Episode 9 – What Story Are You Telling Yourself? With Mary Marantz

Mary Marantz is an author, a speaker and a top photographer. She and her husband were named one of the top 15 wedding photographers in the world, according to Profoto. They have also been featured in publications including Martha Stewart, Style Me Pretty, and more. Mary shares her story of grit and figuring out where she belonged. Growing up from humble means in a West Virginia coal mining country, she eventually ended up at Yale Law School. As she navigated this unknown terrain, walking alongside others who seemed sure of their paths toward law and education, Mary felt that she was made for something different. Despite offers right out of college for law jobs that paid 6 figures, Mary decided to “leap and believed the net would appear.” That leap eventually led to the highly successful photography business she and her husband run today. Mary’s conversation with Jessica about their respective “going scared” moments will challenge us all to question the stories we may tell ourselves that keep us from pursuing our dreams.

mary marantz


Intro: Just get ready for today’s conversation. I can’t wait for you to listen in with my guest today. It’s Mary Marantz. Mary is an author, speaker, educator, and photographer, and her work has been featured in publications including Martha Stewart, Style Me Pretty, and more. Mary is one of those people–she’s my kind of people. She’s our people. I’m so excited for you to hear from her today.

So today I wanted to sit down with Mary, because she has such an incredible story of grit. She actually grew up in a humble home. She describes it as a dirt floor home, in West Virginia coal mining country, with a coal mining father. And she took those lessons that she learned from growing up all the way to Yale Law School, and eventually to start her own entrepreneurial endeavors as a photographer, an educator, and a speaker, and a soon-to-be writer. I really enjoyed our conversation, because we talk about how easy it is to tell ourselves stories, especially about our belonging, based on how we grew up.

But I love how she told herself a story of belonging at Yale, and how she really used those connections from Yale to help launch her photography business. I know I learned a lot from today’s episode that I wasn’t necessarily expecting to learn, and you’re gonna do the same.

Living the Lawyer Life

Hey, Mary, welcome to today’s episode of Going Scared.

Mary: Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for having me, Jessica. I’m so excited. When I got the email to come on, I just couldn’t believe it. So, I’m so pumped to talk today.

Jessica: Well, I’m excited, too. I have worked with a lot of photographers over the years shooting our lookbooks, international–I’m actually leaving for Haiti this weekend to go with a photographer to Haiti–and I just have a deep admiration for photographers, and you are just amazing. Your Instagram feed is beautiful. I want to get to know a little bit more about your story. Can you give us just the cliff notes version of how you landed to where you are today? That’s a big question.

Mary: I grew up in West Virginia. That’s a huge part of who I am. From 0 to 18, I grew up in kind of very super rural top of the mountain, in a trailer, kind of like a little lean-to shack on the side. My dad’s a logger, my grandfather was a coal miner. We have eight generations of loggers in my family. I was the first in my family to go to college. So just very, very small town. We literally, are one of those towns that had one stoplight most of the time–when it was working–we had one stoplight. There was a Go Mart, and a Mountaineer Mart, and one grocery store, and a high school. That’s basically, the town I grew up in.

We weren’t even in the town. We were on the mountain outside of town where they would bring about five mountains down into the valley to have enough kids to make a high school. There were about 130 kids in my high school class, so just super-small town. And I stayed in West Virginia for college, and then I did a year abroad. And then I started applying to law school. Because when you go to college for political science and philosophy, there’s not a lot you can do with that except go get a Masters in philosophy. There’s not a lot you can do with that except teach or go to law school.

So, that’s what I did. That’s what brought me to Connecticut where I live now. I did three years at Yale Law School, which I always tell people is a really expensive way to become a wedding photographer. Don’t recommend that route, necessarily. But I wouldn’t change that for the world, because I did do the full three years, and I graduated. I use that law background all the time in our business. But the biggest thing is that while I was in New Haven, I met and fell in love with a photographer, my husband Justin, and eventually, photography.

When I graduated law school, I had law firm offers in London and New York for $140,000 plus bonuses and benefits to start, and we instead decided to leap, believing the net would appear. I think it’s so appropriate we are talking about “going scared.” Leap and the net would appear, not knowing at all what we were doing about being business owners. But that was 10 years ago in September. So, that kind of brings us to where we are now; just full-time in our business for the last decade.

“…we instead decided to leap, believing the net would appear.” – Mary Marantz

Jessica:  Wow.  No, I majored in Latin American studies, so right there with you. What on earth do you do with that? Then, I really didn’t know that that would actually come into play eventually, in my life.

Mary: Yeah.

Jessica:  But I wanted to back up just a second, because, Yale.

Mary: Yeah.

Ivy League Emotions

Jessica:  Yale’s legit, Yale’s real. I’m sure that a lot of the people that you got to know at Yale might have been really different than how you grew up. I would love to hear a little bit more about your internal process. Because I know for me, I would tell myself a lot of stories. I owned a fashion brand, but I’m a size 10. I would tell myself this story that those two didn’t go together. I’m from Texas, and I’d go to New York to go to some of the fashion shows there, and I would tell myself, "Wait a minute, I’m supposed to be from LA."

