Ep 40: Following Your Life’s Calling in the Face of Persistent Fear with Luvvie Ajayi

RV: (00:07)
Hey brand builder, Rory Vaden here. Thank you so much for taking the time to check out this interview. As always, it’s our honor to provide it to you for free and wanted to let you know there’s no big sales pitch or anything coming at the end. However, if you are someone who is looking to build and monetize your personal brand, we would love to talk to you and get to know you a little bit and hear about some of your dreams and visions and share with you a little bit about what we’re up to see if we might be a fit. So if you’re interested in a free strategy call with someone from our team, we would love to hear from you. You can do that at brand builders, group.com/pod call brand builders, group.com/pod call. We hope to talk to you soon so I have to share with you all.

RV: (00:56)
I’m so excited for you to meet our next guest. This woman, was somebody that I met actually through Brand Builders Group and somebody that we started to talk about her brand strategy and all that kind of stuff. And I wasn’t personally familiar with her before and she is a rockstar and a total firecracker. And I don’t know how we had crossed paths before, but I’m telling you, you are, you’re going to, you’re going to love this woman. Her name is Luvvie Ajayi. She is a New York times bestselling author, speaker and digital strategist who really kind of lives at the intersection of like comedy technology and then activism. So her, her first book was called, I’m Judging You. The do better manual was an instant New York Times Bestseller. She also has a Ted Talk that has like 4 million views, which of course I’m very jealous of because her Ted talk has more views than mine, but that’s okay.

RV: (01:59)
And she has a podcast called ransom and randomness where she shares a lot of her, you know, raves and faves. And so she kind of like, you know, she interviews, she’s interviewed people like Oprah Winfrey and Gina Davis and Shonda Rhimes and she just like is she critiques pop culture. And then it’s also like using her voice for gender and racial justice. She has, she has a course a school called the do better Academy, which teaches people how to thrive in their business and their careers. And anyways, I’m telling you, she’s just, she’s just awesome. So Luvvie, thank you for making time for us.

LA: (02:33)
Thank you for having me Rory.

So you’ve been blogging for 16 years. I didn’t even know the word blog had been around for 16 years. Right?

Right. Yeah, I started blogging in 2003 when I was a freshman in college and I was peer pressured into doing it because I’m very pure, impressionable. Like my friends were like, we’re going to start web blogs. You should tune. I was like, okay. And

LA: (03:00)
I started blogging about my undergrad life and back then my major, cause I thought I was going to be a doctor. My major was psychology, premed and then I got a D in chemistry, chemistry that semester. I blogged about that too and I was like, fuck, you know what I’ll do. I’m going to be a doctor anymore so that’s not going to work for me. So as that dream died, the blogging thing kind of took over and I looked at it very casually. For me, it was just this thing that I’d like to do after, after I went to class or maybe I didn’t go to class that day and it took on a life of its own. Like basically people, more people started reading, reading it. Back then there wasn’t like a career as a blogger. It wasn’t considered a thing. It was just this thing that you did. It was like your online diary. When I graduated from college in 2006, I actually deleted my college blogs. I was like, Whoa, kind of feel like I finished a phase. I don’t have the material that I have before. I’m going to start a new blog where I’m talking less about me and my life and talking more about the world. And I started awesomely luvvie.com August, actually, August 8th, 2006 yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

RV: (04:15)
That is so rent wild. So, so it’s interesting cause you know, like if someone goes and sees you now they’re like, Oh, it’s just got hundreds of thousands of followers and then blah blah blah. But how do you stick with something for, for 16 years? Like there’s gotta be times when you’re like, I’m freaking sick of this. Or like I don’t have anything to say or I mean is there, or has it always just been like you always got stuff to say and

LA: (04:41)
Like, well I think the power of blogging and the gift of blogging back then because there were no expectations of it being a career was that we were able to, a lot of us who started that early and we didn’t, didn’t continue. So that’s why you don’t know their names. I always say that I wasn’t necessarily the one who threw the best party. I was the one who threw many parties and just kept on throwing them. And writing was a practice. So I didn’t realize that I was actually practicing this craft. For me it was just something that felt like a hobby, something that was low stress, which funny enough, made it more fun. So I did it over and over. I kept on doing it. I didn’t feel like something that I was obligated to do. And I think that was a gift in that it allowed me to build that right in practice. But also it allowed me to build the voice that was authentically me because it wasn’t strategic. It wasn’t like I was thinking, huh, I should cover this today because that’ll get me some Google hits or clicks. Back then you were writing for the love of writing and it crafted and I really didn’t realize that it was something that had big, become increasingly important to me until I realized that when I didn’t write it felt wrong.

