EP 301: Taking A Stand With Tell Me A Story Founder Hillary Rea | What Works

EP 301: Taking A Stand With Tell Me A Story Founder Hillary Rea

Oct 6, 2020 | Branding, Mindset & Identity, Podcast

In This Episode:

  • How Tell Me A Story founder Hillary Rea realized that she’d let her message get watered down
  • Why trying to please people who weren’t really her ideal clients contributed to losing track of her voice
  • The concrete steps she took to take a stand and show up more completely
  • What she’s still wrestling with as she deliberately speaks up in more potent and powerful ways

To quote the great Lin-Manuel Miranda:

If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?

Whether you’re a Hamilfan or not, you get the gist: you have to be clear on your values and what you believe or else you risk getting caught up in what others what you to believe or how they want you to be.

This applies in life, in politics, and—of course—in business too.

And today, more than ever, people expect businesses and their leaders to speak up, to share what they stand for, to claim what makes them different, and to tell their stories without hesitation or equivocation.

So this month, we’re looking at different ways that small business owners take a stand, show up, and speak up.

Speaking up is—for sure—one of the things that business owners must do decisively and consistently to build a stronger business.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to shout.

You don’t have to plaster social media channels with your messages or barrage your potential customers with emails.

It’s more about finding your voice, being willing to show up, and creating a connection with the people you want to reach. Sometimes that happens on a very small and powerful scale—other times, it happens on a much bigger scale.

When I talk about “speaking up” here, what I’m not necessarily talking about is growing your audience or building a personal brand. Instead, I’m talking about the system you create that allows you to communicate clearly and effectively with the people who matter most to you.

And to go back to that line from Hamilton: it’s about taking a stand so that you don’t fall for all the suggestions of how you “should” be presenting yourself or your message in order to get noticed.

The more you understand your own voice and your unique communication style, the more effectively you can design a system for being heard—whether that’s in your marketing, in your team communication, or in your customer communications.

So I have 4 stories for you this month: one about speaking with confidence on stage & off, one about podcasting, one about newsletters, and—today’s story—one about taking a stand and its ripple effects on a business.

My guest today is Hillary Rea, the founder of Tell Me A Story. Hillary helps entrepreneurs, leaders, and change makers identify that personal narratives that create powerful communication.

Now, you might think Hillary had this whole speaking up and taking a stand thing under control.

She did, too.

In fact, in episode 226, Hillary shared how she’s found the confidence to stand on stage and share vulnerable personal experiences through storytelling.

But earlier this year, just after Covid-19 upended her business, Hillary realized she had let herself, her story, and her stand get watered down. She was trying to squeeze into a mold that she assumed other people wanted her to fit into.

This is the story of how she reversed course, started speaking up for real, and the challenges she faced as she did.

Hillary and I talk about how her business shakeup this year helped her see what had become a big problem, how she tried to fit in and avoid looking like a weirdo, the concrete changes she made to how she presents her work, and the ongoing challenges of continuing to speak up in a stronger way.

Now, let’s find out what works for Hillary Rea!

Hillary Rea: I ran out of those kinds of stories, but then at the same time I wasn't modeling what I help people do, which isn't getting up on a performance stage and telling a story. But it's getting up on whatever platform or getting out in whatever world people need to communicate and using story for professional communication. And I wasn't doing that.

Tara McMullin: To quote the great Lin-Manuel Miranda, "If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?" Now whether you're a Hamill fan or not, you get the gist. You have to be clear on your values and what you believe or else you risk getting caught up in what others want you to believe or how they want you to be. This applies in life, in politics, and of course it applies in business too. And today more than ever, people expect businesses and their leaders to speak up, to share what they stand for, to claim what makes them different and to tell their stories without hesitation or equivocation.

So this month we're looking at different ways that small business owners take a stand, show up, and speak up. I'm Tara McMullin and you're listening to What Works. The show that takes you behind the scenes of how small business owners are building stronger businesses through decisive action and consistent practice. Speaking up is a for sure one of the things that business owners must do decisively and consistently to build a stronger business. Now that doesn't mean you have to shout. You don't have to plaster social media channels with your messages or barrage your potential customers with emails. It's more about finding your voice, being willing to show up and creating a connection with the people you want to reach.

