The power of social media. For many years, I took social media as something more fun than anything. And while there is plenty of negativity in the social media world, I have come to respect the power of social media, especially with regards to advancing social causes. I didn’t have much of a social media presence when I launched my first novel, yet because of our ability to understand it, the book sold in 7 countries around the world in less than a week.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing
Aalia Lanius, Executive Producer, Social Entrepreneur, Multiple-Award-Winning Novelist and host of the award-nominated podcast show, “UNSUGARCOATED with Aalia”.
As the founder and President of UNSUGARCOATED Media, 501c3 media production enterprise, creating social impact through storytelling, she is a thought-leader, novelist, and creative who shares her personal struggles and triumphs to offer inspiration and help survivors of trauma lead mentally healthier lives. Her most recent novel garnered praise and three international awards for representation of multicultural fiction. Her podcast was nominated for Best Use of Podcast for the 2020 Shorty Social Good Awards.
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?
I grew up in Napa, California with the maternal side of my family as a result of parents that divorced before I was two years old. I describe my childhood as both amazing and horrible. My family was very into the outdoors and full of strong-willed, creative and business-minded personalities. I had three uncles that were professional comedians and some of them I couldn’t even be around without a tissue because I would laugh so hard, I would cry.
Yet, in reality, there was a lot of trauma that I endured as a kid, not all at the hands of my family, but it happened and because most kids I knew didn’t seem to have these things happening to them, I felt different and I just remember always trying to find where I fit in. Whether it was a new school, because my mother moved so many times, that from kindergarten to 7th grade, I never completed one academic school year in less than two schools.
I’m a product of a multicultural family, with an immigrant father and roots on my mother’s side that go back a considerable number of generations in the US. As a young girl that looked different than the people in my family, and the majority of the kids I went to school with, I grew up struggling with low self-esteem and lack of confidence in myself, yet, I was sharp, energetic and incredibly resourceful.
Due to family issues, I found myself independent, and homeless at the tender age of 14 years old. I entered adulthood with a lack of support that I perceived to be what “normal” parents did, furthering the internal narrative that I was told myself — I’m “different.”
Ultimately, I realized that I was far from an isolated case, and if anything I embrace the unique aspects about me and the value I can bring to others that do share my experiences. This has provided the ability to relate and empathize with people that have gone through similar traumas, showing up as a reminder that there is hope in the dark and our resilience is our superpower.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I don’t waste time others wish they had.“
In 2009, when I became part of the cancer community and began making connections with other fighters, it changed a lot for me personally. I had started the fight alone, but because of them I found such hope and inspiration. Yet, there is this reality that not all of us get the “happy ending” when it feels like a life is cut short. In that subsequent year, I lost 7 of my amazing friends to cancer or complications related to cancer and over the years, I’ve continued to lose many more. Most of them were younger than me, had children with similar ages as my own, and I had truly connected with them as a warrior sister or brother.
In 2019, I lost one of my best friends, Alexandra Cortes, who had battled metastatic cancer for about 18 years, in and out of remission. After 5 rounds, she succumbed and being at her funeral and seeing photos of us and our kids over the years flash up on a screen near the casket where she lay, was heart wrenching, because I knew that going forward I would only have the memory of those amazing moments together.
Being her friend and a confidant, I also knew the fears she had about leaving her kids behind. Losing her was hard, just as all the other incredible people, but what I knew to be true is that someone like Alexandra embraced life in any way that she could, no matter the risk. We agreed that quality of life is all that we have. As we got closer to the end of her life and I saw posts on Facebook, asking for a miracle, in my head, I was screaming, “You guys — we’ve been living the miracle all along!”
Every hug, every kiss and every time we get to say “hello” and “goodbye” to someone we love, that is the miracle. For me, knowing how fortunate I am that each day, with every breath I take, I’m getting the opportunity to do something that someone doesn’t have the ability to do, and I refuse to waste it. In honor of myself and especially in honor of those that I have lost.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Resilience, integrity, and courage. As I went through a divorce in 2014. During that summer, I distinctly remember going on a hike at Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles and taking the harder trail with a couple of other people. One of whom was a guy I was dating. We came to this intense hill that just made me freak out internally. Inside my head, my inner voice was screaming , Go the other way! You are crazy and there is no way you can climb this!
Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was on a date, whom I married in 2016, and a matter of my personal pride, I surely might have given up, but I didn’t. I recall collecting myself, taking a deep breath and focusing on just one footstep at a time. Before I knew it, I had arrived at the top. I glanced back and my internal voice said, look how far you’ve come!
In that moment, some of the best and worst moments of my life flashed in my head — the physical, sexual and emotional abuse as a child I endured, the cancer I had beat three times and the health challenges that I have as a result, such as two autoimmune diseases, one which literally makes it difficult to breathe. The businesses I had built, and the toxic marriage I had finally found the courage to leave and gain full custody of my kids. I was being brave enough to show up for myself everyday at that point in my life, and standing at that crest, I embraced my resilience and my courage.
