I realized early on that I was never going to be able to operate like a lot of the other speakers out there. Most of them don’t have a lot of credibility to be in front of an audience. They just woke up and said, “I want to be a speaker!” and they Googled some material and voila! They were speakers. I worked really hard to get material no one else could have. Right when I started speaking, a man asked me how I’d gotten such great self-esteem. At the time, I was in one of my overweight phases and I just started laughing. I talked about that and then I got swarmed by my audience as soon as I left the stage. Everybody wanted to meet me in person because I was so honest and real. I realized people loved me
for being real about who I am, much more than they liked me for standing up like some know-it-all giving them information. People love real people. One time, my pants were too long when I did a keynote for NASA and I tripped onstage. Right there in front of hundreds of people. There was a collective gasp from the audience. I stood up, looked at them and said, “See? You like me better because I tripped!” And they cheered so loudly because that is the truth. People root for the underdog who falls down, gets up and keeps going — because that is them.
You are really funny.
I keep hearing that! At home, I don’t think I’m funny. Well, maybe a little. But, not like when I am onstage, telling stories. Something comes out that is crazy fun for me. I really love performing, and the humor comes right out of me. The audiences egg me on when they laugh.
You were an investigative reporter. How did you wind up being a motivational speaker?
Nobody — I mean, nobody — could see this coming. The only thing I’d ever wanted to do was be a newspaper reporter, but the time came when I realized I’d done everything I’d ever wanted to do in journalism. It was in the Gore v. Bush election when U.S. News and World Report wanted to send me to Tallahassee to cover it for three weeks, and I declined. You don’t turn down a story like that. But that was it. I was through with journalism. I’d already started writing my book, but I was having so much trouble getting it published and my friend said, “You should think about being a professional speaker.” I had never thought about it. But, that suggestion changed my life. This is what my life was building toward all along.
Why would someone hire you over another speaker?
Audiences trust me a lot. I am so open about my obstacles, failures and life lessons, and that makes me very accessible to others because they’ve all had their tough moments, too. I show them that there is no special DNA for success or leadership. It mostly comes down to courage and confidence. It is my life’s mission to give people the self-esteem they lack so they can make the decisions that give them more success at work and better relationships at home and within themselves. I have the ability to get people to see a greater potential for themselves, then take action.
What is your best topic?
I am very strong on leadership, risk and hyperperformance because that is what all of my research focused on. But I am really best at work-life balance or work- life effectiveness or whatever they are calling it these days. I have always had a very balanced, fulfilling life. My mother had a terrible stroke when she was young and I realized how urgent it was to live life in the moment, doing as much as possible with the time I have. I work very hard, but I live very large. I get a lot of satisfaction showing others how to let go of their insecurities, bet on themselves, work hard but also have a real life.
You’re on your eighth book. Did you ever think you would write so many? How have your books evolved?
I always knew I’d write a book. One. But, eight? Never, ever imagined that.
There’s truly no overlap in my books except for a common theme of individual power and choice. That runs through every book, including my novel. Hard Won Wisdom is about finding your power. Mustang Sallies is about using it. The NEW Woman Rules was commissioned by NEW — the Network of Executive Women — and features interviews with 52 of the most accomplished women in American business. That is a hard core guide to putting yourself on the fast track. Finding the Up in the Downturn was a shot in the arm when the economy plunged. The Ah Hah! Moment is a workbook to help you put your baggage aside and start to thrive in a more fulfilling, productive realm. Pearls is like a greatest hits book, a deluxe gift volume with the best quotes from my interviews with all those great leaders in my first three books. And Mermaid Mambo? That’s my novel. It’s whimsical chick-lit with a strong message of empowerment and choice. Now there is Reset, which is all about owning your life rather than operating by default.
You had an Oprah book.
Yes. She chose Hard Won Wisdom and told the world how “very inspiring” she found it. That was very personal for me because because Hard Won Wisdom was rejected by every major U.S. publisher, then was released the day before 9/11. I would not give up on it. I wrote 29 letters to Oprah and something worked.
You headline a lot of women’s leadership events. Do you ever speak to men?
All the time. Sixty percent of my audiences are mixed with men and women. Forty percent are all women. The material is different and I play well with both men and women. Men connect very well with athletic metaphors for adversity — and as such an avid kayaker and cyclist, I’ve got quite a few stories about pushing limits, defying odds and winning. I absolutely enjoy the women’s leadership events because I am watching us make so much history. When I started a little over a decade ago, the corporate women’s leadership events were just getting going. Now these events are creating real success and exposure for women in their companies. They are making a huge difference, giving women access and networking opportunities. It has been a real passion of mine to show women how to leave the middle and get to the top.
What is your latest book about?
Reset is about making the decision to reset your life and make changes. It is too easy to get settled in a rut that isn’t working for you, whether it is at work or at home. If you aren’t happy or fulfilled, what are you waiting for? I hear so many people tell me they are waiting for a child to graduate or to lose 20 pounds or to finish an and advanced degree. Then they are going to live. Well, life happens right now. Reset shows how to hit the button and make the changes that will give you purpose and happiness.
What inspired it?
I had a huge reset this past year, one that I write about as a “hard reset.” That is when you stop everything, take action and reboot. Reset was my salvation after 2013 — the hardest year of my life. In a span of a few months, my 7-year relationship ended, my mother died, then my father died, and a close friend sold me a house that had a myriad of expensive and hidden problems that seemed to cost $5,000 to $10,000 a week — for a very long time. I was speaking in Dallas as the anniversary of my mother’s death came around — I was in the same hotel and speaking to the same group that I’d spoken to the day after Mom died in my arms. I realized that I was depressed. I said to myself, “Either you get some medication or you’ve got to do something.” That was 2 a.m. on a Sunday. I flew home, then the next morning started a hike on the beaches of Pinellas County — my home county in Florida. Over the next two weeks, I walked more than 70 miles of beach — every inch of our beaches. Three days into it, I woke up happy — I was looking forward to that day’s walk. Every day after that, I started feeling better and better. When I was finished, I was my old self again. I wondered how long the euphoria would last, but it did not end. That was when I realized the power of a reset. It really works. You can read a magazine article I wrote on it here. And, here is a video I did on the trek. It makes me happy every time I see it. What an amazing experience.
I really feel like I went through those hard times so I could teach others how to climb out of them. It was the inspiration for the Reset book, which absolutely poured out of my heart.
You have spoken all over the world. Was that exciting?
I did a speaking tour in China and Taiwan that was sponsored by Michael’s. That was my life’s Cinderella moment, for sure. It was amazing. Speaking in India was very, very moving. And I did one event in Dubai where I ran a leadership conference for women from Nigeria — those women warmed my heart on such a deep, deep level. I realize what a privilege it is for me to do the work that I do. I have met so many people who have taught and inspired me.
Tell me something people wouldn’t know about you from your books or presentations.
I pretty much put it all out there. I am someone who works hard but tries to get to the beach multiple times a week if I am home in Florida. I’d much rather be in shorts and a tank top than in business attire. I would choose a casual restaurant over fine dining any day. I have a dog (an amazing, rescued pit bull) and four cats who wound up living with me — not because I like cats, but because I am a sucker for a stray. Now that they are residents in my home, I love them. I am happy 98 percent of the time. It is a choice.
I have to write all afternoon, but then I’m going to the beach for sunset.