Named by Oprah as a thought leader for the next generation, Marie Forleo is the star of the award-winning show MarieTV, with over 54 million views, and host of The Marie Forleo Podcast, with fourteen million downloads. She runs the acclaimed business training program B-School. Her recent book, Everything Is Figureoutable, was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller.
In a recent conversation with Chris Schelzi, Marie discussed her story, how entrepreneurs can overcome fear to build unstoppable businesses, and so much more.
How Marie Forleo Became Marie Forleo
Marie: In society, we’ve done a pretty terrible job of preparing young people for what it’s actually like to be in the real world. So many of our ideas around career and livelihood are rooted in these archaic notions of specialization. People ask you, What are you going to be when you grow up? and you’re supposed to have one society-approved answer when you’re a child. Then, before you’ve had any real-world experience, you must know what you’re going to be and have a 5- and 10-year plan. That’s not how it works at all.
Some folks in the world know exactly what they want to be from their childhood. For me, I wanted to be 17 things. I wanted to be a writer, dancer, teacher, psychologist, artist, fashion designer—there were always different fields that were so interesting to me. No one ever talked about people like us.
So I graduated with a business degree and found my first job on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I remember being on Wall Street and being so grateful to even have a job. I’m the first one in my family to even go to college, so I was grateful for all of it. But after a few months, I remember hearing that still, small voice inside that was like,
Marie, this isn’t who you are. This isn’t what you’re meant to do.
I’m telling you, that voice started to give me a sense of panic. That voice was telling me that what I was doing was wrong, but it wasn’t telling me what I was supposed to do instead. I saw friends around me climbing the corporate ladder, establishing their lives, getting married, starting families, but I felt like I was treading water while everyone was surpassing me.
When I left Wall Street, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be. The only clues I had were: 1) I was highly creative and high energy 2) I was fascinated with business. The trick was getting these two to mesh, and I eventually found my way into the booming magazine publishing world of the late 90s.
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I hustled, worked for temp agencies, and I got myself a position at Gourmet Magazine on the ad-sales side as an assistant. The fact that my desk was next to the test kitchen certainly wasn’t a downside. But fast forward 6 months, and that same voice came back.
Marie, this still isn’t it. This isn’t who you are. This isn’t what you’re meant to do.
So I tried to take a step back and get some perspective. I realized: I didn’t want to become my boss. When I looked ahead at the ultimate trajectory in my role, it was the publisher of a magazine. She was a brilliant, smart, powerful woman—but I didn’t want to become her either. If I didn’t want to climb that corporate ladder, what am I doing wasting their time and mine?
So I thought maybe I was still too much on the business/commerce side of things. Let me try something even more creative to flex that side of myself. I got a job at Mademoiselle Magazine, and I was like, Ok, this has got to be it. I was working with designers, there’s photoshoots, I was working on layouts—I knew it was going to be amazing.
But within three months, the voice came back yet again.
At this point, I seriously considered: Am I broken? I just couldn’t figure out how I could want to work so hard, make a difference, but I kept quitting every job I had because it felt like I was dying a slow death. Nothing made sense.
Then one day, I was on the internet and I stumbled upon this article about this new profession called coaching. Once again, for context, it was 1999. No one had ever heard of this before. There was something in my heart and soul that lit up like nothing ever had before.
One side of me was highly critical: I’m from Jersey, so I’m a little skeptical and cynical at times, and I was like: Who the hell do you think you are? You’re 23 years old, you’ve got piles and piles of debt, you haven’t even lived life yet. Who’s going to hire a 23-year-old life coach? This is nuts. This is going to be just one more thing you fail at.
But the deeper part of me couldn’t deny that something about this just felt right.
I couldn’t explain it. So I signed up for a 3-year coach training program on the spot. Everything was done virtually, which was so groundbreaking at that time. I kept my magazine job during the day and worked on my coach training at night.
A few months later, I got a call and they had a promotion for me… at Vogue. This was my entrepreneurial fork in the road. Do you stay on the safe path and have the pay, the benefits, the prestige of this path? Or do you quit and do this weird-ass life coaching thing that no one has ever heard of?
