Series 11: For the Love of Books | Episode 01
Bringing Your Story to Life: Imperfect Courage with Jessica Honegger
Welcome to a brand spanking new series that we are just tickled to launch—For the Love of Books! It’s not like we don’t talk about books all the time anyway, but now we’re dedicating an entire series to officially having amazing conversations with writers, storytellers, lovers of books, and today’s guest, who’s a first-time author: Jessica Honegger from Noonday Collection! Ever wonder how the writing process takes place? How to go from an idea in your head to holding your book in your hands, a book that could possibly be the next bestseller? Jessica’s new book, Imperfect Courage: Live a Life of Purpose by Leaving Comfort and Going Scared, just came out, and we’re going to hear all about how it came to life. For anyone who’s itching to tell their story or step toward the life they’ve only imagined, listen up: this is the episode for you.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey everybody, it is Jen Hatmaker here. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast. I am your very, very happy hostess and terribly glad that you are here with me today, because we are kicking off a series that I am so giddy about, you guys. I mean, we’ve been dreaming this one up for some time, as you can well imagine, because today starts For the Love of Books! Woo!
I mean, this is like my favorite thing. It’s my favorite subject, it’s my favorite thing to talk about. My favorite thing to do is read, so we’ve been working on the series for some time, and you are going to love it, absolutely love it.
We have such an amazing lineup of guests and all across the spectrum.
And so I am super thrilled about my very first guest. And so, we were thinking, maybe the way to kick off the book series is to have on a first-time author. Somebody who’s just right out of the gate with a very first project. Let’s start at the very beginning.
I am so happy to have back on the show my very dear friend, like-a-sister-kind-of-a-friend, Jessica Honegger.
Jessica, by the way, is our very first repeat guest in a whole year of podcasts. First repeat guest, first-time author.
So Jessica—if you’ve been around me for half a minute, you already know all this—but she is the founder of Noonday Collection, which is this fabulous socially conscious fashion brand. Anything you’ve ever seen me wear jewelry-wise is Noonday. I don’t know what I would wear without it.
Guys, this is a no-joke company. Jessica was named Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2015, she was number 45 on the Inc. 5,000 Fastest Growing Companies list. She’s been up for so many awards, Austin 40 under 40. I mean, she’s the real deal, you guys.
What I’m excited to tell you about is that she has written a book that is so good. It’s calledImperfect Courage: Live a Life of Purpose by Leaving Comfort and Going Scared. I mean, who doesn’t need that message? This is really for all of us. And so we’re going to talk about the book, but we’re also going to talk a lot about the writing process. What was it like as a first time writer? What was it like to strike out? What was it like to edit? What was it like, ultimately, to release it?
So I’m excited for you to hear from her, especially all of you aspiring writers who are really, really interested in the writing process and the publishing process. We’re going to unpack a ton of that over the course of our conversation.
Jessica lives here in Austin, where I live, with her husband Joe and her kids Amelie and Holden and Jack. She is so great, and I love her so much. So, you guys, welcome back to the show, Jessica Honegger.
Okay! Hi, friend, good morning.
Jessica: Hey, Jen, are you living your best life right now?
Jen: Yeah, I’m living my best life. I used to say that I was a fall girl. Like, I like the fall, and I do for a lot of reasons. You and I are the same, football, we love all that. But I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am a summer person. I live for right now.
Jessica: Lakes will convert anyone to be a summer person. Frankly, the hotness has just stays longer, so it really goes into October now. It’s hard to be a fall person in Austin these days.
Jen: That’s a great point. When people are going to their first football games, we are also going to our first football games, but we’re having heat stroke. It’s sweat-through-your-clothes, disastrous heat.
Jessica: It’s so bad.
Jen: November really starts fall.
Jessica: It’s like the thigh sweat is too horrible to wear a dress that would technically keep you cooler, but you have to wear jeans because otherwise your legs would just be blistered by the end of the day.
Jen: Oh my gosh. This is exactly my theory. People will say to me sometimes, “Why are you wearing pants?”
I’m like, “So I don’t chafe the skin off the inside of my thighs. I don’t understand why you’re not!”
I just discovered, Jessica . . . Listeners, we’re about to jump into the real stuff, but listen, this might be important if you’re hearing this. My friend from church just showed me this, it’s essentially . . . gosh, what is it called?
Jessica: Yes, Surf Butta.
Jessica: Surfers use it. Have you tried it?
Jen: Yes, I couldn’t believe it. All of the sudden they’re just swishing away.
Jessica: “Swishing away!” It takes some getting used to, but I had no idea that this existed. There are all sorts of deodorant for your inner thighs, there’s this Surf Butter, there’s—
So if you don’t take anything away from this podcast about books, Jessica and I are here for you.
Now listen, this is really fun that you’re on today for a couple of reasons. First of all, we’re going to talk about your new book, which you already know how I feel. We’re going to talk about you, being a first-time, brand-new author, which is so fun, because this series, of course, is For the Love of Books. You bring such a special niche perspective as a first-time author. Third, and this is a real big deal, in the course of this podcast, you are my very first returning guest. [Listen to Jessica’s first interview on the For The Love Podcast.] And I just want to know how you feel right now in this historic moment?