Sometimes that happens on a very small and powerful scale. Other times, it happens on a much bigger scale. Now, when I'm talking about speaking up here, what I'm not really talking about is growing your audience or building a personal brand. Instead, I'm talking about the system you create that allows you to communicate clearly and effectively with the people who matter most to you. And to go back to that line from Hamilton, it's about taking a stand so you don't fall for all the suggestions of how you should be presenting yourself or your message in order to get noticed. The more you understand your own voice and your unique communication style, the more effectively you can design a system for being heard. Whether that's in your marketing or in your team communication or in your customer communications.

So this month I have four stories for you. One about speaking with confidence on stage and off, one about podcasting, one about newsletters and today's story, one about taking a stand and it's ripple effects on a business. My guest today is Hillary Rea. The founder of Tell Me A Story. Hillary helps entrepreneurs, leaders, and change makers identify the personal narratives that create powerful communication. Now, you might think Hillary had this whole speaking up and taking a stand thing under control. She did too. In fact, in episode 226, Hillary shared how she's found the confidence to stand on stage and share vulnerable personal experiences through storytelling.

But earlier this year, just after COVID-19 up ended her business, Hillary realized she had let herself, her story and her stand get watered down. She was trying to squeeze into a mold that she assumed other people wanted her to fit into. This is the story of how she reversed course, started speaking up for real, and the challenges she faced as she did. Hillary and I talk about how her business shake-up this year helped her see what had become a big problem, how she tried to fit in and avoid looking a "weirdo", the concrete changes she made to how she presents her work and the ongoing challenges of continuing to speak up in a stronger way. Now let's find out What Works for Hillary Rea. Hillary Rea, welcome to What Works. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Hillary Rea: Yeah. Thanks for having me back.

Tara McMullin: Absolutely. I'm so thrilled to have you back. You are such a perfect way to kick off this topic of speaking-up because that's literally what you do. And as people are going to find out, we're going to have a really meta-conversation about it as well. And you and I are both fans of the meta. So this is going to be fun. So speaking of that, you told me that this year you realized that you were half-heartedly taking a stand on your business, your values and how you communicate. Was there a day or a moment when that realization really clicked for you?

Hillary Rea: I think it was a extended period of time where the realization came about. Actually, I marked the beginning day of when the realization began. I believe it was March 12th, which was the day of the What Works Virtual Conference on a personal brand, and I was one of the speakers. And I was supposed to have an interview with you, a conversation and my computer for whatever reason glitched out. I couldn't see you. I couldn't hear you. And what at the time was my worst nightmare is I just had to directly speak to the camera on my computer with no other human to share my story with or to have a conversation with. And at that time, the whole basis of my business was this idea of the energy exchanged from an in person conversation or an in person audience when I'm sharing a story. So it was literally everything I stood for at that moment fell. It's a little dramatic because it's still was fine, but it crumbled. The pieces started to crumble that day.

Tara McMullin: Wow. Yes, that was an unusual occurrence. That platform typically works 99.5% of the time. And then every so often when it glitches out, it glitches out hard. And you were amazing. You shared such good information with everyone and I can remember everyone responding so well to it. And it just from my own personal experience, my own personal way of reacting to those things, I know how overwhelming that kind of technological glitch can be especially when it's layered on to these long held fears or beliefs or assumptions of how we're supposed to show up, of when we're best. When we're our best selves, when we're presenting ourselves best. So I can't even imagine what that was for you. All right. So you said that this realization was over an extended period of time and that this was the beginning of it. What were some of the other things that you started to notice as time went on?

Hillary Rea: Well, the following day, I believe was the last session I had with an in person, one-on-one client and then everything shut down due to the global pandemic. And again, every way that I was working with clients, producing the live storytelling show that my company puts on, all of that took place in person. And so that following week I was supposed to have a two day in person crafting your narrative retreat and a live Tell Me A Story show. I think I was still hanging on, on that Friday. I think it was Friday the 13th. I don't know if I'm getting the dates right. But it was that second or third week of March and I was like, "I'm going to try to make this work somehow." I ultimately canceled the live show and bumped it to the next month.

I tried to just move the exact in person retreat to a two day online thing. And ultimately... Again, I'm being a little dramatic, but my business crumbled to the ground. And so I wasn't left with much. I was left with myself and I was left with picking up the pieces and really figuring out like, "Okay, so this part of this crumbled because of COVID-19? But also part of this crumbled is because I wasn't fully in the work that I was doing or I wasn't fully..." And again, this is me looking back. I don't think I knew any of this at the time, but something wasn't right and I had figure it out. And I think in me having that technical glitch in the session at that virtual conference, what I had to do was double down on what I was communicating to people, which was specifically the five key elements of personal narrative, which is a core of my business.

