From something called Ontraport. Have at it, Kit Kats. I’m off to dinner but would rather be reading along with you!
A big personality can get you into trouble. But if you have an opinion to go with it, news outlets like Fox, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, VH1 or MTV might pay you the big bucks to talk about it. Bravo might even recruit you for a show! That was the case for Julia Allison.
She’s been declared one of the most influential pop-culture journalists of the last decade. You can find her work in Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan, New York magazine, Time Out New York and The New York Post. She’s spoken on new media, branding and entrepreneurship at MIT, Wharton and Harvard. If you don’t know Julia Allison, well, you should.
I was lucky enough to sit down with her for an hour and discuss spirituality, the curse of selling out, social identity and journalism:
The backstage door to the Lobero Theatre was held open by a leather glove. I stepped over a few ladders and around a few mechanized lifts, and spotted a woman in a black and white patterned dress stretching her toes on the floor next to her white high heels. It made sense why people were bustling around excitedly–Julia Allison was here.
For ONTRApalooza, ONTRAPORT’s business conference held annually in Santa Barbara, a live band played through intermissions while speakers prepped backstage and waited for their entrance. Julia was set to go on in two minutes. “Come on band. This jazz is so slow.” The stagehands gave exaggerated chuckles. “Play some Lady Gaga or something.” There was the punchline.
Julia took a seat in one of the three chairs that lined the wing of the stage. I took a seat next to her and introduced myself. We talked briefly about the weather and writing, and then it was time for her to take the stage. I watched from the wing and when Julia had finished, we met on the couch in the green room.
She had talked for about an hour and had worn her white, five inch heels the entire time. She looked relieved when she kicked them off and curled up on the couch across from me.
She sighed in comfort and smiled. “Okay, let’s do this.”
Q: So you don’t believe in advertising?
A: It’s not that I don’t believe in advertising. I just think press is more effective. Press inherently lends itself to being seen as being more credible.
Q: What was your biggest PR blunder?
A: Overarchingly, it was not having a mission when I was in my 20’s. Not having a clear foundation for why I was on this planet. That led to a lot of PR blunders because when you’re not clear on why you’re doing what you do, on your vision and your mission and your purpose, there’s no way a reporter can be clear. They’ll make up your vision or mission and there’s a chance that it won’t be very flattering. It might be, but in my case it wasn’t. My mission now is to be an exuberant force for good, inspiring others to love, laugh, learn and experience God’s epic magic. Before that, I was showing up unclear in my mission and so frequently reporters would misunderstand me and say things like “she’s famous for being famous” or “she’s just another self-promoter”… they couldn’t figure out what I was about so they assumed the worst.
Q: Why was it so hard to find your mission?
A: Well, I didn’t even know I needed one! I was not in that mindset. I was in the mindset of, you know, I’m a reporter and I report on interesting people and interesting stories, I go to interesting events and I cover them. My mission was I’m a journalist. I didn’t understand that there was a deeper layer and I didn’t understand the purpose of a higher purpose. I was very ambitious, but I was stuck in the material plane. I just wanted to reach a wider audience. I simply didn’t understand the importance of a mission.
Q: I think a lot of younger people can relate to that. Most 20-somethings don’t have a mission.
A: My mission now would have been applicable to my younger self. It’s not connected to a profession, it’s connected to my essence. One thing is your vision–that might be connected to your profession, but your mission is connected to your soul. You can be 16 years old and have a mission. I think the most important thing you do in life is to uncover your mission. It’s famously said that Michelangelo didn’t carve David, but David was in the marble. He just had to chip away to reveal him. Our mission is within us. We just have to uncover it.
Q: Do you want to continue being a journalist or are you more focused on spreading your mission?
A: I’ll always continue to be a journalist. When I left the TV show in 2012 (Miss Advised on Bravo) I went dark for a while to work on my upcoming book called Experiments in Happiness. The premise of the book is that I go into a variety of different situations to discover which practices and experiences can open me up to more happiness and create a better life for me. I’m the Gonzo reporter in the field of happiness research. My theory is that we need more people who are bridge builders. Look, I come from a very materialistic and pragmatic point of view and I can translate my experience to those in the spiritual world, healers or artists or whoever, who are deeply mission driven but have no idea what the actionable techniques are for success in the mainstream world. Like the struggling artist or struggling healer who doesn’t understand how to get good press, but they’re geniuses. My calling is to bring this information to them. “Them” being anyone who is doing good in this world.
