Denali: Hello and welcome to the Creators and Experts podcast. My name is Denali and today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Joanna Rajendran. She is an author, keynote speaker, and distinguished coach. We'll get into all of that a little bit more in the coming conversation, so welcome.
Joanna: Thank you. I'm excited about this chat.
Turning passions into professions
Denali: So, I think a great place to start, that I like to start with all my interviews, is just how did you get started creating content?
Joanna: Probably a side effect of a really cool, windy path. I've made a habit in my adult life of making my passions into my professions. As a result of that, I've done many things and worn many hats. They all seem to have led to this moment in time, doing the combination of exactly what I'm doing now. One of the biggest inspirations along the way was being introduced to who would be my mentor for the next few decades at the age of 17.
I met the world's oldest yoga teacher in a chance meeting walking into a yoga class. I spent the next 20-plus years with her, studying yoga, assisting her, and traveling around the world with her. That relationship shaped and influenced just about every aspect of my life - personally, professionally, even romantically. With her, I was certified to teach yoga, I became an expert on mindfulness and meditation, and while she was still here, I had dreams of sharing all of this magic. If anyone took a course with her or a workshop, just walking into the room, they were instantly hit with the light, the magic, the aura that she had.
And I thought, "Wow, I've almost had these backstage passes. How do I share the in-betweens? All of those delicious nuggets that I soaked up from watching her and being with her?" And one day, inspiration led me to some weird places, like being on a date with my dude, getting a foot massage, and all of a sudden, the entire book came to me - the topics, the format, everything. And I looked at him and I said, "I finally got it. I know the book I'm supposed to write about my friendship with Tao."
Her name was Tao Porchon-Lynch. I always want to give her honor. And I said, "And I feel like I have to write it now. I think each chapter needs to start with one of her famous quotes and then go back and forth in our timelines and tell both of our stories so that people, while inspired by her magic, can relate to my flawed and real character. And then they'll get the takeaway that the magic is in all of us and it's for everyone."
And he said, "That sounds great, but put some notes in your phone and write it later because we're going to a concert after this." And it was Justin Timberlake.
Sharing stories and crafting the right narratives
Denali: That's wonderful and I think it provides a good background to who you are and your expertise. As you developed your book, were there any challenges that you encountered that you could share with other creators to help them in their own creative endeavors?
Joanna: Sure, although "challenges" is a funny way to put it, Denali. I wrote this book while my mentor was still alive, and I wanted it to ring true regardless of whether she was alive when readers read it. She lived until she was 101, so I knew we were playing with house money at that point. I finished the last page of my own personal edit the day she passed away.
I received the message while I was on a chairlift during a family ski trip in Colorado with my sister, floating above the clouds and snow-topped trees. At 11:11, I played a voicemail that said she had peacefully passed, and that was the day I finished my last edit. A year to the day after my professional editor finished his last edit, the book came out. But in the intervening time, the entire world shut down due to the pandemic.
So, when you're writing and seeking to publish your first book or any creation during a season of "no," and in this case, it was an exaggerated season of "no," professionals didn't know what would happen with the profession. They didn't know if bookstores would be open, and many publishers were saying no to new authors.
To anyone who is inspired and has an idea, creation, or art they want to share, that is your gift to this world, your unique purpose. You don't need a season of "yes," and you don't need everyone to get it. You need the right "yes."
I found one great "yes" who said, "I think you wrote a cool book here, and you have a great message to share. We could go to all the big houses, and if they're not open to it, I would be proud to publish your book."
So, I just found the one right "yes," followed that stream of belief and faith, and allowed it to flow where it was meant to be.
Tubing down the mountain and combatting procrastination
Denali: That's a really good way of looking at things, and I think especially in the content creator sphere, you get a lot of those "no's," and finding that path of people that really believe in you or believe in your vision is really beneficial. I kind of want to dig there a little bit. On that chairlift, when you received that call, did you make the choice to later that day finish writing, or had you finished writing earlier that day and finished your edit?
Joanna: I had finished earlier that day, and I was riding the chairlift, actually not even to ski, but to meet the kids to go tubing down a mountain. And I just thought, "How do you tube down a mountain when you just receive life-changing news?" And then I remembered the life-changing news was about the person who inspired me to do all of the things, to live, to never take a moment for granted.