And when everything seemed to fall apart, I showed integrity by never changing who I was as a person, staying true to my commitment of being a mother and representation of a strong woman.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
Entrepreneurship came easy to me, more than likely because my mother was an entrepreneur herself, owning her own businesses at times. For myself, early on, I was always doing more than one thing. I either had two jobs or I had a side business on the side of a full-time job.
For a while I was working independently providing services in the music space as a promotional campaign manager for artists and A&R Representative work for independent record labels. I traveled and had incredible moments with this business that I ran very low-key, while I worked in the medical field as well.
It was a bit of stigma in my mind perhaps, because though I had creatives in my family, no one person had done massively well in the industry and eventually, they all got “day jobs.” So, while I indulged my love of music and business efforts there, I worked my way up quite quickly to management positions in the medical world and before long, stepped out on my own and at 25 years old, launching my first practice management and medical billing company. This was my first business venture where I had employees that I was responsible for. I would love to say that I always made the right decisions, but while I was passionate and willing to put in the work, I definitely have bumps and bruises from that time of my life and a ton of lessons learned on what NOT to do.
Yet, it wasn’t all bad and by the time I hit my late 30’s I had a hand in the success of the business my former spouse and I built as dealers of the wireless carrier, MetroPCS. Looking back I can say that I truly believe one of the biggest reasons for the success of that business was the ethics I observed and the culture that I purposefully sought to create. This business grew to generate millions of dollars annually and when I divorced in 2014, I let go and did not attempt to retain any part of the business in order to more quickly come to a peaceful resolution.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
Reinventing myself began when I really took a step back and really determined what my purpose is. Once I focused on my health and started truly being honest with myself it came to me — I’m meant to create social impact through storytelling. It started out with me sharing my story, but it eventually evolved to me wanting to amplify other stories that I knew could help someone else.
In 2018, I launched my career as a social impact focused novelist and in 2019, with the release of a second novel I became a multiple-award winning novelist for writing a story that speaks to multiculturalism and is taking on the difficult topic of racism and white supremacy ideology and the danger it poses to society.
In 2019, I founded UNSUGARCOATED Media, a 501c3 media production company, and now I lead a team of talented creatives in a mission-first driven social enterprise. As a mentor, I am helping others learn not just how to create media but to purposefully be accountable for the messages that are created through the different mediums. One medium we use is podcasting, and recently, UNSUGARCOATED with Aalia was nominated for Best Use of Podcast for the 2020 Shorty Social Good Award.
The organization collaborates with people across the entertainment industry, in both film and music, in an effort to raise awareness and create media that ends isolation, builds community, and brings education to survivors of trauma.
In my second chapter, I am a passionate and thriving media executive, promoting the concept of socially conscious content. This is providing me the opportunity to be a thought-leader amongst my peers. Lastly, I didn’t allow others to dictate who I am, rather I just decided to show them.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
It began with wanting to empower others. I would get messages from friends who wanted to share that my life had inspired them, but the reality was they didn’t have the full picture. They saw that I remained strong, but they didn’t always know what I was going through and that was largely due to cultural beliefs that you didn’t really share “everything” with people outside of your immediate family, and even then, perhaps not.
Especially parts of my life that I had spent years hiding away because of embarrassment or shame. Stepping into that mental freedom from judgement or fear of what anyone else thought, empowered me to sit down and begin this process. I found that through my artistry of storytelling, I could serve my community, which truly is survivors of trauma.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
When I knew that I wanted to truly use my writing skills to write creatively, my husband encouraged me to take a script-writing course for TV and film, just to see how it made me feel. I remember that it was led by some incredible women, one of which was Hollywood film producer and director, Julia Verdin and that class really helped my confidence level and set me on the course of writing my first novel.
Though I was nervous, that faded and I was able to truly manifest the power of my art because I knew that with the business skills I had in marketing and publicity, that I could get the book out. I chose to bet on myself and when my first novel launched, it sold in countries around the world because of its message to people in toxic relationships — you deserve better.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
This initiative is going incredibly well. We operate with a team of over 15 people, excluding the leadership team and we have gained the support of incredible people in the media and film space. Some of the most notable supporters are people who have made a huge impact in the world, such as, Larry Namer, the co-founder of E! Entertainment and CEO of Metan Global, and Michael Uslan, the originator of the billion-dollar Batman film franchise.
People gravitate towards our mission and the UNSUGARCOATED brand. One thing that speaks to the impact is within our own organization. The majority of our team are college students who have been unable to attend school on campus. Their lives have been limited and they have not been able to have a typical college experience, removing opportunities to grow their network or even have jobs in the media field they are pursuing.
We really opened up our mentorship program in the summer of 2020 and as a result, our team is excited to feel that they can not only be part of something incredible, no matter where they are, they feel that their voices are being heard. It has been a huge honor to provide these men and women an opportunity to be motivated, when for so many it has been hard to find that.
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?
