Ep 12: Ziddi Msangi on Sense of Place and Human Centered Design


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.


  • 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:

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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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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.

Ep 11: Understanding Anxiety with Cathy Boone-Black

Understanding Anxiety with Cathy Boone-Black

Stress is a normal part of life; we all experience it in useful and unuseful ways. Sometimes it can manifest in uncomfortable and even painful physical reactions. Understanding the physical and mental expressions of these feelings can help us gain control, let go, and live healthier lives. Lorilee shares her own experiences with panic attacks and is joined by one of the people who helped her to alleviate her symptoms, Cathy Boone-Black. Cathy specializes in reducing stress and anxiety through therapeutic methods like hypnosis and reflexology.


  • On Cathy’s playlist: “Dear Younger Me” by Mercy Me
  • Defining anxiety and stress and the differences between the two
  • Understanding physical manifestations of stress
  • Common roots of anxiety
  • How methods like hypnosis can reroute neural pathways
  • How our reactions can stem from our wounded inner child
  • Understanding why we do what we do
  • Our subconscious mind’s impact on our feelings
  • Finding freedom through knowledge of self and mindfulness
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

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Episode 11 – Cathy Boone Black 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.

Today, I’m joined by Cathy Boone-Black. She is someone who really helped me with this idea of grounding. Cathy is a hypnotherapist and she’s here to discuss stress and anxiety. Now, before we get started, I want to warn everyone that we will be talking about panic attacks and anxiety related behaviors in this episode. I am not a doctor, nor do I ever claim to be one. What I’m speaking about today is my own lived experience of anxiety and how I learned to ease those heart flutters. Always seek medical expert help when it comes to your own health, please. Now let’s dive in with Cathy. 

A few years ago, I had my first serious ER debut panic attack. My stress manifested physically. I wound up with the shingles and went temporarily blind. Cathy helped me to heal and learn more about my mental health and wellbeing.

Welcome Cathy. Thank you so much for being here. 

[00:02:14] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah. Thank you so much. 

[00:02:16] Lorilee Rager: I really, really appreciate you being on the podcast today. And, uh, thought I’d do a little bit of a quick back history on myself to say, around 2016 I had my first ER debut panic attack. And, um, started years before that, of course, and I had attacked my fingernail cuticles and picked at them until they bled and everything from cold sweats to client meetings giving me heart flutters and all these weird things happening to my body. So thanks to a couple of, uh, professional friends that I had to confide in, they introduced me to Cathy. And a little bit about her, over 20 years now she has many, many certifications and they are hypnotist, an NLP practitioner, and certification and the emotion code, reflexology, doula, essential oil practitioner, and faster EFT practitioner. So welcome Cathy. And like I said, thank you so much for joining me, it is wonderful to have you on my podcast. And you have helped me so much the past four or five years with, um, my own anxiety and. So we’ll just start with a kickoff question is what song you have on repeat today on your playlist. 

[00:03:40] Cathy Boone-Black: You know, Lorilee I love the song, Dear Younger Me by Mercy Me, because I work, in my business, I work so much with the wounded inner child, the traumatized inner child. And I always work with, you know, it’s not our fault. And that is some of the words of that song. And I love that song. 

[00:04:05] Lorilee Rager: I think you sent me that song and it’s a really, really good. It’s a good song. Great, good to know, good to know. Well, all right then. Well, I thought we would start out in the topic of anxiety and stress and you know, some other things like decision-making problems. Maybe we would just start out at the core foundation and explain what anxiety is in your own words. If you could tell me a little bit about that. 

[00:04:32] Cathy Boone-Black: Sure. A lot of times people enter change, stress, and anxiety. And stress is a feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope. Like, you know, we have stress, we all have stress. We live in a very stressful world . Good stress and bad stress. So, you know, think about, you know, buying a new home. That’s stressful, but it’s a happy stress. Um, problems in a relationship is stressful. That’s not so great stress. So we have good and bad stress. So that’s just sometimes just being able to feeling like you just can’t cope. And anxiety is worrying about, you know, the future or the past, or, you know, uh, hanging on to things in the past and worrying about things and thinking about things that we just can’t change or, you know, worrying about the future. Uh, it’s a, it’s a response to a perceived stress or threat. 

[00:05:33] Lorilee Rager: Okay, yeah. I can see that.

[00:05:37] Cathy Boone-Black: So that’s the difference between stress and anxiety. I always like to point that out because people kind of interchange those a lot or don’t understand the differences of those.

[00:05:47] Lorilee Rager: Yes. I can see that, where people absolutely use them in the wrong ways and don’t understand, yeah. But the response to stress is anxiety. That’s what you’re saying. Okay. Makes sense, it makes sense. And can you explain a little bit too for those that maybe don’t know, because I, I’m, you know, I live with anxiety and I understand what a panic attack is, but I’m not sure everyone, just the general public maybe even knows about maybe what a panic attack actually is and what happens.

[00:06:19] Cathy Boone-Black: So a panic attack attack is, it’s an abrupt surge of intense fear, um, or terror or discomfort that is accompanied by symptoms. So you could be going along and doing just fine. And then all of a sudden it feels like it comes out of the blue, your heart starts palpitating, you feel like you can’t breathe, you might get dizzy, you might have tunnel vision, hands and feet tingle. All of these symptoms. And it’s a reaction to an overload of stress and anxiety in your body. 

[00:07:01] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. I know that feeling. I do know that feeling. And it’s one of those things where, um, I didn’t, I wasn’t really aware, I guess, of any of the warning signs that maybe came before the actual come out of nowhere moments until I met you and began to understand kind of some of the root causes for my own personal story and noticing things like ignoring the stress signs that, that I lived through and lack of sleep, not taking care of myself, and having some pretty major fatigue. I mean, I, of course was busy. We all, we all are busy running design firm and keeping the kids alive and keeping everybody happy. And then I had that wham feeling out of the blue, in a sales meeting at Starbucks with a sales rep, uh, trying to sell me some radio spots. And it did it, it just felt like, you know, a semi truck kind of hit me in the chest and I didn’t really begin to understand until you explain how medically things come up in people like asthma or my arthritis, dental problems, the shingles, all of that kind of culminates. Can you speak a little bit more on, on that aspect of how the body reacts to stress and anxiety? 

[00:08:30] Cathy Boone-Black: Absolutely, yes. Um, well they, the one thing is they have found through some research that people with a lot of anxiety, uh, generally grow up in a home where there’s too many should rules, there’s a big family secret, there is some kind of abuse or alcoholism. Children learn to walk on eggshells, they learn to be people pleasers and perfectionist because they perceive, through that anxiety of all that, that if they are perfect and if they don’t make any waves, then bad things don’t happen. So they learn to be anxious and they learn to be stressed out. And so once you live with that for a long period of time, um, your body is continually being, you know, saturated with stress hormones. And so when those stress hormones, when you just, even if you go along and you don’t think you’re, you don’t really think that you’re, you’re anxious, um, you still, um, your body reacts to what’s going on around you. And so it’s like, it’s just dripping, those stress hormones are just dripping into your body all the time. And when that happens, um, those stress hormones rub against the nervous system like sandpaper and it makes you very sensitive. When you have a lot of anxiety or panic and or panic attacks, you may find that you are very sensitive to sounds, to smells, to taste, um, to feelings, you can feel other people’s feelings very easily. You’re a very sensitive person. And so it all, it all comes back from how we grew up. And it’s, and I always tell my clients, it’s not to beat anybody up. We’re not beating up our parents because they’re doing the best they can with the knowledge they have of how they grew up. And their parents were doing the best they could with the knowledge of how they grew up. And it just goes back generation after generation. And so, um, but when, when you do live in that world of constant, um, anxiety and being aware of being perfect or a people pleaser, um, it just culminates and all of a sudden, you know, out of the blue boom, you get symptoms. And usually we are the, we are the, uh, in the, in an emergency, people like us that are, uh, have anxiety and stress and panic attacks are the calmest in the emergency. And everything’s flowing in, all those stress hormones and all that adrenaline giving us, you know, we’re calm, calm, calm. And then when the emergency is over, we fall apart. And a lot of the time that’s why these things come out of the blue. 

[00:11:36] Lorilee Rager: Oh yeah. That’s exactly right. It seems like after, after a really stressful known planned workday, maybe I have a bunch of really intense meetings and hard employee conversation, that when I get home is when I feel it and could literally just collapse in the floor, and then maybe notice that I have a really bad headache or I didn’t drink any water all day, or things like that. Yeah, totally, totally get that. Yes. Yeah. Totally makes sense. And I’ve heard the same thing, um, or if you had a really big test or like, you know, I’ve when I graduated from grad school, when you get finished with a thesis, afterwards you get really sick. And maybe, you know, you, you weren’t taking care of yourself or you just didn’t notice the symptoms until after the fact. You held it together all during the hard part. And then yeah, absolutely collapse. 

So yeah, that’s, that probably explains my first major panic attack was going through a stressful time, and my business partner had passed away, and dealing with grief and all of these other things. And, and because I’m in recovery, I was drinking very heavily at the time and it seemed like that morning, everything was actually more okay than it had been. Like, I had really gotten things together and had gotten myself together and gotten payroll done, which was a really stressful thing from a business owner standpoint. And then when I sat down, what should have been a release full, easy sales meeting where this guy just gets to, you know, vomit some numbers and asked me if I’ll pay for it. And my body just totally freaked out. 

[00:13:14] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah, it was reacting to the sensitivity from all those stress hormones that had been flooding your body from all of those events through the time. Because, um, you know, if you, you didn’t know at the time some tools and some resources and strategies to use while you’re stressed out. And so your body was just all those days leading up to that was just flooded with the stress hormones. And boom. It’s it’s like the perfect storm. 

[00:13:46] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. I see, I see that now I do. And that’s a little bit also explains, you know, when you helped me through the shingles also. Because it was after, you know, my parents, um, divorce and some really stressful, hard times. And everything was finally done and everything was signed and the ink had dried, as I like to say, and we were enjoying our time at a concert out of town. You had a babysitter, all four weekend, and all of a sudden this horrible burning, um, they were in my scalp and then into my eyes. And I just, I couldn’t even understand it. Even my eye doctor, you know, medically was just like, this makes no sense. I mean, you’re a perfectly healthy 38 year old woman, at the time, who had lost 50 pounds and it was eating clean. He says, this makes no sense. Like, he was mad. And I was like, I don’t understand, I just know I have the shingles. And they wouldn’t go away until I started working with you, and you started helping me in our sessions with hypnosis and the different tools. So, you know, we can hop over to that, to see, um, if you could explain a little bit about like what, what you do and what hypnosis therapy, hypnotherapy is? If I’m saying that right. 

[00:15:10] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah. So what I want to, I want to jump back though and give your listeners some background on why I do what I do. Because I get that question so many times. And my backstory is that I started having panic attacks when I was six years old. Um, and until I was in my twenties and, uh, I missed a lot of life. I was afraid of everything. My mom was very controlling, uh, and I just didn’t have a very happy childhood. And got to the point where I was agoraphobic, which means you are afraid to leave the house. I wouldn’t drive my car at one point. Um, my life was pretty miserable. So I started seeking out, I thought I’ve got to have help for this. And I found a psychiatrist here in Indiana at the IU med center, downtown Indianapolis, uh, who introduced me to hypnosis and taught me self-hypnosis. It was the first, really big dot that was connected on my healing journey, and I finally started understanding what was happening to me, uh, and why. And I don’t know the techniques that he was using back then, but I do know that it worked. And so, uh, from there, I started venturing into cognitive behavior therapy and got into a self-help group that helped me realize that it was my thoughts that were creating these feelings inside. And then I just started studying the brain and the body from then on, and I still do all the time, really, really understanding how this all works together. And it just makes so much sense. And I found that I do have control over those symptoms. Uh, I used to go to the hospital all the time thinking I was dying or going crazy. It’s one of the, one of the main reasons that people go to the emergency room a lot of times, because a lot of the symptoms mimic a heart attack. Um, and the other thing that I always do when I work with my clients on that note is that I always make sure when they’re coming in to see me, uh, and they have panic attacks, I always make sure that they’ve been checked out by their doctor first, because there are some heart issues that do create that feeling of panic and anxiety. So I was like, yeah, to be sure, um, and again, I’m like you, uh, Lorilee, I am not a doctor and I don’t profess to be, but I do have doctors that refer clients to me. 

[00:17:45] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. You worked with me the same way. And I’d seen a cardiologist and had the full workup who also couldn’t explain it at all. 

[00:17:51] Cathy Boone-Black: Exactly. Because they’re really not taught in med school about emotions and about the subconscious mind, they just don’t look into that. And I believe that there’s an emotion at the base of everything that happens to us. And, you know, when you and I worked, um, you know, we went back with the shingles and we were working with the emotions around those shingles and getting rid of some of those emotions, um, you know, helped help to alleviate those.

[00:18:21] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. I remember I was talking about it and you telling me that even what I say, because I like to jokingly say things like, oh, I’m just waiting for the next shoe to drop. And you were like, don’t say that. That’s what your subconscious hears. And the shingles will even burn a little bit when I said it. Or when my father’s name was on my caller ID. And you helped me understand that emotional connection to a physical pain that was happening, you know, in my body. 

[00:18:54] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:18:56] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. So why, um, and this might be too simple of a question, so feel free to change it, but my thoughts are trying to understand at a very elementary level is why does working in a hypnosis level help, do you think? Or, I know it definitely does. I just wanted to kind of explain to our listeners the hypnosis state, is that just an easier way to help the subconscious and the pathways in the brain to accept or to calm down or? 

[00:19:27] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah. What hypnosis is, it’s a, it’s being very focused. We go in and out of trance all the time, we just don’t realize what it is. And I always tell my clients, you know, if you’ve ever been driving a car and all of a sudden you’re like, oh my gosh, I don’t even remember turning in my driveway much less the stop sign at the end of the street, and that’s because there is a neural pathway in your brain that is associated with driving. You never, when you first started driving, you never took your eyes off the road. You never, you remember every single move you make because there’s not a pathway there yet. So, but your brain holds these pathways and there’s an area of association that knows how to drive the car, so it will, it allows your conscious mind to think of something else and your subconscious mind drives the car.

Um, the other, um, way I like to explain hypnosis is like, if you go to a movie theater, well, when we used to, well, it’s starting to come back again. Now you go in and you sit down and you narrow your focus on that screen. And if it’s a really good movie, you get into it so much so that you forget where you are, you forget who you’re with, and you’re just so wind to that movie. It’s like you’re right there with them. And so when something funny happens, you laugh. When something scary happens, you might have a little heart palpitations, sweaty palms. Or something sad happens, you feel, you feel sad. I may even tear up. And that is a state of hypnosis because the barrier between the conscious mind and subconscious mind, which is called the critical factor, relaxes when your conscious mind focuses on something. And so when that barrier relaxes, the subconscious mind is letting your body react to something that’s not real. That’s a movie theater, it’s a screen, it was recorded maybe a year or two ago, wouldn’t even happen, it’s not happening right now. It’s not real. But your body is reacting like it is because the subconscious mind doesn’t know truth from false. 

So, you know, and our subconscious mind is 95% of who we are. Our conscious mind is only 5% of who we are. And so the subconscious mind is where patterns and programs are set. From the day that you’re born, your little subconscious mind is taking in from those influential people around you, and this is how we deal with life. This is how we deal with money problems. This is how we, how we deal with a lot of money. This is how we deal with love and relationships and stress and anxiety. And we learn from those influential people. Again, not blaming and pointing fingers at anybody because they’re only doing what they know from their childhood. And so, getting back to the hypnosis, when you can be in that focused state, then you can get back into the 95% of who you are, the subconscious mind, where those patterns and programs are set. So therefore, you know, the things that trigger you as an adult a lot of times are the triggers that happened back in childhood. 

So for, you know, it’s just like when we talk about, um, a lot of my clients, um, have issues with dads. Uh, a lot of men, uh, have a, hold, a lot of anger, I think because they just aren’t taught and they’re not, it’s not okay for them to talk about feelings, so I think a lot of men hold it in. And so, uh, a lot of times my clients have a lot of issues with their dads. A lot of angry men, a lot of men drinking too much, or just anger. And so a lot of times it, I was just, just working with a lady earlier today that, um, you know, her dad was a yeller and, and, and even when he wasn’t drinking, and then when he was drinking, it was even worse. And so even now today, as an adult with, with children, um, she still really shies away from any kind of conflict, especially around men. And it did not make sense to her until we went back in and started working with that wounded inner child that reacted to a volatile, um, alcoholic father. And so now as an adult, that little kid inside of her is reacting as if she’s five years old again, not the adult she is now. So when we go back in and we kind of look at that and really look at dad and say, you know, he’s doing it because he’s hurting inside. You know, hurt people will hurt people. And not so much consciously because you know, then after they do it, then it’s like, gosh, why do I, why do I do that? You know, people don’t know why they do what they do. I, I work with people all the time in here with, you know, addictions and it’s like, why can’t I leave it alone? Whether it’s food or alcohol or drugs or cigarettes, why can’t I leave it alone? And it’s because it’s back in the subconscious mind, that 95%, at some point, when you first started doing it, there was a benefit to it. And 95% is going to win out over the 5% conscious mind who gives it willpower to stop it. And willpower to the subconscious mind is like a high pressure salesman. It’ll just ignore it and push it away. 

[00:25:18] Lorilee Rager: That is so true. Yeah. That’s exactly right. Yeah. I knew that, I’d noticed that as I came to you for help for something as simple as cuticles and nail biting and that level of anxiety, it began to literally change the way I thought about my drinking. It began to help, help so many additional things working on, on that level, just like you’re saying. And I think the benefits, it’s kind of like you explained to me one time how you, you’ve driven, you’ve driven this one way and a car over grass and you drive it a few times in the grass, you know, lays down and then it becomes a dirt path. And that’s just the way you know in your brain. You can tell me a little bit about that, where you helped me stop driving that way. Cause I was, I was stuck in that cycle and could drive a different way and let that grass grow back up and make a new path. 

[00:26:12] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah. So, yeah. So the way that I talk about that is that working with the tools that I teach. Working to be unafraid every day, so when you do have those thoughts or those symptoms, um, working with, um, those tools to where it’s, it’s like, you know, you’ve got, uh, a specific pathway in your brain for anxiety. Uh, from, you know, You know, however old you are and when the anxiety started, when that trigger started, you’ve got that really worn pathway there. And so by using the tools that I teach and using, uh, staying unafraid every time you do that, it’s like a pattern interrupt for this, what is already there, that, that well-worn path. So when you do that, it’s like driving over grass. You know, the first few times that you drive over grass, it’s going to pop back up. But the more you drive over it, the more, the less grass you’re going to have, and eventually there won’t be any grass because you’ve created a new pathway in the grass. And so that’s how you create and retrain the brain, the subconscious mind, to do the things that you want to do to help you have a better life. 

[00:27:38] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That’s, that’s exactly right. And before you know it, when my experience in working with you and listening to the hypnosis that we recorded, I had fingernails and I no longer picked at my cuticles, but I also was no longer terrified to meet that grumpy client in the meeting that may be somewhere in my subconscious represented my childhood in a grumpy father. And it was just so mind blowing to me to connect all of that, just through what I thought was some cuticles I was ashamed of and embarrassed of and didn’t really want to talk about or tell. So that was another thing it made me think of, um, how you, you know, I know you’ve helped some of my friends quit smoking. You helped me also through surgeries, um, pain, completely pain-free with a hysterectomy and a root canal and now a dental implant. And the way in, and now I can, when I get in a medically painful situation, I can take myself directly to the spot in the ground, in the garden with my grandmother, you know, which is a calming, comforting feeling. Or in my bed with my favorite blanket with Emma. I can take myself there even though I’m in the middle of the dentist’s office. So explain a little bit about, I don’t know, I don’t even know how you do that. It’s it’s, it’s a wonderful, magical thing. Cause you, cause I don’t, I no longer hear the drills or smell the scary things, instead I feel the dirt of the garden.

[00:29:14] Cathy Boone-Black: Yes. Right. And, and I always liked to empower my clients that I really don’t do it, you guys do. Um, you know, because you’re, you’re willing to take in my, I’m giving you suggestions, I am just a, I’m a facilitator. I’m just giving you direction. And so I always like to empower my clients to feel really good and pat yourself on the back, because you do that. Yeah. You do that. And, but it really does, your subconscious mind, it, like I say, it does not know truth from false. So if your listeners out there can think of something right now, that just makes you really angry or upset. And I bet you, within a few seconds, you can just feel that in your body. You can probably see the person’s face or the situation and you feel it. And you look around where you’re sitting, that person’s not here, they’re not in the room with you, you’re not in that situation. By, but by just thinking about it you can feel it and you just get angry or upset, right. That, that is your subconscious mind at work. So that’s showing you that what you think about this 95% doesn’t know truth from false. It thinks when you’re thinking about it, that you’re right there in the situation, and it’s going to let your body react like you are. So the reverse of that is, and the more healthier way is to visualize and really imagine that you are there right now in your grandmother’s garden, you know, and using all of your senses. Your, what are you seeing, and really imagine that you’re there right now, because it’s so relaxing there in your grandmother’s garden. Feeling the dirt beneath your feet, seeing the colors, smells, what are the smells that you, that you, what are you hearing there in the garden? And the more that you can really imagine being right there, your body is, is working with it, you know. And your body is reacting to something that you’re just thinking about. It’s so healthy. It’s such a healthy state. 

[00:31:34] Lorilee Rager: That’s that’s the key is knowing that it’s healthy and knowing that the alternative of, you know, boxing it up or hiding it or constricting, or, you know, when my panic attacks were at their worst, I couldn’t leave the house, I couldn’t go to a meeting. You know, I had to call the client. And, and I had been canceling. But then instead I would sometimes get the courage up, but I would have to drink to get that level of courage, which became so unhealthy. And I just knew. And then once the alcohol was out of my system, the hangover, it seemed like the anxiety came back 10 fold in me. And my arthritis got worse and hurt worse. And my weight gain got worse. And my sleep got worse. And so, the way it was just all connected was really, was really incredible to understand how you can now with, through your work, in what, and the tools that you’ve taught me, to calm yourself down without a drink or without, you know, having to, to cancel the meeting. That you’re really okay.

[00:32:47] Cathy Boone-Black: Right. Yeah. And it’s, to me it’s just such empowering work. Because I know it from being there. And I know what it feels like to be feeling like out of control. And I know what it feels like now to know that I can be in control and that I can feel more calm and relaxed. And it’s a great feeling to really understand how beautifully our body, our mind is all connected and put together and how we really can, with this beautiful brain of ours, be able to change, um, our day to day, um, life and how, and what a better life we can have. Because, I know for me, when I was having my panic attacks, and they do come out of the blue, you just feel so out of control, helpless and hopeless. And it’s like, oh my gosh, and nobody can explain it. You know, when I would go to the emergency rooms, they’d go, oh, it’s your nerves, or it’s a panic attack. Here’s some Xanax, go home. They don’t know why. They don’t know what to do with people. And so, um, so it was very, it’s always empowering. And every time I learn something new, even still today, um, I, you know, it still amazes me and it still is so empowering to know that, oh my gosh, I can do this and I can do this and I can do this. And it’s, um, you know, it’s very, it’s very empowering. 

[00:34:21] Lorilee Rager: It is. It’s, it’s really empowering and creates a level of confidence. And because you live in such fear of the lack of control or fear of the what ifs and things like that. And then you, you kind of feel crazy cause yeah, the ER and medical side has done the blood work and you’re fine and they can’t find a reason why your heart’s racing. And you can’t explain it and you can’t, and then you start to fear the worst and you kind of get in this cycle. And then, not only does it heal the anxiety side, is how it’s helped me from a health and nutritional side, and really even be mindful of what I eat. And you helped me to really like even taste the food. And I don’t even eat as much because I really enjoyed the moment of eating the small piece of chocolate cake or whatever that, that I wanted to eat. And you want, um, you know, even helping me understand the connection to that was from a comfort with my grandmother as a child. 

[00:35:24] Cathy Boone-Black: Right. Exactly. Yeah. And the other part of it too is we delve into, I delve into a lot of the DISC assessment, which is a behavior assessment. And I just believe that when people understand, if they have more knowledge about who they are and how they tick and why they do what they do it just, again, just another, just another, uh, part of that empowerment. And it also helps me to help my clients explain why other people do what they do. And so one of the big things that I work with in here really is really, um, really working with family dynamics. Um, because I just feel like, you know, there’s so many people come in with issues about their parents, you know, and I I’ve had people leave here and say, oh my gosh, I feel like I’ve got a weight lifted off of my shoulders because I don’t hate my mother anymore. Um, and that’s also an empowering thing because you know, when we, when we hold those grudges and things against our parents or our teachers or whoever those influential people were in our life, or even day to day, um, you know, when we hold those in, it’s only hurting us, it’s not hurting them. It’s only hurting us. And so I got into the DISC assessment a few years ago because I have people that come in here and they either have stress and anxiety at home, stress and anxiety at work, or both, and they’re taking, they’re both personal and, and work at home to home and work. And it’s just, their life seems unmanageable, it seems out of control. And so learning about the DISC and about how other people tick and about how other people, you know, uh, what their behavior styles are, then it helps people understand about why, why maybe, you know, dad was so angry. Um, maybe he is that, you know, the high D behavior style, which was a very quick to anger and very task oriented and thinking and understanding. It’s the knowledge. 

[00:37:45] Lorilee Rager: And understanding. Yeah. So just for our listeners in case they don’t know what it is, can you explain just kind of an entry level of what the DISC assessment is? It’s DISC D I S C . Those letters. The DISC behavior styles. 

[00:37:59] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah, and it is behavior. It is, uh, we’re born with somewhat of a pension for it, but most of it of our behavior styles are developed from how we grow up and how, how we, um, how our lives are and how we learn, how to, um, how to navigate this world. Um, so the D stands for dominant. They’re very task oriented. They’re quick to anger. They are, um, they’re not very detail oriented. They just want to get the task done. Very task oriented. Uh, the I is very influential. They love to have a good time. They love to be around people. Um, they’re going to have the best food at the parties. You know, they’re just, they’re not very detail oriented either. But then there’s this S which is a steady behavior. They will avoid conflict at all costs. They want everybody to play nice in the sandbox. Um, their worst fear is of loss of security, and because they do avoid conflict, they will, you know, these other behavior styles that we live and work with, will do things and then the steady behavior will hold it in as resentment. They’re going to blow up, but they’re only going to blow up when they know, you know, they have all the facts and all the, you know, what they’re going to say is right so that, you know, there won’t be more conflict. And then we have us in C the compliant behavior style, which are the rule followers. They really, you know, they’re going to cross the T and dot the I, and they want to know all the facts. They want to know all the facts, all the figures, all the research. Um, they want to know all of that. Their worst fear is of being wrong. Um, so sometimes those high Cs can get into analysis paralysis because they’re just too afraid to make a, make a decision because it might be wrong. So just learning those things about ourselves. And a lot of times my clients can just explain to me how their, how their husband or their wife or their mom or their dad, or whoever they’re in conflict with. Um, and we can pretty much assess, you know, just from that, or guess what they are so my client can understand why they would say and do what they did. It’s a freeing. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a freedom. 

[00:40:34] Lorilee Rager: It is, oh, it, freedom is a great word because getting that knowledge of my own self and my DISC, which I’m an off the chart S with a little bit of I, and learning that I lived with a D and a C, it just made perfect sense. And when the D just wanted short bullet points, but the C wanted to give a full, detailed report and essay, you could see why they clash so much, and just began to understand it and not blame or point or use an excuse, but it was just, it was a really eye opening way to understand and appreciate everyone’s behavior and my own and see my own blind spots. To know as a S and, and the I side of me that I’m not so detail oriented and I’m not, and it explains why also I’m not an accountant because I don’t like spreadsheets, granular side of things. I’m a creative entrepreneur and I’ll take risks. And I learned, what you’ve taught me about the behavior styles really helped me understand myself better and my employees better and my home life better. And, and that even, I mean, that helps the anxiety side of it, educating myself and giving myself some of those, the tools, uh, you know, I like to say, and, you know, you’ve, you’ve taught me a lot of tools that helped with the grounding side of, of anxiety and helped stop fight or flight mode. Can you speak a little bit about any of that, or you helped me when I get red splotchy. I used to get so severely red and splotchy from doing presentations or things. And some of those tools are things you’ve taught me and hypnosis. Can you tell me a little bit about that? 

[00:42:20] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah, sure. Well, I like to think of them as you know, grounding, but also mindfulness. We talked a lot about mindfulness, being in the moment. Especially when it comes to the eating. Um, you know, I think, you know, I, I had an issue with a chocolate cake thing and I had to work on it to where, you know, I had to reframe that in my subconscious mind, I don’t have to eat the whole thing if it’s in my house. Now I can have a, because the fact of the matter is I’m always going to eat chocolate cake with chocolate icing because I love it. But now I control that, I, it doesn’t control me because I reframed that and re, um, refocused that in my subconscious mind. So now I can eat it mindfully. I have a small piece, I take it, I eat it and I really enjoy the taste and the texture and I’m in the moment with that chocolate cake. And a little bit goes a long way because I am aware of what I’m tasting and what I’m seeing and, and really enjoying it. And so I think mindfulness is a big part of it. And even, you know, when you are, when you’re having a, the anxiety, is really being with it. Instead of letting it scare, you just say, okay, it’s almost like you’re talking to it. All right. I understand you’re here. This doesn’t feel very good, but you know, we’re just going to sit here with it. When all you want to do is run out of the restaurant or you want, you know, run out of the room or whatever it is that may, because usually, you know, within three seconds of a fearful or angry thought, the blood leaves, the prefrontal cortex to go down into your arms and legs for fight or flight. So a lot of times you may find, and that’s why, um, chewing on nails is an anxiety thing, because you know, your hands feel like, you know that the blood’s there for fight and there’s nothing to fight. Uh, your brain perceived that just from your thoughts, you know, somebody’s getting ready to punch you in the face, so your hands feel like they need to move. Or sometimes the legs, you might see somebody sitting in there and their leg is jumping up and down, you know, just like, or sometimes you may feel like you just can’t sit still. That’s all of that, those stress hormones and the blood going there for fight or flight, because your body thinks you need to run from a bear. And so just being aware of those kinds of things. So just sitting with those, you know, as much as you can and practicing, practicing being unafraid. One of my favorite things that I learned from my training years ago was that these symptoms are frightening, but they’re not fatal. 

[00:45:15] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:45:16] Cathy Boone-Black: They are frightening, but they are not fatal. Because I had already been checked out by numerous doctors, numerous brain scans and body scans and blood tests and everything you could think of. I knew there wasn’t anything physically wrong with me. 

[00:45:29] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. That’s exactly where I’ve been. 

[00:45:33] Cathy Boone-Black: And just really knowing. So just being that mindfulness, just relaxing. Um, go out, grounding. I always think of grounding as standing barefoot on some, if you can find some grass that hasn’t been, had all the chemicals on it, um, you know, standing their foot on the ground and, and feeling the energy, the Earth’s energy, is grounding. The other thing is really grounding, and if you’re ever on vacation, and this is why people love to walk on the beach. You know, most of the time when I ask my clients, where’s your favorite relaxing place? A lot of times it’s the beach. And it’s because that is so grounding when you’re walking on the, on the earth like that, when you’re walking on that sand, is just so, you’re just connecting with the Earth energy, and it feels so good.

[00:46:21] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That totally makes sense. 

[00:46:23] Cathy Boone-Black: Yeah. And it’s just relaxing. Um, so some of the, some of the other tools that I work with, and, and you kind of touched on the NLP, which is neuro-linguistic programming. And those are little exercises that we do, um, that really help to, uh, do a pattern interrupt in the, in the brain. So, you know, when you’re in that moment of anxiety and this neural pathway is lit up here and it’s just going anxiety, anxiety, and those racing thoughts that you can’t get rid of, I always tell my clients, okay, one thing you can do is physically move. Get up and go to another room and then think about it and it feels differently. Little exercises like that, because a lot of times when we’re worried about something or we’re fretting on something, we’re either lying in bed or sitting somewhere and we don’t move. And then what we think about gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. Well, when you can actually physically get up and move to another room, it’s a pattern interrupt. It interrupts that pattern. And there are a lot of times it’ll look like, it’ll look differently. And some of the other, there’s a lot of different inner, a lot of different little exercises to do with NLP, and I love that. One of the other modalities that I use is a tapping protocol and that too really works on the bio chemicals in the brain, and it stops the flood of those hormones. Yeah. 

The other thing that was really important is breath work. Your breath, your brain follows your breath. And when we get, when we get stressed and anxiety, we short and shallow breathe from our, we don’t use our, all of our lungs. And so when you can learn to do those deep belly breaths, slow, deep breath in, hold it for the, you know, I always do slow deep breath into the count of five. Hold it for five, so you get a good gas exchange in your lungs. And then slowly out to the count of eight. And do that three times. And it does a couple of things. You know, the more oxygen the longer you can get in that deep breath, it oxygenates your body, which helps you think clearer keeps, keeps that blood up here. Um, and also, uh, just the act of exhaling slowly will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. That is the rest relax and digest system. And so a lot of times when I have smokers come in and they’re like, oh, this cigarette just makes me so relaxed, so I can’t, you know, I want to give it up, but I don’t know. And I’m like, well, it’s not the ingredients in that cigarette. It’s probably the only time in the day that you take a deep breath in and exhale, even though you’re inhaling in all that stuff, but your exhale, you know, you’re slowly breathing in and you’re slowly breathing out. And it’s triggering that parasympathetic nervous system. It’s your breath. It’s not the cigarettes. The chemicals in there can not make you relaxed. 

[00:49:36] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. That makes complete sense. That’s all, and those are all tools. I mean, I’ve not ever been a smoker, but all the other tools I know personally from you teaching them to me and using them and how incredibly well that they work. And I just really think it’s your work so important. And, and I just, I think what we can do is leave our listeners with one last thing, which you just gave a ton, but is there any one last, additional or reiterate tool you would leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? 

[00:50:11] Cathy Boone-Black: Well, you know, we didn’t, we haven’t talked much about gratitude. And I, um, I believe that life happens for us, not to us. I know, uh, I didn’t really believe that when I was, you know, from six years old until my twenties, when my life was miserable. But, um, I know now that that part of my life was there for me to learn and to be able to help others. Um, because I’ve been very open with my story. A lot of people are very embarrassed if they have panic and anxiety, they don’t know what’s wrong with them. How can they tell somebody else? And all we want to do is be normal. So I had to learn to be really grateful for that time in my life. As miserable as it was, I really would not be able to sit here and really do my work, I don’t believe, uh, as well, because it’s, what I do is coming from my heart. It’s coming from a knowing. From being there. I’ve been there, I’ve got the t-shirt, and I’m on the other side now. So I know what it feels like to be, feel helpless and hopeless and I know what it feels like to feel in control. And I’m very grateful for that. And so, I always talk to my clients about that. You know, I know this is a rough time right now, but if you will take the attitude of gratitude and know that you’re going to learn something from this, you’re going to get a higher on that mountain. You know, I heard a speaker say once, you can’t get to the top of the mountain if it’s slick. So you got to have those rough spots along the way to climb up, to get to the top of the mountain and just, and just have that attitude of gratitude. Um, you know, letting your, letting your past and letting your life make you better and not bitter. 

