Luvvie Ajayi Jones is an author, speaker, podcaster, and Nigerian wild woman. She moved from Nigeria to America at the age of nine. She graduated from the University of Illinois, where she started as a pre-med but gave that up when she got a D in Chemistry.
Her first book was a New York Times bestseller: I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. She is just about to release her second book: Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual.
Here are two standout quotes from the book:
“If thinking highly of myself and being self-affirming is a fault, I want to be the walls of the Grand Canyon.”
“Black trauma is never given space to heal because we have to make sure the white people who hurt us don’t feel too bad about it. Even as victims, we’re told to care about the feelings of those who harm us.”
Her TED talk, “Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable,” has been watched over 2.4 million times.
In Professional Troublemaker, she also quotes the best insult that I’ve ever heard:
“If I want to kill myself, I would climb to your level of stupidity and jump to your IQ.”
Apparently, Nigerians are very good at insults, and that is something to admire.
Buckle up for a riotous episode of Remarkable People.
Luvvie and I at the Blogher conference in 2014. Note her “I want to publish my book” message which became a New York Times best-seller.
Listen to Luvvie Ajayi Jones on Remarkable People:
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AI transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with author and activist Luvvie Ajayi Jones.
This is an automated transcript. It is sometimes incomplete and inaccurate because of the limitations of transcription services. However, we wanted to provide it for people who have hearing issues or prefer to read the interview.
Guy Kawasaki: [00:00:07] I’m Guy Kawasaki. And this is Remarkable People. This episodes remarkable guest is Luvvie Ajayi Jones. She is an author, speaker, podcaster and Nigerian wild woman. She moved to America from Nigeria at the age of nine. She graduated from the university of Illinois, where she started as a pre-med, but gave that up.
[00:00:30] When she got a D in chemistry, her first book was a New York Times bestseller, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. She just released her second book, Professional Troublemaker. The fear fighter manual here are two quotes from that book. If thinking highly of myself and being self-affirming as a fault, I want to be the walls of the Grand Canyon.
[00:00:54] Second quote, “Black trauma is never given space to heal because we have to make sure the white people who heard us don’t feel too bad about it. Even as victims, we’re told to care about the feelings of those who harm us.” Her Ted talk, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable has been washed over 2.4 million times in professional troublemaker.
[00:01:18] She also quotes the best insult that I have ever heard. If I want to kill myself, I would climb to your level of stupidity and jump to your IQ. Apparently, Nigerians are very good at insults and that is something to admire. I’m Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People buckle up for a riotous episode of Remarkable People.
[00:01:44] And here is lovey.
[00:01:48] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:01:48] Um, I have been a huge fan of yours for like over a decade. So this is a full circle moment for me.
[00:01:57] Guy Kawasaki: [00:01:57] You say that to all the podcasters.
[00:02:01] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:02:01] There’s actually a picture of me and you from, we met very briefly like us second at, it was a, it was a focus 100. Or South by Southwest long time ago.
[00:02:15] Guy Kawasaki: [00:02:15] Now, you know that I did not write Rich Dad, Poor Dad, right? This is Kawasaki.
[00:02:25] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:02:25] Listen, I know that it’s not you.
[00:02:28] Guy Kawasaki: [00:02:28] First question is, do you know who Dorothy Parker and Fran Liebowitz are?
[00:02:32] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:02:32] I know who Fran Liebowitz is. Yes. I don’t know who Dorothy Parker is.
[00:02:36] Guy Kawasaki: [00:02:36] You could make the case that Fran Liebowitz is the new Dorothy Parker. I think you are the new friend Liebowitz that you are the young black friend Liebowitz because.
[00:02:50] I just love the sarcasm and ascerbic nature of your writing. So I’ll give you a Dorothy Parker quote, so you can understand where she’s coming from. So if you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people who gave it to. Okay. And so then Fran Leibowitz says the opposite of talking isn’t listening.
[00:03:13] The opposite of talking is, and then lovey says, If thinking highly of myself and being self-affirming is a fault. I want to be the walls of the Grand Canyon. Oh my God. What a great quote. Thank you. Cow, you can say you heard it here first, and then I’m just going to fan boy here for awhile. I’m going to read you another of your quotes.
[00:03:42] This is more serious, but take a dagger and stab it. So the quote is black trauma has never given space to heal because we have to make sure the white people who heard us don’t feel too bad about it. Even as victims were told to care about the feelings of those who harm us. Hmm, what a great quote. All right.
[00:04:03] Do you like sit around, figuring out how can you be that. Insightful and decisive and like, does that just come
[00:04:11] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:04:11] naturally? I don’t sit around thinking about random things to say, but when I am, but when I’m thinking through what I want to say, I am hoping that I say it in a way that connects with people that stays with them.
[00:04:23] And I never know whatever that thing is. So I’m always love hearing. What part of my writing somebody connects with, because it’s always different some here. So hearing these quotes right back to me and knowing this is what stuck with you. I’m like, this is meaningful because I keep track and be like, okay.
[00:04:38] So that connected with somebody that made a difference,
[00:04:41] Guy Kawasaki: [00:04:41] made a huge difference. Maybe you could start off by explaining that the nature of podcasting is I sometimes have to ask you questions that I know the answer to again. I’m sorry, but the people who are listening don’t know the answer. Right? So. Tell us about the path from Nigeria to America?
[00:05:00] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:05:00] Yes. So I was born and raised in Nigeria and when I was nine. We moved to the United States. My mom wanted my sister to start college here and not there fish out of water, complete culture shock because coming from Nigeria, everybody looks like me. My name was never different. It didn’t feel different to anybody.
