Jaclyn Johnson on Embracing Failure and Getting Back Up
You’ve probably seen her chatting to female powerhouses like Issa Rae and Meghan Markle at one of her company’s popular conferences for millennial women in business, or perhaps you recognize her from when she scored a coveted spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. But founder and CEO of Create & Cultivate Jaclyn Johnson didn’t just wake up one day being one of the brightest 30-somethings in her industry. In fact, her career journey was a hard-fought battle through painful business breakups, inspiring ah-ha moments, and daunting professional risks, all of which she details in her highly anticipated new memoir that will be released on August 21.
In her new book WorkParty ($26), Johnson reveals the highs and lows of her unique career path — from moving across the country for a job only to be abruptly let go a few months later to starting a new company that has blossomed into a highly successful enterprise. Coupling her own business acumen with stories from leading female entrepreneurs, from Refinery29‘s Christene Barberich to Ban.do‘s Jen Gotch, Johnson encourages millennial businesswomen to embrace failure, cultivate the career of their dreams, and create their own WorkParty.
Brit + Co: First of all, congratulations on the publication of WorkParty! We absolutely loved reading about your unique entrepreneurial success story. Why was this the right time and medium to share your professional story with the world?
Jaclyn Johnson: Aww, thanks, girl! For me, the reason I started Create & Cultivate was because there was nothing online that spoke to me in a way I related to. When it came to WorkParty it really was just a matter of saying, I’ve been working now for over 13 years and have been through it all. I want to share the experience in a real way with women who can use it and learn from it and grow their careers in meaningful ways.
B+C: Okay, for all of our female entrepreneurs out there who haven’t yet read the book, what exactly is a WorkParty?
JJ: The joy has been sucked out of work for too long. WorkParty is a movement for a new generation of women who are redefining the meaning of work on their own terms, who are creating and cultivating their careers and having fun while doing it.
B+C: If we had to choose a genre for WorkParty, we would probably say that it’s part professional memoir, part inspirational Instagram feed, and part HBIC business guide. That means that instead of just writing your own story, you made the decision to provide extremely practical tips and lists that all businesswomen should know. What was your mindset in coupling your own story with more practical business tips?
JJ: Right on the mark! My path to entrepreneurship doesn’t include an MBA, and I didn’t work my way up the corporate ladder to success. My path is unique, and that’s the same for so many women. Work has changed. By 2020, 40 percent of workers will be part of the gig economy. Working women have changed. We’re breadwinners! The number of women-owned businesses is on the rise and not slowing down. It was important for me to share the advice I now know to be vital. That means everything from tactical advice on understanding and negotiating contracts, to the tools needed to hone your pitch, to best practices if you’re thinking of selling your business, and more.
B+C: Perhaps one of the most refreshing parts of WorkParty is how real you get with your (mostly female) readers: “I’d often lead a status meeting or client call and then need to take 10 in our office’s industrial, high-ceilinged bathroom that looked out onto South Los Angeles Avenue and cry my eyes out. I am not the first woman — nor will I be the last — to seek solace in the women’s restroom at work. The women’s room acts as a patriarchal shield, a safe space for tears, a place to feel vulnerable,” you wrote. You address topics like impostor syndrome and your own pizza-cry-fest of 2009; why did you feel it was important to shine a light on the harder parts of your professional journey?
JJ: I think it’s really important to talk about the hardships and difficulties of our lives. Jen Gotch says in the book she doesn’t want to make it look easy because it’s not, and it’s so true. In an Insta-perfect world, we [have to] be able to tell people to speak about the realities of our world. When building a business, there’s no fast and quick rule on how to make it. As an entrepreneur, you have to know that resiliency is required, but you will also find you are stronger than you ever imagined.
B+C: You also go into great detail (we’re talking a full actionable checklist) on how to deal with harassment in the workplace. In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, can you talk a bit about why you decided to create a practical guide for women who are going through this unfortunately common problem?
JJ: I think many women have been in this position and didn’t know what to do, myself included. They’re scared and not sure what steps to take or who to talk to or honestly how to LEGALLY approach the situation. I want women to know they have every right to speak up. Self-worth and dignity are never things that need to be negotiated.
B+C: Along with sharing your own story, you also enlist advice from other highly successful women — from Ban.do’s Jen Gotch to Drybar’s Alli Webb — and make it a point to call out other female entrepreneurs who are doing great things in their respective spaces. We love all this women-in-business love! Keeping it going, do you have any other business books by inspiring women that you’d recommend?
B+C: Finally, writing a professional memoir in your 30s must have been a pretty introspective journey. What did you learn about yourself while writing WorkParty?
JJ: It was a wild ride to look down memory lane; reflection is sort of a lost art these days. We move so fast, scroll, click, tap, and are already moving onto the next thing, but to truly sit and reflect was really invaluable. I think the biggest thing I took away was the idea behind resiliency; I went through a lot of sh*t and have still managed to move forward, keep positive, and prove a lot of people wrong along the way. Knowing you are able to get back up time and time again can be a powerful feeling.
Are you creating your own WorkParty? Tweet us at @BritandCo to let us know how you’re rocking your career.
Excerpt from WorkParty by Jaclyn Johnson. Copyright 2018 by Jaclyn Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
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(Photo via Caroline Lee / Woodnote Photography)