It's what differentiates me from other people that do similar work. Also, those elements I believe in them as a human and use them in my everyday life. My only job was to communicate that to the people on the other end, because I couldn't have a conversation. And I think in everything else falling apart in the following days, I was like, "Okay, I need to really take hold of my work if I'm going to make my business work. And part of that is embodying what I do and sharing that and communicating that with my own stories and with my own firm stance."

Tara McMullin: Yeah. So I want to get into exactly what that looks now. But to set it up, I think we have to look back a little bit more too. Because personally and having spoken to lots of people about something similar over the years, I think the awareness of when we are not fully standing in our stories, standing in what we stand for, we don't realize it when it's going on, right? And so I think a really valuable part of this conversation could actually be naming or describing what being half-hearted about our stories taking a stand, communicating about our businesses actually looks and feels like. So with the benefit of hindsight now, because again, like you said, there's no way you could have necessarily described this eight months ago, but now with the benefit of hindsight, how would you describe half-heartedly representing yourself, your business, your message, the work that you were doing out in the world. What did that look then?

Hillary Rea: Yeah, so I realized that had been going on for a handful of years and also half-heartedly is definitely a way to put it. Another word that came to mind that I credit a leadership consultant named Selena Rezvani. I heard her speak at the end of last year. And she's talked about this idea of showing up as a watered down version of yourself. I know that that is what I was doing. I was showing up and more specifically in a professional capacity. I was showing up as a watered down version of myself. And I think this began when I fully went full-time with my business. In that first year of business, I was focused on doing team trainings and professional development work, going into big corporations and leading sessions that way. And I had this idea of how I needed to assimilate to corporate culture. Having never had a corporate job. It was hilarious. So I was getting it.

I made this joke a couple of months ago of my frame of reference was don't tell mom the babysitter's dead when Christina Applegate takes on that office job. And she keeps saying, "I'm right on top of that Rose." And she's wearing her blazer. And I think in my head that's the '80s or early '90s version of what I was doing. I wore blazers and I still like blazers, but I was like, "I must wear blazer if I'm going to show up and teach storytelling." So I think in that way, I was like, "Okay, I have to blend into this culture or they'll find out I'm weirdo." I don't know what I was worried about specifically in that moment or thinking they wanted a specific type of storytelling.

So I had also a watered down version of what I teach. And again, it wasn't bad. I got away. I felt good about it in those moments. I quote-unquote got away with it. I had great customer response and I was getting work. It wasn't I was failing quote-unquote. But looking back, I'm like, "Oh, it was half-hearted." So there's that and I've just thought about other times in my life where I've done that. Where I have questioned my uniqueness or questioned my worldview a bit, because somehow in my head I was like, "Well, maybe it's easier if I just blend in." Or my idea of what normal is which in my mid 20s, I auditioned for The Bachelor. And one of the reasons I auditioned really is, because I wanted to be on dancing with the stars, but I knew that if I audition for The Bachelor and got selected and won, there was a chance I could be on dancing with the stars.

Tara McMullin: That's very strategic.

Hillary Rea: And so I auditioned for The Bachelor as a joke, but also I was like, "I just want to be like..." And now The Bachelor, the contestants are all wacky characters. But at the time, everyone was typical white sorority. All I need is to find the love of my life and settle down in the suburbs and do nothing. So I was like, "That sounds nice and comfortable. Let me try to get on The Bachelor to do that." But there was no way of hiding the real me in that audition as much as I tried. I put on what I consider a plain outfit and did an act myself and I also didn't get selected. That's an extreme example, but there's been times in my life where my idea of blending in my head was like, "That might be easier. That might be comfortable." But it never was. So, yeah.

Tara McMullin: Yeah. First off, I can really relate to this idea of showing up as normal, wanting to belong or blend in, wanting to be what people expect me to be and I'm sure that a lot of our listeners can relate to that too. I mean, I think there's such a common human motivation there. Even if we do it for slightly different reasons, that's such a pattern that we see. And what's interesting about that to me is that we're doing it for acceptance. We're doing it to be picked and at the same time, those are the very things that keep us from being fully accepted and actually being quote-unquote picked, selected, recognized, highlighted, featured, whatever kind of accolade you most want. Yeah. I don't know that I have more to say about that, but other than that, it's crazy that we assume that watering things down, as you said, can help us get what we want when it's quite the opposite.