[00:05:21] The way I spoke wasn’t different. So being nine, the last thing you want to do is be different from the rest of the people around you. So when I started school, which I didn’t realize I was doing, I thought we were actually coming to the United States. On vacation. Cause we’d been here before on vacation.
[00:05:37] Nobody tells the baby, okay. Nobody consults with the baby of the family. So when we showed up and I was enrolled in school, I was like, Oh my God, we’re staying. And yeah, we were staying. And um, I basically did what kids do I adapted. I learned how to lose most of my accent by just listening to my fellow classmates and by high school, most of my Nigerian accent was gone, but being a child of Nigeria that I am, I was still bringing jollof rice to school for lunch.
[00:06:11] Because I tried bringing sandwiches a couple of times. It didn’t go well for me. Okay. Like I was like, I’m still hungry. So tomorrow I’m going to come back to my jollof rice. And that’s what I did. So high school happened. I fit in, I had a great group of friends, but one of the things that I actually brought with me on the journey from Nigeria was my dream to be a doctor.
[00:06:35] And for, for me, it was significant because. I was nerdy. I wanted to help the world. And I thought being a doctor was the best way to do it. A lot of people can relate to the fact that if you have parents who were immigrants, A lot of times they think you should be a doctor or lawyer or an architect,
[00:07:00] Guy Kawasaki: [00:07:00] same goes with Asians, just
[00:07:02] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:07:02] FYI. We’re basically cousins in that. I have a lot of friends who are Asian, who like, basically we’re all the same. I’m like, absolutely. So when I started college, my major was psychology pre-med because doctor and I took chemistry one-on-one and guy, I got the first D of my academic career.
[00:07:22] The first and last D because I’m actually not that greatest science. And I really understood in that moment when I got the D that I would be the worst doctor ever. I don’t even like hospitals. So I instantly was like, Ooh, let’s drop this dream. And you know how oftentimes people tell you never quit. No, no.
[00:07:45] Some failures points to the fact that you should quit.
[00:07:48] Guy Kawasaki: [00:07:48] I have a similar story, but. I quit even faster. So I went to law school. I went to law school for two weeks and I just couldn’t stand it. So I quit. You didn’t tell your mom right till graduation that you weren’t pre-med yes. I told my father right away and to my utter amazement, I thought he was going to say.
[00:08:14] 15 generations of Kawasaki’s work to get you into law school. And you quit after two weeks, suicide is the honorable thing for you to you. But he said to me, it’s not that big a deal. As long as you do something with your life by your mid twenties. It’s okay. So like I wanted to say to him, so why didn’t you tell me to go to law, but anyway,
[00:08:38] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:08:38] Yeah, because I didn’t tell my mom until graduation, because I also was like, Hey, I graduated four years.
[00:08:46] You’re welcome. You get my phone call. He never got a phone call about me getting in trouble in college. I figured the amount of trouble I could get into was minimal.
[00:08:54] Guy Kawasaki: [00:08:54] Yeah. Well, and you know, she did just spring it upon you welcome to America,
[00:08:59] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:08:59] right? It was payback. It was my version of the paper. It was never the payback, but it’s really funny because that semester, as I was dropping.
[00:09:07] Psychology. And as I was dropping pre-med I kept psych, but I started blogging. My friends peer pressured me into blogging back then it was called web blogging. As you know, So I had a blog on Zynga and I think it was called like consider this the letter I never wrote. It was really emo is in comic Sans.
[00:09:25] So it was terrible all about my undergrad career and the exams I was failing and the roommate beefs I had, but it was the first time I really did writing outside the classroom writing that was not being graded. And I fell in love with it. When I graduated, I actually deleted that college blogs and I was like, I don’t have material from undergrad anymore.
[00:09:47] You know what I’m going to now talk about, less about me and more about the world. So I started awesomelyluvvie.com, which I still have, and decided to talk about the world, race, feminism, TV, movies, shenanigans, and random, good times. Anything that I felt like talking about, and it took on a life of its own.
[00:10:07] And. I had to admit that I was a writer. It took me a bit, it took me about four or five years. So admit that this thing that I was doing was more than a hobby. I won. I started winning awards for it. More people that I knew started reading it. And yeah, you fast forward a whole bunch of other things happened.
[00:10:28] You, Oh my God. I’m a 16 year overnight success. That’s what I find myself. I at least 16 year overnight success. Thank
[00:10:36] Guy Kawasaki: [00:10:36] God that you got a D in chemistry because the world would not be as good a place if you are just a doctor. Right? Well, now all the doctors are going to get pissed off with me saying
[00:10:46] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:10:46] that here’s the thing, though.
[00:10:48] There’s value. There’s so much value in every work, including being doctors, which is why I understand that it was not where I was supposed to go. I would be the worst doctor ever.
[00:11:00] Guy Kawasaki: [00:11:00] I would be the worst lawyer. So we have something in
[00:11:03] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:11:03] common lawyer
[00:11:08] Guy Kawasaki: [00:11:08] before we get off Nigeria. I have to ask you something. I’m going to read you something from your book, as you can tell, I really read your book.
[00:11:18] Okay. Yeah. This is not something like I looked you up in Wikipedia and I went up, try to blow through my way of interviewing. Now, this is not a quote of what you said, but the fact that you put it in your book is powerful enough. This is the best insult I have ever heard in my life. And the insult is if I want to kill myself, I would climb to your level of stupidity and jump to your IQ.