LA: (05:56)
So what do you think?

RV: (05:58)
So let’s talk about the writing thing. Cause cause I know you’re a speaker also. I don’t want to, I want to talk about that. Like you and I kind of share that. But I, I came at it backwards. I wanted to be a speaker. Like I spent my, my whole college was like doing the world championship of public speaking and I wanted to be a speaker. And then it was like, Oh, if you really want to make it as a speaker, you gotta, you gotta have a book and you know, if you can write a bestseller, then it sounds like, okay. So then I stumbled into writing and then I’ve since like fallen in love with the idea. What do you think are some of the secrets of great writing particularly today? Right. Cause there’s so much noise. Like it’s just like, and it’s not just, it’s like there’s books and there’s eBooks and there’s podcasts and there’s your, you know, random social, and that was video and like your feed, you know, like Jay bear, he’s another friend, he’s one of the other faculty members. He always says like, you’re, you’re not just competing with other writers. You’re competing with everything that competes for attention to puppy dogs and fantasy football. And so like, yeah, and babies. Right. how do you compete with babies? How do you write to compete with babies

LA: (07:06)
Knowing that you are not competing with babies, that you can exist in the same space with the cute baby. I think what customer, the noise now, what cuts, what elevates content is content that feels really authentic and thoughtful and does not feel contrived because I think all of the media that we consume now has actually gotten us slightly better and picking out what’s contrived and what’s not. And now when you are right or what makes you stand out honestly is the voice and the perspective that you bring. Because let’s be clear, none of us are talking about something that nobody else was talking about. There’s a million people talking about the same thing you’re talking about. You will not be the singular person covering a topic and you have to be fine with that. What people want to hear and what makes people come back is they’re like, I see myself and I see my thoughts in what this person is saying or they just gave me perspective.

LA: (08:00)
I didn’t have, I always say that content needs to be either funny or useful or interesting or timely, as many of those as you can be as possible best if you’re not funny, don’t, don’t try to be funny. But if you can be useful and timely be that, you know, so I’m, I just say take the pressure off trying to compete with the baby cause you’re not gonna win that battle. The cuteness is too much. That’s not your lane. You’re not even one in the same stadium, let alone race. Your job is to create the best content that you can. That the barometer I use for myself is if I’m not the person who wrote this, if I’m not the person who created this, would I still find this interesting or good?

Speaker 3: (08:42)

RV: (08:43)
Interesting. Yeah. Just so kind of like, Oh, if I was a random person, what would this, would this either be funny, useful, interesting or timely for me if it wasn’t me? So I like I liked that a lot. You’ve talked, you, you’ve used already the word a couple of times, authenticity and like your own voice. And that kind of a thing.

LA: (09:04)
How do you,

RV: (09:05)
How do you find the line of going, I want to be real and I want to be transparent. I want to be authentic because that cuts through the noise and it’s me and I don’t want to be fake, but I don’t want to share, you know, so much like that. It’s too personal and you know, and also it’s like there’s a risk of being judged, right? There’s this risk of people like you got haters and trolls and yada yada yada. So like how do you find that line of the right amount of yourself to share with the public?

LA: (09:39)
Yeah, that’s a great question. For me, one of my separate spaces, I, I, I compartmentalize my work in that I’m a public figure, but not my whole life is public. I don’t feel like I owe people access to every piece of my life. And I think some people feel pressure of being like, yeah, how do I figure it out? No, what your lines and your boundaries are. And for me a big line in a boundary for me is my relationship. You know, like me and my, my fiance, like you won’t see him and I post pictures of [inaudible].

RV: (10:12)
Congratulations by the way, because now you said Beyonce and only on on the influence of personal brand. Would you ever hear such a personal detail?

