I make sure to walk away from things that are bothering me that I shouldn’t be bothered by. One of my closest friends tells me to not feed the birds — those annoying chirping ideas and people that are there just to spread discord in your life because they are unhappy in theirs. I make a point to remember to not feed the birds. There have been people in my personal and professional life that seem to either be strangely competing, which, I’m the least competitive person on the planet (except when I’m competing with myself) and people that are ruthless in their lives and business. There’s always room for kindness and grace, I feel, so when those birds pop up, I make a point to not feed them and walk away.
As a part of my series about what successful women leaders do to thrive, both personally and professionally, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Oleniczak Brown. Jen is the Founder of The Engaging Educator, a women-operated organization that helps professionals authentically build their public speaking, communication and storytelling skills, and Fearless Winston Salem, a women’s collaborative collective and social space dedicated to uplifting local women. She is also the author of Think On Your Feet: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Impromptu Communication Skills on the Job and a plant and dog mom.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Jen! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path and to where you are today?
Ijokingly say I’m an accidental entrepreneur and tell folks that it’s a recent development of me embracing my business side. I mean, I was an actor and promotional model, then a museum educator, then a service provider to museum educators as a side hustle, then a business owner who had no idea what they were doing and had no business in business, and now someone that owns two businesses and is finally “digging in” to what that means?
There are stories and substories, but I think the biggest one that got me here today was finally dealing with my issues and stepping into my awesomeness. I was struggling with self-worth as well as motivation and got diagnosed with severe depression and PMDD. That threw me — you mean my inability to focus every month wasn’t because I was bad at business, but because I was dealing with a mental health issue? Yikes. After a LONG road of medication, meditation, therapy, tears, changes, and a road that I’m still on because it’s always there just a little, I’m stepping into the life I want as a business owner, one that has roots in her community and helps the local economy grow and succeed — and also jumps off to speak at SXSW.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The moment I immediately tap into is the moment I started working with corporations providing B2B services. I sent a proposal for our classes and workshops and my contact called me on my cellphone within 2 minutes of me hitting send. He told me if I ever told anyone this story he would deny it, but I should raise my prices because no one would take me seriously with the prices I was offering. They were too low to compete with the other people that were bidding, and he wanted me to be hired.
We got off the phone, I tripled — yes tripled — my prices and we ended up working with the company for over 5 years — they are still one of our clients! It’s wild, I hope everyone gets a chance to have someone shake them a little bit when they are starting their venture or leveling up. I don’t think I would have done that on my own, and I know his conversation with me changed the trajectory of my business.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Goodness, I have them every day, and I’m not sure if any of them are “funny” — I do remember one that is funny in retrospect but wasn’t in the moment. I hired a friend of mine (I know! I know!) and we had very few rules around work culture at the time — I think the only ones were to look neat, no graphic t-shirts when you were teaching and no dirty sneakers. Well she was training and texted me that she was running a few minutes late — fine, it’s NYC and she was training, so I was already there with the students.
She walked in 10 minutes late, wearing a gym shirt, dirty sneakers and eating a piece of pizza. After class, she told me she couldn’t come to the next training because she was watching Jurassic Park with a group of friends! Looking back, it’s hilarious that I even entertained it for a moment, but at the moment, I was in the weird place of hiring a friend (not a good idea!) and trying to grow my business.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture and work-life?
Practice what you preach and remember there are very few “emergencies” in most businesses, and none that call for disrespect and rudeness. Take a time out if you have trouble regulating in moments of stress, but there is no reason to be aggressive and rude to anyone you work with.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers two self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
Every Sunday after I clean up my email box so I can get into Monday on a good foot, I turn off my phone, draw a nice bath with Epsom salts and grab whatever mystery thriller I’m reading at the moment. I know self-care isn’t all baths and bubbles, but for me, that time I sit with my thoughts and turn off before the week is so incredibly valuable to my creativity and forward motion. I was a hustle person for SUCH a long time and read all kinds of business books and self-help books, and I was never giving my body a moment to rest.
The other is Sunday crepes with my husband. We aim to do this on an off day before going back to work — we make a point to get up, make crepes together. He’s the crepe maker and I’m the filling queen! We experiment with different kinds and it’s a lovely routine that relaxes every part of me.
Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)
The first is my break from business books. When you work in soft skill development, you need to make a point to take time off. Trends may change, sure, but communication and public speaking skills are all around us! Call it escapism or whatever, but I am my most creative when I’m taking a moment to let my mind breathe and relax, and it just so happens that sitting in the bath with a thriller helps my body and mind thrive.
