings that is unlike anything you have ever heard before. 

Welcome Lauren, and thank you so much. I am just so dang excited to have you on my podcast today. 

[00:02:28] Lauren Morrow: Yay! Thank you for having me on your podcast today. I’m excited to be here. 

[00:02:33] Lorilee Rager: Thank you. I appreciate your time, cause I know how busy you are, absolutely, based on your touring and based on all the fun things that you’re starting to do. 

[00:02:44] Lauren Morrow: Yeah, it’s thankfully a busy time right now. Um, cause, you know, there was two years where there was absolutely nothing going on. So it was seriously like jumping right back in. You know, now it’s like so busy. But I’d rather, you know, do that than be sitting around on the couch.

[00:03:03] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, yeah I get that. 

[00:03:04] Lauren Morrow: I love sitting on the couch, but.

[00:03:06] Lorilee Rager: Same. I really embraced, uh, Leslie Jordan’s, you know, “what y’all doin?” from his bed. 

[00:03:16] Lauren Morrow: Yes.

[00:03:17] Lorilee Rager: But yes, jumping right back in is definitely what I’m ready for too. Well, I laugh at my kickoff question. I didn’t change it for you based on you being an incredible singer-songwriter, but I’m still gonna ask, what is the song that you have on repeat on your playlist today? 

[00:03:39] Lauren Morrow: I’ve had, uh, Lizzo’s new song, About That, About Damn Time. Like, you heard that yet? Do they have to like censor it or something? Cause I feel like maybe, sometimes people say it’s like, About That Time. But anyway, um, yeah, it’s About Damn Time. I am like obsessed with it. It’s so fun. I know, so good.

[00:04:04] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:04:05] Lauren Morrow: She always can write a song that kind of gets me pretty hype. Like I’m getting ready to, like, go do you know, like, um, what was her like big hit? Uh, was it last summer, summer before last? Um, I can’t think of it now, but anyway, uh, it was like total hype song. 

[00:04:22] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, all of her big hits have been really good hype songs for me too. I mean, I love it. 

[00:04:29] Lauren Morrow: Juice, that’s the one. 

[00:04:30] Lorilee Rager: Juice. Yeah. 

[00:04:31] Lauren Morrow: Yeah, yeah. So good. 

[00:04:34] Lorilee Rager: Good. That’s what we need. We need uh, a summer of Lizzo. That’s what we need. 

[00:04:38] Lauren Morrow: I know. 

[00:04:40] Lorilee Rager: Perfect. Love it. Okay, very good. All right, diving into, um, topic, number one is really something I’m excited, because you know, we met a few years ago and I’ve heard you sing and think, thankfully, you helped me pick out a guitar and your husband and you helped, you know, paint some stuff and all of the stuff. So, we know each other, but what I don’t know is what I like to call your origin story. Um, like where, where did your love of songwriting and singing begin? And tell me a little bit about, about your story. 

[00:05:20] Lauren Morrow: So. I grew up in a family of people who loved music, but they weren’t musical. Um, but like we always had, um, you know, the radio on or MTV on, definitely MTV. And my brother’s eight years older than me. So I was born in 85, so you can kind of imagine like, just that the heyday of MTV being on all the time. Um, and there was really no restriction in my household of, like, what I could listen to or watch or whatever. Like, it was just kind of like whatever. My mom was too busy, she worked all the time. Um, which I appreciate now as an adult, because I think that I was exposed to so much music growing up that like I adore still. Um, so I have these like very vivid memories of listening to a lot of like U2, which is still my favorite band and Hush Mode, and, um, my mom was a big Southern rock fan. My dad’s from South Africa so he, uh, was a lot of like rock and roll. And, um, and so it was my mom too, but, um, Bonnie Raitt and, you know, Steely Dan, you know, all kinds of stuff like that. 

But when I was, um, really little, my grandpa used to tell me that I would like make up songs and I would kind of sing them and like just, uh, you know, whatever, just like how little kids do. But then when I got into high school, um, I was just obsessed with music. I worked in a Media Play, which was like a national chain that ended up, um, going under I think. But I decided when I was 15, I wanted a guitar and then I tried to take guitar lessons, but, um, I hated it. Cause I think that I, I don’t like people to tell me what to do, so. I don’t have, like, the attention span to like really, like, I don’t know. I just was like, ah, I don’t want to learn this theory. I want to just play Wonder Wall and like leave me alone, you know. So I went home and like, you know, internet was kikcing, and, um, I would go to like Tabs.com or something and my print off, like these, any song that I wanted to learn, basically could find the cord and then could like figure out what. You know, to play. And kind of taught myself how to play doing that. 

And then the song writing aspect came after the fact, that I could play these chords, and then I could sing a melody on top of it, and then the words would kind of come out of it. And, um, when I was, uh, 15, I won this contest to sing at Music Midtown, um, in Atlanta, in front of like 90,000 people with this guy, Butch Walker. And it was his, um, it was his band, uh, Marvelous three was the band out of Atlanta. And like that was, when you talk about kind of like this moment in your life where you’re like, well, at what point did, like, something happened where you just were like, well, this is what I’ve got to do now. And that was it. Like just, yeah, just being in front of people, I mean, I was scared shitless, but like loved it. 

Okay, so this is getting really long-winded, but then I, I recorded like an EP when I was 16. 

[00:08:39] Lorilee Rager: Oh wow, that early, okay. 

[00:08:41] Lauren Morrow: It’s awful. Um, but, uh, yeah, I recorded that. And then, um, and then I moved to, like, through high school I would write songs but I was too nervous to sing them in front of people. So I would just, I had a few close friends that I would allow them to like, sit with me, like in my bedroom where like my mom couldn’t hear and nobody could hear, and I would play them my songs. And then when I moved abroad to England, when I was 19 to go study abroad, um, I played my first show ever over there in front of people with my original material. And like, it was different because it was like, nobody knew me there, so there was no judgment of like, wait, what, like you can sing or what what’s that about whatever. It was just totally like a clean slate. And then after that I moved back and I started a band in Atlanta. And then, uh, then we broke up. I started my next band, The Whiskey Gentry with my husband, Jason. And that was probably 14 years ago, 13 years ago. Um, and then yeah, it’s just kind of keeps going from there. So, been chasing it down since I was 15, basically. 22 years of like, you know, not being able to like give up on it, but. 

[00:09:58] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Oh, I love it. It’s so, I love to the, the culture and the time period that you and I both grew up. And when MTV was really music television and really just back-to-back music and videos and just creative and, and stuff like you’ve never seen or heard before. 

[00:10:20] Lauren Morrow: And just a way that, like, I feel, like I was talking to this guy just literally two nights ago and he’s 10 years younger than me. And I felt like I was, like, speaking Greek to him. Cause I was just talking about like how, I was like, and then I could stay up really late at night, I would watch 120 minutes by Matt Penfield. And you know, that was like, I learned so much about music from watching those shows on TV. Um, I dunno, yeah, just like being exposed to it. And living in the era of like the music video was just my favorite. I still am obsessed with music videos. 

[00:11:00] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I am too. I always thought that they were just fascinating and, um, I even liked VH1’s pop-up videos. 

[00:11:08] Lauren Morrow: Loved it. Yes. 

[00:11:10] Lorilee Rager: Oh my gosh. Yeah. The facts that would show you behind the scenes and things that were happening. I was obsessed with that. 

[00:11:17] Lauren Morrow: Yeah, totally. I still will, like, I still have facts like logged in my long-term memory of things that I learned on pop-up video. Like the, like the, in November Rain, the video by Guns N’ Roses. There’s a part where Slash is soloing in front of a chapel in the desert, and they picked up that chapel and they literally moved it out to the desert just for that shot. Which is something that, I mean we’ll never experience that lavish decadence of music videos ever again, but, you know, we lived through it. It was awesome. 

[00:11:55] Lorilee Rager: I love it. And I do, I probably do the exact same thing to the boys, like driving down the road. If you hear the song and I’d be like, did you know that? Give some random fact. 

[00:12:05] Lauren Morrow: Right. Yeah, totally. It’s like you can’t remember like anything short term, but like for some reason it’s all stuck in your brain from, you know. 

[00:12:15] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And when it does, I’ll have that moment, like, where’d that come from? Well, yeah, I know, right. Yeah. Oh, good. Yeah. Well, um, so yeah, and I was curious to know, you know, when you first ever performed, so winning that contest and being on stage. And I really find it interesting and super great about your story that you went to England, where you could just be somebody new, or anybody, or not in front of your peers. And, and that level of freedom to, to do, sounds really pivotal and important too, as part of your story. 

[00:13:00] Lauren Morrow: And oh, for sure. And I think that like, at the time in my life too, um, my mom had just come out of rehab, she was getting sober. I was like, I gotta get the hell out of here. I’ve, I wanted more than anything to leave Georgia. I was just like, I got, I’ve got to go. And I was obsessed with England as a child and like an Anglophile, specifically about like British music, and, um, I just, I , if I hadn’t had that experience, I don’t know that I would have had that much growth so quickly because I desperately needed that time to escape out of the trauma in the world that I had been living in through my late teens, to really get out on my own and like thrust myself into this very scary situation and be like, okay, I’ll figure it out. And it was, I mean, still is, it was the best year of my life, you know? 

[00:13:56] Lorilee Rager: Um, yeah, that’s that, uh, that, that leads me to the next topic, when you said that, is, is, you know, why is it scary? Why, why is it scary to, as you said to me before we, before we started this, uh, to take that leap and that risk? And why do you think, why do you, and, you know, tell your story and stand on that stage? 

[00:14:25] Lauren Morrow: I think that, like, for me, a lot of my childhood and, I mean, even up until now, you know, there’s a lot of, um, uh, negative self-talk, um, that I think stems from just feeling, you know, from, uh, one of my parents, like I was never good enough. Um, that trying to pursue a career in music was stupid, um, you’ll never make any money doing that, like whatever those things are. And, you know, like I said, I really hate it when people tell me what to do. And if somebody tells me something I can’t do, it’s almost like this thing where I’m like, uh, no, like, watch me. And I think that they’re, like, so it, it swings like a pendulum for me still between a lot of overconfidence that, that, um, almost is like overcompensating for like my lack of confidence, if that makes any sense, like, 

[00:15:27] Lorilee Rager: Oh yeah. 

[00:15:28] Lauren Morrow: you know, like I was always kind of in high school, like having to be different, or not having to be, but wanted to be different and wanted to be like, you don’t like me then fuck you, like whatever. And kind of had this attitude because really deep down I was this, a sensitive person who, you know, was scared of not being liked by people or, you know, not, um, not fitting in or whatever it was. So I guess, like for me now kind of as an adult, I feel like every time, you know, I have apprehension about like getting on the stage and being judged or being told some there’s, you know, whatever, and I can still like get into my head about it. But it’s like, I have to force myself to move past that and deep, dig deep into something, some of that stupid confidence and be like, no, like do it. Like, you know, and especially, I think that after all this time too, and spending so much time and energy and money and all the things, like I don’t have time to waste to give that negativity power. And I, I’ve watched negativity like that ruin people in my family for so long. And it really took me like meeting my husband, Jason, for him to be like, you’re so , like, why are you always like worst case scenario? And I’m like, well, that’s the way I grew up. It’s the, the lifestyle that, that, it’s my protective thing around me that protects me from getting hurt or let down or disappointed or. Anyway, I just feel like, yeah, you know, it’s, it’s something that I feel like I have to like really just like take a deep breath and kind of lean into it and go like, okay, here we go.

And I’m like not a daredevil. Like I hate anything that’s scary. Like, I don’t want to jump off a building, I don’t want to do any of that stuff. But the only way that I can like, and kind of what I go through in performing or having to do something, is it feels like that to me, like having to kind of go like, okay. You know, and go do it, you know. 

[00:17:27] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, wow. I resonated with everything that you said because, ooh I feel it in my bones. Um, I think, I think we are raised in, through generations, of, of certain beliefs and of course, we take those on as, as our own personas and really think that there’s this kind of what I call scarcity mindset that we can’t do it, or we see the fear in it first, not the fun or not the success. And, and I, I agree that, you know, it’s, it’s one of those things where we have to kind of muster up something or pull up our bootstraps to get through it. Because there is something deep in us that still wants, wants that and still craves, craves that. 

[00:18:19] Lauren Morrow: Absolutely. Because that’s where we feel our most, like our fullest. And that’s where you feel, you feel like different, like you’re like elevated and you’re closer to something bigger than yourself, once you can push past it and you go like, wow, like, I did that. And that’s what I want to do all the time. You know, if that makes any sense. 

[00:18:42] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah, it does. You said something about too, I agree. I don’t want to jump off a building and, and why, you know, the pendulum swings to the dramatic side to the other side. And now, just to realize what you said back to you, as you actually said, you just, you just lean into it. And it is, it’s like we have this resistance and we think to ourselves, it’s jumping off this building, it’s blowing up something, it is the worst, most extreme end, but really it’s just leaning into it. It’s, it doesn’t have to be as that dramatic of a step for you to get on that stage, I feel like. 

[00:19:24] Lauren Morrow: Absolutely. 

[00:19:26] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. And you had mentioned, uh, that you really enjoyed, earlier when we were talking before the podcast, about The War of Art being a book that you really like. Why, why that one? Why that one, tell me.

[00:19:42] Lauren Morrow: two that I kind of read at the same time, um, Big Magic and The War of Art. And yeah, and it was, it was at this time too, when I had just, we just moved to Nashville and I, we just decided that we were going to disband Whiskey Gentry, and we were going to start this new, you know, basically start over as me as a solo artist under Lauren Morrow. And like, you know, I knew that, like I had all these things and like I wanted to say, or like song ideas and things and, you know, but, um, being creative, for me, can be, um, it can feel like a impassable, um, I don’t know, like wall sometimes, where I feel like I get stuck and I can’t like get past this thing. And I it’s hard for me to like verbalize, but I started reading these books as kind of a way to think differently about being creative and think of it more as like, you know, at least with War of Art, like a, like an energy, you know, where you have like light and dark and resistance and, you know, um, and then also like, I mean, Big Magic is just incredible. I feel like I should read it like every week, you know, to remind myself all of these things about, um, you know, the act of creating. 

I don’t know, like the, I really resonated with like the resistance aspect that he talks about in The War of Art. And, um, he has a really great episode with Oprah on her podcast too, just kind of likening it to like the darkness and, you know, and almost like an evil entity that doesn’t want you to like, kind of move past, um, uh, and, and move into your higher self and do the thing that you Know, that you feel closer to God when you’re doing. And I really liked that. And it, cause to me it felt like, oh, this feels like something that I could, like a battle that I could win or something. If that makes sense. Like, I don’t know, it just felt like, oh, like, again, like that whole thing, like you can’t tell me I can’t do that, so I’ll push past it. Um, but it still doesn’t make it easy for me to write songs or easy for me to be creative. It’s just that like, you know, like my producer Parker who is one of my best friends and a songwriter that we write a lot together, um, you know, he’s like, you just have to keep doing it. It’s like showing up every day and just doing it and just showing up and working through it. And like, that is how you ultimately get past it. If that makes any sense. 

[00:22:18] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, it, it does. And, I’ve read both of those books and I love them both very much and agree, we could, I could them every week and takeaway different nugget, for sure. That resistance and the darkness that does pull it, all of us as humans, and especially as creatives, you know, I think it can really tank us if, if we would let it. And, um, there’s something you said about, you know, your energy and it moving you closer to God that, that resonates with me from a recovery standpoint, because we talk about living our truth and using our voice and telling our story. It’s really hard. It’s really hard to open our mouth to save our lives. Um, but when you do it, you get closer to this, you know, greater divine, or God, if that’s what, you know, I personally choose or that spiritual power on the other side of what you push through, makes that scary, fearful feeling of, of that darkness and that wall, um, worth it. And I think we have to remember that and hold onto that. 

[00:23:31] Lauren Morrow: And I think for having brains like you and I have discussed that we both share in some ways it’s like when, when you’re already kind of prone to negativity or fear base or scarcity mindset, it can be really hard to kind of cut through that resistance because I’m already genetically disposed, or is that the right word? Um, genetically like, yeah, 

[00:23:57] Lorilee Rager: Dispositioned? 

[00:23:59] Lauren Morrow: I don’t know. I can’t think of a word. Anyway, I already have to battle that, you know. So it’s like for me, you know, um, yeah, like just trying to get past it and feel some sort of, I think like what you’re saying too is like, once you can kind of push through, it’s where you get to your, your, feels so much more peaceful and there’s so much more like, you feel like you’re walking in your truth and you finally kind of feel like, oh, like the flow of everything feels different and your life flow feels different, you know. I mean, we felt that on this last tour that we were just like, wow, like, everything’s always working out. And, and there’s this part of me that wants to just is literally like, when does the other shoe drop? Like, I know that something has to happen. 

[00:24:46] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:24:46] Lauren Morrow: And I’m like, but what if it doesn’t have to happen? Like what if I can live within this flow? Because I, I’m, I am doing the right things in my life and I’m a good person. And like, I don’t know, you know, yeah. 

[00:25:00] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. That’s exactly right. My therapist, last week’s note was stop thinking, when will the next shoe drop? I was like, fine. And I mean, I’m 43, done all this work, do all this work continuously, and I still have to fight that. It’s not as hard, but the no negative self-talk it has become a complete, uh, rule in my life because I’ve now understand how quick it can tank me. 

[00:25:30] Lauren Morrow: Oh yeah. Yeah. And, oh, absolutely. And, and how, like, I mean, I literally have to do this thing now that when, whenever I feel it creeping up, I have to literally shift my focus. Cause it it’s, it’s, it’s weird, it’s like a poison, you know, where like, or, uh, weird nasty fungus that grows, and the more that you keep it in the dark, it just kind of continues to invade your brain. And like, I have to literally be like, uh, good things can happen to you. Like, you can believe that good things will happen to you. And I, I’ve tried to start living more in this mindset of like, why not me? Like, why do I feel like everybody else is, is available and can have all of the things that they’ve dreamed of and that they’ve worked for? Why not me? 

[00:26:16] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:26:17] Lauren Morrow: You know? 

[00:26:18] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. 

[00:26:18] Lauren Morrow: I’m enough. I’m deserving of it. 

[00:26:21] Lorilee Rager: That is right. And enough, that is a statement, not an amount. That is so true. Yeah. Well, uh, the listeners can’t see how much I’m nodding my head to all this. It’s so good. And it’s just, it just helps to hear you say it too. Because I’m in such a share, share your story to help others and to know I’m not alone and I don’t feel this way too, I’m not the only one that feels this way. And I see how absolutely gosh, everything from, I think you’re so cool to so incredibly talented to so beautiful and funny. And, and, and to hear, and when people, you know, see what’s online versus what, what’s behind the camera, you know, it’s like, yeah, we, none of us know what we’re doing here. We’re doing the best we can. 

[00:27:16] Lauren Morrow: Yeah. And like, and I think that I was just talking to, um, one of my best friends, um, last night about this, that like, um, you know, everybody in the music business, they, like, you know, will say like, well, you’ve got to, like, what’s your narrative? Like, what’s your story? You know? And like, you’ve got to like, you know, kind of like come up, it’s like this PR angle or it’s like, you know. And, and like, yeah, I’ve had some like shit happen in my life that wasn’t comfortable and like I’ve had stuff happen, but I would really rather my story, now that I’m older, be that like, you know that you can be weird and you can be different and you can be whatever, but you can still be vulnerable and, and a real person. And like, I feel like we’ve lived the last, you know, with social media and all this stuff, like having all of this, like, plastic fakeness thrown in our face and we compare ourselves to it, it makes us feel shitty about ourselves. And kids are suicidal and all this other bullshit. And it’s like, you know, like somebody has to just, I think the more real that you can be, that just resonates more now. I hope, at least. 

[00:28:27] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Agreed. I think it absolutely is. And the more you do it and I do it, the better, to help those behind us and around us. Because I completely agree that when people ask that, even like with me in recovery and we’re like, oh gosh, how bad was it? Like they want to compare. And they want to know, ooh, I don’t know if I was that bad. And I’m like, no, it doesn’t matter, like how, how bad was it or what happened to me for you to check off on your list of, well, I didn’t do that so I’m not that bad. Or, you know, it’s like, I don’t want to tell it that way. 

Um, so I did want to, you said something too that, from yourself, your, your latest song, Alabama, which I love. It is such a beautiful story about your childhood and, uh, you had, do you have a line in there that says, “I was always a weird kid who preferred to play alone.” and when I heard it, I was like the, yes, that’s me, and it’s okay to be the weird kid that wanted to just play alone. 

[00:29:29] Lauren Morrow: Well, and I think to it’s like, as creative people, I don’t know if this was like how you were, but like I loved being alone, um, because I was always like in some other place in my brain. So like always playing pretend, always imagining something else. There was a different reality that was happening that was actually the reality that I was living in. It was just fun. You know, I’d walk around, I’d be talking to myself, I’m sure. Like, you know, whatever. Like, probably like, wow, this kid. Um, and like I had friends, you know. Like I, and I have, you know, but it was definitely just, I liked that. And I still like it. I still love moments when I am alone, by myself, in my house, doing whatever I want, not talking to anybody. It’s the way that I feel like I have, you know, decompressed probably since I was a kid, you know. 

[00:30:25] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. That’s exactly right. And the fact that you still realize it and hold onto it and do it is the healthiest thing, I think, ever. Because it’s something I just realized that I did, that I just realized that I did as a kid. And then I stopped like through my thirties and it almost killed me. And now that I’ve listened to it, yeah, home alone under my weighted blanket, just being weird with the dog. 

[00:30:52] Lauren Morrow: Yes. The weighted blanket. Jason got me one for Christmas and I sometimes forget that I have it. And then I’m like, yes, and then I remember and it’s amazing. I love it. 

[00:31:04] Lorilee Rager: We have 4. 

[00:31:07] Lauren Morrow: Oh, hell yeah. That’s awesome. 

[00:31:09] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that way we each have one and we have one for a guest. That’s how much we love our weighted blanket, that’s how much. 

[00:31:15] Lauren Morrow: You’re like, get cozy under this 30 pound blanket.

[00:31:22] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. I love it. Okay. Well, um, moving on to that, into, uh, what I wanted to ask too, you know, what do you think about, as we creatives do learn to reveal our personal side, we, you know, part of this new journey for you, I think, uh, is being solo and using your voice and your own, telling your own story that, that. How, or what have you learned about that so far in revealing your personal side? And how, how has that helped you reach more of your greater potential and helped your path? 

[00:32:09] Lauren Morrow: Um, well, you know, I think that like, um, there’s this songwriter named Darrell Scott, and, uh, he’s written a lot of songs that you would probably know. But, um, we were on a songwriting panel thing together at this 38 Songwriters Festival. And we were talking my band at the time, my band had just been covering You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, which is a song that he wrote. And it is a very specific song to his family’s journey being coal miners in Kentucky. And that song has been covered, I mean, Brad Paisley covered it, Patty Loveless covered it, all these people have covered. It is, it is the most, it’s a song that like, every time I hear it, I’m like, oh my God, this is incredible. And he was saying that when he put out, he was like, no, one’s gonna relate to, you know, like, like this is so specific, you know. And I feel like I learned so much from that because he, and especially this was like right when we were transitioning into Lauren Morrow and I was like, you know that sometimes when you think that it’s so personal, it ends up being so universal. And that there are things that like, you, you know, like me saying, like, I was always a weird kid that preferred to play alone. Like I wouldn’t have thought, like, you know, I bet there’s a lot of young women out there who, you know, whatever. But like, that, we are, you know, there is a universal thread that goes through us and our experience can be similar yet different. You know, we can have, I can say very specific things about that house in Alabama that meant so much to me, but I have people from all over the country who will be like, I have that same experience, but it’s different, you know, the details are different, but that same feeling that is invoked out of the song, whether it’s longing or nostalgia or whatever, is something that like, can feel really real to people.

So I think that that’s been something for me that I’ve not been as scared to be, um, kind of definitive or define experiences that I go through. Because it, number one is easy for me to write about because I’m not making it up. So it’s, you know, it’s, it’s the truth that I’m telling. And that truth seems to resonate, you know? So, um, yeah, so I think, you know, yeah. 

[00:34:38] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. I, I agree. You know, I know that my, my own experience is why, it’s why I have this podcast now. And I think it’s why I have a deeper friendships and new friendships and new relationships, because I, I learned to be truthful and use my voice and tell my story. Never, ever thinking that, yeah, kentucky cornfield, you know, farmer’s daughter who does graphic design would resonate with anybody. That’s very specific. 

[00:35:14] Lauren Morrow: Right, totally, yeah. 

[00:35:18] Lorilee Rager: Um, so. 

[00:35:19] Lauren Morrow: Well, 

[00:35:21] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, go ahead. 

[00:35:22] Lauren Morrow: You’re also a , you’re also speaking your vulnerability too, which I think is like, again, like what we talked, you know, what we’ve been talking about, you know, it’s just that like, and that is a universal thing, you know, that like, it may be very specific that you’re, you know, you know, farmers, you know, Kentucky farmer girl, but like that is your, more so your story and what you’ve been through. I think it’s, and your vulnerability and it is really wonderful, you know? 

[00:35:53] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that, that was a quote I’d read about you, again when I was researching for the podcast and reading all the goodness. And, um, it said that your solo project uses story songwriting to reveal a more personal side of herself and explore a universal truth.

[00:36:15] Lauren Morrow: Hey. Hey. 

[00:36:15] Lorilee Rager: And I was like, that’s it. 

[00:36:20] Lauren Morrow: Yeah, I guess so. Makes sense. 

[00:36:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. You just, you don’t think so much about something that happened to like me and my grandma and a story she tells, but how it really does touch a global issue or things like that, of where others have suffered and yeah, that common thread, no matter, no matter if I’m in Kentucky or Seattle, Washington, or you know, England. 

[00:36:50] Lauren Morrow: Absolutely.

[00:36:52] Lorilee Rager: I love it. Um, so tell me a little bit about your new album and some of the songs I was so lucky enough to get a preview of it, which blew you and Jason up via texts. Like I laughed and I cried and I listened again and I cried again. Um, I mean, it’s, it’s just really, really great stories. Beautifully done too, beautifully done. Tell me a little bit about it. 

[00:37:22] Lauren Morrow: Um, so we, we started recording and writing this, like this record in 2019. And then of course, you know, we all know what happened in 2020 and 2021, and what like, you know, still going through to a certain degree. But, um, it was, uh, definitely a interesting creative process because it was the first time that I had tried to write songs or written songs with someone outside of Jason. Um, and so when we met Parker Cason, who is, who produced the record and writes songs with us and is one of our very best friends, it felt just very kismet. Like it was, he understood, I think where, where I needed to come from creatively to kind of express my influence, like without it. Cause I can, I can sing very country, I can sound like Dolly Parton and Natalie Maines, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s my truth. Like I grew up a nineties alternative kid. So, but I just, you know, I, I was limited, I feel like, in songwriting sometimes by what I could you know, could, could sing, like, if that makes sense. 

So, um, so the songs, you know, were songs that either, like I had written on my own and brought to the guys, or, or we had collaboratively written. There were, there are moments and there are songs that I listen to, where I really had to reach lyrically for something. And that’s not always easy for me because I feel like sometimes if it’s not there from the jump, then I’ve totally missed the muse and like she’s gone and, and I, I have a hard time, like forcing it back. Um, but they are, you know, there’s, there’s so many like little nuggets of audio goodness on it. And there’s landscapes that sound beautiful. And the songs are very lyrically important to me and are very personal to me and my stories. And, you know, I like, I’m incredibly proud of it. And I don’t like, you know, we’re in the process of figuring out how we release it. I don’t think that will be released until probably early 2023. Um, but I want it to be able to, to it’s I feel like brew and grow so when it finally has ready to be out, it reaches the most amount of people and, you know, can get out to the world in the right way. 

[00:39:59] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. Well, lyrically, it’s really, really powerful and I can’t wait for the world to hear it for sure. And, um, I don’t know a lot about music. I love music and I am now trying to learn to play guitar, just for fun. Absolutely for fun. Which is great to do, something just for fun and not for a grade or a presentation. But, um, it’s, it just sounds, the things I hear in it, and it reminds me of, yeah, growing up the, the music I heard growing up from everything Garth Brooks, to certain, it, to not, uh, but, um, George Strait. And it’s just got some beautiful sound that I, that I even heard with my baby ears.

[00:40:47] Lauren Morrow: Well that’s good. I do think that it’s accessible. You know, like it’s, it’s, it’s one of these kind of, like, kind of things where I feel like people always want to ask what your genre is and they want to kind of try and figure it out, because that’s the only way that their heads can make sense of what you’ve created. But I do feel like there’s a lot of genre bending in it, where it can have moments where it sounds country, but then it sounds spacey and then it sounds, you know, um, like a rock record. You know, it just kind of, it moves, I think, fluidly between a lot of different things. So I think there’s something for everybody on it, you know, in that way. 

[00:41:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Kind of like your website says, which I agree with is, a little Americana, alternative indie rock, and classic country cooner with, with a traditional lovesick ballad, which is definitely, definitely delivers. 

[00:41:42] Lauren Morrow: Definitely true. Yeah. 

[00:41:44] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, yeah. 