Mary: Right.

Jessica: I told myself a lot of stories over the years over my entrepreneurial journey, and I’ve had to learn how to retell those stories, and sort of integrate maybe where I thought my life would be to where it is now. I’d love for you to share a little bit about your own journey. Were you telling yourself some stories that you’ve had to learn how to retrain your mind?

Mary: Oh, my goodness, yeah. My first week of law school, I love to tell this story. Here I am, like you said, Yale is legit. Most people don’t know this, because of Elle Woods, that Yale is actually the number one law school, not Harvard. Thank you, Reese Witherspoon. And so…

Jessica:  Shout out to Yale, all of our Yale alumni out there.

Mary: Exactly, exactly.  So, my very first week in the school, you’re walking through these carved wood hallowed halls of the Ivy League, or whatever. We were divided up into small groups that you would have all your classes together. There was this guy, Paul. He said, "Oh, Mary, I’m actually going to be, I’m gonna have to miss class for these next three days. Would it be okay if I got your notes?" I was like, "Oh, yeah, sure thing. No problem, Paul. Is everything okay? Is something going on?" He said, "Oh, it’s no big deal, I just have to go to D.C. because my grandfather’s having a battleship named after him." I was like, "My grandma likes to play Battleship, but okay. That works."

It was just kind of a very different world. There were definitely a few of us who had gone to state schools, and had kind of more of a small-town background, and this was the first really big thing we were doing apart from our upbringing. But there were a lot of other people who were sort of groomed for this from being very, very little, and just had families who had a lot of money, and just very, very different experiences. But I think the coolest thing that that taught me is kind of that idea of that theory of, if you can treat regular people like they’re celebrities and celebrities like they’re regular people, then you can talk to anybody.

“…if you can treat regular people like they’re celebrities and celebrities like they’re regular people, then you can talk to anybody.” – Mary Marantz

Being around people who had that upbringing, who had way more than I did, and still finding common ground has been a huge service in our business, where we were often shooting weddings for people who had budgets that were bigger than our annual income, or whatever it might be. When you’re booking a wedding, where the flower budget is going to be a half a million dollars, and you’re gonna watch them put that in garbage bags at the end of the night, you have to be able to find common ground; just to see people as human beings, and what’s that common humanity between us?

“…to see people as human beings, and what’s that common humanity between us.” – Mary Marantz

There’s this weird unspoken embarrassment when you do have an Ivy League education, which is kind of opposite of that first week of being embarrassed of where I came from. You tend to say things like, "I went to school in New Haven," because you don’t necessarily want to say, "I went to school at Yale." So, it’s kind of both sides, which is really interesting.

Jessica:  That’s so funny, because I do have, we have someone on our team who got her MBA at Harvard, and she’ll say, "I went to school in Boston."

Mary: Mm-hmm.

Jessica:  And I’m like, "Dude, I’m just gonna own that for you right now, because I’m really proud of you."

Mary: Yeah.

Jessica:  Isn’t that crazy, though, yeah, go ahead.

Mary: Oh, I was just going to say, even that joke, so if there are photographers listening to this, they’re going to kind of roll their eyes, because I say it every time, the, "I went to Yale for law school, which is a really expensive way of becoming a wedding photographer." And the reason that I say that joke is because of that uncomfortableness of saying, "I went to Yale for law school." Right, so, so it’s like let me immediately counter that.

Jessica:  Disqualify that, counter that.

Mary: Yeah.

Jessica:  But in some ways, I think you’re also just not wanting–because we make assumptions about people, based on where they went to school, or whatever. In a way, it’s a disarming thing.

Mary: Totally.

Jessica: I wonder what the percentage of people who were in your class did not end up going on to practice law. Probably pretty small.

Mary: Yeah, really, really small. So, Yale in particular, you’re going there either to teach–not many people know that. That’s the big career track for Yale, is most of the professors at the top law firms, top law schools, either did their undergrad or their law school at Yale, or one of the top three. You really need to be pretty high up if you want to go into the education field. So, a ton of professors, some politicians, and then a bunch of people who are at firms, and just love it there.

For me, I did a summer associate-ship, one in London, one in New York, two different law firms. And the London one, the first day during orientation, said, "Oh, my gosh, the firm is so great. When you have to cancel your vacation to come back and work, they’ll totally refund your trip." And I said, "If you think that’s a selling point, we have a problem." And there’s this competition of people sleeping under their desks, and who was working the most. And it was just a very intense culture.

I can remember my first week of law school, the Dean of students saying, "You will be at these law firms, and you’ll be working till three in the morning, but you won’t even notice it because you’ll love what you do so much. You’ll be in that state of flow." I remember sitting there going, "I will notice it. I will notice it if I’m working at a law firm until three in the morning." But the crazy part is–as you know–as an entrepreneur, you totally find yourself working crazy hours and working probably a little too much. But you don’t notice it, because you do love it. So, he was right about the idea, just not about the law firm part.

Jessica:  It just wasn’t being a lawyer.

Mary: Yeah.