[00:11:44] Now I’m going to put that on my grave, marker, but I just want to know. I hope this isn’t racist, but how did Nigerians become so good at insulting
[00:11:57] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:11:57] people are the most chill deficient group of world dwellers you will ever meet. And we are so kind, but we have also the sharpest tongues ever because as a culture, We actually just insult each other as a love language.
[00:12:16] It is just part of the way we communicate. We will see each other and be like, you’re such a goat. We will call you an animal as a way to say, hi Nigerians. We like to laugh. We like to find the absurdity in the world and Yoruba, which is a specific tribe that I’m a part of is very metaphorical and very descriptive.
[00:12:38] Just the way the language is, the way that. People use words. It lends itself to insulting people in really interesting ways. So, yes, I think that in, so when I first saw it, I saw it on some, but I don’t remember where I saw it. But if somebody’s Nigerian that said it and I was like, my God, we are excellent at the game of lambasted people.
[00:13:02] We are excellent at it.
[00:13:05] Guy Kawasaki: [00:13:05] How do I become honorary Nigeria? What does it take?
[00:13:08] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:13:08] The first thing we have to do is get you some Nigerian jollof. Okay. Have you ever had Jollof rice?
[00:13:17] Guy Kawasaki: [00:13:17] Not that I know of.
[00:13:18] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:13:18] Okay. Guy, what city are you based in? Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz.
[00:13:24] Guy Kawasaki: [00:13:24] Yeah. Yeah.
[00:13:26] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:13:26] Okay. I can probably find you a Nigerian restaurant that can deliver you some jollof rice.
[00:13:31] So jollof rice is the rice of the country. So, you know, I think most cultures besides American culture, most cultures have a rice that is their standard rice. Yep. Ours is jollof rice. It is tomato based. It’s similar to Spanish rice, but it’s a bit more spicy. Got a little bit more kick to it. It is at birthdays weddings, random Tuesdays.
[00:13:56] It is just our dish of choice. So the first thing we got to get you is to taste some jollof rice, right? And then from there you got to get a Nigerian friend. And got you officially
[00:14:10] Guy Kawasaki: [00:14:10] trend you’re the you’re the only Nigerian I know, or there was the Prince that I sent 20 million bucks to help him get his money out.
[00:14:17] But besides him, I only know you from Nigeria.
[00:14:21] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:14:21] Well, God, now you have a Nigerian friend. And then the third thing I am so sorry, you missed it by a year and a half. I might have invited you to my Nigerian wedding. You got to attend one Nigerian wedding.
[00:14:33] Guy Kawasaki: [00:14:33] But if I went to your wedding now I would be right on time.
[00:14:37] According to Nigerian punctuality. No, this is
[00:14:40] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:14:40] true. This is missing maybe September, 2019, and guy, let me tell you about Nigerian weddings. They are, have you ever been to an Indian wedding? Oh my God. God, you need some more Indians in Nigeria in your life because I’m very similar. That’s another cultural overlap.
[00:14:58] We’re so similar. Our weddings are carnivals. They are three day affairs and you will eat, drink and dance your whole life away. You got to go to at least one, got to go to one.
[00:15:14] Guy Kawasaki: [00:15:14] Your wedding is still going on then.
[00:15:17] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:15:17] Right? Don’t worry. My vow renewal turn up also. So give me about five, 10 years. We’ll have a vowel renewal, and you can come to that.
[00:15:25][00:15:25] Guy Kawasaki: [00:15:25] Do it at South by Southwest kill two birds with one stone
[00:15:27] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:15:27]. That’s it.
[00:15:41] Guy Kawasaki: [00:15:41] I want you to tell me about your grandmother because well, half of your book is about your grandmother. So tell me about your grandmother,
[00:15:48] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:15:48] my grandmother. So what’s funny is I got the idea to write this book, realizing that I wanted to write a book all about fear fighting and how, when I decided to. Make the choice to live life boldly.
[00:15:59] My life changed when I really got an app, like a concrete idea of what this book was about. I was on a plane, headed to Paris for a conference, and the line came in my head. I come from a long line of professional troublemakers, especially my grandmother from July of following. And that moment I was like, that’s what this book is about.
[00:16:19] She’s at the core of this book, my grandmother was a Nigerian elder States woman. Who took no shit who loved everybody fiercely with the same energy she would insult you with, who would give you the shirt off her back, if you needed it, who would give you her last dollar? If it meant you were happy? And my grandmother was for me a Testament of what it looked like to live life without apology.
[00:16:47] To go through struggles and strive and thrive in spite of them and to build a legacy. That infused the love, the faith, the joy, and come out on the other end and be deeply loved and revert for it. So my grandmother is the professional troublemaker. I didn’t realize I was studying when I was growing up and who I am today is somebody who is proud to carry on her legacy.
[00:17:19] And this book is coming out 10 years after she passed. So it’s the perfect tribute.
[00:17:24] Guy Kawasaki: [00:17:24] So it’s in your DNA to be a professional troublemaker. You can’t help
[00:17:29] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:17:29] it. I can’t help it. It came to be honest.
[00:17:33] Guy Kawasaki: [00:17:33] Why don’t you explain what it means to be a professional troublemaker? Yes.
[00:17:39] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:17:39] I like to title my books, things that make people go you sure.
[00:17:44] Why my first book was called. I’m Judging You. And I remember people being like, you’re going to call a book, I’m judging you. And I’m like, yes, because we’re all judging each other, right? Like, We might as well, just be clear about what we’re judging each other on. And we’re typically judging each other on what’s next.
[00:17:58] Okay. Like what we look like, what we weigh, who we worship or not worship. Yeah. So when I decided professional troublemakers, the name of this book is because I wanted people to also be like, woof, troublemaker. That sounds bad. It’s not actually. To be a professional troublemaker is to be somebody who’s committed to disrupting the status quo for the greater good.
