The “Lucky” Ones – An interview with circus performer & entrepreneur Sarah Morgan

I’ve been following today’s interviewee’s blog for a couple of years now and have always loved her style & insight. Now, I’m happy to introduce to you Sarah Morgan!

xosarah-headshot

Two years ago, Sarah Morgan quit her job and ran off with the circus. Literally. And as a web designer, business consultant, entrepreneur, blogger, aerial instructor and, yes, circus performer, she’s spent the past couple of years encouraging and teaching others how to follow their own passions as boldly as she has—while wearing many hats.

Sarah’s blog, xoSarah, is a showcase of both her aerial artistry and web design prowess, and through it, Sarah has established herself as an authority on solid web design and blogging how-to. She just recently published her second ebook, How to Double Your Blog Traffic in 90 Days (or Less!) and launched the Badass Babes Blog Club + E-Course for bloggers who want to amp up their own online spaces. When she’s not dominating the interwebs, she’s swinging from aerial silks as part of The Weird Sisters trio.

Welcome, Sarah!

Your talents are so varied! But let’s start with joining the circus. How did you get into aerial arts, and when did you decide to make it a profession along with your fellow Weird Sisters?

I randomly signed up for an aerial class just over four years ago as something fun to do and trained for about two years before we began to perform. Over the next year we ended up booking a lot of shows and at the same time my design business had grown enough that I was able to make those my full-time occupations. Soon after I added teaching aerial to the list as well.

How do you discipline your body to stay fit for such a physically demanding job? Do you have a regular routine you abide by?

I teach six to eight classes a week, so just going to work keeps me in shape for aerial. Since I’m in the air so often it’s more about injury prevention than building strength or flexibility. My routine is what we cover in class: cardio, abs, climbing, skill-building, stretching.

Describe the most interesting/random/weird event you’ve ever performed in.

We perform at a giant Halloween show every year called Theatre Bizarre. It’s not weird at all to me, but the random person off the street might be totally shocked by what they find inside. Contortion, burlesque, suspension, fire spinning/eating, strange sideshow acts—there’s really no way to describe it, it’s something you have to experience. This past year we performed as super sexy bearded ladies and fit right in. Here’s a video.

Sarah Morgan

On top of all that you also have your own successful web design business. How do you juggle these two very different jobs?

Calendars! I make sure to schedule everything and have five calendars to keep track of each aspect of my life. (That sounds nuts now that I’ve written it down, haha.) I don’t adhere to a super strict schedule for design work, which keeps me from feeling overwhelmed, but I know what needs to get done and when.

What are some of the biggest challenges that come with your professions? Do you ever experience self-doubt?

Personally, because I have two full-time jobs, it’s making sure I schedule my life in a way that I have time to take care of myself. Today I had rehearsal for three hours, then I came home and worked, and then I go back to the studio to teach and rehearse for two hours tonight. I have enough work to put me in the air or in front of my computer 16 hours a day every single day, so I’ve gotten really good at saying no and taking on only what I can handle.

I generally don’t feel self-doubt, which makes me sound like an over-confident jerk I’m sure. I suppose that if I’m going to do something I’m just going to do it, and worrying if I’m not good enough or going to fail isn’t helpful. I’m aware of both possibilities, but I deal with it after the fact instead of letting it slow me down or stop me from what I want to accomplish.

What was it like making the leap to total self-employment? Are you happier on this new path?

I had gotten to the point of being so unhappy at my corporate job I was essentially a real-life version of the movie Office Space. When I decided I was going to leave about 9 months before my escape, I became super motivated and excited to work on my side hustle. I prepared enough in advance that when my last day at work arrived I didn’t have any worries. It felt extremely freeing and I’m so so much happier working for myself.

Sarah Morgan

If you could live by one mantra, what would it be?

“Whether you think you can or think you cant, you’re right” – Henry Ford (there’s that no self-doubt thing again!)