Leaving the Lawyer Life Behind

Jessica:  Okay, so tell me a little bit more about that, because most people that go to Yale Law School are going to become lawyers, and here you invested years in education and finances, and then you meet your husband, and then you’re deciding, "I am actually not going to harness all of that hard work and grit towards becoming a lawyer." Where did you summon that courage, or was it kind of what you’re saying, it was a realization that this wasn’t in fact, for me? Tell me a little bit more about that process.

Mary: Oh, man, and that’s such a great way to ask that question, too, because that word “grit,” if you were to ask me what is the number one thing that entrepreneurs need, I think that’s it right there, is that grit. Grit and tenacity kind of go hand-in-hand. I think that for us, we had a couple of things going for us, one of which is that we didn’t have a house yet, we didn’t have a mortgage, we were both coming from me being a student, and Justin was just assisting a big-time advertising photographer for $15 an hour, or something. So, neither of us had gotten really comfortable or used to the fat paychecks.

I think if I had gone to work for a year in the firm, it would’ve been much harder. If we had gotten the mortgage, it would’ve been harder. Not impossible by any stretch of the imagination, but in a lot of ways, the fact that we were already poor students and hungry students, it kind of made it a little bit easier. I think there’s a Will Smith quote about, "Nothing’s gonna teach you more about success than being hungry." We were really just hungry to make it work.

I think, to get a little bit deeper probably, I have these kind of “pinnacle” turning point moments in my life where the thing that I’m doing seems a little insane at the moment, but it’s kind of this out-of-body experience of–I just feel a peace of being called to do this. For me, those moments are God, absolutely. God saying, "Hey, Mary, I think you should take a year off before you take the LSAT," which resulted in me spending a year in England and having one of the best years of my life, and making friends I still have to this day, who came over, and they were in our wedding when we got married.

It was a friend actually sending in my application to Yale Law School. I didn’t send it in. That was kind of one of those, "I didn’t have so much a hand in it, but God had a plan." Going on Match.com, which I never thought I would do, and we are talking 14 years ago when you didn’t talk about Match.com, but the very first person I met was Justin. Driving down to have coffee with him that first time, I thought, "You know, I should be worried that he might be a serial killer. I’m meeting a random person off the Internet." But instead, I just felt this incredible peace, and it turned out to be my husband of the last, coming up on 11 years this year.

I feel like starting our business was one of those, "Everybody else is going to think you’re crazy, and maybe on paper you should be crazy," but I think those moments–when you don’t know how you’re going to do it–are the moments when God shows you that He’s going to do it, that He’s gonna be the one that makes it happen.

“…moments when God shows you that He’s going to do it, that He’s gonna be the one that makes it happen.” – Mary Marantz

A Photographer is Born

Jessica:  Wow, that’s awesome. Okay, so give me the timeline a little bit, because I think a lot of people, they compare, we both run successful gigs. People compare their beginnings to our endings, not that we are ending by any sense of the word. But they already kind of see success. I’m struggling with that even as I’m doing this podcast, because people automatically, you invite people on the podcast that have had success. Yet, I want to show people that messy middle, and I want to show people that it’s not all of this magic recipe formula. So, take me through your timeline a little bit. What would you consider sort of, your first big break?

Mary: Oh, gosh. Okay, so 2004 is a big pinnacle moment when I met Justin for coffee. He doesn’t drink coffee. So that’s kind of when we first started. That was our first date. For our second date, we went hiking. For our third date, I was, "Show me your contracts and your pricing. Let’s start building this business together," which is a super-hot third date kind of thing.

Jessica:  That’s awesome.

Mary: Not really what you expect. But I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, and I also come from a long line of unsuccessful entrepreneurs. There is a theory, you want to talk about stories we tell ourselves. There is a driving thread of core right down the middle of me that says over, and over, and over again, "It is in your DNA to fail as a business." So, we have to wake up every day and prove that wrong. So, I think growing up poor in a small town, that mentality is there anyway. It’s just every day, chasing, I would say I run toward success because I’m running away from failure, basically.

So, that’s kind of when we got started. Two more years together, I was only helping on the marketing and business side. Never picked up the camera, was kind of afraid of the camera. Thought I would make it explode if I touched it. Then when I graduated, that Fall, let’s say September, some more pinnacle moments. This is 2006. Justin’s second shooter got the stomach, got sick, so I stepped in, fell in love with photography. Then, we also went to our very first conference in Los Angeles called the Pictage Partner Conference, and we were, "We can do this."

So, that was sort of that, Michael Gerber calls it your “entrepreneurial seizure,” where the world stops rotating, reverses, and starts again; where you could never imagine life again without picturing working for yourself. So, that’s kind of when we got started. That’s when we both just decided to go full-time, probably having no business doing so. We didn’t know really how to run a business. We didn’t have this crazy flood of inquiries. We didn’t have a backup plan. But in some ways, that really served us, because those grit muscles and those tenacity muscles–whatever else we were lacking–we were jacked in those muscles. We had crazy-

“…you could never imagine life again without picturing working for yourself.” – Mary Marantz

Jessica:  That’s how you know you’re committed, when there’s no Plan B.