[00:18:20] It is to commit yourself to being somebody who is in any room. And when you are in that room, you are personally responsible for what’s happening in the room. And you know what happens when we actually commit to the community wellbeing, we will make sure that we are using our power. To do good to speak up for people who might not have the voice that we have or the access or the power or the money or the privilege that we have to be a professional troublemakers to exist in this world and say, It is my job to lead this world better than I found it in a lot of times it’s going to come from me doing something that’s going to make me uncomfortable or something.
[00:18:57] That’s going to be scary, but it’s important because if we are disrupting what is happening, that’s not okay. It means we’re challenging injustice. It means we are challenging something unfair that’s happening. It means we’re fighting for something greater. And I think that’s important.
[00:19:16] Guy Kawasaki: [00:19:16] And how do you push past the fear and doubt?
[00:19:21] I think one by acknowledging it, one of the things that we do as humans is we other each other very well. We are very quick to talk about how we’re different, but one thing that’s really universal. One thing that we all have is the fear of anything. It might be small one day, it might be big another day, but I realized that fear exists for us for a reason.
[00:19:44] But we use that reason for everything. So the same fear that keeps us from not putting our hand in fire, we’ll use that same thing to stop us from challenging an idea that comes up in a meeting we’re in, that’s not thoughtful, that will not service. So when we realize, okay, I am going to be afraid, even when it’s small moments recognizing that’s okay, then saying, okay, now I will move forward regardless.
[00:20:07] For me, I think fearlessness is knowing that you will not do less because of your fear that you will be afraid of the small and the big moments, but you insist that it will not stop you from doing what you have to do.
[00:20:20] Guy Kawasaki: [00:20:20] I love that. Now I love your concept of too muchness. So what’s the benefits of too muchness.
[00:20:28] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:20:28] Yeah. We’ve all been called to something you’re being too loud. You’re too aggressive or you’re too passionate or you’re too sensitive. And I realized that when somebody says we’re to something, it means they want us to be less than, it’s easier to say you’re too much than to say. I want you to be less than you.
[00:20:45] What you are right now. Nobody will say, I want you to be less. They just make it say. I want you too much. And we’ve all faced it in different ways. We’ve all had moments when people criticize us in that way. They think they’re doing us a favor. They think it is somehow helping us. But oftentimes I think that we are too is usually our superpower for me.
[00:21:05] When I was young, I was told I was too chatty. I talk too much that thing that I was too well, I now get paid a lot of money as a professional speaker, as a thought leader. So had I let people convince me that I talk too much the practice of using my words that come out of my mouth to touch people and pass on information, whether small or big.
[00:21:30] I would have squelched it, I would have been like, you know, what do less be less. So I want us to understand that in this world that is asking us all to be as the same as possible, that is asking us not to be different. That thing that makes you too different. The thing that makes somebody uncomfortable about you is often a superpower that if we’ll did responsibly and well, you can change the world with it, or you can change the room that you’re in.
[00:21:55] I’m not even asking everyone to change the world, change the room.
[00:22:00] Guy Kawasaki: [00:22:00] But when and where and how do you draw?
[00:22:04] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:22:04] Mm. It depends. You have to figure out what your role is in any room that you’re in. And it’s not always you being louder than anybody else. It’s not always you doing something that feels physically disruptive.
[00:22:21] Right. Sometimes it’s in having a meeting before the meeting where you say, are we aligned on this? Will you back me up? If I challenge this, how you decide the when and the why and the how I think it’s sometimes in the moment. So if you are sitting in the meeting and an idea does pop up, you have to decide on what your power is.
[00:22:39] I think oftentimes we leave our power behind or we forget we have it with us. So we think, Oh, it’s somebody else’s job to call that out. If it’s a bad idea, I’ll be quiet. Because somebody else is going to call that well, if that person’s not there that day, or that person just doesn’t feel like being bothered, it’s your job.
[00:22:56] I think we need to understand that power that we’re constantly walking in rooms in because power is dynamic. It shifts depending on any room that we’re in. I often speak in keynote at conferences, and I always know the 50 minutes. That I have the microphone. I am the most powerful person in the world when I say thank you.
[00:23:17] And I get off the stage that shifts the power in the room now is whoever is the next one, holding the mic. But while I have the mic, I understand that my power in that moment, Is to speak for somebody who couldn’t say something in that meeting is to make sure that somebody who’s listening, who didn’t feel empowered to speak up because they felt like they would be punished for it.
[00:23:36] Here’s their voice through mine, identifying your power in the room and knowing when you don’t have as much power is really important because you can wield it depending on that room. So some rooms you might be the intern. You might be the person who just started who no one really is like, we can’t really give them credence other rooms.
[00:23:54] You might be the person running the meeting. So if you are the person running the meeting, you understand, and you know what, maybe the way I’m going to use my power right now. So give it to the intern and say, what do you think? Let me give you room to speak as this whole room is making their voice heard.
[00:24:08] We haven’t heard from you. So it always depends in the small moments. In the big moments. If we haven’t practiced those small moments, we really don’t have the practice to do it. When it’s calling for us to do it really loudly or really big.
[00:24:24] Guy Kawasaki: [00:24:24] Would you say that humility is overrated?
[00:24:28] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:24:28] Yes and no. I think humility.
[00:24:32] The way people describe humility is overrated. Absolutely. When humility feels like you bending yourself backwards to not own how amazing you are, that’s overrated. But I think humility is being clear about who you are being clear about how amazing you are, but also not being afraid to give credit. To those who allowed you to be that amazing.
