Jessica: Hey, it’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand Noonday Collection. And this is the Going Scared podcast, where we cover all things, social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. I have been dying to get today’s guest on our show. You guys have got to know Luvvie Ajayi. Y’all, she is absolutely laugh-out-load hilarious, hilarious. She wrote her debut book, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, a couple years ago, which made the New York Times bestseller list. And it’s a collection of essays that critiques our fame-based, social-media-centric lives while encouraging us to do better.
She’s the writer of the popular blog Awesomely Luvvie where she covers all the things—I mean we’re talking from pop culture to beauty, TV, movies, race, social injustice, all of life’s random adventures. She just launched a podcast called Rants and Randomness. And our conversation today covers—well, very Luvvie style. Everything from friendship to social media to what are the best beauty serums she’s using these days. Give it a listen.
Jessica: Jen Hatmaker is definitely your biggest fan on planet earth. She is absolutely obsessed with you for good reason.
Luvvie: I love her.
Jessica: She’s the best. She really is the best. She lives here in Austin and she is definitely one of the most hilarious people of my real-life friends. And she’s attracted to hilarious, smart people. And so, she introduced me to your work, but then I met you at the Texas Women’s Conference. You were hanging with Tiffany Aliche, who I’ve since had on this podcast, and you had … I wanted it to be a part of your crew. You guys were just hanging out, having fun, talking about like how you’d been up all night chatting. So, I was just I want these people in my life. So, I just wanted to hear a little bit more about your sisterhood because I feel like as much as we talk about sisterhood these days and I feel like sisterhood has made this comeback, I don’t feel like enough people actually have it in real life. So, tell us a little bit more about your friends.
What Is Sisterhood in Real Life?
Luvvie: Oh my goodness. I think sisterhood is really important and just friendship is really important because our friends have really like a direct impact on our lives in the strongest ways, even more than sometimes our family because they are basically our chosen family. And I have a strong group of friends who Tiffany is a part of, and we call ourselves the West African Voltron. And it’s a lot of us who met in random ways who realized what we had in common was, we’re first-generation African Americans ultimately. Most of us were born in either Ghana or Nigeria. And we realized that this thread that brings us together allows us to kind of shorthand our lives. We understand how we grew up because our families act the same, our parents act the same, have the same values. But what we all really have in common is that we uphold excellence. So, we cheer each other on, we support each other. We’re the friends who aren’t just cheering you on even when you are doing terrible things. No, we will challenge you. We will say, "You know what, I can help you." We will say, "I’m here for you."
So yeah, we exchange information. And because we’re all in very similar places in our careers, even though we’re in different industries, we’re also able to support each other through the things that people might not typically have such as like when one of us needs to get a new job, we would definitely be like, "Hey, I can help you figure out how to negotiate." We’re just a group of people who insist on friendship being a verb.
“I think sisterhood is really important and just friendship is really important because our friends have really like a direct impact on our lives in the strongest ways, even more than sometimes our family because they are basically our chosen family. … We’re just a group of people who insist on friendship being a verb.” Luvvie Ajayi
Jessica: Who was your first best friend in your life?
Luvvie: Oh my goodness. My first best friend was Tommy Vaughn. I was born in Nigeria and I went to a private school since I was probably two. I started school at two. And we were in the same class.
Jessica: Is that the Nigerian way? I mean, that’s early.
Luvvie: Yeah. Yes. I started school at two, I was reading by three. So, yeah, Tommy was my first-ever best friend like there’s a picture of us where we’re both two years old, wearing our uniforms, sitting next to each other. And up until I left Nigeria when I was nine, we were inseparable. Like every class picture, we were next to each other from two to nine.
Jessica: So, what was that like, leaving that friendship and moving to America? How does your friendships transition?
Luvvie: Oh man, it was tough because ultimately moving to a new continent changes the game for you. I remember when we moved here, one of the first things I did was write her a letter just to say hi, and I think I sent her a dollar.
Jessica: That’s awesome.
Luvvie: I think I sent her a dollar.
Jessica: You know she still has that dollar?
Luvvie: You know, I was just like, oh my goodness. So that’s how I stayed in touch with her, but then we lost touch after a few years. I went back to Nigeria for the first time, I think 2011. And we found each other on Facebook, I think in 19. No, no, in 2007 or 2008, we found each other on Facebook because she hit me up and said, "You look like my first best friend who went to this school." And I was like, "It’s me." It was really cool. It was really cool to meet up on Facebook. So, when I was going back to Nigeria, I actually messaged her and be like, "Hey, I’m coming for a week or two," and she was like, "Oh my gosh, I have to see you." And sure enough, she came to my hotel. And we’ve kept in touch since.