[00:41:45] Lauren Morrow: Love a ballad. 

[00:41:46] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, absolutely. But all right, well, one of the last things I wanted to ask you about is, you know, we’ve, we’ve really covered a lot, from truth-telling to , you mentioned vulnerability, to, and I love being the weird kid and just being ourselves. Um, what, what would be something that you would leave in our, what I call the Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? Um, that, that just helps people like, you know, like you said to me when you’re both scared, when you’re scared and you still jump, like what’s, what’s some tips or tools or things, mantras that you even use?

[00:42:37] Lauren Morrow: Um, I’ve been trying to think of the answer to this question since you and I talked about it, like briefly. But, um, I, I really feel like the biggest one that I keep kind of coming back to right now for myself personally, is just this like, like, um, you are enough. And like just really trying to kind of not give the negativity the power that it doesn’t deserve. Um, recognizing that I’m scared of something and being able to kind of work through it and push forward, I feel like that’s the thing that I kind of keep saying for like, like a broken record today, but like how often I really have to just dig into something within me and just jump. And, you know, it’s like being on this last tour with the guy Corb Lund, we’re playing these sold out venues, there’s 1200 people there. It’s just Jason and I as a duo. There are, you know, rowdy ranchers from Missoula, Montana, or, you know, Greeley, Colorado, or whatever. And having to just be like, here I am, and I’m going to stand in this and I’m going to present myself, and if you don’t get it, or you don’t like it, I’m not going to be for you, but that’s okay. That doesn’t, it doesn’t make me any less. So yeah, I’ve always tried, I feel like in some ways in my life to, you know, unfortunately seek approval from outside. And I think right now what I’m trying to learn, and what I’m truly trying to drill into myself, is like, that, the approval that I need comes from within myself. And I have to really dig into that. And it’s not easy. I think about it all the time. I can always find something wrong with myself, wrong with myself, you know, in air quotes that, like, I don’t like, that, you know, whatever. But, like, I have to, like, I don’t have any time anymore to get. I’ve got something that’s like on the horizon that I’m very excited about, and I can’t let other people’s opinion make me not follow my path in truth. If that makes any sense. 

[00:45:02] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, it absolutely does. 

[00:45:04] Lauren Morrow: It’s very large toolbox that I carry. So I don’t have one specific tool for your toolbox. That was a lot of tools, but 

[00:45:15] Lorilee Rager: It could be a whole bag, a whole satchel, a whole trailer truckload full. It’s a million little things. It really is. That’s why I think this question is so valuable because it takes all of that, and it takes all of that constantly. And you constantly reminding yourself and, and hearing somebody else needing that reminder too. And I think it’s, I think it’s really, really important. Um, you are enough and I think, um, you are great. So I’m just, so so so thankful that you’re here and that you gave me your time today. Yeah, absolutely.

Is there anything else you wanted to shout out or cover or anything before we wrap it up? 

[00:46:07] Lauren Morrow: I don’t think so. I’m always really bad at like remembering last minute things, but, um, let’s say it really just, yeah, I don’t have anything. 

[00:46:17] Lorilee Rager: You dropped some truth and some good stories, and some honesty, which is what we all need more of. So keep doing it.

[00:46:26] Lauren Morrow: Thank you. You too. 

[00:46:28] Lorilee Rager: Alright. Thank you so much for being here today. 

[00:46:31] Lauren Morrow: Absolutely love ya.

[00:46:33] Lorilee Rager: Love you. 

Okay. All right. Hang on. This is where we usually end the episode. But before we go, I just have to share some of Lauren’s music with you all. I absolutely love this song, and I know you will too. Here is Alabama by Lauren Morrow. Enjoy. 

[00:47:00] Lauren Morrow: I was always a weird kid who prefered to play alone. 

So I love to spend the summer my grandparents’ second home. 

It was just across the state line out on 20 West to a town of 300, 350 at best. 

We get there on Friday and stay a few. 

Have to dust off furniture, shake out all the sheets. 

The front door slam too hard. The tin roof always leaked. 

It might have been a dump to many, but it was paradise to me. 

My grandma’s making dumplings, walking the floor.

It felt like we’re in a time machine. It was 1994. 

No telephone, no TV grabbing water from the well.

It might have been 1800 as far as any one could tell. 

At night we’d hear the Braves game on the AM radio.

We were gonna win the pennant, I just knew it in my soul.

We had Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine and our pitching can’t be beat. 

And I would cheer on David Justice from the edge of my seat.

The warm wind blows through the window, curtains flutter in the breeze. 

I am putting together a puzzle while I’m sitting on my knees. 

I’ll swing out on the front porch where my feet can hardly reach. 

And fall asleep at night, to a cricket symphony. 

I walk down to the train tracks, and put pennies on the rails.

Spend the afternoon with grandpa trying to find out where they fell. 

See that copper glitter like a hundred shining suns. 

And walked back hand in hand when our treasure hunt is done.

[00:51:03] Lorilee Rager: Thanks again to Lauren for sharing the layer behind the spotlight and getting real with us about her life and her passions. And thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find previous episodes and more information about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Be sure and join me next time for more honest conversations, exploring what it means to truly live alive, grounded in gratitude. Also, I would love to hear from you. We are on Instagram, our handle is @GroundAndGratitude. You can also leave us a review on apple podcasts. Ground and Gratitude is produced by Kelly Drake and AO McClain LLC.

That’s it, we did it. 

[00:52:15] Lauren Morrow: Yay. 

Yeah, it’s over.

Special Episode: Crisis of Charisma

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Special Solo Episode: The Crisis of Charisma

Anticipating needs, sidestepping disruptions, and maintaining stability are all vital skills when you’re running a creative, client-facing business; however, they can also come with a dark side. When left unchecked, this kind of conflict avoidance can spiral into repression and denial of one’s own truth. In this special episode, Lorilee unpacks her peacemaking tendencies in an effort to understand their roots and embrace the messy, muddy, middle of real, authentic life.

“Crisis of Charisma” is an excerpt from ‘Cultivator and Creator: An autoethnographic study understanding the addicted artist’, which you can read in full at lorileerager.com.

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

🎧 Listen wherever you get your podcasts 🎧 or on Spotify or Apple.

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Episode Transcript

Lorilee Rager: Hey, I’m Lorilee Rager, and this is Ground & Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want… one that not only grows but also gives.

If you’re enjoying the show, you can leave a review on Apple Podcasts and find us on Instagram @GroundandGratitude

Before we start the show, I want to tell you about our sponsor, Her Bank. Her Bank by Legends Bank goes well beyond banking. For me, they have filled in the gaps in areas like financial literacy and helped my own confidence when it comes to banking and business decisions. Trust and relationship are really first and foremost for Her Bank. Visit Her-Bank.com to learn more about banking from a woman’s perspective. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank, and Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender. Now onto the show. 

So today, it’s just you and me — another solo episode. A few years ago I put a name to this thing I’d been doing all my life — people pleasing — I found out it’s actually a pretty common behavior for creatives. Anticipating and catering to client needs can help us do our jobs better – but it also comes with significant drawbacks. So, I want to share how I found a healthy way to embrace and understand this part of me in the hopes that it resonates with you. So I hope you like it. Let’s get into it.


I’m one of those people who gets stopped by the grocery bagger for 20 minutes listening to their woes in the heat of summer while my ice cream melts. I make friends easily — but not always on purpose. I simply put my phone away, remove my sunglasses, and ask, “How is your day treating you?”Sharing a smile and some sweet southern hospitality with a stranger in this busy world just feels natural. But, I’m often left cleaning melted ice cream out of the carpets of the trunk. or eating mayo on my sub when I had asked for mustard. You won’t catch me disturbing the sub shop teen, as they already seem distraught enough with the condiment crisis. It’s my job to comfort them and eat the mistaken mayo.

I’d call this my crisis of accidental engagement with a dash of charismatic obligation. And — for better or worse — it’s been a theme in my life. As I explored my behavioral patterns and personality traits in my graduate research, this accidental charisma was a big clue to my cultivation as a graphic designer. I needed to know more about this “crisis of charisma,” so I turned to behavior assessments like the DISC Language, Myers-Briggs, and Enneagram Types. And it became clear that my personality is geared to avoid conflict and keep peace among others.. In short, I am a “grade A” peacekeeper and people pleaser.

Early on, at the farm there was plenty of evidence of this. My self-appointed job was to keep my father calm and the crops happy. Yes, tiny me actually felt she had the power to do both. What can I say I was a pretty confident kid,! Another way to put it? I was terrified of conflict. As a designer this avoidance continued as I tried to keep my professors and later clients happy and calm with the perfect design. I followed instruction and criticisms to a tee while attempting to be the most agreeable, compelling, and charming kid in the class. I avoided direct questions and statements. I observed discussions, never participating or dissenting in case I rocked the boat. This strategy I now understand was about control. It was meant to try to maintain the peace and preserve my own internal need for calm and steady. I got really darn great at acting overly interested in an idea if it kept someone comfortable and talking..

I convinced myself that conflict of any kind wasn’t good, nor was it lady-like, as my mother liked to remind me. No matter the situation, I assumed going against the grain would invite someone to blow up on me like my father often did. My role was clear: be a little lady, say your prayers, and keep everyone happy. Do what you’re told, do as I say and not as I do, and be seen and not heard. From class to client meetings, this meant smiling, shutting up, and following the prompt. Being a southern female raised in the church I was led to believe it was wrong to be disagreeable anyways, and I sure didn’t want to add that to my many other sins.

I allowed people to project onto me my whole life. It’s not exactly a rare phenomenon — we all simply project our own issues on each other. Learning about my behavior style I’ve found that I seem to take in those projected feelings from others a little deeper than most. Yet, as designers, this is a skill I now see as valuable. Because in the profession we’re expected to pick up those pieces that are projected on us.

Let me tell you a quick story from Author Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening. Mark and his wife visited an ice cream shop where loud nearby customers made him uncomfortable. He asked his wife “Do you want to leave?” She replied “No. I’m happy here. Do you want to go?” In that moment he recognized his own tendency to project. And so did I. But still, I never complained. Not about the therapy sessions dumped on me as a designer by clients, by unhealthy parents, by other relationships. And I denied to myself that I was projecting my own fears of conflict which, in turn, worked my body and mental health into a very unhealthy depressive-addictive state of burnout. But I was forever keeping the peace that was killing me.

I came to find out that this peacekeeping tendency of mine is actually pretty common. It’s even a key characteristic for Enneagram type 9s like me. The Enneagram combines traditional Christian-based wisdom with modern psychology so we can better understand each other. Tools like this and others have helped me get to know my own self better. They’ve helped me overcome my fear of conflict, communicate better, and build more successful positive relationships. What I’ve come to realize is that I want to speak with more strength, truth, and confidence in all areas of my life.

Now before you go nodding off on me like after Sunday dinner, I’ll explain here where things start coming together. Early in my research on behaviors and personality, I read the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron. I connected how accidental charisma is a tool used to avoid conflict. Aron recommends if you fear conflict, that you can start off a hard conversation by simply being honest and making a statement up front to calm the tension. The thought of honesty is a new soft beginning for me and it helps balance out that pesky accidental charisma, anxiety and conflict avoidance.

This honest to God truth telling is a theme throughout my learning journey. Laura McKowen dedicates an entire chapter to “the truth about lying” in her memoir Quote:

What you’ll find—what I’ve found—is that the truth is ultimately life-affirming. Even when it’s ugly and inconvenient and has the potential to dismantle your life. It feels like relief and freedom, I believe (and this is my pseudo-scientific woo-woo explanation) because the energy of truth is in integrity with the energy of the Divine. Not in a “this is good and now you’re not bad” way but in a “this is real and therefore you can stand on it” way. The truth has a soft-click sound. It is a release valve. The truth is uncomfortable but expansive; lying is uncomfortable and confining. You know the difference when you feel it.

End quote. The truth is life affirming, and I’ve seen it. Through my focus in recovery on such honesty, reading and applying these tools has helped me feel calmer, more hopeful, and genuinely more grateful.

I have noticed that this honesty manifests physically on the body in a positive way, just like not being honest had negative effects. I began to see small changes, less anxiety and less of a need to box up my feelings. I began to feel more steady, even physically in my core. Using these understandings and methods to engage in conflict conversations has even helped to clear my skin. I used to deal with these red splotchy blotches all over my neck constantly. 

Reading Dr. Aron’s advice to make a statement of clarity was like an aha moment for me. If you’re a highly sensitive person like me, it’s a wonderful way to safely take those first steps toward speaking up when you’re ready. Simple statements like, “I know this is going to be hard to talk about but it’s important to me that we have this talk” can make all the difference when having hard conversations. Expressing my feelings was honestly the most terrifying thought I used to have. Now it’s like a breath of fresh air. I know how to approach conversations that I would have likely avoided. Keeping these emotions boxed up left an opening for anxiety triggers to creep in: regret for being in an uncomfortable position, shame for not honoring my own personal boundaries, and creating a reason to drink that night. This cycle of regret, shame, blame, and abuse all seemed to circle back to my accidental charisma.

By exploring the behaviors and personality characteristics of the Enneagram Type 9, I gained a deeper understanding of how I work as a designer and how I numb as an addict. Areas in my life revealed themselves even where I didn’t realize I struggled: self-care, authentic truths, and old beliefs and systems I was afraid to confront. That avoidance caused me to live an unwell design life. This work also helped me to understand how stressful life on the farm had been for everyone, and see more clearly the toll the pressures of feeding the world had taken on my father. This was a mirror onto my life now as an adult, running my own graphic design business and carrying these inherited habits that had been negatively affecting me as well.

My study and work has revealed the cost of toxic positivity and people pleasing. Bypassing real feelings can transform into alcohol addiction, work addiction, and compulsory gratitude in an attempt to deny the muddy mess of real life. This inspired me to focus on a new practice of healthier habits and rituals. I gave myself permission to make a safe space mentally, physically, and spiritually in both life and design to nurture myself. I now have a better understanding of the liminal space I occupy each day: to stop trying to control or predict the next future design emergency and keep it from happening. Instead, I am grounded here in the present.

Living this mentally well life free from addiction is no side project. We don’t have to live in disorder. We can handle a lot more in life than we give ourselves credit for. It seems like we only hold on to the worst thing that happened today, or the biggest failure of the week, or feeling ashamed for eating that last bit of Grandma’s chess pie before bed. That negative self talk, that unhealthy blow up on a co-worker, the road rage at the old tan Buick that pulled out in front of you… it’s all taking up energy we don’t have to spare.

I had believed what society told me, that you have to be one way or the other in your beliefs and feelings. You must be either/or, black or white, up or down. You aren’t allowed to change or feel conflicting emotions at once. To box it up. You should never dwell on the negative, like the anger and grief you feel. It’s optimism versus pessimism, introvert versus extrovert, instead of overcoming the split to see all that’s in between. Now I believe that there’s no need to feel shame about the hard stuff, or hide from it, or numb it. You don’t need to be ashamed of the Southern drawl and twang of country music in your voice. We all want to “find out who we are and do it on purpose,” as Dolly says. This journey is the messy muddy middle of real authentic life.

And I don’t have to deny my roots of gratitude or my peacemaking skills to live in that life. But these tendencies don’t have to come at the expense of healthy core emotions like grief, anger, and fear. Denying these feelings, boxing them up, and avoiding them means they will only resurface later in unhealthy forms. I can now embrace the Enneagram Type 9 Peacemaker role and embody its strengths. From my Enneagram Institute online assessment, quote:

“Type 9 exemplifies the desire for wholeness, peace, and harmony in our world. Nines are easygoing, emotionally stable people. Because of their peaceful demeanor, Nines have a talent for comforting and reassuring others and are able to exert a calming, healing influence in difficult or tense situations. 

End quote.

I asked Joel Hubbard, the speaker and co-founder of The Art of Growth, his thoughts on how gratitude comes up for a Type 9. He told me, quote “The 9 tends to be hopeful and grateful for and toward others but not for the self. Gratitude for the 9 is comforting. It is much easier to choose gratitude than to be driven by dissatisfaction, appetite, strong passion or desire as these can be disruptive.” End quote. I thought, “Disruptive!? No ma’am! I spend my days avoiding disruption.” He had described how 9’s like me need a calm, steady inner water. This makes perfect sense as to why I naturally choose gratitude: it’s the most comforting path to peace.

I had wondered why in a stressful situation, or after a bad day, do I naturally turn to gratitude and optimism versus anger? Why am I known for never holding a grudge or wanting revenge? Why aren’t I primarily driven by dissatisfaction, appetite, or strong passion as Joel mentioned?

Now it makes perfect sense to me as a designer. Type 9’s choose gratitude because it’s comforting when all the other responses are too scary for us. That is why we stay quiet and compliant in the face of clients who are verbally abusive or want to jazz up the design with curlz font. It’s the same reason us artists tend to undervalue our work: we avoid disruption for the client and hold the friction inside of us. But avoiding conflict has consequences; the feelings grow inside of you and become unhealthy, turning into addiction, anxiety, explosive anger, and more.

The only solution to the suffering you are feeling today is to no longer squash it. Surrender.

Stop holding it in and understand the freedom that comes in being honest, open, and communicating clearly how you feel. Acceptance and growth are in the mess and the mud, and there’s no template, no liquor hard enough, no harvest big enough to fix what you stuff down and deny. It’s not going away, no matter how many files you make or fields you plow.; It’s right inside of you. No matter the mess it makes, if it’s your truth, it’s allowed.

Thank you for tuning in to this solo episode of Ground and Gratitude. You can read this piece, find more information about the show and listen to past episodes about the power of honesty, the perils of toxic positivity, and much more at GroundAndGratitude.com. Be sure and join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to be a creative in this world, and how to bring all the love, joy and laughter back to the process of design — oh, and life too. I’ll be sitting down with singer-songwriter Lauren Morrow. We’ll talk about exploring universal truths through music and personal storytelling.

This episode of Ground and Gratitude was produced by Kelly Drake and Anna McClain. 

Ep 16: Kirbee Miller on Passion and Purpose

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Kirbee Miller on Passion and Purpose

Entrepreneur Kirbee Miller joins Lorilee to discuss how she navigates life as a creative, caregiver, partner, and founder. Kirbee runs Nashville-based lifestyle brand KiNiMi Kitchen, where she channels her culinary expertise and love of cooking to foster community and connection. She also holds degrees in biology and chemistry as well as a Masters in healthcare informatics. The two connect over their respective paths toward authentic self-discovery — and how those journeys are rarely linear!

Highlights: 

  • On Kirbee’s playlist: “I Am Light” – India.Arie
  • Kirbee’s path from healthcare to launching her own brand
  • Food as a powerful connector of people
  • Finding the safety to just be human
  • Embracing the nonlinear journey
  • Her relationship with gratitude
  • Finding balance in life 
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

🎧 Listen wherever you get your podcasts  🎧 OR on Spotify or Apple.

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Episode 16 – Kirbee Miller Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hi, I’m Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives.

Before we start the show, I want to tell you about our sponsor, Her Bank. Her Bank by Legends Bank goes well beyond banking. For me, they have filled in the gaps in areas like financial literacy and helped my own confidence when it comes to banking and business decisions. Trust and relationship are really first and foremost for Her Bank. Visit Her-Bank.com to learn more about banking from a woman’s perspective. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank, and Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender. Now onto the show.

My guest today is the incredible Kirbee Miller. Kirbee is an entrepreneur with degrees in biology and chemistry, a master’s in healthcare informatics, and a heart in the kitchen. Her business is a lifestyle brand that offers people the chance to connect through food. She provides culinary experiences, events, community recipes, plus her own brand of popcorn. She has such a warm energy and passion for connection, not only in the kitchen, but across the table in authentic conversation. She is a creative, a caregiver, and someone I have been so fortunate to connect with.

Welcome Kirbee. Thank you so much for joining me today. 

[00:01:56] Kirbee Miller: Thank you for having me. I just love a good conversation with people that, it’s meaningful, you get little nuggets out of it. So I’m excited to spend some time with you today. 

[00:02:09] Lorilee Rager: Well, thank you, thank you. I agree with the nuggets. There is not a time that we haven’t talked, or a podcast or something or TV show that I’ve seen you on, that there’s not been a nugget and a takeaway. So it really does mean a lot for you to be here and give me a little bit of your precious time today.

[00:02:28] Kirbee Miller: I appreciate that. And I think, who knows if this will make it to the final version, but I think it would be helpful if people knew how long we’ve been trying to do this. It just normalizes real life. You know, real life comes up and there are curve balls, but one thing that I trust, even when I encounter barriers or it seems like, why is this just not connecting? I trust the timing. If life has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to trust the timing of my life, trust those connections. And so what I hope and what my intention is for this is that the timing is just right. And the people who will hear this when it comes out, it’s perfectly aligned. But if any of you are listening and you have felt like the pieces just are not matching up in your life, just know this has been months in the making. 

[00:03:21] Lorilee Rager: Yes, amen to that. Absolutely. Because it, and it was really important to me to continuously, to hopefully communicate to you that it’s like, I want this to be something that’s not done painstakingly or feels like an agenda item or difficult or, yeah if time and energy doesn’t allow, yeah, it’s just not the right time. Or if things happen or 

[00:03:49] Kirbee Miller: Things happen. But then when you finally get to connect, it’s like, ha, okay, let’s go. Because this is something that I’ve wanted to do since our mutual friend Brittany told me about you. And from the first time that we had a conversation, there’s just those connection points with people where you’re just like, huh, we have not walked the same life path, but I know that you can understand. I know that you can see me. I know that we can connect and have real conversation. And so I’ve been looking forward to this. 

[00:04:23] Lorilee Rager: Well, thank you. And it is, there’s a, there’s a gut feeling that I know a lot of, I feel like creatives, entrepreneurs, um, what I call HSPs, highly sensitive people, who, who feel things a little deeper, we just know, we have this gut feeling, when somebody is real and safe and in good to connect with. And I, I did get that vibe from you day one. And Brittany did back it up. She did, she was in the amen corner there backing it up.

[00:04:55] Kirbee Miller: I love it, I love a good amen crowd. 

[00:05:00] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. That’s right. So it’s worked out very well, very well. So, okay. One of the things, the first question, which I genuinely love music and I think it’s really important to healing. I think what you, even the music I work to, even the music, if I work out, uh, or walk or meditate, whatever it may be, music is important, I feel like. And so I wanted to know what song is on repeat on your playlist today. 

[00:05:31] Kirbee Miller: I love that question. So, a song that’s on repeat often, including today, is a song by India.Arie, and it’s called I Am Light. And I loved that song for the very first time that I heard it. You know, There are certain sounds and tastes and conversations that can transcend time, they kind of take you out of the moment. And that’s what that song did for me. And it really just articulated what I think a lot of us go through. It’s like, I’m not any of the things that have happened to me in life, none of the things that I have discarded, none of the negative feelings, none of the weight of generational things that I inherited, that I didn’t ask for. Like, I’m really none of those things. And I declare that I’m light, and I know that, I hold onto that. And that song has been on as I’m jamming out on the interstate, smiling singing it. Um, it’s come on and, you know, had a sing along with it in the shower through some really heavy tears, during some of the hardest moments where life threatened that definition of who I was. So one that’s on repeat often is I Am Light by India.Arie. 

And another one, uh, because I like choices, um, there’s another song that’s a little bit more fun. And it’s called, um, I’ve Got Money Everywhere, and it’s a very fun song. So if you’ve never heard that song, Google it, jam out to it. But it really, as I’m on a journey and many other people may be on a journey, just healing your relationship with money and abundance and what you deserve and all the things that we’re unpacking in your journey to evolve on this path. It’s just like kind of a fun song that just reminds you that if you work hard and you are aligned, that financial abundance isn’t a bad thing, and it’s okay to have money everywhere because, um, when you do well, and that includes financially, you can do even more good. So those are two of my fun songs that are often on repeat.

[00:07:49] Lorilee Rager: Those are wonderful jewels. I mean, just in the titles alone, but when you think of money, you think of abundance, and light, very strong words. Very, very good energy from it. And it’s interesting, it made me think of, again, I go back in my own experience as creative, as a creative, as an entrepreneur, you know, money is a major stressor. I mean, a major stressor, and it’s a vulnerable thing to talk about sometimes. And, and, uh, it’s probably what sparked my worst ER-level panic attack 

[00:08:24] Kirbee Miller: Wow. 

[00:08:24] Lorilee Rager: was trying to make payroll for my business, and living in scarcity and alone and secret and, and things like that, um. 

[00:08:35] Kirbee Miller: You said something there with that scarcity and secret. Um, so because many of us, myself included sometimes, are just imploding in plain sight, uh, cause we have this veneer up, but we’ve got all these chaotic thoughts and these insecurities, but because we feel like we don’t deserve help or that we should know better. Or if we speak up and give voice to what we’re experiencing, it invalidates all the hard work that we’ve put in. And you don’t want someone to see you as less than, so you just really suffer in silence. And it’s such an odd visual, because it’s almost like we’re close to each other in proximity, or have easy access to people by Instagram or text message, but you really have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes. So, um, I just love your vulnerability and sharing that story. Because in that same moment people were like, oh my gosh, you’ve got a business, you’ve got employees, you’ve got this. And you’re just like, wow, yes, that’s true, and I’m really having a hard time. 

[00:09:41] Lorilee Rager: Exactly. You feel like you’re in this, like you said, the silo. You could be in a room full of people and you, you really think you’re the only one. And, um, and there’s so much goodness in this fear and scary time of when you’ll let it out and when you will confide. You really only need one person. I’m lucky enough to have, you know, two or three, but you really only need one person. It doesn’t take the whole village and not everyone has to know, you have someone that you can trust.

[00:10:12] Kirbee Miller: That’s one of those tricks of adulthood is learning how to navigate finding those people, because all of us have been in those situations where someone has not been safe or they haven’t been a good steward. So you’re just like, well, I’m not doing that again. But the way that we’re designed, and that is on my post-it note to ask God about, I have a running list. But the way that we’re designed is that we need connection. We need people. And when we try to do it alone, we’re going to hit those roadblocks. I’ve tried it, still try it. Because you just feel like if I could just get this neat, in order, and I learn something else, or if I work harder, if I pull another all-nighter, then I can have it figured out. And tomorrow will be a fresh day and I’ll feel how I want to feel. Well, how is that working out after two decades, you know? 

[00:11:07] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. Yeah, you’ve tried that again, and again, and again, kind of getting the same results. Yes. Maybe, maybe listen to that little voice inside. That’s whispering sometimes, it’s not even screaming. It’s just whispering. So, uh, beautiful stuff. Okay. So, I wanted to ask, um, my topics here, I called “degrees and desserts” because I want people to know your story. I want, there’s so much goodness in everything that I’ve learned about you, and, um, I would love it if you would, if you wouldn’t mind to tell us a little bit about your story, because you have this love of learning and this love of food. And, um, tell me a little bit about that. 

[00:11:58] Kirbee Miller: Yes. So I have always been with kind of a collection of varied interests from the time that I was very, very young. And I’ve learned to fall in love with it now as an adult. When you’re younger and you’re trying to put yourself into a box, that can kind of be a, a chaotic world to live in. Like, wait, why do all these things interest me? And when people are telling you, you got to focus on one thing. Uh, so my story really, I’ve just kind of been that person that’s always loved details and the analytics and figuring out the “why” behind things, the real and concrete things, what dots can we connect. And then I equally have been a lover of creativity, coloring all the way outside the lines, and pulling together things that seem seemingly unconnected. And so that took me on a journey as a kid where I would take my sister, who was 10 years older than me, her science books, and study those. And then I would also go and take the large boxes from deliveries at our house and paint them and turn them into like a palace. 

So I always had this mixed bag of things going on. And fast forward into adulthood, when you’re starting to make those concrete choices about your life, I pursued degrees in biology and chemistry, uh, with a focus on healthcare and medicine. And I spent a lot of time in that space and I decided instead of going on into, um, medical practice as a clinician, I went on to get my master’s in informatics, which is really the intersection between technology and people, and really helping to advance how we take care of people with the aid of technology. That’s always been something that I’ve loved. How can we do this better? If we’re going to spend our time, how can we do this better? 

And I had a love affair with helping people be the best version of themselves, always. Um, I was thrust into helping to caregive for my father, my biological father, when I was seven years old. And so I’ve just kinda been hardwired to say, here’s what we’re dealing with. How do we do this better? And so when I was thinking about my corporate career and pivoting from being a clinician, I was like, hmm, how can I use my natural skills and abilities to make sure that we’re doing the right thing, the smart thing to help more patients and help clinicians? So that was my, my career that I was building in healthcare technology for a large medical center here in Nashville. 

Alongside that, I like people. And so when you work in technology, there aren’t many females, there aren’t many young females, and there aren’t many brown people. Oftentimes you will find a lot of people in check shirts and khakis who prefer to stay in their cubicle and not talk to folks. That just wasn’t me. So alongside that technology career, I really gave life to something I’ve been doing all along. I gave it more of a formal sense and created a lifestyle brand, kiNiMi Kitchen. And really the intention behind that was to meaningfully connect people through food. Because food is a powerful equalizer. And I’d seen that my whole life. I started cooking when I was five years old and I’d see how my invention in the kitchen would pull people together and then be like, you did this? Absolutely. And then I also saw how food allowed people a space where they didn’t have to qualify for each other’s time. You didn’t have to say, well, this is why this is important. This is why I really need you to pay attention to me. When you got around food, it was really just, oh my gosh, that’s delicious. Pass this, can I have some more of that, what is that special thing? And I noticed that very early on. So then, in launching that brand that was my intention, to create spaces where people could simply be human. 