What are some of your favorite books? Favorite blogs?

I really loved Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. It’s about marketing your business by sharing why you do what you do instead of what you do. AKA “I’m passionate about helping creative businesses build online homes that allow them to share what they love” vs. “I’m a web designer who makes beautiful and functional websites.” It really changed the way I market my business and my blog.

For bloggers I’m always inspired by Alexandra FranzenMarie ForleoThe Middle Finger Project and Betty Means Businesslots of badass ladies talking about building powerful online empires.

 

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your story! Have any question for Sarah, or just love what she has to say? Let her know in the comments!

The “Lucky” Ones – An interview with teen music star & anti-bullying advocate Josey Milner

Today, I’m interviewing an 18-year-old rising country music star about her influences, her anti-bullying advocacy and being a young adult woman in a tough biz. Meet Josey Milner!

Josey Milner

In a matter of just a couple of years, Josey Milner has gone from small-town teen to rising country music star. At 17, her debut single “Not Pretty Enough” earned her a nomination from the Independent Country Music Award for Promising Young Artist, and she soon launched her own anti-bullying campaign with Angels and Doves.

Already, Josey has had the opportunity to make music with widely recognized producers, engineers and musicians who have worked with Hall and Oates, Elton John and Dolly Parton, among others. Josey’s latest single, “Cowgirls,” is a dance anthem she hopes will take her already promising career to the next level.

You’ve worked alongside some pretty big names in the studio at such a young age. How does that feel? And what was it like working with them?

It is amazing and intimidating all at once. It was intimidating because of the big name artists that they have worked with. Here I was, an 18-year-old girl who was fairly new to the industry, working with some very skilled people. All in all though, they treated me just like another artist. They gave me advice on anything I needed help on, and the final product(s) sounded amazing!

Who are some of your biggest influences, musically or otherwise?

Miranda Lambert, Patsy Cline, Jo Dee Messina, and George Strait are some of my top influences with music. I grew up listening to Patsy, Jo Dee and George. Miranda is a big influence because she doesn’t care what people thinks about her. She’s her real self in the spotlight and she continuously releases hit after hit. Besides musically, just anyone who has gone out and chased their dreams. It takes a lot to follow through with something like this, so anyone who has tried and is happy with where they got is an inspiration and influence.

Josey Milner

When was the first time you performed in front of an audience? And what has been your favorite performance to date?

My first time performing with my band was at a place called Whiskey Tango is Grain Valley, MO. It was very nerve-racking but I loved it. My first time performing in front of a crowd was either on my horse in the rodeo arena (if you count that as a performance) or when I sang at the National Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis, which is where my career really began. My favorite performance has been opening up for Scotty McCreery. It was amazing—completely sold out, and a memory that I will always remember.

You’re dedicated to a really noble cause. Describe your role as an anti-bullying advocate. Why is that so important to you?

I’m a spokesperson for Angels and Doves, a nationwide nonprofit charity that is focused on “bullying suicides.” With them, I am spreading the word about bullying through music. This organization is important to me because even though I have not been a victim of bullying, I have witnessed it. It breaks my heart when I see someone being picked on because of how they look, what their interests are, or anything on that level. Everyone breathes the same air and everyone should have the same opportunities. So hopefully with being involved with Angels and Doves, we will be able to make a difference.

You probably get a lot of advice as a young adult in the music business. What advice has resonated with you the most, and what advice would you give to young girls who want to do what you’re doing some day?

It’s hard to pick just a couple words of advice that I’ve been given. Throughout my career, I’ve always had someone there to lead me the right way on a decision. If I had to choose though, I would have to go with never giving up. Things can get frustrating, but you have to keep moving forward. You’re going to hit bumps along the way, but you have to get over them and not let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. There’s always going to be negativity from people, but you can’t let that tear you down. It’s a lot of hard work, but it will pay off in the end. Continue pushing forward, and as long as you’re dedicated, passionate and determined, you will make it.