Jessica: Well, I feel extremely grateful because I get it. I have a podcast, and I know that there are hundreds of interesting people to interview in the world. And I know that this takes up a precious slot in your podcast schedule.
What’s really cool is that it’s really full circle because I was right smack-dab in the middle of finishing up my book when we had our last interview, and it helped unstick me. Now here I am, on the other side, to say I survived.
Jen: Love it. Love it.
So last time we talked about Noonday and your entrepreneurial journey. Since then, you’ve started your own podcast, which is so good. It’s called Going Scared, which is a phenomenal title. So you primarily feature guests who tell their own stories about moving out of their comfort lane and into lives of courage, kind of all across the spectrum in a ton of different ways.
And, as we’ve mentioned, you have now written a book. And it’s calledImperfect Courage: Live a Life of Purpose by Leaving Comfort and Going Scared. It’s such a great title.
I would love to hear you talk a little bit about how the title, literally Imperfect Courage. Of course, in it you were really telling the story of Noonday. But how does that whole concept, that whole idea of “going scared,” apply to your decision to write a whole book, a book full of words? And you’ve never written a book before, and you didn’t have any big aspirations to write a book when you were younger? This is not your big dream that you always saw coming.
So what led you to the point where you were like, It’s time to write this down on paper, and I’m going to take this leap.
Jessica: Well, you are right. I have never viewed myself as a writer, per se. I mean, I may have won a poetry competition one time in the eighth grade, okay.
Jen: “Stop asking me about it, you guys.” Oh my gosh.
Jessica: I had a little bit of AP English, okay, so I definitely was stronger on the verbal. I mean, at least triple on my SAT scores on the verbal.
But I never grew up thinking I want to write a book. Honestly, that’s not really what motivated me to write this book. [I wasn’t] like, I want to write a book.
Growing up, I at one point wanted to be an actress, I at one point wanted to be a Broadway tap dancer, I had days of wanting to be President of the United States. But I definitely went through a phase of wanting to be an international journalist. That’s really how I approached this book, as a storyteller. I’m not a writer, I’m not a writer’s-writer. I love good writing, you know that.
Jen: Yeah, you do.
Jessica: I’m always Amazoning you books.
Jen: Oh my gosh. I don’t remember if I mentioned this on our last time doing the podcast, but listen, Jessica one time sent me a biography on Abraham Lincoln that I promise you was 1,000 pages long.
I’m like, “Jessica. I can’t read this.”
She said, “No, it’s the best book! I promise you, it will go fast.”
I’m like, “No book with 1,000 pages goes fast.”
Anyway, you’ve probably sent me 10 books.
Jessica: I have, and that book in particular are all of Abraham’s . . . I just called him “Abraham,” like good ol’ Abe.
Jen: Like he’s your neighbor.
Jessica: President Lincoln. President Lincoln’s letters to his wife and to his Cabinet and his speeches.
Honestly, that was a real pivotal moment for me, reading that book, because that’s when I realized he labored for hours over his speeches. And then he would gather his Cabinet together to deliver his talks before going and giving them. It was this moment of realizing the power of communication, which I know that we all know that, but I think seeing his commitment and the time that he spent really in giving his words, really creating a story, made me realize there is so much power. And I want to hone in on my communication skills.
I think there’s this combination of I see myself as a storyteller, and over the last eight years I have been able to be in thousands of women’s homes across America. I’ve been able to be in the homes of Guatemalans, of Rwandans, of Indians, of Ecuadorians, of Ethiopians, of Ugandans. And I don’t just pop in and pop out, but I’ve actually been walking with people for seven years. I’ve been able to see their lives change. And I saw this thread, over and over again, as I am walking with people from literally all over the world, all different backgrounds, and there’s this theme of fear. I think that when we come face to face with fear, we really have two choices. We can choose to be brave, which I say is simply “going scared,” or we can choose to sit on our couches and watch a lot of Netflix and drink a whole lot of wine and be paralyzed.
It’s funny, because I talk a lot about how we can do All The Things and we can be this and we can be that, but actually there’s certain things that you have to choose—you can’t actually have them both. As I got to know so many women and men and families around the world, I wanted to be able to elevate and advocate and share their stories. So I really approached this project as more of a journalist, I think, than a writer.
Also, a couple of years ago when I was in the middle of trying to figure out how to go about this, I remember I was reading Rising Strong, and I remember Brené sharing her book-writing experience for Rising Strong. She had said previously in all of her books, there were these processes she just dreaded because it was, like, she’d go away and labor alone for hours. But for Rising Strong, she gathered a group of friends together, they went to her lake house, hung out, and then they would talk and verbally process, and then she’d go write.
That got me really excited because collaboration is my middle name. That’s the whole middle part of my book. It’s all about how we are not meant to go alone. That’s the song I sing. And I did have this image of book writing as go to the cabin on the lake alone—
Jen: Right. Totally.
Jessica: And just labor alone. That’s not how I work, even at Noonday. As the Chief Creative Officer and all of the designs and all the things that we do, I do it with a team.
So the first thing I did, aside from getting an agent, which you completely made that introduction, you and Shauna [Niequist}—
Jessica: I love my agent. I love him.
Jen: You have a weird, deep, well of author friends.
Jessica: Well, yes, I do, which was a little bit intimidating.
Jen: Was it? I think it’s awesome.
