In Bustle’s Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they’ve ever gotten to what they're still figuring out. Here, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, former head of William Morris Entertainment’s worldwide literacy, lecture, and conference divisions, tells Bustle about her new book, the best advice Arianna Huffington gave her, and letting go of negative self-talk.
Former literary agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh is learning what it means to be a human being instead of a human doing for the first time in her 30-year career. In 2019, Walsh moved on from WME to focus exclusively on Together Live, a touring storytelling event bringing women from all walks of life together. Then 2020 happened.
"When [Together Live] was no longer an option due to the pandemic, I still wanted to help shine the light on these incredible intersectional, marginalized, and intergenerational stories," she tells Bustle.
Walsh, who once represented Arianna Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg, and Oprah Winfrey, among many others, decided to use storytelling to "transform, connect, and heal the world" in a different form — a collection of essays. Her new book, Hungry Hearts: Essays on Courage, Desire, and Belonging, features personal stories from Ashley C. Ford, Luvvie Ajayi Jones, and more Together Live speakers. "Hungry Hearts became the physical embodiment of what we were doing on the road," Walsh says.
In addition to adapting to the challenges of the pandemic, Walsh has been able to find a bright side, too. "These past 10 months helped me to get rid of so much bullsh*t," she says. "My days now are punctuated by peace and sweeping joy. I feel guilty sometimes for being so joyful when the world is in such crisis, but it doesn't help the world for me to be in crisis; I can be of service from this joyful place."
Below, Walsh shares the importance of having an open mindset, why designer Norma Kamali is her role model, and how a trip to the hospital taught her a lesson in self-compassion.
What do you still need advice on?
JRW: I look less for advice and more for examples of people who are living whole, healed, open, and curious lives through the decades. I'm in my 50s, so I love stories of people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, who continue to thrive. Norma Kamali is such a role model for me. At 75, she's so full of life, creativity, and co-creational energy.
A misunderstanding about life is that there's a destination, but as long as you're breathing, you have purpose and you have the opportunity for transformation.
What was the biggest challenge you faced early on in your career?
JRW: Negative self-talk was a big challenge for me in my 20s and even in my 30s. I felt like it was my secret sauce because I thought that I was willing to be brutally honest with myself, whereas most people are too easy on themselves. Negative self-talk is just a form of narcissism when you could be spending that time being more purpose driven and more impactful. You can't shame yourself into loving yourself, so it's pointless anyway.
How did you overcome negative self-talk?
JRW: Years ago, I was making coffee early in the morning. The coffee overflowed, and I burnt myself badly and ended up in the hospital. The whole time I kept saying, "My stupid arm, my stupid burn, I was so stupid." One of the doctors said to me, "How do you expect that arm to heal the way you're talking about it?" Instead of sending love and care to my arm, I treated it like it just robbed somebody. So every night I did this mindful compassion meditation, where I sent love to my arm as if it was my daughter or best friend's arm, and I saw the healing power of my words. It was a game changer.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
JRW: My grandfather told me, "Find out who you are and be that person." I've followed that advice throughout my entire life. I constantly ask myself, "What is authentic to me, and how can I turn up the volume on that authenticity?"
I also used to have horrible anxiety before public speaking. At one of Arianna Huffington's Thrive conferences, she dragged me onstage to share my own story about learning to receive love after my husband's cancer surgery. I could have vomited. She said to me, "Imagine you have a gift to give somebody. You can't wait to give that gift, so just see it as an act of service and take yourself out of it." I never had stage fright again.
What advice would you give someone who wants to embark on a new journey?
JRW: Be open to following the signs that the universe is giving you instead of following some controlled vision of who you think you are in order to become who you're meant to be.
People keep asking me, "What's your next big act?" I'm not competing against my former self. I am one self who is in a dynamic process of becoming more essential to who I was born to be, and all of my selves are current and present in whatever I do next.
When you look back on your journey, what surprises you the most?
JRW: The synchronicities of how the universe is always leaving breadcrumbs that lead to a giant sacred web, where this led to that, and that led to that. In retrospect, I can see the divine choreography happening at all times.
This interview has been edited and condensed.