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So you've started making a lot of changes. You've really been putting yourself out there. Walk us through, once you started to realize that you had been putting this watered down version of yourself out there, once you started to realize that you'd been speaking up on your own behalf half-heartedly how did you start to act differently? How did you start to do things differently? Can you walk us through that process?

Hillary Rea: Yeah, I think there was a pivotal moment in my watered down corporate version of myself where a presentation went completely wrong and the woman in charge challenged what I said and I backpedaled instead of standing my ground of what I was teaching 100 people and it just turned into a big mess. And that actually made me decide, "I don't want to do company work anymore." And that's really when I shifted to serving entrepreneurs and women in leadership, but coming to me versus me going into these companies. But even then, and this is a little more half-hearted examples to get to my shift. I had some help with a rebrand from an outside digital marketing company and I'm grateful for everything they did. But I think part of that was like, "Oh, well now I am this person who helps entrepreneurs." And I don't know, it might have been partially things they suggested to me, but also again in my head, this idea of like, "What an entrepreneur is?" In my head, it was like, "Oh, like a YouTuber, like an influencer on a beach? Like YOLOing? I just don't even know."

I'm exaggerating a little bit in the moment now, but I think I wasn't really focused on who... I had customers, so I wasn't even paying attention to who those customers are. And I think again, I was like, "Well, now I have to cater to this audience and shape, mold my storytelling to this." And it didn't work. I mean, it worked a tiny bit, but my business suffered and I also was like, "I don't want to work with that person." And the people I was working with were wonderful and exactly who I wanted to work with, but I was trying to reach these other people, which I don't even know if they existed really.

Again, going back to that crumble day in March, I think again, there's other things that made me come to these realizations, but I was like, "I want to work with the people I've always intended to work with and that's not this fake YOLO person with a floppy hat and that has swirly found everything. I want to work with who I've always been working with and double down on that. And I don't want to teach a type of storytelling that I think people want. I want to teach the type of storytelling that I teach because I've taught it when I've been wholehearted about it." It's transformative and it's transformative for me, it's transformative for the other person. It helps people overcome their communication challenges in a way that they couldn't even conceive. I don't know. Did I answer your question?

Tara McMullin: Yeah, I think we're getting there. So actually let's pause there because you're getting to this place where you're describing this choice to do what you want, as opposed to trying to mold your work or your brand or how you're representing your work into what someone else expects. To me this is a really juicy businessy thing that happens right here, which is that... Tangentially, I'm very interested in picking apart all of the places where two contradictory things are true in business right now. And I think this is one of them. I think we've landed on one of them where we have so much choice to do what we want to do and that's important and it's extremely valuable and it helps us create value for others as well when we make the choice, "This is the way I do it. It's important to me that it's done this way. It's important to me that the process is this, that these values come out in this work."

However, your choices line up, that's extremely important. And it's also important that we think about other people and how that work applies to them and why it's in their best interest and what benefits there are to them, and how we can make a connection between them and the work that we're choosing to do. And so I think that there's the motivation to show up in a way that people expect us to, to show up in a way that connects with them that matches what they think they want or matches what feels normal to them. That motivation has a place in reality and in strategy. And it tends to work out the way that you're describing, which is that we go about it the wrong way. And I don't have a fully formed question here, but I'm curious. Looking back on it, how do you see the balance between firming up the choice to do the work, the way you want to do the work, the work that you want to do, with also being really mindful about who you're doing the work with and how you're going to connect with those people.

Hillary Rea: Yeah. So what I wasn't doing and hearing you talk through all that, I stopped telling stories. And I stopped telling stories on stage because I was focused so much on building my business and I also have a narrative story telling podcast where I was telling other people's stories. So I was so passionate about that and focused on that, that when I went to host my show, I was just a host and that's great. It's a different role than storyteller. When I first started, the Tell Me A Story live show I always also additionally told a story and I was also performing on tons of other storytelling shows. I was commuting to New York once a week to do shows and popping into other shows in Philadelphia. I haven't done that in years. So I was just hosting, not just, but hosting the show, producing a podcast.

So I ran out of those kinds of stories. But then at the same time, I wasn't modeling what I help people do, which isn't getting up on a performance stage and telling a story, but it's getting up on whatever platform or getting out in whatever world people need to communicate and using story for professional communication and I wasn't doing that. And so I think even early this year, one of my commitments was, "I'm going to model what I do." And I think I didn't really start fully doing that until I had to pick up all the pieces. The container in which my business existed broke, and I had to put it back together. And the only way I could do that is if I also showed up and spoke up, is that the right tense? Using story as the main tool.