Josey Milner

Your single, “Not Pretty Enough,” touches on a subject a lot of girls can relate to. Do you think it’s tougher being a woman in the music business? Why or why not?

There are some times when I think that, but then other times not so much. I think sometimes people don’t think a girl can entertain as well as a guy can, but I think some of the best performers are girls. The hardest thing for me is my age and getting people to take a chance on me with being so young. The couple of chances I have been given though have always turned out really good.

What’s the best part about being a musician/performer? The most challenging part?

The best part for me is being able to perform on stage and know that I’m providing entertainment for the people in the audience. I also love being able to meet so many cool and unique people. From radio DJs to venue owners and all the people in between, it’s pretty cool getting to know someone that you’ve never met before.

What are some of your favorite albums?

Some of my favorite albums are: any George Strait album, any Miranda Lambert album, or any good album period. I’m not very picky when it comes to music and my favorite song tends to change almost every day, if not every day.

Which would you say has played a bigger role in your success so far—luck or persistence?

A little bit of both. I’ve been very fortunate to have had some of the opportunities that I’ve experienced. Sometimes it has been being at the right place at the right time, while other times have been because of dedication and hard work. They both play roles in the career. I’d probably say more persistence than luck though.

 

Thanks, Josey, for sharing your story! Have any questions or thoughts for Josey? Leave them in the comments.

The “Lucky” Ones – An interview with comedian and Daily Show producer Jena Friedman

Guys, I’ve got a great interview lined up for you today. I’ve been wanting to feature a comedian in this series for a little while, and I was psyched when today’s interviewee agreed. So let’s get started—meet Jena Friedman.

Jena Friedman (Photo by Eric Michael Pearson)

Jena Friedman is a stand-up comedian, actor, writer, and director based in New York. She is currently a field producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and has written for Late Show with David Letterman. As the creator of the viral web series Ted & Gracie and American Girl Dolls parody “Refugee Girls,” Jena has a particular fondness for dark humor. (All the more reason this blogger loves her.)

Before she got her start in comedy, though, Jena studied anthropology at Northwestern University. It was there in Chicago where she inadvertently became interested in improv. Her work has been featured at SXSW, in New York MagazineSalon, Glamour, on Comedy Central, and more.

 

Ladies and gents, please welcome Jena!

When did you realize you were funny? And how did you decide you’d try to get paid to be funny?

Thanks for thinking I’m funny—I’m still on the fence. As for comedy writing, I decided I’d try to get paid writing comedy because I couldn’t do anything else. I had a few other jobs, like in consulting and copywriting, but my focus always pulled me back to comedy, so I guess when I realized I had no other options is when I knew I had to pursue comedy writing.

Describe your early improv and stand-up experiences. Did you ever have a really embarrassing moment on stage?

Yes, too many. One time I was telling a joke about AIDS (to clarify, in the joke, I wasn’t making fun of AIDS, just my fear of it) and this hipster started heckling me and telling me I shouldn’t make fun of AIDS, so I responded, “How do you know I don’t have it?” and that shut him up and got the whole crowd on my side cheering me on… but only because I made them think I have AIDS just to sell my joke—not my finest moment.

Who were some of your biggest influences (whether that’s family, friends, or other comedians)? 

My dad really influenced my comedy. He’s a doctor, so he’s pretty morbid and clinical, and when I was a child he would buy me really disturbing books (like this comic book called The Big Book of Death in which each chapter explored a different way of dying), and I would just devour them. I also remember seeing Sarah Silverman and Janeane Garofalo when I was younger and thinking I wanted to be like them.

Ted & Gracie

When you landed a job on Letterman, was that the turning point in your career? Tell me about how that felt to make it “big time.”

I was literally three weeks away from moving to L.A. when I got Letterman. It was a great feeling to get that job. I had applied a year earlier and didn’t really think they were still looking for a writer. So when I got the email asking for another submission, I sent it in the next morning and got the job a day later.

