We’re always looking for stories around here. When Jenni asked me to help her tell these stories, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me: I’ve been writing stories (both my own, and made up) since I was a kid. Sitting down and talking to someone about their journey is probably one of my favorite things to do — with a cup of coffee of course.
Last month we sat down with Jen Brown. She’s a local badass to Winston-Salem, NC and we were thrilled that she made time to speak with us. Jen is the founder of the Engaging Educator, an improv-based platform that works specifically with women (and non-binary persons) to hone their communication skills both professionally and personally. Most recently, she founded Fearless; a non-profit community and teaching space for women.
We were intrigued by Fearless, and with our own ideas of the wild hearts club, we had some things on our minds and asked Jen for her perspective.
On our talisman (aka: bandana) wild hearts club, the middle of this design it says, ‘stay true’, like stay true to what your wild heart is telling you. You seem to have done a good job (whether on purpose or not) of staying true to what you’re good at and what you are passionate about. Being unconventional or going against the grain is scary. How do you stay true to yourself and your wild heart?
I think one of the best pieces of advice I got was when I started as a museum educator, and a mentor in the field told me that ‘museums aren’t for everyone, but they should be for anyone.’ I’ve really taken that to heart in everything I do and how I interact with people around me: I’m more than happy to talk and get to know anyone, and I do know I won’t be for everyone. The person that matters the most in all of this is me and my wellbeing, so I follow things that make my heart happy.
Around that same time, I applied for a job as an admin for my mentor. I am not an office worker – so she said, “What are you doing? I would fire you from this job and you know it. Apply to be a teacher.” Every time I tried to be conventional, it seemed, someone shoved me (or I shoved myself) back to my path.
During our talk you called yourself a non-business person, and Fearless as a non-business. Do you ever try to figure out what you ARE or what to call yourself? Or maybe you just don’t deal with naming, or boxes, categories, etc. I know for me in times of decision I often have to find vocabulary that is positive, rather than negative.
Depends on my audience. If I’m in a room of people (usually white men) that being a business owner or an entrepreneur will let them see me with a bit more respect, I’ll be an entrepreneur. And when we talk about the Engaging Educator, I am an entrepreneur, but not always business minded.
Yes, I firmly believe women should be paid for their work.
I don’t have a strategic plan or know my gross profit margins – but I do have a budget and think about growth. Fearless is a bit different, because the only people getting paid are the teachers that teach paid classes. I have no interest in ever taking a paycheck. Recently, a friend asked me if as Fearless gets bigger, if I want to get paid one day. I think I scoffed or laughed, and said, “No, I want to be present less so more people take ownership.”
So, I AM an entrepreneur with my first business, the Engaging Educator. I’m a spicy woman with goals when it comes to Fearless. I think labels are what you make them – there are always going to be “bad” people associated with words and titles. In the end, everything has personal connotations.
When is a time that fear overcame you? What about the flip side: a time you overcame fear?
Probably when I started Fearless. I was too scared to do it alone, so I got collaborators, both are no longer a part of the project. At the time, I didn’t think I could do it myself, and really thought I needed other people to make me whole. People that had skills that I thought I needed to make this happen. This ties into the second question (when I overcame fear), because I couldn’t do this myself, nor do I want to – but the key was my mission WAS enough.
Yes I couldn’t do it alone, but the people I needed are all the women who teach programming every month, women in the space, the women that keep the Facebook group lively and help fund the space through Patreon. It was when I knew my idea was enough, that I overcame fear.
Would I do it differently? I think I would trust in myself and the idea more. I don’t know though – I learned some really important lessons not believing in myself and my idea. And now I watch women show up for each other. I see all kinds of women teaching all kinds of classes. This month alone with have a lecture on Palestine, an African American History Class, a curly hair class, a stand up comedy workshop and a Stitch and Bitch. There are 34 different women teaching or leading or facilitating workshops and meetups.
Fear is a liar.
We are intentional in picking the word ‘wild’ for our bandanas. As women especially, ‘wild’ tends to have a negative connotation — out of control, or irresponsible — but we feel it means you are free through self-confidence, bravery and authenticity. What do you think about the word wild?
I got called wild by a fellow mentor at the Small Business Center – he told another older white man that I was “wild” and the older white man came to me for mentoring, and at the end said “Wow, [man’s name] was wrong about you. He said you were wild.”
I think wild is beautiful – look at wildflowers, wild plants – they go where they need to go to survive and flourish.
I think wild is resilient: you do what you have to do to make it happen.
Do you think a wild heart is a part of being fearless?
Absolutely. You have to follow your heart, wherever it leads, even if you’re afraid. In improv, we’re taught to follow the fear, because that’s where the prize is. So absolutely.
What is your favorite improv exercise to break the ice / loosen up / teach a student something new about themselves.
HAHAHAH I hate ice breakers. I think the best lesson from improv is substitute ‘Yes, And…’ for the word ‘But’. It’s hard, but try it for a day. Stop saying ‘But we don’t have money’ or ‘But I don’t have time’ – and replace it with Yes, I don’t have time, and I want to do this – how can I make it happen? Or Yes, we are low on money, and I want to do this, let’s get creative.
Thanks for being a part of the Wild Hearts Club, Jen! Keep on keepin’ on!
“We believe that each woman is an individual supernova of power with the ability to change the community around her.”
Fearless is a collaborative collective + social community for + by women located in Winston Salem, NC. We host events, speakers, and workshops on a wide range of skills sourced locally from the brains and brawn of women in the Triad.