And of course, what I did was quit my job and figured out how to build my business from the ground up.
Photographer: Eric Michael Pearson
The Power of Belief
Marie: All beliefs are a choice. And choices can be changed. If you recognize that voice in your head that says, I don’t think I’d be able to do that, this is why the meta-belief of Everything Is Figureoutable is so transformational. Because if you’re willing to embrace this notion that everything is figureoutable, then all of a sudden that limiting belief is just something you haven’t figured out yet.
Truth is an interesting thing. It’s not about magical thinking. It’s about asking:
- Is the belief I have truly serving me?
- Is it productive?
- Is it making me feel joyful?
- Is it helping me be my best?
And if not, let’s focus on what’s useful. That way, you can move ahead and use your special gifts to change the world.
Marie’s very first workshop was hosted in a New Jersey basement, attended by only 5 people—2 of whom were her parents. The topic was “How to Create a Life You Love.”
Marie: Even though the critical part of my mind looks back on that and it’s cringeworthy, the other part of me is like, You know what? You took action. You did something. You took a step on the road to progress toward your dreams. So as much as I cringe, I look back on that person and I’m proud of her.
One of the most challenging things for us in the current climate is social media. It’s such a part of our daily lives and so we have this feeling that the world is watching and judging us constantly.
We’re so terrified of looking like an amateur, making a mistake, or having no one show up—crickets. But I think what we fail to remember is that every pro starts as an amateur. Every single one of us. Every athlete, scientist, performer, and entrepreneur starts out not knowing what the hell they’re doing. The only way we get some type of experience and confidence is being really sucky at first.
Mantra #1: Starting small and sucky beats staying stucky.
Gaining Clarity through Action
Marie: As entrepreneurs and creatives, we all have so many ideas. There are so many things we can do, and most of the time, our appetite is way bigger than our capacity. We take on too many projects and we’re exhausted by the end of the day.
Sometimes when we have all of these ideas, and you don’t know which direction to go, you can spend days, weeks, even months talking about but not actually getting the clarity we crave. One of the mantras that helps me the most:
Mantra #2: Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.
That means that any time you have two potential paths that you can take in front of you, do everything you can to move towards both as quickly as possible. Take some meaningful step, test it, feel it. Why? Because all of us have an innate body truth and wisdom within us that will tell us which path is right by an internal feeling (and a little external feedback perhaps). But we can’t get there unless we take action and experience it. It’s an internal feeling that only comes through taking action.
💡This is particularly helpful for recruitment and hiring—Marie’s team makes it a point to do a paid test with each new potential employee just to see if it’s a good fit for both parties.
On Creative and Professional Fear
From Everything Is Figureoutable, page 96:
You will always feel fear. Don’t get seduced into thinking some magical day will arrive when you no longer feel afraid and only then will you be ready to act. That’s not how it works. Action is the antidote to fear. Action metabolizes it. The trick is allowing yourself to feel fear while you take action.
Make the call, even if your pits are sweating. Speak up, even if your voice shakes. Ride the scooter, even if your body trembles. Raise your rates, even if it makes you want to hurl. Send your pitch deck, even if your tummy is in knots. Have the difficult conversation, even if it makes you squirm. Doing the thing is far easier than the terror we inflict upon ourselves by stressing over it in our heads. The fastest way out of our fear is through it.
Marie: When we feel things, often there’s a physical sensation in our bodies and we have thoughts: there’s a narrative going. Oftentimes those things are compressed so that we think they’re one. So you start to feel the sweaty palms or that knot in the pit of your stomach and you start to think I’m not good enough.
Here’s the trick: Take a deep breath and simply allow yourself to focus on the physical sensations of fear… Just stay there and disconnect it from thought or narrative. When you allow yourself to feel the physical sensations without engaging in the narrative, those physical sensations last anywhere from 7-12 seconds max. Then you’re able to move forward. But this is the type of stuff we’re not taught in school.