I remember meeting Dave on my first day and he said, “This is a shitty place to work, but I guess it looks good on the resume,” and I thought, “Wow, this is the big time.”

There must be incredible pressure to write for a show that airs five days a week. How did you do it?

You just try not to think too much to be honest and just write. Late Show is a machine that’s been running for 30 years, so all the parts are in place and it moves with or without you. So many great comics have gone through there and succeeded and failed, so I actually didn’t feel like if I didn’t make it past the three or six month mark I’d have anything to lose, which definitely helped my creative output.

You often hear how tough it is to be a woman in comedy. Do you think that’s true? Have you dealt with sexism in your business?

Yes, it’s tough. It’s tough for minority men and women as well, and really anyone who’s an outsider, particularly in writer’s rooms and in stand-up clubs. But the good news is that everything is changing, partly because people are more aware of inequality and partly because the internet has made it so voices outside the mainstream can be heard. Even in the seven years that I’ve been doing comedy, the landscape has diversified a lot… this is a long and unfunny conversation, but I’m optimistic.

I’ve dealt with sexism in comedy by wearing really shapeless cardigans—no one hits on a girl in a cardigan.

Jena Friedman

Which has played the biggest role in your success—luck or persistence?

Persistence, hands down… and not being unlucky.

What are some of your favorite books/films?

I’m a huge fan of Edward Gorey, Roald Dahl, Woody Allen, John Waters, Kathryn Bigelow, Margaret Atwood… if I start naming comedians I won’t stop but the show Summer Heights High by Australian comic Chris Lilley is possibly my all-time favorite, it’s a really long list… I just read Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It was like getting a long, intense hug from an imaginative Japanese man… also, I’m addicted to Breaking Bad.

Describe your role for the Daily Show. What do you love about it? And, I’ve gotta ask… what’s it like working for Jon Stewart?

The Daily Show is really great. The people are some of the most intelligent, talented people I’ve ever worked with and Jon is awesome. I really can’t say enough good things about it.

Any gigs or new projects in the foreseeable future?

I’m doing some shows in D.C. the second weekend of October. I’ll tweet about them when I know more. Otherwise, I’m performing stand-up around New York, about once a week. I tweet those shows as well. Twitter, eek.

 

Thanks a lot, Jena, for taking the time to chat with me. I’ll be stalking your Twitter for updates. If you enjoyed Jena’s interview, let her know in the comments!

The “Lucky” Ones – an interview with bestselling author and journalist Julian Guthrie

After a long hiatus, I’m excited to finally bring back The “Lucky” Ones series, which—incredibly—began around this time last year. In case you’re new to Witty Title Here, The “Lucky” Ones is an interview series featuring words from creative types who are lucky enough to be doing something they love. Though their backgrounds vary, the interviewees all share one thing in common—hard work. Which is why it actually has very little to do with luck. These interviews shed light on what makes people tick and reveal the story behind each unique individual.

Currently, I’m on the hunt for more interviewees to keep the series going. I’m looking for people with a specific niche, whether that niche is museum gallery curation or circus performance. If you or someone you know might be a good fit, shoot me an email! In the meantime, I’d like to introduce you to my latest interviewee, Julian Guthrie.

Julian Guthrie

Photo by Chris Hardy

 Julian Guthrie has had the kind of journalism career that most budding writers dream of. A journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle, she’s won several awards, including the Best of the West Award and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Public Service Award. Julian’s writing has even been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize on multiple occasions.

Julian’s more than 15-year career boasts stories published by the Huffington Post, Salon.com, The Wall Street Journal and more. She’s the author of two books—most recently, The Billionaire and the Mechanic: How Larry Ellison and a Car Mechanic Teamed Up to Win Sailing’s Greatest Race, The America’s Cup. The national bestseller was published this summer and tells a story of devastating setbacks, lessons learned, and an unlikely partnership between two men. The book is available on IndieBound and Amazon, and you can follow Julian on Twitter.