Because uh, going through multiple childhood traumas and trying to cobble together the pieces of me while I was trying to still discover what me was, I learned the importance of really paying attention to who people are past the veneer that they present. And so for me, it was really important to create spaces that were inclusive and where people can really see that that puzzle piece that you might be missing may rest in the person that you would never talk to because of how they look or their age or their career, or because you didn’t feel as though you are worthy to talk to them, or maybe because you felt you were too good to talk to them. I wanted to create spaces where we kind of left all of that at the door. 

And so in that, that took me in so many different directions that I, I would say that I couldn’t imagine, but I really did imagine. And I feel as though that quote that says “imagination is the preview life’s coming attractions” is absolutely true. Imagination isn’t just something that we visit to escape our reality, I think if you’re really open to it, your imagination gives you a highlight to who you actually are outside of everything. So for me, that’s kind of the story of creating this corporate career and then a lifestyle brand that really gave life to this, this vision that really started germinating when I was very young. Just, how can I connect to people? How can I guide conversations that are transformational and meaningful and medicinal? And for me, the gateway to that was gathering people around food. And that since has evolved into other things that I’m passionate about as far as speaking and hosting events where people get to show up. And my goal is that we leave better, all of us, than when we entered the room. So that’s been my journey so far, and I hope someone listening to is encouraged. If you don’t fit into a singular box check, all of them. Color outside of them. Because giving life to that passion, giving voice to something that was somewhat nebulous and people are like, wait, you have these degrees and you’re doing what? Uh, has literally taken me around the globe to share what I love and to connect with people. And that theory has proven true that food is a powerful connector and, uh, we, we need each other more than we probably realize. 

[00:18:31] Lorilee Rager: Yes, we really, really do. And, you know, in, in my story with recovery, um, connection and community is really the key core way to, to live a clear and sober life. And you have to have that authentic connection. And I wanted to ask, is there, do you think, um, do you, do you notice, or it sounds like you literally picked up on this when you were five years old, but how people let their guard down when they sit at a table and have this food to share? 

[00:19:08] Kirbee Miller: Yes, 100%. I noticed that and I fell in love with that. Because being a person who is multihyphenate, multi-passionate, and feeling like maybe I didn’t always fit in completely anywhere, I craved that feeling where I could take a deep breath and where I could, um, show myself without careful editing. And so for me, being able to see people realize that you don’t have to be anything else other than you, and how just relief washes over them, it’s powerful. 

But I didn’t, I have learned to appeal to our conditioning. And here’s what I mean by that. When I host virtual culinary experiences for corporations, or if I host an in person event that has the intention of gathering people around good food and then guiding the conversation, I appeal to, appeal to our conditioning. I say, okay, before we get started, there are two very important things to make sure that you’re in the right place. You kind of see people stiffen up, and they’re like, I knew it was coming. You kind of came in here like, I know it’s not me, I’m a bad cook, what question is she going to ask? Like, how do you mince? Like, you just see them like ready to count themselves out. And I say, okay, you know, get kind of serious and okay, this is what we need before we can get started. Before we can move forward. And I say, are you human? And they kind of chuckle like, yes. And i say, do you get hungry? Yes. Okay, good. 

[00:20:49] Lorilee Rager: Good. 

[00:20:49] Kirbee Miller: And you just kind of see, because that’s all you need. I don’t care how many degrees you have, how many commas you have in your bank account, how many relationships that have failed, how many dreams are still on the vine, how many accomplishments. We all get hungry, on a few different levels, both physically and spiritually. And so for me, when you know that you belong, and those are the only qualifiers you, your guard does come down. And I’ve noticed that from events that I hosted in some of the most affluent neighborhoods, all the way to an event that I used to put on in east. Nashville, um, that was a community brunch. I would just go and I set up, someone had a venue there, and I would invite people in from the neighborhood, the people who had been there for awhile, and the people who were kind of coming in with that wave of gentrification, and people you kind of see and be like, well how much does it cost? Like, I didn’t sign up. I’m like, no, you’re here, just get in here. Like literally recruit different people. And the conversations that happened, um, were just so powerful and so beautiful. And it was just really highlighting that this is what I was designed to do, is to help people realize that we can connect in this way. And anything else that has been playing in my head, that’s counted me out, maybe I can question that, maybe it’s not true and that can be developed and explored over some good food. 

[00:22:25] Lorilee Rager: Ooh, that is so important. I love how you just said, maybe, maybe what is not true, that you, you could question that and you can really let your guard down because right now we’re just, we’re just here to be human and hungry.

[00:22:39] Kirbee Miller: That’s it. That’s it. 

[00:22:41] Lorilee Rager: That’s the only agenda. 

[00:22:42] Kirbee Miller: That’s right. 

[00:22:44] Lorilee Rager: And that’s a beautiful common thread no matter what zip code you come from. So it’s really powerful. And I can see the connections, um, from your journey from five years old to now. And, and you you’ve used the word humans so much, even when you were talking about technology and healthcare, and then human again with your childhood, and human again, with, with feeding and nourishing people. It’s, it’s a common thread, no matter laptops or napkins.

[00:23:23] Kirbee Miller: That’s right. That’s right. It’s a common thread. And for me, I had a complicated journey with being human. And here’s, here’s what I mean by that. We won’t, we won’t take a total deep dive into all of it, um, but, um, perhaps you can identify with this, perhaps someone listening can identify with this. When you have a complicated childhood where sometimes you bear the burdens of your parents’ unhealed trauma, uh, and it’s not safe to just be human. 

[00:23:58] Lorilee Rager: No. 

[00:23:59] Kirbee Miller: In order to have safety and acceptance and sometimes a very tattered version of peace, you have to almost be super human. You know, everything had to be perfect. Things weren’t good enough, and when they weren’t good enough there were severe consequences. And so for me, I had a very complicated relationship with just being a kid, and being human, and what did that mean, and making mistakes. And that just was not safe. And so for me, I do realize that that, that’s not healthy and you don’t get to explore and become the full version of yourself if you can’t just be human. If you are playing a role or looking to other people to find that glimmer of acceptance, or the cooling of their anger to make sure that you can be safe for another couple of hours, you just can’t, um, you can’t be the fullest expression of yourself. And I know that’s what we’re here to do. And so for me, I am so thankful for tools and resources. I’m so thankful for community. I’m so thankful for self discovery and self love and self healing, to be able to look back at those experiences through a different lens. And I think our number one priority is to become the highest expression of ourselves. 

But then I also do believe that we’re here to have a ripple effect to, to those that are within our sphere of influence. So for me, as I’m on this journey and I’m like, oh, it’s safe to be human, it’s it’s okay, I’m still good even if not perfect, I want to invite other people into that experience. I want other people to know that maybe sooner than I did. Or, you know, I work with people across all different ages, races, backgrounds. And so even if they’re older than me, I want them to know it’s not too late and you deserve to be human and safe and seen too. 

So, you’re right. That human element is a resounding theme because you know what, I didn’t ask for it, but we’re all kind of here in this form, so why not get a little bit more comfortable with what that actually means and embrace that. So, yeah, that is something that, that is a resounding thing for me. 

[00:26:14] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. It’s really, really beautiful. And I resonate with everything you’ve said, from, uh, a rocky childhood and walking on eggshells and, and trying to assume the troubles from my parents and the generational trauma. And, and then, and the now learning, because of community and because of, uh, opening up, realizing that I am enough and that I’m not the only one. Even though our stories are very different, there are some themes, there are some common threads that connect us. And, um, and, uh, I just love every word you said. I, we will replay it in slow motion because it’s so, it’s so important. And it’s, it’s why I started the podcast. And it’s why I wanted you on here as well, because I think it’s important now that we have figured these things out, that it’s okay to be us. It’s okay to be comfortable in our skin. That, how can we help someone else better to understand that. Not be better as in get more clients or get more money or get more projects, it’s no, no, how can, how can you just be okay with who you are and be the best version of who you were born and, you know, authentically meant to be? I, I get that so much from, from your, you know, from, I was going to say from your brand, because you, as a person have developed this with your entrepreneurship and put all of your, all of your energy in it. Um, and, and through a global pandemic, I even virtually get it from your Instagram stories to your interviews, um, to, to your travels. And I love it. And, and I would love to know if, if you can answer, how does your, how do you think your energy and this outlook has helped your business? Because I know at the end of the day, we all are still needing to work and have a business, but you have aligned this so beautifully. So how, how does your energy help? 

[00:28:29] Kirbee Miller: Thank you. And that’s a journey. That’s a journey. I know that this discovery and understanding that being your real self, your authentic self, not only is okay and acceptable, but it, it’s a gift of a lifetime and that’s your highest service. And it sounds corny and all of those things, but when you really experienced some hard things in life, and when you realize at the end of the day, no matter how bumped that you are, it was you, whatever version of you, that persistent through that time, and that means something. And you have to give yourself credit for that. And I had to start doing that, and stop and being so much at what I lacked and really give honest gratitude and whole hearted understanding and love and care for the list of who I actually am. And be okay with that distance between perhaps where I am and where I want to be, but give credit to what I’ve come through, where I am. And that journey in life has definitely translated into business. 

So, in developing a brand, a more multi-dimensional brand, that wasn’t necessarily the goal at the onset. And that can be challenging when people want to put it into a box. Like, is it catering, is it TV, is it popcorn? And it’s like, it’s so much bigger than. Because it being aligned with, uh, my life’s purpose, having that journey and that energy has helped me take more risks that perhaps I would have been paralyzed in fear of rejection, or who am I to do it, or if this is perceived this way and I’m on television, or I’m over in this other country, who’s going to try to diminish that or take that away or highlight other cracks and imperfections to bring me back down to size. Those were thoughts that really kept me playing small for, for a long time.

And I will not say that they don’t still rear their head. As you mentioned earlier, in entrepreneurship, and then. Especially when you wear a lot of different hats, it can be challenging to give voice to those areas where you’re like, SOS, I need help, I don’t know what I’m doing here. Maybe I feel like I know what I’m doing, but I really could use some reinforcements. So for me, that’s been helpful in this journey, just being able to open up and be a little bit more transparent with people and saying, hey, I need some help. I need someone to come alongside. Um, and I’m still not great at that. Um, so just like you mentioned that. Some of that, like, try and figure it out in silence kind of thing, i, I still am a victim of that sometimes. What helps me move the needle though is, um, even though the brand, a lot of it is me-involved, I know from the experiences that I’ve had with people, I know from the tears that have been shed I know from the conversations, I know from the transformation that’s come on the other side of experiences or interviews, it is not me. It’s not me. So for me, I know for my time here, and this is what I was designed to do. And if getting vulnerable or having that energy of abundance and all of the things that I’m exploring in my personal life are applied to my business life, if that helps to amplify a message or a movement that can heal other people, then that’s my responsibility to do that. 

And to answer your question, I just think it having a brand and a company, and then we’re all tangled up together, that energy is pervasive and the most beautiful way. And for me, I hope that my journey does help people understand that it’s not perfect, it’s not linear, you’re going to fall down. You’re going to maybe get yourself out in the wilderness a little bit and be like, wow, I didn’t drop breadcrumbs, but maybe I’m gonna build something really beautiful out here and invite other folks out to the wilderness, that’s what I’m doing. So that’s kind, kinda my thought on that, that combination of the energy and how that impacts my journey in life and entrpreneurship. 

[00:32:59] Lorilee Rager: Oh, yes. Yes. Well, there’s, there’s two beautiful things. There’s many, but I thought of one of the things you said was. Instead of looking at what you’re lacking, which is such, I think it’s, I think it’s a learned belief. I think it’s, it comes from, from our childhood in history and the people that maybe we were around that maybe pointed out the negative or that lacking and that fear and that scarcity, and I loved how you said that you no longer do that. And I know it took a lot of work to get there.

[00:33:29] Kirbee Miller: I don’t do this often.

[00:33:31] Lorilee Rager: Right. Yeah. We all, we all, it’s, you know, it’s an ongoing, I will say none of this, that we are doing this, this human living life thing is, okay, here’s steps one through eight, and when you get to eight, you’re done and you can go take a nap and it’s all over. It’s more like, you’ll repeat those steps tomorrow, and repeat those steps six months from now, and somebody will remind you of step seven again. You know, and 

[00:33:58] Kirbee Miller: I love what you said about like in alphabetical order, instead of it being this nice linear alphabet, think of it more like alphabet soup. Because an A may be next to a Y and the lessons just keep blending, but they’re all in there.

[00:34:15] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:34:16] Kirbee Miller: We need to hear people talk about this because it’s not like this graduation to another level. It’s like, hopefully you don’t repeat the same mistakes or same scenarios for as long as you did before, but sometimes they do come back around. 

[00:34:32] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, they really do. Um, again, in recovery meetings they’ll talk about, you know, you may find yourself in that same pothole on the path you’re walking, but the difference is this time you realize you’re in it, when you maybe before weren’t even self-aware, and you maybe while you’re in it can look around and go, ah, now I know how I got in here. You can look back and you, again, still may be in the pothole.

[00:34:58] Kirbee Miller: Yes. 

[00:35:00] Lorilee Rager: But there’s a little bit of self-awareness. But it’s because I think you got honest with yourself and, and lived your truth. And the other part of, of what you were saying about energy is that you aligned it. It was no longer, you know, I just grew up, you, you acted one way in church and you acted one way at school and totally different way you told no one about behind closed doors at home. And so I built my business on one way acting, and home was completely different, and friendships I tried to fake it. You know, because I just wanted everyone to like me. 

[00:35:35] Kirbee Miller: Exactly. What version of me is required for this? 

[00:35:38] Lorilee Rager: Right. And it was exhausting. But when you aligned your energy, just like you were saying, with all of that, you were doing the degrees and the entrepreneurship and the sitting at a table. I didn’t realize until we just started talking about it, I think that’s a major key to getting unstuck or out of your kind of pothole, I guess, situation. 

[00:36:00] Kirbee Miller: I agree with that. I agree with that. And it’s like, let’s abandon labels a little bit, of what you should be because you’re this age, or because you have this degree, or you’ve been in a relationship this long, or you’ve been trying to bring on like a dream to live for this long. Who said, like somebody show me the real blueprint. Oh, you don’t have one? Then like, let’s abandon the labels and be present, be where you are, have gratitude for that, and real gratitude. Um, and I say that because it’s so buzzwordy now and people are like, I think seeking, but sometimes we can dilute what gratitude is. And for me, I was raised, um, you know, we’re at church every Sunday and Wednesday and Sunday night. But to your point, there are different versions of people and that misalignment is so disturbing. But then you get this, you know, fake confidence that, you know, but you don’t really have a deep relationship. 

And I would say during this whole journey, I have really deepened my own personal relationship with the gratitude and really noticing. When you’re not safe or you feel unaccepted or you feel like you’re just seconds away from having to shape shift again for survival, you can’t soak in things. You can’t really be grateful because you are surviving. You’re in fight or flight. And for me, I had to develop, what does it feel like just to be in this moment and really make this thing. The good, the bad, the ugly, and be thankful for them all. That was a major transition. 

And I would say there was a rebirth of my gratitude practice from the bedside in the ICU. I, from my parents were in a terrible car accident. And that’s not where you would think a gratitude practice would be reborn. But when you’re stripped down to your most bare ingredients, if you will, you have a choice. How are you going to rebuild? How are you going to hold on? Do you go back to some of those old habits to try to survive? And I did that. But then you get broken down again and you realize that the foundation of it all is grattitude and being open. So even when my mom was in a coma and I’m, through tears, begging her to wake up and I’m walking across the hall to make decisions for my stepdad that feel like life or death, and I haven’t slept in days, I can be grateful that they’re still here and we’ll still have a chance. I could be grateful for being able to walk outside and just take a deep breath and be able to feel it. And it was really when those micro level things started to accumulate and I allowed myself to feel and to be grateful, I believe that was a huge turning points, that one of the most challenging parts of my life was actually one of the most beautiful parts. There’s, as people say, beauty in the breaking. And who I am on the other side of it, can’t go back. I might run into some of those lessons again, but I’m not the same version of me. And I know that this version is designed to help other people cross, cross that, that bridge into a life of just more or meeting and connectivity and purpose. That’s, that’s my goal. 

So I, I just love being able to have this conversation with someone like yourself who is transparent and vulnerable. And when you talk about those recovery meetings where, I don’t know how it feels to sit in a recovery meeting, but I’m sure at some point it has to feel like you’re, I am, again with that pothole example, where it’s just like, how do I, how do I go forward? How do you have the energy to re-imagine my pieces? But it was like, okay, well, how do I pull myself into the moment? And then you’re like, yep, I’m in the pothole. I can learn, I can learn from this and I have that hope to move forward. And I think a lot of that does come down to, um, gratitude and acceptance. 

[00:40:15] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. It really, really does. And that was, that became a really important part of my study in grad school, was this gratitude thing that just kept coming up. It just, I mean, it was, you know, it was beating me over the head, but I realized that as a child in fight or flight mode and in and out of church, it was a toxic level of, of gratitude and toxic positivity. You just should be more thankful. And you just should be thankful that we, you know, have food on the table. Or you should just be more thankful that you have a father that works hard no matter what he says to you or does to you. Or, and then I began to see how I would numb with gratitude, like in a toxic way. And, and then drink away the real feelings. And so, yeah, now I am so grateful for recovery and grateful for the hangovers I suffered through. Which, it sounds like an oxymoron or a paradox. 

[00:41:22] Kirbee Miller: I can hear what you’re saying though, because you getting to that point ushered you across a line into your more authentic and real self and those very shallow prescriptions that were written when we were younger, like just pray, or just be grateful, or somebody else has it worse than you, that taught you that you weren’t a whole person. It’s in the shallow end and the rest of that is disposable, and in fact it makes you a burden, so don’t talk about that. And so in adulthood, as you’re unpacking that, you’re like actually having to sit with these things and I’m going to learn from them. 

[00:42:04] Lorilee Rager: Yes, yes. And then began to teach myself, what am I really grateful for? Not what I was told to be grateful for. What am I grateful for? I am grateful that I’m a bad speller, and, with a funny sense of humor. Like I, the things that were maybe taught to me as faults and things you should hide or ways you, shouldn’t behave, do the shoulds and should-ing on myself. Yeah. So I get it. I get it. Oh, it’s beautiful stuff. Okay. All right. We can talk all day, but I’m going to, I’m bringing it, bringing it in to the last two things I wanted to talk about a little bit is creativity and charisma. Um, and one of the questions is, to ask you, I think a lot of people, I know they ask me all the time and there’s not a clear-cut answer. I’d love to hear your thoughts, is, you know, you hear the, oh, as a business owner and a woman and a daughter and a wife, you know, how do you, how do you juggle it all? You know, the cliche and how do you, how do you be creative and a writer and a cook and all the things that you are in the daily daily duties of life? 

[00:43:34] Kirbee Miller: The honest answer is I’m still figuring that out. And that’s how I do it, is being open to figuring it out. And that sounds paradoxical, but when we think that there has to be this clear cut plan before you can do it, do it, which is our life it’s paralyzing. And as a recovering perfectionist, I am just open to what the day brings. I know for 100% sure that I’m here on purpose with a purpose and that doesn’t look the same every day. And I know that for me, one of my, my goals in life for myself and then my intention for other people is to help fortify my mind and my spirit and let that creativity shine, help develop me so that where I encounter those hard moments, I can feel it, and I know I’ll survive. When I encounter those really beautiful moments, that I can feel it and being grateful for it and know that I deserve it. And when I’m in those quiet moments and those are those, those are the most important. For myself and what I hope for other people, and I hope through my message and the brand and the things I do, I hope that I can support people that in those quiet, moments where the titles don’t matter, that bank account can’t touch or do anything, for those moments, the people that you love and maybe think you can count on, might be asleep, those quiet moments, that I can have peace, and then I can feel as though I’m on the right path. 

And so the way that I try to live my life, um, I think it’s really illustrated by this quote that Oprah says, and it says, “nourish what makes you feel confident, connected, contented,” so confident, connected, contented, “and opportunity will rise to meet you.” So when I feel as though, how, how do I reconcile someone who worked really, really hard in college to graduate with honors in biology and chemistry and a master’s and work at a premier medical center, you know, all the accomplishments, things that, you know, you’re told to clean to for your identity, and I’m really proud of, how do I reconcile that in a lifestyle brand that is evolving. And how do I reconcile that with I am married and took on a responsibility and a partnership that I said that I would honor to really help and support that person in life when I’m trying to help and support myself through life. And then being thrust into a full-time caregiver position for someone who’s paralyzed out of a traumatic event, how do I reconcile all of those responsibilities, and sometimes I would just like to go back to that little girl who wanted to paint a box and turn it into a palace. Like, how do I do all that? And then how do you like keep up with taxes and oil changes? Like there’s a lot, there’s a lot going on. 

So with that in mind, I have that true north. I have that barometer of nourishing whatever it makes me feel confident, connected, and contented. And I know that the right opportunities will rise to meet me. So for that day, I try to tune in and sometimes it takes getting quiet, or meditating, or crying in your car. Whatever you want to cleanse the way to say for today, what helps me feel connected? What helps me feel confident? What will help me feel content in this moment? And maybe it’s too much of a commitment for the day. I have people say, I have good days and bad days. I like to take the pressure off. We can have good day, good 20 minutes and bad 20 minutes. It’s kind of episodic. So I like to ask myself, for this, for this next period, what helps to nourish me in one of these ways? And I’ll know for sure in that opportunity or rise to meet me, I don’t have to figure it all out. My responsibility is to lean into those things. So whether that’s taking the time to turn off the phone and care solely for my mom, whether that’s to try to make time for my husband to say, okay, you know, we’ve been ships passing in the night, how do we actually connect and have a real conversation. Because beyond marriage, I’ve never been much of a romantic, beyond that I care about you as a human and I want your journey to be good. So you don’t let me slow down and have this conversation and shut everything else out. Or is that, I’m going to take 45 minutes and go to a store and explore some new ingredients because tonight I’m just going to make something completely new because that’s what my brain needs to wander. So the way that I do at all is to be able to have a removal of some of the structure. And I know that might make some of my type A friends cringe, a removal of some of the structure, and really just have that foundation of nourishment. And nourishment isn’t something that you can just fly by night and do. Nourishment is intention and time and love and grace. So when it says nourish what makes you feel confident, contented, and connected, that means I got to pay attention to it. I got to cultivate that. And I have a certain trust that opportunity will rise to me. You know, it is, it’s magnetizing toward me. I don’t have to have it all figured out. So that’s, that’s how I choose to navigate this crazy life path that I’m on right now.

[00:49:19] Lorilee Rager: Yes, yes, yes. Yes. So nourish is my word for 2022. So, first of all, that was beautifully stated and said. And, and you, you literally trust the process and again, in recovery, they tell us, you just take it one day at a time. And yes, sometimes it is one minute, one hour, sometimes you’re white, knuckling it through it, and sometimes you’re completely in this pink cloud of happiness. And that’s life. And we get to live it. 

[00:49:52] Kirbee Miller: That’s the human experience. 

[00:49:54] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. And feel it all feel it all. So, beautiful to just, it’s simple but not easy, but to just nourish.

[00:50:05] Kirbee Miller: Ooh. Simple but not easy. I love that. 

[00:50:08] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, really beautiful. Really, really beautiful. Thank you so much for that answer. Goodness, goodness gracious. Okay. The end, the question, the end question. All right. Really this entire episode is this, but I’m going to ask for one more takeaway, if you have it in you. What tool would you leave in our ground and gratitude toolbox for others?

[00:50:39] Kirbee Miller: I would leave the simple truth that you are enough. And you need that in your toolkit. And I know that sounds really simple. But when I feel consumed by failure, when I feel like I’m on a slippery slope to nowhere, you know, those weird thoughts come up sometimes. And I don’t know what everyone’s belief system is, you know, I hope that all of us, ours are evolving. What I know for sure is that there is something much bigger than us, and there’s an order to things, and we were all designed and created. So take the pressure off yourself that you could somehow distort or destroy that. You were designed, therefore you’re enough inherently. So your responsibility is really just to fall in love and discover that design and the life that you’re meant to live will unfold before you. And to your point, that sounds so simple. And you might say, kirbee you don’t know the spouse that I’m dealing with, Kirbee you don’t know the debt I’m dealing with, Kirbee you don’t know the diagnosis that I just got or someone that I love just got. I can tell you, I can check all those boxes right along with you. But in that process, you have to have that core knowing that you are enough, even without another accomplishment, even with everything else that has been put on your back, or maybe through your choices you put on your own back, that you’re enough. And I think that’s something that we need to have in our toolkit when the moments feel heavy, we need to be able to reach in and say, if nothing else changes about me, I’m enough. That’s what I would say. Put that in the toolkit and don’t lose it. 

[00:52:41] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. That’s absolutely just, it’s just golden and it is so simple. But you’ve got to learn to believe it. And your subconscious has to 

[00:52:52] Kirbee Miller: There’s saying it and there’s internalizing it. 

[00:52:54] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Your subconscious has to hear it and believe it and know that right here, right now, right where your toes are, you’re enough. Absolutely. It’s beautiful. Yes. So, so good. Ah, thank you so very much. This hour literally flew by.

[00:53:15] Kirbee Miller: I looked at the time, I was like, wow, Kirbee you talk a lot. But I am so thankful for this time together. And that infinity loop, that’s one of my favorite symbols, of just nourishment and acknowledgement of this human experience. And it’s just beautiful to talk with you and, and to talk to someone who had walked through fire and is willing to tell other people about their journey. I respect that about you, I love that about you. And like I said, when we started this, I trust that the timing of this is perfect. And those who needed to hear it now will hear it. And that’s my intention and that’s my hope. So thank you so much for inviting me and allowing us to spend this time together.

[00:54:04] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. I could not have said it better myself. I respect and love you so much. Thank you for your time friend. 

[00:54:13] Kirbee Miller: Thank you. 

[00:54:18] Lorilee Rager: Alright, yay!

Thank you again to Kirbee for being so open with her story and sharing her perspective on life and that human connection. And thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find previous episodes and more information about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude. I’d also love to hear from you. We’re on Instagram. Our handle is @GroundAndGratitude. And you can leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. 

Ground and Gratitude is produced by Kelly Drake and AO McClain LLC.

Ep 15: Curiosity in Life and Design with Marielena André

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Curiosity in Life and Design with Marielena André

Lorilee is joined by Marielena André — a multimedia designer and educator living in New Jersey. She is an accomplished artist with expertise in textile, fashion, graphic and sustainable design, as well as product development. Marielena and Lorilee discuss the fundamental curiosity that has fueled their respective journeys in creativity and education, as well as the importance of experimenting, failing, reinventing, and reapplying ourselves as we grow and develop our lives. 

Highlights: 

  • On Marielena’s playlist: Instrumental piano, Afrobeat, Brazilian music, Yo-Yo Ma, and SILENCE!
  • Working with her hands and playing with materials from a young age
  • The beauty and importance of reinvention
  • The power of curiosity and discovery
  • How pivotal failure can be in the process of honing our education and craft
  • Boundaries of skin, both physical and virtual
  • Recognizing and synthesizing the different versions of ourselves
  • How Marielena decided to move in a new direction with her career
  • Our intuition’s role in telling us it’s time for change
  • Crystalizing our priorities when our lives are busy
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

🎧 Listen wherever you get your podcasts  🎧 OR on Spotify or Apple.

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Episode 15 – Marielena André Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey. I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows, but also gives. 

Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced, female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender,

My guest today is Marielena André. Marielena is a multimedia designer, an educator and artist living in New Jersey. She is multifaceted and accomplished with expertise in textile, fashion, graphic design, and product development. She has many talents, let me tell you. She is a thoughtful leader and collaborator, and I am so thankful that I met her in my cohort at grad school at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Welcome, Marielena. Thank you so much for being on the Ground and Gratitude podcast with me today. I really appreciate it. 

[00:01:53] Marielena André: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to talk with you today. I miss you. 

[00:01:58] Lorilee Rager: I know, I miss you too. Absolutely. Thank goodness, hopefully, we’ll be able to start getting out and about and traveling again, and I will love to come see you. And you’re welcome to come to Tennessee, also, anytime. It’s more fun in my world to come to you. 

[00:02:16] Marielena André: Probably more fun in my world for me to go to you. 

[00:02:20] Lorilee Rager: That’s true. Okay. Let’s have planned two trips. Yeah. Well, good. All right. Well then we’ll just dive right in with the really hard hitting question, and it’s really important: what song is on repeat on your playlist today?

[00:02:38] Marielena André: Okay, so your guests are going to hate me. And I panicked about this question because I love music and I do listen to it, but 99.9% of the time, I work in silence. 

[00:02:54] Lorilee Rager: Really? That’s so interesting. 