What I have discovered is that fear is actually helpful. It’s directive. It’s often a GPS for where your soul most wants to go.
On Ira Glass’s “The Gap”
From Ira Glass,
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Marie: Most of us, when we’re starting any endeavor, we have this beautiful vision. You have good taste, a great idea for something you want to produce that perhaps the world hasn’t seen before. You can get there somewhere in your mind’s eye.
Minding the gap is about being gentle to yourself. It’s about not falling prey to perfectionism. Focusing on another mantra:
Mantra #3: Progress not perfection.
Progress not perfection is actually the pathway to bridging the gap from our current ability to our ultimate ambition. Your flops and failures: don’t judge them too hard in the moment.
Everything Is Figureoutable in the Age of COVID
Marie: One of the best stories, there was a B-Schooler who is a children’s book author. Publishing contracts were starting to dry up, so she started to ask what she could do. She stepped back and thought, “Ok, everything is figureoutable. Let me connect to my ideal client and customer and think about what they want. I think my ideal customer—specifically working moms—want 5-10 minutes by themselves.”
So here’s what she did: She wrote a story about what kids should do when they’re home and they’re bored. She sent out a few notices on social media and to her email list, she put up an opt-in. She got over 10,000 opt-in overnight. She read this new story that she created, sold so many more books, and parents were writing her letters…
That’s just one example. If all of these things are shaking underneath me, it’s about asking, How can I use my gifts, my ingenuity, to do something different that’s of service?
Fault vs. Responsibility
Marie: As this global pandemic has taught us, there are so many things that are not in our control. I know many of us, especially entrepreneurs and creatives, like to feel in control. That’s part of why we do what we do: we want to be in control of our destinies. That’s a really normal and beautiful thing.
All of us know that there are things that happen in life that we don’t choose. Things that knock us to our knees and set us back. One of the most important lessons that I’ve ever learned—and I try to remind myself as much as humanly possible—is that I am responsible for my experience of life.
There are things that are going to occur that are painful and hurtful and terrible. (That’s kind of the ticket we all get for being human. It’s guaranteed that those things will happen.)
That’s when we can say, Ok, I may not have caused this. This isn’t my fault. But my responsibility is around how I experience this and how I move forward. Ask yourself:
- Who do I choose to be in the face of this thing?
- Who do I want to be as it relates to my team? My community?
- How do I want to show up?
- Do I want to be bitter?
- Do I want to sit back?
- Do I want to complain?
- Is this really the most healthy, helpful, and productive thing?
- Is that really the highest and grandest vision that I have for myself?
If it’s not, in that pause you have a moment of choice. You can ask yourself:
What do I want my experience of this to be? Who do I want to be in the face of this thing?
So I think that little distinction allows us to register the pain, register the disappointment, register the despair—because we should feel our feelings. You can’t heal it if you can’t feel it.
Marie: Journaling is powerful for many reasons: Many of us don’t know truly what we think about something until we investigate it, challenge it, and write it down.
Journaling requires being undistracted. It’s an opportunity to keep checking in with who you are and who you want to be. If there are any challenges in your life, it’s an opportunity to dive deeper to solve it.
Journaling trains you to create before you consume. In our culture, it’s so much about inputs: television, radio, etc. People have the ratio flipped these days. They’re consuming and feel like they don’t have time to pursue whatever it is they want to create in the world. (Even if it’s wanting to create a stronger body, a healthier mind, or more connected relationships.) Create before you consume.
💡 Journaling Prompts:
- Who do I want to be in response to this?
- What are the lessons that I don’t want to forget from this time? Maybe it’s:
- Saving for a rainy day fund
- Building a better network of other humans
- Taking opportunities to learn certain skills
- Imagine being 95. What are the things you wish you could tell your younger self?
*This Marie Forleo interview was edited for length and clarity.
Check out Marie’s FREE copywriting course “5 Writing Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make In Your Business” 👇
We want to extend a huge thank you to Marie for her inspiration and ideas. Go check out her book Everything Is Figureoutable if you haven’t already.
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