[00:52:11] Lorilee Rager: Yep. I totally agree. 100% and know that it’s a big part of my story, of course. And I do, I have such gratitude for the tools you’ve taught me that, yeah, were because of a really rough part of the mountains for sure. But what I’ve learned and it’s made me such a better person and an honest person, so, and all those tools. But I thank you so much. I really, really do appreciate you for being here. 

[00:52:36] Cathy Boone-Black: Well, thank you so much for letting me have the opportunity to help you all these years and for the opportunity to be on here. And I just think that if, if the world, if you know, if more people would know about this, uh, and know how to deal with these tools and how our brain and body work, I think the world would be a much better place and people would, and people can live a much happier life.

[00:53:03] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah, I totally agree. Completely. Yeah. Good. Well, thank you. 

[00:53:08] Cathy Boone-Black: Thank you.

[00:53:16] Lorilee Rager: Thanks again to Cathy Boone-Black for sharing insight into her work in ways to cope with anxiety. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more information about the show, all of our topics, blog posts, and other content at GroundAndGratitude.com. Join me next time for sdmore honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude. Ground and Gratitude is produced by the amazing Kelly Drake and AOMcClain LLC.

Ep 10: Michael Janda, Award-Winning Creative Director, on the Business of Design


Michael Janda, Award-Winning Creative Director, on the Business of Design

Lorilee sits down with one of her mentors, Michael Janda, to talk shop; specifically, the business of being a designer. Michael is an award-winning creative director, designer, and agency veteran. In 2002, he founded the creative agency Riser, which provided design and development services for high-profile brands, including Disney, Google, Warner Bros., National Geographic and many others. Michael sold Riser in 2015 and now spends his time speaking, developing books, courses, and social media content to help creatives level-up and navigate their careers. He is the author of Burn Your Portfolio and The Psychology of Graphic Design Pricing.

Michael and Lorilee discuss what it takes to run a successful design operation; from managing client relationships to utilizing data and balancing work and life.


  • On Michael’s playlist: movie soundtracks, beats, and more
  • The impetus behind Burn Your Portfolio
  • His career journey — from copy store to successful agency
  • Why self-education is key to career development
  • Using data to take control of your business
  • What they don’t teach you in design school
  • The importance of cultivating relationships
  • Balancing work and life
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

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Episode 10 Transcript – Michael Janda

[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 guest today is Michael Janda. He is an entrepreneur, a writer, a business coach, a Bears fan, and a bobblehead collector. After building and selling two agencies he is now a full time business coach. He is particularly special to me because he mentored me early on when I was building my design firm Thrive Creative Group. Michael is one of the kindest, coolest, and most honest creatives I’ve ever met, always willing to listen and share and give abundantly all of his best secrets of the creative business world. I am so happy to call him a friend. So with that, let’s get this episode started.

You know what’s funny is when I was thinking of the intro to say “welcome Michael,” do you go by Mike or Michael? 

[00:02:10] Michael Janda: Yeah, Mike for people I’ve known for 15 years. 

[00:02:14] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. That’s right. Um, well, I just did want to say welcome, and I just wanted to start right out of the gate and say, thank you for being my mentor. I don’t know if I’ve officially said it, but.

[00:02:27] Michael Janda: You have and I felt it. It’s honestly, that was a neat, that was an interesting time when you and I connected. It was an interesting time because it was, like, right at the cusp of when my agency and my career was starting to become something. And when you reached out to me, it was like, wow, okay, somebody else perceives me as I accomplished something. This is, this feels good. And so the timing of that was, was pretty interesting for me too. 

[00:02:56] Lorilee Rager: Oh, good. I’m glad. I’m glad. 

[00:02:59] Michael Janda: And then the, the joy I’ve seen in your career since and you growing your agency and stuff has just been, it’s just been so fun to see for sure. So you’re like, you’re like, I don’t know, maybe, it’s probably the difference in our age too. You’re probably like, you know, five or seven years behind me in career phase, as far as the size of your agency and the experiences you’ve had. And so it’s like, I’m watching what happened to me in hindsight and in the rear view mirror. That’s what it, that’s what it’s kind of felt like.

[00:03:39] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. It, and I feel like it’s like a, I don’t know if it’s like a big brother’s situation where it’s like watching, I know have having older sisters, watching them go off to college and seeing what they went through and being like, Ooh, okay, I see what they’re doing there. Ooh, I see how that turned out, so. 

[00:03:57] Michael Janda: Yeah, both of those things.

[00:04:00] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, for sure. Well, I just wanted to officially say thank you for being a mentor for me many, many years ago. Um, and thanks for being on the podcast today. 

[00:04:08] Michael Janda: Yeah. I was going to invite myself, like I said, if you didn’t invite me, I was going to be like, you have a podcast? You better have me come be on it. 

[00:04:17] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. That’s right. Well, the big, big, first kickoff question I like to ask everyone is what song is on repeat on your playlist. Or your iPod, do people still listen to those? 

[00:04:28] Michael Janda: Oh, on my playlist today. Yeah, so I, I do these things called mellow zone, uh, mellow zone playlists. And I put in there, like, a bunch of movie themes and stuff, or some like deep beat music and things, or like enigma and stuff, like these kinds of, um, just pulsing beat stuff. It’s either that, or it’s movie soundtracks. And I pile in, you know, hundreds of songs into one, and then I just loop it for months. And then I burn out the entire playlist and then I’m like, oh my gosh, I’ve heard every one of these 5,000 times cause it’s on for eight hours a day in my ears. And so then I make a new one. So I have this whole list of, lilke, Mellow Zone 2021 Q4 and Mellow Zone 2021 Q3. It’s just this stack of them. So that’s, that’s what I listened to. I do a lot of writing when I, when I’m working and I can’t have audio. I can’t have verbally, I can’t have words. 

[00:05:41] Lorilee Rager: Yup. I’m the exact same way. I do instrumental. I have a writer’s playlist that I wore out in grad school. And just like you said, on loop. And, and because if it’s much, if it’s anything else that’s going to pull me out of it, like out of my head or distract me, in a good way sometimes too. But, and now teaching in the classroom, that’s the first thing I turn on is lo-fi study beats, just trying to find something on YouTube and blare it to the classroom while they work. Because, yeah, otherwise I’d be way too distracted. I like it. Okay. Good to know. Good to know. Awesome. All right. Well, I wanted to, there’s so many things I can talk to you all day, but I really wanted to talk about the origin story of, of you as a graphic designer. And I know that you have your book. I love your book. I’ve lived it. I read it. I was, you know, 

[00:06:32] Michael Janda: And you experienced all of it for yourself too. Yeah. It could be your book. 

[00:06:36] Lorilee Rager: So, it’s true. But, uh, the book’s title is Burn Your Portfolio and it is extremely successful from the graphic design world, but it’s so full of so many other nuggets and practical advice in the business world too. Um, but starting out, I really wanted to just, just ask, like, why did you write it? Why did you feel the need to write it? 

[00:07:04] Michael Janda: I, about seven years before I wrote a book, I, I put on my goal list, okay, someday I want to have a published book. And I just put it out there in the universe, as they say, and then I just didn’t know ever what it was going to be. What, what is this book going to be? But I knew that someday I wanted to write it. And I think that there’s something interesting that I’ve seen happen so many times in my career is that once you define something like that, it’s like your subconscious brain spends a lot of energy trying to figure out how to fulfill it. And that’s what happened when you and I met, um, when I spoke in Nashville all those years ago and I gave that lecture. And I had, I gave a lecture, it was my first time ever speaking at any kind of notable conference of any kind, and I spoke about the non-design things that designers needed to have or do to be successful. And everybody else that spoke at that was speaking about design, design, design, and I spoke about non-design, just some of these little nuggets. And, um, and I had so much good feedback at the end of that. And I don’t know if you know this, but, um, Roat from House Industries, type thing, he spoke. And, um, and somebody, I was standing next to him talking and somebody came up to him and said, Hey, can you sign my, sign your book? Cause he has this beautiful book from House Industries. Anyway, so he says, oh sure. And he signs it. And then that same person looks over at me and takes his notebook and, like, hands me a piece of paper off his notebook and was like, Hey, and can you, can you sign this? So I’m like signing, I’m next to, um, somebody signing their beautiful well-designed amazing book, and then somebody hands me a scrap of paper. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is not going to do for me. And I think that was the moment when I was like, oh, I gotta go, I gotta write it. I gotta write, what, what is my book that I want to put out into the world?

[00:09:17] Lorilee Rager: Nice. That’s really, really, really good. Well, that conference, the AIGA conference in Nashville that I went to as a graphic designer, really just going to be like, I’m not, I know I need to get caught up on whatever’s new out there in software and, and see these, uh, celebrity, you know, designers and things like that. And all that stands out from that day is when you started talking business, because it was everything I was secretly struggling with. I felt like I could successfully make a logo for a bank, and I could successfully send the right files to the printer, and, and I was looking in that direction for how can I just do it faster or, or more of them and work harder and all of this, when there, I had a crap ton of work and no money in the bank. I was like, but, but I just need more work, that’s what I need. And when you started giving your nuggets out and, and telling just your story, your origin story, is when it was like you were, you’re echoing some of the exact experiences I was in the middle of or terrified of and that sort of thing. 

[00:10:29] Michael Janda: Yeah. Well, congrats to you because you figured it out and, um, grew like crazy in the years to follow and bought your building and hired your team. Yeah, it was great. You did awesome. 

[00:10:47] Lorilee Rager: It is, reviewing your book now in my class, in, in our, um, one of the senior level classes, we’re going through your book. While they do projects, of course. But every class period, we go through a section and re-reading it now, you know, I don’t even know, how old is the book?

[00:11:02] Michael Janda: Uh, it was 2013 is when it came out. So eight years now. 

[00:11:07] Lorilee Rager: Eight, yeah. So reading it now on this other side of this one mountain, I’m sure I have my lots of mountains to climb, but it’s been so amazing to go, oh, that is what I do now or that is how we, we have this standard of service and this standard of excellence and the standard procedure. And it’s been wonderful reviewing it and hearing, I always love hearing where you started, like, was it a copy place?

[00:11:34] Michael Janda: Yeah. Alpha Graphics, man. It was Alpha Graphics. Couldn’t get a, I couldn’t get another job. That was my only job offer. So, yeah. 

[00:11:43] Lorilee Rager: Right. And you just, you took it, you know, like that’s,

[00:11:47] Michael Janda: I, I felt like I took it in the chin. Because me as a competitive human, I was like, wait a second, I’m better than freaking Alpha Graphics and this is the only place I can get a job. I interviewed at agencies and stuff and no interest at all. And then I get this offer from Alpha Graphics, which to me, no offense to the Alpha Graphics lovers out there, but it’s the bottom of, it’s a copy store. And I was there, the prepress coordinator at Alpha Graphics. I wasn’t even like a designer. And, uh, for me, that’s the bottom. It was the bottom of this industry. And so it just really drove me to say, wait a second, this isn’t what I want for my career. I’m better than this. And so I just dove deep into this self-education mindset to just be, I got to learn what I don’t know that’s keeping me from standing out in the eyes of some of these more substantial agencies and clients and stuff. 

[00:12:50] Lorilee Rager: Because I think you, you come out of college, or at least I did, thinking, yeah, I’m going to be in a skyrise in Chicago and New York and we’re going to be, yeah, we’re all going to be grabbing coffee and working with the biggest brands in the business. And I, I couldn’t even get hired as a receptionist at the agencies I was being interviewed at, that sort of thing. And, and I realized right then I was like, oh, I’m, I mean, my skill level has got to improve in. And even on, I’m not done, I’m done with school, but I’m not done learning, kind of thing. And so, hence, that’s why down the road, I went to the conference and, and we met. So I think, I think, um, you think you’re beginning a design life you’re beginning and design career, but it’s it’s, it may be the beginning out of college, but it’s, it goes forever. There’s no beginning and end. Um, 

[00:13:46] Michael Janda: And there’s no limit or no end to the self-education side of things, the, the learning piece. I mean, somebody asked me that, I was on a podcast a couple of weeks ago and somebody said, well, are you still learning things? What are you learning now? And I was like, sheesh, the last two years, I’ve learned videography, video editing, and in Premiere. I used to edit in iMovie, which doesn’t even count, but now I’m like a Premiere wizard. I’m, I learned studio setup and lighting. I learned audio recording and leveling and just every, every little morsel that I didn’t know before. So here I’ve climbed a lot of mountains in my creative career, but I’m still learning tons of stuff. Social media marketing. Good grief. I didn’t know anything about that and had to figure out how to build an audience. 

[00:14:41] Lorilee Rager: Which you did, yeah. Impressively, yes. And it’s authentic content, it’s real too. So there’s no, you know, uh, roadmap, there’s no specific list. And it was, going back to your book and your nuggets of just, you know, you can’t walk into a room and just say, well, I don’t know how to use that, and I don’t know how to do that, or I’ve never used that before, so. 

[00:15:06] Michael Janda: Yeah, sorry. Yeah. Yeah. Totally, I would always say, uh, yeah, I can figure it out. Yeah, I can figure it out was like at the crux of success in my career. 

[00:15:22] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah. I totally agree with that. I totally agree. Well, that’s, that’s where, um, I really, really enjoy the fact that, I think the book that you wrote eight years ago and that you had lived the previous life is still everyday real valuable content, um, when it comes to business. So shifting it to talk a little business, which I know a lot of creatives don’t want to talk about. I mean, humans as, altogether probably aren’t just super pumped to talk about spreadsheets or accounting in general. And it was, you were the first person to tell me, even if it doesn’t matter that you don’t like numbers or you’re not good at math, it does, it, it doesn’t matter, you have to know it. You have to know your numbers. Um, so the business side of creative, I wanted to hear a little bit of your thoughts, just like why, why it’s so important. 

[00:16:18] Michael Janda: Yeah, well, you know, starting with numbers, since you mentioned it, numbers is, it’s the lifeblood of business. It’s data. And, and we talk as designers, especially now, the designers going to school now are exposed to data-driven design, data-driven insights. We’re talking about conversion rates and things. We’re not just building websites and launching them like you and I did back in the day. Now it’s like, wait, does version A or version B perform better and why? Is the button color red or should it be blue? Which one performs better? So data-driven insights is at the heart of a lot of design nowadays. Always been at the heart of business. You gotta, you gotta know the data of your business. Otherwise it’s like you’re flying a plane with no instruments, and that’s what a lot of designers do. Am I too high? Am I too low? What’s my fuel level? If you have no instrument panel, you don’t know, and good luck, you’re just kind of winging it and hoping for the best. And yeah, you might, you might make it a good distance. You also might crash. You just have no idea because you don’t even know where you’re going because there’s no compass. Well, once you start looking at the data of your business, the numbers in your business, all of a sudden this big instrument panel shows up and you can start saying, oh, if I want to fly to this destination, I need this much fuel, I need to turn left at Albuquerque and fly that direction for however many miles. And you become in control intentionally of your business instead of just hoping for the best. And it just depends on the designer. I mean, if you want to have a Willy nilly hope for the best career, then don’t get over it and don’t track your numbers and just enjoy making the work. But don’t come complaining to me 10 years later that you don’t have any money in the bank and that you haven’t, how do I land better clients and things because you haven’t been tracking your data. You’re just going willy nilly. But if you start, if you start tracking stuff, man, it’s, you can create a crystal ball for your business and you can decide where you want it to go and what you have to do to yield better revenue, better clients, um, more profit, all those things. So, man, that’s the reason data’s so important. A lot of creative struggle with it because they haven’t caught the fact that it can be creative. Like, looking at the data and figuring out how one data point corresponds to another data point, like your greenlight percentage, how, how many projects did you win of the proposals that you submitted to opportunities? Well, if you submitted X number and Y number you won and it was a 73% win ratio, then you want to bill more money, let’s increase the number of opportunities. Let’s go and sell more, and that can just greenlight the same percentage and sell more and then we’ll, we’ll win more. Or we can fine tune our proposal process so that we win more instead of 73%, we’re winning 79%. And what does that do to our bottom line revenue, if we make that level of improvement? Once you start looking at things like that, then data can get exciting and it can get creative and it can be fun. And I think a lot of design minded people haven’t, haven’t connected the dots to see that this is, this is actually a fun thing. For me it became super fun. 

[00:20:23] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. So going back to one of the words you said in all of that, because it is so true, is you said control. And I think it’s a really important word. Obviously there’s a lot of deeper issues there, but as a designer, I feel like we are trying to control, we’re trying to control and design the perfect logo or the perfect website for the client, and we’re so looking outward at, at that level of control and the actual project, you can’t see the forest for the trees situation, when, when it was just another moment that I realized in my business, working with you, that the control needed to actually shift and look at what was behind me, what was behind, what was behind the art boards, what was behind the programs. And had I sent out the proposal? Had I followed up on the proposal? You know, those, that, that selling side and, and I don’t mean sales in a bad way. Just that making a relationship, just checking in with them, just following up. And then realizing did I even, did I invoice the deposit? Did I not? Did I follow up? I wasn’t tracking any of that because it was in the project and we had to get the deadline done. And when you said, well, speaking of the only thing you can control is when you send an invoice. You can’t control the client, you can’t control their response. Um, so yeah, control was a big thing. 

[00:21:50] Michael Janda: Yeah, I like that. That’s a, that’s a, a good word for it. Like, and, and for me, and I think that’s interesting that you mentioned clients and you know, the heart at the heart of design, it’s controlling the behavior of the target audience. That’s what we’re trying to. We’re trying to get control them, to buy, to click, to think certain things. This is what we do as designers. That’s the whole objective. We’re trying to control some segment of some audience somewhere. Well, we that’s, that’s what we do as designers. Well, let’s do that in our business too. Let’s control the business. 

[00:22:31] Lorilee Rager: Yes. That’s right. It’s so true. I guess, you know, it was one of those things and going into like, in my personal life, it was the same way. I was so focused on the design, I was just letting everything else go. I just thought more design, more better design, selling more logos, getting more projects, and all that other stuff behind the desk was going to be fine then. And it just, it really wasn’t. 

[00:22:57] Michael Janda: No, it’s not, it’s not. 

[00:23:01] Lorilee Rager: So, well good. Okay. I love this very, very much. Um, because the business side, and oh, something else I thought of, you had said, um, in your book as well about business is just being polite and communicating. Those are things they don’t teach you in design school at all, um, it’s, it’s more of just, you know, here’s the project, here’s the deadline. Get it to me on the right matte board situation. But being able to communicate and, um, uh, tell the right expectations that are what’s coming next, kind of educating the person you’re working with because they don’t think like we do.

[00:23:44] Michael Janda: No. All those things are so critical. I mean, honestly I attribute the majority of my success to that, my ability to connect with people and to be trustworthy. That’s why I had the opportunities I had. It’s not because I’m the freaking best designer in all the world. I’m a good designer, but there are a lot of great designers that just dwarf my design ability that have had less success than I have, because it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest designer in the world. If you are a freaking tool and nobody wants to work with you, then you’re not going to get opportunities, you’re not going to have success. So, just being, being good to work with and being polite and being trustworthy and having integrity and being talkative and looking people in the eye and smiling when you should smile and all those things. And follow ups, you know, making sure that these clients aren’t just floating out there wondering what’s going on with their project. So having this intuition to have touch points at the right moments, all that stuff is so critical to the success of a designer. I think we should have everybody in the world go to something called human school. We should have like a human school and everybody has to enroll in order to be able to be, um, let out into public. In human school, you learn how to be cordial and you learn how to be polite and you learn how to not be a jerk and a dirt bag. And you learn the importance of relationships and connecting with people. And honesty and integrity. You should learn all that stuff in human school. Maybe I’ll start human school.

[00:25:32] Lorilee Rager: Human school. I think it’s great. I’ve, I’ve often said when people will ask, like from a business standpoint, you know, what, what do and not do, I’ll kind of lead with, don’t be an asshole. 

[00:25:43] Michael Janda: Yeah. That’s the summary. That’s the way to say in two words or three words.

[00:25:50] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Um, and then just acknowledging receipt of, of the person that sent you something, that, you know, because these are passionate, uh, clients. Small business owners that I work with, or um, retired military that’s trying to become an entrepreneur. This is their life that they are pouring out to you, that they want you to make something out of, and they deserve, you know, acknowledgement and kindness. Just, that’s just the bare bones before we even get into talking numbers and proposal. But your book taught me that and your story, if you want to tell it, of, um, your, when you were nice to you were at Fox and you’re nice to an intern.

[00:26:32] Michael Janda: Yeah. So my, my story there, and she’s become such a great friend. I was just DM-ing with her last night. Um, uh, so yeah, when I was at Fox, I was a creative director at Fox and, um, I had created this style guide for Fox Kids and Fox Family brands and stuff. And there was a marketing intern who came over and she came to my office and I had seen her this like shadowing the marketing director in a meeting or two. And she came to my office and said, Hey, um, Archie wants a few copies of the style guide. Would that be okay? So, you know, she knocked on my, on my door, all soft and timid. And I was like, sure. And you know, I get up and I go get the style guide copies for her. And I start talking to her about, hey, so how’s school going? She was at UCLA at the time. How’s school going and blah, blah, blah, and just chit chatting with her at the door. And I didn’t think anything of it. And then a year and a half later, I started freelancing. She had graduated and she had a job at ABC Family and reached out to me and started giving me work. And then more projects and more projects, and it became over the first few years of my agency, a million dollar client was because of her. And I was having lunch with her once, years into this, after we had worked on dozens, maybe a hundred projects together, I mean there was just so much work that they had been sending to me. And, and she said, Hey, MJ, you know why we, you know why I give you all this work, right? And I said, no, I assume we like working together. And she was like, you remember that time that you came, that I came to your office and got those style guides? And I was like, totally, yeah, that was the first time we ever talked. And she said, you were nice to me and you talked to me. And that experience right there, that could have just been this moment in passing that nobody, that I didn’t pay attention to, I could have just said, yeah, they’re on the shelf over there and she could have gotten them and walked off. Instead, I paid attention to her and I talked to her and I expressed genuine interest and it became this seed that grew into a million dollar client. Which turned into, ABC Family was really the catalyst for a lot of clients for me because I made so many relationships there that started going to other businesses and then, becoming Warner brothers and TV Guide and FX Networks, they all started becoming clients because of these offshoots of, of this ABC Family relationship. Anyway, that was the heart. Now I could have thought, oh, I’m the creative director. I don’t need to talk to some pesky intern. But I didn’t do that. It was just like, it was human to human, human to human, and there was no hierarchy in my mind between me and her and whatever. It was just like, oh, I’d like to have another new friend. I honestly have built my whole career on that style of business. And it turned out great. 

[00:29:55] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, again, human school is needed. Human to human, there’s no hierarchy. I think, I think we have to do this human school thing for sure. Because that was one of the things where I’ve said the same about my business and where I resonated so much with your story is, yeah, I mean, my, my high school art teacher reached out when she was the head of a private school. And, and it was that relationship as a student, um, and just also not being an asshole as a student, too. And I think it, it just goes so early on in your, in your life as a human to just, just be kind. And I, I think when you think about business and you think about money and you think about graphic design, you just don’t normally go in that direction. But I think it’s a really important message that you push out. 

[00:30:46] Michael Janda: But it’s at the heart of the success of a lot of, um, higher level business people. Uh, Elon Musk is not inside the Tesla plant hammering nails or screwing bolts on the cars as they come off the assembly line. Elon Musk is a showman. He’s a, he has leadership. He has charisma, like him or not, he has charisma and just the press as a result of it. And, um, Steve Jobs too. Steve Jobs had this, this whole history of being difficult to work with that you can read about all over the place and just demanding and things. But man, when you see Steve Jobs up there on stage introducing the iPhone, the charisma, the likeability, the, that he could portray during that era, he’s still the face of Apple. He’s been dead for over a decade and he’s still the face of Apple. And, uh, these CEOs, Steve Jobs wasn’t in there, you know, soldering chips onto motherboards. He was visionary and a connector, a people person connector. So you look at a lot of CEOs, um. 

And it doesn’t even happen in my agency. There was a time when, and it was around the time that you and I met, where I was kind of like in the doldrums mentally of, I had just succeeded myself out of doing what I actually love to do. I used to love to design, loved to design. And now I had succeeded my way out of ever touching pixels, you know. I was, I spent all my time communicating with my team, communicating with clients, communicating with potential clients in sales environments and stuff. It was talking and human to human interaction. At some point, if you want to succeed in any career past, you want to succeed past a certain point, the reason you’re going to get there is because of these soft skills, not because you’re the greatest at whatever the task is. It’s going to be the soft skills that promote you to the point where the big CEOs, all they do is vision, um, answering questions and interacting with people. That’s their day.

[00:33:21] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yeah. That’s so true. It’s absolutely true. And I’ve noticed, you and I had talking about it one time, I’d say even like with equipment, I no longer need the biggest robust, you know, Macbook Pro because I’m answering a lot of emails, I’m sending Slacks, I’m checking the pulse of the client and the employees. And now with teaching also the students and tracking things. And just, just kind of the 30,000 foot view. And that intuition, I do definitely trust my gut when something’s off or somebody hasn’t been communicated with or not communicated back. Um, so yeah, I think it’s really important, whether you’re going to run your business or not, or want to be a CEO or not, it’s those soft skills that will just get you farther. 

[00:34:06] Michael Janda: And it’ll get you farther in life in general. I mean, it’ll get you farther in relationships, it’ll make you a better parent, it’ll make you a better neighbor, it’ll make you a better community servant. It, it’s like, whatever it is you want to choose to do in your life, if you want to accomplish something of substance, you’ve got to have some kind of handle on the soft skills that are going to help you get there.

[00:34:29] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I agree. I agree completely. Um, I did want to also give a shout out to your bobblehead collection, while we were talking about business. Business and bobbleheads. It’s a known thing, you can see them behind you, and on your Instagram. It’s so, it’s one of the first things, even my boys always they’re like, hey look, there’s your friend and his bobble heads. And they’re always trying to identify who’s who, so yeah. Yeah, tell me about this passion of bobbleheads. 

[00:34:57] Michael Janda: You know what, uh, by nature humans are addictive people. We get addicted to things and honestly, if I didn’t have certain moral standards that I live by, I’d be a slummed alcoholic, broke gambler. That’s that’s who I would be. So, good thing. I have some kind of moral standards that I try and live by. Uh, but I, I get addicted to things. I, I’m addicted to work. I mean, I, I’m largely retired. I could be retired, and then what do I do? I spend nine or 10 hours a day working. And my wife is always like, why are you doing this? And I’m like, I don’t know, I just, I want to. I like it. I, it fills me. Anyway, so going back to the, the point of that with bobbleheads, well, once I started a collection of bobbleheads, uh, it was just like, oh my gosh, these are so fun. I can get freaking Iron Man bobble head that has so much character in so much charisma and so much quirky nerdiness to it. And I can buy that for like 12 bucks? Sign me up, man. 12 bucks and I get something that’s fun that I can have. It’s joy, yeah. 

I’ve got bobbleheads, I order them when you know, new, when I find a new show that I love. I’m like, oh, I got to get the bobble heads of that. So, you know, I’ve got Walking Dead or Better Call Saul. Uh, last year, Breaking Bad took over my life. I was like, I finally watched it. I had never watched it before. And I was like, oh my gosh, it’s the greatest show ever made. And yeah, it’s so, so good. Every freaking episode on that is meaningful, there’s no fluff. It’s like, oh, it’s just so masterful. Anyway, after that I was like, freak, I got to buy all the bobbleheads I can find. And then Better Call Saul, I plowed through that and there’s one more season coming to that. And so I bought all those about all those bobbleheads too. 

So anyway, it’s because they, the affordability and the quirkiness. I grew up with comic books. I grew up being that drawing comic book nerd, and so superheroes and movie, movies, and movie posters and movie characters and things. It was all part of the stuff that I love. And then I just started this collection. Now the, the fun thing on bobbleheads is that when we surprised my team at my agency in Christmas of 2012, I think, where we got a custom bobblehead for everybody on, in the company. And so they opened their own bobblehead at our Christmas party and it was just, it was them. We had their photos and we sent them to the custom bobblehead place them. They all had their Riser t-shirt on and stuff. And anyway, it was like the greatest joy of any Christmas present ever was that these people opening them and taking a picture with their bobblehead next to their face. The likeness on so many that were so accurate. So after that moment we started doing, uh, at your 90 days, if you, after you were with the company for 90 days, then you got your own bobblehead. And that became a really fun thing in my agency, too. 

[00:38:28] Lorilee Rager: So that’s a way fun culture. 

[00:38:30] Michael Janda: It was really fun. And I think it’s, you know, a shout out to trying to create a company culture, trying to create a brand, trying to be memorable for something. And it makes me happy that your son is like, hey, there’s your bobblehead friend. I’m, I’m on board with that because I’m known as that. And if anybody else in the creative industry started to try and be the bobblehead person, I, enough people know that I’m the bobblehead person that they would, that anybody else who tried to have that be their thing, they would look like the copycat of that because this has been my thing for so long and I have enough reach that, that enough people know that. So I think that there’s something to be said about trying to create something for your personal brand that’s memorable, that’s unique, that’s on brand in harmony with who you are, and that’s where I get the passion around bobbleheads now. I’ve got them, I mean, I got them all over my office and in my studio, I got bobble heads and I put them on my desk and my videos and things and, because it’s all about just that brand reinforcement. 

[00:39:44] Lorilee Rager: Well, it’s, it’s really true. And it’s authentically something that you do love, so it wasn’t even like a gimmick or it wasn’t a salesy thing. It was just naturally. And it’s funny because I realized that people know me sometimes for just my obsession with chapstick and coffee or bulldogs, or, you know, things like that. And, and you, it’s okay to put a little but of personality and personal into your brand for people to recognize you. And in that, you know, niche area, you know, it’s just important. I agree with that completely.

[00:40:16] Michael Janda: Yeah. And I think you, you mentioned this, but being authentic about it too. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and said, I’m going to be the head guy. It was, that was never it. I started buying them and then I started putting them in my conference room at my studio, my agency, and then when we moved into our fancy space, I had a bobble case, a display case put into the lobby and I just filled it with bobble heads. And, um, and so it just became part of it kind of organically. But it was just all about being authentic to me and things that I love. And then it became, oh, this is the thing. Now I’ve got to go all in on it because it is a thing that is, is associated with my brand. 

[00:41:04] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, no, that’s great. It’s a good one. It’s a good one. All right. All right. Well, we last, last question, topic I really wanted to ask you about is, I call this section Bears and balancing because you’re a business coach and a dad and husband, a huge Bears fan, which I learned from the day I met you. Um, and how do you find time? You know, I know this is a big question, but a lot of people really ask me this. So I, so I wanted to ask you. And I know it changes, but the time to be creative and to write and to also relax and, you know, take the dog to potty. Do you have a system? 

[00:41:46] Michael Janda: Yeah. I’m not good at this, and I don’t know if you should be. That’s I look at it and say, okay, why did I have the successes that I had? Why did my agency grow the way that it did? And, and, uh, why did I have the career that I had? And it, my, my first bone that I chewed, I’m a dog with a bone, and when I decide to chew the bone, don’t get near me because I’m going to chew that bone down to nothing. And the first bone that I chewed was self-education. Because of this Alpha Graphics experience. I thought, I gotta, I gotta figure out how to make something of my career because I couldn’t get a job anywhere but the bottom. And so the first bone I chewed was I’m going to teach myself whatever it is I need to know. And I would go to work all day and then I’d come home and I would work at night. I’d eat dinner with my wife and then I’d sit on the computer and I’d figure out how to code and how to make flash websites and how to upload things and design principles. And just over and over and over again, practice, practice, practice, figuring it out. And then that led to my first batch of big opportunities in my career.

Then my agency time, it was like, oh, if I’m going to grow an agency, man, I don’t want to just have any old agency, I want to have this be something. I’m going to make a vision and I’m going to get after this. And it was like working all the time. 

And, um, and, and, uh, and then, you know, now it’s the same thing. I mean, like, I, I don’t have to make freaking Instagram content and YouTube videos. I don’t have to be on your podcast to monetize my life. I have investments and things. I don’t need this but what do I do? I just didn’t like my bone right now that I’m chewing is giving back, educate, educate, educate, personal brand, build awareness of who I am and try and leave some kind of legacy in the creative world at whatever size I can leave it. And that’s the bone I’m chewing now. 

Now, um, how do you balance that? Would I have been successful, like I have been, had I balanced that better? I don’t, I don’t think so. I, and I look at it and say, okay, am I, am I a bad parent? Well, I went to every soccer game and every basketball game and everything that my kids have ever been in. I’ve been to every event. I don’t think I’ve missed one, one event thing like that. So I’ve been to all of this stuff. Now, was I there mentally all the time? No. Sometimes I was sitting there checking emails on the side of the soccer field and sometimes I was sitting there stewed in my own thoughts. Sometimes I was writing a, uh, Instagram post on a burst of inspiration while I sat there on the sideline. Um, but I was there physically. 

Now here’s something that happened for me when my oldest son got into high school. I was talking to him about what he wants to do in his life. And he said, oh, you know what? I think I really want to own commercial real estate. I want to buy some commercial real estate. This is a kid who was like 15, 16 years old at the time and he’s talking to me about wanting to buy commercial real estate. And I look at that and say, okay, I didn’t do a bad job here as a parent. Maybe I was stressed out on the beach vacation. But my son is talking about commercial real estate 20 years earlier than I started to think about that as a possibility in my life. So, because I was an entrepreneur living in my home and my kids were raised by an entrepreneur, they gained perspective, they gained an entrepreneurship mindset, they gained the ability to see opportunity and figure out a way to accomplish it. And, uh, I didn’t have that stuff. I didn’t grow up in an entrepreneur house, so I didn’t have those things. So would my kids have had that if I would’ve been more balanced raising them? I don’t know. I don’t know that it’s a detriment to take the bone that you want and then to chew it. I’m not advocating that you just ignore your family, ignore your kids, and let your dog potty in the corner of the house and not take them out. Uh, so there is a balance there, but that balance doesn’t take much time to try and give attention to the things you need to give attention to. But man, if you want to really succeed in anything, you got to chew that bone and get after it. In athletics, in business, in relationships, in service, in whatever it is you choose for your life. If you want to succeed at a high level, you have to get after it. And anybody who’s achieved anything of greatness has that in the wake of their story.

[00:46:53] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I agree. I agree completely. I think in the sense of, you also made a really short point at the end too, though that yeah, you don’t mean you let the dog potty in the corner, you let your own mental health suffer, you let your own physical health suffer, you don’t eat, sit at a desk and eat cheeseburgers and work 20 hours. It, there is a level of balance there and it doesn’t take that long. Like, take a 15 minute break, take a deep breath. 

[00:47:18] Michael Janda: I get on an exercise bike. I just did that this morning. So get on my exercise, bike, do my 20 minute ride, and then I jump on my calls. Well, what am I doing during that 20 minutes? A lot of times I’m on my phone, checking some emails, checking some stuff, checking the stock ticker. I’m doing some work-related things. So I’m multitasking a 20 minutes span and, and that kind of stuff, you know, maximizes your day. 