[00:02:56] Marielena André: It winds up happening by default, um, mainly because I get interrupted so much that it’s like headphone in, headphone out, headphone in, headphone out. So even, even sometimes listening to podcasts, it just, I don’t know. I just wind up being interrupted so, so many times that I’m just like, forget it, but, in general, when I do listen to music, um, I love a lot of instrumental. Anything piano based is really soothing to me. Um, I do love, um, like Brazilian-type radio where it’s beats, or like Afrobeat. I’m really into that. But in general, I really like, I enjoy my silence. I’m always like writing something in my head or, like, thinking about what I need to purchase while I’m doing other things. So, for me. I, I, I, I very much enjoy the silence. 

[00:03:57] Lorilee Rager: That’s absolutely acceptable. Absolutely. You know, when, um, when we had Natalia on, she was like, you know I don’t have a playlist. 

[00:04:05] Marielena André: I do like those general, like, sound compilations. Yeah. 

[00:04:15] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Me too. I do for some reason, I always want it on. Always. I should probably investigate that versus the fact that you can work in silence, which I think is great. Um, because I, I want it on, but it can’t be anything distracting. It’s gotta be the lo-fi study beats. It can’t even really be an instrumental of a song I know, because it, it distracts me. 

[00:04:38] Marielena André: That’s, that, that breaks my concentration. And then I’m like humming it in my head the rest of the day. I’m like, aw dammit. 

[00:04:47] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Okay. So we will go with silence, but otherwise, if you want some chill, you know, piano instrumental.

[00:04:57] Marielena André: Okay. Yeah. Like Yo-Yo Ma, I love. 

[00:05:00] Lorilee Rager: Ooh, Yeah, me too. Okay. That’s great. That’s really very good to know. It’s super interesting to me. Um, I like to know how everybody thinks and works, and even whether you’re, you know, driving down the interstate with the windows rolled down or what you may be hearing in your head, or mine’s usually working on a laptop. So it’s gotta be pretty chill. 

[00:05:23] Marielena André: Yeah. Yeah. I think I grew up with a lot of noise in the house. You know that, I’m one of four, so for me it was like, there was always music, there was always yelling, there was always the TV on. It was like, so for me, I’m like any chance I get to be in silence, it’s like, even now with my kids, I will work late at night when the world has gone to sleep because it’s so quiet and peaceful.

[00:05:49] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. That like, that makes me want to just take a deep breath, like, that sounds so peaceful. Yeah. I get that and annoying, and it’s like you said, constant interruptions and taking your headphones in and out. Yeah, that’d be another reason. So, yeah. Very interesting. Very interesting. Um, okay, well, let’s dive right into topic number one that I’d love to talk to you about, and that is origin story. And if you could just think a little bit about like, how does where you come from affect how you create, you think?

[00:06:26] Marielena André: I think it’s been a huge influence. Um, I grew up, so my parents still own my childhood home, and it was a ranch. It’s a ranch that had, um, a basement, an unfinished basement, that was the, the floor plan of the house. And my father had a woodworking shop. So I come from either artists or scientists. That’s like, that’s it, across the board, in pretty much all of my family on both sides, they’re either in the arts or in the sciences. 

My dad, I think, um, you know, growing up was always, like, fixing things or building things. And maybe it was out of necessity, um, but he always was, like, making stuff with his hands. And my mom did, um, set, saw, set props and scenery for off-Broadway plays. So, my basement growing up, there was like one side that was like all hands on, like wood and this machinery and, like, heavy tools. And then the other side, which was like tulle and, like, um, fake food and, you know, props from, like, Little Shop of Horrors. Like I had the Audrey puppets, like all the sizes. So it was kind of like this fantasyland down there. And my mom, you know, would, I would, like, one time I helped gold leaf chairs for Phantom of the Opera. So like we got put, I got put to work, I mean. 

[00:08:03] Lorilee Rager: It was a workshop, it was a basement workshop. 

[00:08:05] Marielena André: It was a basement workshop. So I think my interest in working with my hands or really discovering materials or just playing with different stuff, I think that really came from them. And I was always, um, I was always a very, um, insular child. I didn’t, I had a few, you know, I had friends and stuff. But because I was the youngest of four, I really made my own adventures. So I was always into just, like, playing with these materials. And I think, um, early on in my career, which I’m sure we’ll talk about, I really left that aside and it wasn’t really until I started to come back to grad school that, um, I started to play a lot more with materials and really look at things, um, in a, in a salvaged kind of way. Um, but that influence was really strong there, and, to this day, I mean, I, I fix things in the house and I think that’s just the type of person that I became, where I, if I was approached with a problem, whether it’s fixing something or making something, I just took all the resources I had on hand and figured it out.

[00:09:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that, I remember when we met in grad school, that’s so funny you said that because it’s one of the first things I admired about you. Because you did, you just, you just dove in. Like, hands in and just going to work, and you were going to work on the medium and you were going to, no matter what, um, figure it out with this level of kind of fierce confidence that, that I had really never seen before that I was, oh, it was really, really impressive, um. 

[00:09:53] Marielena André: It’s nice that you think it’s confidence because… [laughter]. I think, I think I am not afraid to fail. And I think that comes off as like, oh yeah, I know what I’m doing. But no. I have no freaking clue. I have no freaking clue. I just know that if I fail at it, I can try it again and figure it out. And I’ve kind of always been a little risky that way. It’s served me well. 

[00:10:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Not afraid. Yes, it has. Yes. I will testify that, yes, it absolutely does because, um, I think it’s interesting knowing that how, how you grew up and what your basement was, was like. And do you think that that is why you chose to pursue a creative career? Like… 

[00:10:49] Marielena André: Really what, so, again, I mentioned arts or sciences. Um, I really wasn’t into the arts a whole lot as a child. Um, it wasn’t anything that I really got into until I was maybe 11. I really want — I started working really young. I babysat, I had my own business, like, I was making money by the time I was, like, 10 years old. My family, my siblings were coming to me for money. Um, but I, so I really wanted to be early, early, early on, I either wanted to do architectural engineering in the army, which my parents were like, absolutely not, you’re not going into the army. And then the other profession I wanted to do, cause I was working in a chiropractor’s office, I wanted to go to chiropractic school. And then I had an American history teacher in high school and he was like, “what the fuck are you doing, Marielena? You are not going to chiropractic school. You need to go to art school. Like, you are creative.” I used to, like, be on all these committees to do, like, decorate the, you know, decorate the high school or, like, I did murals, you know, so I didn’t really get into the arts in high school. And he was like, “nope, you need to go to art school, like, that’s it. I’m deciding for you.”

[00:12:12] Lorilee Rager: Oh, that’s awesome. 

[00:12:14] Marielena André: And when I looked at the prospect of, like, the schooling involved with, you know, going to med school and going that route, I was like, hmm, yeah. Let me go to art school.

[00:12:28] Lorilee Rager: That’s a good direction. 

[00:12:30] Marielena André: You can thank Mr. Bruetti from Ramapo Senior High School, who is now deceased, but yes. He is attributed to my career choice. 

[00:12:40] Lorilee Rager: I love that he saw that in you when you didn’t even see it, like, you know, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. 

[00:12:46] Marielena André: Definitely not. And it was a no turning back. I mean, once I, once I got in there, you know, it made sense. 

[00:12:54] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. That’s how I felt when I first got into school and I was like, oh, this might be my people, like, this kind of feels comfortable. This, this feels good. 

[00:13:03] Marielena André: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I type-based my high school portfolio based on a major at FIT. And I didn’t even, honestly, when I applied to go into textile design, I didn’t even know what textile design really was. I was, like, yeah, this sounds good. I like working with materials. Yep. Okay. I’m in.

[00:13:26] Lorilee Rager: Checks the box. That’s right. Oh, I love it. I mean, none of us, especially at that age, the fact that, like, right now, I’ve got a 17 year old about to be 18. And I’m like, “what do you want to do for the rest of your life? I need to know right now.” 

[00:13:40] Marielena André: No pressure. 

[00:13:42] Lorilee Rager: No pressure. Yeah. That’s exactly right. 

[00:13:46] Marielena André: I think the beauty of it is that, you know, we do put this pressure on ourselves to, like, have it all figured out, or at least declare something and have an, an objective in mind for our career path. But, the truth is, is that, you know, now it’s so easy to — easy — okay. Accessible to many, um, to reinvent yourself a couple of times over. 

[00:14:13] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, yeah.

[00:14:15] Marielena André:  And that’s not only normal, but I think important.

[00:14:20] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. Yes. Very, very important. That’s, well I mean, that’s how we met, I feel like. We were both on this trajectory to reinvent ourselves. 

[00:14:30] Marielena André: I don’t know which one of my nine lives I’m using, but…

[00:14:33] Lorilee Rager: Yes, exactly. And, when we met, I also had this deer-in-the-headlights of, what, what am I doing here? Why are we here, again? Like, wait a minute, this might be a mistake. But trying to reinvent ourselves, I think it is really, really important.

Um, it makes me think of a quote. I saw that you put on your LinkedIn profile that says, “I believe life is an ongoing education and should be met with curiosity.” Um, tell me a little bit about you, what you meant with that. Because I think it, I think it’s a perfect segue into that because being curious and reinventing yourself to me all kind of merges together.

[00:15:15] Marielena André: Yeah, it definitely does. Um, so I am, I don’t sit idle very easily. Like, I’m not one of those people who comes home and, like, watches TV and hangs out. Like, I’m always researching, I’m always, I have too many jobs. I mean, that’s one thing. But I think, um, I was always curious about different stuff. Like, I wanted to learn how to animate, I wanted to learn how to, um, design jacket covers, I wanted to learn how to, um, re-concrete my pool, which is falling apart. Like, I just have always been very curious about how things work and how to fix them, um, and how to… I just am like a sponge. I love learning. I love reading. Um, I like being that person that people come to and, like, where I was just had this conversation with some of my coworkers. I have two coworkers who are pregnant and we were talking about like different fertility stuff, cause I went through fertility issues with my children, and, um, it just like snowballed into this whole conversation about different levels of hormones. And they’re like, “how do you know all this stuff?” And I was like, well, because I read a lot. Like, when I need to know something I dive in and I try and know all of it. And I think that just comes from a genuine curiosity of, how, you know, how do things work? How can I figure this out for myself? I’m very, self-sufficient, I’ve always been, um, um, what’s, what’s the word? Um, independent, in that way where like, I, I really, you know, would not need to rely on, per se, anyone, although, you really do, people do. Yeah, people need other people. But, um, you know, I’ve always been very self-sufficient that way. And I think it comes out of this curiosity towards learning, towards figuring it out, towards knowing. Um, and not in this, I want to know it all kind of way, or that even that I can know it all, um, but really just, like, “Hmm, how does that work? And is that a new career I could do?”

[00:17:42] Lorilee Rager: Oh, yes. That’s how my brain works too. That’s so funny that you said that. And I didn’t really realize it until maybe I got into grad school and began just, like, I call them rabbit trails. You know, I would, I would think of, or read or discover one thing and be like, “what is that?” And I would dive deeper into that. And then I would find something else and go, oh my gosh, “what is that?” And I want to know everything I can about that. Or, um, I remember the fun and the play and the messy of thinking of my childhood and how much I loved, um, what is the Eric Carlisle book with the bear and the horse? I can’t remember the name of it. Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Yes. And because of the curiosity in that being like, how in the hell did he make this? Like, I want to know this process. And then going down this rabbit trail into, and buying paint and buying all these, you know, chemicals to make the process. And I think that curiosity is what makes us, I think it’s what makes us really good designers. I think it’s what makes us good teachers. Um, and, and healthier — mentally healthier humans. Something about that curiosity.

[00:19:00] Marielena André: Yeah. I had a, I had a student recently who came to me. She was very upset. She had a project due. She was very upset. “This is terrible. This is terrible.” She didn’t want to show me. And I said, please, you know, come on, show me. And I was like, I can’t help you, I can’t help you figure this out or figure out what you think you’re doing wrong. And it wound up that she just got so curious on, this is a like illustrator baseline one class, freshmen college. And she was so like, she was upset. It broke my heart. And I was looking at her stuff. I’m like a) this is beautiful, b) you entirely learned like seven new tools than what I was teaching you because you were curious. You, you really wanted to do something and you, in those efforts, albeit, you got overwhelmed, but, in those efforts, you, like, really forced yourself to learn something in a new way. And I think that’s what I, um, that’s my highest expectation with my, well, not my highest expectation, but, but that is a central expectation for my students. That they, you know, are trying and playing in the software. And I’m completely self-taught in all of the softwares that I’ve ever taken. I have never taken a Photoshop class or, now, I mean, I’ve been using the software for decades. I should know it by now, if I don’t we’ve got problems. But, I mean that curiosity to just kind of like, “oh, what does this do?” And “oh, what does that tool do?” And “if I layer this with that, and then I combine this with that, what’s the outcome?” And I think my thesis is a testament to that too. 

[00:20:49] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Tell me, tell me, yes, tell the listeners about your thesis. If you — give us your elevator pitch. 

[00:20:57] Marielena André: Yeah, in a very short way, because it’s a very weird thesis. My thesis really was, um, I was dealing with a lot of, um, skin boundary, um, issues through my thesis, um, through the process of grad school, really. Um, and looking at, um, how trauma layers through that. And I decided, I decided to grow, or, I’m into sustainable design. So I’m a material artist. I do textile design for a living. But kind of, um, parallel to that, I’m really interested in sustainable design. So I read somewhere, of course, that I can create my own leathers, which grows like a skin, like layer by layer, via kombucha. And I mean, this, this process, I grew it for several months before I was even thinking that this could be my thesis. And I, I wound up growing batches of leathers. But in the process of that, because it’s, you know, environmentally reactive, these leathers failed on me. And initially I was like, oh, “I’m going to make this body suit of like kombucha leather, and it’s going to be awesome.” And then, when I really thought about how long it would have taken to grow all of that, to make that possible, you know, you kind of tailor things back. But again, that was that willingness to fail, a), and to figure it out and learn and see what I can make and then play with what I can make and see what could become of it. Um, it’s a very bad synopsis of what my thesis is about. Um, but it was really looking at, um, boundaries from a, from a natural to a technological world and how those, those aspects come into play through design. 

[00:23:02] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, the connection. There were a lot of odd things when, when I was reading it, but one of the biggest is when you made the connection of how we now from a virtual reality world are so obsessed with skins and having a faux version of ourself, um, online.

All from your research of, of boundaries in skin and in your own, in the real world and making that connection to me, it was just like, whoa, that is what we’re doing. The same issues that maybe we struggle with, you know, in the eighties when there wasn’t virtual reality, look at what we’re doing online with it.

And I was just bringing that there. 

[00:23:48] Marielena André: Yeah. And I think, I think my, um, my career really explores, like, how layered that can be. The trajectory of my career really explores how, how that, how you can stack skill to skill or how you can, um, just have different versions of yourself. I think we all have like a work version, a mom version, a wife, spouse version. And you know, how do those people or those personas come together and not to say that one is real or one is fake. They’re just different. 

[00:24:29] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you, you said you, you have a lot of jobs. Tell me about all your jobs.

[00:24:37] Marielena André: Currently —

[00:24:40] Lorilee Rager: Get out your list. 

[00:24:43] Marielena André: Um, so I, I work full-time for a sleepwear designer, um, as a textile artist.

I, um, I’ve been there — so I started freelancing there, pre-pandemic. I had been there for years as a freelancer, and, after the pandemic kind of slowed down, I, I got pulled on full-time, so I’m now full-time there. Um, it’s the first full-time job that I’ve had in nine years. 

[00:25:09] Lorilee Rager: Oh, wow, yeah.

[00:25:10] Marielena André: So it had been awhile. Um, I run a, uh, graphic design, website building, whatever you graphic needs, textile arts, graphic needs you need me to be, um, I run a business on the side, Taktile Design Studio. Right now, um, we’re working on a little bit more website-based and marketing-based stuff. So I have that on the side with my husband — we’re co-partners.

Um, I illustrate for Atmosphere Press. So I do jacket covers for Atmosphere Press. Um, I also am on my local democratic committee, which is a really big time commitment actually, mainly because, um, so I was elected. It’s a four year — it’s a three-year term, and I was elected via my community, and, um, it’s all serving democratic initiatives.

Get out the vote kind of thing, local candidates, but I run the website. I built the website, I run the website and all of the social media for it.

[00:26:21] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That’s another job. 

[00:26:23] Marielena André: Oh yeah. It’s an entirely other job. Um, and then on top of that, I, um, I started a women’s — I co-started a women’s soccer league. So we’re, we’re full force. We’re still playing outside. I played a game last night. 

[00:26:38] Lorilee Rager: Oh my gosh – wow! What was the weather like? 

[00:26:42] Marielena André: Oh, we ha– we were supposed to have like 53 degrees yesterday.

Um, so it was about that. It got a little windy towards the end, but we’re now, like, on a full field playing soccer for an hour and, you know, 15 minutes. Um, so yeah, a lot going on. Oh. And then I teach.

[00:27:00] Lorilee Rager: I was like, you didn’t even mention that you teach. 

[00:27:03] Marielena André: I just started teaching this semester at LIM. I previously was at FIT and then pandemic and grad school was all happening, so I kind of stopped adjuncting there. And I just, um, started with LIM where I’m teaching graphic design for the first time with, like, a graphic design pedagogy. Prior to that, I’d been doing textile design. 

[00:27:27] Lorilee Rager: Gotcha. Gotcha. Wow, uh, what else? That’s, I mean, sheesh! 

[00:27:33] Marielena André: Mom. 

[00:27:34] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, mom, wife, a daughter. 

[00:27:38] Marielena André: Yeah, wife, daughter. 

[00:27:40] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, lots of, lots of jobs, lots of hats.

[00:27:43] Marielena André: Lots of balls in the air. 

[00:27:44] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:27:45] Marielena André: You know, if I can find just, like, one job that allowed me to use my artistic skills, that allowed me to teach and train others, that allowed me to deal with social justice. And maybe kick a soccer ball around [laughter]… Like, “Hello! Come find me!” 

[00:28:06] Lorilee Rager: And make some children some food. There’s your perfect one job. 

[00:28:11] Marielena André: Yeah, well actually, my husband does most of the cooking. 

[00:28:14] Lorilee Rager: Oh, okay. Okay. 

[00:28:16] Marielena André: I should, I should not say most anymore. He does all of the cooking. Yeah, pretty much all of the cooking. Pre, pre-grad school, I did, like, Sunday cooking cook days and he would help me and we would have meals for the week.

We, we don’t eat out. Like, we do take-out one night a week. Um, and then once I got to grad school, it was just, it was just way too much. I was working full time, school full time, you know, still trying to do all of those other things on the side. Um, so he took over the cooking. 

[00:28:47] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:28:47] Marielena André: It’s stuck and it’s lovely. He’s a much better cook than I am.

[00:28:53] Lorilee Rager: I do not like cooking. 

[00:28:55] Marielena André: I think the family’s very happy. 

[00:28:57] Lorilee Rager: It’s a win-win for everybody. 

[00:28:59] Marielena André: It is, it is. 

[00:29:01] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, that’s funny because that’s what I was going to ask about is. Lord knows, we were all trying to figure out how to juggle all the things. And there’s something about, uh, all the graphic designers I know, and the creatives that have that entrepreneurial spirit and, and want to research all the time and make, um, and support causes that we’re passionate about and use our creativity and our voice or ways to help other people that don’t know how. People that aren’t makers. You, you seem to do all that. And then, in the midst of it, you go back to school. Um, tell me in the midst of all of that, your thoughts on, and I really want for our listeners to know, um, how do you decide to try something new that you haven’t done before?

Like going to grad school when you’re kind of in this, um, the chaos of everyday life, you know? Um, but I was just wondering, like, as you said, you’re being a mom and entrepreneur, you work full-time, you know, all the things that you do. Um, how, how do you decide to try something new and fit it in?

[00:30:17] Marielena André: Well, I function really well on very little sleep, so there was that. And I don’t mean that with, like, a badge of honor. I know that’s so cliche to, like, oh yeah, pat myself on the back. I don’t, you know, I don’t need much sleep, but that’s true. I don’t, I, I always have energy to spare. I don’t know where it comes from.

[00:30:38] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s good. 

[00:30:39] Marielena André: Um, I guess that’s just my jam, but trying something new, never really was a point of fear. I think fear really leads people not to go for the things that they want to try. I knew that if I wanted to become a teacher full time, which at the time when I started grad school, the education system was very different. I mean, this pandemic really threw everything up in the air and turned it upside down. But, I was really enjoying teaching. I had been in a career as an art director in textiles for X amount, 15 years or whatever. And that was becoming very rinse, repeat. It was static. It was doing the same things and dealing with the same personalities over and over again, and I just knew that I couldn’t continue on that path. And I think that’s when I made the decision that something has to change here. Either I need to change my direction, or I need to be catapulted into something completely different. And I really loved teaching, and I knew that in order to attempt to do this full time, um, I had to go back and, and get another degree.

In the process of trying to figure out what that looked like or what program that would be — I’m not a graphic designer by trade at all. I threw myself into graphic design from that curiosity. I started to get clients who were like, “oh, can you make this flier for me?” “Can you make this brochure?” “Or can you, you know, fix my website?”

And it was all like, oh, sure. Alright, can you give me an extra week? Like, I’ll figure it out. Um, so for me it was really, you know, the advice I would say is don’t be, don’t be afraid to try something new. I understand that there’s a certain amount of risk that comes with that, you know, when, um, for example, when I quit being an art director and textile designer, I basically turned to my husband.

I was, I was unemployed. We had just moved into this house with twins. I was like, we need to support this lifestyle. Like, what am I going — what are we going to do? And that’s pretty much how my freelance business started because I was interviewing at these fashion houses. I’m like, I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore.

I don’t want to do this anymore. And he’s like, so don’t. Just don’t, and he gave me that window to say, I trust that we will be able to figure this out and it’s not that he was making, like, bajillions of money or I was making bajillions of money. We just knew that, together, with my skill set, like, I’d make it work.

And we did. So I think anytime you’re trying something new, it’s just, just go for it because it’s going to feed your soul in a way that nothing else can, when you’re doing things for yourself or when you’re advancing your skills or your knowledge for yourself, um, because it’s, it’s so important to our growth as humans. 

[00:34:04] Lorilee Rager: Mhm — yeah. I completely agree. 

[00:34:07] Marielena André: I think I — did I answer that question?

[00:34:09] Lorilee Rager: You did. You did beautifully. it really all comes full circle. As you know, we would say that what, what we do as humans, and especially as creatives, is, is we, we have something in us that needs to be fed, that needs to nourish us.

And, and if we don’t listen to that, we are, you know, dare I say, miserable or stuck. And if we don’t listen to that gut feeling or that little voice in us saying, you know, for whatever reason, I can’t do this anymore, this is just not, this is no longer filling my cup or whatever it may be. Um, and taking that risk.

Is– it is, it’s scary, but it’s so necessary. And living in that fear based, um, scarcity mindset is– it’s just, it’s just not a way that, that I’m built to live, like, to live miserable or unhappy. I want to make, and I want to work with like-minded people, um, and I love researching and sharing my knowledge and I didn’t even know myself that that equaled being a teacher.

I kind of stumbled into that accidentally myself. Um, and I think, I think that’s what we did. I think we took, I think we took a leap of faith doing something like going to VCFA. 

[00:35:41] Marielena André: Yeah, I think, um, you know, we, we can surprise ourselves with the amount of bandwidth we have. I would say when I was working in corporate, um, my, my, my pre-kids versus my after-kids, I was working in corporate, um, you know, I had no time for family. I was frustrated always. Um, I. And I did this one thing. I did this one thing from, you know, nine to…eight.

[00:36:14] Lorilee Rager: No, Dolly Parton sings 9 to 5. That’s not right. 

[00:36:17] Marielena André: Yeah, no, that didn’t work like that. I didn’t have that experience. But, um, you know, even with just working that one thing or just doing that one thing, I had the bandwidth for nothing other. I had no bandwidth for myself. And I don’t know if that came from making space for myself or making space for others, but I, my time is, now, with all of the things that I do now, you know, I’m not designing a jacket cover every day, so you know that there are things that kind of happen in feast or famine, as it goes. Um, But the time and bandwidth that I have for others is very different now. And I think that’s because I took on this other thing, which allowed me to expand and figure out different ways, um, to put myself out there. Yeah, and I think, as a result being, um, and, and I think I can attribute this to the program too.

I think, had I chosen a different program for grad school that, um, holistic sense of, um, making space for yourself, making space for your art, making space for the things that are important to you. I think that’s one major takeaway from the program that we did. Um, you know, even with all that, when I speak to the women that I am friendly with, they’re like, “when do you have time for all of this? Like, when does all of this happen” And “how are you there for your kids?” And how, you know, how, how are you present?” And I think, you know, when you have a lot on your plate, you just, you make the time. You make– you prioritize for what’s important. 

[00:37:59] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. You really–

[00:38:01] Marielena André: I think it takes a little bit of throwing yourself out into the wilderness to really figure out what is important.

[00:38:09] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Oh yes. Throwing yourself into the wilderness. That’s exactly what grad school felt like. And it’s, it’s amazing how that program, exactly like you were saying, how we had these really, really busy lives before, and then we added doing grad school, and it, but it made us get more clear on what was important to us.

And yeah, I’m doing more now than I ever did, but I’m doing what I really care about and I’m doing it in, in my version as well as I possibly can. And, um, it’s, it’s just, I don’t– like you, earlier, you said easy, and then you changed it. It oddly feels easy. The corporate world, um, that I was in also, in sitting in that cubicle, I had no bandwidth to do anything else once I got home and I was doing the same thing for the same company every day. And now the fact that I have all these plates spinning and irons in the fire, but they’re all ones that I picked, that I put there and can, can manage somehow based on the program. 

[00:39:25] Marielena André: Yeah. 

[00:39:26] Lorilee Rager: It’s hard to wrap your head around. 

[00:39:29] Marielena André: It can be, you know, I think, um, I would like to do less. I’d like to have something that does a little more all-encompassing of the things that I, you know, love to do. I’m still, I’m still finding myself. I don’t have it figured out. I think, I think I’ll wind up landing in a space, um, that, you know, makes sense, um, for my family and my family structure. I struggle with, um, not time management, but really being able to have the time to do all the things that I want to do. And I’ve made like, like I’ve made negotiations with my employer. So, like, currently I said, I leave, I leave school. I leave. Sorry. I leave work. Um, half a day on Mondays, for example.

So I do half a day in the office on Monday, and then I dart into the city. I work in Jersey City, New Jersey, um, and I dart into the city and I teach till five and then I’m back, then I, you know, travel back home. But, as part of that negotiation, I said, well, I’ll work nights. You know, I’ll come, I’ll login because of the pandemic, it’s made us have the ability to work from home now. Um, so I only go into the office two or three times a week, and, when I’m home, I can log hours differently than if I had to physically sit in an office. And I think, um, a lot of, for all the bad that the pandemic brought, um, it, it also brought a lot of flexibility with work and I think there was, and there still are, um, trust issues with employees and employers, um, in terms of, “oh, are they really working from home?” I mean, I’ve heard horror stories of, you know, companies checking IP addresses to make sure when you’re logged in and like all that silly stuff. 

[00:41:36] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:41:36] Marielena André: Um, fortunately I have an employer that trusts me. I’ve built that trust over, over a long period of time, but it’s definitely changed the way we work and the way we’re able to work in a good way. In a really good way that allows us to kind of put ourselves out there in different ways, that allows us to, if you, if you choose to, um, take on something else or something creative on the side. Um, I think that would be my, my– I’m trying, I’m always trying to get my kids to, like, try new things. It’s a hard thing. Um, but I want them to, like, well, for example, my daughter, she loves anime. And I was like, well, why don’t we take an anime drawing class together? She was like, “well, I don’t really, you know, what, if I’m not good or whatever,” I’m like, “you’re not going to be good. You’re not going to be good out of the gate.”

Like, just like–

[00:42:35] Lorilee Rager: None of us are. 

[00:42:36] Marielena André: You’re not going to be perfect. It’s a learning process. Like, just, it’s okay. We’ll be terrible together. But yeah, I’ve never drawn anime before, so I’m probably not going to be that good. 

[00:42:48] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:42:48] Marielena André: You know, so it’s like putting those things into perspective of just trying and being okay to fail.

[00:42:55] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That’s a really, really beautiful way to put it, um, because the way the pandemic has changed, where we can work remote, it’s it’s strange again, it’s created this space that, um, I guess, I didn’t know I had to also learn something new or try something new, or it also made me want to do something off of a screen work more than.

You know, because we’re on them so much with work and at home and all the things. So yeah, doing a drawing class or, I’m, badly, right now, trying to teach myself guitar. But I love it because it doesn’t have to be plugged in. Doesn’t have to be charged. Don’t have to download an app and you’re just, you know, and you’re out of your head, you’re using your hands and I don’t, it makes me laugh that I’m like, here I am, similar to you, with a lot of hats to wear and teaching. And I’m like, and I’m adding 15 minutes a day to play guitar, but it’s fun, and it’s joy, and it’s a risk, and I’m bad at it, but it’s so much fun. And I just forget that we’re supposed to also have fun in this busy life too. 

[00:44:05] Marielena André: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s not always easy to feel like we’re– well, I’m now feeling like work is fun.

