Jeanne M. Stafford! What a powerhouse! Facilitator, Improv lover, author—she wears many hats and they all suit her well! Everything she does stems from her belief in the power of YES. Whenever Jeanne faces adversity, she looks to the lesson the challenge presents and uses it as an opportunity to grow—an outlook after my own heart. I’m thrilled she chose to celebrate the two-year anniversary of her first book’s launch– Think. Drink. Eat. Move: 4 Steps to Yes with us!
Diane: Welcome. I’m very excited! I have to give a shout out to our mutual friend Sophia for introducing us. I love when connections are made this way. It’s a beautiful thing.
Jeanne: It is.
Diane: Now I’ve met you, and I’ve also met Think. Drink. Eat. Move.: 4 Steps to Yes. Before we jump into your book … I have to ask you about improv. I find the thought of it so interesting—and terrifying.
How did you get into it? How has it changed your life?
“When I Was Getting Toward the End of My Political Time, I Knew There Was Something I Needed to Do”
Jeanne: Well, I am a thespian in my blood. I’ve never shied away from a stage. I performed in elementary school, high school, and even college. In high school, I had an incredible acting teacher who planted a lot of seeds in me, an awareness of my connection to the stage. Then I took a very traditional pragmatic journey to college as a business major and ended up working on Capitol Hill in the political space. I spent 20 years in politics. When I was getting toward the end of my political time, I knew there was something I needed to do. I wasn’t really sure what that was, but I turned to a friend and said, “Do you want to take an acting class?” So, we took an acting class at HB Studio in New York and one of the things we had to learn to do was cry.
I thought, no one needs to teach me how to cry. I know how to cry. I can cry when I’m telling a happy story, sad story, so I just was drained by it. My brother and cousin who were both in television, directed me toward improv. I took my first class pregnant with my James in 1998. I had never been more uncomfortable and more at home at the same time.
Diane: I love that, and it makes a lot of sense to me but explain what that means to you.
“One of the Mantras of Improv Is to Follow the Fear”
Jeanne: I’ve learned that we are given answers through great discomfort. We are given the next phase, the next thing. It can be tragic. It can simply be something making you go somewhere that you will have a difficult time. I actually cried on the drive home because I felt so inadequate in improv, but I could not get enough of the greatness in front of me. I thoroughly enjoyed what it felt like inside to laugh that hard for two and a half hours.
I dreaded my moment to get up there in the first couple of years, completely dreaded being called on, but watching others who were superior at it was like the greatest drug I could ever give myself. It was this joy and desire to grow at the same time. It was really profound and kept bringing me back and back and back. I got up on stage and performed in shows, and I was horrible. I had friends who came to watch just to support me. They were so sweet because they would be like, “You were so good.” Seven or eight years in, one of my girlfriends came up to me and said, “You’ve gotten so much better. You are so much better than you were.”
I hugged her so hard and said, “Thank you. I thank you.” I’m at a very different place now as an improv performer and in life. Improv has helped to make me fearless in so many places where I had fear I didn’t know I had. One of the mantras of improv is to follow the fear.
Diane: Oh, I love that.
“It Will Be the Thing I Do Moments Before I Take My Last Breath”
Jeanne: I’ve learned to connect to my fear in such a way that’s immeasurable. When I practice improv and live my life and I look at everybody, I see the immeasurableness in everything. If I get away from those things, I forget the immeasurable.
My improv is in a very sophisticated place now. I have partnered with a performer and speaker who is one of the best improvisors I have ever met. I am so in awe of his work and thrilled to partner with him in a brand that we rolled out during COVID. I continue to take my practice to that next level in improv and I always say to people, “It will be the thing I do moments before I take my last breath.”
Diane: It’s a fun practice in itself, right? But it’s practice for life. You take those skills and apply them to everything you do because it’s part of you.
Jeanne: Exactly. Yes.
Diane: I’m singing inside when I hear you speak because one of the things I try my hardest to bring across in the blog is that fear is okay. I mean, there are very few times when we fear something because it’s really dangerous.
Diane: The fear tells us we’re onto something, and it’s something that’s going to expand our boundaries and that’s a good thing. It’s telling us it’s time to grow and here is the path. So yeah, that’s amazing.
You said you rolled something out during COVID? A new thing?