Mary:  Yeah.

Jessica:  You know?

Mary: Yes.

Jessica: And I know for me too, I say that courage cornered me.

Mary: Yes.

Jessica:  I think if you kind of force that upon yourself, there’s no Plan B here, it does increase the hustle.

No Plan B

Mary: Yeah, totally. We do a lot of mentoring sessions, and sometimes there’s just this part of me that wants to say, "What would happen if I push you off the high dive board right now? Let’s see if you can swim." I always gotta restrain myself, because not everybody is created that way. And some people just, maybe the business will be more of a part-time thing, or they need to kind of gradually edging to it. But I think the people who truly have those kind of, those stories you’re talking about, like those dig in and people look at it and go, "Wow, that’s an example of success," in one way or another, we all have that.

We are in this. We are not just in it, we’re not just involved, we are committed. There’s this joke, nobody ever gets it. It’s the ham and eggs. The chicken was involved, but the pig was committed, or whatever. It’s so terrible. Yeah, see, it’s not that funny. Okay, that’s great. It’s basically, this idea of, do you have one foot, a toe in kind of the shallow end, or are you really going, like you said, have no plan B and make it happen?

So, from 2006 onward, we kind of just were building the business, growing pretty fast. We started speaking at the conferences. 2008 we launched our first real brand. First, we hired somebody versus being a “playing around with Photoshop” kind of brand. It just grew, and grew, and grew. 2008 was also the year we were giving the opportunity to go around and speak to about 20 groups around the country –small photography PUGS–Pictage User Groups. That kind of really just started to train us in speaking and teaching. We launched workshops in 2010, and wedding blogs in 2013.  We just sort of were building, were building, were building.

But what I think is interesting about that story, to your question, is that we’ve spent 10 years becoming one of the bigger fish, certainly not the biggest, but one of the bigger fish in this world. Now to only, like I was mentioning we first hopped on, that now I’m starting to kind of dip a toe, or start stepping into a brand-new world of being a writer, and author, and speaking in that kind of world. And I feel in a lot of ways like that brand-new beginner, newbie, starting over. And it’s scary. It’s scary to have rolled one boulder all the way up to the top of the mountain just to look around and go, "Oh, I kind of want a different mountain." So-

Jessica:  Yeah.

Mary:…I have both.

Jessica:  Or a new mountain, right? Because that’s kind of how I felt even with this podcast. It’s kind of my first thing, because I have been super myopic about growing Noonday Collection. I mean, intensely growing, growing, growing. Starting this podcast has been–I think it’s called “Going Scared,” because it’s been a little bit of my going scared, where I am kind of stepping out. Our logo is a sun, so I’m stepping out from behind my sun a little bit.

Mary: Yeah.

A New Adventure

Jessica:   But it’s also so fun. So, tell me more about that. How are you going scared right now? What are those things that are now stretching you? Because you get to this point where your experience brings a certain level of confidence.

Mary: Yeah.

Jessica: You’ve experienced some success in very specific areas. You’ve got some confidence. Now you’re sort of starting over again. So, tell me about that process.

Mary: Yeah, that’s totally true, and that’s something that Justin reminds me of often, is that the last 10 years, it’s not like that slate is going to be wiped clean, like the audience that we’ve built will follow us over to the next part. They didn’t just follow us for the photography. I mean, some of them did, but we’ve also been really intentional for just sharing our own story. People have known that writing was a part of it all along. It’s not like we are going to start all over. We’ll have some of the audience come over, and we’ll just have a ton of lessons learned, stuff we are learning with newsletters, and social media, and digital marketing, and stuff we learned just about making a business out of an art, things like that.

All of that’s going to cross over. I do think you’re right, that there is just this kind of track record that when you can look back on and go, "Okay, we never knew how to do that before either, but it worked out. We never knew how to do that, either. Maybe that flopped, but we learned something. Or we failed at that, but it didn’t kill us." I feel like the longer that you can do this, the more experiences you can draw from. The world didn’t end when we were scared, and we went anyway. Either it was one of the biggest successes we ever had came out of that, or the best lessons learned. Either way, that’s a win.

Being a Photographer vs. Doing Photography

Jessica:  That’s so true. I love hearing how you really have a heart to pour into other people, and that so much of your career was built through beginning to teach and become educators. I’d love to hear a little bit–what’s your pulse when you talk to these newer entrepreneurs that are just stepping out? What are some of the things that you have on repeat right now, in all of your mentoring calls?

Mary: Well, I think for me, Justin is the part of our duo who truly is a photographer. I say there are people who do photography and there are people who just are photographers, it’s just some of the time they have a camera in their hand. But there are photographers all the time, and that’s Justin. On that first date, we were walking around, and he’s, "look at the light on the building." And I’m, "Hello, I’m right here." So, for me, where photography is his art, building businesses is mine. That’s the thing that sets me on fire–head to toe chills, that adrenaline, that state of flow–is building businesses.