It didn’t always feel as fun. And I don’t think that’s pandemic related. I think that was just my shift that happened with grad school. And I’m definitely having more fun now because I don’t think I’m taking myself as seriously. 

[00:44:28] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:44:29] Marielena André: Um, and I am– for as much as I want to, like, put my art– I don’t put my art out there enough.

Um, and it’s not because I’m being precious about it. It’s really just, I don’t have the time to really put myself out there, but, um, I work on like these little stupid, like writing things and like, and maybe eventually they’ll culminate to something. Or maybe they won’t, maybe they’re just for me and that’s okay.

Um, I think grad school had really helped me, um, not feel like everything had to be perfect and everything had to be precious and everything, you know, I’m much more willing to take a piece of paper, write something down and then, or draw something and throw it out. Yeah, just rip it up and be like, yep. Okay. Got that off my chest and now I can move on. 

[00:45:30] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:45:32] Marielena André: And that’s, what’s really changed the, the ability to just let go of it. Let go of things. 

[00:45:42] Lorilee Rager: That’s a really good lesson to learn and to hold on to, for sure. 

[00:45:47] Marielena André: Follow us, we have a lot of lessons 

[00:45:50] Lorilee Rager: That’s right! Follow us for more great tips!

When you — we’re figuring it out, you know, we’re, we’re, uh, living the questions, um, as Rilke says, Yeah. Well, all right, well, let’s wrap up since we’re almost at an hour of your wonderful time, which is very precious. Um, and the last question, cause, man, we’ve, we’ve actually covered so much goodness. We can pull back from what we’ve already said or let me know what would you leave in the Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:46:32] Marielena André: I mean, we’ve been talking a lot about curiosity. I, I, I definitely, I, I say, be curious about what you’re learning. Um, but more so, I think the– embrace the imperfection. Embrace the thought that you’re not going to be perfect the first time you pick something up. You’re not going to remember that story you read necessarily if you’re new to diving into a new topic, um, and allow yourself the ability to grow in that. Allow yourself the ability to make mistakes in that. Um, I left grad school thinking constantly, I mean, daily reminding myself, um, to just give myself a little bit of grace.

[00:47:26] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:47:27] Marielena André: You know, for, for all the times that, and this, this was like yesterday afternoon where I was like, I need to figure out what I’m doing in my life. This is too much. I can’t take it. I gotta get off this hamster wheel. Like, why can’t I just find one job that allows me to do all these things? And for all the times that I do that, I always have to– I– not always. I have, since grad school stopped and said, you know what? You’re doing things you love, the rest will fall into place. It’s okay. Like, just breathe. Like, I’m constantly telling myself to breathe. You know, I– don’t layer things on top of yourself that don’t need to be there. You know, I can beat myself up about not working out every day, but, if I’m able to work out on Tuesday and on Saturday and maybe this week, I, I can’t do Wednesday or Thursday, I’m not going to beat myself up about it because I know that I’m doing so many other things to support my wellbeing and my mental clarity. So don’t beat yourself up. 

[00:48:37] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. Well, be, be curiously imperfect. Imperfect. 

[00:48:44] Marielena André: Be curiously imperfect. 

[00:48:46] Lorilee Rager: And embrace that. I love that. And Miss uh soccer league playing or a game, um, you know, last night, there’s your exercise for the week. Check that box off. 

[00:48:56] Marielena André: Oh, I did like 75 minutes of like, high, high-test active. I play midfield. So…woo! My buttcheeks hurt today. 

[00:49:05] Lorilee Rager: I was going to say, you’re going to be sore. You need a soak.

I love it. Well, this was perfect. Uh, this was imperfect. This was perfectly imperfect. 

[00:49:16] Marielena André: Perfectly imperfect.

[00:49:18] Lorilee Rager: Thank you so much for the time today. I really appreciate it, M, and it’s so good to see you. 

[00:49:23] Marielena André: Thanks for having me. Yeah, really good to see you too.

[00:49:32] Lorilee Rager: Thank you again, Marielena, for keeping it real and sharing about how you look at life and design. And thank you for tuning in to Ground and Gratitude. You can find previous episodes and more info about the show at groundandgratitude.com. Join me next time for more honest conversations, exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude. Ground and Gratitude is produced by Kelly Drake and Anna McClain.

[00:50:24] Marielena André: Ciao! 

[00:50:25] Lorilee Rager: Ciao!

Ep 14: Getting Real About Depression with Laura Watkins

.Getting Real About Depression with Laura Watkins

Getting Real About Depression with Laura Watkins

Lorilee sits down with Laura Watkins — entrepreneur, licensed cosmetologist, mom, and owner of Pure Salon Spa in Louisville, Kentucky. Laura and Lorilee discuss their respective journeys with mental health and what it truly means to practice self care, especially when we’re struggling. Laura shares her personal experience with depression and the many treatments she tried to address her mental health. She emphasizes how essential it is to have a dialogue about mental illness with our friends, families, and loved ones so that everybody experiencing difficulty knows that they’re not alone.

Highlights: 

  • On Laura’s playlist: The Chicks
  • Giving ourselves grace and allowing our brains time and space to rest
  • How do we know if we’re depressed?
  • Rewriting the stigmas and negative narratives we’ve been taught about mental health
  • The power of sharing our stories
  • Working and parenting with depression
  • The brain/gut connection
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

🎧 Listen wherever you get your podcasts 🎧 OR on Spotify or Apple.

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Episode 14 – Laura Watkins Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives. 

Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender.

My guest today is Laura Watkins. Laura is a fiercely strong woman, an entrepreneur, a licensed cosmetologist, and an Aveda salon spa owner, and a mom. Her salon Pure Salon Spa has won many awards and Laura prides herself on teamwork and professionalism. Recently, Laura went public with her battle with depression. It was her openness and honesty that was why she was one of the first people I talked to about my own struggles and sobriety. In this episode, we’re going to get really honest about mental. And I want you to hear me, if you resonate with anything in this episode, check out our show notes for resources to find help. Now let’s get started. 

Welcome Laura. Thank you so much for joining me today and for being on the Ground and Gratitude podcast. 

[00:02:12] Laura Watkins: You’re welcome. It is my pleasure. 

[00:02:15] Lorilee Rager: I don’t know, we, we have to fight over that. It’s both of us, a lot of pleasure in this conversation. So, all right. Well, I want to just dive into my first question of, what song is on repeat on your playlist today? Got any good jams? 

[00:02:34] Laura Watkins: Um, let’s see. I got ready for today with a background of the Dixie Chicks playing.

[00:02:42] Lorilee Rager: Oh, nice. I haven’t thought about the Chicks in a while. 

[00:02:46] Laura Watkins: Oh yeah, that’s right. There are the Chicks now. But yes, I am, I don’t know if everybody knows this, but I’m actually the fifth Dixie Chick.

[00:02:54] Lorilee Rager: Oh. So I was about to say, I am a Dixie Chick, actually. 

[00:02:59] Laura Watkins: That’s right. I saw you there. I saw you there.

[00:03:02] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. I do, in college, oh my gosh. It was, Wide Open Spaces was my go to karaoke song.

[00:03:10] Laura Watkins: They wrote that for me. That’s why I went to California. 

[00:03:16] Lorilee Rager: I got as far as Texas in college, but then I came back. Oh, I love it. Ooh, that’s good. That’s good. Good choice. Good choice. I love, I love their harmony. I named my dog, um, Emily after, you know, one of the band members. Yeah.

[00:03:32] Laura Watkins: I did not know that. That is really cool.

[00:03:36] Lorilee Rager: So, fun fact. All right, nice. This is a super positive like this, this makes me feel really good to think about them. So good choice, good choice. I approve. Well, okay. So, what I’d love to hear a little bit about is having you on here today, of course, for all of your phenomenal-ness of being an entrepreneur, a licensed cosmetologist, I’m an Aveda salon owner, a mom, and how professional you are. You’re known, like award-winning, for teamwork and all these amazing things that we all know and share on social media. But kind of, what’s the biggest important thing that I think you shared is your mental health journey and your mental health struggles. So yeah, I’d like to, to just dive right in to, you know, what does it even mean when we say mental health? And tell us a little about your story. Is that okay? 

[00:04:35] Laura Watkins: Sure. That’s a great question and a good place to start about mental health. Because I mean, I think I was probably in my 40’s before I ever really thought about what mental health is or even, um, came to realize that maybe my mental health was suffering. Um, so, and I think we’ve done a better job over the last couple of years. I think people are becoming more aware of mental health. They’re placing more importance on mental health. Um, for me personally, mental health has now come to mean, am I in a deep battle with depression or not? Um, But I think it’s different for everybody. I mean, I think I evaluate my mental health on what are the quality of my thoughts right now? Am I talking really negatively to myself or am I giving myself grace and trying to be positive? Um, how often am I completely turning my brain off? You know, we go to sleep every night and our bodies need that restfulness to repair and regenerate and all that kind of thing. But I think it’s really important to concentrate in the waking hours of when you’re on purpose letting your brain rest. And whether that’s by going for a run or a walk or a massage or whatever your method of taking care of your brain is. So, so those are, I don’t know if that that helps. So those are some random thoughts I have about what mental health is. 

[00:06:16] Lorilee Rager: When you said, like, you’re, that awareness of, what are you saying to yourself is something that really resonated with me. It kind of gave me chills for a minute, um, because I don’t think that’s something we pause and think about when we’re in the middle of the day, in the middle of chaos, and in the middle of either running late or, you know, in a past life with me hung over. And that’s when you talk about beating yourself up and, and talking ugly to myself as I’d call it. Yeah, that’s, that’s absolutely makes sense that that’s part of mental health. 

Um, and then you mentioned, you know, evaluating from a depression standpoint, um, this, this question came up thinking about our conversation today, and it may not be the simple to answer, but I also was like, you know, how do you know if you’re depressed? How do you, how do you know? It’s not like you just have a “check yes or no” situation. 

[00:07:15] Laura Watkins: Exactly, exactly. Well, and if, if you’re like, I used to be, you know, I thought depressed meant you were weak, or you were, um, you know, you weren’t trying hard enough, or you were just wallowing in your feelings and you need to just pull yourself up and feel better. Like, I just thought depression, I didn’t understand what depression meant until it, I mean, literally almost took me down and out.

[00:07:45] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Tell us about that. 

[00:07:48] Laura Watkins: I did find over the pandemic, um, I follow a lot of, uh, mental health resources. Now there’s one in Louisville, it’s Mental Health Lou. Um, NAMI is another nationwide, um, organization for mental health. And they released this chart, and I can send it to you, um, and it’s like five different columns. And the first column is thriving, and it says things like, um, “I’m excited to be alive,” “I love getting together with my friends and family,” “I think positive thoughts,” “I feel successful at work.” Um, you know, just very positive things. And then it goes all the way to crisis or, um, you know, “I, I’m thinking about hurting myself for others,” “I have stopped going to work.” I, you know, and it lists all of those things that if you are experiencing them, then you probably are in crisis and you need to get help. So that kind of helps me now that, now that I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, I have to do a lot of self evaluation. When I’m having an off day or a bad day or a sad day, you know, is this normal, so to speak, is this a normal bad day? Am I just a little tired or, or am I spiraling back down into a depressive episode? And so that’s kind of been my, I’ve had to learn to do that. Because for the last six years I went through a lot of ups and then a lot of really, really low downs. And so I’ve had to kind of reteach myself what is normal for me when it comes to bad days.

[00:09:38] Lorilee Rager: Gotcha. Okay. The checks and balances. Um, again, it goes back to, yeah, what are you thinking? How are you feeling? How are you talking to yourself? That is never been something I was ever taught or any human being, predominantly the females who influenced me in my life, ever ever told me to do or, or taught or expressed or. It was exactly, just work harder, put your big girl panties on, and suck it up buttercup. Yeah. You know, it could always be worse, and you know, and all this kind of bullshit that we’re all taught, um, and from my experience. So, um, yeah, I wanted to know if you’d be willing to share a little bit about your depression story. Um, and tell us kind of where maybe it began and yeah. 

[00:10:35] Laura Watkins: Sure. Well, I used to think that, um, mental health, if you had a mental illness or you were diagnosed with some type of mental illness, that meant that you were crazy. Um, you know, I have these impressions or these visions of just crazy people. Those are the kinds of people that are mentally ill. They’re the homeless guy on the corner that rant and raves all day long to himself, like that’s mentally ill. There’s no possible way I could be mentally ill. Um, or I thought, okay, well, people who fall into depression, they are maybe trying to recover from childhood trauma or they’ve been, um, abused by their husband or they’ve been raped or, you know, like really, really tragic 

[00:11:27] Lorilee Rager: Some major, yeah.

[00:11:29] Laura Watkins: Yes. Um, but that is not the case with me. Um, it was in 2015, my husband and I were coming home. He was in the military. We were coming home. He was getting ready to retire. We were back in Louisville, where I was born and raised. We’d bought this really great house in this area of town that I was really excited to live in. My kids were going to go to great schools. Like, everything was great, and from the outside looking in my life is pretty good. I mean, and I just felt off. It just didn’t, I couldn’t get excited about anything, and to the point where after we were here and we were kind of moving in, my husband, stopped me one day and he said, “look, I don’t know what’s going on, but something’s not right with you. Like I thought you would be more happy. We’re here. Like we’ve done it. We’re done with the moving, we’re done with the deployments. We’re done. Why aren’t you happier?” And I couldn’t, I had no idea. I couldn’t answer that question. I just knew I didn’t feel right. And always before, like when he would be deployed, I would have some anxiety. Um, and I would go to my primary care doctor, they would prescribe Lexapro, I would take it for a little while. He’d come home things would, you know, even out and I wouldn’t take it anymore. So that was my first thought. Oh, okay. I’ve tried Lexapro before, went to the doctor, got a prescription. It helped for a little bit. Stopped working. And after kind of two iterations with my primary care doctor of trying something, it not working. She said that she wasn’t really comfortable with trying to treat it anymore. And she wanted me to see a psychiatrist. And before that time, I didn’t really know what the difference was between a psychologist, a psychiatry, um, a therapist. I really didn’t even know. 

[00:13:29] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I can’t spell most of those words. Yeah. 

[00:13:34] Laura Watkins: Um, but a psychiatrist is someone who specializes in diagnosing and prescribing medications for those diagnoses. Um, so I, I saw one of them and I kind of started this pattern for several years where I would try a medication or a combination of medications. They might work a little bit, they may not, they may work for a period of three or four months and then they, then they would stop working. Um, and what happened was the good, feeling good and normal times got less and less, and the feeling not good and spiraling downward into this pit of depression got longer and worse. And, um, to the point where in the fall of 2019, I was pretty desperate. I, I stopped going to work. Um, I had to have, my mom or my dad and my husband would take turns kind of getting me through the day, just with daily tasks. They would have to tell me simple things like, “when’s the last time you took a shower?” I mean, it was, it was dangerously bad. And so I started trying some different treatments, um, because I just, the medication was not working. So I did something called trans cranial, wait a minute, it’s TMS. Transcranial magnetic stimulation. That is done in a psychiatrist office. You lay back in kind of like a dental chair and they put this machine on the side of your head and it does this kind of tapping on your head. It’s, it’s magnetic. So it’s tapping and it’s magnetizing, I guess. And it kind of, it’s supposed to stimulate the area of your brain, that controls mood. That was every, every day, five days a week, for six weeks. I did that. 

[00:15:37] Lorilee Rager: Oh my goodness gracious. Okay. 

[00:15:40] Laura Watkins: Yes, yes. Um, we’re not really sure if that worked or not. Um, about four to six weeks after that, I started feeling better. But also during that time I tried a new medication. So I don’t know if it was like a delayed response or if it was the medication. Not sure, but that didn’t last. So then I tried ketamine infusions, and 

[00:16:05] Lorilee Rager: What is that? 

[00:16:06] Laura Watkins: Well, ketamine is a very powerful drug that you can get on the street, I guess. I don’t know. I’m I’ve, I’ve never done drugs, so I didn’t know, I’ve never been high before I did this. But basically this was going into a psychiatrist’s office three days a week for two weeks. I would get hooked up to an IV and I would be on a ketamine drip for 30 minutes. And I would get higher than a kite. Just floating and, I mean, crazy.

[00:16:41] Lorilee Rager: Oh, wow. Okay. Okay. 

[00:16:43] Laura Watkins: But in some study somewhere it was helping people with depression. And so I, I thought, okay, let’s give it a try. But unfortunately that did not work. And so then, um, that psychiatrist put me in touch with a psychiatrist, his name is Timothy Burke, and I know it at the time, but he was getting ready to retire. And so he could have very well not taken me as a patient, you know? Um, but he spent two and a half hours with my husband and I talking about my medical history, um, medications I tried, treatments I had tried and he, at the end of it, said, you know, I think you would be a really good candidate for ECT, which is electro convulsive therapy.

[00:17:33] Lorilee Rager: Okay. So he’s, what doctor spends two and a half hours with you? Like that is unheard of these days, you know. That is, that is just incredible to hear that that moment happened. The synchronicities of all that you tried and tried and tried, and then you get this retired doctor who spends this time with you.

[00:17:55] Laura Watkins: Yup. 

[00:17:56] Lorilee Rager: Oh, okay. Okay. So ECT, you said. 

[00:17:59] Laura Watkins: Yes. 

[00:18:00] Lorilee Rager: What is that? 

[00:18:00] Laura Watkins: Yes. Okay. So that’s electroconvulsive therapy. It is scared me to death to think about possibly doing that. 

[00:18:10] Lorilee Rager: The electric shock, like the old school, scary TV shows, black and white. 

[00:18:16] Laura Watkins: Yes, like convulsing and electrocuting and yeah. 

[00:18:20] Lorilee Rager: The stereotype around that is very scary sounding. Yes, okay. 

[00:18:23] Laura Watkins: Yes. And I don’t know if he knows this, but it’s not like people are posting on Facebook every day, hey, who’s tried ECT? What can you tell me? 

[00:18:32] Lorilee Rager: No, ma’am no, ma’am, I’ve not seen anybody talk about their electric shock therapy treatments, no. I mean, it’s not like a plumber recommendation, no ma’am. 

[00:18:42] Laura Watkins: No. Nope. So again, in this two and a half hours, he explained, you know, that, that it is not like anything like that anymore. It’s very sophisticated now. We put you to sleep. You don’t even feel it. Um, it’s not a violent shaking type thing. It’s a very mild seizure that occurs, um, that you probably wouldn’t even know was happening if you weren’t looking for it because it’s like a slight twitch of your hand or your foot or something. Um, and then, so when, once that happens, basically the chemicals in your brain are reset. You know, everything comes up to the proper level, it gets filled up. 

[00:19:31] Lorilee Rager: Like rebooting a computer in a sense? 

[00:19:34] Laura Watkins: That’s absolutely correct. Yes. 

[00:19:36] Lorilee Rager: Oh, wow. Okay. Okay. 

[00:19:39] Laura Watkins: Yep. So the first time I did it, I had to do six treatments and after the third treatment, bam. I mean, it was like somebody switched a light switch and all of a sudden I felt like myself again. It was a miracle. 

[00:19:57] Lorilee Rager: Oh my gosh. 

[00:19:58] Laura Watkins: It was an absolute miracle. 

[00:20:00] Lorilee Rager: So how often were these treatments? You said six total. 

[00:20:04] Laura Watkins: So the first regimen was, um, every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for two weeks. 

[00:20:12] Lorilee Rager: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Two weeks. Okay.

[00:20:15] Laura Watkins: Yep. And then after that everybody’s different, you know, here I, I was asking all these questions, like, how long am I going to have to do this? And, you know, what’s next? And am I going to have to do this for the rest of my life? And I hate, this is the part I hate about the brain and mental health, there are no specific answers. Everybody is different. And some people have to do it on a maintenance basis for every eight weeks for the rest of their lives. Some people can work themselves up. So I’m, I just had a treatment on Monday and we’re going to try 16 weeks this next time. Um, so it may be that eventually I can go without having ECT. Um, we just, we really don’t know until, until I live it and figure it out myself. 

[00:21:10] Lorilee Rager: Okay. I am sure there’s so many, so many more questions that I should be answering, or asking right now as I just process it all. Because it’s just, it’s phenomenal the way you tried constantly new ideas in ways to get help, because, because you just knew something was off and you fought for yourself. I think you were an advocate for yourself and of course your husband noticing it as well and your family helping, but I just, I really, really commend you, when you look at the mental health journey and what we all go through when we are struggling, we, we’re so desperate to still live. And, and, and get help and it’s not easy. And, um, it, you, you make it sound easy. I’m not going to lie, you just made it sound really simple and easy. But there are no, you know, as I say, magic elixirs or quick fixes or a list of instructions or a how to guide to life in general, much less mental health and depression. And, you know, why, why don’t we talk about it more is what I don’t understand, because 

[00:22:24] Laura Watkins: Well, that’s what, and that’s, I thought so much about this when I finally got back to living, so to speak, and feeling good and, you know, I, I reflected a lot on, look, nobody’s talking about this and if this can happen to somebody like me, who hasn’t had any trauma, who’s not been beat my whole life or, um. You know, I, I have I’m from a wonderful loving family. I have a wonderfully loving, supportive husband. I have great children. I have a business, everything I’ve wanted in my life, I’ve gotten. So if something to this magnitude can happen to me, it’s happening to other people. It’s just, there’s so much stigma around mental health and mental illness. People are afraid and ashamed to talk about it. 

[00:23:19] Lorilee Rager: Sure, sure. Fear. 

[00:23:22] Laura Watkins: Oh, the fear and the guilt and the shame. I mean, I, I’m in therapy now with the therapist trying to accept that this is my life. This is me. This is what, what I’ve been dealt. Because I have such a hard time, when I’m starting to spiral down, I have such a hard time admitting it, I wait until I’m pretty much desperate until I even admit to somebody, hey, I’m struggling. Because again, the thoughts, I don’t want to be a burden, people are going to get tired of hearing about this, they’re going to think I’m a crazy lady like I thought everybody else was who had this. Um, and then I just decided, well, I mean, if I just start talking about it, it’s not like I’m, I don’t think I can change the world yet. I’d love to be able to think I could do that, but let’s just start small, right. Let’s just talk to the people around me. I talk with my staff about it. I talk with my kids about it. Um, and it never fails, every time I have the courage to share what I’ve been through and be very honest and transparent about it, some one, some, somebody somehow gets in touch with me and says, thank you so much for sharing your story. I’ve struggled with this. My mom struggles with this. I’m trying to help my son who’s struggling with this. And that just has kind of fueled me keep talking about it. Because somebody out there needs to hear this.

[00:24:57] Lorilee Rager: Please keep talking about it because that is exactly, that’s exactly why I probably had the courage to get sober, is because of your Facebook posts over two years ago. And you are a dear friend. You’re a dear family friend. I mean my sister’s college roommate, and someone who knows our family incredibly well. And I thought I knew you very well. Again, being a graphic designer, I helped you design your brand for your salon. 

[00:25:26] Laura Watkins: Yes. 

[00:25:27] Lorilee Rager: There’s so many ways we connected on so many levels, with family and hardships through family divorces and parents’ stuff, that also just, like you said, didn’t seem like the big T trauma stuff. And, and I thought you were just kicking ass, your salon’s winning awards, you’ve, you know, working on this beautiful brand. And then you post what you’ve been struggling with and that you spent, you know, months or maybe more in the bed. And I was like, what? My friend Laura is, is like this? And I was immediately one of those people sliding in your DM with, you know, over here, scared to death and terrified and not understanding why I felt the same way. Why I was so incredibly unhappy with a dream business and family and home and all the things. You know, and I was like, holy shit. So you sharing is such a ripple effect, a domino effect, or however you want to want to put it is so, so important. It’s why I want to talk about it. It’s why, and I’m fascinated when I began to learn about your ECT treatments and how well they were working for you. And you know, how you just mentioned being just lucky to live, where you live, where they have that treatment and that doctor and, and, um, and everything. 

[00:26:55] Laura Watkins: And my insurance pays for it. I mean, there, there are a lot of times when I have wanted to complain about TRICARE insurance, that’s the military insurance. Sometimes they make things so hard, but I will tell you what, they, TRICARE has done me well during this journey. 

[00:27:15] Lorilee Rager: You don’t often hear that at all, so. And it is mental health help is expensive. And, um, and yes, there are things we can do that, that are free, especially like support groups and community and sharing and having, you know, talks and just being authentically real about it. And unapologetically real, whether it’s good or bad or ugly. And, you know, feeling those feelings. So I just, I find it fascinating. Um, and it makes me, it makes me look at, you know, I feel like we’re all just doing the best we can. We’re all doing what we were taught, um, and, and evaluating how we handle things. And then as parents, how we’re going to parent our children to handle it and, and, and make them better. And I think by sharing your story, it helps you be a better parent and be a better, um, you know, maybe, business owner and, and all that. So that’s where I was going to go next, is tell me a little bit about how just being a mom to your teenagers, and a business owner, military spouse, you’ve mentioned, um, an a dog mom, which I love, um, just, let’s, what’s real talk about working in parenting with depression.

[00:28:44] Laura Watkins: Well, um, you know, I haven’t really had a conversation lately with my oldest, or even my youngest, about what, what it must’ve been like to watch me go through something like that. Um, luckily I had a, I have support. You know, I mentioned my mom and my dad were around, you know, and that’s nothing new. Like we, we’re pretty tight family. So I think, I think my kids knew no matter what they were going to be taken care of. Um, my oldest, as you know, loves to sing. She, she, um, is a very talented vocalist. She actually writes some of her own music and she recently played a song for me that she wrote during that time called “Heal for Your Daughter”. And talk about, right at the core. 

[00:29:44] Lorilee Rager: Oh Lord. 

[00:29:46] Laura Watkins: Yeah. So I know it had made an impression on her for sure. Um, but what I’ve tried to do is speak very freely with them about what I was feeling, how I got myself, help, what they need to look out for as they navigate teenage years and college, and, you know, being women themselves. Um, so, you know, I think the first thing that we’ve done as a family is just talk about it. Seems very simple, but there are so many families not talking about it. 

[00:30:21] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. Growing up, we didn’t talk about anything, but the weather and what fields to report into tomorrow. And that was it. So I get. It was not a conversation on our agenda.

[00:30:37] Laura Watkins: And we, I had a therapist tell me one time, you know, that kids, when you’re raising kids, you should have a college fund and you should have therapy fund because everybody needs therapy. So I’ve been, you know, my teenage daughter is in therapy. I mean, being a teenager is hard. There’s a lot of feelings to process and pressures about deciding what the, her rest of her life is going to be at sixteen years old. 

[00:31:02] Lorilee Rager: Oh hell yes, it’s hard. Hell yes. I don’t want to go back to that one minute. 

[00:31:07] Laura Watkins: No, no. So, you know, I make time to take her to therapy. And, um, you know, when my youngest gets older, if she is struggling with something, it won’t be any big deal for her to go to therapy too. So I think, I think as a parent, just being more aware of when your kids are struggling. And, and sometimes it’s not enough to just be their mom. You know, the I’m sure there’s things that Julia needs to talk about sometimes that she doesn’t want to talk about with me. 

[00:31:39] Lorilee Rager: Sure, sure. Oh that’s good.

[00:31:41] Laura Watkins: And I want her to be able to talk to someone who can help her process, those feelings in a positive, healthy way.

[00:31:48] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. And do you think that, that is so not a conversation mom. Laura mom seven years ago would have ever have had probably with her teenager. 

[00:32:00] Laura Watkins: No, not. I would have said, suck it up. 

[00:32:07] Lorilee Rager: Suck it up buttercup. 

[00:32:08] Laura Watkins: You’re being a whiner. Get out there and do it. 

[00:32:11] Lorilee Rager: Yep. That’s exactly right. And that’s, that’s what I feel about what I think of, I mean, I still, I mean, the secret’s out, none of us know what we’re doing. 

[00:32:21] Laura Watkins: No. 

[00:32:24] Lorilee Rager: But now the secret’s out with my kids. Like I’m not even going to bullshit them. Like, I do not know what I’m doing. And I often tell my teenagers, you know, I’ve never had a 17 year old before. 

[00:32:35] Laura Watkins: I say the same thing. 

[00:32:38] Lorilee Rager: So I don’t know what I’m about to say or what I should or shouldn’t do or what you should or shouldn’t do, but we’re going to talk about it and we’re going to feel it. And it’s like, do you want answers or solutions, or you just want me to listen? Or yes, do you want to go talk to someone? Because that’s okay. I mean, somebody said to me one time, you know, Tom Brady has had a coach in his life, his entire life. Someone has coached him and helped him and been on his team his whole life. And that is okay. And we all deserve that, whether it’s a therapist or a gym trainer or nutritionist or all the above. Or, um, 

[00:33:13] Laura Watkins: Absolutely, absolutely. 

[00:33:15] Lorilee Rager: So that’s just a big gift to me, when you think of something as sad and scary as depression, at the gift it’s given you from a parenting standpoint. It’s just, it’s huge. Um, yeah, yeah. Well, so, so what do you want to talk about next? What do you want to like, topic wise or, cause I was thinking about turning it to, to also, um, you know, what is, what does your life look like now? Do you have a certain way to get yourself back on track? Or, um, you know, do you have to intentionally do certain things. One time we had a phone call, you know, or you texted me about, let’s have a phone call, and because we have the funniest longest talks ever. And you said something like, I do want to talk to you because you help me get my dopamine or something like that. And I was like, what? You were like, it’s literally helped me, it’s helpful for my depression. Like, it’s a treatment thing. And I was like, what does that mean? 