“I Found the Space to Say “No” to Other Things and “Yes” to Me More Often”
Jeanne: I rolled a lot out during COVID. Since the pandemic began, in addition to physical suffering, people were forced to live life differently. What it did for me … the first two months, I worked harder than I ever had in my life. I’m the president-elect of the National Speakers Association. We had to produce events and move everything to virtual.
In the beginning, it was intense. I thought I was going to collapse because it was Zoom 24/7. Then all the sudden, I found this pause in it. If the lockdown mentality lasted four weeks, it would have done nothing for me. If it lasted eight weeks it would have done nothing for me. As soon as we got into that third month, I really found the space to look at my time. I found the space to reconnect with what I really loved. I found the space to say “no” to other things and “yes” to me more often.
Diane: I love that.
Jeanne: I needed to rework some things, give myself permission to imbue some mindsets and go in another direction. One of the things I created was a workshop, an online workshop called the Improvisor’s Mindset with Dion Flynn, the comedian from the Tonight Show.
“We Created an Online Virtual Platform to Teach People How to Use Improv to Improve Their Lives”
Jeanne: He and I met through the National Speakers Association. I had a live dinner that will be coming back in ’21 in New York, called Jeanne Stafford’s Networking Dinner, and he was going to be the speaker on March 18. The week before, as the world was turning on its side, I joked, “This is crazy. I’ll only cancel my dinner if they cancel the St. Patrick’s Day parade.”
The next day, the St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled, and I thought, okay, time to cancel my dinner. When Dion and I started talking, the Improvisor’s Mindset was launched. We created an online virtual platform to teach people how to use improv to improve their lives. There are actors in it. We have people in the banking industry, from the UK, California, former military, a Pilates teacher, college students and so many more.
Diane: I love it. You do improv online? Is that it?
Jeanne: Online. Now, if you had asked Dion Flynn and Jeanne Stafford in January or February if that was something they would do, we would have laughed and said, NEVER. The connection is human. It’s in a space. It’s with each other. But we have been able to create something through the pressure.
Diamonds are born from this pressure of stones. So, the pressure of COVID launched this beautiful version of a product we thought was too sacred to put in another space. Meanwhile, that is really the gift of improv, to create something better than your mind could imagine.
“Self-Care Is Not a Special Occasion but a Fabric within Our Day”
Diane: I love that. It really speaks to how you can create beautiful and wonderful things where you would never imagine.
I want to jump on something you said that really caught my ear. You said “no” to other things and “yes” to yourself.
I was going to talk to you about this later, but now’s a perfect time. So, I’m a big “yes” fan, but whenever I see “yes” in a book title for women, I get a little nervous because I feel like women say “yes” way too often for the wrong reasons. I love what you just said, “Say ‘yes’ to myself and ‘no’ to other things.”
Jeanne: This is a big item for women. I have so many passionate responses to what women need to do next because we need to have this transformation. The only way for us to shift our thinking is for women to believe they have the power to do it.
Women have all this power, producing life, raising life, fertilizing life, playing 60 roles in the boundary of a home and in the lives they live. Whether or not a woman is a mother we all take care of others and have all this judgment about how we do it. Women believe they have to say yes to everything. My prayer is for women to say “no” to other things and say “yes” to ourselves.
Diane: I love that.
Jeanne: I align “yes” with an elevated consciousness of optimism and joy. If we could simply elevate our consciousness: The shift in women from “yes” to others to “yes” to themselves and understanding that self-care is not a special occasion but a fabric within our day.
Diane: I love that.
“For Me, the Word ‘Yes’ Stands for ‘Your Energy Source’”
Jeanne: Then it’s simply this simple. Next natural step is to expose ourselves to forums like yours. Can I tell you how much I love the word “pause” that you use in your work? And I feel pretty sure I just said it about COVID. There was a pause, a much-needed pause and then a dramatically longer pause that I needed to be able to shift. That’s how much we need pause in our lives. For me, the word “yes” stands for “Your Energy Source.”
Diane: Oh, that’s fabulous.
Jeanne: Everything we need to focus on is within this power. That is not a selfish practice. It is an intentional practice. You were put here to do something profound, and you have a gift to give others. YES, and “Your Energy Source,” was born of my frustration with the number of people, especially women who say, “If I say ‘yes’ to one more thing I’m going to shoot myself.”
Diane: That’s right.