LA: (10:22)
I’ve already got the team, but yeah, I think knowing that the personal boundaries and why, right? Because you have to know the pieces of yourself that you must protect from people no matter how much and how large and how deep information you share elsewhere. So that’s a big second piece is being clear that building community, the community that you’re telling this information to needs to not just be the larger public, even though the larger public can have access to it. Because be clear that no information that you share online is really private. So also operating off that. But I think about my audience as a single person. Like you made us do the avatar exercise and you’re saying that every brand needs to have that one person that you’re thinking of that you’re using to serve. So I think about that person whenever I’m giving information out.

LA: (11:13)
Like, if she’s listening to this, if they’re listening to this information, will this be helpful to them? Even if I’m being vulnerable. And it’s with the idea that vulnerability comes with risks. Authenticity comes with risks. At no point is the information that you’re releasing guaranteed to land perfectly well with everybody, which is why I use three questions to ask myself whenever I’m sharing any information, anytime I’m talking about something, even when it’s difficult, it’s the, it’s a checklist for myself in these moments to kind of tell me either yes or no. Don’t do it, go for it. And mine is, can I do, I mean can I defend it? Am I saying it with love or thoughtfully? And I use that as a checklist because in the moments that I want to be really authentic, really real, really vulnerable, it can be scary cause you’ll be like, am I sure I want to say this?

LA: (12:07)
Could this, see the thing is we can’t use the idea of could this face backlash as a criteria because we’d say nothing. You can say the sky is blue and somebody is going to disagree with you. So that can’t be the barometer that you’re using to say yes or no to saying something that you think is important. So I think everyone should come with their own checklist of things that kind of serve as your own. Like, okay, so I’m not being impulsive, I’m not just going on a social media rent just for the sake of the fact that I’m angry or sad. Have I thought this through? Is this something that is worth my time to do?

RV: (12:41)
Hmm. I love that. Do I mean it? Can I defend it and am I saying it thoughtfully or with love? So I’m going to talk about that last one a little bit because I mean your books comes right out and says right on the cover. I’m judging you. You make no qualms about it. You are commenting on top

LA: (13:01)
Culture. It’s, it’s really interesting cause I think

RV: (13:08)
Of all like my friends and you know, various like people we interface with and clients and stuff. You have, you kind of walked this very unique space of being both like a speaker and like a thought leader, but also an activist. How do you, how do you kind of find that space or like, you know, is that just something you decided to do? Did you stumble into it? And I guess I don’t even really know what my question is here. I’m mostly interested in just your perspective on,

LA: (13:38)

RV: (13:38)
Why and how you view the written word as both your right and your responsibility to kind of speak your truths and how do you kind of reconcile with,

LA: (13:50)
You know, the various challenges that come with that. Yeah, so I called my book. I’m judging you because I feel like it’s a phrase that feels accusatory, but really at the bottom of it, it’s not because we try to tell each other, Oh, we don’t judge anybody. We don’t try to judge each other. We absolutely do. And my thing is we judge each other for the wrong things. We spend so much time judging each other for, you know what we’re looking like, you know who we love, you know what God we practice or who, you know what God, we don’t believe in that. The things that we’re supposed to actually be judging each other on are the values that we bring to the table. How good we’re treating each other and other people. How we are leaving this world better than we found it. That’s what we need to be judging each other on.

LA: (14:37)
You know, we just judge each other on like, how are you just being a good person who cares about other people around you? So I called my book that because I wanted to hold a mirror to all of us, you know, have been like, yes, we’re absolutely something that’s fine, but let’s probably shift some of the things that we’re judging each other about and how we’re walking through this world. And for me, I stumbled upon all my, all my titles that I go by today. I stumbled upon all of them, speaker, writer, whatever, activists this person. Like I feel like life got me there because I was just doing the things I was compelled to do. And no, I love that you had clarity at 17. You’re like, I’m going to be a speaker at 17. I really thought I was going to be a doctor.

LA: (15:20)
So literally that I am today is opposite of what I thought I would be. And it’s because I ultimately kind of followed the path of doing the thing that felt like doing. So if it felt like speaking up about this issue I did. If it was about getting on the stage and talking about this thing I did, if it was about writing this book I did. So I don’t necessarily take myself seriously and that I was like, yeah, manifested all the sums, all strategy. None of it was strategy. Funny enough it was, I think my story of my journey is kind of a Testament of what happens when you kind of just follow your own like your own voice without necessarily doubting it. You know what I mean? Like you follow the things that you feel like doing without expectation, without any type of like plan and things just kinda came together.