Building the Business

I think the reason that I’m so driven by that, and I always tell people whether it’s a workshop, or a mentoring session, or whatever it is, is when I want to talk about building your business, I think you would expect the kind of tables we are gonna be talking about are gonna be graphs, and charts, and profit analysis. We’ll get to that, but the truth is, the table I’m most worried about is your kitchen table. Because I was the kid who grew up watching my parents fight over that kitchen table, or just completely buckle, and bend, and break under the weight of trying to make a go of their business, as the phone on the wall–remember phones on walls?

Jessica: Yes.

Mary:  As the phone on the wall is ringing off the hook, because there are more bills to pay than money coming in. Just this one specific day, watching my dad–this giant Paul Bunyan of a logger–bend, buckle, and break and start crying under the weight of knowing that there were all these bills due and no way to make it happen. Two weeks after that, the bank came and took our logging trucks. I’m not talking about F-150s. I’m talking about 18-wheeler Mac and Kenworth trucks, and how small he looked as they drove further, and further, and further away.

So, when I went to build somebody’s business, I’m doing it, I’m not speaking or teaching to that person. I’m speaking or teaching to their spouses and their kids. Because I know that we can make generational change happen if we can get right with the living and the life part of doing what you love. That’s what really sets me on fire, is how will your kids be affected by you chasing this dream? What will they see happen? Can they witness you chasing a dream, making a huge change in the world, making your business not just about yourself, but about serving others, which you have done an incredible job of, and also see that you were able to do it in a way that was not just enough for you guys to get by, but enough to give back to make real change in the world? So, that’s kind of the drive for that.

“Because I know that we can make generational change happen if we can get right with the living and the life part of doing what you love.” – Mary Marantz

Jessica:  That is so awesome. I mean, I struggled so much. Even though my business is a social business and has a direct impact on vulnerable people around the world, I was so worried my first few years that I was doing it at the expense of my family and of my children. I remember someone saying to me about three years in that I needed to cast a vision to my family, that this wasn’t just a "me" thing, it was a "we" thing.

“I needed to cast a vision to my family, that this wasn’t just a ‘me’ thing, it was a ‘we’ thing.” – Jessica Honegger

Mary: Yes.

Work And Family

Jessica: I decided just to incorporate a lot more of my life into what we talked about at the dinner table. Even last night, we’re, "So, what’s coming up in y’all’s weeks?" And I’m, "Well, I’ve got three podcast interviews. Here’s who I’m interviewing." And they’re like, "Well, tell me about them." Now they really understand.

When my daughter was about six years old, and this is when I’d been on the struggle bus thinking, "Oh, my gosh, am I just failing as a mom because I’m doing this entrepreneur thing?" I was putting her to bed one night, and she just said, "Mommy, I’m so glad that you started Noonday Collection, because if you wouldn’t have started Noonday, our family wouldn’t be able to do all the things we can do now. Not only is Noonday helping other people, but it’s helping our family."

That’s when I realized, "Oh my gosh, I am doing this business not at the expense of my family, but for their flourishing, as well." I love that you are being so holistic and not just speaking to, "Here’s how to be successful as a photographer," but speaking to the whole person.

Mary: Yeah.

Jessica:  Because that’s what’s going to create long-term vision, and longevity, and tenacity, and grit that’s actually going to last through the long haul.

Money and Mission

Mary: Totally. I think that the way that we grow up can have this, it becomes this suitcase that we pack up and we bring with us, of how we relate to success and to money maybe, in particular. We have a business course, and one of the big weeks we teach on is just really, “let’s identify some relationships you have with money, and where those come from.” For me growing up, there was a definite mentality in that area generally, but also specifically from my dad of, "You are either a good person, or you are a rich person. And the two shall never be the same."

It wasn’t until I was in college, and the scholarship I got to go to England for a year was from the Rotary club in Morgantown. So here are these small business owners, these entrepreneurs, these business people, who have built businesses that not only provide for their families, but have done well enough that they can create a fund that annually produces a scholarship that changes the life of a kid coming out of West Virginia. I get to go and speak to 30 or 40 clubs all over England telling them about this place that I grew up and why I love it, and why it’s unlike anything that they’ve probably ever experienced before, but there might’ve been some stereotypes about.

I get to be this kind of representation of, “you might start small but there’s no limit to the things you can go do.” That’s because there were people who did well in their businesses who decided to change other people’s lives with it. So, that was the first example I had of, you can do well. It can be not only despite that, you can help other people, but because of it in some cases.

Jessica: I love that. Definitely, when my eyes were first opened to global poverty, I went through a very judgmental phase where it was, "Oh, my gosh, you own a designer bag. You’re going to hell." Because it was–there are people dying out there. But when I was about 21, I went to a small retreat with a guy named Richard Foster, and he wrote this book called Celebration of Discipline. He looked me in the eyes and he said, "Jessica, never scorn the rich, and never glorify the poor. Just be like Mother Teresa. Whether she was cleaning up after a leper who had just been sick, or whether she was in the White House, she just walked in the spirit."