Jeanne: YES is actually what makes women so Goddess-y and immeasurable and gorgeous and abundant and what makes us so terrifying at the same time to others who aren’t women.
Diane: It reminds me of what you said about improv, I’m paraphrasing, it was scariest thing but also where you felt the most at home.
Diane: As women we need to be more comfortable with that power.
“Something Was Bringing Me Back to This Natural Force of Myself”
Jeanne: So, I caution, when women hear the words, “We need to…,” it locks up 99.0% of most female listeners. I would rephrase it. When women look at what they’re getting right, what they’ve achieved and how gloriously they have traveled through every single struggle they’ve had to date, they can equip themselves with what they need to get to a place of greater satisfaction. That’s what was happening to me in improv class. Something was bringing me back to this natural force of myself, and the spirit of improv is you’re not alone. Someone’s got your back.
A lot of women perform in a solo situation. “Well, it’s all on me again. Guess I’m going to have to do this.” I was pregnant with my first baby and I chose to be in an improv class where I was experiencing joy and terror at the same time. Something profound was happening to me and I stayed there for it.
Those people that were in that room are still in my life.
Diane: It’s that community thing.
Jeanne: Exactly. It’s what happens when women communicate to each other they have each other’s back more than when they say, “Well, she can drive that car because of who she’s married to.” “Well, do those boobs need to be that big?” “Does she need all that Botox?” When we think like that about each other, we’re taking away from ourselves.
Diane: That’s right. I’m going to jump to the book now.
“Over the Years I Have Worked to Know and Understand My Body”
Diane: Something that was shocking to me was the possibility that a scale could be my friend. I have to tell you, I read that, and I was like, “What?” Friends like those, who needs enemies?
How did you make that switch to become friends with your scale?
Jeanne: My mother went to college, got married and became a mother in the ’60s. During this time, she also worked as a flight attendant where she was weighed – actually put on a scale – before staring work. If her weight was more than it should have been, she would not be able to go to work. Because she was so conscious of weight, I became that way, too.
Over the years I have worked to know and understand my body. The scale helped me maintain the discipline to feel the way I wanted to feel.
If you have intentions, you’ve got to backtrack to figure out how you’re going to get there. The scale is simply a tool to help you be more disciplined.
Diane: So, it’s an accountability tool?
Jeanne: Yes, it’s an accountability tool and the most important thing I’d want to get across to the people who are reading is, if you want to find another accountability tool do it. Mine is the scale.
One of mine is the scale. I have many accountability tools.
Diane: What else do you use for accountability?
“Are You Waking Up Every Morning Saying, “I’m So Fat.” … Or Are You Going, “Hi, Beautiful. Hi, Gorgeous.”
Jeanne: A journal. I journal regularly morning and night.
I use time as a tool—I do my best to be very structured with my time. I thought I was a rock star at this until COVID and then, because I have an international audience, I was literally on Zoom from seven o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night. That was inhuman. So, I created new structure for my time. Even if I start at seven o’clock or nine o’clock in the morning, I end at three.
I take my walk. I review my day.
I use my time to love. I use my time to listen.
That’s why I put all that space in the book for journaling. A pretty book with spaces is great for me. It’s like gravy. I can’t get enough of it. Whatever awareness you have, plop it in the book. Write down what you like and don’t like. Write down what is triggered that you want to connect to for yourself.
Diane: I love that part of the book.
Jeanne: In the part of the book called “Think with Great Intention,” I ask, “What do you think about your body, about your weight, about your connection to it and your communication with it?” Not your control over it but our communication with it. Are you waking up every morning saying, “I’m so fat.” Are you waking up every morning looking in the mirror being like, “Oh, geez.” Or are you going, “Hi, beautiful. Hi, gorgeous.”
“I’m Better at Meditating When I Pray. From My Prayer, I’m Better as a Meditator. The Two Work Together”
So, it’s definitely not a diet book for sure but how would you describe it? As a retraining or reprogramming or new perspective…
Jeanne: It’s really, “How do I get to joy every day?”
Diane: “How do I get to joy every day?” Well, that’s simple and beautiful. What I kept coming up with, having studied Buddhist thought for years, is it’s all about mindfulness. Being present and not letting those thoughts and messages run away with you or take you hostage. If you’re chewing, take a moment to taste what you’re chewing. When you’re drinking water, savor it. Honor it.