[00:47:43] Lorilee Rager: Yes, it really does. Yeah. 

[00:47:45] Michael Janda: And, and as far as bones, you know, look at that, I look at my life, how did I survive growing an agency and stuff? Man, I’ve been working out on the daily for 26, 27 years. It’s like, I exercise five plus times per week. I’m lifting weights, I’m going doing cardio, I’m, so that’s another bone that I’ve chewed. And that bone, uh, led me to be able to manage the stresses of owning an agency and growing an agency and the drama of a bad client or bad employee or whatever, uh, came out of me being able to chew that other bone that helped me cope with the stresses of the other bone I was chewing. So, you don’t just have to have one bone you chew. 

[00:48:34] Lorilee Rager: You can have multiple, yes. 

[00:48:36] Michael Janda: You can have multiple bones, but whatever bone you’re going to do, go after it. 

[00:48:40] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. There’s a abundant bone, bones. I noticed my agency do better when I started going to the gym. When I started to make that a priority for just 45 minutes of the day, um, everything helped. The mental health, physical health, the business, the balance, working out the troubles versus drinking out the troubles for me. So it was huge. And yeah, you can have more than one bone. And there’s abundant bones is what I’ll take from that. So, well, um, this, this has been fantastic and I could continue to talk to you forever. 

[00:49:15] Michael Janda: I know. We could talk for days. 

[00:49:16] Lorilee Rager: I know. We’ll have to do like a long series. We’ll just do like a month. Like we, like, we have time for that. But yeah. But there’s, there’s one last question, I’m going to wrap it all up into one big thing. I like to, for the Ground and Gratitude toolbox, ask my guests to leave a tool in the toolbox, and for, for everyone listening. And you always have really great sports analogies, you have amazing nuggets in your books, um, and, and, and everything. So I know you have a lot of tools, but what would be a tool you would leave today, um, for our listeners to help them, whether it’s get grounded or gratitude or, or, or get through a hard spot? 

[00:49:59] Michael Janda: Okay. I’m going to go with the, uh, I got a couple of thoughts on that and I’ll go with the, something we didn’t talk about today, but one of the things that brought me a lot of, um, stress was comparing myself to other people, comparing my agency to this other competing agency. Oh, we’re not that good. I gotta do better at this and this, I gotta get better space, and comparing myself up. And, um, rather than the tool of comparing myself today, to me six months ago, one year ago, five years ago. So when you’re going to make comparisons between you and all the other great people that you see in the world, well don’t. Don’t do that comparison. Compare yourself today to yourself six months ago or a year ago or five years ago and look at how far you’ve come. That’s the tool that really has helped me a ton be able to manage the, the competitive stress that I imposed upon myself. 

The, um, the other thing that I would say relating to that, and I know you’re teaching at university now, and so this one is, like, I think about young people, maybe it’s because I’m getting middle-aged and I have a grey beard that’s coming in now. Um, the, I’m not getting middle-aged, I’m like on the backside of the mountain, sliding down toward death. That’s where I actually am. 

[00:51:35] Lorilee Rager: I’m with you. 

[00:51:37] Michael Janda: Anyway, your career is long. You have plenty of time to accomplish so many things. And you and I, Lorilee are, are examples of that. You’ve worked at places, you did the basement freelancer, you built the agency, you went back to grad school, you’re teaching now and starting a podcast and still have your agency running on the side. You have worn a lot of different hats and explored a lot of different things in your career. Mine has been the same it’s, it was, you know, working at some places, having the creative director at Fox experience, big, big studio, big title, starting my agency from my basement and growing it into something and selling it, and then building a, an audience on social media, writing a couple of books, and making courses and trying to give back and explore a new career phase. Man, if I would have looked back when I was 24 years old and thought, okay, what’s my career going to be? Oh, I’m going to be a designer and I’m just going to design forever. And I’ve had so many phases of, of tangential career moments that have related to design, and I’m in another one right now. And is this the last one? Maybe? I don’t know. Who knows what the future has? I still have plenty of time of good working years to explore even more things. So, time is on your side. You’ve got plenty of time. 

I have a friend who he’s, um, 50 something and is like, oh, I’m thinking of starting an agency. And he’s exploring that, and I’m like, man, you still got plenty of time. You can, you got 15 years. I mean, my whole agency run start to finish was 15 years and I made a ton of money and had all the experiences I could ever dream. You still have time, even if you’re 55 and you’re just going to do it until you’re 70, you still have plenty of time to accomplish whatever it is that you want to accomplish. So, I think time is on our side on a lot of people and, and it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race thinking, oh no, I’m out of school for two years and I’m not an art director yet, I’m failing. Or I need to start my agency now and I’m 23 years old, I got to, that’s what I want to do. Well, man, you got plenty of time because it started. Anyway. So time’s on your side. 

[00:54:09] Lorilee Rager: Plenty is such a good word. Abundance is such a good word. We do. We really, really do. And, and I think, I think it’s important and kind of going back to data, um, if you compare yourself yeah, compare who you were one year ago, five years ago, 

[00:54:28] Michael Janda: Look at you. And I mean, you’ve, you’ve transformed your entire life over the last couple years. So, and you’re a great example of how comparing yourself today to who you were two years ago, you’re on just this amazing path in your life that came out of some decisions that you made. And, uh, man that comparison is the right one. 

[00:54:58] Lorilee Rager: It is when you’re sitting there, you know, looking down and pouting today at whatever’s bothering you today, that’s real, that really is real. But man, wouldn’t Lorilee six months ago or six years ago love to be right where I am today. And absolutely, there’s plenty of time. So this is great. That’s a wonderful tool for the toolbox. 

[00:55:20] Michael Janda: Good tools. I like it. 

[00:55:23] Lorilee Rager: Well, thank you so much for being on here today, so good to see you and so good to catch up for sure. I appreciate it. Take care. 

[00:55:32] Michael Janda: All right. 

[00:55:33] Lorilee Rager: That’s a wrap.

[00:55:34] Michael Janda: That’s a wrap. 

[00:56:25] Lorilee Rager: Thank you again Michael for giving us a look into his life and his business and his bobblehead collection. And thnak you for tuning in to Ground and Gratitude. You can always find previous episodes and more info about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Be sure and 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 awesome duo Kelly Drake and Anna McClain.

Ep 9: Tackling Toxic Positivity with Starr Cliff

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”- Brene Brown.

Look on the bright side! Good vibes only. Think happy thoughts! Don’t worry.

While these phrases may seem helpful, they can all be examples of toxic positivity. Instead of offering hope, toxic positivity can actually stifle and dismiss very real experiences and emotions. Lorilee is joined by her good friend Starr Cliff to unpack why many of us respond to difficult situations with toxic positivity. The two explore alternative ways we can truly show up and offer help when people around us are suffering.


  • On Starr’s playlist: “Your’n” – Tyler Childers
  • What is toxic positivity?
  • Why people tend to react to conflict with toxic positivity
  • The danger of numbing our emotions and rejecting negativity
  • How to embrace the whole human experience…
  • And show up for the people you love
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

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Episode 9 Transcript – Starr Cliff

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, 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 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.

Has anyone ever told you to just look on the bright side when something goes wrong? It can feel so dismissive, and it’s actually an example of toxic positivity. My good friend Starr Cliff joined me last summer to talk about this habit. I know that I have a tendency to fall into toxic positivity. It’s something that seems helpful but can have the opposite effect. This was actually one of the very first conversations that we recorded for the podcast and I am so excited to share it with you today. So let’s get right into it and welcome Starr. 

[00:01:52] Starr Cliff: I am excited to be here Lorilee. I have had so much fun talking with you, just having normal conversations as we’ve gotten to know each other about this topic, and I’ve learned a lot and I’ve thought about it a lot. So thanks for having me. 

[00:02:06] Lorilee Rager: Well, absolutely. I’m very, very glad that you’re here today. Um, I thought I would tell you all a little bit about Starr, a little bit of intro. That she is a speech language pathologist, has been for 19 years. And she has a passion for love, Jesus, friendship, and proper grammar. And, um, just getting to know her, I’ve learned that she is one of the kindest, loving, um, biggest extrovert hearted person that I know. She also has a beautiful singing voice. And she is married to her high school sweetheart, Jonathan, who is an executive pastor, I like to call him a preacher, and has three great kiddos and a lab pup. And a fun fact, she is also a birder. 

[00:02:55] Starr Cliff: Bird nerd. I admit it. 

[00:02:59] Lorilee Rager: But welcome Starr. Thank you so much for joining me. I’m so happy to have you on the podcast. And I think that, um, our friendship has quickly built and toxic positivity is really one of the first topics I remember us talking about. Um, just for a little bit of backstory, when I was writing my grad school thesis, um, about six months ago and researching some topics, this came up when I started to look at my own level of optimism and positivity and gratitude. And so it was an interesting subject and the more I began to learn about it the more I wanted to talk about it. And you were one of the first people that I really was open and honest about the way I felt. And so it really, really, really helped. But, um, one of the first questions, just as an icebreaker, as a kickoff, I did want to ask you. What song is on repeat on your playlist today?

[00:03:59] Starr Cliff: So the song making all of my summer playlists so far is a song called All Your’n, okay, this is a Kentucky word, so I think you’ll appreciate this, All Your’n. This is by a Kentucky artist named Tyler Childers. Great summer country love song. Can’t get enough, very catchy. So check him out if you haven’t heard of him, Tyler Childers. It’s a great one for summer.

[00:04:23] Lorilee Rager: All Your’n. That sound a little Kentucky which I’m familiar with. 

[00:04:28] Starr Cliff: I’m all your’n and you’re all mine. It’s a great song. 

[00:04:33] Lorilee Rager: Your’n, like, um, your’n. How would you say,I’m all your’n?

[00:04:39] Starr Cliff: Mhm. So that’s, that’s your your’n drink over there. This is my drink over here but that’s your’n. Yes. Just a very country way of saying yours, essentially.

[00:04:52] Lorilee Rager: And, maybe in an affectionate way, probably. 

[00:04:55] Starr Cliff: Yeah, I agree. It’s a good word.

[00:04:57] Lorilee Rager: Your’n, mine, coming together. 

[00:05:00] Starr Cliff: You wouldn’t think it would be a word I would appreciate as a grammar nerd, which is accurate, but it’s a catchy song. 

[00:05:07] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s right. I agree. I agree. Well, thanks. Thanks for sharing that. Well, then we will just dive right in from there and I thought we could start out a little bit with just explaining in your own words, what, um, toxic positivity is. Just give me your thoughts on that and we can go back and forth.

[00:05:29] Starr Cliff: Yeah. So, so toxic positivity, I think it’s when either in your own life or in the life of somebody else, you are really just trying to put that sunny, positive, spin on everything we experience. So, looking for the bright side, what’s the lesson we can learn, what are the, what’s the good that we can take from this? Um, but more so doing it, maybe even just right at the moment that we’re experiencing that hard thing, right. So it’s trying to push people toward that positive outlook, that positive spin, just rushing people to that next step, um, when it’s just not appropriate. And letting people sit with their grief, with their doubt, with their anger, with their questions, um, and just really not letting them do that, rushing people to see the positive.

[00:06:12] Lorilee Rager: Right, right. That’s perfect. That’s exactly how I believe it is too, not letting people feel those feelings. And some examples that I find that I’ve heard all my life and used all my life until I learned more about it was when someone says things like, you know, oh, look on the bright side, it could always be worse or don’t be a debbie downer or, uh, the country way would be, you know, just brush it off and rub some dirt on it. And, and those are other ways that I’ve learned that it’s, it’s a response that I used to use all the time that is, is kind of to an excessive, a way that I express over optimism. And really I’m trying to discount somebody’s negative expression of their feelings or their emotions. Would you agree with that?

[00:07:06] Starr Cliff: I agree. And I, and I think in addition to those sort of really unhelpful cliches that we use to just sort of get past those uncomfortable moments, um, I like to call it living in the land of the but. So it’s like, yes, things are hard, but they could be worse, right. Or, you know, yes, my teenager is disrespectful and it really hurt my feelings, but he’s not arrested or he’s not dropping out of school or, you know. And so it’s like we do this comparison, right, and anything that comes before the but might be the real, but then we have to tack on the, but, um, to kind of really discount our experience and kind of think about how it could be worse or think about how we don’t have it as bad as, um, which isn’t always necessarily helpful. Life is not always a comparison and our feelings can be our feelings despite what anybody else might be experiencing. So, the land of the but is not always helpful. 

[00:08:00] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. It’s just like you said, the helpful. Because I think at our core, when it comes to, um, behavior styles and, and mine and yours seems to be similar when it comes to being optimistic and, and always trying to be positive, we really at our core thought we were trying to be helpful. That we thought it was helpful to push toxic positivity onto someone who was feeling something that we considered negative. 

[00:08:30] Starr Cliff: Somewhere along the line we absorbed that, right, that to feel sad or to feel angry or to feel disappointed was bad. And so let’s, let’s get past the bad as soon as we can. Um, and so it really is a reframing of not labeling those things as bad or good. They just are. They’re kind of neutral. 

[00:08:48] Lorilee Rager: Yep. That is exactly right. That is, when I thought that I was trying to help you feel better by pushing out something positive from my side at you instead of just, just sitting with it and letting you feel the feelings you were feeling and not discount it. Um, so can you tell me a little bit, I know, um, we’ve talked in our friendship, getting to know each other, about our past and our family dynamics. And like you just touched on, that anger was, was negative. Do you, do you have any thoughts or opinions on the family dynamics and, in history in general, doesn’t even have to be specific, and how, you know, we’re not allowed to express anger?

[00:09:33] Starr Cliff: I think a lot of it for me was I, just on my own, took on a role and an identity of like the easy kid, the cheerful kid, the fun to be around one, didn’t cause problems. Um, I wanted to be charming, I wanted to be funny, I wanted to be witty. You know, I kind of did want to be everybody’s favorite. Um, and comedy plays better, you know, and positive plays better than hard. Um, and for most people that’s easier to be around and it’s not a burden. And it’s, um, you can kind of physically see, gosh, I’m bringing joy to people, I’m making people laugh, I’m, you know, brightening up their world. And so I think probably it was mostly just internally of, I took on that role, um, and just decided, and sort of thought that if I take them my frustration, or I take them my anger, I take them my sadness, that I’m just burdening them. Um, and that was a role that I didn’t want to play. I really wanted to be the fun one, the okay one, the one that made everything better. 

[00:10:30] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. I completely resonate with that and agree and felt the same way as a child. And I mean like a lot, it felt the same way as an adult. Really not wanting to put those burdens on someone else and wanting to make sure everybody in the room was happy because that also gave me a sense of, of okayness and peace. If everyone can, around me, just stay happy, just don’t get angry or show anger. And if you begin to, I will smother you with toxic positivity, right. To, to make it go away. 

[00:11:03] Starr Cliff: Which is a whole nother lesson that I think we’ve internalized that’s really needs some rewriting, and it’s just that whole, like, whole idea of conflict being bad, right. But somewhere along the line, when I think you’re a toxic positivity person and you lean on that to cope and deal with the relationships you have sort of internalized this message like, well, conflict is bad and just must be avoided. Um, and through my husband and some friendships and other people I’ve really had to learn, no conflict is not bad. Conflict is a way through and conflicts can be hard and uncomfortable, but there is richness on the other side of it and there is realness on the other side of it. And if you skip the conflict, you don’t get the beauty of what comes on the other side. And so learning to sit in that awkwardness and that uncomfortableness of conflict, um, I think is a lesson that goes right along with trying to accept all emotions as they come, like we’re talking about.

[00:11:54] Lorilee Rager: Yep. That’s exactly right. And it’s so interesting saying how you’ve learned it from your husband and friends, because that’s one of the things I’ve also learned from you that it’s, it’s really okay. It’s, it’s okay to actually disagree or even have a healthy argument. That the actual idea of arguing or having healthy discussion with different sides of it is, is actually one of the healthier ways to figure out your own feelings instead of boxing it up and stuffing it in.

[00:12:29] Starr Cliff: Yeah. And I think that you can, you can point to true friendships by the level of arguments you’ve made it through, right. You know, I mean, I think our very best friends and the ones who have stayed are the ones that we’ve been through some stuff with and we have disagreed and we have had our feelings hurt and shared that our feelings have been hurt and we’ve worked through it. And you know, the very best friendships are not the ones where there’s never been any conflict. And so learning that as a 43 year old, um, it took me a while, but it’s been really precious and valuable. 

[00:12:57] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Uh, and I think you, um, mentioned before, when we were kind of talking about, before we got on the podcast, that you have some examples, um, to share or some, a friend’s story or something like that.

[00:13:13] Starr Cliff: Well, I have a friend, um, who writes and talks and speaks a lot in this space about toxic positivity and specifically kind of the damage that the church can do in this area. Um, I’m sort of a professional Christian by proxy because of my husband’s job. Um, he’s been in ministry our whole marriage, and so we have seen some stuff and we’ve gotten it wrong ourselves and we’ve seen the church get it wrong. Um, but specifically this friend, her name is Kristen Vanderlip. She, um, she’s really been through some real suffering. She lost an infant daughter, she lost her father in the same time period. And upon reflection, she just really seen some real damage that the church did by throwing out these kinds of cliches that you’ve talked about without letting her really experience grief and lament and doubt and, um, heartache. You know, or, or even anger with God about why did this happen? Um, and so she writes that KristenVanderlip.com and she has a journal, she has reflective tools that she makes available to people to really look with intentionality at the hard things. Um, all of those things that us, you know, sort of people with a positive bent who are quick to rush through it, the things that we do not want to do, she gives tools for that. And so really intentional ways to look at the hard things, um, And to ultimately build hope. But you can’t get to the hope without, without walking through it and really looking at it carefully. And so Kristen Vanderlip, I think she’s a really important and helpful voice in all of this. 

[00:14:41] Lorilee Rager: That’s, and it’s such a true example, knowing about, you said, her experience and that sort of thing. I think, um, that also, when you said trying to rush through it, it made me think about the other side of the same topic of toxic positivity is spiritual bypassing. Which kind of goes hand in hand and really goes to what you said, avoiding the scary things like other people’s anger, or feeling anger, or thinking that if you’re a Christian that God doesn’t want you to feel anger or talk about it, that no negativity is allowed, and you suppress it inside. Um, and I think part of my understanding is that that can be triggering for some people, to feel their feelings or to be around somebody that’s anger, angry, or to feel that, the anger themselves. 

[00:15:38] Starr Cliff: Yeah. I agree. I think that we have labeled it as wrong or bad or that you somehow are lacking in faith if you have anger about things and you’re not just willing to sort of accept things as they come with a happy heart and a smile, you know. But that is just not the human experience, especially those of us who have been through some real trauma and real suffering. Um, you know, I just, I liken it to sort of physical injury or physical pain. We would not send an athlete back out on the field to play with a broken leg, but we want to send people back out to immediately start working and serving and, and, you know, doing all of these things and just sort of getting back into life as a normal, but they have this broken and bleeding heart and they’re not ready to be sent back out. And so if we can start to sort of equate emotional pain with physical pain and how we allow time to heal, and we tend to that wound and we watch it and we monitor it and we think carefully about, you know, is this athlete’s leg ready to perform again? I think we need to give our own that much grace and attention to, are our own hearts ready to be vulnerable or to be back, you know, in community or to, you know, start serving and making ourselves open again. I think it’s right and good, and that all of those things come, but we’ve got to give ourselves the time to heal. 

[00:16:54] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. I mean, time and that, the moment of pausing, and you said grace too, giving yourself the grace. And I, I think all of those come together also in the sense and living your truth to say, yes, my leg still hurts, I’m not ready to get back out there. And feeling okay, feeling okay to say that. That, that, knowing that it’s normal, it’s very human, um, exactly like, like you were saying. That’s a really good analogy with the sports. I really, really like that. I’m going to use that for sure moving forward. And you know, it does, it felt like, growing up in the church, that it was a non-stop gratitude, in my experience. And I loved that. I loved that idea. And as a child, it worked wonderfully, it seems like. It’s just, once you kind of got into the real world and you started experiencing pain and emotions of anger or grief, I didn’t really know what to do with them. So I wanted to just stay positive and thought that was the only way to be. And, um, and, and as a parent too. So, um, can you tell us a little bit, yeah, on that?

[00:18:06] Starr Cliff: I agree. Uh, you know, I think any good thing can be taken and perverted, right, and made bad. And so I think gratitude in its truest form and from a pure heart is such a good thing, but we can absolutely take gratitude and just to use it as a form of coping where we’re just going to jump to sort of false gratitude and only make ourselves look at the positive and only make ourselves look at the blessing and what we’ve been given and what we have. Um, because it just feels scary to look at the hard and maybe we’re afraid it’s gonna bring up doubt or maybe we’re afraid it’s gonna bring up, you know, questions that we don’t know how to answer, especially if we come from any kind of spiritual worldview. Um, and so we just jump right to the positive and the blessing and the good and what we have. Um, but I don’t know that that’s really true gratitude. You know, I don’t know that if you haven’t looked at the hard that you can fully experience the good. And this is something you and I have talked a lot about with Brene Brown, um, and how she talks about numbing. I think that gratitude absolutely can be a form of numbing, but is it even real gratitude at that point? Or is it just sort of this unhealthy coping mechanism. Um, I’ve pulled up her quote that she has in her book Dare to Lead where she says, “We cannot selectively numb emotion. If we numb the dark, we numb the light.” And I think numbing the dark is the phrase that I was looking for there. You know, if we just jump to, well, where’s the silver lining, what we’re trying to do is numb the dark. We’re not looking at that dark cloud, we’re just waiting for that silver lining to emerge. Um, she says, “If we numb the dark, we numb the light. If we take the edge off pain and discomfort, we are by default taking the edge off joy, love, belonging, and the other emotions that give meaning to our lives.” So love Bernie she’s so helpful. 

[00:19:50] Lorilee Rager: That is absolutely beautiful. And, and with my backstory was numbing and addiction and recovery from alcohol, that’s where I began to look at those root causes for maybe why I wanted to drink. And I, that’s where I really discovered this toxic positivity. Cause it’s exactly what you’re saying, is when you numb the negative feelings, I didn’t even realize that with the drink I was also numbing any, any positive joy at the same exact time, therefore feeling nothing across the board, which is no way to live. And it’s, it’s a really, really difficult way to constantly be in that struggle of not feeling anything because you don’t want to feel the anger, anger, and you don’t want to feel, um, the sad, but on the other side of that or something that, that could teach you, what is that sadness teaching you? Well it actually teaches you that you really loved someone, you know, for example, or something like that. So it’s, it’s really, really important to connect that again with those, you know, whether it’s a childhood trauma of, of an angry parent, which is triggering, which scares you as an adult, and things like that. So I think it’s really one of those parts of the other side, again, of toxic positivity. So if we can’t use toxic positivity, what can we use? And learning to do what I call, um, sitting with sad and learning to sit with those feelings. I don’t know if you could speak to any ways or how you,

[00:21:29] Starr Cliff: Yeah. You know, I, um, one of the things that really forced me to do some work here and really think about how I was using gratitude or false gratitude, um, and how I was interacting with others is something you and I had talked about in that when we can’t sit with others and they’re sad and we’re rushing them through their sad because of our own uncomfortableness, that that really is an intrinsically selfish act, right. We think that we’re being positive and we’re helping them, we’re wanting to get them through it. But really it’s, it’s selfish when we do it because the reason is we’re just simply uncomfortable with it, because we don’t like hard and we don’t like pain and we don’t like questions, and we don’t want to be with our friends in there’s either. Um, and looking back on my own life and my own friendships and sort of realizing in my immaturity the times that I’ve done that to people, um, I hate that. You know, I hate that I interacted with people in that way. And so I don’t want to be that person. I want to be able to sit with the sad, like you said, and do my own work, right, you know. And I, I’ve learned a lot, um, from, uh, from a handful of friends, specifically Melanie Hill, um, she has a ministry to moms. You can check out her website at, um, MomLifeMinistries.com. But she just, as a personal friend is the best listener I know. And so she can just sit and she can listen and she can nod. She can say, tell me more. And until I met Melanie and sort of saw that modeled, I really think I had zero capacity for that. I did not know how to be in a hard space with people and not be trying to fix it. And some of that came from a great place, you know. If, I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with Enneagram, but I am strong Enneagram Two. I’m a helper. I want to make it better. I want to make it right. And so to shut that off and realize I am not the fixer here, I don’t have to fix this, I just have to be with, I just have to be present, is really hard. But having Melanie do that for me and sit with me in times where she just offered her presence and she just offered herself has been just huge, you know. That I literally, when I’m in difficult situations and I’m feeling antsy and I’m feeling like I want to fix it and I want to take somebody’s pain away, I can just think, okay, what would Melanie do? Well, you know, she would just be with, she would just be with and be present and to say that that is a human experience, you know. That feels right to me, that you would feel that way. Um, so heplful. 

[00:23:59] Lorilee Rager: That’s a really helpful lesson to learn. Tell me, let’s go back a little bit. You said the Enneagram, which you know I’m learning a lot about that as well. Explain it. Let’s explain to our listeners what that is in your own words, what the Enneagram behavior styles are. 

[00:24:13] Starr Cliff: Sure. Um, so there is a lot of great books, um, about, about the Enneagram. Um, if you just do kind of any Google search, you can probably pull up some of the most popular ones. But it’s just nine sort of personality types that as you read through them, you can sort of see how you’re wired and how your personality tends to react. You can find out what your major motivators are, what motivates your behaviors. Um, as an Enneagram Two, I’m a helper and I want to be liked and I want to be found useful and I want to bring joy to people. And so, um, learning the ways in which that can be both a really positive thing or a really negative thing has been incredibly helpful.

[00:24:53] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I’ve heard that in all the behavior style tests and evaluations and assessments, there’s the healthy version and the unhealthy version. So, yeah, I remember learning about that. And, I’m a Type Nine, which is a people pleaser, and my motivator is to get, um, as someone said on a lecture I watched one time to get my inner bobber steady. You know, like the bobber on a fishing pole and it’s floating on the water when you’re fishing, you want to get that as steady as possible. And I learned that to keep my inner bobber steady, it is to make sure everyone around me is happy. And that’s where it comes back to toxic positivity is I really need you to be happy so I feel comfortable, again coming back to me and the selfish side of it. But learning to sit with sad and to really be okay with somebody who’s actually hurting and being honest and opening up, and the fact that, you know, it’s okay. It’s okay to sit there instead of saying, you know, the opposite and trying to brush it by and get it to move over and, and say things like, um, new phrases and flex towards instead of, um, “good vibes only,” as you, you hear people say, that you could actually just say, “well, you know, all vibes are welcome”. You know, and, and are there any other like supporting new ways you can respond that you can think of to share? 

[00:26:26] Starr Cliff: Well, again, I think, you know, I do see a lot of things, um, in light of my fate, and I do kind of look at the world through a spiritual lens a lot of the time. And so just looking with new eyes, um, at scripture and seeing that really to fully experience emotion, um, Is to experience being made in the likeness of God. You know, that while Jesus was on this earth, he wept over friends that he lost and he had his feelings hurt when his friends didn’t do you know maybe what they should have or he wanted them to, and he had deep compassion on people and just sat with them and they’re paying without giving them a cliche or expecting different behavior out of them. And so, to just see and experience, you know, I do deeply believe and imago dei, all of us are made in the image of God. And when we experience that full range of emotion, we are experiencing being made in his likeness. And why would I only just limit myself to that one little sliver of the pie of always being positive and happy when it’s clear that that not his intent, that is not how we are made. You know, all of our emotions are given, are given to us by him. Um, even just reading the psalms, you know, there are psalms that we sing in church and that we put on greeting cards and that we write on kids’ graduation cards. Um, but if you look carefully at the psalms, there are psalms of deep lament and grief and questions and anger and loneliness and sorrow, and you know, those don’t get put on Instagram, um, feeds a lot of the times, but they are present and they are there. And that gives me just a lot of, honestly, desire to experience that full range of emotions, knowing that, that we are made in the likeness of God and that that’s what he intends for us. 

[00:28:09] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And that’s really beautifully said and makes me think of the toxic positivity side of things on social media as well, because it really is not a area where people are always as authentic and show the negative and show that they’re sad. It’s always just that picture perfect image. So I think that that makes it even harder in today’s world to really focus on the whole, you know, sitting with those feelings and letting people know that it’s not always fun in perfect in that way. And just like you said, we are, we are a whole person, not just one sliver of the positive. And letting people see all of that to be real and authentic is a way that I like to practice, you know, true and honest, uh, feelings, whether those are good or bad or labeled right or wrong. 

[00:29:07] Starr Cliff: I agree. I am a person who does, I want deep friendships. That’s important to me. I want to be in a real community with women and friends that I can really know and relate to, and toxic positivity really limits vulnerability. Because if I’m around you and I only want to share the good, the great, the happy, um, I’m probably not going to feel like a safe person for you to share the hard with. And so finding that handful of women that I can really just be vulnerable with and invite them to do so in return. Um, you really cannot achieve that with sort of this attitude that I’m only going to look at the positive. 

[00:29:45] Lorilee Rager: You sometimes, there is a level of doubt or lack of trust in the person that’s always positive and bubbly and always spinning it on the good side and the bright side and the silver lining. And I think, um, to get in a true, authentic friendship, it requires what I call radical honesty. Which is scary and vulnerable, but, you know, it hurts just as bad to box it up and hold it all in and always try to just be positive. So radical honesty is another side of, of learning to live not in toxic positivity.

[00:30:24] Starr Cliff: I agree. And it’s not that we have to be radically honest with everybody. You know, there is a kind of shortcut to intimacy that we can, I think even personalities like mine and yours, that we do tend to be a little open, we can share, we can tend to overshare, you know. And again, like I said before, every good thing and sort of be perverted. And so there’s this idea of sharing that we can take to the next extreme and just tell everybody every bit of our business. And so it does take some maturity to not be that person, right. But to find those people, not everybody needs to know all our business, but a handful of people do. And so, you know, being, being emotionally mature and knowing there are some things that I share with my few that I’m going to be just be dead honest with, um, and trust them with that.

[00:31:10] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s, that’s such a good point. Yeah, you don’t need to necessarily stand in the checkout line at the grocery and tell, and tell it all right there to that person. And that person doesn’t need to know it or want to know it either, right? Yeah. And then having that self-awareness is so important as well. And I think from a deep friendship standpoint, um, the emotional acceptance that, that like you provide based on your positivity, it’s merging all that together. And, and I think it’s one of your strongest points that I really, really admire about you. Um, and if you can tell us a little bit more of how you, how you practice that, um, in your friendships. 

[00:31:56] Starr Cliff: Yeah. Um, I think that the ultimate, you know, if we’re sort of on a destination with our experiences and the things that happen in our life that are really hard or the moments when we experience suffering or trauma, I think there is a journey that we travel and ultimately, I think we can reach a place of, oh, in hindsight, there was some beauty here. So I don’t ever want to say that that isn’t the ultimate goal or the ultimate hope, neither will I say that I think every person will reach that. Sometimes there’s just questions and we don’t ever get a why. Um, but it’s the, it’s the time, and like we talked about before the giving the people time to heal and not pushing them toward looking for those lessons before they’re ready or letting them happen organically. Um, but being willing, you know, I’m walking with a close friend who, um, this is summer three that she’s visited after a really, really painful divorce. Um, and so, for the first year, the second year, it was really just about the hard and the awful, and how did I get here and this 20 year marriage is over, and this is so hurtful. But in this summer, this third summer, when I saw those moments of rebuilding of her heart and her joy and her coming into her strengths that she would not have known she could do had she not had to suddenly support her two daughters and buy a home on her own and get a new career. You know, I don’t want to be toxic with my positivity, but am I going to call those things out in her and say, I am so proud of you that you have walked this awful road and look what you’re doing. Absolutely I am. Um, so it’s just letting that broad experience and walking with people long enough and staying with them long enough that you can be with them in the pain so that you get to be with them in the joy and the redemption. And it’s, it’s really beautiful. I’m so grateful. 

[00:33:52] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. Yeah, it really, really is. And you just brought up another really good point is you can still be positive. It’s like you said, it’s, you can still celebrate the joy with the person. Even, you can actually still feel two feelings at the same time.

[00:34:08] Starr Cliff: Absolutely. But had I gone there summer one, right when divorce papers had yet to been filed? No way, right. Inappropriate. And had I done that and been asking her in summer one, when she’s in the middle of this terrible divorce to be looking for the positive, um, probably what would have happened is I wouldn’t have gotten to stay in her life in that real of a way. And I wouldn’t have got to experience a year three when it’s happened and I can see it and celebrate it with her. And, um, learning those things, it’s just taken time and maturity and me getting it wrong a lot. Um, but I’m grateful for the, for the times that I have matured and gotten it right and been able to, to walk that road with people. 

[00:34:45] Lorilee Rager: That’s a really good motivator too to think of as I’m learning not to use toxic positivity, as I did so heavily or, you know, or, in my young adult life, trying to keep everybody happy is the fact that I can still be positive, but I can still be there with you during the really hard times because the reward is having that longer friendship. Just, just like you said, you’re, year one, you, you likely wouldn’t even have the deep friendships that you have if you would’ve came right out of the gate being completely like, oh, we couldn’t stand him anyways, or that sort of, that sort of thing. And that’s, that’s not what she needed to hear if she even needed to hear anything.

[00:35:31] Starr Cliff: We want to mourn with those who mourn, you know, just like we rejoice with those who rejoice. We want to, we want to be able to be fully present and experience both those things. 

[00:35:40] Lorilee Rager: That’s exactly right. And it goes back to even what Brene was saying as well, when it came, when it came to numbing and the fact that learning that toxic positivity is also a level of numbing and has also a level of selfishness, those are the things that as I learned about myself, I didn’t want to be, and it, it hurt, it hurt my heart. So I’m really trying to learn more ways to support my children and to support my coworkers, support, you know, my sisters, to support, um, you know, friendships, and myself and it really not, I know it kinda sounds harsh to say this, but lie to myself. 

[00:36:23] Starr Cliff: For sure. I, I like what you said about, about children and parenting. This, I think this is so important. Um, because we do want our kids to have resilience. We want them to have grit. We want them to get through hard things. And we want to communicate, I believe in you and you’re going to get through this and this is going to be fine and you won’t always be in middle school. Um, you know, which is very much, my personality, is just like, you’re going to get through it. It’s going to be fine. Instead of maybe giving them time to just admit man, middle school sucks sometimes. It’s awful. Girls are mean and there’s cliques and it was hard and I embarrassed myself or whatever it is. Um, and I do tend to learn best in the context of, of relationships and friendships and just watching people do things well and letting people into my life in a real enough way that they can speak to things they see in me that they want to challenge honestly, and, and encourage me to grow. 