From Vulnerability to Friendship
Jessica: What do you think are the obstacles that prevent women from forming that sisterhood and like making friendship a verb?
Luvvie: I think it’s from us carrying some past experiences and projecting onto everybody else. So, a lot of times, ysome people would be like, "Oh, I can’t be friends with women. You know, I’ve been burned." So, people put up walls, some that are earned to protect themselves, to protect their spirits, to protect their hearts. But the thing about that is in your attempt to keep the bad out, you also tend to keep the good out. It means that wall that you put up, yes, it might keep you from being close to the person who might betray you, but it might keep you from also cultivating some of the best relationships of your life.
“In your attempt to keep the bad out, you also tend to keep the good out. It means that wall that you put up, yes, it might keep you from being close to the person who might betray you, but it might keep you from also cultivating some of the best relationships of your life.” Luvvie Ajayi
So, I understand people’s need to be careful and hesitance to be vulnerable, but I really do think at the end of that is some of the best relationships. And for me, I’ve had friendship experiences that haven’t been great where we are no longer friends or we fell out, but I never want one experience to keep me from experiencing beautiful things. I never want that one fallout to be the reason why I didn’t cultivate this one friendship that could be life changing ultimately.
Jessica: Glennon Doyle, she talks about this idea of forming a horseshoe of friends instead of a circle of friends. So how do you do that when you’ve got this crew of 16, and obviously to be a part of it, you need to be from West Africa. So, if you meet some other super cool Nigerian, how would you create a horseshoe there? Is that something you think about?
Luvvie: So, here’s the thing is, so the Voltron is not my only group of friends. They’re just my more public group of friends. In terms of the horseshoe that Glennon talks about which I’ve … I love Glennon also. And understanding that again, like the heart is limitless in its ability to build relationships and love and to connect with people. So, I have other friends, but I think the horseshoe is more about not locking yourself out of the idea that you might cultivate new relationships. So, the horseshoe is insisting that you’re not saying no new friends, right? At any moment, you might meet somebody and connect and be like, "Yo, I feel like we’ve been friends all our lives and though we just met three weeks ago," it’s kind of leaving that open heart. And her idea of the horseshoe is also the circle is closed off, right? The circle is like, "Hey, there’s no other room for anybody else," but the horseshoe is like, "Hey, here’s a door that you can come in." So, I think there’s something there because it kind of leaves you open to receiving the things that you should receive.
Jessica: I mean that’s really how I met Tiffany because we were in this moment of sitting beside each other and no one was in our line to sign our books. And so, it’s like let’s get to know each other. And then we’ve gotten to be friends and it’s, yeah, you never know when those opportunities are gonna present themselves. So, it’s like you almost always have to have this horseshoe heart to stay open to those opportunities.
Luvvie: Yeah. And it doesn’t mean that your horseshoe doesn’t have a filter. You can still have your filter.
Jessica: Well, that’s right.
Luvvie: You know what I mean? You can still have your filter up, you can still have a discerning eye and understand what’s worth coming in the door? What can you let into the door? Who can you let in the door? What type of values do you need to have in the horseshoe? But I think it, it just focuses more on the openness of the possibilities.
Luvvie Ajayi: Where Humor Meets Truth
Jessica: So, at the conference you talked about being a truth teller and then you said that among your group of friends, you guys are about excellence, calling each other up, calling each other out and forth. What does being a truth teller mean to you?
Luvvie: I think being a truth teller is just being honest in all ways, in all rooms that you’re in. Oftentimes, we find ourselves only honest to certain people or in certain rooms. But what happens when we actually commit to being honest, thoughtfully honest that is, in all the rooms that we’re in, to all people that we encounter? How does that shift the world when we insist that we will lie less? I’m just a bad liar. If I’m lying, you can tell on my face because I don’t really mask it well. I don’t have a poker face either, so I pretty much learned early on me lying is not gonna take me far because people will know I’m lying. So, I’m just like … it might just be best for me to kind of just be honest. And I’ve been this person since I was younger. So, it was one of those things where when I started blogging, 16 years ago, my blog started standing out and people were like, "Oh my God, you keep it real. You say what I’m thinking," but I didn’t dare to say it, and I didn’t find it extraordinary. I was just like, I’m just telling the truth and people find it extraordinary. And I was like, "Wow, that’s fascinating." Because I was like, "This is just regular stuff."
Jessica: It’s fascinating that I can tell someone I’m judging you, and everyone’s like, "You said it out loud."
