Purpose//

How Arianna Huffington Dragged Me Kicking and Screaming (and Maybe Crying a Little) Onto the Stage — and Into My Life’s Purpose

“I love that we live in a virtually connected world, but there is nothing like being in person and sharing our stories together.”

Courtesy of Together Live
Courtesy of Together Live

I was a fast-talking kid who loved to ask people questions about their lives. Not childlike questions, but real questions — about struggle and heartbreak, hopes and dreams. I asked my friends, of course, but I also asked their parents and grandparents, my teachers, the butcher, my pediatrician, and anybody else I came into regular contact with. I was too curious to feel intimidated. And I wouldn’t just listen to everyone’s stories, I would inhabit them, live inside their words, feel their emotions alongside them. I became quick to share anecdotes and connect people when it seemed they’d been through a similar experience. 

In the small Jewish enclave where I grew up, it was called the gift of the gab, and trust me, it wasn’t something to be celebrated. “You have so much potential, if only you would apply yourself to school with the same passion you give to gossiping about everyone’s life,” I was repeatedly told. If only. That began to change one day in 7th grade when, coming in late to math class, the teacher stopped me before I could spit out my excuse. “Don’t bother, Jennifer. I know you’re famous for having a way with words, but it’s not going to work with me. You have detention.” I didn’t care about being in trouble, all I heard was “famous for having a way with words.” It was like he had touched me with a magic wand and declared something about me special. Finally! A way with words — I could work with that.

And so I did. I worked with words, and my love of language and storytelling became breadcrumbs on a path that was pointing me towards my purpose. I chose English as my major at Kenyon College, then became a literary assistant, then an agent, until before I knew it, I had a gorgeous life filled with the richest, most powerful and authentic stories you could imagine. I helped midwife stories from some of the all-time greats — Alice Munro, Jeannette Walls, Sue Monk Kidd, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Brené Brown, just to name a few. If there was an authentic, important story to tell, I wanted to be there, holding the largest megaphone possible, helping to ignite global cultural conversations. A front row seat to it all, I couldn’t imagine wanting anything more.  

Courtesy of Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

Enter the incomparable Arianna Huffington. When Arianna told me she wanted to create a conference based on the tenets of her New York Times best selling book, Thrive, I was instantly all in. The stories and wisdom of the speakers she invited were revelatory and the magic in the room was palpable. I wanted to experience it right there alongside the audience, but Arianna had another plan for me. I had spent my career having big plans for others, but Arianna was the first person who saw something bigger for me. She dragged me, scared shitless, onto that stage to share my own story in front of thousands of people. She told me to focus on the fact that sharing wisdom was an act of service for the audience, encouraging me to think of my story as a gift. That made sense to me, since I had always viewed other people’s stories as a gift, and my fear lifted. I barely remember a word I said that night, but I’ll never forget afterwards in the bathroom when a woman grabbed my hand and told me that my story reminded her so much of her own. Another woman joined us, sharing her own experience, and suddenly, where there had been strangers a moment before, there was now a small circle of sisterhood, three people sharing our hearts with each other. We weren’t thinking about our differences or what might divide us, but instead, we were transformed by the magic of storytelling.

I never wanted that feeling to end. I recognized it instantly as a huge breadcrumb for me. I love that we live in a virtually connected world, but there is nothing like being in person and sharing our stories together. After the Thrive conference, Arianna needed to go back to her giant life, but I wanted to keep the magic going.

Courtesy of Robin Marchant / Getty Images

In addition to sending you “a-ha” breadcrumbs that point you to your purpose, if you follow the signs, I believe the universe sends you people at the perfect time who were put on this earth for similar and related missions. For me, that came in the form of the mighty, brilliant, and beautiful Glennon Doyle. When we met, we instantly realized we shared a dream. After a year of meticulous planning, our intersectional, intergenerational storytelling tour — along with affordable ticket prices making it accessible to the widest and most diverse audiences possible — was born. Together Live set sail in the fall of 2016. We didn’t know it then, but as it turns out, we had built Noah’s Arc before the floods! 

Courtesy of Duane Prokop / Getty Images

Year one, we hit the road in the midst of a historic presidential election. We visited six cities across the country and came out the other side completely transformed by the courage we witnessed. “Life-changing” was the word we heard most often to describe the event’s impact on both our speakers and audiences. 2017 found us back on our pilgrimage, just as the #MeToo movement caught fire, the power of women sharing their stories rocking the world. We expanded to 10 cities, facing our individual heartbreaks and searching for purpose and connection with thousands of love warriors nationwide. In 2018, our tour launched in a moment when hope felt particularly elusive. We partnered with Reese Witherspoon’s incredible company Hello Sunshine and gathered 25 diverse speakers, adding musicians and comedians to join us for 10 unique shows across North America. Not knowing what to expect, we were driving in the dark by the light of our high beams, only able to see a few feet in front of us — but trusting together we would find our way home. Instead of despair, we found joy and longing for connection everywhere we went. An added bonus was that the men started to come: husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, and friends all joining our vital conversations.  

Courtesy of Adam Bettcher / Getty Images

We’ve seen 50,000 people so far and we are just getting started. This fall, Glennon and her Greatest-of-All-Time wife Abby Wambach, Luvvie Ajayi, Maysoon Zayid, Cheryl Strayed, MILCK, Sabrina Jalees, Cameron Esposito, and our whole WolfPack are all linking arms again and coming to cities across the country.   

I hope to see you at one of our stops, and most of all, that we might run into each other in the bathroom afterwards, hold hands and realize how our stories connect and heal us. Together, we rise. 

Tickets now on sale for a city near you at togetherlive.com.

Courtesy of Robin Marchant / Getty Images

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