[00:24:54] So I can be humble by telling you I’m an amazing writer and a speaker, but I know that I was able to do this because of my grandmother, because of her legacy, because of my mother’s work in bringing me to the U S and any sacrifices she’s made because of the teachers who insisted on pouring into me and who allowed me to sharpen my pen.
[00:25:14] So I’m humble in that. I know that my gifts. Are not just purely because of my work, but I would not be humble by diminishing my gifts. And by saying I am less than, and reducing that.
[00:25:29] Guy Kawasaki: [00:25:29] Closely related to humility is the imposter syndrome. So have you gotten over that
[00:25:37] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:25:37] guy? Imposter syndrome shifts, man, it shifts, I think.
[00:25:42] Where is it now? Ooh, that’s good. So my imposter syndrome before it looked like me being like, am I do I belong in the room? Because I’ll find myself in rooms. I mentioned to you how I met you. 10 years ago, very briefly at a conference. And me being like, Oh my God, how did I get into a room where Guy Kawasaki’s breathing the same way?
[00:26:06] I was like,
[00:26:08] Guy Kawasaki: [00:26:08] let me get my boots. Oh my God.
[00:26:12] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:26:12] As my career shifts as my career levels up, as I find myself in even more rooms and with more people that I’m just like, Whoa, I’m in this room. Imposter syndrome. Now it doesn’t look like how did I get here? Cause I know the work that it took for me to get here.
[00:26:27] Now it becomes what work must I do to stay here. Now imposter syndrome is being like, do I have to constantly innovate? Do I have to constantly over prove myself to feel like I can stay in the room? So it’s a constant work in progress and acknowledging that and saying, you know what? I can say that out loud.
[00:26:47] I can say I have no problem being like, I am feeling a piece of fear here. I am a bit nervous about the fact that I’m in this rarefied air, but also understanding that it is the constant work of knowing that. The work that I’ve done is enough, right? To keep me here. The person, the name that I’ve built for myself is enough.
[00:27:06] The voice that I have is enough and I don’t necessarily have to constantly strive.
[00:27:12] Guy Kawasaki: [00:27:12] Don’t you think you could make the case that if you are someone who never has any thoughts of imposter syndrome, that you probably are an imposter.
[00:27:25] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:27:25] Yes. Yes, absolutely. I find that imposter syndrome, the people who say I never have it.
[00:27:33] Other people who aren’t constantly looking to be better because they already think they’ve reached the peak of wherever they must go to. And I think everyone should be a forever student. I don’t ever call myself an expert at anything because if I call myself an expert, that means I’m saying I have no more to learn.
[00:27:51] Right. So people who don’t have any imposter syndrome or people who like I have nothing more to learn, I am already the best thing since sliced bread. And that is an extra piece of arrogance that I don’t think I ever want to get to. I always wanna think I’m dope. I’m always to think I’m amazing. But to say, I am the best I will ever get to means I have stopped growing as a person.
[00:28:14] And that sounds like I am dying by willingly died.
[00:28:25] Guy Kawasaki: [00:28:25] What is it like to be young, black, female and Christian in America today?
[00:28:33] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:28:33] Oh we young black female Christian smart, caring about the world. It is deeply frustrating and frustrating is an understatement because to be a young black woman in America, who believes in God, who still cares and finds that, what I pick out of the Christian is the fact that Christ.
[00:28:55] Laid himself on the line for other people’s wellbeing. That piece is really important. And that piece is what I think a lot of people are missing. When we talk about this racist structure that we live in this country that is deeply unjust to people who are marginalized. That part drives me nuts. This country, that purports herself, that puts in grad, we trust on the coin, but does not put gut godlike policies forward.
[00:29:22] It’s deeply frustrating because we’re living in a world. Of others dichotomy all this hypocrisy. And for me, I’m like, are we all talking about the same guy? Are we all talking about the same concept of love your neighbor? There’s the golden rule. And there’s a platinum rule do unto others, as you want to be done unto you and then do unto others as they would like for you to do for them is really significant.
[00:29:48] And we don’t do it. So, yeah. And that’s partly why I use my voice. So I was like, I hope. When people encounter my work, whether it’s in my book, whether it’s in my podcast, whether it’s just out in social, I hope people find things that compel them, that I said that makes them think you’re right. I can do something different, something better because for Christians to live in this country and be okay with.
[00:30:13] Kids in cages to be okay with us saying people can’t marry the people they love simply because they are a different gender identity for us to say, it’s okay for people to go without food. When some people are there’s like, they’ll throw out food just because I don’t understand how we can be okay. In a world where there are kids starving and where people have no homes to go to at night.
[00:30:40] So, yeah.
[00:30:42] Guy Kawasaki: [00:30:42] What kind of systematize racism do you still experience?
[00:30:50] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:30:50] I have been a public speaker for 10 years professionally. I have a Ted talk that has 5 million views. I’ve spoken at some of the world’s most innovative companies and I still have to fight to get my fee. I will show up change hearts and minds and 50 minutes.
[00:31:10] And I still have to over prove why I charged my large five figure fee for me. I get to see white men who don’t have the credentials I have, who don’t have the experience I have, who without question, get what they charge all the time, every time who are offering nothing of value or very little value. Who are saying they have no imposter syndrome because they’ve never had to face somebody doubting us because they looked like that.
[00:31:44] So my racism changes, the racism that we encounter changes even instill always based in the same thing is that. When I show up as who I am, this woman that I am, whether I am in a blazer or whether I’m in a sweatshirt and a baseball cap, people have all these ideas of who I am and what I bring to the table in my intelligence and the way I can speak and people still be shocked back and speak well, when I’m like, I have a college degree, I can speak two languages.