 

Welcome, Julian!

Tell us a bit about your start in journalism. When and how did the bug get you?

I always loved reading, which drew me into writing. I loved journalism because you get to ask any question that comes to mind.

How did you not only gain access to but also earn the trust of an incredibly wealthy man who once refused to speak to the press all together? 

I had a great story to tell, and he saw that. It has lot of different elements to it, from business to sports. Larry loves sailing, and he spent a decade going after the America’s Cup. He lost twice before winning it, so there are a lot of mistakes made and lessons learned. It took a lot to convince Larry to talk with me, but in the end, he saw that this story was a great story, and that it would benefit from his input.

What about the relationship between these two men intrigued you to tell their story? What is it about anyone who motivates you to learn more about them? 

The title says it all: The Billionaire and the Mechanic. I loved the idea of their unlikely partnership, but I also really liked it that they end up having a great deal in common.

I’m interested in ordinary people who do extraordinary things. That’s Norbert [the mechanic]. And I’m interested in how a kid from the south side of Chicago grows up and finds a way to change the business world. That’s Larry [the billionaire].

Billionaire and the Mechanic

Aside from your most recent book’s subjects, which interviewees have been your favorite to profile/feature?

It’s always the one I did last. So in this case, it’s a profile on George Gascon, the district attorney of San Francisco, who has a remarkable story of fleeing Cuba to find a better life in America.

As a San Francisco writer, what edge do you have on getting a good story? How do you think it compares to being a writer in other major cities? 

I’m a journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle, so I’m up on who’s doing really interesting things. And San Francisco is an epicenter of innovation, so that helps.

Journalism is still very much in an awkward place. What is the best piece of advice you could give a fledgling journalist (ahem, me) about navigating the ever-changing territory where pageview journalism is so rampant?

I would say that it’s very important to diversify as a writer. Write fiction, nonfiction, magazine pieces, newspaper pieces, and—to a lesser extent—use Twitter and other social media.

To be a writer, you not only have to be an expert at your craft, but an expert on your topic as well. How do you manage that with deadlines putting on the pressure? And what are some of the coolest things you’ve learned about in your research?

I learn something very cool with every story, which is the beauty of being a journalist. I only operate on deadlines, and they do get easier to manage. Now I can only operate under deadlines.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your profession?

Keeping print journalism alive. So much content has gone to the web. I still think there’s great impact to be had in the tangible written word.

You’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of praise and accolades. What would be the ultimate milestone of success for you?

I have achieved success and accolades, which is fantastic. I love being a writer. Now, though, I’m most interested in just finding incredible stories to tell, stories that are original and have themes that transcend place and time.

 

Julian, thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. They’re inspiring, to say the least, as someone who’s forging her own path in the world of journalism. If you enjoyed Julian’s interview, let her know in the comments!

The “Lucky” Ones – An interview with world-traveling New York Times Bestselling author Chris Guillebeau

How do I write an introduction for my next interviewee that expresses my unabashed excitement while maintaining a sense of dignified professionalism? No really, I’m asking. Because Chris Guillebeau is kind of a big deal in the world of blogging and publishing, and I’m beyond psyched that he agreed to answer a few questions for me. Read on to learn more about the non-conformist with the fully stamped passport.

Chris Guillebeau

Anguilla. Angola. Djibouti and Nauru. Recognize these names? They’re just a few of the countries The Art of Non-Conformity blogger Chris Guillebeau has checked off his list. In fact, Chris has visited every country—all 193 United Nations member states—in the world. He recently reached the end of the world (Norway, in his case) just in time to celebrate his 35th birthday. You could say he’s well traveled.