Q: How did you find your spirituality?
A: Well, I went to Burning Man for one. That certainly helped. I had a nervous breakdown at 29–my startup failed and my relationship failed and I had a lot of what I wanted, money and fame and the Hell’s Kitchen apartment, but I was miserable. So I put my stuff in storage and traveled for 14 months. I went to an ashram, started working with a number of healers, went to Burning Man, I went to Peru and drank Ayahuasca with a shaman. I started questioning all of my belief systems–my identity–I wanted to know what would actually make me happy. I started practicing yoga, and started taking better care of my body. Nothing crazy, I just cut out a few bad habits.
Q: Were you ever worried about selling out?
A: I made a lot of my money working for companies that I didn’t believe in and at the time I was like, “selling-out is awesome!” I didn’t understand what the problem with selling-out was: You lose authenticity and you feel like crap. It’s hard to give up the money though. I covered fashion week for 14 seasons and then it really started eroding my happiness.
Q: You talked a lot about social identity. You’ve created one for yourself with your TV appearances and the Bravo show, but who are you outside of your social identity?
A: Well, I’m “Rainbow” at Burning Man. And I just started bringing that reality into the “real world”. I would argue that places like Burning Man are more real than “reality”. I think that who we are outside of social identity and social constraints is more real than who we are with those constraints. It’s our essence.
Recently, I went to a swanky party filled with wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and I decided I would introduce myself as Rainbow. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a party because I was accessing people’s hearts directly and being my true self.
The door opened behind me and Landon Ray, CEO of ONTRAPORT, came strolling in. Julia said her salutations and the two congratulated each other on their successful talks, and then the greatest thing that could have happened, happened. Landon took a seat and we all three started shootin’ the breeze. Well, they did the talking. I mostly sat back and laughed when appropriate.
Julia: Can you believe some of the stuff that we talk about in the news media?
Landon: It’s crazy.
Julia: I don’t even own a TV.
Landon: That’s what people want to hear about though.
Julia: It’s mindblowing. I was telling Chris that I want to use my knowledge of press and media to help those who have a deep mission and are making a difference in the world. They probably weren’t as mischievous as me and haven’t learned the lessons I have, and now I can teach them and show them how to use what I know for good, not bad. So hopefully your audience got something out my talk.
Landon: They totally did. It was great. Thank you for coming.
Julia: Of course, this is such a beautiful event. And I can’t wait to hear Jack Canfield speak.
Landon: Yeah, and Dave Logan.
Julia: I want to move here. And find a husband.
Landon: You and every other young woman in town.
We laughed together genuinely. It was refreshing to hear about someone trying to escape the limelight. Which isn’t completely unusual to hear from a former Bravo star and TV commentator–but is quite unique to hear from a speaker at a business conference. A humbling lesson for today’s youth who see fifteen minutes of fame and paparazzi as true success.
Other Julia Allison quotables:
“Everyone goes through a phase in life when they’re young and stupid.”
“We’ve all dated someone who is wildly unsuitable for us. That’s what makes it fun. And the sex is always great.”
“I had no privacy in my 20’s. My mom would read stuff online about me that didn’t happen. It was a stressful time.”
“Gone With the Wind ruined me. Where’s my Rhett Butler?”
“Don’t dismiss the fluff.”
“You’ve got to find a thing. Everyone needs their thing.”
Julia is currently writing a book titled Experiments in Happiness for St. Martin’s Press. It’s planned for an early 2015 release. Follow Julia on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her website.
Join us in Santa Barbara, Julia. I doubt you’ll have any trouble finding a husband.
Chris Tarello is a Content Writer at ONTRAPORT who spends as much time with his nose in a book as he does eating and sleeping. He’s a UCLA English graduate who enjoys drinking craft beer, gaming, redditing, snowboarding, and writing short fiction and poetry.