I am incredibly grateful to my husband, Joseph Lanius. With regards to the media industry, I consider myself quite fortunate to have him as a teacher and support. My husband has brought many films to the big and small screen and as a film producer, it is largely because of him that I have been able to curate a solid network in the film industry and gained the opportunities to continue growing and elevating.
Joseph has also most recently contributed and produced, THE CARD COUNTER (Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Willem Dafoe), THE VANISHED (Thomas Jane, Anne Heche), SEMPER FI (Jai Courtney, Nat Wolff) and INHERITANCE (Simon Pegg, Lily Collins), which premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.
Yet, as busy as he is, he takes the time to support me and considering that I gave birth to our daughter in January 2017 and released my first novel in 2018, and a second in 2019, it is without a doubt, something I could not have done if he didn’t help me the way he does. He is the first one to encourage me to chase my dream and I love the way he shows up everyday to make that something I can do.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The most interesting story is how COVID forced me to remove a limiting belief. Originally, with the podcast, I wouldn’t even like to consider guests that didn’t come into the studio to conduct the interview.
I held the belief that doing it via Zoom was not going to provide for chemistry, which I like to have for an interview. It turns out that being forced to do them virtually and though in person is preferred, it still makes an impact. We deal with the difficulties hoping the audience sees it for what it is worth, a sincere attempt at bettering the world.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
In August 2019, I produced an event called EmpowerCon, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I remember in the planning phase there was a day when it seemed that several things were not aligning and I began to ponder if I was truly capable of doing it. I considered if I was pushing something that wasn’t meant to be, but then I stopped and I simply asked myself, Why are you doing this?
The answer to myself was that I knew it would help people in my community, and not just anyone, but people that needed it most. With that, I moved forward and within a few days, the right things not only fell into place, and we did it. Later when I would talk to someone who attended the event and they would tell me that the principles they learned that day were still positively impacting them, even months later, reinforced what I told myself that day that I thought I couldn’t do it.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I feel fortunate enough to say that because of my previous experience with community building in the cancer community, it didn’t feel like I was embarking on something new, rather expanding it. I feel that my support system began forming in 2009. These were some of the first people to buy my books or donate to our cause and to this day, they are my most avid supporters, cheerleaders and source of inspiration for me.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
As I shared earlier, my childhood forced me to really learn to be uncomfortable at times, especially when it came to learning to do things that I didn’t want to, but had to. Believing that this is my time, the time I’ve envisioned all my life, is what allowed me to really launch the new chapter of my life.
A story that showcases that is when I had reached out to Larry Namer to collaborate. I was so nervous, but I believed in our mission and my desire to succeed was larger than my fear of failing. I remember being ecstatic when he accepted and it began a friendship and mentorship that gives me even more confidence in what is being built.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. 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.
- With my 1st organization, I wish I had really truly understood how much the rolodex you build as you do business is one of the most critical aspects of building a successful business. Though I currently have built a solid network, had I kept in touch or kept cultivating those relationships, I would have even more support now. For example, one of my friends from nearly 20 years ago is now one of the music world’s hottest producers. You never know who you will become, just as much as your friends.
- This is my second nonprofit organization, with the first being a support service organization for families with school-aged children while going through cancer treatment. I know now that I operate better with a social enterprise business model, which allows you to operate it more closely to a traditional business, and that is why this time is vastly different. Though the previous organization did help families, this time around it has been a much different and successful experience.
- People don’t just “buy” into your products, services, or causes — they invest energy and money into organizations that are aligned with their needs and as well as what touches their heart. I’ve noticed that the more I am authentic and vulnerable with the people I’m serving, the more they want to support because they relate and develop a sense of trust. That is also known as community building and for me with any of my businesses, that has been key. For example, giving back to the community as a business owner goes a long way and I remember one year I gave away 10 turkeys to random customers that won through a raffle we held. The impact on these customers was our goal, letting them know that they mattered and we were not there to just make money, but to give back and they become lifelong customers that way. It feels good to build a business on that type of foundation.
- The power of social media. For many years, I took social media as something more fun than anything. And while there is plenty of negativity in the social media world, I have come to respect the power of social media, especially with regards to advancing social causes. I didn’t have much of a social media presence when I launched my first novel, yet because of our ability to understand it, the book sold in 7 countries around the world in less than a week.
- Understanding the value of social digital currency, which means that you understand that engagement on social media platforms isn’t just about what you can get out of it, but also what you give to others. A like, comment, or share can help elevate people you follow and if you expect people to invest the time to throw some SDC your way, you should understand that it’s beneficial to the growth of any organization that you invest in others as well. It’s also the least expensive way to support organizations we care about.
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?
I believe in creating an empowerment movement, which is why UNSUGARCOATED Media was started. I am actively seeking to create a positive social impact giving support to growing artists, writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs. I believe spreading support will empower others to seek out their aspirations and be successful with their endeavors.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a sit down with Will Smith because of the way he has been able to use creativity to empower others. I admire the way he is able to appeal to so many and displays a philanthropic side. I would love to know more about what drives him to do so.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow us on: Instagram: https://instagram.com/unsugarcoatedmedia