Luvvie: Yes. I think it’s like, but telling thoughtful truth is different from the person who keeps it real until it goes wrong, right? There’s people who are like, oh … they’ll say hateful things under the umbrella of keeping it real. That’s not it. That’s not it. It’s not to be completely a douche bag or to be the person who is just like use of slurs and being like, "Well, I’m just being honest." That’s not really it. But being a truth teller is more about like being the person who is able to speak honestly about how they’re feeling, about the things that they’re seeing around them, about just how the world is and that’s what I do.
“But being a truth teller is more about like being the person who is able to speak honestly about how they’re feeling, about the things that they’re seeing around them, about just how the world is and that’s what I do.” Luvvie Ajayi
Jessica: Well, and you do it through humor, which you are absolutely one of the most hilarious people on planet earth today. I mean, there are just few people that can speak the truth and make you laugh out loud the way Luvvie can do for all of us. When did you sort of learn how to speak the truth and humor? Do your parents have stories when, "Oh yeah, when Luvvie was six years old, listen to this story." Are there any of those?
Luvvie: Yeah, I mean, I think my humor is very much also based on my Nigerianess because Nigerians are very straightforward people, and our parents also don’t necessarily do that much work to spare our feelings when we’re little. And you basically form this armor around yourself of … humor can be used in so many different ways. I don’t think I realized I was funny though until probably high school. I ended up just hanging … my crew in high school was just a group of just goofy people, and we’d spend lunch just making fun of each other and cracking each other up for no reason. So, we were just really kind of lighthearted and really joyful in how we approach life. We’ll see each other in the hallway and like yell at each other across the hallway something really funny about what the person has on for no reason. And we’d all cackle.
But I realized early on that humor is a great equalizer. If you can make somebody laugh, you pull their defenses down and they’re more willing to hear what you have to say, right? Like it becomes … the wall that they might’ve thought they put up in front of you, that wall crumbled without them even realizing it because you just made them laugh. So, it’s a powerful tool and I don’t approach my work like I’m gonna be funny. When I started writing and I started blogging, I wasn’t approaching it like, "OK, I’m going to have a humor blog." I literally was just saying what I was thinking in the way that I was thinking it. And people were like, "Yo, this is funny." And I’m like, "That’s interesting." OK. It’s never conscious because I feel like if I tried to be funny, I probably won’t be. I don’t know. I’ve never really tried to be funny. I think I just, a lot of comedies couch into pointing out the absurdities of the world and ultimately that’s what I do is point out like, "Yo, this thing is weird. Have you noticed that?" And people are like, "You’re right. Oh my gosh." That’s ultimately what humor is. And it just works to my favor because the world is really absurd, and there’s a lot of ridiculous things to point out. So, I am never without material.
“Humor is a great equalizer. If you can make somebody laugh, you pull their defenses down and they’re more willing to hear what you have to say. … The wall that they might’ve thought they put up in front of you, that wall crumbled without them even realizing it because you just made them laugh.” Luvvie Ajayi
Jessica: Well, it’s funny that you say it comes from being Nigerian because I’ve never been to West Africa, but I go to East Africa frequently, and I have a son from East Africa. And I always have to prepare myself. Like, OK, they’re gonna shoot real straight. They’re gonna talk about, "Oh God, you’ve gotten so fat. I mean, you are looking good." I mean I have to literally like desensitize my Americanness and just get ready.
Luvvie: Facts only. Facts only.
Jessica: Oh my gosh. It kills me. Facts only. Oh my gosh.
Luvvie: Facts only. Especially I’ve been to East Africa too, but like West Africans, Yo. That’s why a lot of us are very somewhat unflappable in high stress situations because our whole life has been high stress situation presented by people who just shoot straight to the hip for us. Yeah, a lot of times. So, their favorite insult is like, call you a goat. So, when you do something foolish that’s your parents don’t like, they will call you a foolish goat. So, if your parents are calling you a foolish goat, what do you care what anybody else is calling you?
Jessica: What do you care?
Luvvie: Why do you care? You’re like, OK, so what did you just call me?
Jessica: For real?
Luvvie: Yeah. Yeah.
Parenting Children to Show Up with Excellence
Jessica: Oh my gosh. So, do you just laugh with this whole helicopter parenting sort of over parenting that a lot of us do here in America and how we’re like every of our children is a special snowflake?
Luvvie: Yes, absolutely. It’s really funny because we never got, so we never got participation trophies. The idea that you just showing up. "Oh my God, I’m so proud of you because you went," no, no. “Did you come in first? No. Then why? Why did you not come in first? Oh, you didn’t. OK, well do better next time.” There wasn’t a, "Oh my God, I’m gonna just give you a high five because you tried." No, like, your parents will get mad at you if you showed up with a B. They’ll be like, "So what happened to the A? Why did you not get that A." Or you even get the A-minus. "Why did you not get the actual A?" So yeah, we didn’t get the “Just showing up is good enough.” We got the, “I need you to show up and I need you to be number one.”