Jessica: Okay, you’re right. That is the positive spin on it Jen. It is so awesome. It was intimidating when I’m having them actually read my book to endorse it.
Jen: Okay, that’s fair.
Jessica: But it was awesome. It’s funny, being a storyteller, I am captured by stories. And you even shared the whole story in the background about the agent, Chris, my agent that you introduced me to, and that’s what sold me on him. He had this total underdog story, and he stood by a client, even when it was really hard.
Jessica: I thought, “That’s the guy for me.”
I did get an agent. And then after that, I knew I needed help, so I hired a writing coach. I wanted a midwife. I just wanted someone who—
Jen: Yes, that’s a great word!
Jessica: Yeah, I just wanted a midwife to help me birth this thing. I mean, I didn’t have my babies by myself. I actually had my baby at my house with a midwife.
Jen: Oh my gosh, you’re so hippy dippy. Golly. So Austiny.
Jessica: I’m a hippy in high heels, though. That’s what’s bizarre.
Jen: You so are. That is so fair.
Jessica: So I went on the search, and interviewed eight to ten people and talked to them about their process. There’s people who will actually write a whole book for you, and then there’s people who will help you outline. I really needed that something in between.
I also have a content strategist who’s been on my team for five years, who’s been one of the chief story tellers at Noonday. So I would go overseas and I interview the artisans. I find that thread, and I find the story, and I understand where we want to start and where we want to end. Then she would help me actually write that for blogs, or whatever.
I have this other friend who had been my corporate strategist at Noonday. She had to step back from that, but she’s seriously one of the smartest people I know, Harvard Business, just really linear thinker. Super linear and very concise. She’s able to take thirty pages and then say, “I think this is what you’re really trying to say,” and say it in one page. Brilliant.
Jen: You and I are terrible at that. Brevity is not our strong suit at all.
Jessica: At all. When I say I assembled a team, yes, one of those people was being paid, and one works for me, but Lindsay was just a friend.
In the middle of that, I had other people. Melissa Russell said, “Hey, I’ll read it for you.” I would text you every now and then like, “I’m stuck!” I even have samples of sentences, and you’re like, “No, change the sentence to this.”
For me, when I was able to think about it as not being a solo process and that I could have other people that journeyed with me, that really made it exciting for me and caused me to be able to move forward. We really got to stitch these stories together. I felt like I have this vault of stories of transformation where people decided, “I’m not going to let fear win.” That’s what I got to piece together.
So I feel like a vessel. Honestly, I do. I feel like I just get to be a vessel of these stories, and then I got to work with sort of finding that thread and that message that I then wanted to bring to the world through these stories.
Jen: I love that. I really do.
I like hearing that too, because you touched on something that is fundamentally true, which says that there is this idea that writing the book is such solo work. And to some degree, parts of it are. If you’re a certain type of author, maybe the whole kit and caboodle is. But I’m thinking about everybody listening to you talking right now who’s got a story inside of them. Maybe they’re in your shoes, which is like they don’t necessarily consider themselves . . . They don’t want to write a book because they want to be a writer, they want to write a book because they have something to say. They have a story to tell, like you do. So it is actually a huge, fat relief to hear somebody like you say, “Listen, the first thing I did was start calling in the troops. Let’s bring in who I know, let’s bring in other thinkers, let’s bring in other creatives, other just good readers.” I have a stable of people like that too. I think that releases the pressure valve a little bit out of getting started, which the getting-started part is just bananas.
I do want to talk a little bit with you about the actual writing process because at least parts of it, I’m just going to say, are brutal. Just brutal. Sometimes in the middle of writing, I just can’t believe I’ve chosen to do this on purpose, like, Why? You know, I drag you into my drama anytime I’m nearing a deadline and I just am so melodramatic.
If you’re melodramatic, you should probably just be an author, everybody. That’s your right path.
But it’s not for the faint of heart, this work. It really is hard work, and there’s just a period where you’re sort of sucked into this vacuum, and it’s the only thing that you can focus on. It’s the only thing you can think about.
Then of course there’s our families kind of left at home. Everyone is essentially fending for themselves, it’s like Lord of the Flies.
Jen: I wonder if you could talk a little bit, even though . . . What I don’t want people to hear you say is that you had a book doula who helped you craft, so therefore you weren’t doing a lot of the writing or work, because that’s not true at all. It was a huge labor. And frankly, sometimes managing other collaborators on the project is even more work. It’s not less work, it’s more.
So I wonder if you could talk about the writing process a little bit, and how did you approach it, and how did you restructure your life? Because you have a full-dadgum-time job. It’s a lot of travel, it’s not like you’re just sitting around. How did you approach writing and making time for it, and adjusting your schedule, and not losing your mind in all of that?
Jessica: Yeah, I think the actual pulling-away part is what I loved most about it. Because my life is so back-to-back meetings and traveling and inspiring the forces. I did have to cut back. I literally couldn’t carry on with my job simultaneously.
I was able to work with my executive team and with the directors at Noonday, and reposition some of my time, or hand over some things, or skip out on some meetings and just get an update later. My business partner was key in supporting me and giving me the space to be able to do this.
I loved it because I had been running at such a fast clip, so pulling away and just getting to think—because I feel like the thinking, to me, is almost more crucial than the writing.
