Christie Lawler: “When the door closes, turn around and kick down the wall”

I am built of sheer will, determination, and tenacity. When faced with an obstacle, I find a way over, around, or through it. What gives me the greatest hope for the future is that people are surrounding each other with care and support in so many ways. The humanity that emerges from shared adversity is […]

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I am built of sheer will, determination, and tenacity. When faced with an obstacle, I find a way over, around, or through it. What gives me the greatest hope for the future is that people are surrounding each other with care and support in so many ways. The humanity that emerges from shared adversity is very inspiring to me. And I want to be one of those people who looks for a way to build and help others while we all face this constant stream of uncertainty.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic 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. Christie is soon to be a published author and speaks nationally on the topics of marketing, cultural development strategies, and branding. In 2018, Christie launched the philanthropic arm of her company — The WITI Group, a 501(c)(3) organization. This allows Christie to dedicate her time to fulfilling her true purpose of building the next generation of female leaders, both through her company and charity. Her foundation is supported by the annual WITI Conference which she created to be the only non-profit, invitation-only, and female-only empowerment conference in the hospitality industry. Her foundation has grown over the past two years to involve more than 65 volunteers to help other women nationally. The pinnacle of The WITI Group is providing mentorship as well as financial and emotional support to all women in the food and beverage industry as our future leaders.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I grew up in Litchfield Park — a small suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. My mom stayed at home with my younger sister and I until I was in the sixth grade and my father worked as a banker and entrepreneur while serving as a weekend warrior in the Army National Guard. I had a fairly idyllic upbringing… kind of like a Rockwell painting in real life.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I read everything I could get my hands on growing up and until I had kids in my late 30’s, I was reading constantly. I don’t get to enjoy that activity as much as I would like these days, but I loved Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I find her to be so inspiring from her childhood to her perseverance and intelligence to her complete grace under pressure. I admire her character as well as her nature. She is one of my heroes to be certain. I attended a stop on her tour with friends a few years back and I was needing some inspiration at the time. I left that arena with a full heart and a joyful spirit.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I have too many to count! I am always inspired by words and ideas. I host my own women’s conference (The WITI Conference) every year and 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 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 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.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

The foundation I created is aimed at supporting the future female leaders of the food and beverage industry regardless of their career stage. We are The WITI Group — a 501(c)(3) organization that supports others through mentorship as well as financial and emotional support when they find themselves in abusive or otherwise hostile work environments. We hope that through our efforts, gender inequality as well as instances of abuse and harassment will lessen as our visibility and mission evolve. We have a volunteer base of more than 65 women nationally in our industry who are all investing themselves in being a part of shaping the future of our business.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

I believe the word “hero” to be subjective in nature, as personal experiences often change and shape our definitions of the most common terms. So, for me, a hero is someone who stands out for what is right and stands up for others. Someone who puts the greater good in front of personal gain. In this sense, I aim for heroism in the example I set for my children. But I don’t refer to myself as a hero in the broader sense of the term. When I think of a hero, I think of the people in my life who have had the most positive impacts.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

That’s a big question… I don’t know if I have ever defined the concept for myself to this extent. In order to answer this, I will describe the behavioral traits of those I view as heroic in nature. Selflessness is the first word that comes to mind. To me, first responders are the ultimate examples of selfless people as they demonstrate the act of putting themselves behind the needs of others.

Honesty is another characteristic because one would rarely describe a greedy or unscrupulous individual as a hero. Honesty also takes strength of character because often doing what is right is not the path of least resistance.

Kindness also sticks out for me as I hold the position that all of humanity boils down to acts of kindness. Simply that one kind act for another even in its simplest form could have incredible ripple effects for others.

Bravery is probably the most common answer, but the way the word is defined would be unique to the individual’s perspective. I view bravery in this sense as stepping well outside of the comfort zone in the emotional sense and being vulnerable.

Strength is a word that wraps up many of the characteristics of a hero as it refers to the integrity of the spirit of the person…. Not the physical capacity.

I believe that everyone has the ability to be a hero to others and that optimism drives me forward in my efforts and helps me rebuild from times where I am disappointed. I don’t leap out of bed every day and pin on my hero badge, but I do want to be a hero to my children by demonstrating the principles I listed. I try to emulate the characteristics that I admire most in others. I also want to always demonstrate these characteristics in my work with The WITI Group as well as CJL CONSULTiNG.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

Heroism isn’t a conscious choice. It is most frequently a systematic pattern of behavior, approach to living, or guidepost concept for personal development. Heroic acts are often split-second decisions made under some kind of pressure but made because the person is already practicing strength, kindness, honesty, bravery or selflessness on a regular basis. Human nature is to listen to that internal driving force. Sometimes it is because we had a role model at a young age that gave us an idea to live up to for ourselves. Other times we are overcoming some painful time or memory and our healing process involves creating good for others. I relate to the latter of those driving forces as I created The WITI Group because I reached a point where I knew I needed to stand up for others as a catharsis in my recovery.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