It may seem simple — and I assure you it isn’t — but I make sure to walk away from things that are bothering me that I shouldn’t be bothered by. One of my closest friends tells me to not feed the birds — those annoying chirping ideas and people that are there just to spread discord in your life because they are unhappy in theirs. I make a point to remember to not feed the birds. There have been people in my personal and professional life that seem to either be strangely competing, which, I’m the least competitive person on the planet (except when I’m competing with myself) and people that are ruthless in their lives and business. There’s always room for kindness and grace, I feel, so when those birds pop up, I make a point to not feed them and walk away.
Finally, can you share with us two routines that use to help your heart, your emotional or spiritual life to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)
I think a lot of my self-care practices integrate my heart, body and mind, and I think those are the ones that make the biggest difference in life, but I know the story that jumps out most with my emotional self-care was starting, and keeping up with! — therapy. In the beginning, it was very much for specific issues and now, it’s my time to settle my emotions, check-in, and care for my wellbeing. I think a lot of people think they only need therapy when there is a PROBLEM but I think keeping up even when everything is wonderful is critical to whole self emotional wellness.
The other, my plants. I started getting into houseplants a little over a year ago when friends urged me to get a hobby and now I have over 6 dozen, and my place looks a bit like a jungle and it’s WONDERFUL. New leaves and growth, when plants flower and are happy and when I look around and just breathe, my heart feels so happy connecting to that growth!
When life is very busy, and you cannot stick with your ideal routine, are there any wellness practices, rituals, products or services for your mind, body, or soul that you absolutely cannot live without?
I always make time for therapy, plant care, and my Sunday crepes and bath. Always. It might happen on Monday, it might be delayed, it might feel like a struggle at first, but I always make it happen.
My other is a bit woo, but I generally read my tarot cards for the week. I’ll light an intention candle, the color depends on my mood, and pull from my botanical deck. I feel very connected to plants, and it’s my “church” and spiritual practice.
All of us have great days and days that are not as great. On days when you feel like a rockstar, what do you do? What does that day look like, and what did you do to get there?
A lot of my days feel like this! I’ve probably been teaching or coaching — helping folks makes me feel amazing because I love watching the change take place! It’s hard work, but when someone buys into the work and applies themselves and pushes through the nervousness, they find greatness. And I’ll usually take that opportunity to write because I want my words to come from a great place!
In contrast, on days when you feel down, what do you do?
I am REALLY good at taking time for myself. Time out, go home, work from home versus my coworking space, sit with my dog and drink tea. I do NOT try to push myself!
Do you have a story about the weirdest, most bizarre or most humorous wellness experience, treatment, practice, or practitioner that you’ve ever partaken in? If you do, we’d love to hear it.
I don’t! I’m pretty big on my cynic detection system.
You’re a high achieving business leader, and you also have family and loved ones that may require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the executive at the door, and be the most loving caretaker at home?
I don’t believe in work-life balance — I have an integration! I walk away from my computer, leave my phone in the other room and focus on my family. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is ok! But that’s why I do it — to step away from my work because we are ALL more than our work.
Is there a particular practitioner, expert, book, podcast or resource that made a significant impact on you and helped you to thrive? Can you share a story about that with us?
Eek! I don’t have a single one — I’m inspired by so many of the women I meet and work with. We’d be here all day if I told you all of their stories!
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’m REALLY tired of girl on girl crime. Yes, some people are awful, and if someone feels that their life is more important than another’s, or if they are racist or have hate in their hearts, they can peace out. But too often I see women elevating themselves over other women for no reason. They think they are automatically better than other folks, center themselves in interactions and conversations, and have no problem saying that no one is “at their level” — and I would like to stop that because that comes from a place of insecurity and doubt, not self-confidence. So I’d start a check-in, check on program. Feeling like you need someone? Check-in. Want to pay it forward? Check on.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Do it now or forever wish you had — it’s from Hairspray, and I truly live my life like this. I would much rather live with failure than regret. I started Fearless on this principle. I had 6 months of runway and no idea what to do beyond that. I was pretty sure it would happen, but I didn’t know for sure! And I knew, I had to make this happen, I had to try and see if I could, and if it would work.
And here we are almost two years later. We were sustainable after 3 months.
What are the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
All over! My website links to everything at jenbrown.co — I’m on Twitter, IG, same with The Engaging Educator and Fearless!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!