[00:32:14] I’ve been reading since I was three. So for me, racism, the structural racism shows up as. I am amazing at what I do. And I still have to over prove that I am worth what I charge with all of this.
[00:32:28] Guy Kawasaki: [00:32:28] What is your advice to a young black woman in America right now?
[00:32:37] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:32:37] Be dope anyway, even when people don’t expect it or believe it, what we can do, but I would tell any young black girl and while I always want to show up in the way I show up, because I hope I am a model.
[00:32:49] For somebody who sees me show up exactly as who I am. I right in the same voice, whether I’m speaking at a fortune 50 company or at a nonprofit in Chicago, I’m speaking in the same way. I’m probably dressing the same way. Sometimes I’ll go to a conference that’s business, casual wearing Jordan ones, just to prove a point that excellence can show up whether it’s in the suit or the sweat pants.
[00:33:13] So I want a young black girl who is listening to this. Well, it would need some type of pump to know that if she didn’t get the permission before to be herself, to be her full, dope, excellent self. I hope I am giving her permission to be that because I am proof that you can be that and still you can thrive.
[00:33:33] You won’t just succeed, but thrive. Stand in it.
[00:33:38] Guy Kawasaki: [00:33:38] You had another statement that just totally intrigued me. And I want you to explain this for my listener, which is, why do you say that black women are the moral center of the universe?
[00:33:59] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:33:59] I think black women are the moral center of the universe because we are constantly thinking about.
[00:34:04] The wellbeing of the world, because we know what it’s like to be the ones whose heads are stepped on. So we don’t want somebody else to feel like that. So our actions and how we show up is with the intention of, I want to make sure that I am not stepping on somebody else’s head and what that happens when that happens.
[00:34:23] It means you’re constantly thinking about how to make sure everybody’s okay. We are the moral sense of center of the universe. Because how we think we are, we nurture deeply. We know what it’s like to constantly be battled. And we want to make sure that it happens less for those who look like us. But here’s the thing is when black women, when everybody else wins, when black women are at the helm, everybody else wins.
[00:34:52] When we think about even what happened in Georgia, right? When everyone was, Oh my gosh, we got to save democracy, black women, put it on their backs and say, you know what? We will do everything we can to make sure we can get this thing happening. But when that thing happened, It was for the betterment of everybody.
[00:35:09] When the work that we do is usually for the betterment of not just us, but everybody. So that’s why I think we’re the moral center. If the world listened to us more, it’d be better for it. Better food.
[00:35:23] Guy Kawasaki: [00:35:23] I would make the case that Stacy Abrams may have saved America.
[00:35:31] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:35:31] Yes. Literally Stacey Abrams and the work of black women, like Latasha Brown and say, Ooh, fought.
[00:35:38] It’s been like a Vultron of black women who were like, we’re going to do this work. And we helped save America. And everyone kept on hashtagging. Believe black women or trust black women, but you know how you trust black women, you move out of our way and you stop sabotaging our way. And listen to us. If you just do what we say, do things will be so much better.
[00:36:04] Guy Kawasaki: [00:36:04] Oh my God, you are priceless. Now there, there is one part of your book and your background that I. Just don’t understand what happened. And this is of course the Tevin Campbell experience. What the hell was that about? Like, why did it go? So off the rails, what am I missing? I’m just maybe a 66 year old, Asian American.
[00:36:32] So I don’t understand this, but can you explain that whole thing to me? And now with two years of hindsight, maybe you can interpret. Well, what the lessons
[00:36:41] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:36:41] are. There’s a chapter in this book called fail loudly, and that was the biggest public fail I’ve ever had. And God, let me tell you, even today, I still can’t fully explain to you why it blew up so much.
[00:36:54] I don’t know what about it. Made it so loud because I have said stronger things. I have said things and pissed off way more people before, but
[00:37:10] Guy Kawasaki: [00:37:10] Maybe we should explain it because people may not know what the hell we’re talking about.
[00:37:15] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:37:15] Yeah. Like Aretha Franklin died and everyone was talking about who should do her tributes.
[00:37:22] And somebody mentioned Tevin and I loved having Campbell. I actually love his music and I was just like, that’s a random name to tie to Aretha Franklin, like under what rock did you pull that name from? Is what I said. It went to shifts trending on Twitter. For an hour, the day after mind you, it wasn’t even, it wasn’t even immediate.
[00:37:45] And people were calling me anti-black anti-black American and people were saying that I didn’t know anything about music and culture. And I was stunned into silence for like it, I mean like people. Try to destroy my career over this one, tweet. Literally somebody actually went on Twitter and Facebook and said like, I want to destroy her career.
[00:38:11] And I was like, Holy shit. And one thing I learned in that moment that I talk about in the book is about how, what was different was not necessarily what I said, what was different, was how people would see me. And I think it also comes down to this fact that people really want to humble black women. In a big way.
[00:38:34] When you stop being the underdog, you become the target. Back in the day, when I was just the person behind the computer screen, who still had a full-time job who still had the struggling blog, who only had 10,000 followers, that thing wouldn’t have made a difference. Whatever I said did make a difference.
[00:38:51] What people saw was the lovey the platform, the brand. And a lot of times people do want to humble black women and say, I don’t like how far you’ve gone. Let’s get you back into your place. So I feel like a lot of that happened, but I think it was also a signal for me to understand levy. You’re not just lugging from Chicago in Nigeria anymore.