“…never scorn the rich, and never glorify the poor. Just be like Mother Teresa. Whether she was cleaning up after a leper who had just been sick, or whether she was in the White House, she just walked in the spirit." – Jessica Honegger quoting Richard Foster

That had such a profound impact on me, on not creating assumptions about people, and about money, and about where people grew up, but just walk in the spirit. I was able to, I lived overseas for a couple of years, and I had to raise my own salary. I raised my own salary by going to big fancy balls where I grew up asking for money from people.

Mary: Right.

The “Super-Entrepreneur” Myth

Jessica:  So, God uses all the things. Okay, so I just read a blog post of yours, and it really resonated with me. Because you talk about how we–sometimes entrepreneurs–can create this composite “super-entrepreneur” in our minds that we are never going to be able to live up to.

Mary: Yes.

Jessica: One quote really stuck out to me, where you say, "If you waste all of your energy running left and running right, just trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing, all you end up is really tired and never once moving forward."

"If you waste all of your energy running left and running right, just trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing, all you end up is really tired and never once moving forward.” – Mary Marantz

Mary: Yeah.

Jessica:  So, how do we fight against that?

Mary: Oh, man. That’s like, if we can figure that out on this podcast, let’s just go retire.

Jessica:  Let’s do it. We’ll go beyond 30 minutes. Let’s do it.

Mary: No, I love it. I love it so much. That quote–there is this–I know this is like seventh-grade physical science coming back, or something. There is this kind of energy that atoms will exert. It’s called frenetic energy, and I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that frenetic sounds a lot like frenzied and frantic. Because frenetic energy is literally, the energy an atom will expend to vibrate left and vibrate right just to maintain its position in space where it stays. I feel like as business owners, we do that so much.

When we find ourselves getting too deep in comparison, or being a little too close to people who pull that out of us, you can almost feel that. Your heart starts to beat kind of frenetically, you feel like just sort of like shaking your hands in front of it, like, "Calm down. It’s going to be okay." We start to feel like, "Oh, man, I need to chase the ball over here." We always call this the “kindergartners-playing-basketball” approach to business. They don’t play zones in kindergarten basketball. The ball runs over there and everybody chases it. The ball runs over here and everybody chases it.

We can get so caught up in doing that. I mean, even this morning, on my Instastory, I had seen a few people posting about this new social media, Vero, or whatever. The first few people who signed up were gonna get it for a lifetime for free. So, I was, "You know, I guess I’ll sign up and I’ll lock it in, or whatever." I did a little post on it, and within the next 30 minutes there were 25 other people who I’m friends with who were on it. I just started thinking to myself, "I just joined this because I thought, ‘Hey maybe, everybody’s doing it.’ They all probably just joined it because they saw me or somebody else post about it. We are all chasing the Vero ball right now. We’re still doing it. Every single dang day, you can catch yourself doing this.

I’m just sitting here hoping that three years from now, somebody’s not listening to this podcast going, "That was like the first day of Instagram," or whatever. Because I’m, "Vero, whatever that is." So, it’s something you have to constantly come back to center and check yourself on and ask yourself, "Am I doing this because I’m walking in my specific calling, I’m walking in my gifts, I’m walking in the thing that makes me different?" We always teach our business people, business course people, what can you do to make yourself a market of one? What is that– embracing that thing that makes you different rather than running left, running right?"

Avoid Distractions to Move Forward

What if you just keep the visual going, instead of ever taking a step left or right into somebody else’s lane at what they are good at, you took every one of those steps forward, and just imagine how much further down the track you’ll be? That’s so great in theory, but it requires some pretty heavy–I have a goals coach; her name’s Kim, from The Whiteboard Room–Kim Butler. She talks about having foundational disciplines that allow you to go to the growing goals. So, maybe it’s limiting your screen time, or maybe it’s un-following people who only pull out that, "My heart is frantic, my heart is racing," feeling.

But we have to be so, so diligent in guarding our hearts and guarding our energy. There have been a few key times, talking about pinnacle moments, in mine and Justin’s business, where we have un-followed people, in real life and online. We did that because we realized they were just that kind of group that pulled out that frenetic energy in each other and in us. The second that we did, it was like we suddenly had all this energy. We felt like we just rocket boosted forward, because we weren’t wasting it on stuff that doesn’t ultimately matter.

“…we have to be so, so diligent in guarding our hearts and guarding our energy.” – Mary Marantz

The other thing I’ll add to that is that if you’re constantly trying to go do what somebody else has done, it’s never going to have–this is so important. Everybody listening to this, please, if you hear nothing else, hear this. It’s never gonna have the same impact for you as it did for them, because it’s already been done. That doesn’t mean that just because something has happened you can’t ever do it. Just because a podcast exists, it doesn’t mean that this podcast isn’t going to be the one that changes people’s lives. It’s just that if you’re only doing it because you think you have to, or you’re only having a blog because you think you have to, or you’re running Vero because you think you have to, and we get off track of doing that stuff we are being called to daily, I think is when we get in trouble.