[00:34:26] Laura Watkins: Yeah. So, you know, you have these chemicals in your brain, dopamine, serotonin. Um, they’re the feel-good chemicals. And when you have depression, those chemicals get depleted. And so you, you, you’re not able to feel good or think good thoughts or have good moods because the chemicals in your brain that are required to be able to do that get depleted. And so when I have conversation with you or I spend an evening with girlfriends or whatever, I have always kind of been known for my laugh. Like I have this wheeze laugh.

[00:35:08] Lorilee Rager: Yes you do. 

[00:35:09] Laura Watkins: And I just cackle. And anytime you do that, it’s flooding your brain with feel good chemicals. So when I talk to you, it is self-care. 

[00:35:24] Lorilee Rager: That is the best definition of self care I have ever heard. It’s uh, yeah, it’s not a glass of champagne or lavender oils, sometimes. 

[00:35:35] Laura Watkins: Girl, this is what we’re going to talk about next. And that is self-care. 

[00:35:40] Lorilee Rager: Bring it. Let’s hear it. Come on, come on. Tell me. 

[00:35:44] Laura Watkins: So, as women I think we’re giving a message that anything we do for ourselves is selfish and not necessary and overindulgent. You know, we need to be better wives for our husbands, and better moms to our kids, and better sisters to our siblings. And which, okay, yes. Oh, yes. I want to be all those things. But, I mean, we’ve all heard when you’re on the airplane, you gave yourself the oxygen first, before you give it to your child. 

[00:36:15] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. 

[00:36:17] Laura Watkins: If our cups are empty, we don’t have any of that to give to the other people. And so we have got to change the narrative, not only about mental health, but also about how we’re taking care of ourselves. Because what I have learned through therapy is that my, my depression more than likely was caused by years and years and years of suck it up, keep going, work harder, hustle faster, um, shove it down, ignore it, don’t worry about it, deal with it later. And then your body is eventually going to slow you down, one way or another. So I think for all those years of doing that for so long, my brain was like. Done, we’re going to take a break for awhile. 

[00:37:10] Lorilee Rager: Yep, peace out. You won’t listen to my signals. So I’m done. I’m shutting down.

[00:37:15] Laura Watkins: Done, done. So I have to be very intentional. Not only do I have to get these maintenance, ECT treatments, which I dread. And I even asked Mike this last time, I feel really good, do I have to do this? And he’s like, yes, you have to do this. This is part of your maintenance. This is what you’re going to do. Um, but I have to do that. I have to take time to attend my therapy sessions. I get a massage every three weeks. I am working with a functional medicine nurse right now to learn about what supplements and what foods I can be eating that that are going to help promote good brain health. Which I just know, I just found this out a couple of weeks ago, but your brain is directly related to your gut. And if you’ve got issues going to the bathroom, or if you have leaky gut or you have any of that, that is a direct line to your brain.

[00:38:18] Lorilee Rager: I mean, the IBS connection to the brain, direct connection. Your physical, visceral feelings based on what someone does mental health wise, like to make you feel, ooh, I get this. I’ve never heard it so said directly, but I get that so much. Brain gut connection and what you eat to nourish that, which is why we’re supposed to be eating anyways. To nourish yourself. 

[00:38:46] Laura Watkins: Yes, you already, you’re, I have a great friend that always says this, you’re either healing your body or you’re killing it by what you’re putting in your mouth. 

[00:38:54] Lorilee Rager: Oh, amen. Ooh, that’s good. Yeah. Yeah. 

[00:38:59] Laura Watkins: Yeah. Which is really hard for me, cause I love to eat. I love to eat so much of what I do with gathering with friends, family. It’s all around food. 

[00:39:10] Lorilee Rager: Yes. And it’s supposed to be okay. There shouldn’t be shame and guilt around that, but you need to be aware of, of exactly what you just said, what you eat, does affect your emotions and your brain. And I’ve never thought about it so clearly before. Because when I think of recovery and numbing, people do it with alcohol, of course, in my experience. But before alcohol, I did it with food, all around emotions and all about boxing it up and stuffing it down and just getting past it or eating my feelings. So I love, I love that part, that being part of self care, which is also not normally on the list. 

[00:39:52] Laura Watkins: Right. Self care is not just bubble baths and wine. It’s, it’s the things that are going to help you be your best version of yourself and that’s physically and mentally. 

[00:40:07] Lorilee Rager: Yes, so good. So so good. You’re full of so much knowledge and, about just your truth and your experience, too. It’s not even like we’re trying to say we are the experts and this is what we know, it’s this is what I feel, and this is what I’ve lived through. And it’s just, I know it sounds weird to call it a beautiful journey because I know it’s been so painful. We’ve done so much laughing on this call, but there’s such dark, scary moments in your past that I know of. 

[00:40:46] Laura Watkins: Absolutely. 

[00:40:48] Lorilee Rager: I just am so proud of how resilient and, and hard you’ve fought for yourself. 

[00:40:57] Laura Watkins: Thank you. Thank you. 

[00:40:59] Lorilee Rager: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. You’re welcome. Tell me about the moment. What about the moment in that doctor’s office, when you were back there for the second or third time early on just getting your Lexapro fix, and they looked you in the eye and say, you know what? No, you need to see someone. Like, how’d you feel? Some people get offended by that, or some people get pissed off or some people, unless you get as low and as dark as I know places I’ve been, and I know you’ve been, you may also be like fine, whatever. I need something. 

[00:41:32] Laura Watkins: Yeah. I think at that point I was, it had gone on, you know, maybe nine months of just kind of numbing through life, not feeling anything. Um, so I think I was, I think I knew I needed something else, but I don’t know that I really understood how much more of a journey I would be facing.

[00:41:57] Lorilee Rager: Sure. 

[00:41:58] Laura Watkins: Um, There’s so much that doctors, even psychiatrists, still don’t know about the brain. You know, there’s no, I used to get so frustrated because there’s no test you can take, there’s no scan they can do. There’s nothing that spits out a report that says, okay, she’s low in this chemical and this chemical and this chemical, and this is the drug that you use to, 

[00:42:24] Lorilee Rager: To fix that. 

[00:42:24] Laura Watkins: To fix that. So there’s so much trial and error and, um, you know, it’s not, it’s not a straight path. It was not a straight path. And when you’re depressed, just brushing your teeth seems like a monumental chore. So, you know, I would encourage anyone who finds themselves in a place where they think they’re struggling with some type of mental illness, mine was depression, some peoples it’s anxiety or bipolar, or, you know, mania, or, you know, there’s, it takes all kinds of forms. But, um, I think you have, if you don’t have the energy to be the advocate for yourself, ask someone who loves you to help you with that. Because there is a lot of, um, you know, finding a provider and checking the insurance to see if they’re covered or in the network. And, you know, just, I was seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist, you know, so there there’s like, um, in my, I would consider my medical team now, I have my ECT doctor, I see a mental health nurse practitioner that, uh, regulates and follows all my medications and that sort of thing, and then I have a, I think she’s a licensed clinical social worker, that’s who I go to for my talk therapy. So I have three professionals that I depend on to keep me mentally healthy. And that has nothing to do with a yearly mammogram and, uh, you know, bloodwork every year. And so it’s, I mean, it takes a team of people. It really does. 

[00:44:13] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, it takes, it takes a village, like I like to say. And that’s, and that’s okay. We’re not meant to do this, this life thing alone. 

[00:44:23] Laura Watkins: No, we’re not. 

[00:44:25] Lorilee Rager: We, we crave community. I think that’s why cities migrate, and communities, even in the rural rural areas. Um, I think it’s so important to understand that we do not have to do this alone and we’re not meant to do it alone. 

[00:44:42] Laura Watkins: No. And then you take the shame and stigma, that’s wrapped around all this stuff, and that’s why people don’t reach out and ask for the help that they need. And so, you know, I tried to do things as simple as, like, um, yesterday at noon, I had a meeting with my therapist and I just, I do it at work, I just go out in the parking lot in my car. But, you know, before if somebody said, “hey, do you want to go have lunch at noon?” I would have been like, “oh no, I’m sorry, I have a meeting at noon. I’m not available.” And now I’m just like, “no, sorry. I’m talking with my therapist at noon.”

[00:45:17] Lorilee Rager: Ooh yes girl, radical honesty. 

[00:45:21] Laura Watkins: Sometimes there’s silence, like, Ooh, she must be crazy. 

[00:45:25] Lorilee Rager: Crickets, yes.

[00:45:27] Laura Watkins: Or sometimes people are like, “oh, that’s important, okay. No, we’ll do it another day.” 

[00:45:31] Lorilee Rager: Oh yes. Oh yes. You’re so right. And, and six years ago, I know you couldn’t have easily said that, but now you can and you do, and that’s what matters, is once you know, better, you do better. I mean, my first, um, therapy encounter, my first therapy experience was a hypnotherapist who I was like, “I just want to stop biting my nails.” I wasn’t going to tell her I was having rip-roaring panic attacks and sweat down my back, you know. But I was like, “oh just help me with nailbiting.” So it is funny once you get that radical honesty and start a little bit of truth-telling, that it comes back tenfold in goodness, when you do. And your body’s not holding that in. So it’s so good. So good. Okay. Well, we can wrap up with, um, one last question. I would like to know what tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? And it can be anything, something that helps you get grounded, or gives gratitude, helps you through through dry seasons or moments, can be a song, oil.

[00:46:42] Laura Watkins: I think it’s just leaving people, the permit, leaving with giving people the permission to put together your self care plan. Like really think about what, what does your self care plan look like and what are the things that you’re going to do? Is it daily? Is it weekly? Is it monthly? What are those things that you can do and commit to that are going to fill your cup. So that you can be who you want to be for all the other people in your life, 

[00:47:14] Lorilee Rager: That are counting on you. Yeah, yeah. Permission. And yeah, it’s like a self care check in. Um, it comes back to the very beginning when you said, like checking in with yourself mentally. And what are you doing to take care of yourself? I love it. I love all of it. I love all the things you said. Every single word. 

[00:47:36] Laura Watkins: Thank you. 

[00:47:37] Lorilee Rager: Laura, thank you so much for being here today. I really, really appreciate it. And I think you shared such amazing truths of your own story. I just really hope it helps others out there. I know it’s definitely helped me. Thanks for being here. 

[00:47:52] Laura Watkins: Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for having me. 

[00:47:55] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. Talk soon.

Thanks again so much to Laura for having the courage to share her story. And thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more info about the show and resources to help anyone struggling with mental health at GroundAndGratitude.com. Join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude. 

Ground and Gratitude is produced by Kelly Drake and AOMcClain LLC.

Alright. Don’t say anything bad.

[00:48:58] Laura Watkins: Yes ma’am. I’ll be on my best behavior. 

[00:49:01] Lorilee Rager: Hell no. This is where we’re going to talk some real shit.

Ep 13: “Where Do I Even Start?” Discovering Therapy on Your Own Terms with Janet and Brianna Velazquez

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Discovering Therapy on Your Own Terms with Janet and Brianna Velazquez

In this episode, Lorilee is joined by mother and daughter duo Janet and Brianna Velazquez. Janet and Brianna are both licensed mental health professionals whose goals are to help their clients uncover their true potential and lead lives that are worth celebrating. Brianna is a Licensed Professional Counselor MHSP and Janet is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. The three discuss the many benefits of therapy as well as the misconceptions and roadblocks that can inhibit getting started on a path to self-discovery and growth.

Highlights: 

  • On the Velazquezs’ playlist:
    1. “One Less Day” by Rob Thomas
    2. Kehlani
  • Uncovering our true potential
  • Understanding EMDR
  • Pursuing a life that is authentic and meaningful
  • Permission and perfectionism
  • Deciding to start therapy
  • How therapy can help with conflict resolution
  • What professional help can offer us
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

🎧 Listen wherever you get your podcasts or on Spotify or Apple. 🎧

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Episode 13 – Janet + Brianna Velazquez Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It is a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows, but also gives. 

Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions, while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is a member FDIC equal housing lender.

My guests today are a mother and daughter duo, Janet and Brianna. Brianna is a Licensed Professional Counselor MHSP and Janet is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In addition, Janet has her PhD in clinical counseling and supervision. They spend their professional time helping clients feel empowered and on a positive path to growth and wellbeing.

Their goal is to help their clients uncover their true potential and lead a life that is worth celebrating. Today, we’re talking all about therapy – when and where to look for it, what it gives to our lives and much more.

Well welcome, Janet and Brianna. Thank you so much for joining me today and thank you for being on the Ground and Gratitude podcast. 

[00:02:05] Brianna Velazquez: Thank you. 

[00:02:06] Janet Velazquez: You’re welcome – thank you for having us. 

[00:02:08] Lorilee Rager: So lately… absolutely. Starting out, there’s a pretty serious question that I like to ask, and the kickoff question is – I need to hear from both of you — complete honesty.

What song is on repeat on your playlist today? 

[00:02:26] Janet Velazquez: Um, mine is “One Less Day,” Rob Thomas. 

[00:02:32] Lorilee Rager: “One Less Day,” Rob Thomas. 

[00:02:35] Janet Velazquez: Yes, from Matchbox Twenty. I’ve loved him forever. 

[00:02:39] Lorilee Rager: I wondered if that was Matchbox Twenty, Rob. 

[00:02:42] Janet Velazquez: He actually was a military child too, so I just love him. 

[00:02:46] Lorilee Rager: Aw, I did not know that. I loved Matchbox Twenty back in the day. 

[00:02:50] Janet Velazquez: Mhm.

[00:02:51] Brianna Velazquez: They are good. Yeah. 

[00:02:52] Lorilee Rager: What about you, Brianna? 

[00:02:53] Brianna Velazquez: For me, the playlist I’ve had on this morning is a mixture of songs by Kehlani. I really like her as an artist. Um, so, I can’t think of one specific one that I’ve been playing a lot this morning, but all by her. So, big fan of her. Yeah. 

[00:03:12] Lorilee Rager: Okay. That’s good though. I like to sometimes just tell, you know, whatever device I’m talking to, just play Adele like just play it all or whatever. So… 

[00:03:20] Brianna Velazquez: That was me this morning. 

[00:03:22] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, okay. That’s good. I love music so much, and it helps, helps all the moods and all the emotions, so, I always want to know what people are listening to, and sometimes, you know, something will get stuck on repeat, or take you down a rabbit hole of other things. So good, alright! 

[00:03:37] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:03:38] Lorilee Rager: Thank you. Thanks for that! Okay, so, diving right into the conversation because I really, really, really value, um, the importance of therapy, and, because of my relationship with Janet for the past over two years, I really think it’s an important topic to talk about. And I think there’s a lot of, um, um, like common misconceptions, or just a lot, not all of them understanding from the people that I know in my story and my sobriety, and now being so vocal about the importance of therapy and, um, they ask a lot of questions. So I thought it would be really good to have some just great topics to cover, and I’d love to get your all’s insight on. And, the first one is, um, the topic of uncovering our true potential, and, to kind of connect to that, to the question is where do you begin in therapy to uncover our true potential? Or what does that really mean to you when I say that? 

[00:04:47] Janet Velazquez: Well, for me, I’ll just dive right in. I think I definitely go with an EMDR modality, which, in basics, just means that we’re uncovering what’s underdeveloped in somebody’s life and what’s overdeveloped in their life. And the overdeveloped is so wonderful because we’re so good at it, but the underdeveloped is what we probably need to look out a little bit more.

And so I think, at the beginning, when I’m with somebody, I can start to notice what kind of things that they’ll they’ll do just almost as a habit, rather than thinking I could say no if I would like to. I could actually ask somebody for help if I would like to – those kinds of little things. 

[00:05:27] Lorilee Rager: Mhm, mhm – what about you, Brianna?

[00:05:29] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah, I think whenever I hear that question about uncovering your true potential, I think some of the first kind of things that I would want to dig into would be perhaps why. Why do you feel like that’s your true potential? Where’s that coming from? Um, is that something perhaps that is really, uh, a potential that you are wanting to go after? Or is that something that somebody else has, while you’re growing up or in a romantic relationship or whatever it may be, has kind of perhaps facilitated or encouraged? And really sifting out where, where is that want for that true potential coming from so that you can, you can really dive into. What is it that I want? What is it that I want my potential to be? And making sure that that’s true to you and authentic to what your wants and needs are. 

[00:06:28] Lorilee Rager: Mm, yeah. I actually love that you, you made a point that made me think of the true potential, that the main part of that is truth. So what, is it your truth or is it someone else’s truth?

[00:06:40] Brianna Velazquez: And that’s hard to sift through sometimes. Yeah. 

[00:06:43] Lorilee Rager: ‘Cause once you’ve lived so many years in maybe somebody else’s true potential or whatever their truth is, you don’t maybe know what yours is. 

[00:06:52] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

[00:06:53] Lorilee Rager: Which is a really good reason to come to therapy. 

[00:06:56] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah, I think so. 

[00:06:58] Lorilee Rager: And then going back to Janet, you said EMDR, maybe for our listeners that don’t understand what is, what does EMDR… what is EMDR and what does it help with? 

[00:07:12] Janet Velazquez: So in, in short, EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro. I want to give her credit in 1987 for it. Um, it’s actually eye movement, desensi- desensitization, um, and reprocessing. So, I still look it up sometimes. I just think EMDR; however, I feel grace in that, because later she said she would have just named it Reprocessing Therapy, if she would have had the chance.

[00:07:39] Lorilee Rager: Oh. 

[00:07:40] Janet Velazquez: But it became EMDR. Basically it uses bilateral stimulation to help our brain take what’s in the prefrontal cortex, and kind of stuck there, to be able to move it back into our system, so it doesn’t cause daily issues and things. So, for instance, when you guys were talking about, um, just how, how we, how we come to therapy. We grow into the person we have to be to survive in the family we live in, and then we grow into an adult, and sometimes, those mix. Our foot’s in the past, and then our foot’s in the present, and we don’t understand why we’re reacting in certain ways to people or stimuli. And, a lot of times, it comes from our attachment trauma when we’re younger. And so, EMDR helps reprocess that into a healthy, healthy way of looking and feeling and being, rather than being stuck. 

[00:08:33] Lorilee Rager: Mm.

[00:08:34] Janet Velazquez: So those are the simple ways of putting it. 

[00:08:37] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I just hear a lot about it and haven’t had a lot of experience with it, but it seems like anyone that talks about it, it’s so helpful too, and I think the whole uncovering your true potential is really a big reason to come to therapy that maybe a lot of people don’t even know that’s why they’re coming to therapy. Um, and so, asking you Brianna, um, another question kind of in that same vein of, you know, how do you help someone, um, begin to like, lead a life that, that feels true and worthy of celebrating? 

[00:09:20] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. Yeah. I feel like that ties in to some of the first question of, of really digging into what, what things do you enjoy to celebrate? What are the things that are bringing you that happiness and can provide, even in the midst of other struggles that you may be experiencing, some bright spots? And so I think that digging into what, what are those things for you? Or what could they be? Or as there– are there things that you’re, that you’ve heard about or wanted to explore more and just didn’t feel that you could or had the permission to do so? Or, you know, perhaps there were barriers of, “Well, I’m not an expert in this,” or “I’m not this or that.” And really kind of wiping away some of that, and, and, I feel like a lot of it is allowing yourself permission to not be perfect in different things and still feel okay in the midst of whatever it is, whether it be work or, you know, busyness at home, or things like that, that you as yourself and your own happiness and joy is and should be valued. And that, yeah, you have the permission to do that in the midst of all sorts of different stages of life. So I think those are — that’s one of the first things that I think are important to just kind of normalize and talk through and, and get through some of that so that you can dig a little bit deeper ’cause you feel okay, this is okay. This is okay for me to do that. 

[00:11:01] Lorilee Rager: Mhm yeah. That — permission is a big word. Like a big, like it’s a big happy word for me now, but it’s — yeah, I think, I think a therapist relationship really does begin with giving you that permission to say and think those things that you never felt you were allowed to do. Don’t you think?

[00:11:26] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. Finding more autonomy in yourself, I think, is one of the big things that I think, as therapists, we can help do, in my own therapy, I’ve done, so —

[00:11:38] Lorilee Rager: Mhm — yeah, yeah. And perfectionism is a whole other thing, too. 

[00:11:42] Brianna Velazquez: Ah man. 

[00:11:43] Lorilee Rager: Trying to do it perfect. 

[00:11:45] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. 

[00:11:47] Lorilee Rager: So, letting both of those — 

[00:11:49] Brianna Velazquez: That’s a hard one. 

[00:11:50] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. The, the two P’s, for sure. Um, yeah, so, I think that, um, another thing it made me wonder is: when do you, when do you recommend, or, or, maybe this, maybe this, I won’t word this right, but when do you recommend when someone should go or should begin this journey um, in therapy? It’s one of those things where in my story, it was, it was just a suggestion from a school adviser that was like, maybe you need somebody just to talk to, a third-party and remove, you know, removed, that could just be a professional, you know, just sounding board or coach. So, I kind of went, maybe not while I was, in medical terms, I was not having a heart attack, but it’s like, it’s the joke you hear about– you’re in the ER, having a heart attack and you’re asking them about your heartburn kind of situation. 

[00:12:41] Brianna Velazquez: Mhm, mhm. 

[00:12:42] Lorilee Rager: Yes. It’s one of those “do you go when you’re on fire” or, um, and then, or is it like a maintenance thing? Or is it both?

[00:12:53] Janet Velazquez: I think probably people do both. Yeah. I think a lot of times people end up in therapy, um, not with an invite, such as you had, but because somebody else has pretty much said “You’re going to go to therapy or else,” or their own life, it’s like, oh my gosh, I’ve lost this person and that person, and it just seems like maybe I need some help. So I think that it, it so many different things and reasons, and I think it’s even hard to figure out sometimes when people will stay versus when they’ll decide they’ll leave because they think they’re well enough, but then they come back a few months later because they really haven’t yet. And I love that we, we don’t, we don’t determine or use things in a way that you have to stay. You know, we’re able to be like, well, you know, if you’re ready to go and you’re doing okay, that’s okay, and I’ll be here when you need me again. 

[00:13:45] Lorilee Rager: Mhm. 

[00:13:47] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah, I think that the way that you were invited into exploring therapy is, I think, a really wonderful, nice way, a nice introduction, because I think a lot of people do come — I mean, at least that I see, um — a lot of times in a crisis situation or yes, kind of that ultimatum of “You need to do this. There’s so much going on.” Or just self – kind of telling yourself I am at my limit. And I think a lot of times people are at their limits whenever they come in, but yeah, it’s certainly not the only time that you can, and I think it’s nice to, to have that normalized around you and encouraged of, yeah, this, this can be something that you can be at and explore when you’re not in crisis. I know that I talk with my clients a lot about, you know, when maybe, in the beginning we, we see each other weekly or whatever feels good for you, and then we can drop it off to monthly, or we can do this and we can do check-ins and things like that and, and allow it to be a space where, yeah, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a crisis for you to come in and you can still have your space that’s held for you, um, in a really nice just-for-you way. 

[00:15:05] Lorilee Rager: Mhm, mhm yeah. You said something too about, like, listening to yourself or that, that sense of self, and it made me think of like that little voice. It’s not always like screaming bloody murder, you know, it’s just kind of always back there just tapping, and if you listen to it, that voice, yeah, is maybe telling you “maybe you should talk to somebody,” and support around it, I think is really important. 

[00:15:30] Brianna Velazquez: Absolutely. 

[00:15:32] Lorilee Rager: –the stigma, but I didn’t think of it so much until somebody asked me about what do you, yeah, “do you go in crisis moments or maintenance moments?” And I was like, oh, well, both, but, like, the maintenance of it, you know, I always, I always like to say, I like to go every two weeks, no matter what, even if it’s the greatest day ever or the worst day ever, you know, based on — I don’t want to base it on my mood or the moment. And so that’s what I was wondering what your thoughts were on, on that, because I try to encourage people to say, now, if you’re going to do it, I want you to, I want you to stick with it. Like, keep your appointment, give it a good — I made up 90 days — in sobriety, it’s a 90, 90 thing where you do a meeting a day for success, and I kind of equate therapy — I mean, not that you can go every day, but, um, yeah. I just think it’s important. 

[00:16:29] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. And I think sometimes it’s finding a clinician that’s a good fit for you too, so, that allows you to feel comfortable of, okay, I can go on a good day and I can be celebrated. And the things that are really exciting for me and I can share, and we can reflect on that positive progress in, in a really healthy way.

Yeah. The growth and, and I think if you have a clinician that can hold space for you in a good way, that, that feels safe for you, then, then it feels a little bit better to come on a good day, on a tough day, and it feels perhaps better to be able to discuss what’s comfortable frequency-wise and, um, what’s conducive to life in the moment. So. 

[00:17:17] Lorilee Rager: Mhm, yeah. I know in my experience too, it may be a good day and I may be telling a story or mentioning something and something gets pointed out that, oh, well, remember that’s this, or remember, remember that from back there? Or remember that it’s an old habit or an old way, somebody maybe was manipulating you? And I was like, oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize that.

[00:17:40] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. A fresh set of eyes — and ears. 

[00:17:43] Lorilee Rager: A fresh set of eyes and ears is exactly what I would say a good therapist is for. Good, good. Okay. Good. All right. Well, um, so the next thing, just even saying this is probably gonna make me a little red and splotchy, but, the word in general is conflict – conflict resolution. I wanted to talk about that because, oh my gosh, I can’t, I, well, I can’t handle some days, any days, most days, conflict and how to have uncomfortable conversations. And I just wondered, um, I just wanted your thoughts on that, in general, um, about conflict resolution and how therapy helps that. 

[00:18:24] Janet Velazquez: I’ll dive in first because I think it’ll be a good segue for Brianna. So, I grew up in a family that was not conflictual at all. Very — I would call them very white bread, you say nice things to people, you are complimentary, you might say, oh, I don’t like that so much, but not anything big. You just do not argue and fight with people. And then I married into a Puerto Rican family, where my husband’s parents are from New York.

And I, um, I had many days that I ran up to upstairs just crying because I didn’t understand why people fought so much. And so I really learned how to adapt and survive within that marriage family system. And then our kids, I was telling Brianna the other day, I said, wow, I grew up like this, but you grew up with consistent arguing, debating over everything. 

[00:19:22] Brianna Velazquez: Everything. 

[00:19:23] Janet Velazquez: Everything. So I think she probably is much better at staying calm these days in a conflictual situation, whereas, I am ready to dive right in. 

[00:19:36] Lorilee Rager: Mm, yeah. 

[00:19:38] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. Conflict. The, when you say that, um, my, I think because, and my mom just explained the way that, that our family dynamic approaches conflict and conversations with big emotions is how I kind of look at them. Um, I feel like when I hear conflict, I — it’s not something that feels intense or scary for me. It’s just kind of something where I look at it as a conversation with big emotions, and if you are doing, doing the conflict type of conversation in a safe relationship, it, it, for me, I can look at it personally as an opportunity for healing, an opportunity for just approaching things curiously and having a deeper understanding of somebody that I care about and just witnessing somebody else in a different way. So, sometimes, sometimes it’s sifting through when we’re up here, emotion-wise, you know, high level of emotion, and maybe we are saying things with a really, you know, louder voice or something, but that was something that I was used to, so that’s fine, and still am. But, I think I reframe my own view of conflict of, when done well with somebody that I care about, or just hoping to have a better understanding of each other. And if we can do that well, um, that vulnerability can allow us to connect better. 

[00:21:24] Lorilee Rager: Mhm. 

[00:21:24] Brianna Velazquez: You know, that doesn’t happen every time though.

[00:21:26] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, it — you have to baby step towards that, and have that — build that healthy– but, so I wondered for, in my case, my, I wonder why do I avoid it so much and how to kind of overcome that in with, with somebody, you know, a professional therapist to help me, because I mean, I– old me would avoid conflict like the plague. I’m talking, I wouldn’t even tell you if I didn’t like guacamole. I would just say I liked it because you liked it, but I don’t understand why we avoid it so much. 

[00:22:05] Janet Velazquez: Yeah, I think we avoid it because sometimes there are shame and guilt and sometimes there’s shame in voicing our own opinion or being who we somehow have a little piece of us that says we are that, but that piece of shame, it just, it collapses us.

And then we’re not able to regulate, especially when we have loud people around who are bringing back that story from childhood, you know. When we are grown up, sometimes our families and even people that remind us of our families, can make us go back to that piece when somebody had power over us, instead of being able to say, “I am really a very smart person and I’m able to do this.” Shame just brings us right down, which inevitably does not allow us to have the conversations we want to have, and they become more reactive, or we simply just freeze and don’t have them instead. 

[00:22:59] Lorilee Rager: Mhm, yeah, I could, I could see that for sure. Um, and I was also wondering because now, because now I want to live true and I want to live my true potential, the truth part’s so big, I, I find myself probably having more conflict because I want to tell my truth and want to say whether I do or don’t like guacamole. For the record, I do like guacamole, but, um, I was just– so what are some, some of the steps or thoughts or ways that, um, you, you recommend in, in the therapy setting, to get through that or to work on how to, how to have a healthy conflict with maybe some of those past people or even future people that I don’t want to lie to? What do you think, Brianna? 