I was prompted by my husband to seek trauma therapy to aid in my personal recovery from decades of abusive situations, primarily sexual assault in a work environment. In going through that process, I realized that although I had been through some terrible experiences, I didn’t identify as a victim. I felt like I had not only survived, but grown stronger and become more comfortable in my own skin because of those hard times. I realized that made me very fortunate. So, I knew I had to do something to help others that find themselves in similar or worse situations. I cannot claim that starting The WITI Group was completely altruistic because it has been so healing and powerful for me personally. I am very passionate about our mission and I derive a lot of strength from it.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My brightest personal hero is my husband of nearly 20 years. Brandon is an actual hero serving for more than 20 years in the Air Force before retiring just this year, but now even more so because in the midst of all of this craziness, he is now a stay-at-home dad. While I work to build CJL CONSULTiNG — and keep it alive — and work on creating more good works through The WITI Group, he is playing the role of an elementary school teacher and supporting all of my career needs. These acts are selfless as this is not the retirement plan that he had envisioned for himself just a few months ago.

My other hero is a former boss. His name was 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. He was a friend before he was my boss, but he was never just a boss. He was a leader in the truest form. Teddy 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.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

The unknown is often scary or intimidating, but the opportunities that come out of uncertainty are where I try to focus. I am most frightened by the possibility of losing my company and not being able to support my foundation. But fear is only a problem if you allow it to control your mindset and stop your growth. I am using the fear and stress that I am feeling right now to get more creative and expand our product and service lines so that CJL CONSULTiNG comes out of this stronger than we were when COVID took over. If I can keep finding new ways to innovate and help others, I can sustain the company for our team and sustain The WITI Group for the benefit of others.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

I am built of sheer will, determination, and tenacity. When faced with an obstacle, I find a way over, around, or through it. What gives me the greatest hope for the future is that people are surrounding each other with care and support in so many ways. The humanity that emerges from shared adversity is very inspiring to me. And I want to be one of those people who looks for a way to build and help others while we all face this constant stream of uncertainty.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

Opportunistic behavior distresses me. I loathe being disappointed in the character of others. I don’t understand it either. But I cannot allow myself to be bogged down by the unpleasant actions of others. I cannot move forward if I am only concerned with assigning my beliefs to the behavior of strangers — or even to people I know well. I have enough to keep my mind full, so I really try not to allow negative distractions to enter my view.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

Of course! We are all in this together globally and no one is entirely immune or unaffected. But I see so much good coming out of this and I hope that society continues to embrace acts of kindness toward strangers. I hope that we are collectively coming so far outside of ourselves as we create a new normal, that we are better toward each other and have trouble remembering our differences that divide us.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
I would love world peace to be an option, but we are still humans with our basic animal instincts for survival. So, focusing on a more realistic — albeit idealistic — change… I would really like to see less greed. Less inequality. Less judgment. Less hostility. And greater patience and understanding. I know I personally would benefit from having more patience for sure!

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

This is something I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. “You are here for a short time. Make the most of it and create a lasting positive impact as much as you can. Look outside of your small circle and into the world for the opportunity to spread happiness.” I am not sure the younger me would have heard this advice much less acted on it, but that is what I would tell her. And it is also what I tell my children. Both of my boys know about The WITI Group and I want them to understand that the greatest gift we can give the world is to be a positive change agent.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

I have given this concept a lot of thought recently because it relates to The WITI Group. I would actually like to branch The WITI Group out to other industries. I’ve had friends in the technology, healthcare, and energy sectors ask me if I would create extensions of our group and mission for their industries. The immediate answer is yes, of course! However, I possess neither the time or contacts to make this happen all by myself the way I did with The WITI Group two years ago.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

That list is very long… Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, P!NK (Alecia Moore), Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Tina Fey. This is simply the list that immediately pops into my head. Each of these women has broken so many barriers and shattered so many expectations and glass ceilings. They have stood up for what they believe in while standing up for others — even when it wasn’t popular. I admire their humanity, their talents and their tenacity to constantly do more for the world. These are the heroes that I don’t personally know, but they are heroes all the same. I would love for any of them to attend The WITI Conference so we can just all benefit from their wisdom, strength, and grace.

How can our readers follow you online?
On Facebook @cjlconsulting, @thewitigroup
On Instagram @cjl_consulting_llc and @witigroup
On LinkedIn CJLCONSULTiNG LLC and The WITI Group

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share what we are doing with The WITI Group. 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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