LA: (16:10)
One question I get all the times when people say something like, well how do you find your voice? Or like how do you find that thing? It was less about finding it and more about not doubting when it’s in front of your face. We spent so much time but low hanging fruit thing like that thing that you wake up thinking about doing that thing that you always like, I should try that non, I’m not going to, that is probably the thing that you should be spending more time on. And because we’ve been told we’re supposed to be the doctors and the lawyers because everything else kind of has no blueprint. We’ll talk ourselves out of doing a lot of things that we want to do. So I think I just didn’t talk myself out of it and when I tried to talk myself out of it, it didn’t work.

RV: (16:52)
Yeah. So that’s, that’s the part that I love. I love that. I think it’s like, I think that’s super profound is it’s, it’s, it’s less about sort of finding your own voice and just following your voice without doubting it. The hard part is the without doubting it. Do you think that inherently you’re just like a rebel or you’re just that courageous or like why do you think that you didn’t stop yourself? Cause it sounds like maybe you did have some of those thoughts. It wasn’t just like love. He’s going to tell the world what she cares what she thinks and she doesn’t care that that’s not really what it is. It’s more like, well this is what I think. There could be some negative things about doing this but I’m going to do it cause I feel like I have to or I feel like I should or like walk us through that part and not outing.

LA: (17:45)
Yeah. I think for me the moments when I wanted to not do the thing that I wanted to do, I paused and I acknowledged that moment and I was like, yeah, I’m totally frightened. This is frightening. I shouldn’t do this. There’s, it makes no sense. Like you’re not a writer. Anytime I would try to talk myself out of that moment, it will stick with me where I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s like when I walk out of a room and I knew I was supposed to have said something and I did it, it kind of sit with me. I’d be like, ah, I should’ve just done it. So I hated feeling like that. I had it feeling like I didn’t do something I was supposed to do. So I was like, you know what? Okay, I’m just going to do it. Even if it’s scary, I’m just going to do it and close my eyes and run away if I need to, but I’m just going to do it.

LA: (18:30)
Cause I didn’t like the feeling of you should have done something where you didn’t eat. So I kind of operated from that idea is at the end of the day, I have to be okay with me. I have to be able to sit with me. It’s not as, it’s less about people’s ideas. It’s more about will I be sitting here for three hours obsessing about the fact that I didn’t say that thing or do that day. And if I will, you know what? No, just do it. Do it, whatever fall happens. But at least you won’t have the moments of so it’s one of those like having a life of Oh well instead of what if yeah, the writing thing and, and I, I started realizing that a lot of my, the best thing that I’ve done with the best since I’ve happened for me have been things that I’ve done in the middle of being afraid of saying that thing that felt scary.

LA: (19:24)
Choosing to not apply for a job cause I was like, I think I should make this writer’s thing work. All the things that I’ve done that have paid off by dividends, the Ted talk that you’re talking about that has like four, 4 million views. I was afraid of that talk, turned it down twice because I was afraid I wasn’t ready for it. One of my friends ended up being like, Hey, you’re not everybody get this done. You can, you can write this Ted talk in two weeks and kill it. And I was like, okay. So in those moments too, it helps when you have people who can reflect those backs to us and be like, you don’t have the courage right now. I’m going to give you the courage that you should have.

RV: (20:01)
Let’s talk about speaking for a second cause that that’s become a big part of your current primary business model.

LA: (20:07)

RV: (20:09)
If somebody wants to be a speaker, like how did that start happening for you? Cause it sounds like, you know, this was a casual blog and then it was like okay, now I’m writing and suddenly I’m a writer. And then how does that become speaking? Like where do you start getting speaking engagements? Do people come to you? Did you go to the [inaudible]

LA: (20:29)
Yeah. How did all that start to happen? Funny enough, 95% of speaking engagements that I’ve had, people came to me today. Yeah. Not even back then. My first speaking engagement was because somebody came to me. So my professional background after I graduated from college and I was like doctor is not it. I really fell in love with marketing communications cause I had an internship during college. So when I graduated I ended up getting a marketing internship for a nonprofit in Chicago, a journalism nonprofit. And I was like, this is where I belong. I was usually the person who introduced the organizations I worked for to social media cause I’m an early adopter of all of these platforms. Facebook I’ve been on since July, 2004. So marketing was big. And then I had a full time job working for another organization that actually taught nonprofits how to tell their stories using social media. And April, 2010 I got laid off that job but a month later they hired me to come do us a workshop, a Twitter strategy workshop. Wow. First ever paid speaking engagement

RV: (21:37)
From the people that fired you? Yes, I do. As a consultant, like as a trainer. I love that. That is a great story.