I started doing that. I started doing it in interpersonal communication, in my newsletter, in client conversations, just in everything. Even if it was just a small anecdote to give an example or to hit home a point. And then another thing that I know that I was doing, and I don't know how long I had been doing this, but I called it grumbling to myself. Someone would communicate in a way that really annoyed me or I knew I could help them in some way, even if I didn't know them. And you know this, I was grumbling about how people were using the word storytelling-

Tara McMullin: I do know this.

Hillary Rea: ... even though there's multiple definitions. But I was grumbling about that and the grumbles were all internal. It wasn't I was talking smack about people. I don't do that, but in my head I was like, "They need this. That's not right." But I never said it out loud. And then I started saying it out loud and I'm still fully forming where I stand on that. And then the third realization or thing that I've made a big shift in is I've, and this was pointed out to me by a wonderful woman named Michelle Warner. I worked with her a few months ago and I would say, "Give all these firms stances" One of them, and I'm sure you've heard me say this too Tara, is you can't control how your story's going to be received. And the feedback I got was like, "Okay, but that sounds horrifying so I'd rather just run away and hide and never talk again."

And when I say it, I'm like, "That's liberating to think." So I never had a why or a because. So when I first started coming out with these... I went from half-hearted to then taking a stand, but never including the why or because. I was grumbling because what I believed in wasn't landing, because I also wasn't communicating through story, which would have hit home those examples and given the why and because, if that makes sense.

Tara McMullin: Totally makes sense. What you have just described is so my experience as well, and I am just so thrilled that you are providing this incredible example for people. Because I know that this is so many people's stories in one way or another of realizing there was something wrong, finding their voice, and then getting into the flow with it, right? I would love if you can for you to share an example of a newsletter that you used a story. Because you have such a great newsletter, and I think it's an example that so many people can run with, because most of us are sending some type of newsletter or all of our email marketing looks a little bit different, but it's something I think that the vast majority of people listening could really relate to. I guess maybe tell us what your newsletter is like and then give us an example of a story that you used and why?

Hillary Rea: Sure. So ironically, my newsletter, I don't know if it's ironically. Coincidentally, my newsletter is called The Speak Up.

Tara McMullin: Nice.

Hillary Rea: And I've been doing it in some way, shape or form for a handful of years. It's now every other week. But there would be some sort of personal anecdote, but it was never maybe it was just something funny that happened to me that week, or where I was using story, but the story didn't have a purpose. So there would always be that, and then there would be a lot of links. I love sharing resources. I've recently been named the Queen of Links in the What Works Mastermind Group that I'm a part of, which I was happy to take on that title. So it would be a lot of links. But then if I went into the analytics, not a lot of people clicked on those articles, but then people would reply back and be like, "Oh, thank you for sharing that thing about you." Whatever it was.

So at some point I made a shift and this is again in the last few months of like, "Okay, I want to tell a story in the beginning of each newsletter, but there needs to be a reason." It's the why and because. And without me saying, "And the reason I'm telling you this story is this reason dot, dot, dot." There's a trope in live storytelling where people say, "And at that moment I realized..." I can't stand that because I think let the audience realize what you realized on their own and have them take away what they want from your story. So, anyway, but if I knew my realization, if I knew my why and my purpose when sharing that story and that it also aligned with the things I take a stand on in my business, or that I'm trying to teach people, or I want them to understand, when all of that is aligned not only do way more people write back and say, "Oh my gosh, thank you so much," and start sharing stories of their own.

I'm sending out less links in the email, but then they're clicking on the links. The things, because I've also put in links that make sense with the story that I'm sharing instead of a bunch of random things that I read that week. So these tiny tweaks. And I know people noticed because they told me. They're like, "This is different." So an example, I guess, I recently quit going to the bar studio that I'd been going to for five and a half years and I made that decision to quit because of how they showed up during everything that happened after George Floyd's murder and the lack of communication. And then in further research, realizing that the owner of that particular franchise and I don't have the same set of values or politics and I was giving them a lot of money. And also the way that they served customers during the pandemic, it just wasn't enough.