One of her biggest messages was that the only sin was procrastination, and there was no procrastinating. They were going down the mountain on the tube. I was either going to be there and experience it with the children in our family, or I wasn't. But no matter what, my circumstances weren't going to change, and I had to get down that mountain anyway. So why not do it by tube with smiles through my tears?
Adapting to challenges and change
Denali: I think that's a phenomenal way of looking at it. And to kind of go even further into that, you mentioned you're a certified yoga instructor, and you are writing this book at the same time, and then COVID hit. How did you kind of navigate balancing not only-- I mean, writing is a full-time job. So, how did you navigate that with the yoga, with COVID?
Joanna: And I had two kids at the time. I still have two kids, Denali. So, at the time of all of this, I had my daughter, who is now about to be 11, and my son is five. So, at the time, they were even younger, and he was a toddler, and she was already in school. So, when the world shut down, I was also homeschooling them. Adding that wrinkle into the mix was another one. And the truth is, people will talk about balance, they'll talk about multitasking.
I don't really think multitasking exists. I think you're just doing many things less well. What I chose to do, and what I found to be more effective, is to single-mindedly focus on one thing and then switch.
How quickly you have to switch between the tasks varies depending on how crazy life is, and at that time, it was crazy. So, instead of resisting the crazy, we leaned into it. And as a result, our entire life changed. And I'm one of those people-- I say this carefully and with respect because I understand that many people had life-altering circumstances because of the pandemic that weren't positive.
In our case, we recognized that it wasn't working trying to homeschool where we were seeing no end in sight. And my dude looked at me and said, "Maybe we should drive down to Florida for a couple of weeks."
And I said, "With two little kids? Are you crazy?" From New York, mind you. And he said, "Yeah, let's just take a break from all of this. You know, are you really gonna do a whole summer like this with no summer camps? What is it going to be like?"
So, we thought we were coming for two weeks to hang out on the beach. We ended up staying the summer and then the year. And now, I live on the beach in Florida. I actually have to close the blinds as the beach can be a bit of a tease on Zoom.
Balancing Keynote Speaking, Authoring, and Family
Denali: So, we are talking about balancing COVID, writing, and yoga instructing while also managing little kids, which is a full-time job in itself. So, we just listed three full-time jobs, right?
Denali: I want to switch gears a little bit here. We talked about being an author and what that's like, a little bit about transitioning from being an author to keynote speaking, and also having your foot in with Instagram, and TikTok, and having a significant footprint there. So, how did those skills transfer? Did they all transfer? What did you have to relearn?
Joanna: I love those questions, Denali. Because I always forget my age. And it's because my daughter punked me. I'm 46. I'm fairly confident I'm 46. Last year when I turned 45, my daughter kept saying, "My mom just turned 46," and she said it so often that she had me doubting my own age. So now when I say it, I just have to fact-check myself. I'm like, "Yeah, this time I'm actually 46."
So, the constantly evolving landscape of social media doesn't always seem like the most natural language to me. I don't love all of the tech aspects of it, but I do love the result. I love the connection. I love connecting with people in a more authentic way. I don't mean making your reel, you're real like the Highlight Reel of life.
I mean those times the other day when I got the cutest video of my five-year-old saying, "What the F*ck?" I mean those real moments so that people can see you live a spiritually evolved, fun, present, connected life.
And yet, sometimes there are just moments, honest moments of "What the F*ck?" That to me is real. That is the whole honest experience. Some things were more of a challenge for me to translate and speak to.
That I haven't been teaching as much yoga on the mat since COVID. I didn't love teaching as much virtually. I did it because I wanted to connect with my family, friends, and students who were still in New York.
But I found that the blessing of the book was that I was able to share all of the wisdom, the beliefs, the breath, the mindset aspects and take it off of the mat and into the world and reach a larger audience.
So, it lent itself very naturally to the book tour opportunities and the speaking engagements. I felt like the messages were still the same as I would teach in the studio, yet now the person who didn't consider themselves a yogi was open and receptive to hearing it. So that led naturally to more speaking engagements and then the keynote speaking opportunities.
