Using Personal Experience As A Springboard To Help Others
Welcome back to Selfmade Stories, our series with Office Depot OfficeMax spotlighting the up-and-coming entrepreneurs from our virtual business course Selfmade. This week, Katie Nesdahl, founder of On My Way — a guided journal for women and femmes experiencing grief and trauma — chats with us about using (often painful) personal experiences as a means to help others.
B + C: If you were at a dinner party describing On My Way to a guest, what would your elevator pitch be?
Katie: On My Way is a guided journal for women experiencing grief and trauma. I say ‘women’ but that title, to me, includes nonbinary folks, transgender women and men, and people who identify with or as women. Every woman I know, including myself, has experienced some type of grief or trauma in our lives, but for some reason, it can feel like we’re not supposed to talk about it. I created On My Way to help people creatively process and dive deep into thinking through the things that can be hard to say out loud.
B + C: Where were you in your life when you came up with the idea for On My Way?
Katie: I actually had a conversation with a medium about my career that led to this idea. I had never spoken with a medium before, but a friend referred me and I was very curious. At the beginning of the conversation, my dad (who had died about a year before the conversation) made his presence known to the medium. I had no idea that was going to happen, but I instantly believed it was real and was very moved. We talked about a lot of things (the medium, my dad, and I), including my career discernment.
I had been accepted into a master’s program for education and had just been certified as an interior design specialist at my job, and I wanted help deciding which path to choose. Instead of pointing me in either of the directions I thought I was supposed to go, the medium said he thought I was leaving something out. I very shyly admitted that I also love to write. He became ecstatic and said that writing was my true calling; that regardless of whatever else I do for a career, I would heal myself and others through writing. Talk about a powerful conversation. Thanks to his encouragement, I started writing daily. The idea to create a guided journal bubbled up from that writing, and has evolved from there!
B + C: What did you feel was missing from the marketplace that led you to On My Way?
Katie: (Warning: sensitive content) When I was 19, I was raped by a close friend of mine. Dealing with the aftermath of that assault, I felt very alone. I didn’t want to tell my family because I was ashamed, and my friends either did their best to support me or had their own judgments about what had happened. I was afraid that if I went to the campus counseling service, people would know something was “wrong” with me. I was already an avid journaler, so I turned to journaling to process my thoughts and feelings. I looked for guided journals, books, and advice about what I was experiencing, but it was hard to find anything that addressed sexual trauma and even harder to find a space to really grapple with the deep, dark questions and thoughts I was having.
Years later, my friends opened up about miscarriage, divorce, infertility, childhood abuse that had resurfaced for them, and their own assaults. Even though years had passed, I still had a hard time finding good resources and spaces for them to feel accepted and understood without platitudes, judgment, or toxic positivity. What would it look like if we had a resource that let us explore our grief and trauma more deeply? How would it feel to have a journal that also acted as a scrapbook of sorts — something to hold the whole mess of our experience? After using creative journaling to find my way through sexual assault, rape, and the loss of my dad, I created On My Way to give women a way to help themselves and support each other. I see On My Way as being a “little black book” of resources, prompts, and activities — something you can use for your own healing and also share with others, even if their grief and trauma look different than yours.
B + C: How do you envision On My Way to look like?
Katie: On My Way will definitely be an actual notebook — it will have a bullet journal quality to it. Imagine that your artsy best friend set up an entire bullet journal just for your life story. The graphic design and artwork for this project are very important to me, and I can’t wait to see that element come to life — the art is intentionally messy, a bit of a dystopian collage with splashes of playful color and illustration. Beyond the notebook, I plan to release On My Way as a digital journal and also to have prompts, activities, resources, forums, and small groups connected in an online community.
B + C: How will the writing prompts and resources help users process grief and trauma?
Katie: On My Way will offer a series of prompts and activities that progress over three sections:
Where I’ve Been, Where I Am, and Where I’m Going. In the first section, the writer will explore her/their past and the things that shaped their childhood and growing up. There are prompts and activities around events that happened, relationships, boundaries, and worldview. Those questions will be mirrored in each following section, giving the writer a chance to better understand the whole arc of her personal story, and then to start to dream and plan for where she wants the story to go next.
Through studying positive psychology, abnormal psychology, human sexuality, and brain development in school, I learned a lot about the types of counseling questions and activities that can encourage deep, therapeutic writing. I also have worked with curriculum development, disaster recovery, and ministry, so I’ve taken learnings from each of those experiences (as well as a lot of research) to develop questions that guide the writer to more deeply explore both what happened to her as well as how she feels about it.
B + C: What specific problems are you hoping On My Way will solve for your customers?
