Tue, 17 September 2019
Figuring It Out
Why Marie Forleo walked away from Wall Street to help people build lives they love.
Marie Forleo was on the brink of the American dream.
After graduating as valedictorian from Seton Hall University, making her the first in her family to graduate from college, she’d landed her first post-grad job on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Her peers were millionaires, and she was on track to become one, too.
But that dream came crashing down after a panic attack halfway through a workday left her sobbing in the pews of the nearest church. Just six months into her job, the little voice in her head was telling her that she was on the wrong path, and she knew she had to make a change.
Of course, she was petrified by the idea of leaving her job behind (especially with the mountain of debt that came with the pursuit of the American dream), and she didn’t know if she’d ever find something that would truly fulfill her.
Determined to figure it out, Forleo eventually made her way to a new career path that would not only bring her happiness, but would also enrich the lives of many others experiencing their own difficulties.
Today, Forleo inspires millions through her work as a life coach. She has over 578,000 YouTube subscribers on her award-winning channel, MarieTV, with over 49 million views spanning 195 countries. She’s also ushered 55,000 students through her eight-week marketing school for business owners called B-School. She’s even been interviewed by Oprah herself. And now, Forleo’s got a new book coming out, Everything Is Figureoutable, in which she unpacks the life lessons that she considers to be the secrets to her own success.
While coaching wasn’t her next, or even her next-next career choice after leaving Wall Street in the dust, by trusting her gut, advice from her parents, and the tiny voice of truth in her head, she found her way there eventually and built a life she loved.
Struggling to Start
When she was younger, Forleo dreamed of becoming a Disney animator or a fashion designer. But amid her disillusion with the job on Wall Street, all she could think was, “What else am I going to do?”
With her head spinning and stomach performing an intricate gymnastics routine, she called her dad. She was horrified by the idea of disappointing him, but didn’t know what else to do.
“I was quite broken,” she says.
She told her dad about how unfulfilled her coworkers seemed, her growing fear that she would end up like them, and her unmet desire to do something that brought joy to herself and others. After baring her soul, Forleo nervously waited for her dad’s response.
What he said would shape the course of her entire life. He reminded her that she would be working for the next 40 years or more of her life, and she needed to spend that valuable time doing something she loved.
She quit her job two weeks later.
But as little voices in our heads often do, Forleo’s told her just enough to get her out the door, but didn’t offer much insight on what she should do next.
She loved design, but was also fascinated by business, so she decided to give the world of magazine publishing a go. Through a temp agency, she got an ad sales assistant position at Gourmet magazine. Forleo loved her boss and publisher, and, with a desk conveniently located right next to the test kitchen, she believed she had finally found her niche.
But six months in, the voices of doubt took up their chorus once again. “I couldn’t deny the fact that I didn’t want to be there,” she says.
Forleo wondered whether a more creative role in the magazine industry would quiet the voices, so she snagged a job on the editorial team of Mademoiselle. Sure enough, when she reached that six-month hurdle, the voices told her that, once again, it was time to move on.
Discouraged, frustrated, and afraid for her future, Forleo wondered if there was just something wrong with her. Why couldn’t she find any work that made her truly happy?
A Calling for Coaching
The profession of life coaching wasn’t something most college graduates in the 1990s considered or even knew existed. In fact, Thomas Leonard, who is commonly called the father of the profession, only began his work in the 1980s.
So when Forleo stumbled across an article about life coaching in the early 2000s, it was as if she was uncovering a buried treasure.
“When I read this article, I swear to you, it was like the clouds parted and cherubs came out and they were shooting little sunbeams into my chest,” she says.
At just 23, Forleo questioned whether she had anything to offer as a coach, but she says something about it just felt right. So she enrolled immediately in a three-year, part-time training program. When the six-month wall that had diverted her path so many times arrived, she pushed through it like tissue paper.
And for the last two decades, Forleo’s “move along” voices have been silent.
In 2001, she launched her first weekly newsletter, called Magical Moments, which attracted a modest following. Slowly, but steadily, her reach grew. Forleo attributes much of her success to her tremendous patience, calling herself “a worker bee.”
Her skills and audience grew, and she launched new, ever-evolving platforms. As the 2000s rolled into the 2010s, Forleo launched B-School, her online course on marketing for business owners, as well as her wildly successful YouTube channel, MarieTV.
But her journey wasn’t all unicorns and balloons. She encountered moments of failure (like the time she tried to build a custom coaching platform without a lick of relevant tech expertise), but each one taught her a valuable lesson.