Diane: Do you think of yourself as a mindfulness person?
Jeanne: Absolutely, no question about it. I am Catholic and every single morning I say versions of my rosary, I meditate, and I journal—every single morning. I’m better at meditating when I pray. From my prayer, I’m better as a meditator. The two work together.
Faith and consciousness are linked.
We’re carrying the weight of the experiences of our growing up, the disappointments from our adulthood, and then all the fear of the possibility of those things repeating themselves in the future. The reason I refer to improv exercises at the end of every single chapter is, because for me, improv was the thing between faith and spirituality.
It was the vehicle through which I can take all that mindfulness from faith, all that mindfulness from meditation and teach it to the world.
“All My Facilitation and Keynoting Focuses on the Power of Yes”
Diane: Wonderful. That’s great.
So how did you enter the speaking world and are you a speaker coach?
Jeanne: I’m a trainer and a facilitator.
I work with a lot of clients one-on-one. I’m also a retained advisor to many companies. I have virtual programs on my website called “Yes Minders.” These are a series of coaching modules for people looking to participate in live group training and then I have, Improvisor’s Mindset with Dion Flynn. Jeanne Stafford’s Networking Dinner (will return when we are able to be in person) and I facilitate and keynote events. In November I have an interactive keynote I’m delivering to hundreds of employees for a large bank. So speaking is continuous.
Diane: Wow. You’re busy!
Jeanne: Very, very much so.
Diane: Do you have one keynote that you come back to?
Jeanne: All my facilitation and keynoting focuses on the Power of Yes. What I continue to find very rich is sitting listening to my clients. Hearing exactly what they want, what they wish they could see, and I look to deliver that for them. I bring improv to everything.
Throughout every event I facilitate, I seek to do something called weave content. As people participate in exercises and give feedback, I weave that content or the words they say of the experience into the consciousness of the event and the overall outcomes. If people can leave an event where I speak feeling powerful enough to initiate a step for themselves and then to model it for others, I’ve done my work.
“I Became an Advocate for Parents”
Diane: How did you get into it? How did it start?
Jeanne: I worked in the political space until March of 2001. Then I had my second baby, and right around that time, I realized that my oldest needed a lot more support than he could get at a regular school, so I entered the special education space. There, I became an advocate for parents.
I volunteered in my district and also held lunches and dinners with other mothers because I thought, well, if Betty Boop has a 13 year old with the same set of goodies as Suzy Sunshine’s seven year old, they should meet because this mother should show that mother how to help her child get from A to B. That was my thing for eight years.
While I was away from the paying working world I was certainly immersed in the world of communication and relationships and reminded of how much we all need each other.
I maintained a very strong relationship with a huge number of people in my life from politics and everybody kept saying, “Come back. Come back.” About 2007, I started coaching people. “Jeanne, can you work with this client of mine? Jeanne, I have a friend who needs a coach.” Then people would say, “Can you come speak to a small group of people? Would you run a retreat?” Suddenly, my speaking business was born.
“It Was My Desire to Not Only Participate in the Speaking World but to Elevate It”
In 2011, I launched Jeanne Stafford’s Networking Dinner a small very personalized event where I speak and bring in a guest speaker. There’s a long table with 20 guests. Everybody gets to share. Guests learn a little bit about improv and me and a fellow speaker. It was my desire to not only participate in the speaking world but to elevate it. This is one of the ways I do that.
Around 2013 I gave it some shape and started to align myself with the National Speakers Association and other speaking groups.
Diane: You are clearly a manifester.
Diane: How does that work? Do you have a process?
Jeanne: Well, for me, things happen all day long and that’s the key to the idea, we’re all manifesters. We’re either aware of it or we’re not. To believe that everything you need is coming in the space between the thoughts—to me that’s the manifesting. Those are the little sparkly pieces.
So, for anybody who’s reading who thinks manifesting is, “Oh, I’m going to manifest a big house. I’m going to manifest millions of dollars. I’m going to manifest so and so getting out of my life. I’m going to manifest this, manifest that.”
It’s not that.
“What the Manifesting Is, Is the Space Between the Thoughts”
You literally decide what you want to deliver to the world, you want to give to the world, you want to invite. Everything that’s aligned with joy and love and positivity, and then all the sudden in the space between the thoughts, the moments happen.