Katie: Every woman, femme, and non-binary person has already survived their fair amount of grief or trauma, just by making it as far as they have in life. Knowing that I’ve shaped the material to do more asking and listening than telling or solving. I want people who use On My Way to walk away from it feeling like they know their own story better, and that they’re not alone in their story. I want to help them sit in the questions and find their own answers. The true problem On My Way will solve is the problem that millions of women are suffering in silence and feeling lost and unheard. I want to help them figure out their own best way to learn, own, and share their story, if and when they’re ready.
B + C: Tell us more about how you partnered with Wise Ink Creative Publishing, the company that will be printing On My Way.
Katie: I have Nora McInerney to thank for my connection with Wise Ink. She is a writer and podcaster who lived in Minneapolis when I moved here. Friends recommended her “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” podcast after my dad died in 2016, and I loved that she approached grief and life with humor, depth, and sass. She’s my kind of person. When I was pitching my guided journal, I basically cold-called Nora through her website, asking for any insights on the process. She had no reason to respond to a note from a total stranger, but she emailed me back within hours, offering encouraging words and telling me to reach out to Wise Ink, even going so far as to say that Nora sent me. I wasn’t familiar with the Minneapolis-based publisher, and as soon as I read their mission, I felt like they were a perfect fit for my book. Thankfully, they accepted my pitch! Nora’s generosity gave me an opportunity that I don’t know if I would have ever had otherwise, and it’s that spirit that continues to inspire me to help and serve women and marginalized people however I can.
B + C: Where are you in your current entrepreneurial stage and what are the specific challenges you’re facing at this very moment?
Katie: After taking the Selfmade course, I’ve learned to identify myself as an entrepreneur, even though I had a hard time owning that title before. I’m actively working with WiseInk and planning to launch On My Way in 2023. Along with that, I’m working on growing my social media presence and learning more about what women, transgender women, and non-binary survivors and grievers are wanting and needing as they live with their experiences. I struggle with feeling like I don’t have enough to offer, that I’m not enough of an expert to have a voice on these matters but that’s exactly what I’m trying to help people with — reminding each other that our voices and stories do matter and that we deserve to understand both what happened to us and move forward in whatever way best serves us and the world.
B + C: What are some wins or accomplishments you’ve experienced that have encouraged you to keep pursuing this business idea?
Katie: I am continually inspired by the opportunities I’ve had to grow and learn in this, especially through the Selfmade course and community. Every time I tell a new person about my project, I hear that they have friends, family, or their own experiences that would benefit from using On My Way. I know there’s a need for this, and I am determined to keep working to help survivors and people who are grieving creatively engage their stories and experiences.
B + C: What are some of the ways you maintain your mental health or ways you stay focused while embarking on your entrepreneurial journey?
Katie: Walking and writing are two of the most effective ways for me to maintain my mental health. I’m also part of a Mastermind group that developed after our Selfmade course ended, and we have weekly virtual meetings to support and challenge each other in our journeys. I’m lucky enough to have supportive friends and family who are willing to listen and encourage me, too!
B + C: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received that you would pass on to others?
Katie: Trust the process. Failure is a part of the process. Fail fast, and keep listening and learning. You are worth the effort.
B + C: Who or what keeps you inspired?
Katie: Every person has a story, and all of those stories have some dark and scary chapters, along with some really joyful chapters. Being able to be present in that darkness and joy in my own life has opened me up to be present with others, and to see the incredible strength it takes for all of us to get to where we are. Connecting with people and practicing deep gratitude keeps me inspired.
B + C: What has receiving the scholarship to Selfmade done to help you grow your business?
Katie: I really believe that the Selfmade course and community changed my life. I would not have been able to participate if it weren’t for the scholarship. The connections I’ve made and the affirmation and resources I received in sharing my project have not only opened up new opportunities but opened up a new way of seeing myself and what’s possible for me.
B + C: How have Office Depot OfficeMax services/products helped you accomplish more in your business?
Katie: The scholarship has been the most significant way Office Depot OfficeMax has helped me, but I’m also excited to use my OfficeDepot gift card for more supplies and equipment as my project grows and changes. A fun part about making a creative guided journal is that I get to play with new pens and crafty supplies! Grieving is not a black and white process — why should processing it be limited to black pens or lined pages?
B + C: What's next for you on the journey to launching On My Way?Katie: My big focus right now is finding a designer/illustrator who can really bring the prompts and activities in On My Way to life. I’m also excited to continue to grow the website, adding more information and resources that can help people today, even before the book is released.Thanks Katie! Learn more at On My Way .
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