[00:23:52] Brianna Velazquez: I think, yeah. I feel like sometimes, setting some personal boundaries, probably around what ways do I feel safe to engage in this conflict? Perhaps it is in a certain setting or perhaps it’s kind of putting some precursors on that conversation of, “Hey, I’m about, about to talk with you something that’s difficult and you know, I would appreciate if you did, or did not do X, Y, Z,” or thinking through what do you need to feel as safe and empowered as possible in those conversations? And you can– and so some of that is thinking about asking yourself, “what do I need?” And being able to answer that so that you can discuss that with somebody if you’re going to have a conversation that you could foresee being challenging to have and where you are talking about things that are perhaps, you know, a little bit scary for you going in. But, if you’re able to identify “What are my needs to have this conversation well and express that?,” I think that is a way you could potentially set yourself up for success.

[00:25:15] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I really liked that idea of naming it. There’s something I’ve probably read, and I don’t remember. It was either maybe The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel, van der, van der Kolk’s– or The Highly Sensitive Person, but one of those said, and I remember reading it and just like, you know, clutching my pearls and being like, “Oh my gosh.” It said, when you’re trying to have a hard conversation, if you name it, just like you said, if you just say”, I just need to have this hard conversation, if you could just listen and not say anything back yet,” or, you know, and it was a really big first step for me to be able to, you know, have what I consider conflict. And then the world didn’t explode. It was done– the sun still came up and, you know, whatever I thought was gonna happen, didn’t happen. Um, when it came to trying to get through some conflict. 

[00:26:17] Brianna Velazquez: And I think the more you, you do that and allow yourself to kind of say and reflect, “Oh, I did this and the world did not explode, and that actually was okay. Maybe uncomfortable, but I made it through that, and look at this, I’ve done this well,” and be able to reflect and give yourself those pats on the back for doing the difficult things. I think that can sometimes allow some motivation to say, okay, well, I can, I can keep doing this. Um, and perhaps in some scenarios that might be less scary, you know, but–

[00:26:56] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I agree. I agree completely with that. Janet, do you have anything to add on conflict resolution? 

[00:27:05] Janet Velazquez: No. I think that those are all really good points. I think the biggest thing really will be to, you know, like you’ve done, just give yourself permission and set the boundary about– and, and be able to leave the conversation if you need to. You can also help people if your heart rates going above that 10% above your resting heart rate, which comes from John and Julie Gottman out of Seattle, that you need to leave the conversation. You can have fun at a dance or football game, stuff like that, but when you’re arguing, if you’re not able to keep it lower, you probably have to leave the conversation for a little bit or else you won’t be able to– your, your brain won’t be able to signal the right things that you’d like to say. 

[00:27:45] Lorilee Rager: Ooh, that’s very good. Yeah. Permission to leave the conversation like that also never entered my mind prior to going to therapy. Never entered. I mean, I thought we were going to have to just duke it out until it was win or lose and I knew I would lose. So I was like, what’s the point of even having a conflict. So, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That’s good. That’s good stuff. Um, okay. So I also– one of the takeaways that I also have noticed in myself through my two years or more of therapy is how this was a silver lining that I just didn’t expect. I thought, you know, of course, I thought the common misconception was, you know, I would come in and lay on a chaise lounge and talk about my feelings and cry and it would be this horribly sad, depressing moment. 

[00:28:38] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. 

[00:28:40] Lorilee Rager: But I’ve ended up now living this more fulfilling and meaningful life, that I just had no idea was, was part of it, a part of, uh, a win of, of doing the work of going to therapy, so I wanted to ask, um, about that, about, you know, how does, how does therapy, in your own words, help us experience a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

[00:29:10] Janet Velazquez: Yeah, I think for me, I think it’s being able to understand that there is– even if you do not have people in your family or within your friends that are non-judgmental, you can go to a therapist and she, or he, can be in the room with you and be non-judgmental about things that have happened, even if they’re things that maybe somebody might cringe about that you have done or have been done to you and you can work through them and understand that you met things with the courage or the ability that you had in that moment and telling our story, whether it’s, you know, messy or beautiful, it really helps affirm that we are okay. And I know that’s that said a lot but we are okay, we can move forward and we can do more, and we’re not what’s been done to us. We are who we are presently. 

[00:30:05] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I agree that the having a non-judgemental, um, person to help you just understand maybe what you did or why you said what you said or why you do the things you do is huge, ’cause I feel like, in family dynamics, there’s all judging. At least it is in my Southern roots for sure. It’s a lot of judging, but, um, that was a big benefit of learning early on in therapy that every time I went and every time I came out of it, I felt a little bit more fulfilled to be who I am, maybe. That maybe it would be okay, like you just said. Okay. Yeah. So Brianna, I want to ask you -how can therapy help us kind of unearth long standing behavior patterns?

[00:31:00] Brianna Velazquez: I think one of the big things with that of the– especially thinking about long standing behavior patterns, having a place, a safe, and I think this has already been said, non-judgmental space to sift through that and sift through some of the whys and do that in a way where you’re not being shamed for perhaps functioning in ways that worked for you. And you were doing those because that was keeping your past self safe or your current self safe, and now you’re learning new ways, in a non-judgmental, non-shaming way, to say, you know, you did, you did this and you were doing the best you could with what you had and you– look at you, you kept yourself safe, safe up until now. Now, how can we dig through that in a different way and understand, okay, perhaps when you were doing this, it was to protect yourself from this. Now that we know that what is perhaps a different way that we can dig through that? What’s a way that still feels good for you, but allows you, you know, to, to meet the needs that you do have? So I think, allowing yourself to have a space to understand why without casting judgment and, and somebody, a safe sounding board, to just discuss those things with, I think is helpful and important. And I think that’s one of the really great things that you can do in therapy. 

[00:32:37] Lorilee Rager: Oh, I totally agree with that because I think of– maybe we don’t always know or are aware of what, of our own, um, patterns or habits–

[00:32:48] Brianna Velazquez: Right.

[00:32:49] Lorilee Rager: –until a professional therapist can go, “Well, you did, you did say that before. You did do that before.” Or, in my experience with recovery, when I would figure out like avoid conflict or lie about the guacamole and I would be angry at myself and then I would drink, but I didn’t, there’s no way in hell I would’ve figured that out I hadn’t have talked it out with someone. Is that what you mean, sort of?

[00:33:17] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah, absolutely. And, and a person that can help you find new patterns and in the way, give yourself that permission to– and maybe, even in some ways, some encouragement to say, I know that this is the cycle that you’ve done things, and perhaps we can do it a different way. And, and I know that this cycle is uncomfortable for you. That’s maybe why we’re here. Let’s figure out a new cycle. And it’ll be hard. It’ll be hard to do or integrate anything new in, right? But that cycle that you have had is not serving you as well as you want it to, so let’s collaboratively come up with something that works for you in your life that feels good and authentic for you.

[00:34:03] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. It’s not serving you anymore when maybe it used to, but for some reason, it’s not– I don’t even know if I care about the reason why it’s not anymore. 

[00:34:11] Brianna Velazquez: Sure. Yeah, yeah. 

[00:34:11] Lorilee Rager: I just, for a fact, know, it is not working anymore.

[00:34:14] Brianna Velazquez: Right. 

[00:34:15] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. Um, so yeah. Okay, good. This is good stuff. So, um, I also wondered if you could share or have any examples of negative perceptions that may be holding people back? Or like, I don’t know if there’s like a common one? Or, I know a lot of people tell me they feel stuck in how to get unstuck.

[00:34:39] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. I feel like my mom can probably speak on some of the common EMDR core beliefs. I think those– I’ve, I’ve read through some of the common EMDR core beliefs that a lot of people have, and I think those– there was definitely ones, even for myself, either, either thinking about, oh, I hear this in therapy or for myself as me thinking, oh, okay I see myself in this and that, so, maybe she can share some of those. 

[00:35:10] Janet Velazquez: Yeah, I, I love the, I love that it’ll bring different things out with an EMDR or therapy, or just in conversations with people that you can trust that, yes you’re– you probably have some things inside you that say “I can’t get it right. I’m always wrong. I don’t have people around me. No one supports me. I have to do it by myself. I can’t ask for help. I won’t take help. Help only comes with a price.” So there’s things I think are really, those are pretty common coming from a family, and there’s probably a list of 30 or 40 more that can just roll around somebody’s head, and it makes it really hard when they’re stuck to go ahead and move forward and do something about it. And I think also with therapy, I think we can, we can use that to help ourselves and help others get bids in a conversation, just out of curiosity. And so you can kind of– it’s like getting your feet wet a little bit. You don’t have to jump in and say, “I can do it myself. I’m, I’m able.” You’re just kind of giving a little bit of information, little by little to difficult family members. If they’re able to understand. And you’re also showing yourself a little bit of courage so it doesn’t backfire on you and reaffirm “oh yeah, I can’t, I can’t get it right. They’re just going to take over again.” And so I think that those are, those are things that swirl around and things that we can do to help. 

[00:36:33] Lorilee Rager: Mhm. Yeah. I can totally relate to that. It’s one of those things where trying to get– change the narrative in your head, um, and that negative perception, that maybe you don’t even realize it’s holding you back–

[00:36:51] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah.

[00:36:51] Lorilee Rager: –until you get into a room with a professional and talk it out. 

[00:36:56] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah, yeah definitely. 

[00:36:59] Lorilee Rager: And I think that’s something that, um, is another one of the many, many benefits of, of–

[00:37:06] Brianna Velazquez: Absolutely. Of therapy. 

[00:37:08] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, for sure. Well, um, before we wrap up, I just wanted to, to uh, offer and ask if there was any other important topics or messages that you wanted to share for anybody that may be new or considering therapy, um, that would make them feel less scared?

[00:37:33] Brianna Velazquez: Well, I think one of the big things to think of when you’re going to therapy and whenever you are starting that process is that the healing that you’re going to do is not linear. It’s not something where, okay, two sessions, like, I never have to do this again. Um, sometimes it’s, sometimes things can feel a lot more resolved after a couple of sessions, um, but, but to have grace for yourself through that process as well of, yeah, if you’re, especially if you’re just beginning therapy for the first time, it is a little bit scary and, and a lot of people experience that and to normalize that that’s okay. And, and, what you’re working through sometimes will, will take a little bit longer or maybe it won’t, but to allow yourself some grace to take the time that you need and, and, and move through that process in, in the way that feels right for you. So, just because maybe somebody else felt great after three sessions, or just because somebody else goes weekly for two years, doesn’t mean that you have to subscribe by anybody else’s way. So, I think just kind of keeping that in mind is, is it’s a unique thing for you because you are a unique person. So– 

[00:38:56] Lorilee Rager: Oh yeah, absolutely. The comparison side is, could be so dangerous and yeah, it is unique to every person. Yeah. What do you think, Janet? 

[00:39:04] Janet Velazquez: I think I have one thing that I’d really like to add to that and you get to determine what’s working for you. So, I’ll have a lot of people who do see me and they’ll say, you know, so-and-so: mother, father, um, spouse, somebody in their system, might say that therapy is not working for you. You still, you have a lot of problems still. And they don’t get to determine that. You get to determine how quickly or slowly, or, if at all, you need to change some things. And, as a therapist, I am not going to force you to stop drinking or seeing somebody who maybe isn’t the right person for you, or acting differently with your mother or father or brother or sister. I might ask you how it’s still working as we work on things and try to come up with some other strategies, but it’s not someplace that you’re going to get forced into doing something before you’re ready to do it. And we will completely as therapists celebrate when you’re ready to make a change.

[00:39:58] Brianna Velazquez: Absolutely.

[00:39:59] Janet Velazquez: We’ll celebrate it to the earth and heaven and all the way around. 

[00:40:03] Lorilee Rager: Yeah!

[00:40:04] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah. 

[00:40:04] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. For sure. Oh, that’s really, really, really, really beautiful and kind and feels less scary when you– to know that going in. Um, and yeah, it’s your own pace. Even in my experience, when I, some days I want to be really honest, and some days I do not, so, that would be the speed of, of the progress. And it’s knowing it’s on my own terms and that I’m able to kind of control that feels safe, also. 

[00:40:36] Janet Velazquez: Yes. 

[00:40:38] Brianna Velazquez: Absolutely. 

[00:40:39] Lorilee Rager: Well, good. Well now we’re, um, to the end question, so I need both of you to, to know that we have a Ground and Gratitude toolbox that, it can be as big as you need it to be, it can be as small as you need it to be, it travels well on the plane, all the things. Um, but I would love to know from each of you, what is one tool that you would leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? What is something that maybe helps you get grounded or helps you, um, give or get gratitude? A quote, song, meditation – but what would you leave in our toolbox?

[00:41:17] Brianna Velazquez: Yeah, so I think one of the big things that I can think of that I utilize myself is whenever I am needing perhaps that grounding, um, which happens often. I work full-time in emergency psych, so sometimes you just need, need to step away. Um, one thing that I utilize for myself is, is stepping outside in fresh air and doing some deep breaths and usually choosing to leave my phone, give myself permission to take that 10, 15 minute break away from whatever I may be experiencing. And that’s, you know, outside of work as well of okay, if I’m, if I’m feeling like a lot’s coming at me and I just need that space and time, I will give myself permission to be outside, fresh air, change my setting, take some deep breaths. Evaluate from there – what does it do, that I need, do I need to connect? Do I need to make a quick phone call to a friend, a family member? Do I need a little, funny distraction on whatever social media app it may be? Do I need to continue to take some breaths and walk? But, I think, for me, that’s something that is really important, and I find very valuable is, is taking some– if it’s nice enough, even if it’s not some, some fresh air– and allowing myself, my nervous system to regulate a little bit and get back to that heart rate and good breathing and less spinning in the mind and then seeing, okay, what, what is it, do I need from here? Do I need to connect? Do I need to distract a little bit and find some joy and laughter? Do I need to move my body? And give myself permission to do that for a period of time, knowing that whatever I’m going back into, I’m going to be more well-prepared to face or handle or do whatever it may be. So–

[00:43:28] Lorilee Rager: Mhm. Oh, I love, I love, I’ve always heard go get outside or change your environment, but no one’s ever said to me, but then ask yourself, what do you need from there? That’s golden right there, ’cause I be like, I can walk the street 500 times and I still have the same problem setting in my office, but I never thought about, okay, now that you’ve done the walk, what do you need? Do you just need a hot cup of tea? A sandwich? A call with a friend or a loved one? Yeah. Oh, that’s good. Totally putting that in the toolbox right now. What about you, Janet? 

[00:44:02] Janet Velazquez: I think, for me, something that grounds me that I love to do and dislike to do at the same time is laughter. I’m really serious a lot of the time and I prob– I probably think work is very important, business is very important, getting things right is very important, having, you know, the perfect stuff at a meal is very important. All of those kinds of things that just drowned you, and my family, my girls, especially, they’ll try to get me to laugh sometimes, and I will try not to, but I know that when I do, I just feel so good. And, one of the things I love about Brianna, since she is here on the podcast with us today, with me, is that, sometimes, when I’m also a little bit edgy and somebody comes towards me and wants to be there for me, I will try to just be there for myself because I can do it myself. And so she’ll be like “Two-arm hug, Mom, two-arm hug, and it is, like, it’s a lifesaver. So those, those little tiny things keep me grounded. I realize that I have other people around me and I need to rely on them as well. 

[00:45:09] Lorilee Rager: Oh, it’s so good. Okay. So you technically put in two, but I’m allowing it, you– laughter, and the two- arm hug because I’m a huge hugger, and I know with COVID it has been terrible for my hugging addiction, but it’s got to be two arms, two full hands on the back. It has to be. I don’t want to side-hug, I don’t want a one arm. Yeah. Okay. Perfect. Perfect. Well, that has been absolutely just what we needed to hear everything we needed to hear. Thank you so much, both of you for your time and your wisdom and sharing your gifts of being two amazing therapists. I’m happy to know you.

[00:45:51] Janet Velazquez: Thank you Lorilee, thank you. 

[00:45:52] Brianna Velazquez: Thank you for having us, so much. I appreciate it. 

[00:45:55] Lorilee Rager: Yay. All right, it’s over.

Thanks again so much to Janet and Brianna for having such a wonderful and open conversation today about therapy. And thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more information about the show and resources about mental health at groundandgratitude.com. Join me next time for more honest conversations, exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.Ground and Gratitude is produced by the Kelly Drake and AO McClain, LLC. .

Ep 12: Ziddi Msangi on Sense of Place and Human Centered Design

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Ziddi Msangi on Sense of Place and Human Centered Design

Ziddi Msangi is a Tanzanian-born educator and designer. His early experience of moving to California as a child informs his current awareness and interest in history, power and place. Lorilee and Ziddi sit down to discuss the common threads between their distinct backgrounds and how their senses of place have shaped who they are and their approach to design. They also dig into the innovative philosophy behind human centered design.

Highlights: 

  • On Ziddi’s playlist: King Sunny Ade
  • Understanding sense of place and one’s “origin story”
  • Living as an insider and an outsider in different spaces
  • Embracing where you are
  • Human centered design
  • Explaining liminal space
  • Ziddi’s study of East African textiles as communication systems
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

🎧 Listen wherever you get your podcasts  🎧 OR on Spotify or Apple

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Episode 12 – Ziddi Msangi Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It is a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows but also gives.

Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about where I bank, Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me. Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out Her-Bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender.

My guest today is Ziddi Msangi. Ziddi is a designer and educator. He was born in Tanzania and moved to California as a child. This early experience fostered an awareness and curiosity about history, power, and place. He is interested in the liminal space that is created between what we understand our reality to be and the multiple narratives that form that perception. Ziddi received a BFA from Boise State University and an MFA in graphic design from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He is a professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and also a Vermont College of fine arts MFA program, where he was my advisor.

Welcome Ziddi. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. 

[00:02:08] Ziddi Msangi: Thank you for having me as a guest, Lorilee. I’m really looking forward to our conversation. 

[00:02:14] Lorilee Rager: Me too. Me too. I appreciate the time, cause I know how, how busy we all are. And now that I teach, I know even more, how busy you really are.

[00:02:26] Ziddi Msangi: It’s amazing how much more time that takes than one anticipates. 

[00:02:31] Lorilee Rager: That’s correct. That is correct. So your time means, means a lot. It means a lot. So thank you. Okay. Well, music is something that I really, really enjoy, so that’s why I really like the kickoff, um, icebreaker question, and that is to ask what song is on repeat on your playlist today? 

[00:02:55] Ziddi Msangi: Well, recently I’ve been listening to the musician, the Nigerian musician, King Sunny Adé. Um, he was Nigeria drummer that, uh, drummer who popularized, uh, the style of music called Jùjú music, which I, um, got into when I was in college. And it popped up on my, um, Apple playlist this week. And so it’s guitars, he plays a talking drum, which is this wonderful, progressive expressive instrument. And it’s, there’s call and response, it’s music of the Yoruba people. So it’s, uh, but that was popularized in the, at least for me, I was introduced in the eighties, but I think it was popularized probably even as early as the sixties. So, you know, um, it’s this sort of praise music and, um, completely uplifting and energetic, and I just needed that to appear. And so sometimes the algorithms work in your favor. And so, yeah, so King Sunny Adé, um, Jùjú music, um, and that’s just the broader category, but King Sunny Adé’s music has been on, uh, the essentials playlist, has been what I’ve been listening to.

[00:04:10] Lorilee Rager: That’s wonderful. And I love it, uh, the essentials playlist. We all need the essentials. That sounds wonderful. I’m always looking, which is why I like to ask too, something to write to or something to cook too, or something new and that does enlighten you and helps your energy, so. 

[00:04:30] Ziddi Msangi: Right, and, and I find this music, um, Bach Brandenburg concertos are like uplifting, and I, those for me, those are great music to clean with, in an odd way. Cause it’s like order and rhythm and repetition. And this has this order and repetition, but it’s more celebratory and yeah, so. 

[00:04:51] Lorilee Rager: Very good. Thank you. I will definitely look it up because you also mentioned guitar and I’m trying to teach myself guitar now as just a fun, only for fun. So I’m learning and paying more attention to when I hear it as well in music. 

[00:05:06] Ziddi Msangi: Excellent. I think you’l enjoy it then. 

[00:05:08] Lorilee Rager: Okay. Thank you. Wonderful. Okay, well, so the first topic is really two topics that I really wanted to learn your thoughts on and hear more about because you know, like, like, like I said in the intro is, is you were my advisor. And there were, one of the first moments that we had together, you mentioned, um, sense of place. And it was really a moment of a fear at first and doubt, and a lot, a lot of things came up when you just very gently suggested or mentioned, what about looking into your sense of place? And, and it was the first time I’d ever really thought of a, what I call your origin story. And, um, You know, I thought you could share a little bit about that and then where that connects to your work with human centered design. Um, because both directions, when you think of graphic design or you think of thesis work, or you think of life, you don’t typically start there. Um, so yeah. Tell me, tell me your origin story, maybe, and how’d you get here? 

[00:06:32] Ziddi Msangi: Well, my story and sense of place is really rooted in my family’s story. So as you know, I’m an immigrant to this country from Tanzania and, um, my family moved here when I was six years old. So from a child’s perspective, one never really knows, um, that they’re leaving a place, um, and that they’re rooting in a new environment. You’re just following the family. Um, because you just don’t have the perspective to understand what that means and this really exciting adventure. Um, so my father was a professor in, uh, Kenyatta University, he received a Fulbright scholarship and was supposed to be at the California College of Arts, uh, by himself for three years. And, um, I think two months into it, he called my mom and said, rent the house, bring the boys, come join me, pack everything up. And so that’s how I ended up here. So there’s two distinct spaces. I moved from one space, uh, to California in the early seventies. Um, and three years turned into six and eventually 12, when they finally returned to Kenya. So a lot of my childhood was anticipating returning to the spaces of Tanzania and Kenya, because initially it was supposed to be a three-year sojourn, and then my mom started studying also. And then, I mean, it just, then I was in school and then they were like, let this child finish high school. Um, so it seems that a lot of the energy during my childhood was my parents’ preparation to return and this postponement of things to come. And within our house, my parents spoke to us in Swahili and we ate and lived for the most part like you would in a Tanzanian household, um, the foods, the colors, the flavors, the music, the language. Um, so all of these things were part of life while we were living in California, um, in the San Francisco Bay Area. So, um, so for me, I think that really helped, um, I guess, uh, reinforce and affirm the reality that you are, everyone’s creating their own culture and space within their family or within their group. Um, and at the same time, if I went to Tanzania, I felt inside as an insider and an outsider. Uh, in San Francisco, in America, insider and outsider. But within the home and within myself, that was my strong foundation. So, um, so I think I’ve been keenly aware of the spaces that I move through both as a participant and as an observer. Um, yeah.

[00:09:29] Lorilee Rager: Okay. Yes. Well, I didn’t, I didn’t realize too that you, like you just said you lived as an insider and an outsider and, and how, and how as a child, how that really probably did influence who you are and your work.

[00:09:46] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. And I think also the contrast of moving from a majority, um, African setting, you know, um, so we were in post colonial East Africa. So this is a really exciting time because my father’s generation was the generation that, um, was redefining what Tanzania and Kenya looked like. Um, he was probably one of that first group of Africans who would come into the university. We had integrated our neighborhood, which used to, was, before that was where the Europeans had lived. Um, and so by the time I arrived, it was fairly integrated. You had, you know, the US counselor was across the street and my best friend was from, uh, Pakistan next door and we were in east Africa. There were multiple languages being spoken in Kenya. And then when we moved to Oakland, Oakland was also in this really interesting space. It was, um, during, um, the, oh, you know, I guess it was civil rights. Um, the Black Panthers, uh, there was San Francisco was in far away, there was a lot of opening up to new ideas. And, um, so I think that confluence of being in spaces that were new and we’re energetic and we’re striving to understand what the future would be, um, also I think really affected me. And so, and, and it was all of these spaces we’re working towards a better future.

[00:11:26] Lorilee Rager: Yes, that’s exactly what I was realizing as you said it. In two totally different areas on the map, it’s still progressing forward for better and change. Oh, yeah, that’s beautiful. Really, really beautiful.

[00:11:42] Ziddi Msangi: So it’s always a little bit on the horizon, but you can kind of see it because everyone’s trying to articulate what that place looks like, which is what, you know, um, design process, your, your thesis process, right? It’s this thing, idea that’s kind of in the, in the distance, you can kind of see it, but you’re working towards it. 

[00:12:01] Lorilee Rager: And you don’t know exactly what that is, it’s fuzzy, but you’re trying to, uh, live the questions and define it as you go. Well, that, that is literally the, um, the safe space that you allowed me to work in when you started to talk about, you know, sense of place and, and helping me connect, you know, how does it support your creativity and how does it support your work? And it was a big blind spot I had. Um, I think I really had tried to ignore it or in my case felt a little shame about where maybe I was from and just being Southern or worried about being thought of as ignorant or just different, different things in that culture space. But when you mentioned sense of place and our really, as the metaphor, dug into the roots of it. I discovered such joy and happiness. I thought I was going to uncover negative, but I really saw the learning lessons and the goodness of my sense of place.

[00:13:11] Ziddi Msangi: And you were open to that discovery, which I think is why it was so successful, um, because sometimes it’s hard for us to appreciate where we’re rooted, where we’re from, what that means. Um, and, um, as you described it, you were able to move past those sometimes the externally imposed views of where we’re from or internally, and then were able to really appreciate what was there. And that, similarly for me, um, because at some point it was clear that I wasn’t going back to East Africa. So I really had to just sort of embrace where I was and what that had to offer. 

[00:14:01] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. I love it. Yeah, to appreciate it. That’s absolutely right. Okay. So going from that to say to appreciate it, um, which is a beautiful word and a way to think of it, is, um, thinking of the human centered design aspect of it. And one of the biggest moments that I see surrounded with the sense of place is how, when we worked together, how I saw how you really do honor the student’s lived experience. And I had just never, the word human doesn’t come up a lot in my previous training in undergrad of design and process and rigid and grids and, and that. So tell me a little bit what human centered design means. 

[00:14:49] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. It’s, it’s, um, so a few years ago, I was introduced, uh, to the work of the Institute of Human Centered Design here in Boston. And so the IHCD had this grant to work with Boston area design schools and look at their programs to introduce the model of working with user experts. And these are people who have, uh, functional limitations. Um, and so the goal was to include them in the critique process, uh, when in a classroom or in a group you’re putting together a design program, including the user experts. Um, and this could apply to interior architecture, user experience, packaging. And so user experts are people who have a functional limitation, that might be eyesight, limited eyesight, or, um, because of advanced age, your ability to hold things may start to decline, so limited grasp, or it could even be, um, neurological cognitive, um, issues that you’re you have. So that the, um, having that person’s lived experience and\ their ability to critique your work completely transforms things. Because at that time, um, you know, our, we were really focused on typography, the systems you’re working with, you know, all of the basic training. And, um, we might have an abstract idea of who the user is, but, um, it’s really different when someone with maybe a broader range or a different range of experiences and perspectives comes and critiques the work. So like for instance, in this particular class we were dealing with packaging and someone with limited sight, um, that small type suddenly becomes, or the contrast, right? So, or the ability to hold it. So it was, it was really quite remarkable, the transformation within the classroom, and of course within myself, in that thinking. So the IHCD, their goal is to sort of democratize this approach by making sure that sort of all the design disciplines consider the needs of people with functional limitations specifically. I think, um, what I also took from that was, you know, students have their own centered experience, we all do. So really, um, bringing that into the dialogue of the classroom is like a really important component. Um, and making sure that design is centered on the widest range of people operating in the sort of the widest range of situations. Embracing humanity in all of its diversity and expressions kind of at the core. 

[00:17:52] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. Well, that, that concept, I know for a fact changed who I am in the classroom versus who I would have been before VCFA and before, you know, having you as an advisor. I would, I mean, I can almost, uh, see myself if I was in a back to the future situation, standing in front of the classroom, A probably not listening to any of the students, but telling, talking one way, about Helvetica and the light, you know, minimalists, and, and things like that, using ultra light and light gray or whatever, my just personal preference may be, versus turning it around and asking them to make something in any type you want and say, why, why did you do this? And seeing that in, in a classroom and in the world, in the grocery store, you’re around completely different humans. And, um, in my, in my particular area where we’re near an army base, so there’s a lot of attention to PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and, and working with students who are brilliant, um, that have some disabilities. And I just know that before VCFA, I really probably would not have listened to them as well and started with asking them first, why would you do it this way? Um, 

[00:19:20] Ziddi Msangi: And what a wonderful experience as a student to, um, be in a classroom where that is the norm. I think of the gift and the way that the, what you’re modeling for them being in the world.

[00:19:39] Lorilee Rager: Well, it’s just a really important topic, so, um, that’s why I wanted to ask you about it and talk about it too. But, so now jumping into another, another aha moment through grad school that you helped me through was liminal space. And, um, you know, what is that space between what we understand our reality to be. 

[00:20:07] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah, right. It’s, it’s interesting, right? 