Jessica: Be excellent.
Luvvie: Be excellent.
Jessica: Oh my gosh. Yeah. Tiffany was telling me about her family, how her dad, they put the electrical bill out just on the dining table and they all had to know like how much they overspent the next month. And I mean, honestly that conversation and how she does money, I was like, "Oh, can I shut my kids off to live with your parents? Can they start a new business where my kids just go?"
Luvvie: Well, it’s the idea of being trusted with yourself in a separate way. It’s them trusting you that you will hold yourself accountable without necessarily them having to do it, even though they will still do it. They will still hold you accountable to your failures or to your lack of excellence. However, they want you to feel in the moment that you’re taking this test, not when you get the result back. When you were taking the test, you feel the pressure to show up and be really good. It’s not like, "Oh my God, I’m gonna get the results back and then finally freak out." No, while you’re sitting there, you’re like, "OK, I know I already studied. I know I spent my time on this. I know I’ve done my work, so I’m gonna show up in this way. So, they won’t have anything to say to me."
That’s ultimately, that is also trusting you that you have a higher standard for yourself than I have for you. And it’s also kind of trusting you to be like a mini adult. They essentially raised us like mini adults. You weren’t having a babysitter when you were 10. “You’re staying at home by yourself. I raised you to be able to take care of yourself, so I’m gonna trust you that you’ll be OK for the next couple of hours. I’ll be back at this time. Here’s food. You’re good.”
Jessica: That’s right. If there’s even food.
Luvvie: There’s food. "Don’t burn down the house. In fact, I already know you won’t burn down the house because you have more sense than this." All right. Yeah. That’s how a lot of us were raised and how our parents approached us.
Jessica: It seems to have worked, because I’m telling you, gosh. Well, I might be calling all my Nigerian friends for parenting tips from here on now. OK, so speaking of absurdities, so helicopter parenting. Then there was the whole recent … these Hollywood stars that bribe these schools. What are some absurdities that have you laughing these days?
Luvvie: The Hollywood parents that bribed the college, that is so far from what my parents would have done that it’s laughable in five different ways because, "Not only are you gonna get into the Ivy League college, I need you to get into all of them. And don’t even look at me to spend any money on any of it because clearly you’re gonna score this high score on your ACTs and SATs." It’s so laughable. We didn’t even know it was an option to be cheated into school.
Jessica: I don’t know if I did either Luvvie until a couple of weeks ago.
Luvvie: Listen, I was like, oh my God, you wanna talk about privilege? That is some privilege. And you know the stories I hear, it’s essentially setting your kids up for failure. It’s nothing but setting your kids up for failure to cheat them through life because there’s gonna be a point, and everybody gets to that point, where there’s no money that can help you in that situation. But when you’ve been ushered along and helicopter parented along for so long, you don’t have the actual skills to then burst that wall yourself. It’s going to catch up with you at one point or the other. So, my whole thing is I want to raise and have little humans who can navigate this world without me constantly parenting them.
I wanna have, I think there needs to be people in this … I hear about from college professors now, how parents are officially the worst. A kid getting a grade they don’t like in an exam and the parent calling the college professor. How is this kid supposed to operate when they go into the real world, and they’re on a job and they face any type of conflict? Is mom gonna come back down and visit your boss? It is very absurd to me. We are basically giving people … we’re ensuring that we’re gonna raise a generation of helpless and hopeless people who have no resilience because they’ve never had to figure out their own problems.
“It’s essentially setting your kids up for failure. … Everybody gets to that point, where there’s no money that can help you in that situation. But when you’ve been ushered along and helicopter parented along for so long, you don’t have the actual skills to then burst that wall yourself. … I want to raise and have little humans who can navigate this world without me constantly parenting them.” Luvvie Ajayi
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A Profile of Social-Media-Centric Lives
Jessica: So, my daughter just turned 13, and it’s funny because right after Tiffany’s podcast, I was gonna break down and buy her her first phone. But then after Tiffany I was like, “No, I’m sticking with a plan. She has to pay for her phone, she’s got to.” And so, she did, she babysat and so she bought her first phone. She was the last kid at her school to not have an iPhone.
Luvvie: Oh my goodness.
Jessica: So it’s been like three weeks now and you wrote a book, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, which is a collection of essays that critiques our fame-obsessed social-media-centric lives. Now I haven’t let her get social yet, but I’m already seeing her disappear into her phone and it’s breaking my heart. But I’m curious, since you wrote that book that came out in 2016, which went straight to the New York Times bestseller list as it should have gone, how have we progressed or regressed since then? Because even in the last three years, social media and technology has changed. So, you have your head to the pulse of all of it.