And so I think for me it was so much about the crystallization of the message, and you don’t know when that is going to occur. That’s what crazy about the creative process. You can be running an errand to the grocery store and literally the idea for chapter three suddenly crystallizes, you know?
I had to have margin in my schedule just for thinking, not necessarily to pound it out on a computer, ’cause that matters too, but actually to let these thoughts crystallize.
What I loved is I became such a stronger communicator, so then all of my keynotes following that time, I mean even the podcast I did with you, I was like, Wow, I was super clear on that podcast, and it’s because I hadn’t had four meetings leading up to it.
Jen: Oh yes.
Jessica: You know what I mean? I had been writing. And so I think that is what I did love about it.
Again, though, the team had to pick up my slack, and give me space, and take on some things that they had not normally taken on.
Jen: I really identify with that you’ve said about creating room to think. That is not something that you hear a lot of writers talk about, but especially in a nonfiction genre, you just need your brain to have a little bit of a long leash to just think some thoughts.
Jen: And to develop something and that happens.
So, I’m in the development process right now on next book. It’s content development, it’s outline development, it is starting to chart the arc and the flow. I mean, I am a maniac right now because I’ve put enough things into my brain, I’ve digested the bits of information that I know I want to be thinking about. I’m doing a lot of reading and listening.
And what happens, it’s so weird, it’s this very strange alchemy which you’ve got the ingredients in your head, you know. You’ve got these stories, you have the ideas, you have the words that you’re circulating around. You have some long-game goals at the end of what you want to say, but you sometimes cannot force it. You just need to put all the things in your brain, and then at the weirdest time, your brain will give you a fully developed idea.
Jessica: And it always does.
Jen: It is so weird.
Jessica: It always does.
Jen: It does.
Jessica: There is that moment of scarcity, which I have them all the time, where you think, I will never have another idea again. I mean, or you think, God, that was a really good idea, and I better hold onto it. Which is you think you’re afraid if you let it go that . . . I will tell you that creativity is regenerative.
Jen: Yeah, it is.
Jessica: I think creativity begets creativity. And as I began to embrace that mindset and just allow some things to simmer and trust— I mean, you have to trust that it’s going to come. You just don’t always control the timing.
I love that book, Big Magic. I think that’s one of the ones I sent you.
Jen: Yeah, I loved Big Magic. Loved it.
Jessica: It’s just—
Jen: By Elizabeth Gilbert, you guys. It’s really for all creatives, not just writers, but she has so much to say obviously as a writer herself. But yes.
Jessica: Yeah, I read that book before writing. But it is the idea of you’ve got to, and then when it comes—
Jen: Oh, I know.
Jessica: This is what happens to me: I’ll get ideas, and I am so thrilled and so excited, and I think, This is it. I mean, I literally feel that way. I’m like, This is it. Well, then I think, Well of course I’m not going to forget this because this is so profound. And then the next day I’m like—
Jen: It’s gone.
Jessica: I know I had a good idea yesterday, and I have no idea what it was.
Jen: It’s gone. It’s so weird, that is the weirdest thing.
Jessica: What is up with that?
Jen: I don’t know if you saw me write this, I just said this a couple of days ago online, because I am in, like I just said, I’m in development mode. So I’m just having to wait for my brain to give me the threads.
And I also collaborated. Sarah Bessey is one of my best idea collaborators, she is just . . . that’s the way her brain works. And so I did this word-dump to her. I’m like, “Here is all the thoughts I’m having, my brain won’t give me a good thought on it, but here they are in a one big word vomit. Blahhh.” And I’m just vomited it all out. You should hear it, this is a nightmare.
Jessica: It’s bad.
Jen: So she comes back in ’cause she’s such a creative—and like you said, creativity breeds creativity, and so I think I honestly suck them out of her account because she comes back with these—
Jessica: It will regenerate. It will regenerate.
Jen: She’ll give more. Yeah, I needed her. I was depleted. And so she’s asking me all these really smart questions like, “Where’s the wind at your back? Where do you feel Holy Spirit power in what you’re saying? What is your audience, like, what are they drawing in for? When you are speaking, what are the things that they come near for?” Just all these such smart, clarifying questions.
So anyway, that was some things I put in my brain. My brain would also help me, or all of her questions. I was in the shower—
Jessica: So good.
Jen: About two days ago in the shower just washing my hair—that’s when my brain often decides to give me some ideas. And all of a sudden I just . . . well, it was coming faster than I could . . . I saw it, and it fully formed.
Jessica: That’s fast.
Jen: Fully outlined beginning to end. I mean, I had shampoo in my hair, and as quick as I could, I don’t even know if I got it all out, throw a towel around me. I go running out, grab my phone to just start . . . ’cause you do forget. It’s weird, you can. I’m, tapping out notes, and Brandon’s like, “What are you doing?”
I’m sloshing water all over our bedroom. I’m like, “Shh, don’t talk to me! It’s going to head off. Don’t let me lose the tail.”
So it’s really . . . I find the creative process both terrifying and exhilarating, it’s so fun when it comes together.
Jessica: It is, it’s so euphoric. It’s so euphoric when you get that moment. But the scary part is when you’re in doubt, wondering if that moment will ever happen. I think the more you do this, which you’ve done this a bazillion times, on my first time it was just trusting that that moment would come, and it would come before the manuscript was due.