[00:20:11] Lorilee Rager: Is it. It is. Um, and yeah. Well, I was just going to say the example is, of course you helped guide me through the liminal space, um, that kind of brought me face to face with those inner fears, and this question came out of it is, why am I here? So tell me, and we may have to explain the liminal space, especially to some of our listeners, but 

[00:20:38] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. And it’s essentially it’s in between, the sort of in between-ness. Um, so if I think about it, um, you know, a story pops to mind, um, as a child, I remember asking my father, we were Lutheran and I asked him probably after church, um, why some people in church who seemingly were holy people, I was young so that’s how I understood it, often acted in a manner contrary to their beliefs when we were out in the world. And he reminded me that people come to church as they are, and often aspire to be something else, but in the meantime, they’re in the process of becoming. So there’s sort of this space they’re in. And so I carry that with me, um, as an assumption about kind of our evolution as we move through life that, um, we’re in between who we have been and who we’re becoming. Um, and this is very evident to any parent who’s observed a child and, you know, you know, in those early years, um, of formation when things are happening really quickly, um, you have a sense of who they are, but they’re becoming more of themselves over time. And it’s, I think it still goes on, we just don’t have the, um, the visible, uh, milestones as we did when they were younger. 

[00:22:19] Lorilee Rager: Yes. That’s so true. That’s absolutely, as, as a child you do, you do physically and change so rapidly. It, you have a visual for the liminal space milestones. Then as you become a young adult, yeah, you definitely lose those, but it is definitely still happening.

[00:22:38] Ziddi Msangi: Right. Because, um, and, and for me, that’s thinking about that it’s comforting because while we may have greater expertise and competence in specific areas, as we advance, um, and accumulate, accumulate experiences in life, uh, we can also have areas that are still developing or just being discovered. 

[00:23:04] Lorilee Rager: Right. Um, it made me think of it as I began to write and, and think of liminal space is, how did I show up in the world, in this space in between of yes, where, how am I currently showing up and where do I want to, and it was this mysterious space that, um, you know, you helped reveal both strengths and vulnerabilities. 

[00:23:37] Ziddi Msangi: Yes. 

[00:23:37] Lorilee Rager: So, that was, 

[00:23:40] Ziddi Msangi: Right. Because those are always there in play, right. And, and we, we have a sense of, um, who we are and if we are still enough, I mean, the strengths are what are affirmed in the world. And often we base a career on, our identity on, and people affirm that, and we move through life. But our vulnerabilities are right there with us and often give us the drive and the strength because we’re trying to overcome them. Um, but what power, when we can be vulnerable and recognize that. Um, so, yeah, I think there’s, there, there’s wisdom we gain when we can be still and recognize that. 

[00:24:32] Lorilee Rager: It was, it was, um, where I really began to learn, um, mindfulness and, and, and it’s just the small moments of feeling my feet on the carpet or the water on my toes in the shower, when, when there were prior to this thought and this work and this time with you, I could get into the shower and not even know when I got out if I washed my hair or not. I was like, wait, did I wash my hair? I have no idea. Did I just get in and get out? What? So the mindfulness that came out of it was just really, it was really a great, um, topic, um, to, to begin to understand. And so my question, my next question is, because of that, you know, because of the strengths and the vulnerabilities and everything that comes up from it in the mindfulness, you, um, you have multiple narratives that form and they form a perception. And why, tell me why you think they matter, those multiple narratives. 

[00:25:39] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. Um, as I alluded to earlier, when I was talking about this movement from East Africa to California, um, as we grow older and our identity starts to shift and it certainly, for me, it can start to get tied up in our profession, you know our status within our community, our relationship to our family, and like, these are all different identities, um, and there are often, these are identities that are projected on us in a time, um, we develop them and look for, look towards others for affirmation. And so then you’re the teacher or you’re the friend or you’re the, you know. Um, so our truth may sometimes lie outside of these roles. Like, can we have these roles that we have in the world, but then, you know, our true calling or who we are, can sometimes get lost in there. So I think there’s this tension between what we understand our reality to be and these multiple narratives that form that perception of that reality. And so, you know, ultimately, as we were talking about with the liminal space, to be human is to be in process and how we understand that in ourselves and others often dictates how we respond to the world. Um, so I, I do think these reflective practices give us a space to see who we are becoming and understand these multiple narratives. 

Um, I also am aware that, um, certainly in my family, there’s a narrative behind, uh, like my father, for instance, you know, he told me at some point the story of how his mother, who was a subsistence farmer, so she literally, they lived off the food they could grow, um, while his father was across the border trying to earn hard currency. So in the colonial system, you had to pay taxes and that meant you had to use hard currency, so you have to find a job that allowed you to make, you know, hard currency to pay taxes so that, you know, so they pulled my grandfather away from their small village up in Sangay to go to the border, he was a tailor, to find work. And so it left my grandma with her six kids to kind of fend for themselves, and so they grew food. And my dad was not a farmer, he was, you know, um, and this was you know, they were just using hoes. And, um, and what he would do as the, as the youngest child, was be in the corner drawing on the dirt, right. And, and his mom, what I find that amazing, instead of scolding him and saying, hey, come help us cause we need all hands on deck, she sat down next to him and prayed that whatever he was doing would fulfill him and give him a life and that, that, that was her prayer for him. And so what an amazing affirmation, because I’m the beneficiary of that. You know, he went on to go to school, to become an artist, to become a university professor. And that, that narrative it would have complete, I would have a very different life had it not been for that. So I think that’s like one major narrative that’s, um, it’s with me. And, uh, and it was only uncovered by a conversation with my father some time and maybe I was in college and he told me that story and I was like, oh my gosh.

[00:29:33] Lorilee Rager: There it is. There’s the connection. There, there it is. There was, uh, an anchor in the timeline through the sense of place and everything. Oh, you know, you know, my, you know, my background very well cause you had to read all about all about it, through school, but you know, my, my roots in farming for sure. But it’s so, so something else that’s so amazing to me in, in the research and sharing and the process that we went through through school is connecting that thread that makes you and I, um, you know, a female from Kentucky who’s a little younger, and your story of now your grandfather in Tanzania, where, how it connects. Because my grandmother was one of nine children and their farm was exactly the same. They only have, they were known for their garden because it was so epic and wonderful. But it was so they could live. That’s what they worked in. And one of them was a painter and he was known, so his role was really to paint and upkeep those types of things. And he wasn’t shamed for it. And he’s, his legacy in this, in this community as a sign painter, um, it’s still here today. And his son does it, and, and that sort of thing. I didn’t even know that. So I love, that was a beautiful story. And the way, and the way I didn’t think of the economy when they start to say, you must, you must pay taxes, so someone in the group, that’s very, doing very well sustaining their family on their own land with their own food, now has to go out to get hard currency. 

[00:31:19] Ziddi Msangi: Right. It was, uh, these are the, um, when we look at the spread, sometimes it’s historical spaces, we don’t understand how disruptive, because you know, the, the British in East Africa were interested in coffee and sisal and whatever they could, the local population could produce as cash crops, they, people, they’re not really interested in the individual lives of these families. It’s like a bigger machine. And that’s, you know, how the capitalist economy works. It’s really focused on, um, really specific products. And my family, you know, is a very good example of, um, people just kind of caught up in that and the necessity, cause you know, my grandfather wanted to abide with the law, and also the hard currency allowed him to pay school fees. Um, it, maybe in an older system, people would have taught traditional, you know, there were just entirely different systems that were kind of, uh, over overtaken and changed. So yeah, it, it, it, I never understood why he had, I mean, and he, you know, he took his sewing machine and his stuff. He put it on the back of a bicycle and rode a hundred miles to the border in 1935 in East Africa. I mean, that’s amazing, but just so he could go to a town where he could actually work as a tailor because he couldn’t do it in the village. 

[00:32:57] Lorilee Rager: Right. Oh, wow. It’s just, it’s really incredible what we do as humans, um, to survive. And that’s, that’s huge. And I even remember when I was looking at the sense of place and learning about things like after World War II and how people left the family farm, uh, to go work in industry, to go work factories, and that sort of thing, to make the hard currency. And, and it’s really, it’s so interesting. It’s super, super interesting. And how important it is, um, to, to, to our story and in our, in our careers and lives. 

[00:33:40] Ziddi Msangi: So, yeah, and I, and I do love how, you know, both of you, you and I can trace her story back to the land and sort of rooted in that and our discovery of that in sharing our stories. 

[00:33:51] Lorilee Rager: Yes. It was a big aha moment through our semester together, for me for sure, so. Um, okay. So, still along the same vein of sense of place, I want to talk more about your work and, um, your work with, with communication systems. Because, you know, I was reading online and your AIGA article and I was, um, thankfully in-person uh, years ago, just two or three years ago, um, for you to give your lecture on, um, the East African cloth wrap, they, is it the kanga? 

[00:34:30] Ziddi Msangi: Kanga. 

[00:34:31] Lorilee Rager: Kanga. 

[00:34:31] Ziddi Msangi: Yes. 

[00:34:32] Lorilee Rager: Okay, kanga. So, yes. Tell me a little bit about the, uh, East African textiles and their role as communication systems, and your work there. 

[00:34:43] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. So, um, kanga cloth, uh, is produced throughout East Africa. Um, I encountered it of course in Tanzania and Kenya. And it’s a cotton cloth with a printed pattern. And, um, what’s significant about it is there’s an area where there’s text that’s set. And, uh, it can be a religious saying. Um, but also there’s sort of these, uh, sort of, uh, common slang or, um, racy sayings. Um, and so they’re on the, on the bottom, you know, if, if, and a woman, it’s typically worn by women, will wrap it around their waist. Um, and so you can’t really read it when they’re wearing it. I mean, it’s this awkward thing of like, almost like text on a person’s t-shirt. Like, right, there’s there’s the negotiating of, how would you read that? But if you know what it says, like if you see the I Heart NY, you kind of have a sense of what that is. And so kanga have many messages on them, um, and over time, a person will accumulate a, um, a wardrobe with a variety of kanga cloth. And so that’s, that was just a common fact in my childhood. I just saw these sort of everywhere. Um, and, uh, somewhere in college, I think as I was studying graphic design, um, I realized that, um, well, this is, you know, a communication system, this text and image. And as I looked a little more closely, I realized within different groups, um, so if you go on the coast of East Africa to Swahili people, in their, um, culture there’s, uh, usually, uh, you are, it’s a much more polite culture. Um, the Swahili, one thing that I’ve found with, uh, Swahili people are, um, they’re incredibly polite. So if you think of that, um, if, for instance, if I wanted to invite you to my home and ask, um, hey, Lorilee, after we’re through this meeting, uh, why don’t you come join me and my family and break bread with us. Uh, in America, typically you would either accept, or you might have another engagement and politely decline, uh, basically by saying, you know what, I’m sorry, I can’t do it. Um, but in Swahili, um, if you can’t accept the invitation, you’d never go straight to answering no, but would artfully find a way for the person who was inviting you to sort of let you off the hook. You know, so you would say like, um, well, you know, I have to go to my sister, drop off, her off somewhere, then I have to attend such and such. And as you’re going on, um, I would relieve you of the obligation inviting you to come over and would say, well, you know, don’t worry about it, you can still come some other time. There’s always this, 

[00:37:58] Lorilee Rager: Oh, I do this.

[00:37:59] Ziddi Msangi: Right. So there’s this negotiation of, um, not ever really speaking directly. And so, and even more so if you have, um, um, uh, the kanga cloth can also operate in this system of not speaking directly. So you might have a neighbor who’s nosy and you might decide to wear your kanga that day that says mind your own business or, you know, or something that, to that extent. And so it’s a nonverbal verbal communication cause your neighbor who’s next to you might see you wearing that and, you know, did you really say that to them, did you not? 

And now this is not true for all of, you know, Tanzania or East Africa. I mean, this is, um, so in, in my research, I was able to travel to Dar al-Islam in 2018 and interview actually women who sold this cloth. And they were very specific, even the sellers. Like, they have this collection of the kanga that are, have these more biting messages that they kind of keep at a different part of their supply. And yeah, it’s kind of hidden. And the ones that are more shown are the more typical ones, you know, love, you know, love will grow. And, you know, the, the, the more positive, quote, unquote, messages. Um, but you have to sort of ask, can I see the, you know, the sort of more biting messages. And there’s a whole collection of them, um, which are used. So, so that, that that’s been, um, interesting to observe and, um, how that evolves and, um, and then just, it helped me, um, understand even the kanga cloth that my mom wore as, growing up. And often they’re also, um, shared generationally. So if someone is passing away, um, one of the gifts that, um, like say my aunt, when she passed away, um, I’m sorry, my great aunt, all the women in the family were given a kanga from her collection. 

[00:40:19] Lorilee Rager: Oh, okay. 

[00:40:20] Ziddi Msangi: And over the, so my mom, if you look through her collection, she, each kanga has a story, she can connect it to either a person or this was an anniversary gift from your father or this was, you know, so they also become these little time capsules. 

[00:40:36] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. 

[00:40:37] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. It’s really fascinating. 

[00:40:39] Lorilee Rager: That is what I remember. And thinking of design and then looking at human centered design again, and the story behind it and the information it, it held. And it does it communicates so much without really saying anything right. 

[00:40:58] Ziddi Msangi: Right, right.

[00:40:58] Lorilee Rager: And, um, I had read and pulled out the quote in one of the articles where you, it had said that it can help us make more of a bid for more information versus placing a critical eye or tone into the interpretation of the conversation.

[00:41:17] Ziddi Msangi: Yeah. Yeah, and, and I think, um, you know, this, this also comes to the idea that you just touched upon about listening. Um, you know, ’cause, it’s, it’s maybe one of the most powerful things we can do and share is to give someone our full attention, you know, and then if asked to reflect back what we’re hearing. Um, so, um, yeah, kanga, really opens up, for me has opened up this understanding that there can be multiple communications going on in this setting and multiple ways of, uh, being, um, at the same time. 

[00:42:09] Lorilee Rager: It, another point that, that resonated with me in, in my experience and my story, the, um, the little bit of oppression in the south with women and, and the, and the way we were raised in church and, and that women are not to have a voice and men were to, to speak and, and be the leaders. And that sort of thing is something that, you know, I grew up with and it was very normal across the board for my, everyone from my grade school teachers, to my Sunday school teachers, to my grandmother. And what resonated with me with your work, um, on, on this communication system was how, that it provided a way for women to speak their minds. You know, maybe I don’t know, they’re particularly, but in a society that maybe doesn’t allow them to do so in public. 

[00:43:07] Ziddi Msangi: Right. And certainly, certainly the more biting the, you know, the hard words like, um, maybe we’d call it impolite talk, wouldn’t, would be sort of frowned upon. So kangas certainly provide a channel. I mean, you know, there’s gossip behind people’s back, but you wouldn’t, you know, directly. And again, I’m talking about these very specific case studies that, um, were conveyed to me. You know, someone like my mother who is an educator, um, she, she speaks her mind. So it depends on the context of course. Uh, but yes, it, it certainly, um, does provide sort of this outlet, this art. It’s almost an artful way of being able to, uh, communicate ideas without, um, without them, without maybe disrupting the social norms, which, which are rooted in patriarchy, um, you know, admittedly and, um, so that sort of reverence for elder people. And so, um, that is, of course, dictating the terms of communication. And the other thing to realize with kanga cloth is, um, a lot of the authors and designers, as I found, are men. But they’re listening to popular sentiments that, because otherwise they won’t sell. So, so these are, they’re all out in the world and a person is curating and collecting the kanga cloth that they’re going to have in their, um, in their own personal collection. And in a certain area, uh, a new one might come out which has a certain set of messages. So within that geography of that limited time, when that was released, people will know the message on that. So they don’t even have to necessarily read the text, but they’ll know that pattern because I can recognize the color and pattern of that has that message on it. And then if you don’t want to communicate the message, you just flip over the helm so you can’t read it. 

[00:45:27] Lorilee Rager: Ah, that’s right. That’s perfect. That’s so, and it’s so similar to what I do every day in graphic design. It is a perfect connection and branding and how you can recognize what, what that is without reading it. 

[00:45:43] Ziddi Msangi: Right. 

[00:45:45] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:45:45] Ziddi Msangi: Right. It’s pattern recognition. Yeah. And kind of knowing what that is.

[00:45:50] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, it’s a fascinating study and work that I’m so glad you did and brought, brought to VCFA. So yes, absolutely. Well, um, I believe we’re at time, so we will wrap up and have one last question. For the Ground and Gratitude toolbox, that’s one of the biggest things I’ve began to collect is tools and takeaways from people like you and all the amazing things I’ve learned. And I would love to know what tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? 

[00:46:33] Ziddi Msangi: Ah, the sandbox. So, uh, put that in context. Uh, before any meeting where I’m gathering with a group of people, um, and we have hard work in front of us, I hold this image of the sandbox I used to play with, uh, with my friends at kindergarten. And I try to imagine that each person sitting at the table, what they look like then, you know, when they were kids and what their personalities would have been, what kind of person they were and how they interacted with others. And, and when I take us all back to this place of being children, you know, playing and creating, um, it just gives me a much greater capacity to listen and to engage and also to sort of be delighted. Because, you know, I remember myself in kindergarten and, um, in my mind, I’m actually the same person. 

[00:47:31] Lorilee Rager: Me too. 

[00:47:32] Ziddi Msangi: You know? Um, and so I know, I know a few more things and then I’m taller and, um. But you know, we knew how to laugh, um, you know, laugh at the person who was being really performative. Um, uh, we could include, you know, the introverted person who was on the side, um, and you know, we would just, were able to just make space. Even, even the grumpy kid who, you know, we knew he was hungry or was going on, like, cause we were just playing. And so I offer that, you know, that, um, whenever you’re in a difficult discussion or even along meaning, uh, meeting, put yourself in the sandbox and see how things become just a little lighter and easier, uh, because ultimately we’re all just making stuff. None of this is permanent, but it is so important while we’re doing it to be engaged and to be present and appreciate the time we have together.

[00:48:30] Lorilee Rager: Oh, my goodness gracious, the sandbox. I mean, it, it instantly makes me think of the importance of thinking of your eight-year-old self or your five-year-old self. And, and it, it does it lightens. It would lighten any room in any situation. And then you listen again, like we mentioned again, listening is so important. That is so good, Ziddi. Thank you so much.

[00:48:56] Ziddi Msangi: Thank you for giving me the space to share.

[00:48:59] Lorilee Rager: Yes, absolutely. It has been wonderful. And I’m so, so glad that you were able to be here today. 

[00:49:07] Ziddi Msangi: Thank you Lorilee. 

[00:49:08] Lorilee Rager: Thanks Ziddi. All right. We did it. 

[00:49:11] Ziddi Msangi: We did.

[00:49:19] Lorilee Rager: Thank you again, Ziddi, for sharing his wisdom and having such an amazing conversation with me today. Thank you guys for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find previous episodes and more information about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.

Ground and Gratitude is produced by Kelly Drake and AO McClain LLC

Special Episode: The Membership

Special Solo Episode: The Membership

What forces shape who we are on our respective journeys? Wendell Berry’s 2004 novel Hannah Coulter portrays one woman’s experience with her rural Kentucky farming community referred to as “The Membership.” Drawing on Berry’s description, Lorilee shares the role that her own “Membership” played in her life; the people who came together to support each other and their farmland. Not only did this group define her childhood, but they also influenced her approach to running her design business today.

“The Membership” is an excerpt from ‘Cultivator and Creator: An autoethnographic study understanding the addicted artist,’ which you can read in full at lorileerager.com.

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

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OR on Spotify or Apple

Episode Transcript:

Lorilee Rager: Today I am back with another solo episode — that’s just you and me. I recently recorded and episode with Ziddi Msangi, one of my advisors from grad school. I’m excited for you to hear our conversation next week. We talked about the power of place and it got me thinking about my own upbringing. So for along time, I personally really didn’t want to look back at my childhood and my Southern roots because when I began to think about that right at the surface level, I could think of nothing but dark and negative, sad or bad stories. But as I worked with Ziddi in grad school, I began to discover that my design practice today actually was because of some of these amazing people in my life from my childhood. I had this realization that the design process and practice that Ido today as an adult really was shaped by some of these amazing people from my past. We all have people from our past who helped us get to where we are today. I feel like that’s a universal understanding, if you can be brave enough to look back in to your past. So as I began to do this work I began to write about it. And so that is the piece that I want to share with you today. I really hope you enjoy it.

Those who call the rural Kentucky farming community where I grew up “home” are part of what I like to call “The Membership.” That’s what the main character of Wendell Berry’s beloved novel Hannah Coulter called her farming community, and it sure fits mine. Our membership is full of landlords, farmers, homemakers, tradesmen, teachers, and preachers. Some of these folks were the very same people, they just wore different hats depending on the day of the week. 

You can usually guess by their dress what day it might be. 

On warm days, there’s the handmade thin, patterned, sleeveless housecoats or cotton culotte britches for the women and the light plaid western-cut shirts decked out with pearl snaps paired with practical, western-cut work khakis for most of the men. I remember the women in their solid shoulder-padded wool dress suits with thick panty hose and Sunday purses too. I can still smell the Juicy Fruit from Grandma’s pocketbook as I helped grab hers from the mud room closet. I remember how it would swing from her arm as she hung onto the arm of my grandfather. I can see him stepping proudly out of church wearing his arrowhead bolo tie and pointed toe Sunday boots. Eel skin as burnt red as a candy apple. Their bodies framed by the old Methodist church’s stained glass doors arching above.

My membership included caretakers of the land, who worshiped together and played Rook on Friday nights, all together, all the time. A community of uncles, cousins, neighbors, and homemakers, all hard workers, each one with a special talent like wiring, welding, sewing, or sign painting that put their hands to use working together to make the farm successful.

There are many moving parts to harvesting a successful crop. Each one of us used our strengths to keep the full operation going. My grandma cooked lunch for everyone every day: the best fried chicken, fried okra, fried potatoes, green beans, and cornbread, hot on the table by noon without fail. Our life wasn’t like an episode of Hee Haw, all overalls and lazy dogs sleeping on the porch. Our farm bustled with welders, mechanics, painters, carpenters, cooks, and all sorts of business partners.  Because of how hard we worked, and our reputation of being good stewards of the land, by the time I left for college we were operating nearly 10,000 acres of high yield crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat. We hoed miles upon miles of crops across two states and over five counties. 

If you could afford it, a tractor could do the work of two or three farmhands. Hannah Coulter observes in Berry’s novel that, because of the industrial revolution, tractors made farmers dependent on big companies like never before. Tractor’s don’t get tired, you can work all night. Now, I know I was born way after the industrial revolution, but on tractor delivery day our membership gathered around this new piece of machinery like a spaceship had landed. My father would have us girls “read the manual from cover to cover” and listen closely to the salesman’s tour of the machine. It was up to us to show Uncle David Wayne, Uncle Durell Jr., Mose, Woody, and Lawrence how to use it ‘cause most of them couldn’t read nor write. Other farmers were a bit jealous, I think. They would say down at the local Crop service office as we sat and sipped early morning coffee, “That green paint is sure expensive,” while asking us “what all can that new thing do?”

The membership of my childhood not only worked in the fields but also to restore the house I grew up in, the old Maude Gill homeplace. Even today, the front porch has started rotting in places and is in need of repair. Many other farmhouses in the area have fallen due to neglect. They’re hollow shells of past farms that were once full of family, consumed and overgrown by kudzu and full-grown trees. To my family, the rich history of this Eastlake-style Victorian cottage built in 1885 has been worth preserving. Together we all worked for years on the house, replacing the real wood siding, rebuilding gingerbread trim, and plastering the crumbling walls. It was hard work that took intricate detail and patience, but it had to be done to stop the house from falling in on itself. I now realize maintaining this house is a forever, ongoing project, just as you might care for your own self.

Many of the early farmhands in the membership have passed away, but their memory, love, and work are still present on the farm. The workforce of 1976 came together when Grandfather and Grannie Thompson moved from town to help on the farm. They brought with them Woody and Jean Snell, who lived in the tenant house across the field. Not long after that some local neighbors, Jab and Virginia Cheatam, started walking to the farm each day to work with us, Jab in the field and Mrs. Virginia in the house with us girls and mama. They were too poor to own a car and too proud to ask for a ride.

Peacocks had taken up residence in the farmhouse before we arrived, and there was no indoor plumbing or central heat and air. Needless to say, there was plenty of work to do. My cousin Craig, a teenager from the city struggling with his extra religious mother and extra abusive alcoholic father, eventually moved in with us. He was the son my father, with three little girls, never had.

My mom’s brothers David Wayne and Durell Jr. came on over once Grandaddy and Grandma Smith retired from dairy farming. Other full-time loyal helpers later joined. They felt like family; Mose and Lawrence I remember best. Mose taught me how to sharpen my pocketknives and called me “Boots” because my hand-me-down ropers always seemed just a hair too big as I clumped around the shop. Lawrence taught me how to run the bush hog, especially how to get up under and around trees without getting all cut up from the limbs.

Uncle Ivy, another of my grandma’s brothers, was a carpenter. He always smelled like the best mix of paint thinner, Ivory soap, and sawdust. He fixed up and painted buildings all around the farm and helped to restore the house one room at a time. I spent hours helping him, or really, just following him around. He would let me paint when no one was looking. He cleaned me up when I accidentally leaned on the old Carriage House walls as I talked his head off about my big world views at 5 years old. He also repaired and wired the little cabin we used as a playhouse growing up. 

Here’s an interesting fact I learned recently. That little cabin playhouse was actually known as Taylor’s Cabin. Mrs. Virginia had told my mother that when Maude Gill lived on the farm this playhouse was where Mr. Taylor Mitchell lived. He was known then as the yard boy and helped around the home. He milked the cow, hooked up the horse and buggy for trips to town, and gathered eggs from the coop. Although I never knew him, I think of him as one of the earliest members of the membership caring for the farm. 

Now one of the most cherished members I’d say was Grandaddy Thompson, my dad’s father. He was on up in years, so Grandaddy Thompson was assigned to run all the errands to town. Things like running to get parts, fueling trailers, and buying seed bags and chemicals. He called the house every morning at 5 a.m. to get his orders for the day — where he needed to be, what men needed to be transported to what fields, and whether I needed to be picked up from preschool at the Church of Christ. I loved when he picked me up because it often involved a secret stop in town for soft serve ice cream cones from the Bethel Dipper.

I’ve learned that there were others who helped out even if they weren’t physically there. One such member was my Great Uncle Lee, part of my namesake, Lorilee. My Grandaddy Thompson paid for his little brother Lee to go off to college while he stayed back to keep the family farm. Uncle Lee became an engineer in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He worked on secret government projects during World War Two. He made good money but lived farther away. so He helped financially when times on the farm were bad or “Fair to middlin’” as Grandaddy Thompson would say. He bought us our first microwave and our first cars when we turned 16.

Berry’s Hannah Coulter described her membership as a caring, reliable, hardworking group willing to endure the hot days and push harder to get the crop in before the storms. My membership was just the same. They were loyal to the crop and the people they worked beside. They were kind, quick thinkers. Always designing the best routes around sink holes while welding a broken axle and making sure the next day’s seed and fuel wagons were topped off. Each one of the members had individual talents that came together to complete a harvest from cultivation to combining. This is how our membership worked. These were also my earliest memories of process, planning and design.

This mindset of the membership is how I built my design firm. I often refer to my web designers as the carpenters doing the unseen work behind the sheetrock.  Like how you just trust the toilet will flush when you push down the pretty handle, and the light switch never fails to brighten the room. Designers have a hand in the nitty gritty behind the scenes that makes that abracadabra. Like the magic my father made as a farmer. He did his part to make that loaf of bread appear on the WholeFoods shelf and the five-pound bag of Martha White flour pop into your Instacart.

My team of creatives work in positions that take advantage of their skills as makers. With the farm membership in mind, I’ve created a culture where we care for our clients and meet their production needs just as my father taught me to respect and care for our landlords. We don’t need many acres to sit a laptop on today, but I’ve always expected my team to have the same love and dedication to design come rain or shine.

My childhood membership gave me a sense of belonging, self-worth, confidence, and comfort. I felt so much love as a child. Helping things grow is all I ever knew how to do. This way of growing up made me feel that the work you do matters, it feeds someone. I feel the same way about what I do as a designer. Building a team like on the farm, of loyal people you care about and work side by side with, supporting each other’s strengths and working together solving problems, is my every day. Much like the farmer, the small business owner helps the community, helps humanity, and makes a difference in the world. 

Connection and community are truly what makes the world go around — whether you’re on a farm, in a big city, or anywhere in between. This network of support and inspiration, no matter how big or small, is what keeps us going. So today, right now, I would love for you to think about who is in your membership and how they help you on your journey through life. Maybe send them a little bit of extra love today too, because you mean just as much to them as they do to you.

Thank you for tuning in to this solo episode of Ground and Gratitude. You can read this piece, find more information about the show and listen to past episodes at GroundAndGratitude.com. 

I’d also love to hear from you —  we’re on Instagram @GroundAndGratitude and you can leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.

Be sure and join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude. I’ll be talking about sense of place with Ziddi Msangi.

This episode of Ground and Gratitude was produced by Kelly Drake and Anna McClain.