Jason Rosenthal: “Listen more than you talk or write”

With writing, be the leader of your own marketing team. If you want your message to be heard, you have to work hard at getting it out there. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Rosenthal. Jason Rosenthal is a writer, author […]

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With writing, be the leader of your own marketing team. If you want your message to be heard, you have to work hard at getting it out there.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Rosenthal.

Jason Rosenthal is a writer, author and public speaker who became nationally known after his wife wrote a heart-wrenching essay for The New York Times days before her death from ovarian cancer. The “Modern Love” piece titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband” went viral reaching more than 5 million worldwide and encouraged Jason to find love again after her death. Jason carries on his late wife’s legacy with his book My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me. He is also the author of The New York Times #1 bestselling book Dear Boy in 2019 with his daughter, Paris Rosenthal. The work encouraged boys to believe in themselves and be open with their feelings and is a companion to Dear Girl, which Paris wrote with her mother in 2017. He is the board chair of The Amy Krouse Rosenthal Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides funding for ovarian cancer research as well as child literacy.

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

On March 3, 2017, The New York Times published a piece in the ‘Modern Love’ column written by my wife Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It appeared in the Times 10 days before she died of ovarian cancer. That essay, with its brilliant prose and ironic humor, was read by many millions of people all over the world. The piece was primarily a creative play on a personal ad for me. As a result, it catapulted me into a position where a spotlight was cast upon me. This significant loss brought me to my current path. Amy’s death caused me to pause and think deeply about whether what I had been doing up to that point in my professional life was still a meaningful path for me. With a great deal of contemplation, I realized that my 30 years as a practicing attorney no longer gave me the value it once did. I pivoted. Now, as a board chair of a nonprofit I started, and as an author and public speaker, I find so much meaning in what I do each day.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In chairing the foundation I started in Amy’s honor, The Amy Krouse Rosenthal Foundation, we were concerned in light of the pandemic about how to maintain our annual fundraiser. This would only be our second year, and we thought skipping the event would be detrimental to our progress moving forward. We decided to pivot to a virtual fundraising event, as many organizations did during this very difficult year. With much hard work and preparation, the event came together better than we ever could have anticipated. We had an impressive roster of celebrities, musicians and artists. The event was wonderful, and we managed to raise a decent amount of money for our mission.

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?

The funniest and biggest mistake I made was in my new public speaking career. I was on the biggest platform in the world, the TED stage. They were wonderful at making me feel comfortable but I was obviously still nervous. All along, they told me I could have my notes nearby in case I got stuck due to the overwhelming pressure of the moment. They assured me that if I made a blunder, it was not a big deal, as they could edit the video for placement on their website (in perpetuity). I went to the green room as instructed, got prepared and took my seat in the audience as instructed. When the time came for me to go on stage, I took a deep breath and approached the stairs. As I took my first step, I realized that I left my notes in the green room! Oh well, I had no choice but to proceed. When my feet were firmly planted in that iconic red circle, a deep sense of calm came over me. I delivered the talk without a glitch, but the initial shock of not having my notes was intense.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Our foundation, The Amy Krouse Rosenthal Foundation, is making an impact in the areas of early detection of ovarian cancer as well as in the child literacy space.

Currently, there is no test to ascertain whether a woman may have the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. As a result, our foundation is working to raise awareness of these signs and symptoms and have issued grants to physicians in the area specifically related to our mission concerning early detection.

Our foundation has partnered with several organizations, including Save the Children, to donate tens of thousands of books to kids in need all over the country. Amy was a prolific author so sharing her books with the world is that much more meaningful.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

As part of my role as a public speaker and writer, I get many emails from the public. I have heard from people all over the world regarding the impact my speaking publicly about very difficult subjects has had on their lives. They are grateful to open up and share their own experiences with loss. Some people just feel moved to tell me how they felt reading my work. For example, I received this message: “I can count on one hand the books that have profoundly changed my approach to living life and yours is one of them. Thank you for sharing your story so openly.” This type of feedback really keeps me going.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

As a society, we can get better at talking about end of life issues. People in this country simply are not comfortable talking about the end of life. The reality is that we are all heading in that direction. If we spoke more about the end, it will help all of us deal with the devastation of what that loss truly feels like. I also believe that it would help us live a more meaningful life, appreciating the limited time we all have on this planet.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A good leader consciously surrounds oneself with intelligent and experienced people. Delegating to those in the organization that are more knowledgeable in a given area makes the entire organization run more effectively. Allowing people within the organization to take on responsibility makes for a more involved, hard-working and engaged team. For our non-profit, it was important to me to get people in the fields directly associated with our twofold mission: early detection of ovarian cancer and literacy efforts for children. I am proud to say we have a world-renowned oncologist and several board members in the publishing and education spaces.

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. Do not shy away from telling a very personal story.
  2. Listen more than you talk or write.
  3. With writing, be the leader of your own marketing team. If you want your message to be heard, you have to work hard at getting it out there.
  4. Surround yourself with people who are experts in the area you want to know more about.
  5. Be patient.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

The movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people would be to speak openly about love, loss and resilience. Amy lived her life appreciating the simple moments that life has to offer. She had a way of viewing the world that embraced the moments many of us walk past without truly valuing. In my speaking and writing, I am trying to channel some of that beauty that came so naturally to her. I feel that by sharing my personal story, which is sometimes very sad and difficult to hear, I have connected on a very deep level with people all over the world experiencing loss of any kind. Though this came as somewhat of a surprise to me, the story of my relationship with Amy and how we raised our children together has offered inspiration to those entering new commitments and some who have been together for decades. Finally, the lessons I have learned and shared about finding resilience in unexpected ways in the face of devastating loss has been helpful to many who hear my story.

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

“Make the most of your time here.” That quote is credited to Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She lived her life truly appreciating the simple moments that life has to offer. It is a lesson all of us can learn from. We often take paces through life, not seeing the beauty all around us.

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

Dr. Jill Biden. Billy Williams. Eric Clapton. Sorry, I could not do just one!

Dr. Biden for her connections to reading, writing and loss. Billy Williams because he was my favorite baseball player growing up. (I had two pet rabbits — one named Billy, the other Willy).

Eric Clapton because I am a huge music fan. Every time a good song came on in the car when my kids were little, I would ask them who the artist was. Regardless of who was playing, they would say, “Eric Clapton.”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me @jasonbrosenthal on Instagram.

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