And ultimately, I put together a compilation of my favorite workshops and retreats, things that I had taught or taken over the last few decades, and put a course together called "Best Life Ever."
And that has been a happy accident because of COVID. It started in a digital format. So, I don't know, Denali, have you ever been on some kind of immersive retreat or weekend experience or even a one-day workshop?
Denali: Definitely, yeah. I've done it for jiu-jitsu.
Joanna: I love it! My daughter is doing jiu-jitsu tonight. That's a new thing that happened in Florida. What happens is you go to these immersive experiences, which I think is a fantastic way to learn, shift, and find space. Sometimes, I would experience what I call a retreat hangover where I would go back into my regular life and wonder how I could feel that here.
What happens when real life comes in? You know, I just ate with a vegan chef and meditated every day and were connecting with nature, and then I got a flat tire and my sink was full of dishes. Now what?
So why I love this course so much is we meet once a week virtually, and then people have the seven days in between to live these action steps and live the tools that we're talking about in the context of their real life.
The only missing piece and this is what the Hub is about, is for the people who didn't have the time or the resources or the finances to commit to this weekly live course but still wanted the results.
That's when Kahana came in. We started chatting about okay, it's time for a self-guided version of this where people can walk themselves through with videos made with love and get all of the nuggets and do it at their own pace, in their time, where they are.
The only thing I didn't want to do, which won't surprise you after hearing what I just said, was the actual tech part behind offering that. So I partnered with Kahana, and we're creating the self-guided version of "Best Life Ever" so that anyone and everyone can experience it.
Focusing on "yes" and staying true to your dreams
Denali: That's wonderful, and I think that accessibility aspect is really cool too because people have different levels of time commitment and money, and really being able to offer it in that way is incredibly kind of you. That's really great.
One thing I want to shift gears a little bit, and you seem like a perfect person to ask this question: what is some advice that you would give to someone that is smart, is driven, be it in college, be it right after high school, or maybe your kids in a few years, that would help them kind of ignore this idea of the real world or what they should get around if that makes sense?
Joanna: Oh, that makes so much sense. You accidentally nailed this, by the way. I mentioned that my kids are younger, but I called my niece my firstborn, and she's a college student. She and her friends would FaceTime me and do yoga, or we'd be chatting, and I'd say, "Oh, I have to go. I have my course tonight." So one day, she was explaining the course to her sorority sisters, and they said, "We think we need this course."
They were part of the motivation to offer it in a self-guided way. Because I just wonder if I had these tools to navigate life, I found my path to spirituality, to wanting more, being, doing, having, and giving more when I was 17. And that sounds nice and young, but it was just the beginning of the path. I didn't have the tools that would help me really navigate.
And, by the way, my path began from a really, really dark place. The first page of my book says, "I was feeling thankful for my rapist."
Please note that your happy ever after doesn't have to begin that way to end that way. So, whether you're on a path of finding who you are personally, professionally, emotionally, or spiritually, it's not a straight line, nor should it be. That would make the human experience a lot duller.
For this rich, complete experience, how do we know what the real world is, and if it's worth entering or ignoring? One of my favorite concepts is to stop "shoulding" all over ourselves.
And I said that the other day, my daughter went, "Oooh,” she thought she was catching me, and I said, "No, honey, 'should.'"
If you listen to how many times, "Oh, I really want to go to the beach, but I should be doing this work.”
“I really want--" anything that "should" starts with that, you should instantly feel like it's a chore, an arduous task.
So, when you have that get-to instead of have-to kind of life, I knew I was chatting with you today, and I said, "Oh, I get to do an interview and talk about my favorite things."
It's not, "I have to," it's, "I get to." I get to do this, looking fancy on top, and I'm wearing comfy shorts on the bottom. I get to play Pickleball and live like I'm retired. And I realized last night, "Wow, what a gift it is to live and create an energy around our family, where so many people wait ‘till they're retired to start to travel, to start to relax, to find new hobbies, to really enjoy where they are and who they're with."
If you can create-- and spoiler alert, you can-- if you can create where people don't really know, when they first meet you, if you work, what you do for a living, and they know who you are and how you are before that, that is a recipe for joy.
