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Christie Lawler of CJL CONSULTiNG: “Trust yourself ”

Trust yourself — You are the only person you have to live with and please for your entire life. Don’t do yourself a disservice by allowing your perceptions of how others perceive you stop you from going after what you want. As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the […]

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Trust yourself — You are the only person you have to live with and please for your entire life. Don’t do yourself a disservice by allowing your perceptions of how others perceive you stop you from going after what you want.


As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Christie Lawler.

Christie Lawler is the Founder and Owner of CJL CONSULTiNG, a marketing consulting firm offering a full suite of marketing, branding, sales strategy and training services for local, national and global companies. In 2018, Christie launched the philanthropic arm of her company — The WITI Group, a 501(c)(3) organization — which allows her to dedicate her time to fulfilling her true purpose of building the next generation of female leaders. Christie is soon to be a published author and speaks nationally on the topics of marketing, cultural development strategies and branding.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path

In my formative years, I dreamed of being a writer which eventually turned into the goal of crafting stories as a videographer or photojournalist for a global news organization. I studied broadcast journalism at Arizona State with every intention of pursuing my dreams. Then life intervened and I met my husband and right after graduation, we moved overseas to Germany where I started my career as a newspaper reporter for the local paper. This job helped me realize that I didn’t possess the level of talent required to make a career of telling stories in a visual medium. But I had always loved writing and being a reporter gave me the creative outlet to craft and tell stories and I was hooked.

After a year as a reporter, I was offered a role to start the regional marketing office. I turned it down initially because I had zero experience in marketing and felt like failure was imminent. But the leadership persisted, and I accepted the role. They allowed me to continue writing for the paper while taking on my new responsibilities and it was perfect. I was known as the “training junkie” as I signed up for every class and educational or professional development session available. I enjoyed so much success in this role and was so passionate that I eventually landed a job back in the U.S. where I had my first foray into beverage marketing.

This was a completely new journey and satisfied my need for a creative outlet while also building a passion for the hospitality business that hadn’t existed when I was working on the front lines of hotels, bars and restaurants throughout my teens and twenties. I spent several years in this side of the business before moving into sales roles in national accounts for several global brands. Upon leaving the sales side, I re-engaged in my own consulting agency which I had started in 2009 while finishing my MBA.

Today, I own CJL CONSULTiNG, a niche marketing agency that serves the restaurant, hotel and entertainment chains across the U.S. But it wasn’t enough for me to be in business to make a living — I felt like there was a larger purpose for my life. In 2018, I fired my only client and I pivoted my company and launched our philanthropic arm as a way to give back to the industry that gave me my career — and the options to work for myself as a bonus. Our foundation, The WITI Group is a 501(c)(3) that is more than 60 female volunteers strong across the country. We are all either founders or CEOs or sitting at the VP and Director level of our national/global organizations. To fund our foundation, I created and host the only non-profit, female-only, invitation-only conference in our business which we host annually on a working farm in the heart of Sonoma.

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Everyone faces hard times, and I believe those are the times that define us and build our character and resiliency. My first and second bosses were both absolutely terrible. They mocked me, diminished me and would actually go so far as to apologize for my presence in meetings when I was present because I had a role to play. It was awful and these women sent me home in tears regularly. But I loved the work, so I stayed and never let them see me cry. I never had the guts to stand up to either one of them, but I did manage to learn something… not to internalize other people’s anger. I was successful in my efforts earning awards and accolades for my work. When I relocated back to the U.S., I encountered different challenges including repeated sexual assaults by a client in a corporate work environment. My employer at the time didn’t have my back when I asked for help. While that was abhorrent to me, it taught me to stand up for myself. So, I am grateful to have taken away something positive from the experience.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Drive comes from within. It comes from a sense of wanting to do more, be more and be better. I didn’t want to go down on others’ terms. I wanted to thrive on my own. It took me years to realize that I was the person holding myself back. And when that epiphany arrived, it changed everything. I had something to prove to myself — and to the woman I wanted to become. I always was a stubborn person. I decided that instead of being ashamed of that attribute, that I could use it to my advantage. I was tired of being told what I couldn’t do and something deep in my core was telling me to stop allowing others to inform me of my limitations. And from that realization — my company was born.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

I recognize that the decision to abandon my revenue stream and follow a different direction was like flying on a trapeze without a safety net. But my instincts were too loud and too strong for me to continue to ignore them. So, I leapt off the edge and created my own safety net. Grit was the missing component of my career before I finally started trusting myself and listening to that little voice that had only grown louder over the years. Within two months of listening to my inner thoughts and preserving with only grit and ideas, I had landed new clients and was launching my foundation. I was realizing my dreams!

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

Only five? I feel like I could write a book on this! Well, I have actually… but it won’t be available until 2021, so stay tuned. Five pieces of advice…

Trust yourself — You are the only person you have to live with and please for your entire life. Don’t do yourself a disservice by allowing your perceptions of how others perceive you stop you from going after what you want.

Listen to the good — All too often we take in the bad things we hear about ourselves as truths, but we don’t treat the positive the same way. This has been particularly hard for me as I felt that people who say positive things about must not know me very well. I am riddled with flaws. And I am aware of them and I am trying to fix them. But listening — really, truly listening — to the good things that people tell me about myself has been a huge advantage. I always want people to hear my positive affirmations that I give, so why did I not do the same for myself? I changed that as part of my emotional discovery process and now I am able to graciously accept praise and then internalize it.

