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Holly Dowling: “Know your worth and do not be afraid to say no”

I wish someone would have told me that I do not need to be perfect to be priceless on stage. I began realizing this for myself and started letting go of scripts; so instead of my head being so involved, it was my heart that led the way. I let Holly be Holly and be […]

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I wish someone would have told me that I do not need to be perfect to be priceless on stage. I began realizing this for myself and started letting go of scripts; so instead of my head being so involved, it was my heart that led the way. I let Holly be Holly and be a messenger.


As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Holly Dowling.

Holly Dowling is a highly sought after award-winning Global Keynote Speaker and Inspirational Thought Leader who has addressed hundreds of thousands of executives and impacted the hearts and minds of millions in over 160 countries worldwide with her “A Celebration Of You” podcast. An expert in strengths-based leadership and corporate women’s empowerment, Holly keynotes and facilitates high-level business engagements for Fortune 500 companies, including Facebook, Deloitte, Wells Fargo, Cisco, Home Depot, Google and IBM, among others. Holly is a member of the United Nations Girl Up, a two-time Stevie Award winner, a recipient of The American Riviera Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award, a global speaking member of the AICET Council (Anti Internet Child Exploitation Team), and she was recently recognized as a SHERO who are women “thrivers” making a positive impact in people lives. Holly’s mission is to continue you to inspire hearts and minds all over the world!


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

As the oldest of four, I grew up a very shy, overweight little girl in central Pennsylvania. Although I had no confidence as a child, I had always had an entrepreneurial spirit with a passion to entertain as well as help people. As young as 3rd grade, I had dreams of growing up to be “Julie” from the TV show, “The Love Boat.” Even as young as 7 years old, I was ringing neighbors doorbells on the weekends trying to sell them literally anything — from entertaining them by dressing in a tutu and dancing in front yards for 75 cents to taking empty baby food jars and filling them with shaved soap from around the house and trying to sell it, it all came down to how I always had a sense of fearlessness to try new things by combining entrepreneurship and entertainment. Who you are as a very young person can tell a lot about how you are later in life. Little did I know my childhood would play into my lifelong mantra of “Tell me no, watch me go” and would be infused into every chapter of my life.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I did not seek this career, this career found me, and it found me in a very profound way. In 1997, I shared a personal story with an assembly of high school students about when I was in a dark place in my life (See How I Rekindled My Light). After the assembly I received a letter from a young girl who was in the audience. The letter detailed how difficult this girl’s life had been at home and that very day she was contemplating on ending her life. After she heard me speak and share my story, it was a gift that provided her hope and a purpose to move forward. The impact I made on one girl’s life by sharing my story struck me to the core and solidified my passion to make an impact on so many other’s lives too. Not many people know this, but to this day I still carry that letter with me everywhere I speak to remind me why God put me here, to be a messenger.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of the most interesting stories ties back to my fearlessness from childhood and creativity in generating new businesses out of nothing. In 1998, “The Summit of The Eight World Leaders” was coming to Denver, CO. I wondered how the businesses of Denver were going to make a good impression and accommodate such diverse cultures so I called the Mayor’s office and no one had thought of how to educate the nuances of different cultures, customize menus in different languages, etc. With all eyes on Denver to make a great impression, I created a business in the moment called “Worldwide Etiquette.” With my background engaging diverse cultures on a cruise ship, I expound upon my research and developed workshops for all the Denver area businesses. As a result, I was on the BBC, interviewed on CNN, and I was asked to join the African American Consulate. My world dramatically changed which was a large part of my life that catapulted me into the work I have done trying to make a difference on a global level.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I do not look at life’s challenges and obstacles as mistakes, I look at them as gifts to continue to drive my story and “Tell me no, watch me go.”

What could be viewed by the world as a “mistake” in my life would be my decision to leave pre-law and pursue my dream to become a cruise director. Everyone in my life told me it would never happen! The story behind what should have been a mistake entails creating a college major that did not exist at the time, calling forty cruise ships for contact information, and doing the unheard of by sending out my resume on hot pink paper. Within a week I had three cruise lines calling me and I was off to Tahiti to fulfill my dream of what others at the time would call a mistake. “Tell me no, watch me go.”

The greatest lesson I learned from this is that what could be viewed as one person’s mistake is another person’s best decision of his/her life. Fulfilling a dream is a gift and all the hiccups and obstacles in between have been the best gifts to continue to grow and move forward.

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 get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

From the story I referenced earlier on about what brought me to this career; Peggy Calhoun was the teacher at the Denver public high school who invited me to share my personal story with high school students about my overcoming abuse and pursuing my goals and dreams. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that sharing my story of a dark time in my life would save a young girl’s life that day and have boys and girls standing in line sharing with me that they wanted their lives to be different. To this day, I still carry around the letter from that young girl who had planned on going home from school that day to take her life until she heard me speak. That day solidified my conviction to pursue speaking as a career and a passion to be a messenger.

Another person who was in the audience that day was Gina Schreck, who approached me after the presentation and told me I have a gift for speaking. She and her husband owned a consulting business for speakers at the time. Gina is the reason I had the opportunity to get into the business on a large scale and spread my wings!

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Tell me no, watch me go! However, I would say to people who are interested in this career, they need to ask themselves; Are you choosing this business for ego or choosing this as your soul’s highest calling to serve others? Egos will eventually be destroyed in this business. The people who choose this business and see themselves as a messenger fulfilling their soul’s highest calling will succeed.