I love that my balance is such that many people that I hang out with all the time have no idea what I do, but when they find out, they're like, "Oh, that's cool."
It took being okay with being different for a long time. It took being okay with being weird.
I had my whole family, with whom I'm super close, make fun of me forever. "Oh well, Jo doesn't have a real job. She could pick you up from the airport,” and that was true.
I can pick you up from the airport because often for creators, what you are building is not something that is necessarily understood or recognized by those around you, and that's okay. Just like I said earlier, you don't need the world of yes, you need your inner knowing, and you need a few strategic yeses.
Maybe it's your partner who gets it, let's build this together. Maybe it's because you have to have a financial conversation about the building. Maybe it's a partner at work, and you get it, and you build it together.
And also, with that being flexible enough, committed to your vision and flexible in how it's going to be expressed, because years ago, when I was studying with Tao to teach yoga, I didn't know that it would go exactly where it's gone so far, and yet none of it has surprised me. And now, the next vision is the book, My Guru Wears Heels.
Since my mentor did all of these amazing things, marching with Gandhi, Martin Luther King, being an advocate for peace and activist in World War II, a cabaret dancer and a model, an actress, she also was a competitive ballroom dancer in her 80s because she needed a new challenge. She did it all in high heels, so the heels that hold my books together, they're just for show. She did it all in heels. I usually do a barefoot, but you want to know that your visions will sound crazy to other people, usually up until the point they're congratulating you on them.
And now, I have my sister, who's my best friend, who said, "I am not going to dull or shrink her dreams ever again because I spent my whole life telling her she's crazy and then celebrating with her as they've happened." So now she says, “I'm just on board and already buying my dress for the premiere version of the film or television version that the book will be turned into.”
Messages worth putting on a billboard
Denali: That's amazing, thanks. I think you've done a phenomenal job answering my questions. You've knocked out three or four. I don't even have to ask all the questions I have because you're nailing them all. The one I want to ask you before we close up here, because I do want to be respectful of your time, and I am taking this from another interviewer, his name's Tim Ferriss. He likes to ask this question, if you could put one phrase or sentence on a billboard for everyone to see with the highest reach, what idea would you want to get out there?
Joanna: Yeah, there are really two. Can I have two?
Denali: You can have two.
Joanna: Yay, I got two billboards. Okay, billboard one, and neither are original, so just like you took the question from an interviewer whose question you loved, neither of the quotes is mine. The first one is Gandhi's, "To really be the change you wish to see in the world." If you want a world of world peace, work on feeling peaceful as a person, because what is world peace? It's a world made up of people who feel peaceful.
So, that big global change you're seeking can start with an individual one. On a very practical level, if you don't want to live in a world filled with dirt and you pass a wrapper, pick it up. So, it's just those really small ripples that change the world. And then the other one was straight from my teacher, Tao, and she used to say that she would wake up every day and decide, "Today is going to be the best day of my life."
And it's why I call the Course and Hub "Best Life Ever," and it's why I end every email with "Have the best day ever," because that's your choice every single day, to wake up and know,
"Today is the best day of my life," because this is the only day we're living. We're either reflecting upon or anticipating the other ones. This is the only one we're currently living.
Denali: That is wonderful. I think those are two amazing quotes, and I want to just bring it to a close. So, if there's anything else that you would like to add, please feel free. And thank you so much for joining me today. I will link your Hub, your Linktree, and social media all in the comments for this video.
Joanna: Thank you so much. I love that, Denali.
Hey, if anybody's interested in trying meditation and you don't know where to start if you go to my website - joannarajendran.com - and you put your email in, you'll instantly be sent a free guided meditation from me. So, you could start there.
And the other question that I'm asking that I'm not sure if I did a good enough job explaining here is if you're wondering about this self-guided version of “Best Life Ever” or the weekly version, why would you want to take it? What would be in it for you? We really have habits of happiness and habits of success.
So, there are things where you experience profound transformations by really simple and focused activities that change your life in real-time so that it's not studying for years and then hoping to feel or get somewhere. It's really just immediately effective mindset-shifting actions.
Denali: That's perfect. Well, thank you so much.
Joanna: You're welcome. Have the best day ever!
Denali: You too.