Hi Laura! Let’s jump right in. What is your purpose here on planet Earth?
Oh, keeping it light for the first question – excellent! Wow. My purpose here on earth. The word “purpose” always make me giggle and I’ll quickly tell you why. Summer after my freshman year of college, I was working part-time at a golf course and babysitting for a family after my summer school classes. The family had two boys, one about nine months and the other barely three years old. They were moving houses, and the older boy had gotten into a box and pulled out long metal rod that I think belonged to a piece of furniture. He was waving it around wildly, destined to break something or hurt someone. His Mom and I chased after him.
Mom: Ryan, put that down! You could hurt yourself!
Ryan: No, I need it!
Mom: Ryan, that’s unsafe, please give it back!
Ryan: No, it’s mine! I need it!
Mom: Ryan, that has a purpose! Put it down!
Ryan: I NEED A PURPOSE!!!
I could not stop laughing. Even at three years old, whether he truly realised what he was saying or not, Ryan knew he needed a purpose. We all do. It is an intrinsic value of the human experience. I’m only 31 years old, so I don’t think I’ve yet to discover all the purposes my life will hold, but for now my purpose is to be a mindful and vocal advocate for causes I care about and do work that feels intuitive to who I am. I’m also here to add value to the lives of the people I know, whether they are in my most inner circle, or a mere acquaintance. I’m here to give voice to change, and tell stories that make a difference.
How did you come to be where you are right now?
It all began on a Tuesday in April of 1985 just outside Dallas, Texas. Kidding! We can fast forward. I came to be where I am right now because I had to make a few hard and unexpected choices about the direction of my life, career, and the way they intersect. This meant saying goodbye to a “dream” job and company, and going out on my own. I came to be where I’m at right now because I believe in my ability – and responsibility – to blaze a new trail for myself and other millennial women.
Why did you decide to create The Brave Millennial?
I initially decided to create The Brave Millennial because I wanted to make a space where women could discuss the bias they experience at work, and outside work, in a judgement-free space without fear of retaliation. Of course, it has evolved to become much more than that. After ten years in the entertainment business, I felt I had seen, heard, and experienced enough to know that there were still problems and inequalities in the workplace. I instinctively enjoy bringing people together, and I wanted to connect all these separate conversations I was having and stories I was hearing into one space – and show my peers that they were not alone in their concerns. I wanted to give them a place to share their stories – their successes, and their challenges – and host a discussion that focused on actionable solutions for advancement. I wanted to build community around that. What’s happened since then has exceeded my expectations.
What is your dream-level goal for The Brave Millennial?
My dream-level goal for The Brave Millennial is synonymous with what I dream for myself. I view TBM as one vehicle for moving towards those goals. My dream is to channel my passion for the advancement of women and girls, my gift for storytelling, my skills as a creative producer, and my compassion for others into meaningful work that creates positive change and impact. I’m interested in the role storytelling and media play in the progress of social justice, not just for women, but for all people fighting for equality in systems of oppression. I dream of opportunities to collaborate with talented partners on projects that will have influence, and to create work and tell stories that incite laughter, empathy, action, and change. Sustaining that for the duration of my life is ultimate dream. For this season of life, The Brave Millennial is how I’m acting on that dream.
What does your current business model look like?
TBM is led and operated by me, and I assemble small teams and partner with other organisations as needed. My amazing creative/PR team at Jane Layne Creative supports the digital footprint and helps propel the business. My partner Christy Johnson at Artemis Connection is there on the consulting side when companies need our help building cultures that support inclusive leadership and diverse teams. Sponsors and strategic partners help make the public events possible around the US. And of course my husband, family, friends, colleagues, and TBM Tribe are an invaluable source of support in every way imaginable.
Talk us through what typical day (or week!) in the Laura Youngkin world might look like.
Well, no two days or weeks are the same! This year has been unlike any other year in my adult life. Apart from TBM, I run my own creative practice and still support entertainment clients, so there’s quite a balancing act going on. I am traveling for a couple of weeks every month for both businesses. My favourite days right now are usually days I’m hosting Brave Millennial events in a new city. My typical day is comprised of meetings, calls, working on partnerships, building new client relationships, writing, strategising, you know – the hustle. I also carve out quality time with my spouse, try to keep up with friends, talk to my parents on the phone, attend events/theatre/live performances, and try to move my body in a way that resembles exercise for a least a few minutes.
Any advice for the many of us who are working full time but with dreams to start something of our own?
The first thing you have to do is accept the fact that there will never be a “right time” to do this. Life will never hand you the perfect set of circumstances to take a huge risk, strike out on your own, and build something for yourself. You have to choose to do the thing. You have to make the best with what you’ve got, create opportunities, and own the responsibility for your own success. Don’t quit your full-time job until you have the financial stability to support the hustle – this could take some time. Work as hard as you can in the time you have to build what you want. Know that there will be failures, rejections, and trials. People will question you, criticise you, and possibly attempt to sabotage you. Don’t let them and don’t listen to them. Push through the barriers as hard as you can. Commit yourself to the unwavering belief that you can do it. Then be kind to yourself.