Jessica:  Oh, my gosh. It’s so true. You will just burn out. If you’re doing something to just chase the next thing, or because someone else is doing it, or because you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, you’re just gonna burn out and fry. It’s interesting, because when I started Noonday, I actually didn’t struggle with comparisons, I was just hair on fire. I was so busy chasing after this new thing, and I didn’t feel like anyone else was doing it. And I was, "Competition? What? I don’t have competition. I’m doing the coolest thing ever."

I think it was after the business grew and the stakes got higher that staying intentional–what you’re saying–guarding your heart and staying intentional to not look to the right and to the left;  that has required a lot more diligence as now I actually have something significant to lose-

Mary: Right.

Jessica:… you know? But I love just saying this requires diligence. It doesn’t just happen to you. You actually have to say, it’s funny, because my daughter listened to some of the podcasts, my new podcast over the weekend. I had talked about how I let my kids hide my phone.

Mary: Yes.

Jessica: But I’ve gotten out of that habit. So, let’s just say I’ve been doing a little bit more scrolling than normal, when I say I’m not. That’s something else–I think we can have these aspirational values, but then what’s the reality? She was definitely checking my reality. She’s, "Mom, you’ve been scrolling at night." And I’m, "Okay, you can start hiding my phone again." But it does take diligence.

Mary: Yeah. I think what’s so cool about what you said with, when you first started Noonday and your hair was on fire, and you were living in that place that the Dean of the law school talked about–but not about law firms–of just the hours were passing by. You were just living in the thing you were created to do that time stops existing. Other people may be having a competitive piece, and it just all stops existing, because you’re living so strong in what you were uniquely created to do. I think we as human beings, and "The grass is greener" complex–we want to get away sometimes from the thing we were created to do. So, it’s kind of that idea of, "I don’t want to be a member of any club who would have me."

For Justin and I, for example, one of the things we hear over, and over, and over from our audience is, "Oh, your black and whites. Oh, your black and white photos. Oh, your black and white photos." So, as a human being, what’s the reaction? It’s, "Well, why don’t you like my color photos as much?" You know what I’m saying?

Jessica: Right.

Listening to Your Audience

Mary: If you’ll listen to your audience, for you guys who are building a business, listen to your audience. They will tell you. They will really start to help kind of hold that mirror up in front of you and tell you the things that you are uniquely shining in. It’s almost like this weird thing takes over, and you almost feel like you don’t have to try. Kind of like, “I’ll just throw together a caption on Instagram sometimes, and I won’t even really think too much about what I’m writing.” People will say, "That was for me today. That hit me right where I needed it."

“…for you guys who are building a business, listen to your audience. They will tell you.” – Mary Marantz

When I lean into that stuff, that kind of almost comes without thinking too hard about it, without overthinking it, without saying, "Well, I need to be more like how that person is being." If we can take all of the energy and just really push it into those things that we are gifted in, I feel like it’s that idea of, "Can you go from a 9 to a 10 versus going from a 4 to a 6? Can you really lean into just developing the things your most gifted at?”

Jessica: I love that. That reminds me, I was listening recently hearing Simon Sinnett talk about, (he wrote That Reason For Why), and he said, "Sit a friend down and ask that friend, ‘Why are you friends with me?’"

Mary: Dang.

Jessica: They might say things like, "Well, you’re just really cool, and we get along so well.” Ask that friend, "No, but what makes me unique?" It ends up, they get into specific attributes about you that are really adding value to their life. That’s the beginning of finding your why. I love this idea of looking at our audience and listening to them, because they are speaking to us. They are saying, "Here’s this unique place of how you’re adding value to my life." Sometimes it comes so naturally for us, you’re right, we are constantly trying to compare or do what someone else is doing instead of just honing in on what we are already really good at doing, and how we are already impacting people. So, I love that activity that you just talked about.

Mary: Yeah. I don’t know about you, but for me, when we were coming–kind of coming of age in our business, as it were–I am a full-blown introvert. I can turn it on at a conference, I can do the talk, or whatever it might be, but then I’m gonna go be in my pajamas with risotto, room service, and a chocolate cake for a couple of hours, and nobody talk to me. We sort of came up in our industry at a time when all the speakers and the leaders were the full-blown, super-bubbly extroverts–really loud, really high energy. I told myself stories–I love that question, by the way– I told myself stories for years that because I was a quiet voice, that that voice didn’t matter. Or because I wasn’t bubbly and having catchphrases, or whatever it might be, that I was never going to reach that kind of success.

In fact, it turned out that that was the very thing that drew our most loyal tribe to us, is that a lot of them are introverts. But even if they are not, they just appreciate that our voice in the industry is the kind of voice that you have to lean into, to hear versus always trying to be the loudest person in the room. And so, over time, I always say, "Swagger wins in the short term, but only in the short term. Over time, it’s the people who lean in and listen who are gonna be the ones who win."

Jessica: I really needed my notebook out to take notes. I’m so excited this is a podcast, because I can actually go back and re-listen to it and take notes. Tell us how we can find you, if we want to be more engaged with your message.

Mary:  Yeah, absolutely. @Marymarantz on Instagram. I’d say that’s where most of the updates are happening. I do a lot with Instastories, and on the posts. I’m also actually @Marymarantz on Vero, as of this morning. Time will tell if that’s a thing or not.