I shared that story and shared the story of how I found the new bar studio and how I actually made the choice based on an interview I heard with the owner on how I built this and then doing a bunch of research of, "Oh no, this company..." And I made that shift and so I gave that as an example and linked it to what it really means to take a stand and how you can make life choices based on that. And I think that specific newsletter was one where a lot of people, it really resonated with them and I also I don't know if she ever read it, but I sent it to not the person I broke up with, but I sent it to the head of this company called Bar III. And they said they forwarded it to her, but I wrote a letter and was like, "I'd love for you to read this newsletter of why I switched to your company."

Tara McMullin: That is incredible. That's such a great example. And I really appreciate you sharing the evolution and how it was a small tweak, but even though it was a small tweak to how you're sharing in the newsletter now, one it's produced results, but two, people noticed too. And I think that again, that's largely been my experiences. Even when I make a small tweak around how I speak up, and when I recognize more how I want to stand for what I believe in, whether it's business things, whether it's social things, whether it's personal things, people really do notice even if on the surface it looks something really small. So I appreciate that that is the example that you shared and that it feels really approachable at the same time that it's a really big deal.

Speaking of really big deals, as we start to maybe wrap up a little bit. One of the things that you mentioned to me as we were prepping for this conversation is that you have, have or have had a fear of being exposed. And you spoke to that a little bit at the beginning of the conversation too when it comes to matching the culture, matching other people's expectations, and how you show up. But I think there's probably also a fear of exposure when it comes to even sharing what you've shared today. You're a storyteller, you teach people how to speak up. You have a newsletter called The Speak Up and you realize that you weren't doing as good a job of it for yourself as you could be doing. There's like there's a ton of potential fear and certainly vulnerability there as well. And that's something that often holds people back. Can you describe your experience of that fear of being exposed and how you're moving past that fear now?

Hillary Rea: Yeah. I think for me, the fear of exposure isn't being caught in a failure moment or being in barest. And I think at one point it was like, "Oh, I will be exposed that I'm not a corporate America person or a YOLO entrepreneur. But I think actually ultimately it's like, if I'm putting myself out there in the way that I expect everyone I work with to put themselves out there, then I have to keep doing it. I can't go back to the watered down version of myself. And that doesn't mean that I am... we're all continually evolving and coming into our identity and the stories aren't stagnant. You can shift the story at any time, tell new stories, but I have to keep doing it. And it's a lot of work and I love it, but it's a lot of work. And it's a lot of work for the people that I work with and I think getting people past that fear of what's going to happen if I do this is a big part of it.

It's not like a fear of success either. It's just like, I know nothing bad is going to happen from doing it, but the exposure is like, "Well, I have to stay committed to this." And I want to. So I don't know what the thing is. I was thinking of examples, when I was telling stories on stage a lot and also when I first put out my podcast, strangers in Philadelphia, because everything was in person. I remember going to the bank for my business bank account and the teller was like, "Oh, I saw you at whatever theater. That was great." I remember going back to my boyfriend being like, "This guy was so creepy. He told me that he saw me." And he was like, "What? Hillary, you tell stories to the public, of course people are going to hear you. You want them to hear you." Same thing with my podcasts, people would give, like I've gotten letter... People have mailed mail to the coffee shop where my live show was. And I was like, "Oh, that's so weird. Why would anyone do that?"

And so I kept denouncing that that would happen and my boyfriend's like, "What are you doing? Then don't do it." I don't know why I would get those visceral reactions because I am putting myself out there either artistically or professionally and that's my choice and I like it. So I don't know why... I think, again, it links back to that fear of exposure of, "Well, okay, this is it then."

Tara McMullin: Yeah. Oh my God, I have the exact same experience. And I don't know why that happens either. I don't know why that happens either. However, I have a hunch about. So you talked about two different things in terms of fear of exposure, this one of actually being seen and people recognizing that and wanting to respond. And yeah, I don't know how to explain that either. I feel the exact same way. I put myself in the exact same positions and then feel the same way, even though at the same time, I love getting emails back from people. I love being recognized. And also there's terror in that as well, or there's sometimes a very visceral reaction to it. It's such a strange phenomenon. But the other thing that you talked about was this commitment to continuing to show up this way, to telling the stories, to taking a stand.

And what I heard underneath of that was a fear of not being up to the task. And that is also something that I can really relate to. I'm putting words in your mouth a little bit and I don't want to do that. So I guess my question in response to that is, am I describing that fear accurately there? Part of that fear of exposure is a fear that you're not up for the task of continuing the big, hard work of speaking up day in and day out.