And this definitely happened, um, in an exchange I had with my daughter when she was in middle school. And a friend was over, very different, and my daughter had come home in middle school and it was just one of those sucky days, right. Like, she thought she was going to be involved in something and she kind of got uninvited. There were hurt feelings all around. Um, and as she’s telling me the story, um, I kind of went into my like, oh, I hate that, but no big deal. You have other friends. You know, you have other people you can sit with. Just let those friends go, they don’t sound like they’re being a great friend right now. You know, just kinda move on. And she left and my friend kind of looked at me and said, you are, you know, you’re really robbing her of coming to those conclusions on her own. And I was like, oh, tell me more about what you mean. And she was like, well, you don’t even know if your daughter would get around to that. You know, if she on her own could experience that pain of being left out, and then also the knowledge of like, hey, I do have other friends and it’s going to be okay. For all you know, she may have gotten to that on her own, but you’re not giving him the chance. You know, or maybe she didn’t need to come to that conclusion. Maybe she just really needed to be sad with you today after school. Um, and I’m so grateful for a friend who has loved me well enough and put enough time and energy into our relationship that she had every right to say that to me, um, and to kind of call that out. 

And it was monumental and changed my relationship with my daughter so much, you know. And so now when she comes home with those hard stories, I’m able to just say, tell me more about that. How did that feel? Man, that sounds like it was really hurtful. I’m so sorry. Um, and then see the beauty of her coming to her own conclusions about how she can fix it or how she can feel better or not. Maybe she just needs to eat chocolate and feel sad and that’s okay too. So again, kind of tying it all back into being vulnerable, having real relationships, having people that can speak those things to you. Um, So valuable. I mean, I’m just so grateful for that one little exchange and how it shifted things between my daughter and I.

[00:39:13] Lorilee Rager: Yes, yes. And that’s, that’s, to me, real gratitude. That’s really something to be grateful for. And it’s such a learned, you know, process to get through, to hold space for that child and that friend. That’s two great examples of where the friend was able to not give you toxic positivity and actually tell you, oh yeah, great job or great job with your, or just so she didn’t feel uncomfortable in the situation. And then as well for your daughter. And I experienced the same thing with, you know, my son playing golf and has a really bad golf game and he’s really, really upset with himself. And when he hits a really, really bad shot, I think the old me would have been like, Hey, but at least it didn’t go out of bounds. But instead, he really deserves his every right to feel mad and upset about the really bad golf shot. And in his world, that golf shot is everything to him right now. And I don’t need to discount that feeling and rob him of that process of getting through it. There’s no way around the pain, um, with toxic positivity or spiritual bypassing, and you can’t go over it, under it, gotta go through it.

[00:40:33] Starr Cliff: Go through it, like the bear hunt. Can’t go over it. Can’t go around it. You gotta go through it.

[00:40:38] Lorilee Rager: Just like the bear hunt. Just like the bear hunt. 

[00:40:40] Starr Cliff: Yeah. And you’re right. I liked what you said about robbing him of knowing, I felt that thing, I lived through that thing, it was hard, it was awful, I hate that I missed that shot, but weeks and months from now, I fully experienced the uck of it and I’m still okay. Both are true, you know? 

[00:40:57] Lorilee Rager: Yes, yes. I’m still okay. 

[00:40:58] Starr Cliff: I didn’t stay there. I didn’t live there. It’s not three weeks later and I’m still thinking about it. But I was able to fully experience it and now I’m okay. And we’ll go onto the next game. 

[00:41:07] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I think if we don’t learn to control our own toxic positivity, our children won’t learn either, and our friends around us won’t learn either. And they can get, then they’ll get stuck, and that’s the worst place to be, to watch somebody you really love and care about or yourself to get stuck. And I just had not ever made the connection that by pushing my toxic positivity onto someone would cause them to get stuck. But it really, I think deeply, deeply would. And if you don’t give them that space and that time, and let them process. And then also be honest, say again with the sports analogy that, you know, my leg still hurts. I can’t get out there today. Um, so it’s really, really, really, really important. And I think, I think it’s just so valuable. And I love all of your examples in your lessons. And, do you have anything else to share, um, uh, resources or anything that you wanted to?

[00:42:09] Starr Cliff: No. I’ve mentioned kristen Vanderlip. Um, there is a wonderful sort of paraphrase of the Book of Psalms by a man named Eugene Peterson called The Message Version. Um, really recommend it if you’re looking for sort of that full range of human emotions to read through the Psalms in his paraphrase. Um, And yeah, that’s all I got. 

[00:42:30] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, I think it’s all really, really good stuff. And we’ll make sure that we, um, put links in the show notes. 

[00:42:39] Starr Cliff: Okay. 

[00:42:39] Lorilee Rager: And our last question I wanted to ask, just to wrap it all up is, in the theme of ground and gratitude is what tool would you leave, and it may be hard just to name one, but would you leave in the Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? 

[00:42:59] Starr Cliff: Let me go with nature. Can I just say nature? I am really, um, I think passionate is not too strong of a word, about just the power of getting out in the trees and in the woods and experiencing our own smallness as we look up at the stars and experiencing our own, sort of, lack of control as our plans get ruined by a thunderstorm or lightning or a rainstorm. Um, and just putting away our phones, putting away our devices, um, just being present. Feeling what you feel, maybe you feel hot, maybe it feels sticky, maybe you feel uncomfortable. Or maybe the next time you feel truly grateful for that breeze that cools you off. Or for that beautiful bird, you know I’m a birder. Um, but you just notice that there is a, a beautiful gold, goldfinch and you get to see it, you get to experience it and you get to inhabit the same space that it’s in and hear that song. Um, it’s a really, really important, um, thing for me as far as grounding myself and sort of my own limits and my own limitations. Um, and as well as gratitude, I can find a whole lot to be grateful for. Especially by running water and beautiful trees and, um, hiking with a friend. 

[00:44:16] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That’s really beautiful. And a really, really true statement, uh, putting away your devices and getting in that mindful level with nature. It’s a beautiful thing that we all should do. Even if it’s for five minutes. I’m not saying you have to go on a 30 minute hike or drive somewhere to some major state park.

[00:44:36] Starr Cliff: Right. I had a practice last year of just, um, after I got my coffee cause coffees first, always. Um, so, and I have had some coffee today. I was trying to like, get that level, right. Like enough coffee to make me witty and interesting, but like not so much that I was iobnoxious. So you’ll have to tell me if I kind of hit the balance. But you know, but before my coffee and before I did anything else, just simply step out on my front porch and just be. You know, be outside and feel the air and see the sky. Just notice, what is the sunrise doing? What are the clouds doing? What are my neighbors doing? Um, and just kind of being present and still with no expectation. I wasn’t in prayer. I wasn’t asking the Lord to speak to me. I was not looking for any kind of goal. I just had a practice of stepping outside right after I poured my coffee and just being. Um, it was really great, really great. 

[00:45:31] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I think it’s great. I think we all should do that right now. Right when we finish this podcast. 

[00:45:37] Starr Cliff: When it’s 101 in Tennessee. 

[00:45:39] Lorilee Rager: No matter what the temperaturere. Oh, good. Well, um, thank you so much being a part of the podcast. It’s so, so great to talk to you about this really, really near and dear topic that I know for me was a little scary to think about, but you really helped me think about it more and some tips and ways to, um, practice a little healthier version of myself.

Thank you again to Starr for digging into the realities of toxic positivity. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more information about this show and this awesome topic and much more 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 in AO McClain LLC. .

Ep: 8 Balancing Time and Teaching Design with Ryan Slone

Fellow designer and VCFA graduate Ryan Slone joins Lorilee on the podcast. Ryan is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at University of Arkansas’ School of Art. He shares his creative journey, from his childhood in Arkansas to designing at Pentagram. The two discuss the differences (and similarities) between agency and academic life and how grad school shaped their approaches. Today, Ryan’s research focuses on social-advocacy poster design, and his award-winning work has been featured internationally.


  • On Ryan’s playlist: “Moon” – Kanye West
  • His creative trajectory
  • Being a young designer at renowned design firm Pentagram
  • Why he left agency life to teach
  • Parallels between client work and the classroom
  • Balancing work and life
  • Recapturing the fun in making
  • Communicating complex social issues through design
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

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Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

Episode 8 – Ryan Slone

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey. 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 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.

We have such a fun conversation ahead of us today. My guest is my good friend, hip hop loving dad, and designer Ryan Slone. Ryan and I went to grad school together at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we both got MFAs and graphic design. Now he’s a graphic design professor at the University of Arkansas School of Art. He’s a professional juggler of work-life balance, and today we’re going to be talking all about that. We’ll also dive into his story about discovering his love of design and passing it on through teaching. 

Welcome Ryan. Thank you so much for being here and joining me on Ground and Gratitude. 

[00:01:55] Ryan Slone: Thank you so much Lorilee. I’m super excited, honored to be here, and, uh, this is my first podcast, so I’ll do my best. 

[00:02:04] Lorilee Rager: Oh, that’s great. Don’t be worried one bit. This is my, this is my first podcast to actually ever do so we’re in the same boat and we’re in it together. Good. Good. Well, we’ll start with a big, really hard kickoff question right out of the gate. Here it comes. 

[00:02:21] Ryan Slone: Uh oh. What is design?

[00:02:23] Lorilee Rager: That is, that is a hard question. But first, before you answer that one, first, I need to know what song is on repeat on your playlist today. 

[00:02:34] Ryan Slone: That’s a great question. Okay. So, um, this is going to be a polarizing, uh, answer, but I am a big Kanye West fan. And that’s, a lot of people, I don’t know, it’s either you love them or you hate him, right? And so the new Donda album I’ve been spinning a lot. Um, there is a song called Moon on that album and it’s really just this beautiful kind of a haunting echoey kind of melody. Um, and so I’ve just been playing that all the time. Like, in the car, you know, driving the kids around to soccer and football and whatever else. So, um, that’s what I’ve been, and in the classroom a bit. I’ve been, actually been playing it in the classroom a lot, like just that whole album, um, with the students. So, I think they like it. I don’t know. Is Kayne, is he cool anymore? I don’t know.

[00:03:33] Lorilee Rager: You know, I mean, I am the keeper of cool. So I’m going to vote yes. But I would say, my 17 year old and 14 year old, love it and have played it non-stop too. And that’s why I’ve heard it. I probably, I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t have listened to it. I liked him back in the day when he first came out. I listened to him a lot. And, um, but what they’ve played for me, like while I’m cooking supper is really, good. I really have enjoyed it. 

[00:04:02] Ryan Slone: Yeah. That’s cool. My kids have started, so they’re 9 and 12, and so, two boys, younger, a little be younger than yours. But they’ve been listening to it, but also they’ve been listening to a lot of like the new, like new hip hop. Like, which is really interesting, it’s really different, you know. It’s like this mumble rap kinda slow, like, lean heavy kind of thing. Trippie Redd is like a big one that they like. Juice World and, yeah.

[00:04:34] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That’s the same thing my boys are listening to. And I, I like it. I mean, you hear some old pieces. And then I like showing them the older songs and being like, hey, look, this is actually from here, so listen to this. And they’re trying to learn the words to some Beastie Boys songs. So I kind of feel like, um, I’m, uh, gonna win parent of the year.

[00:04:56] Ryan Slone: That’s awesome. 

[00:04:57] Lorilee Rager: So, yeah, that’s a good, good song. Good, good choices. 

[00:05:02] Ryan Slone: That’s been on my, that’s really what I’ve been spinning lately. Um, I know there’s, there’s some other stuff, but that’s the main one. 

[00:05:11] Lorilee Rager: That’s the main one for now. I like it. I like it. Well, you proposed a question before that, what is graphic design? We won’t go there, but I would love to know your what I like to call origin story. Being, um,a new teacher, it’s a project that I had students do. And, um, they read a essay by Michael Beirut, who we’ll talk about later, um, about his first story or memory as a child of buying a new house in the sixties and, and like, it was his origin story of going from an old house to a new house and how it was designed. And so it made me just think about, oh, you know, Ryan and I are great friends. We met in grad school and went through that incredible experience together. And I was like, but you know, I do know a lot about you and you know a lot about me, but I don’t really know your origin story. So maybe tell us a little bit about, you know, how’d, you first get into, you know, design.

[00:06:17] Ryan Slone: It’s a great question. I mean, I’m thinking of two moments in my life where I would maybe consider origin stories. The first of which, um, is when I was in kindergarten. So I was like, what, five, six? Um, not that I was like designing logos and stuff at that age, but I, there, there was a moment in art class, um, where I started, I kind of realized that I was a little bit different in how I processed things, um, visually and how I sort of saw the world. Um, and what happened was, and I dunno, I feel like my mom told me this story later on as I got older and that’s why I remembered it because it’s pretty vivid. But I used to, um, paint everything black, like every, for like, it was like my black period. This was like almost like a whole semester, a whole year. So we would have, uh, you know, just like arts and crafts in, um, in, uh, art class. And I would just get out, I would just take the black paint and people would be, you know, drawing sunsets or whatever, uh, little smiley, happy faces and dogs, and, um, if that’s even realistic at that age, I don’t know. But, but what I would just, I would just like take out the black paint and I’d just pour it and I would just try to cover as much area as I could with black paint. And, um, I did that for such a long time. I don’t even realize why I was doing it, but I do remember my art teacher like shamed me in front of the class that like told me that it was wrong to do that. And I hid under my desk, like a good rest of the day. And it was like, there was some trauma there and I didn’t, I wasn’t able to process it. But I just knew that like I wanted to be different. I just wanted, I just wasn’t interested in what, maybe what was expected of me. And so, yeah, that was like my, that was like my first sort of like, I guess, early realization that, um, that I, I enjoyed being expressive. But I, I didn’t, I never really felt like I fit in very well. 

[00:08:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And you weren’t going to just do what everybody else was doing. Right, what I would say, right out of the gate, you went for, yeah, exactly what you want to express without seeing, oh, what are they, looking over and over their page and looking over on somebody else’s page, you know. Which we learn as adults comparison is, it’ll kill you. So that’s really powerful memory, um, from your childhood self, you know, that, that I’m sure was part of, you know, trajecting you into design. 

[00:09:00] Ryan Slone: I mean, I think so. I, um, because you know, and it, in a good way, I, I never really, um, you know, rejected art from then on. I really embraced it growing up. Um, and so I don’t really, but I always, I always did feel like I was kind of pushing against something when I was creating. Um, challenging what was expected of me or, um, you know, fighting against the boundaries of an assignment, leading all up through college. 

Um, but the other origin story that I was going to say happened later on when I was in high school and it was more closely tied to, I guess, what we more closely perceive design to be. Um, I graduated high school in like the late nineties and it was like, uh, I don’t know, it was in Missouri. There, there was like a lot of, um, like, drunk driving. It was like a really popular thing happening. But like, like there was like, there were these Project Graduation, I don’t know if you’ve had it, but 

[00:10:08] Lorilee Rager: Oh yeah. That’s right, right. And they would park like a crashed car out in the front yard at the school and scare you to death, yes. 

[00:10:15] Ryan Slone: That’s right. That’s right. So I feel like we got in just like a few years before, I think graduation night in high school would have just been amazing, like parties everywhere and people just let go. But for whatever reason, when I graduated because of what had happened with, um, you know, kids getting hurt in drunk driving accidents on graduation, I, they had this thing called Project Graduation where they would literally take the whole senior class that graduated and lock them into like a YMCA. It sounds stupid. It sounds like ridiculous.

[00:10:50] Lorilee Rager: It sounds crazy now but yes. I had one too you and you couldn’t leave. 

[00:10:55] Ryan Slone: Yes. You couldn’t leave. And we didn’t have cell phones. I mean, I’m 18 and would walk around and played basketball, or like I can’t even remember what I did. I just, I, it was the strangest thing. Anyway. Um, I was asked by this girl, uh, to design a t-shirt to promote Project Graduation. And, um, and so it was the first time that I was sort of given like a prompt, um, to sort of respond to. Um, and yeah, I mean, I don’t, I, I drew this like stupid, like, they were like, uh, I took like the mascots from the other, like, rival schools and made them gargoyles. And I think, I, I don’t know. Oh, I had, it was a joker, it was a joker theme, this weird looking joker, joker guy. But I remember it was kind of controversial because I kind of made fun of the other mascots in my drawing and they weren’t sure if it was going to go through and the parents had to vote on it. Anyway, it, it went through. But it was really cool to like, be at this event with all my peers and friends and we were all wearing this t-shirts that I, yeah, it was just this little drawing, um, you know, Springfield, Missouri. But I, but shortly after that, I kinda just like, was like, this is what, what is this? I really like this process. Um, I like working with people. I like using my skillset as a illustrator to sort of make something, make an artifact that people enjoy. Um, and so, yeah, and then, so that led to a, uh, uh, to sort of like, I guess, an education in graphic design. So, yeah.

[00:12:46] Lorilee Rager: So when you went to, um, your undergrad, you know, when I started, I didn’t know, I didn’t declare a major, cause I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be. So once I started taking art studio classes and stumbled into the mac lab, I was like, ooh, what is this? And what is this macro media programs and work, and. Tell me, when you got to, yeah, when you got to college, is that, did you just know or declare your major already or? 

[00:13:16] Ryan Slone: I kind of didn’t know. Um, yeah, I think I, yeah, I declared my measure, my major right away. I switched schools, but I did declare it right away. Um, I went to a local private university my freshman year and then found myself, like, going home all the time, eating dinner with my parents and sometimes sleeping at my, in my old bedroom. Just because there was just like, there wasn’t enough boundaries there, you know, I was like five minutes away from where I grew up. So my best friend at the time, um, decided to go to the University of Arkansas and I lied to my parents and told them that I’m going to University of Arkansas because they have a great graphic design program. Like mom, it’s an amazing, you will be really, really impressed. And at the time they did not. What they do now, where I am now it’s being built up. But at the time it was just like a really small, there was like one professor. Um, you know, it was more of a fine arts program. But, um, but anyway, it, it worked and I got there and you know, I really I’ve left a few times, but I’ve kind of been here ever since, which is kind of wild to think about. 

[00:14:31] Lorilee Rager: It is, it is. Well, you know, that is a big transition time in all of our lives, turning 18 learning freedom, like you said, going to class. But just that, it’s a crazy adjustment, I mean, to go from the restrictive K-12 rules to do what you want. And I did the same thing as far as like going home a lot and staying at home and sleeping there and just kind of feeling my way through that first year of college, not even sure what I had to ask permission for and what I should or shouldn’t be doing is in, so I, I totally relate to that for sure.

[00:15:09] Ryan Slone: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s hard to really, it’s something that I have to remind myself now that I’m a teacher too. Um, I sometimes forget, like, you know, how young people are and that that’s not a, that’s not like a diss or anything. It’s just, um, they’re super talented, but, but like some of the things that they just haven’t experienced, like emotionally. Um, you just have to kind of remember that sometimes that you have to manage those expectations. I certainly, when I was, uh, I mean, when I was that age, I just, uh, and it’s funny, like, I have like an attendance policy, or I did, but I remember when I was in undergrad, I barely came, you know. Like, so many classes I missed. Um, it was funny, too, when I got the assistant professor job, the, my old graphic design professor, like joked, like on Facebook, how I never went to class. Ad now here I am, like, you know, asking people to show up to my class.

[00:16:17] Lorilee Rager: That’s how, where I teach is where I graduated from. And I went to lunch a few weeks ago with, with some of the retired professors. And one of them said in the kindest way, she said, I remember you as a student and you, you just didn’t show up a lot and you were hungover a lot and you, I just, I’m so amazed at what you turned into, because I just didn’t see it in you in class. And I was like, um, thank you. I think. 

[00:16:44] Ryan Slone: Yeah, I know, right? It’s like, it’s a compliment, but I, yeah. 

[00:16:50] Lorilee Rager: But at 19 and 20, I had no idea what I was doing and probably had not even done my own laundry, my sweet mother had been doing that. Or getting my own groceries or those types of responsibilities that are so far beyond the classroom and what you’re trying to learn a brand new program and learn right now, InDesign and Illustrator and how to do web and how to do layout and composition.

[00:17:13] Ryan Slone: Yeah. It’s managing your time, juggling, juggling everything, yeah. 

[00:17:19] Lorilee Rager: Right. Absolutely. So, okay. Tell us how you got from there in those days to, to Pentagram. 

[00:17:28] Ryan Slone: Yeah. Yeah. It seems like, it seems like a bit of a leap because we’re talking about the middle of the United States in Arkansas. Um, what I think, what was the seminal moment is when I went to my first of two grad schools. Um, so the Portfolio Center, which is Miami Ad School Portfolio Center down in Atlanta. Um, I just decided to go there after my undergrad. Um, I don’t even really remember why. I had an internship locally, and I felt like I was a little behind in some aspects, and I’ve always just loved, um, you know, just, just the act of learning and pursuing, you know, design. And so I thought, well, this would be a nice thing to do before I get a job. I’m not, probably not quite ready emotionally or mentally to just to get out in the world yet. So I went to Portfolio Center, um, which was this amazing like program. And every, uh, every year they have, um, the Art Director from Pentagram, New York come to the school and they do like this kind of competition, thing, workshop. Um, and they choose a designer, uh, from that based on the project prompt that they give us and, uh, yeah. I fortunately was one of, I think, three that were chosen. And then, so next thing I know, um, yeah, I’m in New York and living in Brooklyn and, uh, by myself, um, and working with, um, amazing people from all over the world. Um, Michael Beirut was my, was, uh, it was on my clearance team. He was my boss. And it was like a really, just honestly, it was a really great experience. A lot of people, I think, with their internships and where they, like, their first job, it’s always a little shaky. But I, I really owe a lot to Michael and sort of my development. He was, um, super, just like laid back and no ego. He was from the Midwest too, but like he would give a lot of, um, power to the designers, the really young designers. I mean, he would collaborate with us, um, gave us sort of a lot of control on, you know, things that are like the New York Times stuff and stuff for Yale School of Architecture, um, like just stuff, like really huge institutions important, um, companies. 

[00:20:02] Lorilee Rager: You wouldn’t think an entry level designer would have their hands on. 

[00:20:07] Ryan Slone: Never, never. And I even remember, like he would come down and give me like napkin sketches of a poster, a logo, or, uh, something that he designed. And, but he would also always say like, but if you have any more, just throw your ideas in there too. And I would, and they weren’t as good as his, but, you know, he would propose them to the client. And, uh, it was, it was just like a really, a nice confidence builder to be in that environment and have that support. And so it was a short amount of time, but, um, I learned so much, um, from that and, uh, yeah. And, and, and, uh, I know, I remember when I first started there, the, um, the art director said, where are you from? And I said, Missouri. And they said, you wear, you wear, wearing your shoes, you wear shoes. And I didn’t get it .And then I realized, oh, Missouri, hillbilly, no shoes. Oh, got it. Okay. Like, I was so like, in my own world, like, I didn’t even realize, you know, what New Yorkers thought of people. It was a funny experience. So I was just always like being thrown these, um, these different perspectives and points of view, but it was, it was really an amazing experience. 

[00:21:32] Lorilee Rager: That is. It sounds really amazing.. Well, so jumping forward again, kind of closer to where we are today, and speaking of the south where we live, you and I both, and going to Vermont, um, I felt the same way. Just as I began to tell people, well, I grew up on a Kentucky grain farm and live in Tennessee, near Nashville. And obviously my accent sometimes gives me away just a hair. But I, they’ll say that, oh, do you eat a lot of Kentucky fried chicken? And I’m like, no I don’t, but I get it. Um, but you know, we met at, um, such a great place in Montpellier at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I was I’m at the beginning of my wanting to teach journey and you already were teaching. So I was just wanting, um, to know if you could share a little bit about why you wanted to teach, um, and just, just really what brought you to that. Because that’s where, that’s where I have, you know, just recently gone through. And it’s really been a beautiful thing that I needed. So I wanted to hear your story too, of why, why did you want to teach?

[00:22:50] Ryan Slone: Yeah. So I never sought out to be a teacher. I never thought I would be a teacher. Um, my mom was a teacher. My wife is a teacher. Yeah. And so I, maybe that’s a part of it, but it was never something that, on, um, on my to-do list. I didn’t think I would be good at it. Um, I was, you know, I just, I didn’t really, I just never even thought about it. And so what happened to me was I started, um, working in agency life and, um, it was good at the beginning. And then I, you know, as, as with many people, it started to not be so good and I, I really kind of felt, um, stuck and that I wasn’t, I was just like, uh, so comfortable where I was, you know, um, and I started to lose the desire and the spark that, you know, got me in this industry to begin with. And so what I started to do was I started, I started to, uh, there was like this adjunct teaching position open at a local university. And, um, I knew someone who knew someone who taught there and I just decided on a whim one day to do it. Um, it was like an hour drive. I would, I would leave work at 5, 5:30. It started at 7:30, um, ended at like 10, once or twice a week in a different state, even. So, yeah, so it was, uh, it was, uh, and, you know, there was, the pay was nothing like it was. But I mean, I, I, uh, I just, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it. It sort of, it just reenergized me in a way, it just woke me up. And, um, it forced me to like work differently and to, to, just to not, just, cause I was just the same, same, same every day, you know? Um, and I really started to develop, um, this, this love of teaching and building relationships with students and connecting with people. And it, um, challenged me to think in different ways. And so it was just like a semester, it happened. The thing was the spring semester and, and I kept doing it like every semester there out for about five years or so. Um, so just one, one or two nights a week. Um, but it, but what I realized quickly was that if I wanted to pursue this as a career, I needed to get a terminal degree, um, which is what led me to VCFA. And then that’s a whole other conversation, um, because at that time, when I started VCFA, when I met you, I was teaching at the university I am now in an instructor position. Um, but being in that space totally then flipped what I thought an educator should be, you know, but in a very big way. It just, like, I thought I kinda knew what I was doing and I, and then I was like, you know, I’m with all these like brilliant, you know, empathetic, inclusive, loving people, this whole community. I was like, I want to bring this magic or this, this little bit to what I’m doing. And I remember I’d come home from every residency and, and I would just be like, that was like this long therapy session. I move, I’d walk into the classroom and I would just like meet with the students one-on-one and we’d go over time, but I would just be so calm and I would have such, like, clarity because I, you know. And it was like, this is, this is like this, what, what is this? That you’re like, right. Like you, even now that we’re gone it’s like, we’re still like, what. What did we, what was this thing? 

[00:26:49] Lorilee Rager: What did we just live through? That was this, this amazing, um, Easter egg world, like you just said, empathy and loving people who still appreciate design and use their power for good instead of evil. Instead of shaming you, like your kindergarten teacher. Who just embraced you. And it’s, yeah. And I totally agree. 

[00:27:13] Ryan Slone: I felt like I was late to the party, like the first year, I, or at least the first residency, I kept thinking, I’ve that, you know, I should’ve done this a long time ago. And I remember the very first, um, small group conversation with Matt Monk, and he like two or three times, he’s like, you’re not too late. This is the time. You’re not, you know. 

[00:27:35] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yeah. I felt too old too. I was like, this, this isn’t gonna work. Um, I’m in my forties. This is, this isn’t gonna work. I’m too set in my ways or I’ve had 20 years of, of, of be cleaner design, more grids, work harder, faster, be more critical life. And I just can’t believe how that mindset totally changed in just this two years of this daily practice of figuring out who we are and why we’re here and how it all connects to design. 

[00:28:12] Ryan Slone: Yeah. I mean, yeah, you’re right. I think for you, I know for you and for me both, it was pretty immediate, you know. Like, it didn’t take months and months. I mean, it was like our first residency, our first time there that, that one, one week or so. Um, uh, you know, where it just sort of like things start. And I don’t think I realized it at the time. I was aware that changes were happening inside me, but I didn’t realize, um, what was happening to me until I then sort of reentered my comfortable space back home. 

[00:28:50] Lorilee Rager: Yes. They call it the rocky reentry.

[00:28:53] Ryan Slone: Yeah. The rocky reentry. And especially talking to people from my past, like that are, like, that, it’s really, it’s, it’s like really exposed like how different I am now than what I was just from a lot of different perspectives. 

[00:29:09] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. That is interesting because I think you, and I, um, know each other now in that sense of the way we grew and changed in our own paths, but still parallel through grad school. So it’s interesting when people from our past do just, just outright out of the blue, say you’re really different, like in a good way. It’s really like this level of peace and less anxiety and less fear. I mean, yes, fear is always still there. But it’s just a level that I didn’t ever expect. I just wanted to get the MFA, learn more about fonts so I could go preach it to some children. And that is not what happened.

[00:29:57] Ryan Slone: We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Well, I mean, I agree. Like I wanted, I, I went there because I needed a degree and the great thing about VCFA was, uh, this little residency, uh, you know, format. It works for so many people. Um, I didn’t have to quit my job. I didn’t have to uproot my family and move across the country. I could keep doing what I’m doing. And I think that was interesting because I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t expect it to be such a massive change just because everything in my life is sort of the same. 

[00:30:33] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I thought it was just one week every six months. And then you came back to your reentry and you just kept doing your same things.

[00:30:40] Ryan Slone: Yeah. Yeah. I know. Yeah. It’s it’s uh, it’s uh, they should, they should put this on their website. 

[00:30:49] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. This has turned into a VCFA love fest. 

[00:30:53] Ryan Slone: Yeah, the infomercial where it’s just us crying. 

[00:30:56] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, testimonial. We’ll put their logo, yeah. That’s right. Well, well I think, um, you know, I relate so much to your story of just needing another outlet to that creative desire we grew up loving as a child. It’s just the grind that I think eventually gets to some of us. And, and I did the same thing. It’s just on a whim, helped a friend who, um, needed a maternity leave that turned into multiple other surgeries and just covered her class for her. And I walked out of that classroom so energized and so just almost, my eyes were just reopened to, there are, you know, good curious, brilliant students out there that still want to learn this. And maybe I have something to share. Maybe my story, um, will help their path a little bit along the way. 


[00:31:52] Ryan Slone: Yeah. No, I totally feel that. I feel like there’s like this desire, innate desire to give back to, uh, to people. And I, and I started, I, I do kind of find some similarities, looking back for me, practice versus teaching. I really, I always enjoyed the interaction with, um, my collaborators and the people I worked with and clients probably more than even the work itself, a lot of times. I take with me and I think that translates to how, how I sort of work as a teacher in the classroom, is just, um, you know, like breaking down that hierarchy and meeting people where they are and building relationships and building trust. And, um, yeah, so I feel like in a lot of ways, like, it makes sense for me when you look at it. Um, I’m still able to produce and do work, uh, to research, but the majority of my time really is about that interaction with, with people and, um, and that leads right into what design can do for communities and people. And, um, so I think it’s all intertwined in there. It just took a while for me to figure it out. And I kind of had to take, I had to take that risk, um, to just try it. Because I’m not usually also one that likes to take risks and just starting to teach was a bit of a jump for me. So, um, I guess there’s a lesson in there to do more of that.

[00:33:30] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Just, just to take the risk and try. Just try. Right. I love what you said to you because you saying it was just, I just realized that myself as an aha moment of the process of being a designer and the making and producing something is where I started. And it was fun for a long time. But then I began to enjoy the community, the relationships, the conversations, um, assisting someone to problem solve and help them think of other tools or avenues and consider this, consider that. And that’s the part I absolutely love. And you do that with employees and coworkers and clients. And then yeah, that shift just naturally shifts to students, and it’s exactly the same relationship. And I love how you said yeah, you break the hierarchy, um, and, and it’s not me up at a podium lecturing something. I’m sitting down at the table with them, which is something you told me to do.

[00:34:35] Ryan Slone: The, yeah, well, I mean, and just to see it modeled firsthand, and that’s another thing for, for both of us is to be teachers and then also at the same time students and this VCFA world, but to see how, um, Silas or, you know, Nikki or Ian or, or any of the, how they would talk to me, how they would communicate with us, how they would relate to us, how they would, um, you know, you know, just really connect in ways that, that got to the heart of like who I am. Like those, those moments, whether or not they realized it, were like, uh, just transcended how I, how I, how I thought I used to, like, I completely went back to the classroom, a changed person just with those interactions with these people and in that, in that grad school space. Um, and, uh, yeah, I don’t know. It’s, it’s something that, um, again, it’s like, it’s, it’s one of those things where I feel like it just comes back to people and connections and, um, I want more of it now. That’s the thing that I’m kind of like, being like, I want, I want to pull those pieces from that space again and that nourishment, um, you know, having been out for a little while.

[00:36:08] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. I totally totally agree. Um, yeah, I’ve never had a more human experience with a professor or a teacher. Again, you go to K-12 and it’s completely desk in a row, person up front at a bigger desk that’s a bigger louder shouter, intimidating, it’s just a scary experience. And that’s the model. And then even college, it’s very similar. It’s just individual buildings and you get to walk outside in the grass to that next version of the same thing. And then to walk into somewhere like VCFA where you were just sitting shoulder to shoulder, you know, sometimes in just exercise pants and chatting about their real life authentic lived experience and how it related to something globally and how design was a piece of it the whole way. And I think it changes things in the best, biggest ways for teachers to teach. 

[00:37:09] Ryan Slone: A hundred percent I mean, when I first met Ian, my thesis advisor, the very first week on campus, I mean, he hugged me, right. This stranger gave me a big hug. And then, you know, we had, you know, I probably cried in front of him and vice versa that first week of knowing him, right. And it’s like, wow, if someone can be that vulnerable and like loving and, um, authentic with me, and this is my, this is my teacher, like, right, like, what am I doing standing up, you know, with a PowerPoint making all these rules. Like what? What if I sit down with them and talk to them first or ask them, you know, like just it, there’s those ways to connect with people and I’ve found that in the classroom for me, it’s just, it’s really, it’s, I think the students get more out of it. Um, I’m not saying I don’t teach, but I mean, um, um, I am just like building this connection with them and, um, I, it’s just the whole you’re teaching the whole student, the whole person. It’s not just these little banking systems. So yeah.

[00:38:27] Lorilee Rager: Yes, the whole person. Yeah. Yep. Yeah. That’s beautifully put. Yeah, that’s right. So, so good. So good. Well, jumping off from that, tell me with all of this amazing, you know, graphic design, origin story and all you’ve lived and teaching. I want to talk a little bit about your work life balance and, um, you know, how do you juggle it all, um, with your posters? I definitely want you to call it, let’s call this section pausing and parenting and posters. That’s the new stuff you’re into. So, I mean, currently. 

[00:39:05] Ryan Slone: It shouldn’t be like, how, how are you not juggling it? And I would just tell you what I’m doing, because that’s the truth. How are you dropping all these balls?

[00:39:13] Lorilee Rager: What balls have you dropped today? 

Yeah, what balls have you dropped today. I won’t tell, I’ll tell you. Um, yeah, it’s, it’s crazy. Like, so, um, you know, it’s, I have, so I use, I don’t know, maybe I’ll talk procedurally. I have a notion document or a notion where I list out everything that I do for the day. And I try to really break apart my day with certain tasks. So whether it’s teaching or it’s research, uh, or just engaging with the family and the kids. So I do try to have that structure and I usually try to fill it out two weeks, so I have like a two week calendar. I don’t, I use iCal, but I don’t really use iCal. It’s just, it’s, I like being more of a visual person. I like to have everything sort of written out. So I, I like that. 