Jen: Let me ask you this: what, in your opinion, was the most difficult part of the book to write? Your specific book, was there any part that you either kept putting off? Or that you had to walk away from and come back to? Or you had to rework, and rework, and rework? Was there a part that kept rubbing?
Jessica: You know, it’s really interesting. Because I knew the arc, and I knew the end was bringing everyone to this point: “How are you going to bring what you have to bear on the world to make your impact, and to build this flourishing world?” And I think at the beginning, starting out, I thought, That’s going to be the easiest part, ’cause that’s what’s I do. It’s what I love. But I got so stuck.
Actually, I remember reaching out to you, and I think it’s because first of all I’m not linear, I’m not a list maker, I’m not like, “Take you through the five points.” And at this point, we hadn’t done enough of that in the book. And so I knew in order to serve my reader, I needed to give a little bit of tips, like “here’s how” kind of stuff.
One of the big parts in the book-writing process was I think I had defined authenticity incorrectly.
I had this whole section talking about schedule: “What are you doing with your schedule? Do you have margin in your schedule so that you can meet need if it suddenly arises?”
But here I am writing and asking my readers to build margin into their schedule. I think in my definition of authenticity, I thought, I have to have walked through this, and learned my lesson, and then be perfect at it for the rest of my life before I can actually let God use that story, or I can actually share that story with someone else. I honestly think that’s what prevented me from writing the book.
You know, body image has been a huge struggle for me, and I write about it in my book. And yet I struggle with it still. So, I think I had to realize it’s not about tying the pretty red bow on top and then handing it to a reader, but letting a reader in on the journey that still is authentic. You know?
Jen: Oh my gosh, absolutely. I think what you’ve just described is a deterrent for so many of us.
Maybe not even just in writing, but in a variety of areas in that we have this feeling like we have to have mastery over some concept, or over some area of our life before we can talk meaningfully about it, before we can bring it to our communities, or to our readers, or to our listeners or to our friends and neighbors. I mean, if we are waiting around until we are literally able to dot every I and cross every T, well, nobody will ever say anything.
In fact, I think there is something marvelously contagious about the vulnerability in a messenger. So I’m actually more drawn to a messenger who is willing to say, “I do not have this sewn up yet.” Or, “This is still something that I have to flesh out and work through all the time.” That to me feels more safe and more trustworthy than having somebody act like or communicate that they are absolutely nailing it all. That to me makes me feel lonely and small.
Jessica: Well, and I learned about something you said in Of Mess and Moxie really stuck with me. And it says, “We don’t have to be who we once were.”
There is something so permanent about a book.
Jen: Mm-hmm, gosh.
Jessica: So it does make sense that you would feel a bit paralyzed, like, I don’t even know how I completely feel about that yet, so I better not put it out there. But I think hopefully, our messages especially are ones that are helping people to embrace a journey and a process, and not just be stuck on a destination, and to embrace imperfect—obviously it’s in my book title—and to embrace the journey, and to be compassionate and forgiving both ourselves and to other people.
Jen: That’s right.
Jessica: Certainly this whole writing process has made me a lot less critical of other writers.
Jen: That’s so interesting. I have a question to ask you about that, as a matter of fact. And I wondered if you’ve noticed a shift in the way that you read now, and how you think about other writers, and how you think about their process? I’m curious if you read now not just as a reader, but as a writer? If it’s changed your sense of solidarity, and compassion, and grace?
Jessica: So much of that. So much of that.
I mean, it’s funny because at Noonday I’m the Chief Creative Officers. So all of the photo shoots, and everything that goes in to like styling a model in the right outfit and the right pose that captures the right aspirational look, that actually shows the earring, with the right scale that goes with the necklace and the bag. I can’t even watch a movie or flip through a magazine anymore without thinking, “That shot took 15 hours.”
Jen: I get you totally.
Jessica: It really does. I mean, I am in leadership, okay? We’ve done lots of leadership talks together, and leadership retreats and that’s been my big stretch over the last years. I’m even able to be compassionate towards Donald Trump.
Jen: I think that is so deep compassionate thing to say. I was . . . literally before you said that I was just thinking, as you were talking that we watched this phenomenon with past presidents who were once mortal enemies, they were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they ran against one another, and yet we see after they are done with their presidency, they’re friends and they’re collaborators.
Jen: Because they deeply understand how hard the job is and how much crap they all had to take.
Jessica: It’s hard.
Jen: It’s an interesting thing, that it really does deepen our mercy for one another.
Jessica: I think that’s just being brave. I think the more courage you exhibit, the more compassion you’re able to access, and what a beautiful thing. What a beautiful thing to be able to look back on life and say, “I chose to be brave. I chose courage. And that ushered in more compassion, and I was able to live a more compassionate life because of it.”
Jen: I love that. I’m curious, did you draw on any other authors, or other creatives, or writers whose style you liked? Or who inspired you in one way or another, either in writing style, or maybe in content and messaging? Who were you drawing from during this writing process?
Jessica: Well, I don’t know if you have ever heard of this person, but Jen Hatmaker. I’m like, “Have you asked this question in this other series, and gotten this answer?”
No, but I do think . . . I mean, not to be perceived as completely shallow, but I write these little Instagram posts and I’m usually writing them in my car after I’ve dropped off my kids at school, or I’m at a stop light, or I’m in an Uber, and I wanted to bring that same “I haven’t over thought this too much” approachability. I think when you’re talking about such a hard topic like poverty, and HIV, and violence against the poor, I was so afraid.