I trained in mediation with a wonderful meditation teacher, Elizabeth Benjamin, who said there’s nothing we can do about the thoughts. The thoughts are there. It’s the planning, the wanting. That’s okay. What the manifesting is, is the space between the thoughts. It’s the simple gifts, the little gold nuggets of what to do, whom to talk to, whom to learn from, whom to give to.
Diane: I love that, the space between the thoughts. I think meditation helps to increase that space a little bit.
Jeanne: There’s no doubt about it.
Diane: … which is really the gift of meditation.
Jeanne: It is a gift.
Diane: I want to just skip back to your book for a minute. I love how you broke it down into those four, Think, Drink, Eat and Move, but I equally love your little blog posts in the back.
Jeanne: Thank you.
Diane: One I wanted to highlight was about celebrating successes. I have come to that idea through Benjamin Hardy. He’s a motivational speaker and a psychologist, and he talks about focusing on the gains not the gaps.
Jeanne: I love that.
Diane: When I find myself slipping into what I didn’t do, what I should have done, what I could have done, I look back and say, “Well, hey. Stop. What did you do? What did happen? What did you help to create?”
“Usually the Ego Is So Directed Toward Fixing, It Forgets That It Is the Art of Receiving That Opens Us Up More”
Jeanne: Turn it into a celebration. Instead of what did you create, say, “Look, what you created!”
Diane: I love when you say, “it’s easier to receive when you give to yourself.” I thought that was such a beautiful way of putting it. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Jeanne: Sure. Receiving is so huge. I get a lot of hands raised in the audience when I ask, “Who has someone in their mind – right now – whom they would like to fix?” People want to fix their spouses, their children, their bosses, their employees, their siblings and on and on. For example, when parents say they want to fix their children, I bring them through three steps to understand why it’s so important to give to yourself. These Three Job for a Parent can be applied to all of us with all the people we interact with.
The Three Jobs are: One, give love. Very easy. Everybody nods their head. Of course, I can give love. Number two, give support. Give them the support they need. Number three is model what it looks like to receive love and receive support. There lies the work. There lies the transformation. There is the gift we give to ourselves …
Our ego mind needs a shift. Usually the ego is so directed toward fixing, it forgets that it is the art of receiving that opens us up more.
“I Really Want People to Understand We Can Uncover Ourselves”
Diane: I’m going to hit you up with another saying I think you’re going to love.
We can change ourselves. Others we can only love.
Yes, and I really want people to understand that we can uncover ourselves. We’ve been there all along. To change can seem very far away, although it’s a word that many people need to get to the next stage. Sometimes, people need to use a word to understand something we’re trying to say, so if “we can change ourselves” helps people get to the idea that they can “uncover” something that’s sitting right there.
Diane: I like that uncovering.
You have a new book in the works?
Jeanne: I have a new book in the works. It does not have a title yet, but it will be in the communications space. It will be much more about my real-life stories, and I will go into the lessons I learned in the political and improv spaces. What they both have in common is they move fast, have an audience, and have a rotation of characters. They both have a transformation at the end when they’re successful.
Diane: Nice. I look forward to it.
Jeanne: Thank you.
“Momentum Is What We All Seek”
Diane: Any final words for women 50 and over?
Jeanne: Find a way to live lightly. Uncover the way to live lightly and then attract others who do. If we could be mindful about what we’re thinking, what we’re sharing, what we’re contributing to… If we can’t stand something on social media then don’t follow it. If we like something on social media, then like it. Comment on it. Share it. Repeat it.
Women over 50 have all the information they need about what they really want in the world and all they need to do is focus on that. Create this intention. You were attracted into my life through someone I adore and that’s how it all works. At this point in my life, 90% of my life is that.
And also, let’s let today be the last day all women over 50 use the word “old”. If I wake up in the morning and my feet are all stiff, I say, “Good morning, accomplished body. Good morning, accomplished feet.” Accomplished is a better reflection of our physical state than “old”.
Diane: I love it.
Jeanne: “Good morning, accomplished back. Rock on, accomplished stiff neck.” Yes, words to describe your physical and mental state that make you laugh. That is momentum. Momentum is what we all seek.
Diane: Love it. I think light, laughter, and momentum is a great place to end. I so appreciate you taking the time. Thank you for a wonderful conversation!
Jeanne: Oh, you are so welcome.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment or send me an email.
And see you on December 7th!