But in terms of like the juggling, I mean, it’s wild right now. It’s crazy. And especially like after COVID, um, so we’re back in person on campus. Um, so, um, I’m not able just to go up to my office and work. Um, I’m traveling to campus, that’s a whole thing. And then my kids are, are very like active kids in sports, and so, and my wife’s a teacher also, she’s an elementary art teacher, so we’re always doing this. We’re always, um, strategizing, it seems like, and figuring out who takes what person where they go and blah, blah, blah. And so I find myself on my laptop at, you know, soccer, practice answering Slack messages or emails. And so I, I’m not the person to ask about balanced. I, I really, I really respect some of my, some of my colleagues. They have boundaries with, you know, like where they don’t answer emails, they don’t check things at a certain time. And I, um, I wish I could do that. I really do. I, I’m the weird person that if I see like a little red icon on my phone, an unread message or an responded text, it just drives me crazy. And so, um, but you know, all that to say, I don’t, I don’t feel completely burdened by it. Like, I feel like it’s just like, it’s just all feeds into each, it’s just like part of it. Um, I’ll be working in front of my kids and get their perspectives or Olivia is my wife’s perspective on my work or, you know, well, you know, like, I don’t know. There’s just, that seems to sort of, that’s just where I am right now in my life, I feel like. And it’s a, it’s a part of my life that it’s wild and it’s insane, but, um, it’s probably gonna slow down I think.

I don’t know if it ever will, but that’s what I think it’s, the juggling is more, to me it’s more important to prioritize the juggling, like you said, in breaking things out. I have a, a best self journal that’s actually hour by hour and I fill it out. Literally, you know, gym, morning pages, check emails, you know, all the hour by hour and it’s, it’s down to the kids. 

[00:42:30] Ryan Slone: Will you share that with me? I want to see that. 

[00:42:33] Lorilee Rager: Yes I will. I love it. And when you do that and I do my one week at a time, usually on Sundays, I fill out the next week. Um, but I go ahead if I know of something coming up the next week. But I’m like you, iCal has like the big, hard hitting, you know, 30,000 foot view, ballgames, practice, all that, and then I plug those in. But the juggling is more important to me almost than the boundaries. I think I could, so if I say I know I’m going to check Slack at six, before we have TV time booked in for the, you know, me and the boys, then I don’t have a problem checking Slack at 6:00 PM. I really don’t. I, I, my students need to hear feedback so they can continue working. And I feel justified by, I set in that intent of that time. And then, then I also set the intent of that hour with the kids, and then I get my reading hour to myself, and then I go to bed. But I’m like you, I admire the teachers that are like, I will not be checking anything after five, I will not do anything on the weekends. And I’m like, hey, if that’s what helps you, but the level of anxiety come Monday morning, I couldn’t function.

[00:43:43] Ryan Slone: Totally. I totally, I couldn’t agree more. I love that idea of, I, I really try to work, um, to work in times to just be present with my family. And I’ve, I’ve done that to some extent, but, but I’m not the best at it. So it’s something that I’m trying to work on. I love that idea of just like, like scheduling it in, you know, like, like you would, uh, a meeting or whatever.

[00:44:09] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. My 14 year old, you know, in a sweet way, just demands it. And he wants my phone face down, he wants to be hanging out and showing me music. I mean, that’s, that’s when we listen to Kanye’s music. They were like, they were like, okay, tonight, we’re going to listen to this song and this song, and look at this Tik Tok and look at this funny YouTube and this is what I learned at school. It’s like a full hour of just intense communication from them. And they love it. 

[00:44:37] Ryan Slone: That’s so cool. I love that. That’s great. I mean, well, I feel like for my kids, as they’re getting older, there’s, there’s less of that sort of, those moments of like sharing what’s going on in their lives. Like, you know, I I’m kind of that dad, who’s like, what’d you do in school today? Did anything funny happen? Like I try to engage them at probably the wrong time, right when they get home and they want to get on YouTube and get a snack and I’ll pepper them with questions and they’re like, you know, they’re exhausted. They don’t wanna listen to my questions I just repeat over and over again. Um, but I love that because I feel like you’re getting, you’re getting, you’re getting more, more honest, honesty, just like better engagement when you could just put everything down and share time with them. I think that’s great. I’m gonna do that.

[00:45:28] Lorilee Rager: And again, like you said, Tuesdays, Thursdays, there’s golf and other things, but we know on Mondays at seven and usually Wednesdays, we try to do it for about 30 minutes and, um, and then Fridays. But like tonight there’s homecoming, they have a ball game, so we won’t do it tonight. I’ll take them to the game and make sure they have everything, but that’s actually helped us in a stress level of, I learned a couple of weeks ago we had to get a homecoming shirt, we had to order homecoming flowers, we had to get pants and belts that fit, you know. Otherwise I don’t think, I don’t think I would have known or been tracking that and we would have been scrambling today and my anxiety and anger would have been through the roof and made it a miserable experience for them. 

[00:46:10] Ryan Slone: Yep yep, yep. Been there. 

[00:46:12] Lorilee Rager: Um, yeah. So wrapping up, I do want to hear a little bit about your posters because I know you have been just, I mean, just making some amazing things and winning some amazing awards.

[00:46:27] Ryan Slone: Oh yeah. It’s kinda wild, um, how it’s, um, how it’s kind of happened. I mean, so basically like going back to, um, I think that, I think an interesting part of like my design trajectory has been when I started to teach, I also started to pursue, um, poster work, like social cause like poster work. And I would, and so those are two sort of outlets for me, um, to maybe escape a little bit of the mundane. And so I would, I would enter the, well, they weren’t really competitions. There were more like, um, sometimes I’ll just give myself prompts. I, I don’t, I really can’t tell you what it is about the poster that led me to that format because it, it, it is consistent if I think back to, um, when I started design, something about like that visual, it’s always just been a comfortable way for me to express something. Um, and I kinda, and I, so I, I really fell in love with it a while ago. And anyway, fast forward to just a few months ago, um, there’s nothing like the, uh, the motivation of, of tenure, you know. I wasn’t, I, I, I, so I’m like, okay, well I have my degree, I have my assistant professor position, I’m in a institution now where it’s a tier one research institution, so there’s a high priority on research. And, um, I never really knew what my research was going to be. What I, what I basically decided sort of like organically was that I, I just thought after grad school I was like, did all this work, um, produced this thesis book that I was really proud of. Now what am I going to do from here out? And I started just to brainstorm, uh, do what I want to do. So I decided, I’m going to make some posters. And what happened was, um, I started by connecting with people in the community and the global poster community. And there’s a really big community of poster designers all over the world. It’s not, there aren’t that many in the United States. Um, but I would just reach out to these people on social media and I scheduled zoom calls and I met with them. I’m meeting someone today as a matter of fact. Um, and so I, I think, I think I just really focused hard on trying to learn like how to make this, uh, this specialty, how to make this, I guess, this focused interest into, um, a research focus. And, and anyway, so I’ve connected with a lot of people and I’ve been, um, invited to some conferences to design posters for specific events. Um, and yeah, so, so the last, I guess six months or so I’ve, I’ve, I’ve done quite a few, um, have just really started to, um, really just started to focus on it from a research perspective. And, um, yeah, I don’t, I don’t really, even, it’s weird to even think about it because when I was in grad school, I wasn’t, I did, I did some poster work, but, um, I feel like I rediscovered it after grad school knowing that it was an aspect of my life that I wanted to sort of like uncover a little bit more. And I absolutely love it, there’s probably nothing more in the world that I would rather do. Like, um, I just, I love having a prompt, I love having, um, I love having the constraints of a visual, I love being expressive. Um, I like to make, I’m a maker, so I just like to do stuff and I like to get it out in the world and get feedback and, um, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s really, it’s, it’s a, it’s a really, I don’t know, fun format. It’s like, it’s interesting.

[00:50:46] Lorilee Rager: Yeah I was going to ask, you know, if it was fun because I think, uh, I think grad school taught us that it’s okay, this is supposed to be fun. Why are we taking design so damn serious? Like this is supposed to be fun. We are makers. And I think that that spark opened back up in us, in grad school of, yeah, it’s supposed to be fun. Like go back to your childhood fun memories. What did you make and what did you do. Or, um, and you had said you just, you approached it, I think you and I had text a while back and you said something about, you just approached it, like, or email or whatever, but you just approached it like grad school. Like with that same work ethic and passion, and I think that’s what made it successful. Tell us about that, yeah. 

[00:51:37] Ryan Slone: Just like a packet, yeah. So I, um, I sort of strategized, had a plan of people that I wanted to talk to. I have, um, poster competitions, events, um, workshops. I’m just really trying to go at it, like my old self would be afraid to do that. I would be afraid to just approach a stranger and talk to them or afraid to try something because I thought I would fail. But I’m just like, I don’t give a fuck, I’m just going to do it, see what happens, you know. And, and I think that’s another beauty of, of VCFA is it’s given me the confidence to just kind of not care. And, you know, I know it’s something that, um, I enjoy and I want to do it. And, um, some people are great at writing, like academic papers and, um, presenting at conferences and for, and I’ve done a little bit of that, but for me, I think it really comes back to the act, the physical act of making it. What’s so great about the posters that I’ve been doing is I’ve been going material, analog, and using India ink, you know, I’ve, I’m really going back to when I was a kid, I feel like I could, there’s, that, you know, there’s no judgment. I can do whatever I want. I don’t have a client, I don’t have a boss. And maybe he doesn’t like my solution or whatever, you know. Like it’s, um, it’s pretty liberating in that respect. And, um, yeah. So, yeah. Yeah. You could see them behind me. 

[00:53:12] Lorilee Rager: I know. Very good. Very cool. Um, and the, one of the things you had said, or I read in your bio was just about, um, which I think is just beautiful, the social advocacy of poster design, and it has a long standing history of recording our struggles. And when I think of that, I think of such brilliant historic posters that, through history, when right now, when you do go back and look and what they meant, and, and, and for like you were saying peace and social justice, and. 

[00:53:47] Ryan Slone: Yeah, I think like, it’s, I think it’s interesting too, because I think, um, for everything that’s happening socially in the United States, um, right now, like Instagram, social media, I mean, in a lot of ways people are expressing those thoughts, uh, through the little, you know, the little, the little static square, right, we share a little square. Um, and posters are really just an extension of that. And, um, it’s something that I’m interested in, it’s, and how I, how the two could be combined. And it’s actually, uh, It’s actually really kind of where I want to go in the classroom, is how to sort of bridge those two things. Uh, because the students that I have right now are very, very like vocal and interested in, in, in, um, it just social causes. And, and they, and I really try to inject that into all my work, because I want them to feel that the design matters and it can have a voice and it can have an impact on things. And so, um, you know, my, my extension of that as the poster, there’s maybe something completely different. Um, but, so it’s, it’s, it’s really it’s, I don’t think it’s going to go away. And I feel like sometimes, you know, at least in America, that posters were sort of like, um, uh, I guess thought it was like advertisements and, um, there, there’s still, there’s all, all the, I guess like all of the, uh, the history and sort of the, the elevation of it as a medium really happens globally and other, other countries. So, um, I’m finding that there, in my research, that it’s such an expansive and large like, um, community out there and I’m, I want to inject more of that into my classroom and what I’m doing personally.

[00:55:46] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. It’s really fascinating work. It really is. I think of even from a child to church bulletins or bulletin boards in the community, or on telephone poles that we’re like come tonight to this meeting, this is an important thing, we need your help. And that same version has transferred into Instagram. And like you said, that need, it brings up needed dialogue and, and, and helps, you know, complex social issues. So I think the poster research is fascinating. I’m very looking forward to learning and watching more as you continue, so. 

[00:56:23] Ryan Slone: Thank you. 

[00:56:23] Lorilee Rager: You’re welcome. We’re just about out of time. So my one last hard hitting question. 

[00:56:28] Ryan Slone: No. 

[00:56:28] Lorilee Rager: I know. We’re definitely gonna have to have you back, we have so much to talk about. But the last hard hitting question is what tool, what tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? Just something that maybe helps you get grounded or gives gratitude. It can be, it can be anything. Quote, song, meditation, flower.


[00:56:51] Ryan Slone: Okay. I, um, let’s see. This, that’s a great question. I, I think I hope you get a good variety of answers. I’m going to say, I’m going to say one thing and it’s, uh, it’s more for me, but I’m hoping that the personal becomes the universal or I hope it helps someone else out. But, um, for me, it’s a good bike ride outside.

[00:57:21] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:57:22] Ryan Slone: So there’s, it’s not a run, not a walk, not a jog. I get on a damn bicycle and feel the wind and it moves and go fast. And you know, and also, when you’re on a bike you can’t be listening to any music, you can’t have your phone on you. It’s very dangerous, don’t do that. So I would say a good bike ride. And I’ve, I’ve been kind of a cyclist for a little while and it’s kept kind of going like this. 

[00:57:52] Lorilee Rager: Up and down. 

[00:57:53] Ryan Slone: Um, I just got a mountain bike. There you go, up and down. Um, I, I just got a mountain bike. And so, um, I found that just getting out and just like literally moving away from wherever I am. Um, there’s also like the spiritual sort of like connection with nature or the ground or the environment, you see things differently on a bike. You see things, like there’s a different scale to things than there would be in a car on foot. It’s really interesting. You appreciate like terrain more, uh, I think climate and all those things. So that would, I would throw in and just, it can be any kind of road bike, mountain bike, tricycle, but. 

[00:58:37] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, you talk about throw back to childhood, how much fun was getting a new bike and getting just away, out of your parents’ face and, and 

[00:58:47] Ryan Slone: That’s a good point. Yeah. 

[00:58:49] Lorilee Rager: I think it’s a great thing.

[00:58:50] Ryan Slone: Maybe I should say, not a commute, that’s another thing. It should not be a commute. 

[00:58:54] Lorilee Rager: You’re doing it for fun. 

[00:58:55] Ryan Slone: It shouldn’t be home to work, or work. It should be, it should be sort of like the free, the free fall kind of experience. 

[00:59:03] Lorilee Rager: Yes. I think that’s brilliant. And there’s so much research that already points to getting outside, moving, getting your heart rate up, all of that. But being on a bike again, um, is something that a lot of people probably don’t do, and doing it for fun. Like you said, not as a commute. I love it. It’s perfect. It fits perfect in the toolbox. 

[00:59:22] Ryan Slone: Wear your helmet. 

[00:59:23] Lorilee Rager: Yes, wear your helmet. Don’t text and bike. 

[00:59:27] Ryan Slone: Don’t text and bike. Yeah, I know. 

[00:59:30] Lorilee Rager: Well, that’s awesome. That’s great. Well, um, that’s, that’s all we have time for today, but thank you so much for being here. I so appreciate it. It’s been great. 

[00:59:40] Ryan Slone: Thank you Lorilee. It’s amazing to watch, to sort of watch you grow in this, ah, in this space. I’m just so proud and happy to see you. And, uh, we’ve, I feel like we’ve only been around each other for maybe like two weeks of our lives, like in person, I feel like we’re already so close. It’s crazy. 

[01:00:06] Lorilee Rager: It’s so weird how the pandemic and, uh, a low residency program made me closer to you and some of our cohort than any other humans I’ve ever lived with or been around my whole life. And I cherish it and I’m so grateful for it. 

[01:00:21] Ryan Slone: Same, yeah. 

[01:00:22] Lorilee Rager: So thank you. Same here. 

[01:00:24] Ryan Slone: Thank you. 

[01:00:25] Lorilee Rager: All right. That’s it. 

[01:00:26] Ryan Slone: Is this where the outro music plays? 

[01:00:28] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. 

Thanks again to Ryan for bringing such great energy to our conversation and sharing his story and strategies to navigating life. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more info about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Join me next time for some more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.

The Ground and Gratitude podcast is produced by Kelly Drake and AOMcClain, LLC. .

Special Episode: Side Hustle Hangover

Listen to the podcast here

Special: Side Hustle Hangover

It’s a cycle you may have found yourself in: you make a lofty New Year’s resolution or two, become discouraged by a lack of progress and ultimately abandon the whole thing by mid-January, feeling defeated. If so, you’re not alone. In this special episode, Lorilee shares why she let go of yearly resolutions altogether and learned to take sustainable, simple steps toward her own self-care through rituals like breathing, mediation, and writing. The things we tend to each day will grow and flourish, so which seeds will you choose to cultivate?

“Side Hustle Hangover” is an excerpt from Cultivator and Creator: An autoethnographic study understanding the addicted artist, which you can read in full here on her website page all about her thesis.

? Listen wherever you get your podcasts ? or links here:



Show Transcript:

[Intro] Lorilee Rager:

Hey there. 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.

This is a solo episode. That’s just me, talking to you. I found in years past that every time I make a new year’s resolution, by mid jan I feel… Maybe you’ve experienced this too… I wanted to share this short piece from my thesis where I reflect on a similar feeling. Hopefully you can take something from this in case you were feeling shitty, hungover or overall blah from any new years resolutions you’ve already broken?


Over the course of this work, I’ve come to the realization that side projects fail faster. We all have tried to help a friend on the side for their kid’s birthday party invite or our grandma for a cookbook cover design, and we never can seem to get to it or we rush through it. Not giving a task we care about the proper time it deserves. That’s the kind of ‘being too busy’ feeling trap I used to get stuck in that kept guilt and shame in my gut.  A new practice in meditation, writing, and a mindfulness focused approach to my daily habits, values, and boundaries helped fill up my inner gratitude cup of ambition and along the way helped my design practice, too. I’m still grateful for family, friends, and all those clients, but now I am unapologetically grateful for who I am. What’s the bushels per acre or the ROI in this? One life saved – my own.

The key is remembering you have a choice. Always. You can pause, breathe, and stop for a piece of buttered toast.

So the other night I was texting with a friend, confessing that I’d eaten buttered toast for breakfast. I felt the need to confess because I’ve been pretty devout recently to be extra healthy in all the ways. It’s been a strict lifestyle of no alcohol, no Xanax, and clean eating. I’d been good at staying up on this wagon until that day.

You see, that wagon is really big, heavy, and piled up with lots of things. Where I come from, a good wagon can carry a whole field of tobacco. It works well for a yard sale. And makes the perfect impromptu stage up at the town square for singing the national anthem for the Fall Festival.

Well, my metaphorical wagon has some pretty massive weight to carry and pull along some days. It’s packed full of a lot of work, a demanding family, a little grad school, healthy living, sober living, but don’t get me wrong, it’s full of joy, too! There’s a little space for gratitude and the ever-needed knee-slapping humor as well. However, staying on that wagon is not nearly as easy as it feels like it ought to be.

Daily we’re all busy. Contrary to popular opinion, busy isn’t something to be proud of, and it’s not a specialty to be listed on your resume. It is, however, a commonly used word by many who don’t really have it all together. So I focus each day on controlling the busy, planning the chaos, and being extra efficient and productive. Each day it’s a conscious effort to get all the things done, right, well, and on time. Hour by hour is planned, budgets are set, all while meeting your step count, stand up goals, water ounce intake, and helping the kids make more healthy choices, spending less money, feeding the dog, and repeating it all over again the next day. 

So mid-morning of my extra efficient day when the buttered toast skipped across my path, I slipped off my wagon. After my 5 a.m. workout, morning pages, and a big proposal meeting at the local Chamber of Commerce, I got a message that my grandma was in town. She was just down the street at Moss’s Country Kitchen having a late breakfast after a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t realize it, as we so often don’t, but I was inching toward the edge of my wagon. I hadn’t had any breakfast but had had my two large cups of coffee, and after my charmful proposal presentation performance I was feeling drained. I knew some quality time with my grandmother would be just the right thing even though it was not on the day’s schedule.

I called her back to say I was headed to the diner. She said she would order for me so I wouldn’t have to wait, as she knew I was busy. Right as I sat down, so did a platter of scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, and two pieces of white bread toasted with delicious butter, dripping and shining in the reflection of the pick up window heat lamps. I took a deep breath and scooted the hashbrowns off the plate and on to my grandma’s.

You’re a little thing and need to eat more, I told her as I winked at the hovering waitress. Next a handful of jelly tub packets were set between us. Grandma needed help getting them open. I have to agree,those small little rectangle tubs are “hard boogers to get that shiny corner ahold of to peel back Why do they make them things so dern hard?” Grandma asked, trying not to feel embarrassed about her old hands not working as well as they used to.

From there I ate my eggs and inhaled another cup of coffee. Next up was the extra greasy bacon with another cup of joe topped off by the sweet and efficient waitress. She was on us like a preacher with a collection plate. “Ready for a warm up?” she asked after every sip we took out of the classic white diner mugs.

I hadn’t seen my grandma in quite a few weeks, as she was quick to remind me. She mentioned I’d been too busy jet setting all over the country. She was referring to my trip to Vermont for grad school and then to Florida for beach time for the boys’ Fall Break. Just before that, I hadn’t been able to make it by her house when they were putting up pear preserves. So she needed an update on me and a good reason why I couldn’t be there for the canning and conversation. She said they had a large time with Aunt Lonetta and Aunt Mildred and she had three jars for me in her kitchen I needed to come get.

As we got caught up on life, talk turned to the weather. She said the upcoming Farmer’s Almanac predicted a wet but mild winter, and so did the woolly worms. It came time to open up more jelly, and my toast was still just sitting there beside me. My scrambled eggs and bacon hadn’t really filled me up, and Grandma was certainly not done talking. The waitress was also eager to keep us in coffee.

So, as I jellied her toast some more, I mindlessly jellied myself some and took a bite. I think my brain was in shock. As the warm melted butter and light crunch of the toast and squish of jelly entered my mouth I was instantly happier. My forehead did tingle from the sugar rush, but Grandma never missed a beat talking about the hams she needs to get for Thanksgiving prep as she reminded me, to be sure to get myself one next week when they’re on sale at Walmark’s.”

We wrapped up our chit chat and finally asked the waitress to take the coffee cups away and bring us the check. The conversation was the best I’d had in weeks, I told her as I helped her up and out the door, and I was delighted to know her new hearing aids were helping her. The diner had a handwritten sign on the door that they were hiring for two chefs and a waitress. I told her we should apply and she laughed loudly, saying “Oh gosh, ain’t no way I could babe. I got too much to do cooking for the church and the senior citizens center.” Nevermind you, she’ll be 89 in a few weeks, has neuropathy, and can no longer stand more than just a few moments without help. However, yes, I agreed with her that she surely is too busy to come cook at the diner.

As I sat in bed that night about to turn out the lights, I didn’t log the toast in my weight loss app. I wasn’t thinking about how it had been another ‘busy’ day. I just thought about what  my friend had texted back: “Everyone needs the occasional buttered toast.” I no longer needed to feel bad or guilty about the confession of calories or the time I took with Grandma away from all the busy. Never be too busy to enjoy some occasional buttered toast. 

It’s in these little pauses, fleeting moments of toast and talk with your grandma, is where you find your steady. Mindfulness helps to ground you so you can begin to feel that slightest shift, that your sense of place is within you. Right where you are is right where you can grow. It’s not in a bigger client, or next year’s goals, or holding on to past grief, blame, shame, and fears. It’s a daily practice of rituals you design and build in the soil you’re in today. It is within you and forever giving, just like the farm always gave me. What I needed was already there when I approached it with willingness, surrendering to my inner voice that knew all along what I needed to hear.

Before this work I would likely not have paused for the time with my grandma or mindfully enjoyed the buttered toast. Yet I have learned slowly, through daily meditation and writing, how much I needed to change my habits and daily rituals to include what really mattered to me. Not letting the busy and and the bullshit run my day. By connecting with simple small meditations, writing has helped to draw my awareness inward. Instead of the artificial outward distractions of our loud world running my anxious mind, my own thoughts began to speak up, and I listened.

The rewards I’ve discovered in this work are in the daily exploration, imagination, creating, and making as a designer. In these small moments, being willing to wonder and be curious is when I reach understanding and then enlightenment. Then naturally the discovery and joy leads to gratitude. This openness is my happiness, and how I still get lost in the work of making logos and websites from needs, ideas, hopes, and dreams. Thinking I get paid for this as a living is an incredible gift of gratitude. And it doesn’t hurt that this career doesn’t have me worrying about the weather.

The key is the same today as when you were a child drawing and coloring: Enjoy the messy and have fun in the making. Don’t worry about or focus on the failures. Experiment and live into your truth as a designer daily, and love the seasons that come and go and cycle, and notice how each one helped you grow. Track the soil, weather patterns, and what you already had deep in your roots already within you. Be the steward of your own life and appreciate how the land looks today.

My father often said in business, “Look out for number one because nobody else is going to.” As selfish as I thought that sounded back then I took this to heart in this work as well as life, and now I know I had to show up and learn about my sense of place. Examine my history, where I came from, my truths and beliefs. Because only I could.

You can’t skip forward to the sweet corn at Thanksgiving without the sowing, growing, and harvesting. When you start in the field making that first pass with the plow, you have to circle back and make sure you’ve covered your ground. That’s where the gratitude design life begins to bloom. Only you can plant your purpose. Tend to what matters, thankfully, bit by bit, day by day, and the rewards will come. It requires faith and devotion to the work, and in yourself. Trusting that the sun will shine and the small daily work in you will grow.

It is still a work in progress, but because of this work and recovery from addiction, I have begun to understand I have a choice in life. I have a choice in the everyday; small, simple choices each day. I have begun to understand how operating under stress, anxiety, and addiction messes with your mind. Yes, I’m talking about the noggin, the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex. Like Bessel Van Der Kolk says in The Body Keeps The Score, part of my research has helped me understand the brain in more detail and how it adapts to the pressures of occupying a burnout addicted, people pleasing designer:

Basically our stress hormones are meant to help us move, or fight back, and get out of the situation. If they keep being secreted, they keep you in a state of hyperarousal or put you in a state of helpless collapse… You have difficulty filtering irrelevant information. Gradually, you start feeling threatened everywhere. Instead of being focused on what is going on right now, your mind stays on the alert for threat, while you basically feel helpless to do anything about it… Things that other people see as simply unpleasant or irritating, are perceived as a threat to your very existence… You get trapped in your reactions without having much control over them.” Source link

Finally, I have given my brain the rest it deserves. I have given myself permission to feel my feelings and make decisions based on my needs. From there, my imagination and curiosity began to grow again. I found authentic joy in writing and making art in my new home studio. As I began to feel less pain, heart ache, and anxiety because of these new practices, I craved more. I learned in this work to be reliant on myself to fill my spirit, energy, and wellness, no longer seeking it from others or the next big design project. From this new daily pause and inward look, I found in myself true acceptance, love, and success.

This work gave me a natural inner peace that I created on my own. The reward has helped my stress and anxiety levels all but disappear. I feel my overall nervous system, immune system, and sleep system all have a balance. Yes there’s still peaks and valleys, highs and lows, but they are not as dramatic and quick fused. My breaths are deeper, my hand steadier, making my body’s inner bobber steady, like a fishing pole in the pond. 

Overcoming panic attacks without medicines and alcohol is a huge win. Having the ability to meditate for five minutes and visualize that I am ok, right now, right here, and visualize myself in my safe spaces is nothing short of a miracle. In his TedxMarin talk, Dr. Rick Hanson said, “Settling into this basic sense of okayness is a powerful way to build well-being and resources in your brain and being, and it’s a way of taking a stand for the truth.” Me and my brain are taking our stand in sober soothing.

World renowned spiritual teacher and New York Times bestselling author, Eckhart Tolle,  discussed in a Super Soul Sunday interview with Oprah how COVID-19 reminds us of the two polarities of life: order versus disorder. Eckhart explained how the current global pandemic, which is a time of chaos and disruption, is an invitation to accept the present moment for what it is. Eckhart shared how he believes we can suffer less during the pandemic, how this time might lead us all to a new spiritual awakening. The importance of stillness, the way in which our consciousness extends beyond physicality, and why love is to recognize another as yourself.

In my recovery practice and self care, I also learned the importance of seeing yourself. Telling yourself, “I got you.” Really looking at yourself in the mirror each day and seeing, feeling, and facing your own truth. In the tiny moments, brushing your teeth, to be in that moment. Not multitasking on your phone or watch or podcast. Looking yourself in the eye. This daily small act will begin to fill your buckets with your inner truth. From there, thoughts will arise: What do you think, how do you feel? Sit with those feelings and feel them. If it’s pain, ask: If my pain could speak, what would it lovingly say? Doing this will be part of a new ritual. This begins the small shift in self awareness.

Morning Pages Entry From August 15, 2020:

I felt the water on my toes this morning in the shower. As I mindfully stood there, it felt like a mini-massage. Like acupuncture, humming, little easy vibrations over the tops of my feet. I paused, took a deep breath. It made me smile.

Recognizing, feeling, and listening feels delightful. The fact that I’m not rushing out the door, overtired, hungover, often angry, at what I had no idea – feels like such a surrendering relief. I don’t know if I have ever noticed the feeling and calm of the water on my toes. If you have not, I highly recommend it. 

The warm tingle of life is good right now. Very good. There goes that optimism and happiness oozing out automatically. I spent the last month wondering what’s underneath that? Looking at the underneath, the hidden feelings, where are they? What are they? I’m looking.

I am happy simply drying my toes. I am feeling peace in my chest as I pat dry the calm. I’m feeling love in the fluffy towel as I dry the drops at the end of my longer than ever wet hair. Noticing that I am not feeling worried, anxious, or stressed. I would describe this feeling as ease.

Ease is not to be mistaken for any lack of projects, problems, and grad school packets due on my calendar. My head wants me to hurry up, move on to the next seasons of thinking, nail down action items. “Pick up the sloth’s pace,” my inner voice says. That voice sounding very much like Cinderella’s stepsisters terrorized me a few days this month, asking: What are you even doing? What are you going to do next? Where do you even fit in? Where does someone like you even belong in the academic world?

Using my new tools in grad school research and recovery, I pause. A new rule of no negative self talk and super powers of optimism quickly helps me to flip this Negative Nelly noise in my head. I stare into the mirror saying, “I got you,” and talk as kindly to myself as I would a best friend. Thinking about, what is one of your passions? What is something you could talk about forever? What if there were no rules in the whole wide world, what then would you make? 

The kind words begin to fill the buckets. Familiar words like gratitude, joy, optimism. Admiring my charisma, while admitting to myself on the other side of the shelf there’s trauma, recovery, healing, and mindfulness. Closing my eyes, hand to my chest, I take a big deep breath in and hold for 4, 3, 2, 1, and out through the mouth. There now, don’t we all feel better?

I see my hardiness, resilience, kindness, toughness, courage, boundaries, fear, anger, conflict, self compassion, curiosity, and imagination. I got you. Toweling off I tell myself to keep going, one day at a time, one piece at a time, just give it 1% today, just try, it took 3 big tries to get sober, maybe third times the charm. Bless your heart. Remember Dolly and find out who you are and do it on purpose. xo

That’s it for that entry of morning pages Those pages are just one example of how I now examine myself without judgement or denial. The shouting sounds of fear in my head became just a whisper, and I now find great joy as I look at the hard places inside of me. I was addicted to approval, from others and the false high of client approvals. Now I understand and feel an authentic reward in self love, acceptance, abundance and the simple rituals like breathing, mediation, and writing. 

Part of dealing with the hardiness in the land and in life is to practice gratitude for all you have at your feet. Then you think about what’s my plan today to make this vast land that I own, that I’m responsible for, grow better. In this almost meditative state you’ll find the richests places to plant, and then to sow, water, repair, and reap the beliefs that will carry you forward. The seasons come and go, the cycle of the seed dies and plants grow, the sun rises and sets, there’s always that look onto the horizon. You use your experience from years past, the weather and land conditions right now, and the future of the unknown storms and droughts that might appear, and press forward today. It’s simple, but not easy, to design a life you want to plow through every day, rain or shine. 

You cannot control what yield life produces, but you can make the choice to care for yourself and the earth a little every day. You can build your safe space and gather your buckets, harvesting all the goodness your heart can hold and leaving the rest behind. It’s not just one logo or one seed. It’s a thousand tiny seeds you care for a little at a time that add up to the bushel baskets full of joy, hope, and happiness you seek.

The End

[Outro] Lorilee Rager:

Happy new year, and thank you so much for tuning in to Ground and Gratitude. You can read this piece and you can also find some more information about the show and listen to past episodes at GroundAndGratitude.com. Be sure and join me next time for more honest conversations exploring what it means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.

Producers of Ground and Gratitude, Kelly Drake and Anna McClain.

Ep. 7: Shame Free Eating with Dietician Julie Satterfeal

Shame Free Eating with Dietician Julie Satterfeal

Julie Satterfeal is a registered dietician, author, speaker, podcast host, and coach helping people to develop a shame-free relationship with food. Julie is a weight inclusive, anti-diet dietician with an empathetic, thoughtful approach. She joins Lorilee on the podcast to discuss her important philosophy, why dieting doesn’t work, and what authentic nutrition actually looks like.


  • On Julie’s playlist: “Crowded Table” – The Highwomen
  • Why Julie focuses on relationships with food rather than weight loss
  • Understanding intuitive eating
  • Anti-fat bias and diet culture
  • What it means to eat shame-free
  • Learning to love and respect your body (and yourself)
  • Challenging perceptions of ideal beauty
  • Debunking diet myths like BMI
  • Taking small, sustainable steps toward shame-free eating
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

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Apple Podcast Link

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Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

Episode 7 – Julie Satterfeal Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey there. 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.

Today I’m sitting down with the endlessly wise and caring Julie Satterfield. Julie is a registered dietician and runs a diet coaching business called Shame Free Eating. She also hosts a podcast with the same name. She takes great pride in her unwavering history as a non diet, weight inclusive, intuitive eating dietician and in leading people towards a greater love for themselves and lifelong peace with food. We’ll be talking about how to find joy in food and remove the shame that diet culture puts in our lives. Just so y’all know, we will be talking about some difficult topics surrounding food and diet that may be a little triggering for some people. So with that, let’s dive right in.

Okay. Good. Hi Julie. How are you?

[00:02:12] Julie Satterfeal: I’m great. It’s good to see you. 

[00:02:15] Lorilee Rager: I know it’s so good to see you too. I really appreciate you doing this. I know you’re busy with your own podcast and all your other things.

[00:02:22] Julie Satterfeal: No, I’m so excited to be here and I love that you’re, that you’ve got a podcast. This looks so great.

[00:02:29] Lorilee Rager: Thank you. Thanks so much. So the first kickoff question is hopefully not too difficult. But I would love to know what song is on repeat on your playlist today. 

[00:02:53] Julie Satterfeal: Well, I have this one on repeat periodically, I really love it. And, um, it is a song by The Highwomen called Crowded Table. And I adore it.

[00:03:09] Lorilee Rager: I absolutely adore them, that it, everything I’ve heard that they’ve put out I’ve loved. And so I have listened to that. It’s been a while, so I’m glad you mentioned that. I’ll have to key that one back up again. 

[00:03:20] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah. I love getting tips for music that I love that I maybe have not listened to in a while, but that’s a, um, that’s a go back to. I was listening to it in the car with my daughter yesterday.

[00:03:34] Lorilee Rager: Oh, that’s perfect. Yes. That’s, that’s why I actually opened with that question, because I always want to know what am I missing or what Idid I forget about or, so, yeah, that’s a good one to bring back for sure. Okay. Perfect. Well, um, all right. I thought we could just begin, um, with a fun question also, and this is a Southern thing, of course, but I’ve thought about talking about supper. Do you call it supper? Do you call it supper or dinner? 