[00:39:10] You are an entity now. You’re like an empire. You’re, you’re no longer David you’re Goliath. And when you’re Goliath, people want to throw the rocks at you. So what you do is understand that if you’re seeing yourself as David, because you’re being humble, If you’re seeing yourself as David, you also have to recognize that at one point you are Goliath, your words do reach more people, your words do more, do have more power and impact and understanding that I needed to wield my platform.
[00:39:40] Even more responsibly was the gifts that I got from it.
[00:39:45] Guy Kawasaki: [00:39:45] And two years later, Do you think it has made any difference to the arc of your life as you did that? It has because of the, because of what you learned, but not because of the damage that it did to you. Right?
[00:40:01] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:40:01] It, it definitely, it, it, like, it took air out my sales for about a year.
[00:40:05] Like it really did. It took me a minute to get my footing back on it, to be able to be like, Okay. I stopped being afraid of my own voice. I think one of the gifts was funny enough. It brought more followers to me, which was weird. No firestorm. I was, people were like, who’s this lovey girl people are talking about.
[00:40:26] And then people being like, Oh my God, I love her. So it got more people following me. That was one but two, I think it also kind of every experience that we have, it’s hard to kind of like remove what the domino effect is. To our lives. It really is because that moment and how it sat me down, had me thinking through who I wanted to show up as in the world, what I wanted my career to look like, what I needed to put into place for the fact that I am bigger than I thought I was, how I needed to even build my team different.
[00:40:58] Got me thinking about and asking questions that I wasn’t asking myself before. And I think those questions also now helped because I started going to therapy even more than my therapist. It’s quoted throughout my book, because in that process, she was like walking me through what it meant that this thing happened.
[00:41:18] How was I going to grow from it? And that was a gift that shows up in this book, my therapist, who actually just passed away two weeks ago. And I think about that moment. And I think about what he was asking of me. And I think about the growth that he was asking of me, who I was then could not handle my success now.
[00:41:39] Because maybe I don’t think I was equipped for it. I had to go through that firestorm to get me the equipment that can push me past it.
[00:41:47] Guy Kawasaki: [00:41:47] Which leads me to my next question. You came up with a list of three things to ask yourself before you ask other people or say things. And I think that is a great list.
[00:42:00] So what are those three things to ask yourself before you do something?
[00:42:05] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:42:05] So it is important for us to have a checklist that. Makes us less impulsive, especially when it’s time to say hard things. Because a lot of times people are asking like, okay, so what makes you decide to do it? How do I make sure I’m not talking out the side of my mouth?
[00:42:20] And I think having a checklist and quantifying our decisions is usually the best thing. So one is, do you mean it, this thing that you are saying, is this actually something you believe or are you saying it because you just feel like being a contrarian in the moment? Can you defend it. If somebody challenges you on this thing that you say, do you have the receipts to prove this right?
[00:42:43] Or that where your opinion is coming from? Can you basically stand in this thing that you’re saying? And then can you say a thoughtfully or with love because the way you provide a message actually does matter. So it might be a valid message, but if you’re saying it was being hateful, you won’t land. So is there a way that you can say this in the way that it’s most thoughtful possible?
[00:43:03] If the answer is yes to all three. Say it, and then whatever happens happens, you deal with it. But I think that checklist is at least really good to affirm you.
[00:43:18] Guy Kawasaki: [00:43:18] And in those moments when you do want to speak up, but you’re not sure whether you should, you discuss what it means and how to be a good taker or recipient of stuff. Explain to us how do you be a good taker?
[00:43:31] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:43:31] Yes, indeed. I think a lot of times we are very proud to identify ourselves as generous people who give, give, give, but there is something about us that also makes it hard to take. When you are constantly given you don’t feel like you can take, because in that moment you’re not being generous.
[00:43:52] You think I’m the one that’s supposed to be given, not receiving it. But I think about, and I’m that person too. And I had to unlearn that it’s something that I’m constantly unlearning to be a good taker is to be able to say a gracious, thank you. It’s too, because a lot of us are not even good at receiving compliments.
[00:44:09] Like somebody will compliment our shirt and we’ll be like, Oh, this old thing, I’ve had it for a long time, as opposed to being like, thank you. I’m glad you like it. So let alone, when it’s time to receive a gift. Or something that feels big, that you might not give yourself. You’ll be like, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t want no, no, no, you don’t have to do that.
[00:44:28] No, receive it with gratitude. And I think one thing we should understand is when we talk about love, love is not just about being generous. Love is also about receiving somebody else’s generosity. Let other people feel the way you feel when you’re being generous by taking in, by receiving what they’re offering.
[00:44:47] You help energy time platform, money. Sometimes it’s okay to receive. Cause I think that’s a part that’s the second part of love. If I am not receiving what you’re giving me, how am I allowing you to show me love? So we have to think about it in those ways.
[00:45:21] Guy Kawasaki: [00:45:21] another thing that I found I’ll say surprising or unusual is putting two words together, toxic and positivity. So how can positivity ever be toxic?
[00:45:37] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:45:37] Absolutely too. Hey, too much of anything is not good. Correct. That’s a rule that we all know is fact too much of anything is not good. You can be, you can love vegetables, you eat nothing but vegetables all day.
[00:45:51] You’re not going to be balanced. You. Where’s your fiber. You love candy gray. You eat all that sugar. What’s up diabetes. Okay. Too much. Good positivity is not good. What does that mean? When you walk through the world thinking you should exist. In nothing but good vibes and good feelings, because what happens is when you weaponize your negativity, you weaponize, whenever you’re feeling bad, you make yourself feel bad for feeling bad.