LA: (21:46)
First ever speaking engagement. And it’s funny because I have no clue. What was I thinking? Oh I am a speaker out. They literally was like, we want you to come lead this Twitter strategy training. All right, great. And I did that and then I got speaking engagements. I got invited to do a panel at blogger, which was the large, at that point was the largest community of women writers in the world. And they have your moderate a panel with Lizz Winstead who’s co-founder co-creator of the daily show. So like I felt like I was Forrest Gump, like Forrest Gump just stumbled upon these major moments. That was me. People were like, and then people saw me in that room. I got my next speaking engagement out of that room. So it was basically kind of organically grew. And then the more I spoke, the better I got and here we are.

RV: (22:36)
So a lot of it was just, it’s been a journey. It sounds like a lot of consistency and then a lot of courage to just be vulnerable and say what you feel like you’re supposed to say, even if you are scared to say it at certain times.

LA: (22:54)
Yeah. I, I called myself a 16 year overnight success. People see the hockey, the hockey stick success and think it just happened. I’m like, it was 16 years of consistency and I’m the person who stayed at the party and you couldn’t forget me because I was there the whole time. And I continue to be there. That hard work, that consistency. And my, I’m a, I’m a forever student. At no point do I think all right, I have made it. I am here. There’s no, there’s nothing left to do. I’m always evolving and what I’m doing, what I’m speaking on, what I’m teaching, I’m who I am and my audience has been able to grow with me and see all of that, which is why my book instantly hit the times list without like a lot of, shoot, I didn’t do any morning national, I wasn’t on the today show, I wasn’t on good morning America.

LA: (23:48)
But my, my book end up number five because my audience has seen that consistency. They’ve been along on the journey, they’ve seen the story and the transparency and they also see the courage. And I think sometimes we think courage is the big moments of maybe you go March or you know, you sign a big check. Or I think courage is in the tiny moments every day that the times that we tell ourselves, okay, this piece of doubt that I have, I’m going to move it to the side and do that thing anyway. That thing that I’m afraid of, I’m just going to do it anyway. Like I don’t believe fearlessness means lack of lack of fear. I think fearlessness means you are acutely afraid of that thing are you fear it, but you say, you know what, I’m going to do it anyway. So that fearlessness also carries me through.

RV: (24:37)
Yeah. That is so good. One other question. Well I actually have two other questions, but just in terms of the early adapter, cause I see that, I see that very much in you. Like you’ve been early adapter. Is there anything that you’re paying attention to right now, whether it’s like a social media platform or a topic or a trend or like is there anything that just kind of like has Luvvie’s attention that you’re going, this is coming and you all should be ready for it?

LA: (25:07)
Ooh, that’s good. People always talk about like video is the next frontier of content, which of course because people love that. But I think the people who are really doing well right now are creating content that does not feel like it’s attached to any larger strategy, if that makes sense. It feels very organic. It feels like you’re getting a glimpse to somebody’s life. Like the influencers who are doing very well right now are the ones who are telling you about their day. Even when they’re not sitting in front of a computer screen doing the work. They’re the ones who are able to move units and sell books. The ones who people feel personally attached to. I think now people are less people. You might have a million followers and you get a lot of likes, but if you drop a tee shirt and you can’t sell 30, then you really see that right now people are putting a lot of stock into feeling like they know somebody and whether it’s video or in written word, that’s huge. That’s huge and will continue to be huge. But in terms of platform, I’m seeing how all the platforms are mimicking each other’s content. I really think Instagram is currently the space that people are spending a lot of their time in. Yeah.