Luvvie: Yeah, I think we’ve regressed. There’s certain things that I wrote. I do, you know … when I wrote the book, I really was intentional about, I wanna make sure this book is timely and timeless. As in, if somebody picks it up five, seven years after I wrote it, they would still be like, "Yo, this is still relevant." However, I didn’t want it to be so relevant that the things that I was talking about would actually be worsened. Social media, the fact that people now post pictures on LinkedIn that has those filters, like the butterfly filter. I’m like, "Yo, this is a professional website. Why do you look like Tinker Bell in your head shot? What are we doing here?" I was like, "Yo, if I wanna hire you to do marketing for my company, I don’t want Tinker Bell. Can I see what you look like?"
Jessica: I mean, that’s a good way to filter potentials.
Luvvie: It is. It is, because I want you to be the person who’s not just like posting Snapchat filters all day. But yeah, social media has, man, it’s gotten much harder. And to be a teenager during this time is one of the probably the worst times ever to be a teenager because I’m thankful that we didn’t have social media when we were growing up. None of us had cell phones at 13 because no, and two, I think we had like MySpace, but we didn’t have MySpace till I was like 18 or 19, but what that allowed us to do was it allowed us to become the people that we would become just based on our family and our friends and our schools. That’s it.
Now, your world and your personhood is being dictated by people you might never meet, by this app that’s in your hand, by watching other kids from around the world, and you’re comparing yourself to them. And it scares me for this generation, because it’s tough. Ultimately, you’re having to perform your childhood for approval. You essentially have your childhood ranked now. "Oh my God, I posted a picture yesterday and it only got 30 likes." That can mess up a kid. You know, it can mess up your confidence.
“Now, your world and your personhood is being dictated by people you might never meet, by this app that’s in your hand, by watching other kids from around the world, and you’re comparing yourself to them. … Ultimately, you’re having to perform your childhood for approval.” Luvvie Ajayi
Jessica: It messes up an adult.
Luvvie: Girl, it messes up adults all the time, so let alone a teenager who’s just trying to form who they are. I worry about them. I really do. And parents, shoutout to y’all how you’re navigating it. Props because, oof. That’s tough.
Jessica: Wow. I have to say that. Absolute censorship or not letting her have a phone was so much easier than what we are dealing with now. And it’s mainly just a distraction. And I’ve asked her, I’m trying to bring more reflection into my life and into her life. And so, I’m like, "Hey, so it’s been three weeks. What have been some good things about it?" And granted she gets to text her friends now, so that’s legit because come on, friendships are essential in the seventh grade, and she’s got such a great group of friends and she had a flip phone before. And so, she couldn’t, it’s like, I mean it would take her like 20 minutes to text. So, girlfriend, I’m like, OK, I’m glad she’s texting her friends. But then she just said … mainly it’s a distraction just because you just, you have stupid little, you just start scrolling and … But we have it Luvvie. So, we have it and we’re worried about it, but it’s not going away way. So, what are some of the ways that you think about it? How do you kind of speak to your audience about it now?
Luvvie: I really think it’s more about who you are and understanding your core values and not letting the tool itself determine what your values are. And I guess that’s why I worry about the younger kids is because you’re not sure who you are yet. You have to figure out. But ultimately this thing can define who you are for you. So even for those of us who are older, who have been the bridge generation, who remembers life before it but are now immersed in it, we have to remind ourselves, “Who am I? What are the things that I hold dear?” So, because for me, honesty is something that I hold dear, I have to be honest with myself and the people who follow me.
So, I don’t really like using those really bright filters. So, I’m like, that’s not what I look like. I’m not being honest if I post that. So even using my own value of honesty keeps me honest too on the platform. It means I’m not posting a picture of something I’m not doing just to impress people. It means I can say to my audience, "Hey, yeah, it’s been a rough day." It means I can tell them, "Hey, yes, I went to therapy today." So ultimately, I want my platform to essentially reflect my values. So, the stuff that I post is really authentic to me. And I think that’s clutch, and it also means not falling into the trap of posting almost as competition, right? Don’t do the things that are not real to you because you want to impress these people.