[00:46:17] You know, it’s like being in the house in this quarantine. I was telling you God, like we’re the privileged ones. We’re the ones who are in-house. We don’t feel immediate and acute threats. We know where our next meal is coming from. We’re not worried about somebody coming into our house. We feel safe.
[00:46:35] We’re the privileged ones. So sometimes even in this yesterday, I was talking about how I’ve hit a pandemic wall. If the wall where. After 10 months of quarantining of life, not looking anything like it did before you being exhausted, but to say it out loud, somebody was like, well, it’s okay. We’ll be fine.
[00:46:57] But the moment of negative emotion is okay. Toxic positivity is the idea that anytime we voice or feel something that is not positive and flowery and good times, pixie dust exactly did unicorns and pixie dust and rainbows were somehow being ungrateful for our lives. For the things that we have. No negative emotions are necessary.
[00:47:22] They’re natural. When you feel them, you might, you might work on not getting lost in it, but the goal is not to be like, Oh, I have no right to feel this way. No, you have a right to feel what you feel. So when it becomes toxic, positivity is when you, you are not assuming anything living in real life for the sake of bypassing any emotion, some people call it spiritual bypassing, right?
[00:47:44] It’s the idea that you’re not supposed to feel anything bad. You should just be grateful so that you never deal with the emotions at all. You just. Surface them. You just gloss them over. So how you make sure positivity doesn’t get toxic. You allow yourself to feel the negativity, you acknowledge it and then you’ve let it pass.
[00:48:02] You allow somebody who’s talking to you and saying, Hey, I’m feeling this way. You acknowledge you’re feeling you don’t dismiss it and say, no, you’re fine. You should be okay. You make sure that you’re not the person who is constantly reducing people. To good vibes.
[00:48:19] Guy Kawasaki: [00:48:19] And my last question for you is how do you do your best and deepest thinking?
[00:48:30] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:48:30] That’s good. How do I do my best and deepest thinking with a pen and paper? I am a visual learner in all ways in that if I have ideas. Or thoughts and I don’t put them down on paper. I feel fog is basically why I am a writer because putting my words on paper is cathartic. So my best thinking is in quiet, me and a pen and a notebook.
[00:49:03] And I have many notebooks. I have a bit of a stationary problem. I need to stop buying them, but I won’t. I already know. I won’t. And I sit there, just jotting down my ideas. Sometimes it’s bullet lists. Sometimes it is fully formed paragraphs. Sometimes it is some of both, but yeah, I like writing down stuff and thinking through stuff, creating graphs and whatnot.
[00:49:33] Guy Kawasaki: [00:49:33] This is obviously called the remarkable people podcast and it is sponsored by a company called the reMarkable tablet company. The reMarkable tablet is this tablet that has a stylist pencil. That feels just like a pencil, not like an iPad Apple pen. And. Every guest gets one. So we’re sending you one.
[00:49:55] Awesome. You will never have to find a notebook again, and I hope you love it. I hope you love it.
[00:50:03] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:50:03] I was back. I’m going to try that out and then I’ll send you a note guy.
[00:50:11] Guy Kawasaki: [00:50:11] This has been remarkable, shall I say? And delightful. And I’m going to go look for that rice and I’m going to come to your wedding or.
[00:50:21] But no, that would imply you’re getting remarried. I’m going to come to your vowel, renewal and. One of my goals in life is to become as close as I can to becoming an honorary Nigerian. That is, you got to have goals in life. And I just want to be able to insult people at that level, but with kindness, with constructiveness and with kindness.
[00:50:48] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:50:48] yes. Yeah. But we can absolutely lambaste people. No, God, thank you so much for having me. I never take it for granted. When people want to share space with me. And when people want me to share my lessons and the things I’ve learned in this world, and I told you earlier, I have been a student of yours from afar for about a decade.
[00:51:11] And the remarkable work that you’ve done is something that I know leads the work that I do. So. In case you heard it recently, just know you were one of the people who I used to like read about and see their work and I’d be like, so dope. I’m going to find that picture that you and I took when we briefly met at a conference, I can’t know which I can’t remember which one you had on a Canva t-shirt. Oh at this thing, I’m going to find it. I’m going to tweet it to you when I find it. And this feels like such a full circle moment to be affirmed by tech guy, tech geek, as a person who was at the intersection of all these different platforms, when you will like podcasts, I was like, um, say less.
[00:51:57] When do you need me? I will be there.
[00:52:01] Guy Kawasaki: [00:52:01] Oh, I love you. You flattery me too much. I don’t have imposter syndrome. I don’t deserve it. Okay.
[00:52:09] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:52:09] You must receive that compliment. You must’ve seen that.
[00:52:12] Guy Kawasaki: [00:52:12] Yes, I was. That was all totally do me. Okay.
[00:52:20] Luvvie Ajayi Jones: [00:52:20] So much appreciated. This was a highlight.
[00:52:24] Guy Kawasaki: [00:52:24] I hope you enjoyed listening to Luvvie. As much as I enjoyed conducting the interview, she is truly a remarkable and one of a kind funny woman.
[00:52:34] This is Guy Kawasaki and the Remarkable People podcast I’d like to thank Elisa Camahort Page for helping me reconnect with Luvvie and getting her on the podcast. My thanks also to Jeff Sieh and Peg Fitzpatrick who 52 times a year helped me make a remarkable podcast. I will keep you posted about getting to a Nigerian wedding, but for Nigerian weddings to occur, at least in the traditional manner, we all need to wear a mass avoid crowds, wash our hands and get vaccinated.
[00:53:10] Please remember to do all those things Mahalo and Aloha.
Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.