Work vs life balance – how do you keep this in check?
I learned the importance of work/life balance and personal health the hard way. A few months after turning 30, I wound up in the hospital, very ill with multiple health problems. All the issues had been brought on by stress, and my allowance of that stress to permeate every aspect of my mind, body, and spirit. Don’t do this. It’s a painful (and expensive) wake-up call that you can avoid by making your personal health a very high priority in your life, which I know is easier said than done. But you are the only person who can take care of your body, and you can’t be a great leader, collaborator, friend, spouse, partner, anything, if you can’t take care of yourself. I keep myself in check now by setting boundaries. I’ve learned what works for me: how much sleep I need, how much down-time I need, which foods mess me up, and how to schedule my days to support the balance. Some weeks are harder than others, and I am still working on my physical health and fitness.
At first it felt selfish and uncomfortable to put my wellness first, but it is absolutely necessary. Now it’s empowering.
What three key lessons have you learnt in your entrepreneurial path, which continue to carry you forward?
This is where I whip out my handy book of life lessons and Leslie Knope quotes. The first lesson is to acknowledge that none of us achieves anything alone. Surrounding yourself with the right people is key. Invest in relationships that are mutually beneficial both personally and professionally. Give back. Look for the right mentors, and learn when it’s time to cut ties with the wrong people. I am inspired by the people in my circle and gain tremendous value from maintaining those relationships.
Secondly, learn to be flexible. As a producer, I used to pride myself on my ability to make a plan and then work the plan. Don’t get me wrong, planning and preparation is very important! But I’ve learned that embracing the uncertainty of what’s to come actually allows you to be open to opportunities / events / developments that are better than what you could have envisioned for yourself. I find leaning into the discomfort of the unknown very liberating now.
Lastly, protect your integrity with all you have.
Your name, your brand, your work, everything you do needs to be in line with your ethics and integrity. There will be times when opportunities come your way that require you to bend your ethics beyond an appropriate boundary – learn to say no to these. It may mean walking away from exposure, money, or a high-profile partner, but it’s worth it. Trust your instincts.
What doubts or fears have you had to face through running a company?
How much time do we have? I deal with a rotating slate of fears and doubts, like anyone else. Fear of failure, mistakes, doubts about my abilities, doubts on whether I’m doing enough, and I think that’s normal for anyone who is ambitious and practices self-awareness. We all have those little “vampires” our heads telling us what we can’t do. My friend Susan Blackwell does an incredible workshop called “Die, Vampire! Die!” based on the track from the hit musical that focuses on identifying and removing barriers (vampires) that hold us back from true creative self-expression. Whenever doubts and fears creep in, sometimes I play that track and let Susan’s voice remind me to kill off those vampires. I highly recommend it for your empowerment playlist.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Whether you’re just starting your career, starting your own business, or making the transition to something new – be patient with yourself. Results take time and tremendous effort. Don’t give up the first or second time something doesn’t turn out the way you imagined. There will always be roadblocks to work around, over, and under. Extend the compassion you would show someone else to yourself – and keep going.
What's next for you?
Who knows? I have high hopes for the next chapter in my career, but I’m loosening the reins on the plan. First I have to finish the Brave Millennial Tour and gather some more research. There are places to go, stories to hear, and stories to tell. Then I will keep waking up every day and acting on my authentic desire to do all the good I can for as long as I can. I trust that if I keep showing up, great things can happen.
Please tell us your favourite:
Book: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Yes, Please by Amy Poehler.
Website: For work – Gmail. For keeping up with the world – Facebook. It’s the best for aggregating news and articles I want to see from other great content makers.
Early morning activity: Drinking coffee (nothing happens before the coffee) and reading the news. Oh my god, that may be the most adult thing I’ve ever said.
Late night activity: Sometimes I get into my best work grooves at 10pm, and end up staying up 'til 3am knocking something out. I just have to go with it! I also love to curl up with Dylan and catch up on my favourite TV shows.
Gourmet snack: Anything with a sweet/salty combo. If my trainer Liz is reading this, then, organic berries.
Laura Youngkin is a theatrical producer, creative consultant, and proud millennial originally from Dallas, Texas. With a decade of experience in the entertainment industry, Laura's work covers a broad range of disciplines including off-Broadway and commercial theatre, opera, independent film, television development, advanced robotics, and large-scale themed attractions. Laura spent five years at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, CA where she produced projects for Shanghai Disney Resort, Disney Research & Development, Walt Disney World, and Disney Creative Entertainment. She also oversaw creative development for Na'vi River Journey, a new attraction coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a part of Pandora, the World of AVATAR. Laura holds an MFA in Producing from CalArts, a BFA in Theatre from Baylor University, and a Certificate in Virtual Design & Construction from Stanford University. In addition to theatre, storytelling, and Millennials, Laura is passionate about arts education in underserved communities, student debt recovery, and social entrepreneurship. She lives in her newly adopted hometown of Orlando, Florida with her husband, Dylan.