I think my biggest fear is that I am this vault to stories. I have this treasure trove of stories from people that I love and [I’m afraid] that people are going to skim. They’re going to read “HIV” and they’re going to skim. They’re going to see the hard thing of human trafficking, and they’re just going to skim. So that was something that stressed me out.
It was like, How can I write about something hard in a way that’s also approachable? Gary Haugen does a great job at that in his first two books, Just Courage and The Good News about Injustice. You do a great job at that. Tina Fey, I mean, my gosh, her book Bossypants just . . . you know?
Jen: I know.
Jessica: The problem is I’m not a super funny person, but I am very self-derogating. You know? I’m able to throw myself under the bus pretty easily. So I really did want it to be approachable. The irony is that I really do love big thinkers. I’ve seen you got a 1,000-page book of Abraham Lincoln’s letters.
Jessica: So how I like to read isn’t necessarily how I was looking to write.
Jen: Oh, that’s good.
Jessica: I think the main thing is that I wanted a reader to pull up a chair across from me at the coffee table, and when I started talking about the hard things that she wouldn’t just like [and think], Okay, I’ve got to go. I’m going to go scroll now, or, I’m going to go check on my kids, I wanted to keep her attention. And I hope I’ve done that.
Jen: You did that in the book, you really did.
What I want people to know as they are listening to you talking is that you do, for sure . . . this is your whole life’s work. You do head directly into the belly of the beast of injustice and poverty, and what’s hard about the life experience of so many of our brothers and sisters around the world.
However, you also tell delightful stories, and wonderful stories, and exciting stories, and moving, happy stories. I don’t want people to hear you think, Oh, gosh this feels like heavy-duty. Because also, your book’s delightful. To me, it’s inspiring and it’s encouraging. It’s so wonderful to see what happens when women come together, and when they collaborate, when they believe in one another. You did that perfectly.
I hear what you’re saying. It’s a difficult needle to thread as a communicator, because you and I both care very deeply about injustice, this is just part of our blood stream. We’re unable to sit it out. We are unable to sit on the sidelines, it’s just not the way we were wired. So yeah, bringing our communities along with us into difficult but important areas of justice without giving them fatigue all the time, so that they’re just worn out and they just wish they were on Instagram, it really is a difficult skill-set. You have to sort of find the balance of when do you pull back the throttle a little bit and tell a funny story? Or when do you just inject a story that’s just full of life, and success, and victory? Because you have a ton of those too.
I hear exactly what you’re saying, and I will tell you just as a reader—and it’s impossible for me not to be biased about you, I don’t care, and I’m not sorry, and I don’t care, I’m not trying to fix that—but just as a reader who still has a degree of objectivity, when I read your book, I loved it. I didn’t skim any of it. I didn’t skip a paragraph.
Jessica: I’m so glad. I hold these as precious stories. They are, they’re all redemptive. I mean, that is the point of sharing them. That is why this was the right time to write the book, because I’ve been able to see people emerge out of poverty and already change the legacies of their families and, ultimately, their communities. I mean, that’s so inspiring to get to read about.
Jen: It is.
Jessica: I just had to take that risk. And also—
Jen: No, you did. You did, you nailed it. I promise you.
I’m not just telling you that because I love, and I love Noonday, and I love your work. I mean, you really . . . the amount of work that you put into this book, and I know it. I mean, I was with you. I have this memory right now of you had sent me a whole portion of the book that you were just . . . it was sticky, and you just couldn’t . . . you’d gotten some push back with some of your collaborators, and you were trying to find the right through, and I was at the dentist, do you remember this? I was at the dentist with my kids, and like all four of them had a dentist appointment at the same time, and I took my laptop out and sat on the sidewalk, on the outside of my dentist office, and you and I just fleshed it out. We just worked through it on the phone.
Jen: I want everybody listening to know that you worked really, really, really hard on this. And you did not take this lightly, you were not careless with other people’s stories. You fact-checked with everybody around you on practically every word you wrote, like, “Is this your experience? Am I telling this accurately? Is this fair? Is my memory right?”
What you get, the end result, is this wonderful book full of courage and truth and inspiration.
I want to talk about it for a second, because sort of funneling into, obviously, the core theme: it’s called Imperfect Courage, so you’re obviously telling the story of Noonday. But your book really speaks to anybody who is thinking about doing anything new, and taking first steps toward anything foreign and uncharted.
One thing that you wrote, you said, “Instead of waiting for fear to subside, I had made it my friend. Because when you’ve got a vision, you don’t have time to wait around for your fears to vanish before you start moving. Perhaps the hero’s journey is not for a few brave people after all, but an invitation to me, to us all, to rally our courage and go do the thing we’re meant to do.”
I mean, that’s just phenomenal right there. I love that paragraph.
I want everybody to hear that this book is for all kinds of people. It’s for starters, and dreamers, and visionaries, and creatives.
I wonder what would you say to people listening to sort of get them off high-center, get them out of the starting blocks to, as you say, “Live a life of purpose by leaving comfort”—whatever that means for them—“and going scared.” What would be some of your like best practices here?