[00:04:02] Julie Satterfeal: Um, both because I have, I’m Southern, I have a Southern, one side of my family is, my grandmother deep South. And so she would always call the last meal of the day supper and lunchtime dinner. I tend to call dinner dinner, the last meal dinner, but I will be formal when I need to. 

[00:04:27] Lorilee Rager: Right, right, right. I definitely grew up with a Southern grandma that was supper was the last meal and dinner was the middle meal, lunch, lunch. Yeah. So, um, yeah, I thought that we would talk a little bit, speaking of supper, bringing us around food, I really wanted to just kind of hear your story and how you got started and explaining a little bit about shame-free eating and your, your passion that you have for helping people from a nutritional standpoint. Tell us a little bit about that. 

[00:05:05] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah, I would love to. So I’m a registered dietician. I don’t share that a lot when, I try to avoid the topic of what do you do sometimes because it can be a real touchy subject. And as soon as I say I’m a registered dietician, people are like, oh, you probably eat perfect. And I put that in quotes. And, oh, don’t like, I don’t want to tell you what I just ate. Or they start asking me about the newest diet and what do you think of this? And it’s just, ugh. But, um, it makes me, it makes me sad. And so, one of the things that I say is that I am a weight inclusive anti diet dietician. And so sometimes I will say that because that really is, um, how I have practiced from the very beginning. Even when I was in college and I started learning about even therapeutic diets, it was very obvious to me that, um, I certainly didn’t want to follow one of those. I was like, whoa, man, I hope I don’t get diabetes or celiac disease because there’s no way I can do that. And then I started realizing, well, nobody can do that. Nobody can do this in the way that it is presented. So whether it is a therapeutic diet for, um, healing something in your body or people are focusing on weight loss, there’s so many confounding factors. I mean, we don’t, um, first of all, our body does not like to lose weight. It’s going to resist that. We know that 98% of all diets fail and, um, our body just is geared against it and so many things happen when we try to restrict food. And so this was really pretty intuitive to me from an early age. And so I kept trying to figure out, well, how can I help people if they need to make nutrition changes without throwing them into this tailspin of diets. And so that’s where it really emerged. And when I was a senior, the year I graduated from college, a book called Intuitive Eating, um, came out. And when I read that book, I went, oh my God, this is exactly. Okay so there are other dietitians that understand this, but that was almost unknown at that point. And it’s started to become more known,. um, and I’ve just always practiced within the scope. And so for years, and years and years, people would say, well, can you help me lose weight? Well, no, I can’t, I don’t focus on weight loss, but I can work with you on your relationship to food and your body and we can talk about how we actually create change in our life. But most of the time we have to focus on, I call it how to eat before we can look at what we eat.

[00:07:58] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:07:59] Julie Satterfeal: Long story.

[00:08:00] Lorilee Rager: I love it. Um, it really, it resonates and begins to make sense to me just as I’ve gotten older and started to now, in my forties, look at my relationship with food and, and begin to, to try to really understand my own why. Because I understand the tailspin of diet, all the diet culture, the way I was raised, speaking of, you know, dear grandmothers and Southern food and eating too much and being, you know, loved with food, and then the body shaming and body image of just puberty and high school and college and all of that. I definitely now can see all the ways it just, wasn’t a healthy relationship, really maybe ever with food that I’ve had. And so I know when we met many, many years ago, um, and it’s so interesting also how graphic designers get to connect with some people in the greatest ways over, you know, your first brand many, many, many years ago. Um, but I really, I really, um, was interested at the time. But it’s also one of those things where from a professional standpoint, as a, as, in my profession, as a graphic designer, and I wonder if you can relate as well, it’s not something you really want to confess, um, when you’re working with a client relationship to also be like, oh, you know, I really want to know more about what you’re saying, because I may personally be struggling, you know, behind closed doors or behind the scenes. Um, and in recently, in my own, uh, sobriety and recovery, the eating thing has, has become a new challenge that I just didn’t expect. With sugar, anorexia, and, and it’s something based on my research from grad school that I’ve learned is kind of a common numbing coping mechanism in the way we use food. Um, and I’m beginning to try to understand intuitive eating a little more. So could you explain a little more in depth what that is? I mean, I know we only have so much time today, but maybe a surface level for our listeners. 

[00:10:14] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah. So one of the things that, that I talked a lot about is that food is a comfort and food is part of our history and it is okay to use food, to comfort us. And that’s wonderful. And that’s one of the ways that we come around a crowded table is to share and to, um, love, to love each other with food. And so when people are hurting or when we’re excited and we want to celebrate, we do that with food and that’s definitely okay. But it can cross this line, and I think what’s happened in our society is that we have really, um, we have such a huge anti-fat bias and there are so many messages that are just false about weight and health and size and health and size in general. And the stigma that is associated leads people to get really, really strict with their food at young ages. And oh my gosh, my body’s changing. Oh, you better not eat that. Like there’s so many messages. And so we can start these disordered eating patterns early on. And the way that I see intuitive eating fitting in is that we have to kind of break that. We have to take a look and say, you know what? This is the body that is taking you through life and it is strong and capable and we have so many factors that affect it, including, and most predominantly our genetics. Um, food and activity is really such a small piece of what our body shape is. And so we have to unlearn some of that and we have to take in, um, some body acceptance and learning how to respect our body in the process so that we can be present with food, learn other tools for tough emotions, but also learning how to listen to our body, give ourselves permission to eat, trust our body. So that’s kind of the foundation as I see it. When I talk about intuitive eating it is foundationally, we want to start to learn to trust our body and listen to our body and recognize what hunger cues actually feel like. And it’s okay to be full, it doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong. And so taking all of the stigma out of eating and, um, really coming back to a gentle, loving place with your body. 

And once you can do that, it actually gives us so much more control and freedom around food. But when we’re trying to dictate everything we eat and count calories and weigh ourselves and, um, checking the Fitbit every five seconds, that actually takes control away and it makes us more obsessive and it makes us, um, constantly focusing on food. And food should not be the center of our, of our thoughts. We should be living our life. Food should be on the periphery. I mean, yeah, it’s great and we want it for this comfort when we need it, but we also want to have other tools in our toolbox for healing tough emotions and ways to deal with other things. 

[00:13:31] Lorilee Rager: Oh, wow. Yeah, that’s so true. And I never thought about the notifications that my Apple watch and my Lose It app in my former Fitbit days that chirped at me all the time, it, it made me feel obsessed, you know. And if I wasn’t thinking about it, it was this little reminder tapping, you know, in my brain, did you think about, you know, have you moved, have you ate, you know, log your food. And so,

[00:13:56] Julie Satterfeal: And it can make you deny your actual true feelings. Like what you really need, you might now deny because this computer or this idea of calories has given you new information. And you’re like, oh, I should, why am I hungry right now? I shouldn’t be hungry. It’s not time. I’ve already had my calories. And so now we’re denying what our body is telling us, and that leads down a harder road. Because if you’re not eating breakfast because you’re trying to save calories, and you’re not eating lunch or you’re having a small lunch, and then you wonder why mid-afternoon you’re starving and all you can think about is a snicker bar and a donut, um, it’s, that’s your body trying to tell you. But we blame it on our brain and we say, oh, I just don’t have willpower, I’m just this, I’m just that. And we beat ourselves up instead of just respecting the process and what our body’s trying to help us do.

[00:14:49] Lorilee Rager: Oh, wow. Absolutely. It’s, you’ve just made me want to turn off all my notifications of all these apps that do. 

[00:14:56] Julie Satterfeal: Do it. 

[00:14:58] Lorilee Rager: Um, because the beauty in what you said about intuitive eating, to me, is the words acceptance, permission, and trust. I mean, those are words I have never heard in a diet culture and in a diet plan. And they’re such comforting, important words that, that I think are so important in everything else in life. So applying it to eating also seems important and makes sense to me. So, yeah. Wow. So, oh, that’s good. And I definitely want to read that book. I actually noticed it was, um, in my Audible account, like with my subscription, like a new version. 

[00:15:41] Julie Satterfeal: Oh yeah, they do. They have a, um, a new one that came out a few years ago, just an updated, um, for the times.

[00:15:48] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:15:48] Julie Satterfeal: Same concepts, just new, you know, texting. You know, when in 1995, when it came out, there was not any smartphones. 

[00:16:00] Lorilee Rager: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, I graduated college without a cell phone and that kind of blows my mind. 

[00:16:05] Julie Satterfeal: Same. 

[00:16:05] Lorilee Rager: I’m not that old, but yeah, to be 43 and, and know that I can say that it makes a huge difference, so, um, interesting, interesting. All right. Well going onto my next topic, I’d love you to explain a little bit about, you know, shame-free eating, which is the name of your business and company website. And really again, um, a little bit of my personal experiences is full of shame, binge eating as a child and, again, anorexia in high school and college. And then, um, later in life with marriage and stress and kids and being an entrepreneur, it seemed like I began to just binge eat or try to save calories for alcohol and wine and then, then find myself hungry and starving the next day and angry and confused and binge eat again in this terrible cycle. And it all, it all was filled with shame and it was the center of my attention and addiction, um, at the time. So I wanted to hear a little bit more of, you know, your take on shame-free eating and maybe where do we begin? 

[00:17:22] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, um, Shame Free Eating, I changed my business name to that a few years ago because I really found that it was just the crux of everything that I believe in and that I do in life and with my clients and with food. And I, I strongly believe that there shouldn’t be shame around our eating and I want to inspire empathy for everyone. And one of the ways that I do that is by letting people know that we can eat and we are allowed to eat and there’s nothing wrong with eating. And I don’t care if you’re having a doughnut or tons of broccoli or a soda or whatever it is, um, and I don’t care what your size is, you have permission to eat these foods and you should be able to do it and feel good and not feel like it means there’s something wrong with you. And one of the, um, people that I really like and have learned from in the world of shame is Brenee Brown. And she’s a researcher in Texas, and she has a definition of the difference between shame and guilt that I like to share sometimes. She talks about that guilt is like I did something wrong, shame is I am wrong. It’s like, it’s so deep. And you hear shame when people say things like I am an idiot, I’m so dumb, I’m a loser. And I think that we do that in our culture way more often than, I mean, we just do it a lot. And that, that way that we speak to ourselves, we would never speak to someone in our life that we love. We would never talk to someone else like that. And, um, so elevating the respect that we have for ourselves. And the love that we have for ourselves I think is so important and giving grace to the people around us. And, um, so that is kind of where, where the name came from, just Shame Free eating just is I want you to eat and enjoy food and love it in a shame-free manner, because that’s how you’re going to live the life that you want. Food, you don’t want to just be thinking about food all the time. You want to be able to eat it and enjoy it and let it go. And sometimes you might not enjoy it. Sometimes you’re grabbing something cause you don’t have time and you just only can get a, uh, granola bar on the way out the door. That’s okay, too, you know. So food is, should be flexible and it should move with our life. Um, we shouldn’t be wrapping our life around the food. 

[00:20:18] Lorilee Rager: Oh, food should be flexible. Wow. I love that very much because it’s, it’s not something I’ve ever thought about, uh, from a flexibility standpoint and, and a shame standpoint. I completely relate to Brenee Brown as well and her trying to help the shame culture. And like you were saying, the negative self-talk is something that I feel like we maybe all are so used to we even don’t realize we’re doing it. 

[00:20:51] Julie Satterfeal: Absolutely. 

[00:20:51] Lorilee Rager: While we’re brushing our teeth or while we’re in the shower or an hour after we ate that piece of cherry pie from grandma. And, and I think it’s so important to be, uh, I guess, intuitive enough and mindful enough to stop that. And, and I know, I think we all, at least in my experience struggle with what self-love is, but you said respect and I definitely can identify with self-respect. I can, I may, I may have to learn how to love myself and be kind, but I definitely know how to respect, you know, myself the way I would a best friend or a family member. 

[00:21:36] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah. And that’s perfect, what you just said, because it is a, um, it’s a journey. And I think that sometimes you hear that like, oh, you need to love yourself. And that’s just such a tall order, right, for a lot of people.

[00:21:52] Lorilee Rager: It is. 

[00:21:52] Julie Satterfeal: And so you have to start somewhere else. And, like, with body respect and body acceptance, how do I get there? Like society is telling me my body is not okay and society is telling me I’m not okay. And how do I get there? And so that is a continuum. We can start with that respect piece, and how do I learn even to respect my body and move into appreciating my body and myself and moving into self love, or radical self-love as Sonya Renee Taylor would say. Um, Another amazing book. But some of the ways that I feel like we can do that is really changing up our social media feed. You know, following different accounts that talk about self-love and body positivity and an anti diet culture, and intuitive eating and moving in some of these ways where you’re seeing different shapes and sizes of people living their life to the fullest and starting to change your perception of what beauty is and what ideal looks like. And as you surround yourself with that, I think it makes a big difference. I think also like in terms of our body, body functionality is huge. And so if we can, um, pay attention to what our body is doing for us, if we can recognize and value the, these pieces, like even just really small. You know, I’m able to make myself breakfast this morning, you know, or I am, um, able to take the dog around the block. And you see and feel and notice that functionality of your system and your body can lead you towards that respect and appreciation that will, that will move us along that contimuum. 

Yes. Yes. 

[00:23:48] Lorilee Rager: Oh, such good tips and takeaways in all of what you just said with changing your social media feed I think is huge. I mean, huge on so many other levels, but when it comes to shame and eating and body image and definitely self-love, I think muting all of the toxic-ness that makes you feel bad about yourself is a huge win. Curating that and removing that, and it’s really important. 

[00:24:17] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah. And you know, some people ask, well, how do, um, what do I do then? This is all fine and great, but what about if I need to make nutrition changes in my life? You know, what if I have diabetes and I need to do certain things to help my blood sugar? Or what if there are these other, like I mentioned earlier, celiac disease, you know, how do I incorporate this intuitive eating and this self-love with that? And so that’s one of the things that we work on a lot too is that, this, that we’re talking about is the foundation. Like you can’t start looking at and figuring out the individual foods in your diet that you need to, um, that you want to add for your health or that you want to incorporate without first taking care of some of this foundational work and learning how to listen to your body. But then as we start working through that, then we’re able to really, um, make these small changes and do these small things that can impact our life in a way that is going to be more sustainable than like what we all do on new year’s, like pick 10 things that we want to do and it all lasts for like two weeks. I mean, so we have to kind of put that application in there too. So we start with that gentleness and that love and that, let me start to trust you again, my awesome body. Then we can start taking these little pieces of, well, you know what, I really need to spread my carbohydrates and protein out throughout the day in order to help level my blood sugar. How am I going to do that? I’m going to start by having a breakfast that incorporates, you know, a nice amount of carbohydrate, a little bit of protein, a little bit of fat. And what’s that going to look like? We come up with lots of different ideas and then that’s your one thing. We’re going to work on breakfast. So the food piece comes in, but that’s like at the end, you know. All this other stuff is what’s going to set us up for being able to do that without falling back into guilt and shame when we can’t fix that breakfast. Right, because life is not that linear. It’s going to change and there’s going to be plenty of days where, what you planned, isn’t going to work. And if you, I’m terrible, I can’t do anything right, look I tried to do this and I failed, then what do we do? We fall back into the old patterns and we say, forget about it, I’ll start fresh later. If we can just let it go and be like, no, no, no, no, no. This is part of being an intuitive eater and living the life that has been handed to me and that I am creating. I’m busy today and that sandwich isn’t going to work, but I’m going to see how that, um, how I can work this moving forward.

[00:26:59] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And that’s okay. 

[00:27:00] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah, for sure. 

[00:27:02] Lorilee Rager: It’s so funny because I would think, which I don’t want to start a new year’s resolution and diet and, and start all these restrictions and be miserable and not even able to think and have a headache and be angry at work or, you know, all, yeah. I don’t want to do that at all. And, and that’s why these, I think it’s so interesting to think. Well, we’re not even approaching it with, okay tell me what to eat, tell me what I should or shouldn’t eat right now, then I’ll worry about how I feel. Um, I wrote an essay in grad school that was called, Just Be Nice to Your Back Fat. And it was just, you know, that, that image you see of yourself before you get in the shower, and just making sure that you’re just kind to yourself and what you see that this is the only body the good Lord gave us. 

[00:27:47] Julie Satterfeal: Yes, yes. 

[00:27:48] Lorilee Rager: So be kind to it. And then thinking exactly what you’re saying, it makes me envision and I will nourish myself with a good breakfast and not shame myself into I’m skipping breakfast because of what I just saw in the mirror, per se.

[00:28:04] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah. Or shame yourself into eating something that you don’t like. 

[00:28:10] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Oh my gosh. Yes. 

[00:28:13] Julie Satterfeal: For the most part food should be enjoyable. And it should we’ve, we wrap, there are so many foods, there are ways to create the meals that sustain us that we also enjoy. And if it’s always terrible, it’s probably because it’s some crazy diet like that doesn’t have any carbs in it. I’m sorry. We got to have them. 

[00:28:37] Lorilee Rager: Right. That’s right. That’s right. They do get a bad rap. I think they do get a, carbs do get a bad rap. 

[00:28:42] Julie Satterfeal: They do. 

[00:28:43] Lorilee Rager: Um, yeah. Well, so tell me a little bit more, um, like what are some of the common, you know, questions you get, or the most common myths that you, um, help people understand and when it comes to the shame-free eating. Um, and, and what, what in general, um, I guess it’s not tips because I know that’s what people probably want first right out of the gate, tell me right now what I should do today. But, um, what are some of the common things that you say the most or talk about the most or, 

[00:29:20] Julie Satterfeal: Um, well, there’s a few. So I want to say that probably the thing that I feel like we have to come back to is this whole idea that a certain weight is healthier than another weight. And coming down to the BMI, which is the bane of my existence. Oh my gosh. So really just dispelling the idea. People go, no, no, no, no, if you’re in a bigger body, you’re not as healthy. Not true. Not true. You cannot judge someone’s actions or their health or anything by the size of their body. And like I said earlier, we come in so many different shapes and sizes and by trying to manipulate it from a young age, we are, um, resetting that set point, um, so we are going to probably be in a, in a bigger body later. But it doesn’t mean that we’re unhealthy and it doesn’t mean that we have to get into a smaller body to be healthy. And when we look at BMI, all it is is a cross section between height and weight that was developed in the 1700s by a European researcher, mathematician, statistician, astronomer. Okay. Has nothing to do with health. 

[00:30:36] Lorilee Rager: Wow. 

[00:30:37] Julie Satterfeal: He proposed that, and this study was done on like 40 European men or something, maybe 200 somewhere in there, um, probably not that many. Anyway, he, um, said, well, the average must be, so I want to see what the average is, and then that’s what we’ll go with. And this information has propelled forward, which is that the average of a European man in the 1700s is what’s considered healthy. And when you look, I mean, it’s, it’s just it’s mind boggling. But when you look even at the good research and you look at these long-term studies and you look at mortality, the people that are living the longest are the people in that category of BMI that is considered, and I’m putting this in quotes, trigger warning, overweight. Um, I think those are also things to remember is that these terms that we use to describe people’s bodies can be very hurtful and offensive. And, um, so it’s, uh, that’s one of the big things that I try to clear up is that. We can make changes in our lives and we can create, we can have health promoting behaviors without focusing on weight. And so there’s this whole, like we were talking about, this body acceptance, body love, peace that we have to really try and get on board with, learn to love this body that we have so that we can make peace with food and live in a way that feels authentic. But that’s probably the, that’s probably one of the really big ones. Just the weight and health piece. 

[00:32:31] Lorilee Rager: I had no idea the BMI history. It’s not even a diverse study. It’s not even global, it’s not. And from the 1700s and here I am today. And, and that’s what the doctors have and, oh, you so mentioned it. And it is a trigger warning because when I go online to my patient portal to make an appointment, you know, to get a flu shot or whatever it says in my list of ailments or whatever, anxiety and obesity. And seeing obesity, when I, you know, and I don’t care to say it, I fit in a size, you know, 14 to 16 pants and I’m 5’9″ female and I’m like, wow, I have obesity on my chart. 

[00:33:15] Julie Satterfeal: That’s a horrible word and label. 

[00:33:18] Lorilee Rager: It hurts. And it’s from the BMI index. I recently redid my paperwork on just like, uh, estate planning, and had to get a full physical. You know, somebody came to the house to do blood work. She pulled a scale out of her bag that was super old and like wobbly and set it on the floor and wanted me to stand on it, wasn’t calibrated in any way. Made it all, wrote it all out, and my rate changed because of the BMI index of what I was going to pay for my life insurance. 

[00:33:49] Julie Satterfeal: Absolutely. It’s furiating. 

[00:33:52] Lorilee Rager: This is huge. I didn’t even think about it. 

[00:33:55] Julie Satterfeal: God, I’m so sorry. That is traumatizing and upsetting. And we spend a lot of time on that.

[00:34:03] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, where we’re trying to do the best we can with what we have. And I, and I want food not to be the center of my every waking thought. And I want just, like you said, to enjoy gathering around a table and be flexible with it, and then you get hit with things like that, um, or you just get, you know, told you need to be on some type of medication versus even having a conversation with your health and how you physically feel. Um, yeah. It’s super, super interesting stuff. 

[00:34:35] Julie Satterfeal: So many, there’s just so many pieces of that we could talk about all day. 

[00:34:39] Lorilee Rager: I know. We really, really could. I know. Bleh. Well, um, so, what, what else, what else would you like to share about, um, shame-free eating? Cause I know we talked about, which we could talk about more, of self-love. Because you know, self love and food to me go hand in hand for sure. And then, how do we maybe learn to self-love our size or anything else. 

[00:35:09] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah, yeah. It, well, it’s a process. And I think that it just starts with giving yourself permission to eat and making sure that you’re getting enough to eat. When you have enough food in your body, things start to level out. Your thinking levels out, your cravings level out, all of that. And so that’s one of the places that I start with people is first we’re not going to do any of the diets. We’re not counting calories, we’re not weighing ourselves, we’re not following any of those. And then we’re going to try and figure out how we take steps into getting enough, enough food into our body and learning how to listen to our body, and sometimes that can take some time. So that’s really where we start. And, um, I have a program where I work with people for a year and it’s a online program and we have, it’s a kind of customized both one-on-one and group counseling and an online platform. And it’s a year because that’s what I’ve seen it just takes as we start working through this. It’s not just, I tell you all the things and you know it and now you can apply it. Because we go through all of these diets seasons and we go through all of the, the things that happen in a year, and it’s really great to be able to process it and work through it and see how do these principles play out in my personal life. So for me it’s really important that I work with everyone individually, know really what your life looks like and what you do day-to-day and what foods you like. And so getting to know people and understanding them and helping them work through, this, um, making peace with food and their body is just a long-term, it’s a long-term kind of thing. And I work with plenty of people for far longer than a year. I think just having in your head that I’m going to be patient with myself and I’m going to give myself grace and this is a process and I am unlearning information that has been pounded into my head decades. And it’s a process, it’s hard. And you’re getting the messages from everywhere, so also learning, how do I create boundaries? And how do I talk about this with people? And do I have to talk about it with people? And again, that’s a process. So, but you have to protect yourself. Just like when you go to the doctor, when you have to fill out a form, like you said, there are ways that you can learn to protect yourself a little bit and ways that you can, again, continuum, take steps. What I did this first time versus, okay, the next time I go, I’m going to prepare, I think this is coming, this is what I’m going to say, and you practice it, and this is how I’m going to respond to this. And just remembering that we have power and we have autonomy and, um, but that’s hard.

[00:38:01] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yes. Yes. Power and autonomy too. And I love that you said the seasons of diets because absolutely. I never, I never thought of course, I don’t believe in quick fixes, magical elixirs, six week plans, none of that’s ever worked because I’ve tried them all. But 12 months and the seasons of diets. I mean, that just blows my mind open because it’s so true. And you work with somebody and, and counsel them and coach them and then, and then the power of having, having you there through the entire seasons and cycles is really huge because yeah, you’re trying to unlearn, in my case, 43 years of, um, of this culture, that’s been, you know, pushed upon us. That I don’t, I don’t blame anyone. It’s not, it’s not a fault situation, but it’s my responsibility to, to learn better care for myself and understand the relationship with food. So having, having a coach or somebody in my pocket to help seems huge. And I know from my recovery groups, the power in community. 

[00:39:13] Julie Satterfeal: Oh, for sure. 

[00:39:14] Lorilee Rager: Oh, like-minded, sharing, you don’t really don’t even have to share a lot cause we all, we all just get it because we’ve been through it in our own stories, but there’s similar threads. 

[00:39:28] Julie Satterfeal: And it’s nice to have that community. It’s a safe place where we can talk about this and know that we’re not going to be judged and we are going to be loved. And, um, sometimes I tell people, definitely show up for the community pieces because you may not think you have a question, you may think everything’s fine, and you hear what someone else is talking about and you go, oh my God, I never thought of it that way, that is a thing. And so you get value and from these other people’s experiences, and I just think it’s so huge. Because what we’re exposed to on social media day-to-day in our lives is not this community. We’re exposed to diet culture and it’s really hard to get out from under it. So yes. Agreed. The community piece is so valuable. 

[00:40:17] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, I can understand that so well. Um, I think it’s just more, I feel more successful and more, I hate to use the word normal, cause I don’t know what normal is, but I feel, you know, more successful and normal when I’m able to hear somebody else’s share and be like, I thought I was the only one.

[00:40:36] Julie Satterfeal: Yes. 

[00:40:37] Lorilee Rager: You know, that sort of thing, so 

[00:40:39] Julie Satterfeal: Yes. 

[00:40:40] Lorilee Rager: Talking about it, it’s just, it’s just huge. I think it’s really an important key to the, uh, the iceberg of all this where people think the tip of the iceberg is food, but there’s so much more, um, underneath. 

[00:40:54] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah. And the tip is, the tip is food. But we got to get all the underneath first.

[00:41:00] Lorilee Rager: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. Well, um, yeah. Is there anything else you’d like to share or add before we wrap up today? This has been so good. Such, so many aha moments. 

[00:41:13] Julie Satterfeal: Well, I’m so glad and I love that you had me. I appreciate it. And, um, I just appreciate the opportunity to chat about this cause I think it’s so important and I think it’s a message that, um, I want everyone to hear. 

[00:41:29] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, me too. Gosh, me too. Me too. We shouldn’t be suffering alone, um, at all about it. So there’s power in sharing it. Um, okay. One last question that I will end with. So at Ground and Gratitude we have a toolbox, and I would like to ask is what is one tool that you would leave in the Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? And it, it can be anything. It can be something that helps you get grounded, helps you get through what I call dry ground when it comes to farming aspect or a season or moment. What, what would be something you could leave us?

[00:42:07] Julie Satterfeal: You know what I think it has to be the practice of yoga. If you have never thought of that before, it is a wonderful way to get grounded. And personally, I fought it for a very long time. I thought I need to do yoga because I need to, like, be more stretchy. I need to be more bendy, I need to be more flexible, right. And then I would go and I was like, oh, quiet my mind, oh, breathe, you know. And I was like, I can’t do it. And, um, it felt like drudgery. But I went back to yoga over the pandemic and what, towards the end, like, we’re not at the end yet, but once we were able to go back inside, and I see it with my clients, I’ve experienced it personally, as something that the practice itself is so grounding and you learned to be in your body and you learn to appreciate its functionality. Which is why I leave it in this toolbox for you, because, um, if you can channel that and learn how to breathe and learn how to ground yourself, then you can take that from yoga and use it in your everyday life when things come in blind side you and things, um, turn you upside down. You’ve got this tool that you’ve been practicing, practicing, practicing. So if you have access to yoga, there’s a really great app that I like too. Um, I do like going to the studio and it’s just really the studio that I go to is very much about, um, nonjudgmental and not comparing and you know, each your own practice and 

[00:43:55] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, be where you are.

[00:43:57] Julie Satterfeal: Yeah. And I really love that. I think that it’s something that is valuable. 

[00:44:02] Lorilee Rager: I’m so glad you said that because I’ve off and on practiced and felt, like you described, at first about it. Once I understood that it is, it’s like, oh, this is on my terms. This is actually like not a group sport. This is a one-on-one thing. And I fell in love with restorative yoga. And really just like you said, if I’m really stressed out and really not sleeping well, doing it from an app, if I can’t get to a place, doing a restorative yoga or something on YouTube makes the world of a difference how I, how I feel physically and mentally. 

Oh, that’s 

[00:44:40] Julie Satterfeal: so great.

[00:44:41] Lorilee Rager: So, gosh, that’s good. I’m glad you’re reminding me of that for sure. That is definitely tool box worthy.

[00:44:47] Julie Satterfeal: Great. Win. 

[00:44:50] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Well, good. Well, thank you so very much for being here today. I can’t thank you enough. I just really, really appreciate it. 

[00:44:57] Julie Satterfeal: You are welcome and thank you for having me Lorilee. It’s good to see you. 

[00:45:01] Lorilee Rager: Good to see you too, Julie. We will talk again, promise. 

[00:45:04] Julie Satterfeal: I’m looking forward to it.

[00:45:09] Lorilee Rager: Thank you again, Julie, for opening up such a safe and positive conversation about putting the joy back in eating. And thank you for tuning in to another episode of Ground and Gratitude. You can always find more information about the show, resources to help anyone struggling with the negative effects of diet culture 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 amazing Kelly Drake and AOMcClain LLC.

Ep 6: Imposter Syndrome & Self Care with Britney Campbell

Britney Campbell is the Senior Vice President of Marketing & Public Relations at Legends Bank, where she has played an important role in launching Her Bank, a Legends brand that celebrates, honors, and supports women.


Britney Campbell is the Senior Vice President of Marketing & Public Relations at Legends Bank, where she has played an important role in launching Her Bank, a Legends brand that celebrates, honors, and supports women. Britney is a gifted communicator and community-builder, and she sits down with Lorilee to share her personal experiences with confronting imposter syndrome, building self-confidence, and practicing self care. The two also discuss why it’s so meaningful to meet women wherever they are when it comes to banking and financial conversations.


  • On Britney’s playlist: Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, India Arie and more (check out Her Playlist)
  • Setting healthy boundaries personally and professionally
  • Understanding and navigating imposter syndrome
  • Practicing self-care (beyond bubble baths and champagne)
  • Why showing up for yourself can empower you to truly show up for others
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

Ep 6 Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee Rager: Hey, 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 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.

On the show today I’m talking to my dear friend and collaborator Britney Campbell. Britney is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Legends Bank. She has also played a big part in the recent launch of Her Bank, a banking brand inspired by women for women. Britney is someone who helped me a lot with boundaries, so we will be talking today about that as well as things like confronting imposter syndrome and building self-confidence.

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

[00:01:51] Britney Campbell: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be joining you today.

[00:01:56] Lorilee Rager: Well, it’s just absolutely a pleasure and honor to have you as a dear friend and, um, and I’ll preface also a client, but first a dear friend. So I really appreciate your time. All right. A little kickoff question, a little icebreaker, not to stress you out, but I do need to know. What song is on repeat on your playlist today?

[00:02:21] Britney Campbell: Uh, do I have to name just one?

[00:02:25] Lorilee Rager: No.

[00:02:26] Britney Campbell: Well, as you know, I love a playlist anyway. So I would say, um, my Her Bank playlist is probably the one that’s on repeat a lot. Um, just some really uplifting, motivating songs. So when I’m not listening to podcasts, um, I’ve got that on repeat.

[00:02:44] Lorilee Rager: So, um, what are some of those songs? I need to know. What’s the vibe of Her Bank, as you mentioned?

[00:02:53] Britney Campbell: Yeah, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, um, India Arie, a little Whitney Houston. Um, you know, it kinda hits several different genres and different decades and, um, you know, sort of those things that even, as, you know, helping to create this brand, you always need that little bit of inspiration to help you think through like what kind of, um, all of the creative pieces, and sometimes I need that music in the background. So I would say that that playlist was developed, uh, out of trying to get some inspiration for the brand and just a lot of those female empowerment songs that just really, really gets you going anytime. Change, mood changers.

Got you.

[00:03:38] Lorilee Rager: Ooh, nice, nice, nice phrase. Yeah, I like that very much. Well, that is a perfect playlist. We will definitely have to share that to everyone, and I love it very much. It’s everything from wanting to sing in the shower, when I’m getting ready for things, um, but it’s, it’s a great one. So that, it makes me think about going back and maybe letting our listeners know and understand a little bit about, that one of the things that, that I value the most about our friendships, uh, friendship is about the honest conversations that we have about life, about leadership, about being a woman and, um, everything that you do, which also tends a lot to be marketing related, but there’s just so much more that, that you are that really, um, I think is valuable that I wanted to make sure that our listeners helped them understand a little bit more about how much you’ve helped me through all the years, as well, as a small business owner and as a woman. And even with the Her Bank brand, being women, empowering women, and it’s just one of those things that I think you and I have accidentally lived together. And so that, that is something that I’ve wanted to make clear and let everyone know that part of the things and that I value with you, first topic that I wanted to talk about today was boundaries, because you have this power that you probably aren’t aware of that you have, that you just bring this really calm, trusted energy into a room, and I do think you’re extremely, um, very, very good at being a communicator and a, a builder of, of groups of strong people and like-minded. But I think my first encounter with you that I remember as the most positive is boundaries. So I wanted to know if you could just talk to us a little bit about your boundaries or boundaries in general.

[00:05:41] Britney Campbell: Yeah. Um, I don’t think, there’s a couple of things that I didn’t, people didn’t really talk about. So, I didn’t start really hearing people strongly talking about boundaries and the power of no, and, um, those types of things until I got in my thirties. But, um, I think in my late twenties, going into my thirties, I was so involved, I got very motivated at a very young age and my career and in community. And I was, anything people are asking me to do, um, I was getting involved and jumping in and it was, you know, um, I didn’t realize it until later that, you know, I was pulled in so many different directions and trying to be all things to all people all the time and it was exhausting. And, um, you know, kind of around that same time, there was just some things that didn’t feel like I was in alignment anymore and it just was just off, the passion just wasn’t there as much. And then, um, stepped back and started just saying, you know, really I’m replaceable, at the end of the day. People value you, but I’m really just, uh, you know, I, I serve a purpose that, you know, I was taking on much more and I care, I felt like I cared a lot more about certain things than other people did. And, and then when I started to say no, or, you know, I’m not able to give a hundred percent of myself to these things, therefore I feel like I’m taking up space that could be utilized for someone else, I just started, like, this weight just started coming off of me as far as, you know, when I was being intentional about the things that I was doing and the people I was putting myself around and starting to, you know, say no with, not to be negative, but really to give myself freedom and to respect and honor the people that were trying to ask for my time, to say, I’m not going to show up a hundred percent for you because I’m not there and I’m not going to have the time or the ability to commit. And I think that that just bleeds over into other things with relationships and you know, other things where people can start to really be energy sucks. And they don’t necessarily know they’re doing that or meaning to, but it’s like after a minute, you’re just kind of like, why do I feel so heavy and exhausted all the time? And it’s just because your, your tank is empty because you’re giving it to so many different things. And so, I think it was just sort of an organic thing that happened. And I think the more, and then that started attracting people that were either in the journey of trying to learn how to get away from people pleasing, um, and trying to figure out boundaries. You start to create that other community, like you said, of people having the same conversations and trying to figure it out. And, um, and I, and if I could say something like related to our relationship, I really do see how boundaries has translated into growth, um, you know, for personally and professionally. So I don’t necessarily have this very identifying thing. I’ve just, it just was one of those things that once I recognized how much better I felt for being more intentional and less everything to everybody and setting those boundaries, I was a lot happier.