What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?

What drives me from the depths of my spirit is knowing that this is my soul’s highest calling.

Having just recently lost my mother to COVID-19, what is keeping me going is knowing my calling is to be a messenger of hope and inspiration in this world. The loss of my mother to this virus has unearthed new desires to inspire, give hope, and connect with audiences now more than ever whether that is live on stage, virtual keynotes, or via social media with my daily doses of inspiration.

The change I would like to see: I am obsessed with documentaries and true stories of people overcoming adversity and choosing to live an extraordinary life and impact others; as to why I started my podcast, “A Celebration of YOU.” I would love to see more stories of hope in this industry of real people overcoming and moving forward by impacting other’s lives.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

The divine timing of what is happening in our world now is that people are seeking inspiration, particularly people who have attended my presentations and keynotes always ask for more “Holly”! As a result of the pandemic and our society’s need for hope, we are preparing to launch the first ever Hollyism app, which will provide a daily dose of inspiration, hope, and faith to help invoke perspective and guide us through difficult times.

Also, it has taken me years, but I am finally sharing my secret sauce as to how I have created a global speaking platform by breaking all the rules! I am not a celebrated author, I have no agent, no Ted Talk and all my business is based on referrals and booked out two years. My “Extraordinary Speaker Private Circle” is helping others let their light shine!

We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?

Diversity in my eyes means empathy, compassion, and transparency. And while those three things are common sense, they are most evidently not common practice. I truly believe in the TV & Film industry and in podcasting and speaking, if we can continue to bring real stories and have transparency that everyone’s brilliance and gifts can look different than our own, we can create a culture driven by compassion which can in turn, impact generations to come.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. I wish someone would have told me that you do not need a bestselling book to be a global thought leader or speaker. I wish someone would have told me this sooner because I was hung up on this thought and never had a desire to write a book. But I have done it all without writing a book.

2. I wish someone would have told me — You cannot sell everyone. In 2006 I was speaking to high level leaders in the tech/engineering space. I was very challenged and went to bed that night in tears thinking I never wanted to do this again. Then I had a thought that “Jesus couldn’t sell everybody” and those that “get it”, get it, and those who do not, move on. There will always be another person who needs to hear what I am saying. But I had to let go of that “need” to sell everyone.

3. I wish someone would have told me that I do not need to be perfect to be priceless on stage. I began realizing this for myself and started letting go of scripts; so instead of my head being so involved, it was my heart that led the way. I let Holly be Holly and be a messenger.

4. I wish someone told me I could have a successful career without a speaker’s bureau or agent. I kept thinking I needed these things and that would make the difference in taking me to the next level. And overtime I have learned that with so much of my business based upon referral, I have had clients who have booked over 100 times. I feel if you are doing it for the right reason, this too will happen for you.

5. Know your worth and do not be afraid to say no. I do not have to take every gig and do things for free. I pick and choose what my soul is meant to do and decide what will make the greatest impact. I know my worth, and I know I am not cheap!

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

The most important ritual of my life has been what I have put into place as my morning ritual. Silence is the nectar for your soul!

1. Spiritual — My morning starts with complete alone time where I pray, I meditate, I write in my journal and I read my favorite inspirational devotional.

2. Physical — I always exercise in the morning no matter where I am in the world

3. Mental — filling my mind with affirmations. I write them on post notes and look at them throughout the day

4. Emotional — I choose joy. I choose not to be around people who I call “emotional vampires.” I choose to be around people who bring me joy and inspire me.

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

I am proud to say that my life lesson quote is a quote of my own and I hope this gives people permission to do the same. Clearly so much of my story lives by my mantra “Tell me no, watch me go,” however my other mantra is, “I choose to live in wow is me, not woe is me.” I repeat this quote to myself many times. I have had many times in my life where I could easily feel sorry for myself and fall into the “woe is me” but found that when I step out and choose to be in the “wow is me,” my entire life shifts.

I felt this mantra empower me during a time of my life I refer to as, “The Seven Days That Made My Soul Week.” Within a span of seven days I discovered my oldest son was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer (which gratefully he survived), my second child was born, and the bank foreclosed on our house with the sheriff taking everything. Homeless, a new mom again with a sick child and no health insurance, choosing to live in “Wow is me” instead of “Woe is me” was literally the only way I survived and thrived.

You are a person of huge 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 love this question! If we can start a movement that people can fall back in love with who they are and who they were put on this earth to be! Stop waiting on the world to give you permission to love who you are. You are here for a reason so start shining the spotlight on what gifts people bring instead of what they lack or what we think we need to fix.

Stop looking at what God left out and look at what God put in!

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!

Marlo Thomas because she wrote a book called “Free to be me.” In 6th grade I read this book and it changed my life! It got me out of my lack of confidence and gave me the wings. I also love her since she is the spokesperson for St Jude and since I have a child who had cancer when he was young, St Jude had played a huge role in getting us through such a difficult time. I have always dreamed of having lunch with her and thank her for that book.

Lauren Tewes: The actress who played “Julie” on “The Love Boat.” She played a role on a show that she didn’t know made such an impact on a little girl who had a dream. It was all because of her character that I created a vision for myself. Every human being has a dream, it is just that most of us have stopped dreaming.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Website: http://hollydowling.com/

Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/a-celebration-of-you/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Holly DDowling/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hollydowling

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hollyddowling

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channe l/UC5KNjsxzYn8D5QRbYrBbtIw

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/holly.dowling/

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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