“I really think [taking control of social media is] more about who you are and understanding your core values and not letting the tool itself determine what your values are. … even using my own value of honesty keeps me honest too on the platform. … I want my platform to essentially reflect my values. So, the stuff that I post is really authentic to me.” Luvvie Ajayi
Jessica: Yeah. It’s crazy how much thoughtfulness it takes. I wrote an article for the Magnolia Journal. Chip and Joanna Gaines have a magazine and they asked me to write about authenticity, and it’s out right now, but just writing the article and having it out there has called me to this higher level of excellence around filtering everything through that value of authenticity. And I mean, your brand is about truth speaking. So, it’s almost like once you out yourself that “this is my value.” It almost holds you accountable to filtering everything that you put out there and making sure, and of course it’s never 100% because sometimes my intentions are like I’m having a hard day and give me some likes. I’m not beneath that, but it never feels good in the end. It just can be this perpetual hamster wheel. But yeah, I think that’s so true. Knowing your values and then filtering everything through your values is what can actually bring life to the whole thing.
Curating Positive Spaces in Our Social Media
Luvvie: Yeah. And social media is honestly, like, there’s certain days where I will log onto social and instantly feel stressed out just from … because you get to see everybody’s feelings and you get to see everybody’s world.
Jessica: And usually their highlight reels.
Luvvie: And the highlight reels and you also get to see the sharing of the news and you get to see sometimes if you venture into certain comment sections, the trash. So, a lot of times you also have to be honest with yourself and be like, "You know what? Today, this is not good for me, so I’m gonna step back." Or "Maybe I need to go do something else," which is honestly why I think we need to create the spaces that we wanna see in the world and be the people we want to be around. That’s really important is oftentimes we complain about what’s happening in the world, but I’m always like, then what are we doing about it? How are we showing up to not be the people who stress other people out? And that’s why I’m like ultimately with Facebook and the Twitter and Instagram, curate your spaces. Curate the spaces that you wanna be in, that you wanna see, pick the people you wanna be around. If somebody is stressing you online unfollow them. If there’s somebody’s social presence that does not feed you, unfollow them. Even if you know them in real life, you guys will still meet at Brunch, but just be like, "Hey, yeah, I just had to unfollow for my own wellbeing."
“We need to create the spaces that we wanna see in the world and be the people we want to be around. … Curate the spaces that you wanna be in, that you wanna see, pick the people you wanna be around. If somebody is stressing you online unfollow them. If there’s somebody’s social presence that does not feed you, unfollow them.” Luvvie Ajayi
And for me, like, I actually created my own social network because I was being stressed out by the rest of social media. So, I was like, I’m out. I created … my audience calls themselves Luvv Nation. And one thing that’s always been great about my platforms, the one thing that I’m really proud of about my platforms is that half the battle, like half the joy is going on there and reading what I have to say. But the other half is what my audience has to say. They’re so freaking funny. They’re really, really funny.
Jessica: They are. They are.
Luvvie: Oh my God. They’re so freaking funny. It just, it cracks me up.
Jessica: That’s book material too. I mean, you can just publish your comment feed.
Luvvie: It is. So, I decided, I was like, you know what? What if I create a platform where my audience just gets to talk to each other, where essentially you get to have elevated conversation that does not have any trolls in it, in the space? So, I created luvvnation.com to be my own social network and there’s 5,000…
Jessica: Oh, wow. So, you have your own website?
Luvvie: I do. I have my own like actual network where people get to talk, and it just contains … there’s 5,000 members and I launched it three weeks ago.
Jessica: That is awesome.
Luvvie: Yeah. I call it a safe space in a dumpster-fire world because we need these spaces to go exhale and be like, "You know what? Even if I’m gonna be challenged, in here I wouldn’t be challenged hatefully. I won’t be challenged by people who just wanna throw me away." So yeah, we got to create the space as we wanna see.
Jessica: I wonder if that’s going to start of a new trend, that you’re gonna start a new trend of people just saying like, "I’m out." Yeah.
Luvvie: It’s possible. I’m still on the major platforms but actually spend less time on there now because I go into Luvv Nation, and it’s encouraging in there. It’s, somebody literally said, it feels like an exhale.
Jessica: Yeah. Well it reminds me of how you open the podcast just talking about home. It’s where you’re from and it’s almost like you’re creating a home for people.
Luvvie: Home. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jessica: And how it feels good. People want that. People want to come home. So, I know you are an activist and I know that you do want to be a verb in the world. And no big deal, Oprah Winfrey. OK. I mean, I don’t know if you can get through a podcast without me mentioning Oprah and Luvvie. So, you were on her SuperSoul 100 list as someone who elevates humanity. Hello? Now, please tell me your parents were proud of that one.
