I created ReallyRather specifically as a safe place people could go when they want to escape the stressful news cycle drama. As a working journalist I’m a news junkie, my husband has taught me to step away from the news — ignore the cell phone alerts, the internet popups and the angry emails that try to lure me into their outrage. We don’t listen to the news on NPR in the morning over breakfast as we always used to do. Instead we listen to lively music to get us going in a positive direction. I would advise people just to tune out the negative media and spend your time listening to, reading or viewing things that are more positive and less controversial. Especially before bed. The last thing we need is look at our social media and news feeds before we turn off the light and go to sleep. That can stimulate us in all the wrong ways and cause us to lose sleep, so we’re tired and aggravated the following day, getting enmeshed a very negative cycle.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Johnson Mandell.
Lisa Johnson Mandell is a journalist and author, specializing in lifestyle and entertainment. She is Southern California born and bred, but has spent a significant amount of time traveling and living abroad in Spain and Mexico. She is blissfully married to the love of her life, and when not laughing with him and creating content for various media outlets, she spends the majority of time managing her giant white Labradoodle Frankie Feldman.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My sister and I had a pretty basic Southern California, all-American childhood — ponytails, cat-eye glasses, stingray bikes with purple banana seats, dance lessons, swim team (butterfly and backstroke), fiction reading fanaticism, cheerleading, slumber parties and church on Sundays.
I earned a degree in Journalism, putting myself through college in three years with the help of an academic scholarship and dozens of part time jobs. Since then, I’ve worked for many major media corporations, both start-ups and well established entities, in print, broadcast and digital.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Nothing is ever as sunny as it seems on the surface. There were devastating challenges underneath it all — everyone has their own cross to bare. I chose at a very young age not to let the difficulties define me. I like to think they’ve helped me to relate to people from all walks of life, and to see the sparks of brilliance in everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not one for quotes in specific, but there is one particular belief that has carried me through darkness and light and kept me on an ascending path. That belief is, “We always have a choice.” We can choose the way we respond to others. We can choose to be kind or cruel. We can choose to accept or reject. We can choose our words. We can choose to apologize or not. We can’t control other people, but we can control our own choices. Taking responsibility for ourselves and our choices gives us remarkable power and freedom.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I am a voracious reader — I probably go through a book a week (Thank heavens for my Kindle, or our house would be overstuffed with fiction — not all of it good.) I am heavily influenced by whatever I’m reading at the time. The book that had the most impact on me recently was probably American Dirt, a remarkable testimony of the human resilience and the power of love. It’s a reminder that no matter how difficult things get in my life, I have no right to complain.
Also, myriad films have had an impact on me — That’s why I’m a film critic. I could go on for days about them.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Communication and content creation have always been my passions. I’d written three non-fiction books published by major publishers, I’d worked in radio and television news, and had worked for a number of major websites, covering entertainment and lifestyle. I was happily working away as a film critic for radio stations throughout the US and the UK when the pandemic hit, and running the website AtHomeInHollywood.com, plus writing about lifestyle topics for a website owned by a major media corporation. I was also very much involved in the Broadcast Film Critics Association, playing a significant role in our annual Critics Choice Awards.
Once the pandemic hit, however, theaters closed, films stopped being released, awards ceremonies went virtual, my film review services were not exactly in high demand, and I lost a number of clients.
Thank goodness for my one healthcare client, a newly launched CBD brand called BioFit 360, which had hired me to help them with PR and marketing.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
With no films to review and fewer outlets to review them, I turned my full attention to the CBD company. I looked at this as a possible way to actually help people, rather than to merely entertain them.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
The president of the CBD company came to me, looking for ways to promote their products, which are aimed at a female demographic. Since most CBD companies are not allowed to advertise on Google or Facebook, nor sell on Amazon, the “aha” moment was when we came up with the idea of starting a general interest website that could carry CBD advertising, while giving women a place to go online where they would find humor, good ideas and inspiration, without the anxiety of politics and the pandemic. It would be a fabulous, relaxing, non-judgmental escape, if you will, from the stress and guilt we seem to come across every day.
Utilizing my extensive media, public relations and entertainment industry contacts, within about three months and at a cost of less than 1,500 dollars, I was able to launch ReallyRather.com, “where celebrities and experts share their five favorite things in the categories of Entertainment, Lifestyle, Wellness, Home and Food & Drink.”
How are things going with this new initiative?
Take a look at it. I am thrilled with what’s been produced. It’s a professional yet engaging website more than 100 pages deep. Our traffic is growing exponentially, and our SEO is thriving. We’re at a point now where I desperately need more help, and I look forward to giving work to other talented writers and content creators who may have hit hard times as I had. That’s the next step.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It’s gotta be the hubby, who has supported me through thick and thin. I got married for the first time in my mid-40’s, and truly believe he was worth the wait. I like to think this gives hope to other women who find themselves single in their 30s, 40s or 50’s.
But I digress. As an example of how he supports me with ReallyRather.com, knowing didn’t have a budget for a copy editor, he volunteered to proofread the entire website in a matter of days, staying up into the wee hours of the morning to get the job done before launch. He also puts up with me when the pressure of it makes me cranky. (Or when I don’t have the energy to choose not to be cranky).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I’ve been thrilled with the reception ReallyRather has been receiving. One friend, who works in a lofty position at one of the world’s leading entertainment companies, told me she loved the site so much she wanted to write for it, and didn’t care that I currently have a freelance budget that I would think would be beneath her. “I just want to be a part of it,” she told me. “I want to get back to my journalism roots and write articles that can actually make a difference.”
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
To be honest, I’ve been so crazy busy creating, launching and running ReallyRather that I haven’t had much time for introspection — we just launched Sept. 1. I have been working in media for so long I knew pretty much what to expect in the baby stages.
But I do wish I would have listened more attentively when the young people in my life tried to teach me more about social media. Outside of Facebook, I’m a social media disaster. I always figured I could hire some sharp younger person to do social media for me. But alas, my budget does not currently support that. I jump at the chance to listen to anyone who has social media advice. I only wish I had done that earlier, and had more time to seek it out.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
That’s a GREAT question. I created ReallyRather specifically as a safe place people could go when they want to escape the stressful news cycle drama. As a working journalist I’m a news junkie, my husband has taught me to step away from the news — ignore the cell phone alerts, the internet popups and the angry emails that try to lure me into their outrage. We don’t listen to the news on NPR in the morning over breakfast as we always used to do. Instead we listen to lively music to get us going in a positive direction. I would advise people just to tune out the negative media and spend your time listening to, reading or viewing things that are more positive and less controversial. Especially before bed. The last thing we need is look at our social media and news feeds before we turn off the light and go to sleep. That can stimulate us in all the wrong ways and cause us to lose sleep, so we’re tired and aggravated the following day, getting enmeshed a very negative cycle.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
As cliché as it sounds, I would start a “Choose kindness” movement. Most of the world’s problems could be solved if people would simply Choose Kindness first.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
That’s an easy one. I have interviewed almost every celebrity in Hollywood, yet the person I would most love to have lunch with is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has created one of the most inclusive parliaments in the world and done a phenomenal job protecting her country during the pandemic. I’ve spent time in New Zealand, and it has a very special place in my heart. The fact that they would elect and re-elect a leader the caliber of Ms. Ardern speaks volumes.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can find me on websites ReallyRather.com and AtHomeInHollywood.com, on Twitter I’m @HomeInHollywood and @ReallyRather. On Instagram they’ll find me at LisaJohnsonMandell and Really.Rather On Facebook they can follow me at Lisa Johnson Mandell and Really Rather.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!