Jessica: I don’t even know what you’re talking about. So now I am, "Oh, great, I gotta go do something else? No, stop it."

Mary: No, you don’t. You just have to run in your path.

Jessica:  Okay.

Mary: I don’t know. Honestly, I think it might have a lot of bugs right now because it’s brand-new. So, I think it might, time will tell. That’s all I’ll say. But then Justin and Mary blog is probably the second-best place to find us. I do a lot of business posts, and just “about being an entrepreneur” posts over there. And Facebook.com/JustinandMary.

Jessica:  Awesome. Well, this has been so much fun. I loved talking to fellow entrepreneurs, and especially entrepreneurs who are giving back and pouring into those who are just starting out. This was such a great podcast for those people. Thanks a lot, Mary.

Mary:  Yes.

Jessica:  We’ll see you over on Instastory. I’m excited.

Mary:  Thank you so much for having me.

Jessica:  Such a great conversation. I recently heard from a listener who’s also a Noonday Ambassador, and a soon-to-be TEDx speaker, Katia Holland. Katia shared with me her own story of grit, and I could not resist but share it with you guys.

Katia’s Story of Grit

Here’s Katia’s story. She writes, "You know those people who don’t have to study to get an A, or the people who are magically good at any sport they try, or the people who just seem to walk around with life unfolding so easily before them? Yep, that’s not me. You know that old football movie, Rudy, where the main character is in love with Notre Dame football and will give anything to be a part of the team? Notre Dame football.

Except for, that Rudy is from Illinois, and lacks all that is needed to make the team. He’s got no money, terrible grades, and he’s 5’6". But, Rudy wants to play for Notre Dame so badly. So, he wills his way from a junior college to Notre Dame, then he wills his way onto the practice football team where his body is used for hitting practice. Eventually, after years of trying his absolute hardest, he wills his way onto the official football team. Then the last game of his senior year, Rudy made one official play for Notre Dame football before his teammates whisked him off the field in celebration.

This? This is more like me. I’m the person who has never really been good at anything, but tries anyway. Growing up, I was ashamed that I had to try so hard at everything. I was always amazed that other people didn’t have to put in the work, and yet we magically arrived at the same place. To see something on the horizon and walk toward it even though nothing says that the road to the horizon will be easy, it’s a gift. My parents are the ones who gave me that gift.

“To see something on the horizon and walk toward it even though nothing says that the road to the horizon will be easy, it’s a gift.” – Jessica Honegger quoting Katia Holland

Katia’s Origin Story

My mom immigrated from Mexico with her family when she was about six years old. As a child, her entire family would pile into the bed of a truck with only a tarp to protect them from the elements and drive from the southernmost tip of Texas to Wisconsin to go pick beets and cucumbers. They’d live in a one-bedroom house with dirt floors. While her parents would work in the fields, as a six-year-old, she’d care for her infant brother. As a teenager, she’d go to school, and after school would clock in at the local grocery store, working until 11 p.m. most nights.

My dad? He started working with his dad at age 11. During the summer, he would work at a farm co-op from seven in the morning until eight every single night. He would weigh trucks carrying tomatoes, tally up tickets for farmers, and even call out-of-the-state truckers and place orders. He did this every summer until he turned 25, all the while, going to school and helping his mom open a flower shop.

On June 12, 1983, at the ages of 24 and 25, my parents were married. Since it was the middle of tomato season, they didn’t go on a honeymoon. They were married on a Saturday, and both returned to work the following Monday. A few months later, with the support of their families, my mom and dad started their own business, beer corner stores. Eventually, these corner stores morphed into wine and liquor stores, and today, my folks have been in business 35 years, own nine stores, and have been able to employ and create opportunity for thousands of families.

As newlyweds, when my parents needed a weekend to themselves, they would make the five-hour road trip from the Rio Grande Valley to Austin. They would pack up their small red truck with koozies and stop at convenience stores along the way, selling their wares. That was their weekend spending money. My heart has always beamed with pride with who I come from and where I come from. And, while to some people failure is not an option, for me, not trying is not an option. My parents, entirely by their actions, taught me how to dig in and put one foot in front of the other. I’ve never been naturally good at anything, except maybe eating ice cream. But somehow, I’ve put one foot in front of the other and willed myself into a speaking and writing career, loving on women and reminding them of their innate worth. I went from a career in hospitality, to writing a blog, to trying to write a book, to actually publishing a book, to getting all sorts of amazing praise for the book, and even to being invited to speak at TEDx in May.

None of this came all of a sudden. It’s all because of God’s grace. It all came because my parents taught me how to walk towards something with purpose. It all came because I’ve never been afraid to try. There’s honor in seeing something on the horizon and doing your best to get there. Ladies and gentlemen, what are you trying this week? Don’t focus on failure. Focus on the trying. Don’t tell yourself a story about where you came from. Tell yourself a story about where you’re going.

“There’s honor in seeing something on the horizon and doing your best to get there.” – Jessica Honegger quoting Katia Holland

Can’t wait to see you next week.