Luvvie: Oh my gosh. Very proud. I mean, Oprah. Honestly, that was surreal because when I got the email that was like, "Hey, congrats, you’ve been selected as one of Oprah’s SuperSoul 100." I deleted the email, because I thought it was spam. I was like, "Nah, this ain’t real." Yeah, I definitely deleted it. And then they sent me a followup one, then I was like, "Oh, snap. What? That’s cool." Yeah. Yeah. It was pretty awesome.
Jessica: Tell me about how you landed that list. Like, what are some things that you’ve been up to in the world where you’ve been a verb?
Luvvie: Oh Man. You know, how I landed on the list? I’m not, I mean, I guess Oprah was checking me out. But over the years, I’ve essentially built a platform for myself based on honesty and I have this deep commitment to show up and make this world better than I found it in some way. I don’t necessarily have to do anything huge every single day, but I’ve also insisted on being authentically myself, with the hope that it shows somebody else that they can also be themselves, whoever they are. So, I’ve always done the things that I feel compelled to do. I’ve always spoken up about the things I wanted to speak up about. So, over the years, yeah, I end up ending on these grand stages because my writing … in my writing is where I showed up the most, especially in the beginning, I would write about what’s happening in the world. I would write about the injustices happening, how black men and women and girls and boys were being shot in the streets. I would write about all of this stuff. And in the middle of it, I was making you laugh. So, it started giving me more access and it started making my name more visible. And yeah, I think just it was a combination of all of that and I ended up on Oprah SuperSoul 100 list with like Deepak Chopra and Ava DuVernay and Arianna Huffington and it was nuts. I was just like, whoa. And Oprah did a brunch for us in LA for the SuperSoul 100.
“I have this deep commitment to show up and make this world better than I found it in some way. I don’t necessarily have to do anything huge every single day, but I’ve also insisted on being authentically myself, with the hope that it shows somebody else that they can also be themselves, whoever they are.” Luvvie Ajayi
Jessica: Tell me about meeting her. Like how do you actually feel in her presence? Is it how I imagine it?
Luvvie: Yeah. So, Oprah has this really calming, for me anyway, she has this really calming effect. Like I didn’t feel the need to necessarily fan girl when I saw her. I was just like, it’s really nice to meet you because she has this really grounded spirits. She’s very self-assured. You know how some people you meet them, and you just feel jumpy just because they have this anxious energy. She has the opposite of that, like feet solidly on the ground. She knows who she is. She’s not arrogant about it, but she absolutely knows her power and she owns it in a way that a lot of women are not encouraged to do. So, I loved it. Like it was very, yeah, it was soothing to my soul. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m meeting Oprah.” And I just thought about how she was able to build everything she’s built but still maintain herself.
Rock the Red Pump
Jessica: So, we talk a lot about social impact on this podcast and I know you’ve done a lot of work around HIV/AIDS. Tell us a little bit about that work and why is that the issue you really poured yourself into for the last decade or so?
Luvvie: Yeah. When I was in college, I was a Counseling and Affair professional and I ended up having to do a project, a self-directed project. And I was like, “Well, I guess I’ll research something that’s a chronic issue and really highlight it.” And I started researching, stumbled upon HIV and AIDS and realized how bad it was in terms of how it was affecting people around the globe and realized that 40 million people have been affected by HIV. So, I started digging deeper into the topic, ended up doing this whole show while I was in college about Sub-Saharan Africa, HIV and AIDS in women and HIV and AIDS in black people and how much it’s really touched our communities. I ended up meeting somebody who became a friend of mine and she had 20 cousins who were living with her grandmother in Malawi because their parents had died of AIDS-related complications. And I was shocked. It really put a story on the numbers I was seeing, and it kind of gripped my heart and I’m just like this thing that nobody talks about it. How come? I was like, why did I just find out really about how bad it is because I went and did research, not because I heard about it around just the place?
So, I’m like, we gotta start talking about it. So, when I graduated from college, I ended up actually working for an HIV and AIDS nonprofit in Chicago. And I realized that really no matter who’s affected and living with the virus and with the disease itself, women are usually affected the most because we’re the mothers, we’re the aunts, we’re the wives and the sisters. We have to take care of people. And I realized if women could tackle the stigma, we wouldn’t feel so alone, and we wouldn’t feel like we’re villains for being a part of this larger epidemic.
So, I started the Red Pump Project with my friend Karen Watkins using red shoes because we wanted to get people’s attention in a way that was kind of sexy. You can’t really ignore a pair of red shoes. So, we started doing campaigns called Rock the Red Pump, where we would, every year, March 10th, we would ask women from all over the world to put on a pair of red shoes to talk about HIV and AIDS. Because if you can talk about it on Twitter, if you can talk about it on social media, if you can talk about it just actively in public, you can be able to talk about it to your partners, to your kids, and normalize the conversation about health and wellness because across the board, women’s bodies are being policed. We’re always being put in shame for who we are and what we carry.