Jessica: You know, I do think that there is this internal process that we need to go through where we kind of picture ourselves at the dinner table, and realize who’s sitting at the table, who’s speaking at the table?
Often times, we are not doing what we’re meant to do in the world, because we’re living out of shoulds, we’re living out of what our parents wanted from us, we’re putting maybe other people’s desires really before our own desires. We are living out of how we want others to perceive us, we’re living out of a fear of failure, or even a fear of success.
Jen: Right, weird.
Jessica: I think you’ve got to get honest. You’ve got to become aware of those voices that . . . whose origin is fear and not love. You’ve got to recognize that those voices exist, and then hold them up to truth, and realize that it’s possible that they’re liars, and you have the power to actually kick them out of the dinner party. They don’t deserve a seat at your table.
I think that that’s really important. I think only then can we own, What do we want? Then we’re really clear. What do I want in the world? What is the legacy that I want to leave behind? How do I want to live and to love, and not fear? I think we need to get clear around that in our voice so that we can stand up and lean in to the voice that’s truly ours.
I read this quote once. It said, “We keep crying out to know the will of God without realizing that His will is knitted into the fabric of our being.”
Jen: That’s good, I like that.
Jessica: There is a time to explore and to know yourself. Then we’ve got to find people to do that with. That might be one person. And while, yes, some people [can be] hired, there’s someone in your life that thinks it would be an absolute blast to help you hash out a book, you know?
Because there is this only one name goes on the front of the book, I do think we have this myth that book-writing is a solo act, but it’s not. I mean, it is not. Even if you’re just talking with your husband at the dinner table, I mean, he is a collaborator.
Jen: That’s right.
Jessica: I think we have to find collaborators and not go it alone.
Now listen, if you want to go alone, go alone. But if you think, I don’t want to go alone, just know that you do not have to go alone. Going alone is a choice that you make.
Jen: That’s good. Really in any field, in any field.
Jessica: In any field.
Jen: In anything anybody wants to create, or build, or dream up, there are already people that live in that zip code, or are willing to drive to it with you.
Jessica: There are. There just are. There are.
Then I think you just have to do the next right thing that moves towards your idea, and get off the comparison train and own your voice, look on the inside, how you’re made. What do you have? What do you have right now? Not what did you have yesterday, oh my gosh, before you had the babies, and you had all the time in the world, and not what will you have when you eventually earn that paycheck that’s going to enable you. Or when you have this many followers on Instagram, and then you’ll finally have your platform, and then a publisher will actually really want to do the deal with you.
Quit thinking about what you had and what you will have, and think about today. What do you have? Because you have a lot.
Jen: That’s really good.
Jessica: You can bring that to bear on the idea that you’ve been given that’s uniquely yours. That’s the impact. If you don’t move forward, you’re just robbing other people, you know?
Jen: That is so strong. I’m literally, I just grabbed my phone. Literally when I did my word dump over to my friend Sarah, and said, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Nothing’s happening. I don’t know anything.” Then I went down this whole awful rabbit trail of like, “I have these important things to say, and I don’t think it’s going to be managed right. And I don’t know if I . . . is it in trustworthy hands?” I mean I’m just having a full blown fit.
Sarah said to me—and I have to go back and re-listen to it so I could write it down—but she said, and this dovetails into what you just said, she said, “Don’t worry about who’s going to serve this book best. Worry about the work that needs to be born, and serve that.”
I was like, “Dang, she just read me my rights.”
Jen: I was already worried about the end-game. Like I’m worried about how it’s going to be marketed, she’s like, “You haven’t written a damn thing.” Like, “Why don’t you just sit your butt in a chair and write some words.”
Jessica: “Write some words. Do the work.”
Jen: Yeah, serve the work. And that’s kind of what you just said. Serve the work.
Jessica: I love that.
Jen: Serve the message. Frankly, a lot of the later details, they just, they come when you need them. They work themselves out when they need to be worked out. But there are so many—
Jessica: They do.
Jen: Steps before then that matter. Do the internal work that you’re talking about.
I mentioned this at the intro, but I wrote a blog a while back, because I’ve so many aspiring writers in my community, and they have stories that they want to tell, that need to be told. And so I wrote a blog called “On Becoming a Writer,” I’ll link that up everybody if you want to read that. But I wrote a blog just is basically this is everything I know on becoming a writer, a few tips on the process and getting started, some great reads along the way.
I wonder, like down to brass tacks—so we just talked a little bit about what it meant to be a creative, and to build something beautiful. But let’s talk specifically, if we could funnel down for a minute into being a writer, what would be your top advice, having now done it, for somebody who really needs to tell their story like you did in Imperfect Courage?
What would you just say? If you had to just pick out one or two things that really mattered for you, that really like put gas in the tank for you, what would you say?
Jessica: Well, I love what you just said—don’t think about the end-game, write your story. I firmly believe that everybody has a book in them. I would love and be delighted if every single person wrote a book. I mean, it was such a good experience for me.
But I think write the book. Like, write the book. Tell the story, and don’t wait on someone else’s permission. You know what? If there are three people who will listen, can you just let that be enough? I think we’re this like, “Oh it has to be mass-audience.” What if you shared your story to one person, and that changed the trajectory of their life, you know?