Don’t allow the negatives to write your story — We all have negatives. That’s just life. And negatives are a gift because if we use them to grow, we can only expand our horizons. I used to allow the unsavory to determine my personal story and awareness. All that did was create self-loathing while also hindering my personal development process. I no longer allow people who don’t like me to affect my self-perception. And this is so hard! Like, crazy hard! But I realized that all of the people that I felt didn’t like me had a common thread — I actually didn’t like them either! So why were their opinions given any merit? Once this process evolved in my brain, life changed.

Self-doubt is the only thing holding you back — This is especially true for women. The best example is by looking to the culinary arts. Females are taught to cook from our genesis. Our toys often revolve around cooking. Jokes are often made about women who can’t cook — and inversely — men who can. This doesn’t add up when one considers the statistic that men make up the 90% majority of executive chefs in the world. How is it that women should be “good enough” to cook for their friends, families and guests — but they shouldn’t aspire to cook professionally? There is some serious logic missing here. And this is just one example — there are plenty of others. Don’t doubt yourself. You are in control of your destiny. Take charge, drop the excuses and press forward!

Accept that you have the power to change the narrative — What someone else thinks of you is not your story. It doesn’t define you. Outside of your parents, you’re the only person who truly knows “you”, so use that to your advantage. Don’t like the story? Turn the page or change the book. Write your own story in your unique way. If we all allowed others to always determine our fate, we would never realize our true potential.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely, I have been so lucky to have two people in my career that helped to shape the leader I would become. The brightest was a man named Teddy Mac (to those who knew him) and before he passed away unexpectedly, he had given me the greatest gifts of my career that created ripple effects of positive momentum in my personal life.

Teddy was a friend before he was my boss, but he was never just a boss. He was a leader in the truest form. He motivated me to always reach further by promoting the strengths he saw in me. He was a mentor without ever even trying to be one as his supportive and guiding style was always genuine. He had my back and we were an unstoppable team.

When Teddy passed in late 2015, my world went into a tailspin as we were very close, and I had just spoken to him the night before. I was in shock and it took me months to stop feeling a constant ache of loss every day. And it hasn’t gone away, it’s just become part of what fuels me to do more and be better. Almost five years later, he is still a guiding force in my life as I think about him every day. Teddy was also the person that taught me the most about how to be a positive leader and never just a boss.

I think Teddy would be so proud of how I’ve turned his legacy into my personal and professional ethos.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have turned my success into a positive impact in two ways — the first is obvious with out philanthropic arm. I am creating a brighter path forward for all women in our business through The WITI Group. But the second only became clear during COVID.

I felt a deep need to help sustain our business and all the amazing people with whom I have worked with for the past 20 years. I pivoted my structure to allow for the creation of contract sales jobs that are open to all of our industry members that need work. We currently have two technology products and two services that are available to be sold. I am using these streams to create jobs for others. I have been out of work in my career — and it is not a position I wish on anyone. So, while I can’t do everything for everyone, I can do some things for some people. It’s not enough by my scale — but at least it is something.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are! And I’m so grateful for this question! Aside from our business pivots that I have mentioned, we are about to launch the first CPG brand from the company. This is borne of an idea that I had on a vacation last year and now it is in the final R&D stages before soft launch. This product line will hopefully not only build the company’s revenue streams, but also provide additional opportunities for those amazing salespeople in my network!

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

To me it’s simple — but also easier in theory than in practice. Treat your employees the best way you’ve been treated by a boss or leader and then add to that. Everyone knows that employees don’t leave good bosses, so if you value your workforce, give them a reason to stay. We all have been treated well — and we all have been abused — and we can tell the stories. The question is, what do you want someone to say about their time working for you?

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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Thank you, I consider that to be high praise! I am trying to inspire a movement to equalize the playing field for women in the hospitality industry. I want to live to see the day where a woman can exist in a room full of only men without any fear for her personal safety. When that day comes, we will truly be equal. My small role in this effort is not only through WITI, but through my sons. I am trying to raise men that will always be respectful toward others regardless of gender. But especially, to recognize that a strong woman is not a threat, but an ally. I would like to translate WITI into other industries as well so that all women have an equal power and voice.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have too many to count! I am always inspired by words and ideas. Every year for The WITI Conference as part of the goodie bag, I produce artistic inspirational quotes on 10×10 canvases and place them around the property. When the attendees find the quote that speaks to them most, they choose it to take home to continue their inspiration all year long. I gathered about 50 different quotes, some famous, some anonymous and then I created one of my own to go into the mix. I was curious to see which of these women that I consider to be my tribe would choose the quote I created. Turns out, it was chosen by two of my closest friends who had no idea that I had authored it.

My quote came from a place I found myself in when creating my company and my foundation. It is simple — “When the door closes, turn around and kick down the wall.” I had done exactly that in my career. I had a reached a point where I felt like I was constantly viewing doors as “closed” to me. So, instead of turning back, I pressed forward and wrote my own rules. I realized that I was the only person holding myself back and allowing blocks to be placed on my personal and professional development. I kicked down that wall and haven’t looked back.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

The best place to reach me is via LinkedIn, Christie J. Lawler. And the best way to reach our company or foundation is through our website, cjlconsults.com.

We can also be found through these links as well:
On Facebook @cjlconsulting, @thewitigroup
On Instagram @cjl_consulting_llc and @witigroup
On LinkedIn CJLCONSULTiNG LLC and The WITI Group

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share what we are doing with your audience. Your work is creating ripple effects of positivity for others simply by shining a light on the impactful change agents among us.

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