Hillary Rea: I am up for the task. I think it's maybe and thinking about it now, like a worry that I'll run out of things to speak up about or if I change my mind. I'm never worried. I feel good in that I'm actually never worried about this thing where I say you can't control how people are going to receive it. I actually don't worry about that. I think I used to especially in going to school for theater and having to audition, it's all worrying about what the other person thinks of you. It took a lot of work, but I've broken through. So it's like not worried about their response to it. I think it's worrying that it will run out. I won't have anything left to stand for.

The things I was talking about are going to feel stale. And that's clearly not going to happen because I've already had such a fantastically, swirly, I don't know, winding path to who I am, the work that I do, my purpose. That's obviously going to keep happening even if I set out thinking I'm on a straight path, which I try actually not to do. So I don't know. It's not like, "Oh, I'm complaining because I'm exhausted." I actually think it's freeing and I want to feel more of that. But what happens if it runs out?

Tara McMullin: Yeah. I feel that. Okay. One last question on the subject of speaking up and then I swear I will close it out. Which is, I'm curious about how your perception of your own authority and credibility has shifted over the last six, seven months while you have been consciously working on speaking up and putting yourself out there more.

Hillary Rea: I don't know if it's my own personal authority or credibility, I don't know if I've ever really grappled with those words to define how I communicate even in the watered down version of myself. But I do notice that I don't resonate with what I define as authority and credibility with I guess people that use the phrase subject matter expert and then communicate as a subject matter expert would where you don't really get to know anything about who they are. They're just, I don't have a concrete example, but there's this fine line difference of being talked at and talked down to.

And then there's what I focus on communication style wise is sharing something with someone else or a bunch of other people. And the focus being on, I have this thing that I really need to share with these people. Even if I'm only one speaking, this is a conversation and this is a shared experience because we're human and no one's better than the other person. And I think to me and how I'm defining authority and credibility now is proving you're better or proving you're the know it all or prove... And again, this is my personal perception. Yeah, and it's not an even playing field and there's no reciprocity.

Tara McMullin: Okay. Got it. Awesome. Hillary, what are you excited about right now?

Hillary Rea: Oh, I am doing this big, deep dive into the concept of identity and how personal narrative comes into play. I'm in research mode right now. I'm reading a lot of cool books. I'm trying to take every personality test that's out there to see how that plays into identity. And if stories can shift you out of defining yourself by these personality tests. And then yeah, just carrying that into the work that I'm doing with clients, which is now fully virtual and not geographically set in stone in Philadelphia, which is so exciting and thrilling to me. I'm excited to commit to speaking up and continuing that journey.

Tara McMullin: Awesome. Hillary, thank you so much for sharing your story and for sharing this shift that you've been experiencing and how you speak up. I know that it's going to resonate with so many people and provide such a great way for them to better understand their own story when it comes to speaking up and how they can make that shift for themselves. So thank you.

Hillary Rea: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Tara McMullin: This is the perfect time of year to check in with yourself. Are you fully taking a stand and speaking up or like Hillary, have you actually been showing up with a watered down version of yourself in your work? If it's the latter, trust me, you are not alone. With a few notable exceptions, I think this is a challenge many of us go through. I certainly have. And it's a challenge that you don't fix once, either. It often comes back around when you take your eye off your commitment to speaking up. Just Hillary said, it's a lot of work to show up, to take a stand and to use your voice in its most potent way. So there's no shame in realizing that you may have gotten a little lax with how you speak up, but now is the time to identify how you want to speak up and start making a habit of doing it.

Find out more about Hillary Rea and tell me a story at tellmeastory.info. Next week, I welcome Suz Chadwic to the podcast. Suz is a bold, confident personality, and I wanted to find out what was going on inside her head, as she shows up and speaks up. Plus, we talk about how her family background and personal values are a growth edge. She's exploring with her voice in a new way. What Works is produced by Yellow House Media. Our production coordinator is Sean McMullin. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt. Our production assistants are [Kristin Runbeck 00:46:33] and Lou Glazer. Get more of What Works delivered to your inbox every Thursday. I share a letter on building a stronger business and becoming a stronger leader as well as handpicked resources to help you grow in our free weekly newsletter. Go to explorewhatworks.com/weekly to sign up.

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Tara is a podcaster, small business community leader, strategist, and speaker. She’s been helping small business owners build stronger businesses for over a decade.  

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