[00:09:05] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, well, I, I totally could see that in, in the few meetings that we were on, in, or if we were on a board together, a committee or something and how we would end it kind of migrating together as we walked to our cars with heavy, deep breaths to getting to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. And, and I kind of call that synchronicity, that we, we had those conversations and then we’d have it with someone else that we just gravitated to that also just look tired and just knew they weren’t giving a hundred percent. And I loved how you said you said no because you knew you weren’t going to give that a hundred percent. But by saying no, you were saying yes to yourself and, and from a leadership professional standpoint is where it started, and then I saw how it also bled into your personal life in all the good ways by setting those really, really healthy boundaries to protect your energy and to give a hundred percent to what you did say yes to.

[00:10:05] Britney Campbell: Mhm. And you’re, like, queen of boundaries. Yeah, you’re queen of boundaries now.

[00:10:11] Lorilee Rager: I am now, thanks to you and your help. Absolutely. I know you, you quoted some of your favorite people and I know you have tons of resources cause you do, you do really do the work. You talk the talk and walk the walk, do the work. But tell me if you have any of your favorite people that you’ve read or listened to, and anything you kind of learned from them that, that you hold onto that, maybe mantras or anything?

[00:10:37] Britney Campbell: Yeah. Um, I would say probably the first time I’d really heard about boundaries and the power of boundaries was with Brene Brown. I think it was probably a Super Soul Sunday or something with Oprah Winfrey. And I was like, who is this woman? I need to know more about her. That may have been in 2013 or 14. Um, but one of her quotes is, um, “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others”. And I think that if I looked at one of my core fears of one of those triggering things, it’s disappointing other people. Um, and you know, I lived a lot trying, you know, a lot of my life wanting to make sure everybody’s happy. I’m in a role that everybody has to see you with a certain face and a certain, you know, you have to carry yourself a certain way no matter what’s going on in your life. I mean, you could really be at a rock bottom place and you got to show up and, you know, be this person and take, you know, put the mask on some days. And, um, you know, she was kind of that first person that was talking about it being okay to be not okay. And it’s surrounding yourself with the right people who can support you and understand that you can be vulnerable with. And I think those are, I think, in pockets, those little tools, like I know you talk a lot about like your toolkit, but, um, you know, those are one of those tools and it’s in layers. Like when you can learn to set boundaries and you can start, you know, that’s, uh, that is a direct thank you to yourself, a gift to yourself and other people. But it’s also one of those things that just help you grow in vulnerability and being able to have honest conversations. And I know you talk a lot about honesty and truth telling, and I think, you know, those, all of those little pieces become what empower us and when we’re able to take that and empower someone else to do their own work and their own growth, it’s just one of those things that just, um, gets to be contagious in such a good.

[00:12:44] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Yes. Well, I totally agree. And love Renee and Oprah, which you have always, always told me about the Super Soul Sundays, which I wasn’t aware of. And until we started to talk and it was, it was, they were also saying the same things that I wanted to say, and that you were, I guess, gave me permission to say in a safe space. And then once I know, as, as busy women professionals, to be that honest and vulnerable was a really big deal and a big step. But I think, I think one of the things that, um, I’d love for you to talk a little bit more is how you, how we can have an honest conversation and ask, even if it was just planning our weeks ahead, the way we’ve grown and our growth, instead of texting, “what are you doing” or “what are you doing Friday” or “what are your plans this weekend”.

[00:13:39] Britney Campbell: Yeah, so, you know, as, um, you know, self-assured as I am, a lot of the time, um, I will say there’s definitely triggering questions of, um, “how are you”, which sounds so simple. Like why would somebody be triggered by “how are you”, which is a whole other chapter that we are not going to dive into in this episode. And so, um, but I think like, “what are you doing”, and, you know, and it’s sort of like, I think it reminds you of experiences where, you know, if you want to protect yourself and your own energy, you know how honest do you have to be with a person? Like, you know, “what are you doing”, are you asking what am I doing right now at this very second? Do you really want to know? This is a surface level, you know, whatever, but it is just one of those things that I feel like those questions to me feel so invasive. I don’t necessarily want to answer that because I want to control, like, whatever my outcome needs to be, not what your expectations are for me to answer.

[00:14:48] Lorilee Rager: Yes. That is exactly what you taught me when it comes to boundaries. Yes.

[00:14:53] Britney Campbell: Uh, so it is, it is, um, if that was a very uncomfortable, especially with very close friends, and I have a feeling that many of them will listen to this episode, and, um, so I don’t want to give away too many secrets. But at the same time it’s, um, you should learn from what we’re saying as well. Um, but it is that thing of like, I just, I want the ability to create my own schedule a lot of times because my schedule isn’t always mine because of work and other obligations. And although I do want to be social, like sometimes I just say, “I’m sorry, I just really don’t want to do that. I don’t, I love you. I love you, but I really just, I love being with my dog and I’m really into this Netflix series right now, and I’m going to cook later and that’s really what I want to do”. And, you know, I hope that I have now the group of friends that get me enough, get you enough, that just go “okay, next time, maybe”.

[00:15:56] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. Because there was that level of anxiety and fear I lived in with the people pleasing when I would get those types of texts and I would be like in full panic mode. And in full confession, I would vomit everything I was doing for the next four days also, and say, “but how can I help you?” So you helped me turn that around to be like, “oh, I’m not sure, what do you, what do you need” or “what’s going on” or “let me think about that”. So that’s valuable that you taught me. Um, but yes, so boundaries, I know, is a little complicated and we could talk about forever and ever and ever. Um, but that, those are, those are the first areas that you helped me with. And then another one that definitely goes together, I think at the same time, which is a really scary one, is imposter syndrome. What are your thoughts on that? Or maybe explain in your own words, if you want, about imposter syndrome.

[00:16:59] Britney Campbell: Sure. Well, if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t ever hear that term until 2020. And, um, you know, for, um, those that don’t know anything about my life, um, I moved to Nashville in 2019 after, you know, 39 years of living in my hometown. But it was just like, I got settled for a few months and then bam, COVID. So, uh, it’s just been a very interesting timeline, um, to be in a new space and trying to create community and these con, this community of women in particular, that I started to find myself in and having conversations with. I just kept hearing this term and I even had to Google it because I was like, I don’t want to use it out of context and I want to be sure that I’m understanding what other people are saying, because it sounded like I could have. Um, but in essence to me, imposter syndrome is just what, um, internalized things that we feel when we don’t feel like we’re enough and that we are being an imposter in the role that we’re in, because for some reason we don’t feel like we deserve that and that everybody else is going to see us as a fraud. Um, And definitely once I understood what that meant, I was like, “Ooh, there’s a term for that”. I have felt that multiple times in my career, um, and in my life, and, um, I think it’s interesting that women, that’s really where I was hearing this in particular was with women. And so I do find it interesting that that is a very common feeling. And in some of the books that I’ve read in the last, like six to 12 months, uh, especially those that are given some autobiographical things, they talk about imposter syndrome. So, you know, your Oprah’s, you know, all of these people we talk about, I’m sure all kind of go through it in their own ways. So I just, I find that very interesting.

[00:18:59] Lorilee Rager: Yes, for sure. Well, the word fraud is a really scary word and it’s a really, um, negative and it, just saying it kind of hurts. And it’s, it’s trying to figure out, I think, am I even qualified to say what I’m saying, to do what I’m doing. And this other kind of trap that I think connects to imposter syndrome, uh, is this comparison, you see someone else doing what maybe you desire to do, and they’re, oh, my gosh, they’re doing it better, or their pictures look prettier or is, does that, does that ring a bell or resonate?

[00:19:41] Britney Campbell: That hits me at my core, very deeply. Um, I think all of those things and, and, you know, imposter syndrome, I think at its core is the, um, comparison that is so crippling that we tend to do to ourselves. Um, and again, it’s like, you know, I don’t have, you know, I’m not qualified or people aren’t going to think I’m qualified. Um, you know, for me being in a bank, there’s certain expectations and certain, um, you know, stereotypes about, I think what I’m expected to be or say or where my expertise lies, and I’m probably not that in a lot of ways. And that’s been very challenging because I don’t necessarily show up as a banker and, um, my conversations, you know, honestly, aren’t really related to finance and money. It’s really more, you know, mindset and, um, a lot of other things related to the under, the things underneath our behavior of all of those things that relate to financial decisions that we have to make. And, um, you know, so I think for me, especially with this brand and how quickly things have evolved, um, I think any time you level up or you set new goals for yourself too, I think we’re all faced with that question of, “am I prepared for the journey that I’m about to go on?” Um, and I know for you like taking, you know, turning 40 and then taking on grad school and being a mom and, you know, a lot of the things that you have really pushed boundaries, um, I, I would be curious to see if those, like, all of that kind of came up for you too, along the way.

[00:21:30] Lorilee Rager: Right. That’s exactly why these two topics in particular were really important because in this journey of being a mom and an entrepreneur and the passion of, of trying to become a professor and all of that, finances came up and people think, oh, she’s an entrepreneur, she’s running a successful business, she’s got all of her shit together, I bet she’s got spreadsheets out the wazoo and I don’t even have Excel in my computer, is the truth. So here I am, you talk about imposter syndrome. And then I meet you many years ago and I’m so admiring what you’ve built from just a lifestyle and, and confidence level. And then I want to also bank where you work, because I see how amazing, you know, the customer service is and how kind everyone is. And I’m like, “Ooh, these people might know that I don’t have Excel on my computer”, but I’ve never been that honest with a banker, ever. And yeah.

[00:22:37] Britney Campbell: It’s like getting naked.

[00:22:39] Lorilee Rager: Basically. It’s like going to the doctor.

[00:22:42] Britney Campbell: Well, you took your own advice because, this will always stick with me because, you know, we talked about, um, when we were going to talk about switching agencies and starting to work with Thrive, you’re like, “you know, it’s like, I tell my clients, you know, you don’t do your own dentists, you know, your dental work, you don’t do your own doctor’s appointments, you know, so you have to have all these people to make sure, you know, everything about you is functioning and working for the greater good”. And, um, but then you had to flip that same advice on yourself when it came to having us as a resource, um, for you and your business. And so, um, I think that’s sometimes very interesting because there’s a lot of things that we can say out to others, um, and it comes so easily to try to help others and fix other people and you’re like, deep down those are my issues too, that I, you know, sometimes don’t take my own advice.

[00:23:41] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely. And I do want you to make, uh, to explain the Her Bank, a little bit, just the onboarding welcoming process, because that’s the process we went through, I think from a friendship level before Her Bank became what she is today. But it wasn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t walk into a bank and get handed a brochure. That’s not how we started our banking relationship. And this is getting real and honest about, you know, no Excel on my computer, and, and, but I’d love for you to tell kind of how you got started.

[00:24:16] Britney Campbell: Yes. Um, I think for me was, you know, Her Bank was very much grounded in things that we are, you know, I already knew that we as Legends Bank did very well. Meaning that I always had partnered, I was not again, not the banker, so I’m not going to be the one advising you on all of the things related to your finances. So I partner very well with those who do. Um, I’m more of a connector, um, in that way, and so, you know, took that and, and actually put it into practice with people like yourself, who I was like, you know, she, her office is literally right here. She’s back to back meetings. She doesn’t really have time to come to the bank. If we could come to her or find a neutral spot, she’s got to eat at some point, so maybe we can take her to lunch or do something like that to really save her time, get her in, uh, you know, everybody being a lot more relaxed to be able to have a conversation just opens as doors so that when you do have to be more vulnerable and strip down the layers of the things that maybe don’t feel comfortable talking about, um, you know, was really me organically, um, you know, had been doing that for a while before the brand concept came about. Um, 2020 being the interesting year that it was, I think it drove a lot more conversations about money and finances, because I think everybody was on an even playing field. Like there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear, um, especially with the women entrepreneurs, because let’s be honest, um in a lot of ways, women are not only running the business, they’re running the household too. There’s a lot of dynamics there. And so for women being protectors and nurturers, I started just hearing different levels of vulnerability in those conversations and being the kind of person that I am, I just really liked to connect and listen and take that in to say, you know, where can Legends be that bridge and support and, and fill in where I’m hearing these concerns where they’re not able to get ahold of their banker and they aren’t getting the questions, or they’re not spending the time talking to them and helping to really put them at ease as best as they can under the circumstances. And so, I mean, you know, literally for having these raw, honest conversations, my first conversation was with my girls, Casey and Amelia, who are now really the part of the core team of the brand and Sabrina trying to hit those different angles, like if we were to do something, I want to think about different sides of the banking experience. And then my next call was with you to say, “hey, not only are you going to be my branding, um, sounding board for this project, but you are also a female, an entrepreneur, a mother, you know, somebody that is making multiple layers of financial decisions. How does this speak to you? And like, how do you think we can do this?” So, you know, really the partnership and the listening and the trying to figure out how to make something very relevant and speak to women, not just directly about finances, but to really connect to them holistically and, you know, lifestyle and just different levels of that, to say, you know, we want to be this resource and then walking you through a slightly different process, something that’s non-traditional and also where you don’t have to come to the bank and we make you sort of the branch giving you the digital tools and the technology to, to do your banking from wherever you need to do that from, whether it’s the office or your home office, or just at home while you’re in your, pajamas, um, trying to, you know, multitask with the kids. So anyways, that’s really kind of the essence of it. Um, and here we are today.

[00:28:12] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, that’s right. Well, I know that, that, you know, speaking of you, Casey and Amelia and the team, which are all people I’ve worked with, it was one of those things that, what works so well is once, once I got over the imposter syndrome and the comparison of other business owners, and, and overcame my fears to be just honest, it was, oh, well, “I’ll show you how to open Excel”, shoulder to shoulder. And here’s how you fill out the financial statement. And here’s what this means. And I don’t know what HELOC is. And I mean, I was just so terrified to say those words out loud, but because I did have this incredible relationship with my bankers, um, that answer any and every question, that don’t make me feel stupid about any question, and everything, you know, as, as a entrepreneur, you don’t necessarily know everything about payroll and, and all that, or I could text one of them and say, “oh, hey, I’ve got a limit on my mobile deposit, but I do this specific thing on the first and the 15th and I need this amount on this day”. They’re like, “no problem, it’s fixed, it’s done”. And I never had to go in the bank. That was all during COVID. Um, so it was just, there was so much that, that I learned just from relationships and friendships and boundaries and imposter syndrome, and those are not words you normally use when you say banking.

[00:29:43] Britney Campbell: No, they’re not. But you know, look at it like, you know, Tommy, our CEO, is been in banking for 30 something years and he is so smart and he knows all of those banking acronyms, and he knows all of those things. He does, I mean, we’re going to start talking about search engine optimization, so you start throwing out your, your SEO, PPC, all of those things that you guys talk and you can spit it out and you know, it makes, you know, some of us very uncomfortable because, you know, um, that’s your world, not ours. And so it’s sort of that same thing, it’s just flipped a little bit. But, um, you know, we say, you know, for all of those customers that we’re working with, it’s like, you do what you do so well, we don’t know your world, so we don’t expect you to know ours, but we’re here to kind of work with each other to help us learn, um, so we can work better together.

[00:30:41] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. But shoulder to shoulder level, high level approach versus standing behind a clipboard or looking, you know, down is, is just, you really broke the mold on that old, um, thought process, I would say. So do you have any tips on imposter syndrome maybe to share with our listeners on how to overcome it?

[00:31:03] Britney Campbell: Well, I think it’s waves because I would say, you know, am I better about acknowledging it and I think that’s probably the first thing is just being aware of when those things are like coming up, um, and those feelings of I’m not enough and don’t feel qualified. It’s like, I, I think we both shared that we call those scaries. Like, these are the things I’m fearing. It doesn’t mean that they’re real. Um, you know, it’s like thinking jaws lives in the swimming pool. I’m very terrified of that as a child, but it didn’t actually, wasn’t actually something to be very scared about. Um, it is, um, I said think awareness, one. I think sometimes having conversations with trusted people to have like you and Casey, there’s just certain ones that y’all will be honest with me, but you also know how to pull me out of that, like, sort of, you know, having some encouraging things to say or asking the right kind of questions to talk through those things. I think talking and being honest about sometimes we’re spiraling in self doubt and, you know, going through the comparison things, it’s having those trusted people. Um, and then when those people aren’t around, sometimes we just have to do the work by ourselves. So, um, you are such a, um, great resource for talking about morning pages and why journaling is so important, um, for, you know, dumping those racing thoughts and that craziness. But I do think that if you can take time to really write down your feelings and process them on paper, I think there’s a lot of power in that as well, just to be able to walk yourself through it. Like, sometimes it’s like when you say it out loud you’re like, ugh, how it was going on in my head and the narrative that I saw myself, like when I actually say it out loud, like that’s actually, you know, not, not the truth, so.

[00:32:59] Lorilee Rager: Mm, yes. So good. I love that. That’s one of the things in my recovery, they always say too, is watch the stories you tell yourself. Because you can, you can, can really talk pretty ugly to yourself. So I think those are great, great tips for overcoming it. So, well, so the last thing I was really interested in that I also, again, admire very much about you, and, is how you approach self care. And I am not talking champagne and brunches and all that, but the act of it, which is, I know it’s a buzzword and all that, but, but you, you do seem to, in all that you do with your very, very high level, intense job and all of your communication skills and relationship building, all of your gifts, I know have to be exhausting. So I wanted to talk a little bit about you, you explain a little bit more about how you practice self-care. That, I think, would be helpful.

[00:34:03] Britney Campbell: Oh well I think, you know, it’s everything from having a sweet little Frenchie dog and just being able to spend time at home with her, which is just part of rest and relaxation and just spending some downtime alone without like kind of, you know, being able to turn the noise down. Um, and you know, doing a sauna or taking a nap, um, there’s just a lot of things for me that, you know, I think, like you say, go beyond the, you know, Sunday funday, brunch, champagne, you know, um, you know, having the glass of wine at night, which I know a lot of, um, women are maybe listening to like, yeah, that is my self care. And, you know, I think for, I think for each of us, that’ll, it can look very different, but for me, um, life, a lot of the times it’s very noisy between having to keep up with what’s happening on social media, keeping up with what’s happening socially out in the world and the things I feel like I need to be a part of and, um, and want to be a part of, and then, you know, the distractions at work and the things that you’re responsible for plus, you know, trying to manage your relationships with your friends, your coworkers, your family, um, all of that gets very, uh, noisy, especially when all of those things are all happening, uh, kind of around the same time. So for me, weekends are pretty sacred. I really try not to make a ton of plans on the weekends if I don’t have to so that I can, like I said before, you know, sometimes my schedule is not my own and, you know, to be able to, to make things for myself. And, um, I love a good podcast, you know, while I’m cleaning or cooking or doing some things where I can, you know. I think, you know, I think you get fueled a lot of ways. I think you can get fueled energetically by the people around you, I think you can get fueled from the food that you eat, and I think you can get fueled from the things that you’re listening to. And so for me, like a Super Soul Sunday, or Brene Brown or Eckhart Tolle or something like that, for me, it’s just, um, takes that weight off. And also I’m always learning in the process. Like I feel like those kind of podcasts that 30, 45 minutes, now I do love some true crime also and indulge in things that are not that heavy. I think good laughter and having friends like yourself that you can just totally let go with and laugh and share stories and, and find the funny parts of like the really shitty moments and, um, you know, it’s like, I think we jokingly said, like, I’m not real, i, I, I, I’m not really that funny, I just have childhood trauma.

[00:36:57] Lorilee Rager: Exactly, yes.

[00:36:59] Britney Campbell: Just being able to essentially turn the negatives into positives. But anyway, that was a very long answer about self care. But I think, like I said, it’s just, it depends on what you need at the time that you, you know, you need to take extra care of yourself, so.

I totally

[00:37:18] Lorilee Rager: agree with that. Humor is a great, great way. Laughing is, is a very, very healthy form to, to cope, I think as well. And it, it was one of those things, you know, even when I opened accounts with you all many, many years ago, you brought, my thank you gift was not a Crock-Pot, it was not a toolbox, or whatever. It was a basket full of my favorite coffee and soaking epsom salt, eucalyptus, you know, foot rubs. And I was like, I have never gotten all of these wonderful things from a banker before. And, you know, I thought I’m going to take a bath. I mean, I haven’t done that in years and really, it just was one of those wonderful ways. I think we also connected just to understand, oh, that’s what you do for self-care, which, which really appealed to me as life just got crazy and anxiety was all over the place, and so many tasks were all over the place and, and the ways that you practice rest and, and boundaries and all of that, um, I really, really admired.

[00:38:28] Britney Campbell: Well, you’re doing it. And you know, I’m really proud of you. Um, you know, I, I think I’m still very much a work in progress to try to, I think it’s just a lot of plates to have to spin, to think about how you need to show up for yourself and other people. But I do wholeheartedly believe that, you know, you have to show up for yourself first, before you can properly show up for others. And, uh, that concept didn’t really, you know, wasn’t in my thought process and how I felt about things several years ago, but I think, you know, as we get older and you go through different life experiences and, um, you know, maturity, you kind of start to see, you know, you value, your value system is a little bit different. And for me, like flipping that saying, you know, I do care about these people in my life and I care about my work and I care about all these things that are happening, but if I don’t take care of me, number one, then you know, I’m not able to show up and be the best person in all of the other ways that I’m supposed to show up.

[00:39:36] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Well, I think you’re a very strong example because look at all that you were doing during a pandemic, moving to Nashville, getting that sweet puppy, and being a VP of a bank. And you added to your plate, the Her Bank, when you didn’t even probably realize you had the hours in the day.

[00:39:57] Britney Campbell: Well, I think, you know this better, um, than just about anybody, that when sometimes fires up inside of you, like, I could feel it in my belly that I was ready for something different when, um, when I, before I moved to Nashville. There was just like, I want to do more, I just don’t want to do it here. And it’s nothing against the community that has been so good to me and, and, and I’ve really dedicated a lot of time, um, and energy to, I just was ready for something different and inside I knew that. Um, and I think that while that was really scary, stepping into fear and saying, you know, again, that scary, it’s like, is it a real fear or is it just me, you know, and working through that has opened up so many doors and so many other opportunities that I would have never had had I not taken that, those leaps of faith. And, um, same thing with the concept of Her Bank. It’s just, you know, those opportunities, and then you take that next step and you take that next step, and then all of a sudden you’re like, I never knew what it felt like to fulfill a purpose or to feel like I’m in alignment with my true self until all of this kind of sparked. And you just, the hours don’t matter so much. I’ve lost, um, um, you know, I lost a lot of sleep with a lot of thoughts with notebooks by the bed, um, a lot of weekends because I do try to spend, you know, more time alone, um, you know, was working on it. And I think when that happens, you, you, you dedicate the time, even though in any other realm, it would be so exhausting and, and just mind blowing, like how much, you know, that would weigh on someone. It was, it’s been the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life. Um, I wake up with a different energy every day. Um, and to be on that same journey with you going through these things and also seeing some of my other friends and things that are happening in their lives, taking bad circumstances, whether it be a divorce or, um, you know, moving or doing anything else, but really, you know, making the best and also starting new chapters of their lives, which can be so scary, um, all at the same time has just been, I don’t know, like my life isn’t exactly the way that I would want it to be at this very moment, but it’s pretty, pretty close.

[00:42:37] Lorilee Rager: Right, right. That’s, that’s, that’s beautiful. You know how they say, you know how to make God laugh? Tell him your plan.

[00:42:45] Britney Campbell: Exactly.

[00:42:46] Lorilee Rager: I think you did a beautiful job of really manifesting this and listening to your own, just passion for purpose. And you, you kept running into the same, like you said, at the beginning of this, um, conversations and the same women needing support. And you just, instead of ignoring it and turning away from it, you, you, you built something for it. So it’s pretty amazing to me, I think so. Um, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us, um, today about everything from all these fun, fun topics, boundaries, imposter syndrome, and self care.

[00:43:33] Britney Campbell: Oh, I don’t know. I think, you know, I think one thing that’s not said enough is that 40’s are pretty awesome. I think, you want to talk about imposter syndrome in comparison and, you know, really, I thought, you know, I would be, you know, it’s really hard sometimes, especially when you start seeing so many younger people and entrepreneurs and doing all of these things and they’re so like savvy on the TikTok and, and the Reels and I’m going, I just can’t, I don’t know. I need someone to sit with me and go through this. And I really think that collaboration over competition is probably the best motto that, you know, you can have. And I, from a very young age, loved partnering with people that were in a different generation than me, um, and really learning from that because they’re learning from me too. And, um, you know, just being, and now, like, I mean, I’m for, early forties, you know what I’m saying? So we’re not like really far into it, but I think what has happened in this, like kind of two year span at this age has just been like, I don’t know, I, there’s a lot of people saying like, well, if I could tell my former self, like all of these things, but I really liked where, I like where I’m at right at this time, I wouldn’t trade that for being, you know, 28. Maybe 35, but definitely not in my 20’s.

[00:45:05] Lorilee Rager: Same, same. I understand. And I do, I think you’ve mentioned different generations, I totally agree. I think from, from the elders, you know, I’m talking 50 year old to 70 or 80 year olds that what they can teach us and have taught us as much as we both, I know, love our grandparents and really value how they grew up and what they did, to also grounding ourselves around women our own age to sh also sharing that with the younger generations and what they can teach us. So, yeah. Yeah, that’s really, really valuable and important, for sure, for sure. Well, good. Well, just to wrap up today, I wanted to ask one last question and that would be what would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others that maybe would help them get grounded or anything that gives, helps give you gratitude or gets you through the hard spots?

[00:46:00] Britney Campbell: I would say grace. Cause you’re already covered on the gratitude thing. But I would say grace, just because, um, on the journey to just getting better, you’re just always going to run into circumstances that will absolutely crush you sometimes, whether it be a family situation or a relationship or work. Um, and just to constantly give yourself grace to just move forward and always stay on that journey to continue to learn and be more self-aware and, um, you know, have that gratitude for the things that are happening, even if they’re not working in your favor, there’s a reason, and give yourself grace in the process.

[00:46:44] Lorilee Rager: I love it, grace, absolutely. Thank you so much for being with me today. I really appreciate it Brit.

[00:46:52] Britney Campbell: Thank you Lorilee. I’m so proud of you. I can’t even stand it.

[00:46:58] Lorilee Rager: Thanks. Ditto.

Thank you again Britney Campbell for having such an honest conversation with me about balancing your life, work, and self care. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find previous episodes and more info about the show at GroundAndGratitude.com. Be sure and join me next time for some honest conversations exploring what it really means to truly live a life grounded in gratitude.

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

Ep. 5: Resilience and Rural Life

Resilience and Rural Life with Dawayne Kirkman

Lorilee sits down with longtime friend Dawayne Kirkman to talk all about resilience, family, their shared rural upbringing, and much more. Dawayne is the Vice President of Student Affairs at Clark State College where he works with students to overcome challenges and find success. His role has given him insight into the incredible power of mentorship and why it’s so important to “pay it forward.”


  • On Dawayne’s playlist: “All I Want for Christmas is You” – Mariah Carey
  • Owning where you come from
  • Witnessing alcoholism as a child
  • The power of forgiveness
  • How Dawayne found peace and healing for himself
  • Bringing purpose and passion into work
  • The importance of mentorship
  • Positive affirmations and being the best version of yourself
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK(8255)

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Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

Show Transcript

Episode 5 – Dawayne Kirkman

[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, we have a message from our sponsor. The Ground and Gratitude podcast is sponsored by Her Bank. Her Bank by Legends Bank knows that women are busy being the CEOs of their lives and their time is valuable. So Her Bank was designed to offer a banking experience that provides flexibility and convenience with care. This is why I value them as a partner of the Ground and Gratitude podcast. So check out Her-Bank.com online to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC equal housing lender.

My guest today is a lifelong friend of mine, Dawayne Kirkman. From the day I met him in middle school, he has always had an infectious smile and joy beaming from all around him. He is a resilient, kind, and brilliant person. I am so very happy to call him a friend. He’s the Vice President of Student Affairs at Clark State College. Today, we are going to be talking all about resilience and family, and so very much more. You are in for a treat.

Welcome Dawayne. 

[00:01:47] Dawayne Kirkman: I love it. I’m so excited to be here. And I love that Dolly Parton’s in the background. 

[00:01:51] Lorilee Rager: Yes. We have to have Dolly with us all the time. 

[00:01:55] Dawayne Kirkman: She’s with me. 

[00:01:56] Lorilee Rager: Good, good. She’s here with us. Yes. My Dolly painting in the background is… 

[00:02:01] Dawayne Kirkman: I love it. 

[00:02:02] Lorilee Rager: She wasn’t supposed to be really the front and center until the pandemic hit, and now everyone knows she’s up here with me in my writing studio and she just, she just joins in. 

[00:02:14] Dawayne Kirkman: She’s a hero. She really is a hero of mine. 

[00:02:16] Lorilee Rager: Yes, mine too, mine too. 

[00:02:17] Dawayne Kirkman: My children get her books every month. Well, now it’s just Lilly. 

[00:02:21] Lorilee Rager: Oh, Imagination Library. 

[00:02:21] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. And she’s just someone that is just so creative and she’s cared about her community. Just so talented. I love her. 

[00:02:29] Lorilee Rager: Her songs and her truth, um, just really, really, really speak to me. I resonate with it. Her, her upbringing in the rural, you know, areas, we get it. We know this, we know this. 

[00:02:40] Dawayne Kirkman: I do get it. 

[00:02:41] Lorilee Rager: So well, that’s so funny because I was going to ask you my kickoff question, speaking of Dolly Parton and music, what song is on repeat on your playlist today?

[00:02:54] Dawayne Kirkman: [Laughter]. Okay. So Lorilee, this is funny. I am not, like, I don’t have any of the technology. I am so old. I do like a good CD. People would laugh at me, 

[00:03:05] Lorilee Rager: That’s okay, we’re not judging. 

[00:03:06] Dawayne Kirkman: You know. You’re right. So, I’m not going to be ashamed to admit this, that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” might be in rotation because it’s November the third and, uh, you know, it’s time, it’s time for the holidays. So, uh, 

[00:03:20] Lorilee Rager: I love that. Mariah Carey speaks to me too, even, even that you, speaking of middle school days and all of that. Mariah Carey’s where it’s at. 

[00:03:29] Dawayne Kirkman: Well, I love Christmas and I love the holidays I think just because it’s a simpler time. It’s family. It’s um, there’s also spiritual things that it means to me. And I’ve never been a big Halloween person. Like my kids love it, my wife loves it. I’m like, is it November 1st yet? Because I’m ready for Christmas and Thanksgiving and then Christmas Eve. So, uh, yeah, so I would, I’m, I’m half ashamed that it’s on my rotation, but then the other half of me, I’m not ashamed at all. 

[00:03:56] Lorilee Rager: If you could ask anybody at my work like November 1 is when we change the music on hold. It’s, it’s Hard Candy, Christmas, speaking of Dolly, like Mariah Carey’s on there. Yes. 

[00:04:07] Dawayne Kirkman: Come on. 

[00:04:07] Lorilee Rager: I’m in it. Cause I also, Halloween, I said this to somebody the other day, Halloween to me, maybe because I did grow up in such a rural area, my granny was the next door neighbor two miles down the road, and we 

[00:04:21] Dawayne Kirkman: You had to drive in the car and jump out. 

[00:04:23] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, and we were dressed as a hobo cause we had no money and it was just a plaid shirt of my dad’s, lipstick around my mouth. 

[00:04:29] Dawayne Kirkman: Plastic mask, not the outfit. Yeah. 

[00:04:31] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. And then you just go knock on the door of your granny, where she gave me some old fruit. 

[00:04:36] Dawayne Kirkman: Yes. Fruit and the popcorn balls. 

[00:04:38] Lorilee Rager: Popcorn balls, homemade. 

[00:04:39] Dawayne Kirkman: That I didn’t like. 

[00:04:40] Lorilee Rager: Nope. Stuck to your teeth. 

[00:04:42] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, I was like, no. 

[00:04:42] Lorilee Rager: Stale popcorn. Why does anybody want to do Halloween if this is what it’s about? 

[00:04:45] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. It’s such a big deal to my kids, but I’m like, ugh whatever. 

[00:04:49] Lorilee Rager: Jump me right into Christmas. Yeah, I agree. 

[00:04:51] Dawayne Kirkman: Thank you. 

[00:04:52] Lorilee Rager: Okay. Thank you. Good intro. Good song. Good choice. Um, all right, well, let’s dive into, um, now that I’m a teacher and a designer, I teach graphic design, and one of my first assignments is called the origin story. And I want the students to try to tell me in a, in a writing piece, their origin story and design some piece of art to go with it, any way that they want whatsoever. And it’s one of the things that I think is important about where you come from, your roots, um, your history, your sense of place and those types of things, which are also things I studied in my thesis. Um, so I wanted to begin asking you a little bit about your origin story, your family story, kind of where your roots began, um, around, you know all of that. 

[00:05:45] Dawayne Kirkman: Absolutely. 

[00:05:46] Lorilee Rager: Dive right in. 

[00:05:46] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. So, absolutely. So I grew up in a place that you might be familiar with in Todd County, Kentucky. I was actually born in Russellville and my kids get really torn up about it. We drive by it, I’m a bicentennial baby, 1976. And I’m like, that’s Russellville Hospital, but it’s like a now used cars place. It’s like this big brick building, and they’re like, “you were not born there” and I’m like, ” I really was born there”. But, uh, so I was born in Russellville and grew up in Todd County. Um, lived there from, from birth, through, uh, graduating from high school in 1994. So, you know, I’m proud to be a Todd County Central High School graduate. And, um, you know, just growing up in a small town there’s benefits to it, and there’s also, there’s also challenges with a small town and, um, things of that nature. But, uh, I’ll always be proud that Kentucky is my old Kentucky home. And, um, 

[00:06:39] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, yeah. As I’ve grown and traveled and, and gotten an extra degree, I began to almost be afraid to say I was from Kentucky or from the south, or, a Southern, uh, a Southern person.

[00:06:56] Dawayne Kirkman: Right. 

[00:06:56] Lorilee Rager: Um, because of the stereotypes or because of some of the slang of being labeled a redneck or just not, not intelligent because I don’t pronounce things the right way or the same way. Um, and being an art major, I’m also just a really bad speller and a bad 

[00:07:16] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, you’re creative. 

[00:07:18] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. So that sort of stuff, um, always, always is hard. But I agree that where we come from is, I think it’s important to own and I think it’s important to, to tell the story, because it can relate to a larger global view of, of something you’ve been through or something you’ve lived through or the way you were raised or your parents. Um, so I, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about if you’re, if you’re open to it, um, telling me your story about, you know, your father and, and maybe forgiveness and talk a little bit about that, if you don’t mind.