And that then ends up having us sit in silence and suffering in silence, which then has this domino effect. So, yeah for nine years I ran the Red Pump Project. It was a national nonprofit organization. We had chapters in five different cities and states. We did work with the US embassy in Haiti. It was incredible journey. We just closed our doors in August. Yeah, because … the work is not done, of course. This is still an issue that is high priority. But for me, I felt like my piece in running the organization was done, and I still really think we still need to continue to talk about this epidemic.
Jessica: Yeah. What do you feel like are the still the myths around HIV?
Luvvie: Well, one, it’s not an issue that is just affecting gay men. Women are actually been increasingly affected by HIV. Every 47 minutes a woman tests positive for it in the United States. So, it’s still, yeah, it’s huge up there. It’s not fixed. People aren’t getting cured of it. It is still an issue. Still a chronic thing that we have to talk about. It’s getting slightly better because of health and technological advances. People are living decades with it.
Jessica: It’s so treatable now. I mean, I feel like that’s one of the myths that people don’t know is that it’s not a death sentence. It’s treatable, it’s type two diabetes. And, yeah, they’ve made such scientific advancements to where the medication, you can live with it … really live like a normal lifespan as long as you take the appropriate medicine. But I think when people are stigmatized by HIV and don’t even wanna know they have it and don’t necessarily know that they can live a long life, then that’s where it perpetuates the death toll really because then people don’t get treated.
Luvvie: Yeah. A lot of people don’t get treated or even tested until they’re sick, which at that point means the virus has advanced and replicated itself so much in your body. That’s when it becomes really hard to treat. When people find out early on, it’s really manageable. But again, AIDS and HIV, not the flu ultimately, we have the medicine, but prevention is better than treatment always. And that’s one thing that we have to say, empowering women, empowering each other to be safe when we’re having sexual encounters. And empowering women to be able to say, "Hey, I’m gonna require this of you." And just knowing that we are worth protection and we’re worth feeling safe in any encounter that we have.
Going Scared into New Adventures
Jessica: Yeah. Well, thank you. Thanks for your work. I know sometimes it’s just as brave to start something as it is to step away from something and knowing that it’s your time. But that’s legacy work that you’ve done. OK. We like to wrap up by asking our guests how you are going scared right now.
Luvvie: You know, I feel like I’m constantly going scared because I’m always challenging myself to do something new. So, I don’t feel like there’s ever a time where I’m just like, "Oh, now I’m comfortable. I’m gonna sit here." Anytime I’m like, "OK, I’ve done this one thing, what’s the next one?" So, I think…
Jessica: Nigerian parents there, that’s Nigerian parents.
Luvvie: Yes. Yes. They don’t let you sit and smell the roses. Smell the roses though. It’s good to smell the roses, but going scared is constantly doing new things and challenging myself.
Jessica: So, is there something new on the horizon for you?
Luvvie: Yes. I’m actually launching the Do-Better Academy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Do-Better Academy is an online school that I’m creating to teach people business development and things to just make their professional lives better or get them closer to doing the thing that they wanna do. So, my first course in the Do-Better Academy is a public speaking course.
Jessica: Oh, that’s awesome.
Luvvie: Yeah. I wanna teach people how to be able to get on stages and get paid to show up and give people value in concrete takeaways on these talks, because I’ve been speaking for 10 years, I average 35 speaking engagements a year, and I feel like a lot of people don’t know how to do this. So, I want to teach them how to do it. So that’s how I’m going scared. This is brand new for me and yeah.
Jessica: That’s super exciting. I wanna take that. I public speak, but I need to learn. I need to learn.
Luvvie: Yeah. I’m excited for that. I’m excited for that.
Jessica: I mentioned a couple of other podcasts during this episode. We have interviewed two other Nigerian women. Go on back and listen to Jo Saxton, that’s Episode #19 where we talk about owning your voice as a leader. And then you can listen to Tiffany Aliche, Episode #48, “The Budgetnista,” where we talk about money. I would like my children to go and be parented by all of these people’s parents, that’s all I’m saying. I have learned so much from my Nigerian American sisters. Thanks so much for tuning into today’s show.
Before we go, don’t forget to head on over to your podcast app, and give Going Scared a rating or a review if you have not done that already. I love this community of Going Scared listeners. I love hearing your thoughts. Who are some guests you would like to hear from? What are some things you’d like to talk about? Drop me a DM on Instagram. Let me know. We are planning, right now, our next series that will launch in August.
Our music for today’s podcast is by my friend Ellie Holcomb. The podcast was produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.