RV: (26:28)
Are you on TiKTok? Just curious

LA: (26:31)
Know what’s funny? I was thinking about TikToc. I’m not on TikTok. It used to be called what Musically? I feel like my job is not to be on every platform. TikTok, I’m gonna leave, I’m gonna leave to the demographic that is at right now, which kind of like what teenagers. I’m not on TikTok yet because my audience is also not on TikTok, so we actually wouldn’t even make sense. You don’t TikTok right now.

RV: (26:55)
Yeah. Yep. No, that’s an interesting thing. I, you know, we made that decision with Snapchat long time ago. Just a conscious decision, I’m not going to do it. I don’t regret that. I don’t regret that one. There’s a few that there’s, there’s a few that we’ve missed. We were super late to the party with Instagram and like, you know, well that there was some other stuff going on there, but I had to, I’m, I’m re had to restart my Instagram profile here recently. I’m restarted it from scratch. So but I think anyways, it’s just, it’s, I think it’s fascinating to see people like you and go, like, what are you thinking about? So Instagram is really like the place.

LA: (27:30)
I love what it’s changed considerably in terms of where I spend my most of my social media time. It used to be Facebook and then Twitter, and then Instagram. It’s completely switched. Instagram and then Facebook and Twitter less

RV: (27:44)
[Inaudible]. But like you’re saying, it’s, it’s the idea of people feeling like they know you, like they actually know you that is really working.

LA: (27:53)
And I think that’s, I think that’s super cool. So, yeah.

RV: (27:56)
Where do you want people to go lovey? If they want to get to know you, they want to follow you and like check you out and see what you’re up to.

LA: (28:03)
So I am all on all the platforms besides Snapchat and ticktock. [inaudible] I also have the benefit of being a one name social user person so you can find me on all the platforms. But just my first name, L U E and fun fact love. He’s actually a a British slang that really kind of means darlin nice. I do Googled lovey 15 years ago, the D the definition in Marion website would’ve come, come up number one, you to Google. Love you. Now it’s all me.

RV: (28:41)
That’s bad. That’s good. That’s a good thing. You own it. Pretty soon you can be like Oprah and you could be down to one letter. You’ll just be hell. Oh,

LA: (28:53)
That is a power right there.

RV: (28:55)
And yeah, just, Oh and like you will haveL magazine and you know, like

LA: (29:02)
That’s just saying, listen, Oprah has crowned me and her one of her lists. I was like, you know, I would not mind being the heir apparent, but yeah, push the envelope a little bit more. I’m, I’m slightly edgier, but she’s amazing. She’s, she’s actually goals in terms of the evolution of career. She didn’t just stick to being the person who was doing one thing and she was a Chicago girl and made everybody come to her. I’m in Chicago also and I love my city. So I was like, there’s already a model for that.

RV: (29:33)
Yeah. Yes, there’s, there’s certainly is lovey, I want to just thank and I think I get a lot of, I draw a lot of courage from watching you and just seeing, you know, looking at your body of work and what you’ve done and just, you know, willing to use your voice to do good in the world and do what you believe is right and all of that. And I think that’s really, really tremendous. And I just, I, I’m so thankful that you made some time to share with us. And I also want to applaud your consistency, girl. I mean you’ve been doing it for a long time and just like it’s, it really, you know, it’s just, it’s just a really, you’re a really great story and I think people can can learn a lot from just watching you and following your steps.

LA: (30:20)
Thank you. And I, and I’m really proud of my book. I’m judging you because I like is the manifesto my thoughts like my larger thoughts but on paper. So I hope you can go get it and yeah, follow me on all social. I’m on Instagram specifically also lovey. Rory, you are incredible because when I saw the podcast you did with Lewis, two and a half pages of notes, I sent it to all my friends and I was like you have got to watch this because it was like a masterclass and that’s what I became obsessed with brand builders group now and I believe I like posted all over Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and I was like y’all have to see this and then you DMD me. It’s incredible. I I respect the work that you’re doing. I think it’s amazing and glad you exist because this work is necessary.

RV: (31:07)
Yeah. Well thank you. That makes me, that makes me feel good. Well, let’s rise together, my friend and inspire, inspire people. So we wish you all the best. We’ll definitely stay in touch. This won’t be the last time lovey. I gie everybody. She is fantastic. Make sure that you go follow her and get the book. I am judging you. And there it is. All right, my friend. Take care. Thanks Laurie.