Jen: That’s good. I think that’s so great. It’s a discipline to have to sort of capture your thoughts, all those grandiose ideas of what does it mean to be successful, and what if it isn’t successful? It is a discipline to reject that mean inner-voice, that mean committee that lives in our heads telling us, “You’re not worthy of this project,” or, “Nobody’s going to care about it,” or “It’s going to be a flop.” It’s literal work to say, “I’m not going to listen to that. I’m not going to entertain that. I’m going to push that fully out of my mind and just serve the work.”
Let me ask you this real quick, this is important for first time authors. So you’re a fashion maven, obviously. So what must-have accessories will you be taking on your first book tour? Like, ’cause this matters.
Jessica: Our rustic leather…
Jen: Oh, you already know, tell me.
Jessica: Our rustic leather tote. It’s the top-selling thing in our line. I love it because it sits right on top of my suitcase that rolls. It fits my laptop, and like a bazillion things. It’s like the Mary Poppins bag.
Jessica: It fades over time. The color doesn’t actually fade, it becomes richer over time. It actually gets a tan. It’s really fun. So you’ll be out and about, and you’ll see other people with the same tote, and everyone has a different color, in a different tone because it’s made of goat leather.
Jen: Is that the one I have?
Jen: It’s got the pocket on the front.
Jen: It’s so cute. And it does, it weirdly fits a lot of things.
Jessica: Yeah. You and I, we’re both earring girls, I mean big earrings.
Jessica: The bigger the better. I have some fabulous, they’re called the Mumbai Hoops.
I think they’re just really flattering. They bring a big pop of color right next to your face which is always flattering. Hoops are having a moment.
Jen: I’m so happy.
Jessica: So you’re going to see me with lots of big earrings. I’m going to be the girl with the big earrings on, and the leather bag.
Jen: You know that I’m all the way here for that. If you’re looking for some lady to stand up and give you a standing ovation on big earrings and big bags, you’re on the right podcast.
Okay, I’m excited for that, so excited.
Let me . . . we’re going to wrap this up, these are questions that we’re asking everybody in the For the Love of Books series.
Okay, so here’s the first one: what’s the first book that you ever read that you distinctly remember having like a boom impact on you?
Jessica: They Caged the Animals at Night
Jen: Oh yeah. How old were you when you read that?
Jessica: Fifth grade.
Jessica: He grew up in the foster care system, and had so many abusive homes, and so he ended up finding a place to live at the zoo. It just exposed me to the privilege that I had and how a lot of kids weren’t growing up like how I grew up.
Jen: Great example.
Okay, how about this: what’s one book in your life that you have read like over, and over, and over again?
Jessica: Okay, it’s by our friend, and it is, The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories That We Believe About Ourselves by Dr. Curt Thompson.
I just love how he writes about how we are made to be known and loved, and we are known and loved. He always brings me back to grace.
Jen: He does. Jessica and I spent a couple of days with Dr. Thompson with a few of our friends earlier this year, just sort of around soul care and internal development. He is as good as it gets. He’s like the uncle that you just always wanted.
Jessica: Oh my gosh.
Jen: You just wish he was like your next door neighbor. That’s a great one.
Okay, here’s our last question, and this is a twist on our Barbara Brown Taylor question that we always ask: what book has saved your life, or is currently saving your life?
Jessica: I think that The Gifts of Imperfection saved my life by Brené Brown, because I was at the beginning of my Noonday journey, and I didn’t realize that other people were just like me.
Jen: Oh, yeah. Now, she is like . . . I consider her a prophet in our time.
Jen: The messages that she’s brought forth and her work is just unprecedented and so important. I mean, I honestly think she’s like changing our generation, don’t you? Is that too dramatic? I don’t in think it is.
Jessica: No, I don’t think so.
Jen: Okay, listen, I’m so proud of you. I’m proud of this book. I really am.
Jen: Oh, yeah. Now, she is like . . . I consider her a prophet in our time.
Jen: The messages that she’s brought forth and her work is just unprecedented and so important. I mean, I honestly think she’s like changing our generation, don’t you? Is that too dramatic? I don’t in think it is.
Jessica: No, I don’t think so.
Jen: Okay, listen, I’m so proud of you. I’m proud of this book. I really am.
Jen: I love that girl. Love her. Cheering her on in every possible way.
Her book is out. It is inspiring, and funny, and smart. And really no matter who you are, if you are just wanting to live a life that involves meaning, and impact, if you’re a builder, if you’re a dreamer, an entrepreneur of any kind, if you love the world, if you love justice, if you love people, those are all the reasons to read this book, so just pick one. Anyway, I’m super proud of her, super love her.
Thanks for listening, you guys. You’re not going to want to miss a single episode of this series on books, so absolutely come back next week.
Thanks for being fabulous listeners, you guys. Thanks for all your feedback. As always, we listen to everything you say. We’re interested in who you are and what you a want to hear about. We’re always planning future series. Thanks for giving us so many great ideas. We love you. We love serving you.
On behalf of Amanda, and Laura, and the whole podcast team, thanks for listening week in and week out and for subscribing. Be sure to share these, guys. If you love an episode, if you love a guest, thank you for posting it on your socials. Thank you have linking to it. Thank you for talking about it. You have brought us so many amazing new listeners. We care so much about you, so it’s our honor to do this week in and week out.
Okay everybody, have a great week and I’ll see you next time.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!