Chris is also well accomplished, but he got off to a rocky start. A high school dropout, he learned how to drive by stealing cars and spent his first job as a dishwasher throwing away the pots that were too difficult to clean. His rebellion would eventually be used for good, however. Now, Chris is a New York Times Bestselling author of The $100 Startup, a book on entrepreneurship that shows how you can make a living doing what you love for a small investment (and it profiles 1,500 people who did exactly that with success). Chris is also the author of the book based on his blog as well as multiple manifestos, and his writing has appeared in Huffington PostBusinessWeek, and USA Today. Despite all the success and reaching his goal of visiting every country in the world, one gets the impression that Chris is just getting started.

And on that exciting note—welcome, Chris!

You’ve inspired and influenced a lot of people with your unconventional lifestyle. Who are some of the people that inspired and influenced you?

I was originally inspired by a surgeon in California who left home to volunteer his services in West Africa for more than twenty years. These days, I’m inspired by many of the people in the AONC community who are all pursuing big dreams and crazy projects of their own. I host a lot of meetups and events around the world, and always go away feeling motivated to improve my work in response to what other people are doing.

The concept behind The $100 Startup is that anyone with the desire, skills, and $100 can create freedom through entrepreneurship. But, if it’s that simple, why aren’t more people out there chasing their fantasies?

There are actually a lot of people out there doing it. Working on one’s own used to be very unusual, but now it’s slowly becoming mainstream—or if not totally mainstream, at least not that abnormal.

Chris Guillebeau

Visiting numerous countries, did you always manage to immerse yourself into the local culture, or were there times when you felt like a perpetual tourist?

It’s more of a third-culture thing. I couldn’t say with integrity that I “immerse myself into the local culture” wherever I go, but I’m also not a tourist. Instead it’s more of its own sense of identity, perhaps that of a modern nomad or wanderer.

Is your idea of home, then, different from others’? Is it difficult to establish roots, or is home wherever you are?

I have a home in Portland, Oregon, and I travel the world about half of the time. I feel at home in Portland and in any number of other cities. Whenever I’m home for a while without traveling, I miss the road. After I’ve been on the road for a while, I miss life in Portland. It’s not one or the other.

Which has played a bigger role in your success—luck or persistence? And what’s your response to people who tell you how “lucky” you are to travel the world?

Both. Perhaps you could say that luck favors the persistent.

As for being “lucky” to travel, that’s another story. There are plenty of people in the world who aren’t able to travel, but most of the people who would say something like that aren’t among them. I’m able to travel because I’ve made choices that support that lifestyle.

The $100 Startup

When you’re your own boss, downtime can be hard to come by. How can entrepreneurs and self-starters avoid burnout?

You don’t burn out by working too much, you burn out by doing things you don’t want to do. I always think it’s dangerous in the long-term to continue to push yourself when you’re unmotivated. But when you’re eager and excited to do something, why would you burn out?

You stress the importance of helping others. Why is that so essential to personal growth? Is it all about karma, or something more?

It’s generally a good idea to be a nice person, but it’s not just about karma. I like the concept of “selfish generosity,” where we ourselves benefit as we seek to engage and contribute. Most of us want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We can find that fulfilment through helping others.

Chris Guillebeau

Now that you’ve accomplished your goal of visiting every country in the world, do you have other big goals or plans in the works you can hint at?

Yep! First, just because I’m done visiting every country doesn’t mean I’m finished with travel. I love being on the road and have no plans of stopping—I hope to continue writing and traveling for many years to come. Right now I’m working on a new book about the nature of quests, not only my own but those of other people who have chosen to orient their lives around a big journey or lifelong pursuit.

Besides your own, what are some of your favorite books?

I mostly read fiction. Murakami is my favorite author, so I’ll pick A Wild Sheep Chase by him, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland.

 

Chris, thank you so, so much for taking the time out of your schedule (which is packed, no doubt) to chat with me. It was a pleasure getting to know more about you, and I can’t wait to see what you do next. Have questions, comments, or general exclamations of giddiness (I know I do!) for Chris? Leave them in the comments!