[00:07:56] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, absolutely. Um, it’s funny cause I went out right before this started and I went and got the marble from my car because I keep it in there just to remind myself. And, you know, I think, you know the story, but I’ll definitely be honored to share it because actually yesterday was my dad’s birthday. You know, um, he would have been 69 and, um, but, uh, so I just thought, you know, also yesterday was Dia de los Muertos, just trying to remember those that have passed on. And it was just interesting, I was like, oh, it’s neat, I’m talking to Lorilee today, uh, about my dad, you know, because I feel very much that it’s just trusting the universe and timing. So, you know, as you know, I grew up in Todd County, Kentucky, Elkton, actually it was between Elkton and Allegory. And, um, my dad was consistently in trouble with the law. You know, he got DUIs frequently and ended up losing his license. And, um, which also means you usually can’t go to work because you don’t have a car. He got PUIs, public intoxication, and he was in and out of the county jail frequently. And that was, just to be honest, it was just normal. It was just, um, it wasn’t, that’s just what we knew. 

And, um, well that summer he was sent to, um, Western State Hospital for the summer, and I don’t know if it was four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks. I, you know, I was in third or fourth grade at the time, and, um, I don’t remember. But it was not, um, it was, it was required. It was definitely not of his choosing. And, uh, but, uh, I remember even then it was really complicated because Western State had a lot of stigmas to me as a young child, because people that had lots of mental illness, that’s where they went, to Western State, uh, to get better. So I’m like, why is my dad going to Western State? Because we had been there before to see different people. And not that anything’s wrong with it, but it was just like trying to contextualize, okay, my dad’s going to this place with, um, for being required to detox for so many days, um, at Western State. And we would drive by Western State every time we went to town, like to go eat or anything, it was, you know, we knew it. 

[00:10:07] Lorilee Rager: And as a child you were kind of told, oh, that’s where crazy people go. 

[00:10:11] Dawayne Kirkman: That’s exactly what it was. Right. So it was scary. Uh, so he would, um, he was sent there for the whole summer. And, uh, I was in third or fourth grade and my mother, uh, Judy Goodknight now, uh, she’s one of my heroes, like just the best mother in the world. And my sister, Tina, uh, Young is, I always say, my first best friend. We were very close. We were very close tricycle. Uh, cause it was usually, usually just us three. And, um, so we would go to visit, we’d go to church on Sunday and our church was not too far from Western State and we would go to Western State after church and we’d go see my dad. And it was really uncomfortable because I did not deal with him a lot as a sober person. I knew how to deal with him, getting, drinking, getting drunk, being really drunk and all those things, but to, um, to deal with my dad in a completely sober, um, situation, I had never, I don’t recall how to best navigate that prior to that time. So it was very uncomfortable. So you’re at Western State. You’re, you’re dealing with a parent that don’t, that you don’t really know how to communicate with in a sober situation. And, um, you’re, you’re, you’re young and you don’t really understand what this all means. As a 45 year old, there’s uh, AA, there’s different programs, there’s AlAnon for families that have, uh, um, alcoholics in the family. I don’t recall if there was a program back then, if there were, I didn’t know about them. So, we would always go see him. And like the first initial Sunday was really uncomfortable and, you know, but he pulled out a marble. And he was like, you know, we’re like, okay, this is really pretty marble. Why do you have a cat eye marble in your pocket? He’s like, well, if I, if I never drink again, I can keep it in my pocket. It represents sobriety. I know I didn’t know what that word meant as a third grader, but I do now. If he never drank again, he got to keep it in his pocket. And we were really excited about that.

So yeah, this was like a new, a new beginning, uh, for some sense of normalcy that we had wanted, but just can never get our hands around. And so every Sunday we would go back. And we, the first thing we would do, we’d be like, can we see your marble? And he’d pull it out and we were so excited about it. And, uh, it was just, uh, it felt like a new day, a new season for him. He was even excited about it, like showing us, I think, establishing the relationship with my sister and myself. My sister was, um, she’s three years older than me, so she got to see my dad a little bit before he was getting too bad down this road of, uh, alcoholism. And so she remembers him working the train, she remembers him, uh, in a, in a way that I don’t have the same lens because he wasn’t working when I started, remember having memories, he was all already in a condition that was really tough. So, um, he finally graduated from the program and we were so proud of him. He got to keep his marble. And we went to the fanciest restaurant in town to eat, it was called Bonanza, I think eventually called Ponderosa, which I’m not sure if that even exists anymore. 

[00:13:19] Lorilee Rager: I don’t think so.

[00:13:21] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. But you know, Bonanza was a big deal.

[00:13:23] Lorilee Rager: It was a big deal. 

[00:13:24] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, it was a big deal. So we were so excited. And then after we went there, we went to look at new trailers, also a big deal because we had only lived in a really, a much older trailer. And we were excited because this felt like, okay, we hit the lottery. We were like at Bonanza and we were going to look at new trailers. We had, it was exciting. And our dad was better. And, uh, so as we’re going home, you know, he wanted to go see his brother and, you know, my sister, myself and my mom automatically knew that was a bad idea. We’re like, let’s just go home and let’s just enjoy the Kirkman party of four. He wanted to go see his brother and, uh, we knew what that would come with and it was just, um, a bit of a mess. We got there and I just I’ll charge it to ignorance, to be honest, Lorilee, I think if they knew then maybe what they know now of how serious it was. Like they were so excited to see him back. He was the fun Stanley. As soon as they saw him, they were like, Stanley, welcome back. You know, F the man. Here’s a beer. So as soon as they saw him, it was like throwing a beer to him. He was like, so happy to see him. And without instinct, it was just really crazy, he cracked the first beer of the first second he saw. No matter what he just went through, weeks and weeks of not drinking and having a program and really just, um, quickly started drinking. Um, and then my dad, as he would drink beer, was one person, but as he drank liquor became a different person, uh, much, um, much more intense, much meaner and, uh, rowdy to be honest, you know. So it was, as the night was progressing, or evening was progressing, my mom was devastated. We were both devastated. The rest of the family was, they were not as devastated, or friends, because it was just their friend. It wasn’t their husband, it wasn’t their dad, um, it was just the fun, uh, Stanley. 

I remember him pulling into his pocket, his marble and, uh, you know, making fun of it, like GD this marble, F this marble. It was a way of like maybe making less value of it, because I know he was disappointed that he was drinking, you know. So, making fun of it, using humor to hide his true feelings, you know? So he takes the marble and he literally throws it across the road into the field right across the street, and it was like a cornfield or something, some kind of field in Todd County. And, uh, we were very sad. That was so sad. And I know he was sad about that. And, uh, to even have like, understanding, I really do have to throw this away. And he threw it across the street. And, uh, my mother not wanting to keep us in a situation that we didn’t need to be in, took us home, myself and my sister. And then the next day, one of the more vivid memories of my young life, um, was pulling up to get my dad, because again, he doesn’t have a car, he’s not able to drive, uh, we had to pick him up. Um, he was out in that field by himself. All of his friends, all the family were either asleep, gone, or, so he was out there in a very hungover condition. Uh, and, uh, I’ve never been drunk but I can’t, I can’t imagine how that feels, like half in half out, but he was not drunk and he was not sober. But he was out there in this field, sort of stumbling through this big field of corn and trying to find this marble. And I just remember being young. I’m like, there’s no way, dad, you’re going to find that marble in this field. And, but I also think, I knew like literally too, like you, you’re at a crossroads in your life. I just, I think even as a young child, I was like, you’re not going to get this marble back. Even though we really want you to get it back. And I think that at that moment, I always tell people, um, that I found that marble that day for my dad and, uh, you know, figuratively I put it in my heart and that’s why it’s always meant something to me. I just realized that day, I was like, I don’t think my dad can carry this. I think I will have to carry this for my dad. 

And, um, I always, um, the last time I saw him, from that point on my dad’s life got worse and worse. It was continual stints in the county jail. He would come up to Dayton, Ohio, where I live now, and to be honest, probably was in a lot of homeless situations, uh, and was just always in a little bit of a chaos, unfortunately. And I remember the last time I saw him alive, I was a sophomore in college and it was Christmas Eve. And my sister and myself went to go see him. It was Christmas Eve. It was behind that, that clear glass and you know, this is Christmas. So, you know, it’s sad to see your dad in a situation that you don’t, you don’t need to be in on Christmas. And that was the last time I saw him alive. And then that summer, we had talked a couple of times cause he’d have to call collect, calling from the county jail. And, uh, I went to college as a junior, and then on a Sunday, September the 15th, I got a call from the Dean of Students that I needed to call home, that there had been, uh, uh, my dad had actually, um, took his own life. It was self-inflicted. And, um, that was, that was really hard to process because I felt, as a 20 year old, uh, there was just other things at that point, another marble to carry. Like I will always… so I just wanted to make, I always felt like I picked up that marble to make my family, the Kirkman family proud. I wanted to, I was the first male in my family to graduate from high school, let alone college. I was, um, to have a consistent job to not drink or– not that I’m a better person than my dad.

I always want to really clarify that I’m not a better person than my dad, but I always felt that marble, I wanted to not drink or drink beer or get drunk because I wanted to say that we did carry it. We, we finished the race and, um, I always think about, after he passed away, I was like, when I get to our heaven and I do, that’s a big part of my life, my own spiritual journey is that when I do get to heaven, when I see my dad, I always think about finding him, hugging his neck and say we made it and hand him his marble back because I’m his son. And, you know, I think as a 45 year old, um, you talked about forgiveness. I’m much more forgiving and understanding than I was as a young child and as a 20 year old, you know, I don’t think I knew the extent of that disease as a younger person. There was a lot of shame because we grew up in a small town because I was Stanley Kirkman’s son. And that, that was really tough. It was embarrassing. You know, my dad would be uptown drunk or go to Tina’s graduation drunk and a lot of public humiliation. So not that, that was unfair of me, but I still didn’t understand the root of the problem, of, whatever he was still trying to, to cover– I still to this day, don’t know what that was. But I understand that alcoholism was– is, is a real disease. And as a 45 year old, I, as a parent of three, uh, who gets things wrong on a daily basis, really realized the power of forgiveness. And, uh, yeah, so that’s um, I do carry that marble for my dad. And I’m proud to do it. I think it’s actually healed a relationship with him and that I’m actually, it’s not a burden. It’s an honor. 

[00:20:45] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:20:46] Dawayne Kirkman: It’s an honor. 

[00:20:47] Lorilee Rager: It’s a beautiful symbol. And I do, I, uh, I don’t see a marble if walking through Miss Lucille’s thrift store and see them and think, I don’t think of you and your dad and that story.

[00:20:58] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. 

[00:20:59] Lorilee Rager: And how are… how we did, we grew up in a really small town in a dry county. And I mean, I think my graduating class was like 90 people or 91 

[00:21:09] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah,

[00:21:09] Lorilee Rager: And everyone… 

[00:21:10] Dawayne Kirkman: 104.

[00:21:11] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, everyone knew everyone. And, um, but no one talked about it. We live, we had such loving educators. We had such incredible teachers growing up, I think in our school system who coddled us and cared for us and hugged us and knew exactly what we were going home to or dealing with.

[00:21:31] Dawayne Kirkman: Well, it’s interesting that you say that. There’s a teacher, one of my most beloved teachers at Todd Central, that I will leave a name for this podcast, they’re a private person. Um, you could probably guess who I’m talking about, but, um, she has similar situation with her, her, her father. And I remember in my senior class that I wrote about this and she actually checked with some other teachers because I think she didn’t know if I was telling the truth, uh, of some things that we were going through at home. And not that I’m, not that she thought I was a liar, but just the magnitude of it. And I think the story also resonated with her because I think she had lived in a very similar, um, existence with her father, really being an alcoholic in a small town and how difficult that is.

I still today remember, um, driving, Becky Weathers would drive me to school or Daniel [?]. And, uh, I remember there was a guy walking down in this ditch and it was clear from a mile away that he was like without a house in, in a drunken condition. And, maybe we were being insensitive about it. And then as we drove by, I said, “oh, that’s my dad.” 

And you know that that’s so hard, 

[00:22:44] Lorilee Rager: Yeah.

[00:22:44] Dawayne Kirkman: You know? Yeah. And I think I just was so used to that, that I had for a long time, there was a lot of resentment. And then as I’ve got older, I just remember being proud. I’m like, you’re going to have to find a place to forgive your dad. Cause you can’t put every problem that you have in your life on a single person. It’s a good excuse, but it’s just, you can’t do that. 

[00:23:07] Lorilee Rager: So true. It’s so true. 

[00:23:08] Dawayne Kirkman: And you know, I’ve often said that you can’t give grace to someone if you’ve never needed it. And I have needed grace a million times. And I’ve had to find a place that like, I have really forgiven my dad. And that was probably, I would say when I moved to Ohio, you know, there’s a church I go to up here and I just remember one Sunday, just being completely freed from the pain of that. And just like letting him be at peace and really trying to come to a place of trying to best understand his life and actually being a legacy for him because I’m his son. And I think I really take a lot of pride in that now, you know, my first name is Stanley. A lot of people don’t know that, I’m Stanley Dawayne Kirkman. And, uh, I used to be really tore up about it, but now, actually this new job, my email is like “Kirkman S,” “Kirkmans” and it’s like Stanley. I’m like, yeah. Yeah, that’s my name. And it doesn’t tear, it doesn’t tear me up anymore. I’m actually pro– I’m actually proud of it. 

[00:24:02] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, uh, I would be too. You should be. Um, absolutely. I think about when you talk about forgiveness and why… I think why we do it and in my upbringing, in, in the church and things that it’s always preached to you a lot, but it’s also, how do you get there? And how do you, how do you… and why? Um, and I think what I’ve learned in my grad school study is like the name of this podcast being Ground and Gratitude is I wondered why do I go to forgiveness and gratitude so quickly in a troubled time? And,

[00:24:38] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. 

[00:24:39] Lorilee Rager: And, and I understood about myself is you said to give him peace, but it also gave you some peace. Um, and so I go to either, I want to forgive them and I want, and I want to be thankful for what I have or thankful that it’s better or not as bad as it used to be. Because that gives me peace. My inner, I call it my inner bobber, like you’re fishing and I need to get to my own peace quickly too. And forgiveness is a part of that. 

[00:25:08] Dawayne Kirkman: It is, I think about it with Johanna and Daisy, Lucas, and Lily. There’s things that I get really right. And there’s things I’m like, oh I really… I should reset that. And I really hope that my kids are able to give the same amount of grace that, um, I think any kids… No parent gets it completely right.

And no kids get it completely. Right? Yeah. You know, we– you know, I wrote something down and it said, uh, “Love cures. It cures those who give it. And it cures those who receive it.” There’s a lot in that. And, um, I don’t know. I’m just, I’m really excited to be on the other side of it. And I really do. I really do try to, like, as I talk to students at the colleges that I’ve worked at, it’s like sometimes as a child, you grow up too soon and it, it might be your family has debt issues or um, these issues that we’re talking about with my dad, your, your parent might be an alcoholic or things of that nature, and you might have to carry some of them. That’s not fair, but it’s just, it’s your lot in life. And, but still how to find peace with you. Like you said, your parents, your significant other partner and uh, still heal. 

[00:26:15] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Well, 

[00:26:16] Dawayne Kirkman: Like you said, the peace for yourself. 

[00:26:18] Lorilee Rager: Yes. Um, speaking about when you said that your students, I wanted to also ask you about, through, through your personal journey and now in your professional life, your resilience and persistence are just two big glowing words I see from you. And tell me a little bit about why persistence is important to you and explain a little bit about your PhD, because I think the work you’ve done and the, and the work on first-generation and underrepresented students is so powerful too. 

[00:26:50] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, um, so when I, I’m actually, as soon as this is over, I’m going to go talk to a group of students. And I always talk to them about some things. Uh, and, but it’s just literally some things that are, uh, that I’ll share with them. Like we grew up, I don’t like the word “poor” cause Dolly says, “one is only poor if they choose to be,” but we did have a low socioeconomic status. You know, my mom was, uh, the, uh, working, the working poor, she worked at a sewing factory and, um, she worked so hard, but it wasn’t much money. So we were, I hate using the word, but we were poor. Um, I remember being in special reading in first grade and being sent behind the school. So there’s different little pods and, you know, going into special reading. And I remember talking to Ms. Gertrude Lucas. She was like 72 at the time. And, uh, I was like, “Ms. Lucas, I can read.” And she’s like, “You can honey,” but she’s like, “You’re poor.” And I think it was probably for at-risk students. At risk of failing. When she said that I was freed, I was like, oh, that’s fine. I know I’m poor. But it was like, I felt like challenged that someone said I couldn’t read. Maybe I wasn’t as good a reader as I think. You know, single parent family, back in third and fourth grade, there was like one other student in the class that was, that had a family that was divorced or divorcing. That was much less common, 

[00:28:10] Lorilee Rager: Absolutely, yeah. 

[00:28:12] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, no gifted and talented, no AP classes, even though I wanted them. Um, but I had cheerleaders in at the college, the one teacher that I was referring to earlier, I still think about how she literally changed my life. And um someone, I was in a presentation one day, Lorilee, and they said, you’re not at risk, you’re asterisk, and that’s a star. And not that I’m a star, but I always want people to– sometimes you can be labeled something that might stick, even though it doesn’t deserve to stick. And how can you get rid of labels and that no longer… no, you no longer own them? And, uh, I was talking about being, uh, perseverance and resilience. Um, I think if I do have a, a skill set, I think I’ve been able to be gritty. You know, I always talk about the, the, the, the turtle and the hare, the rabbit, you know, I’m not the fastest, the smartest, the whatever, whatever, but I will stay in the race and I’ll finish the race. 

[00:29:12] Lorilee Rager: That’s right.

[00:29:13] Dawayne Kirkman: I won’t take a nap by the tree, you know, like I, and I’m gritty, but I tell students that like, just stay in the race, just keep going. You know, you mentioned, um, you know, so after I graduated from Todd Central, I went to Berea College. I was really proud of that. It was the only school that I applied to because it was uh, for poor Appalachian youth. It was the first school in the South to accept women and, uh, students of color. And Mildred Beller in my honors biology class, she looked at me my freshman year, me and Holly [?] which is gonna make me cry. And she said, uh, “You’re going to Berea College when you graduate.” And I looked at her, I said, “Yes. Ma’am.” [Laughter] 

[00:29:50] Lorilee Rager: You know, you know, she’s my Aunt? Aunt Mildred.

[00:29:53] Dawayne Kirkman: I did not know that.

[00:29:54] Lorilee Rager: I just hugged her on Sunday after I took Aunt Lorenetta to church. 

[00:29:57] Dawayne Kirkman: Oh my God. I did not know that, she literally, she, I was in honors, uh, biology, which I was horrible at, but she told me about this college in Kentucky that if you go there, you work 10 hours, 15 hours a week and you leave, oh, no money for college. I was like, well, that sounds like I’m either going to be at Hopkinsville Community College or Berea. And I applied, I w– I remember applying to Berea and I got in and they said the very first week of class, they said, look to your left, look to your right, two of you won’t be here at graduation. And I remember thinking, “Oh, these, these two pitiful people. They’re not going to be at graduation.” [Laughter] Because I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. You know, I wanted to be, I, even as a kindergartner, I wanted to, I always knew I wanted to be a high school teacher, which I still like, how did you not do that? I got stuck in higher ed, which I’ve been very blessed by, but, uh, so I went to Berea and then I came up here to Dayton, Ohio. My mom actually, so, back in, when my mom grew up like from Todd County, Kentucky to Dayton, Ohio was just a migration pattern of go to Dayton, Ohio to work at GE Frigidaire come back down, things of that nature.

So there was a real, my mom actually graduated from Belmont High School in Dayton, Ohio, and she had went to a church here in Fairborn, and I remember I spent one semester in North Carolina for grad school, but I remember I was like, let me go check that out. I was, there were some things I was dealing with wanting to have a home church and uh, Wright State University, and I remember moving up to Ohio in 1999, early 1999. And just finding the church that my mom went to growing up in the, in the town that she had graduated from high school, even though she spent a lot of her time in Kentucky, too, but it was that migration pattern. Um, and really finding a special home here and, uh, graduated from Wright State and then, um, getting my Master’s there.

And then, uh, working at Sinclair College for a long time. And while I was there, they were like, you know, they had uh, some, what would you call that? Like some just, uh, benefits to go get your PhD. And, uh, so I went to the University of Dayton and that was, uh, I was uh, someone told me that PhD stood for “perseverance hath done it,” because that’s what it really is. [Laughter] It’s just about persevering. It’s uh, it’s the turtle. It’s about finishing the race. After finishing the classes and, um, comprehensive exams. I remember just stopping to be honest, I was like, I’m not doing a dissertation. I don’t have the capacity, uh, time, things of that nature. And we also had Daisy, Luke and Lily, and, uh, they were a convenient excuse and they were real, but, uh, I stopped out for like three or three plus years. I would, I remember, uh, she taught me at UD her name was Dr. DeLuca and she’s probably the meanest teacher I’ve ever had, [laughter] and she was probably five foot tall. And she had called me. I’m not joking, just as mean as she could be. She called me on the phone and she was like, are you ever going to finish this thing? 

[00:33:04] Lorilee Rager: Oh dang. 

[00:33:05] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. She’s like, “I got a bootcamp, you’re going to be in it and we’re going to get this thing done.” And I was like, “Yes, Ma’am.” [Laughter] So I actually started, and it took about two years, but, uh, you had asked about it and I was really proud of looking at the graduation rates of African-American males at a community college of just how, what we’re getting, right, what we’re needing to improve and how we can best support our students of color, that they lead to persist well and, and graduate at a higher numbers. And, uh, that was really important for me. Uh, I think that I understood it, not so much, uh, as an African-American male, but growing up, being someone who was a first generation college student. I understood some of the challenges of being underrepresented. Some challenges, definitely not all, but, uh, it was important for me to do that. And I was really proud to work with 15 African-American males at up a mid size, uh, community college in the state of Ohio. And those students were wonderful and I was really proud to, to do that study, um, with those young men and, uh, also proud to be done with that. Uh, [laughter]

[00:34:15] Lorilee Rager: I understand that. too, I do, I do. Well, it’s just really one of those things that I think is important in, you know, as Dolly Parton says, finding out who you are and doing it on purpose, you, you took this purpose all the way, to me, from your father and the marble, into your passion for life and your career and the way you help other first-generation, underrepresented students. And, and I know now in today’s world, it’s even more important than ever. It feels like this, this work that you’ve done, um, with, with everything that’s, that’s changed. So… 

[00:34:53] Dawayne Kirkman: Well, I’m really proud to work at a community college because, you know, I am a community college student, you know, I remember being in a trio program in high school, they were from Hopkinsville Community college. It was an educational talent search. Cause I was first-generation and I can’t definitely, “I can not remember her name, but I remember how she made me feel.” Dr. Maya Angelou said that, but, uh, she cared about me. She helped me with the financial aid application, which was very overwhelming because that was intimidating because my mother didn’t go to college and back then it was on paper, and if you messed up, you had to wait three to six weeks. So that, uh, educational talent search program really changed my life. And, um, I got to go to Florida A&M for the summer, uh, based on, uh, with Ritchie Hall. And, um, yeah, I’d never been on a plane. 

[00:35:40] Lorilee Rager: Wow. 

[00:35:40] Dawayne Kirkman: I’d never been to a historically black college and university and, uh, never had been the minority in a situation. It was just one of those summers that really changed my life. And I’ll always be thankful for that. And obviously, as I see students today, you do see pieces of you in students. I’m sure you do, when you, as you teach, but, um, yeah, I’m a community college student.

[00:36:00] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, it feels good if, and it feels good to give back and just to mentor and help those that, you know, are coming, coming along behind you. 

[00:36:11] Dawayne Kirkman: That’s right. I’m excited. 

[00:36:12] Lorilee Rager: I think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I really do. I think you’re supposed to share. 

[00:36:15] Dawayne Kirkman: You have to have a hand– I always tell people to have a hand up for a mentor. You need a mentor in every phase of your life, because someone’s been up the road, whether, I’ve been married 10 years, talk to someone that’s been married twenty years,

[00:36:25] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. 

[00:36:26] Dawayne Kirkman: And there’s different challenges with 20 years of marriage or your kids are going to graduate. And that makes me sound, I’m thinking about it. And I’m like, oh, I’m not ready for that conversation. And then always put your hand back to pull some along with you. that they, we all got shots that people helped us with, uh, different breaks, different teachings, and to always reach back. 

[00:36:42] Lorilee Rager: That’s one of the quotes you told me too, that, um, an important mentor had told you that said, “we belong to each other,” and it’s so true. And the hand up and hand down is beautiful to think of. As I helped my son fill out his ACT application last night to take that. Just really looking at… and even one year sober for me in recovery, it’s scary, but I do, I want to talk to somebody two years and five years sober, but I’m also going to help the person that’s just desperately trying to get that 30 day chip, you know, and yeah. Hands both ways. I love that.It’s so good. So good. Um, all right. Well, I wanted to, to also pivot to ask you a little bit about taking care of yourself. Um, that’s something, wellness is one of the things I say in my journey, now, of wellness, um, weight loss is, is part of it. It’s a big perk, but it’s not really why we did it. I don’t think. Um, but tell me a little bit about your journey on that. 

[00:37:48] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, it’s interesting. Um, this is, uh, I don’t know why I just thought about this, but I remember getting my haircut and, uh, he was a barber and he was like, he looked at me and I think you’ll understand when I say this, I’m like, oh, this is such the story of my life. He goes, “Dawayne, are you losing or gaining?” And I was like, oh my gosh, like, my life can not be consumed to, am I up or down? And I was just like, I’m so much more than that, but he was like, he was really confused. He’s like, are you losing now? Are you gaining? And I was like, oh my gosh. But anyway, uh, last, uh, last year, um, during COVID to be honest, I, uh, I got to a place in my life that I didn’t feel great about where I was on, um, as in regards to weight and like looking at some scenes with COVID, I felt like I was a potential statistic waiting to happen. And I was like, this is not who you are. You’re uh, you can do better. And that’s not for anyone else. That’s just for my shoes. Cause everyone has their own journey to be bigger, to be smaller to whatever. 

But I just wanted to be healthier for myself. I looked at my three kids. I, and I just remember. You know, just start walking, just start, you know, doing a little bit better. And, um, been really, uh, had a really good year on the whole, um, able to lose over a hundred pounds. 

[00:39:03] Lorilee Rager: Wow.

[00:39:05] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. But like trying to maintain that now that’s always the harder part. Yeah. So I think just being recommitted to that, as I’m getting older, it’s not going to be ever easier to do it, to get it off, but, uh, just as with pandemics, as you, as we grow old, how can I be best to my, to my, to myself. And, um, I know the physical is only one attribute of us, soul, spirit, and body, but, uh, I do think they mirror one another. And, uh, I think it can, if they are aligned just to be your best version of yourself yeah. Of whatever that means to, I think it’s different for everyone. And I think just to, you know, with weight for me, it’s something that I have battled on and off my entire life. Um, and, um, and I think it’s one of those things, like, I hope that I don’t pass this down to my kids. Like we talk about this marble, you know, I don’t, and I’ve always felt, I don’t feel like food’s covering anything for me. Cause sometimes I just think biscuits and gravy are really good. It’s not that I’m dealing with anything emotionally. [Laughter] I definitely want to be a healthy person and I want my kids to have healthy– understand what that means. So that’s what I was talking about. There will be definitely things that my kids will have to carry for me. 

[00:40:26] Lorilee Rager: I try to figure out now, um, to not have shame around it. Yes. Biscuits and gravy. You can eat it just because it tastes good. Not because you’re feeling your feelings depressed and trying to fill some other void. And I want to, you know, that’s what I want the same thing for me to pass down to my kids because I have yoyo dieted and tried everything under the sun. And, uh, but it was more of a internal shame and guilt and beating myself up for, you know, eating bad and yet doing– during the pandemic is, is really when I decided to get sober and, and just notice, yeah, I just, I just was tired of feeling tired. I was tired. 

[00:41:07] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah. 

[00:41:08] Lorilee Rager: Just being comfortable in my own skin. 

[00:41:11] Dawayne Kirkman: Well, you know, we had talked about words that stick, like being called at risk at a very young age. I still, I still don’t love it. I still battle it. I’m like, am I, you know, um, am I able to be in the seat or things of that nature, but I remember us losing weight with a, like a personal trainer and like doing some, like. I don’t even know what they’re calling, like some like steps between like tires and, and he looked at me, he’s like, “Dawayne, you’re really athletic.”

And I was like, “What?” It was such a, I had never heard that word. I was like 44 years old. Like, what? I’ve never, no one’s ever said that. And he’s like, “no, like you have athletic ability.” And I was like, “oh, well, look at me. I’m athletic.” But just like that positive affirmation and really speaking to someone and, and how you envision them and how you really see them and words matter. They’re powerful. 

[00:42:00] Lorilee Rager: Yes. 

[00:42:00] Dawayne Kirkman: They really are. And you know, the greatest battle ever fought is in your own mind. And how, what are we speaking to ourselves every day? 

[00:42:08] Lorilee Rager: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. That’s exactly right. What you say to yourself is so important, I think. I think it’s the no negative self-talk is one of my rules. 

[00:42:19] Dawayne Kirkman: Oh yeah?

[00:42:19] Lorilee Rager: And I think, I think it’s so important and I love the idea of labels is so, is scary and sticks with you. But for somebody to say you’re athletic, I get it because I’ve never been there. 

[00:42:32] Dawayne Kirkman: It was like they called me something in a foreign language. 

[00:42:33] Lorilee Rager: Oh yeah. 

[00:42:34] Dawayne Kirkman: I was like, it, it really is like what? It was so weird. 

[00:42:37] Lorilee Rager: And for somebody to see you, so somebody that’s not from your hometown, that doesn’t live with you all day. A third party, completely independent that says that it means the world. 

[00:42:48] Dawayne Kirkman: And meant it.

[00:42:50] Lorilee Rager: It does, it really does. And I think sharing that and giving that compliment and that observation of a positive message to somebody is really important.

[00:42:59] Dawayne Kirkman: It is important that, you know, even when, like, I love how you said you don’t allow yourself to do that because I won’t do that to anyone, but myself and then Johanna gets onto me. She’s like, you would never let someone talk to you… the way you talk to yourself, like you would never do that to anyone else or let them talk to themselves in that way. So it’s very funny, like Johanna is a great like life partner that just, you know, I, hopefully I’m that way for her too, because we have to be kind to one another.

[00:43:24] Lorilee Rager: Yeah, absolutely. Well, 

[00:43:26] Dawayne Kirkman: I like that you said that. 

[00:43:27] Lorilee Rager: It was a really important rule I learned in recovery. That it was something and it was something I didn’t realize I did so much of. So when, when my coach was like, um, you know, you just need a rule because your subconscious hears that whether you say it out loud, so, yeah. Well, um, so yeah, the, the last thing I wanted to ask you is this has been such a great conversation, such incredibly important things to share. I think for people to hear our stories and know that they’re not alone in the struggles is, um, what, uh, tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? It can be something that helps you get grounded or with gratitude or helps you through a hard spot, any quotes or mantras?

[00:44:17] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, I have a couple of quotes, but you know, there’s this, you said a song and I’m going to eventually sing it, I’ve just gotta get my nerve up. 

[00:44:23] Lorilee Rager: Do it. 

[00:44:24] Dawayne Kirkman: You know, there’s, there’s one quote that always sticks with me and it says “Hell’s doors are locked from the inside.” You know, if you’re going through something, sometimes you have to free yourself. No one else, even if they have the capability to do it. They, it literally doesn’t work. You have to free yourself. And, um, I think sometimes whether, whatever that fill in the blank is for you, even though you might have supporters and cheerleaders, you have to, eventually… Hell’s doors are locked from the inside. You have to free yourself. And, um, that’s one that I always remember. And then the, one of the greatest men that I’ve ever known, he was actually a ninth grade dropout from Hazard, Kentucky, Earl Childers, the only millionaire that I’ve ever known. Um, he just saw grace and everybody, like everybody. And he always said, “where there’s breath there’s hope.” And I love that. 

[00:45:17] Lorilee Rager: That’s so good 

[00:45:18] Dawayne Kirkman: Because if you just like, there’s that affirmation, that positive, like I see you, I believe in you. And, um, sometimes you can be too close to things like my dad, we like, oh, he’s not gonna make it because he had failed so many times, but it, what if someone said, like, “I do see you Stanley.”

 Where there’s breath, there’s hope. I think there’s so much power in that, of never counting someone out ever. And I, he just, ever, and he just embodied that, um, he lived that. Earl Childers lived that and I’ll always be thankful for that. And, um, there was a song that my mom was singing, because you did say songs, I really try to be a good student.

[00:45:52] Lorilee Rager: You did good. [Laughter] 

[00:45:54] Dawayne Kirkman: Yeah, it’s called “Wading Through Deep Waters.” And, uh, I always tell the story about my dad with the marble, but my mom’s my anchor, you know, I learned things that I didn’t need to, shouldn’t have learned at an early age from my dad, but my mother is my foundation and she doesn’t get the flowers that I think sometimes that she deserves and uh, I think myself and my sister got the best mother in the world. Uh, but she would always sing this song. Actually, Heather Blackburn would call me at college and she said, “Dawayne, are you saying that swamp song to me?” And I was like, “it’s not the swamp song. It’s called ‘Wading Through Deep Waters,’ but the swamp song, and it goes like this, uh: 

[Singing] Wading through deep waters, Lord I’m trying to get home. But the ways of life, they, uh, so high sometimes I think I’m gone, but when I think I’m gonna sink, I raise my hands up high and the great big hand of God comes down and takes ahold of mine. 

And, um, my mom, she just kept God at the forefront of our lives no matter what we were going through, she always, good days, bad days. She’s like, you just keep your eyes on God and he’ll see you through. And I think sometimes in my own life, these types of songs, they’ve never let me left me. They’ve set a foundation for my life. And if there’s been, as my mom would say, if there’s been anything good in my life that people have seen it’s because I’ve had a great mother and I I’ve had a God that’s been very graceful to me, because I’ve needed it.

[00:47:29] Lorilee Rager: Beautiful. I’m glad there’s not video right now because you’re making my makeup run. [Laughter] Beautifully said, and I will take mothers and marbles with me and put it in our, put it in our toolbox also. Beautiful. So this has been absolutely wonderful. I’m so, so thankful for you and thankful for your time and our friendship.

[00:47:55] Dawayne Kirkman: I’m so thankful for our friendship. I probably owe you a box of blow pops, [laughter] but you’re one of the best people in the world. I’m so proud of you. I’m cheering you on in every single way. And you make me proud. 

[00:48:12] Lorilee Rager: Thank you. You do too. I’m glad. I’m so glad we grew up together in a little town. 

I am too. 

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

[00:48:21] Dawayne Kirkman: Thank you. 

[00:48:21] Lorilee Rager: That’s it. Goodness gracious.

Thanks again to Dawayne for coming on the show today to share such beautiful and personal stories. Wow. And that singing voice. I loved it. It was absolutely a pleasure to have him on the show. Thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude. You can find more information about the show and resources to help anyone struggling with mental health at groundandgratitude.com.

Please 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 amazing duo Kelly Drake and AO McClain, LLC.