“I realized the power of positive quitting,” she says. “I think there’s a big distinction between giving up and moving on.”
She also learned the principal of, as she puts it, “simplifying to amplify.”
As Forleo began to draw international attention for the work she was doing, she felt the pressure to create more, attend more, and give more. Pulled in so many directions, the beginnings of burnout set in and she felt she wasn’t giving her best to her flourishing business.
“Having a really successful, thriving business is not just about the money,” she says, emphasizing each word. “How does your team operate? How do they feel showing up to work every day? How do you, as the founder, feel? Are you so stressed out that you want to run away and hate that you even started this thing?”
So in 2013, she decided to scale back and focus instead on the things that enabled her to make the most impact. She says she killed over a million dollars in revenue with a snap of her fingers.
But the flood of creativity and renewed sense of direction that followed laid the groundwork for her to rapidly recuperate that amount and much more. So when others tell her that she should be investing more time in a particular platform or conference or trend that she feels will take her off track, she has no problem saying no.
“I’m not out there to chase things,” she says. “I’m not going after vanity metrics. I give no shits about any of that. The metrics that matter to me are the lives I can impact, the profitability of the company, the difference I can make through our philanthropic endeavors, and am I actually enjoying my life.”
She also knows who to listen to when considering what to add to her business—her customers.
“The feedback, the iteration, the constantly making it better is how you get to something that’s legendary,” she says. “And I think folks don’t have the patience or the ability to focus over time and the desire to make something extraordinary, and that’s why we have so much mediocre.”
Forleo says that the Customer Happiness department is the largest chunk of her 30-member team because they are committed to responding to every single email received. So, for example, when she noticed an influx of emails from MarieTV viewers lamenting that they most enjoyed listening to her show in the car as they drove but hated running up their data, she created a podcast to solve the problem.
And if anything is clearly evident, it’s that Forleo is, to her core, a committed problem solver, a trait she attributes to her enterprising mother.
Sharing Her Secret to Success
Forleo’s mom, the child of two alcoholic parents from the projects of north New Jersey, “learned by necessity how to stretch a dollar bill around the block like five times.”
She was always looking for ways to save money, so if something was broken and the price for a professional to fix it was too steep, she would fix it herself. From a leaky roof to cracked bathroom tiles, lack of experience or a college degree didn’t keep Forleo’s mother from tackling even the most complicated projects.
One day, Forleo found her mom hard at work fixing her favorite radio, a Tropicana orange with a red and white straw for an antenna. Staring at the fully disassembled radio, amazed, Forleo asked her mom how she planned to put it back together again.
Her mom told her that nothing is too complicated if you just jump in and get to work, because “everything is figureoutable.”
That conviction lodged itself deep in Forleo’s heart, and it carried her through everything life threw at her, from difficult relationships to launching her own business. So when the time came to write her second book, she knew she had to share this principle with the world.
In Everything Is Figureoutable, which comes out this month, Forleo builds on three simple rules:
While these principles can be used in every aspect of life, Forleo feels they are particularly applicable to entrepreneurship, a career path she feels is often “over-glammed.”
She says that being an entrepreneur is a lot harder than it looks because it’s all about suffering in the short term to reach long-term goals, and sometimes that period of suffering can feel neverending.
“I think we all really feel stuck in our lives from time to time, but if you do embed this belief that everything really is figureoutable, it gives you this energy to get up and go again,” she says.
Forleo also insists that the ability to change direction is essential for a business owner.
“To survive as an entrepreneur, you have to be incredibly nimble and flexible and to keep evolving yourself,” she says. “Otherwise, you’ll get left in the dust.”
And she advises any founders who are living in fear or doubt about their business or career path to pull out a trusty journal and write it all down.
“We, just as humans, underestimate the value of writing things out and writing things down,” she says. “When it comes to feeling stuck—when it comes to feeling fear, which can stop many of us—we allow it to stay amorphous and kind of shapeless like a boogeyman in our head, rather than being concrete and specific about it on the page.”
Forleo’s particular brand of down-to-earth optimism has inspired millions, and, through her new book, she is excited by a new opportunity to share a piece of how she achieved her dreams.
As Forleo’s business continues to grow, expand and evolve, one thing has remained ever constant: the belief that her audience can fashion a life they love, just like she did. Because, after all, everything is figureoutable.
Interview by Nathan Chan, feature article reprinted from Foundr Magazine, by Erica Comitalo