Can you tell us the concept behind “But, I’m a Unicorn, Dammit!”?
Hehehe, I wish it had a really good story behind it (I should just make one up) but the real story is I was on Skype with my coach talking about naming my practice and it just kinda fell out of my mouth. I had no desire to have my company be “Strother Gaines Coaching” or something like that and when this popped out it just felt totally right. It has grown (over time) to signify that feeling of “I know I’m unique and have some strength or talent to contribute to the world but I just haven’t figured it out yet… But I’m a Unicorn, Dammit!” Many of my clients are super high performers but still have something that just doesn’t jive for them so we work on figuring out exactly what their unique offerings and abilities are and figure out where and how to highlight those.
As an entrepreneur, does being out matter?
For me it does. I won’t say there’s a gay mafia…but there’s a gay mafia. Shared experience is such a huge part of how we connect with others, we all know what it feels like to come out…we have different experiences around it (wildly different)…but we do all share some sort of connection with the concept. One of my guiding values is Authenticity; I spent such a huge part of my life being inauthentic and trying to hide a part of myself that I make it a mission to try and be as true to who I am wherever I go. For me, if my being gay (or doing drag, or any other part of my personal life) makes someone question whether or not they should hire me, well then I don’t particularly want to work with that company, person, group anyway. Self-selection is a lovely thing and it works both ways.
What does authenticity mean to you?
Lol – the dictionary.com definition is “the quality of being authentic”. Thanks, guys.
My personal definition is just trying to be honest about who you are, what you want, and how you’re feeling, with both yourself and others. Sometimes we hide bits and pieces of ourselves because we’re afraid of how that’ll go over with someone (or it’s a part of ourselves we’re not particularly proud of). I find it’s in the long run more painful to deny these parts of yourself and have to keep track of all the ins and outs of who you are with this person vs that person rather than just owning it all. This doesn’t mean you can’t improve, nor does it mean you can’t be different in certain scenarios (I talk very differently with my doctor than I do my drag queens and am not being inauthentic in either interaction…just aware.)
How does this approach benefit your coaching clients?
I think it’s easier to be authentic when you see someone else being authentic too. I am certainly not perfect at this but I’ve learned from watching others who were radically comfortable with who they are living their lives out loud. I know by seeing someone else doing it, it helps me to feel more confident I can do it as well. I hope I can do that for my clients as well.
What was it like to speak at TEDx?
It’s still super surreal to me. I definitely snuck in the back door on this one. A professional contact of mine came to see a show I directed for the DC Fringe Festival and loved it. She told me that TEDx Mid-Atlantic had been thinking about having an immersive theatrical component a la Sleep No More for it’s after party and asked if I could direct it. I, of course, jumped at the chance to work with TEDx. After a week or so of planning, they said they wanted me to get up on the main stage and “maybe ‘forget’ your lines or something” so that we could tell all the attendees about the after party and what to expect. I asked if I could write something to say and they said: “Sure you’ve got 7 minutes.” So I wrote a piece about an experience I had with collaborative creation and boom, I had a TED Talk.
Is networking important to you?
Networking has been mission critical to me but I think the term gets a lot of flack (and probably rightfully so). Networking kinda sounds sleazy in itself. What it is at its core, however, is just relationship building and caring about other people. I can trace nearly every amazing professional thing that has happened to me back to some sort of relationship I had cultivated before I “needed a thing”. Many times I was given an opportunity before I even knew I “needed a thing”. The right introduction, the perfect person at the perfect time, a piece of advice from someone who has already walked that road before, it’s all hugely important to professional development. It shouldn’t be transactional though, it needs to be genuine. (This is why I think it’s super important to be authentic as well if you connect with someone under a false pretense that connection is tentative at best and won’t yield the same ROI that you’d get from having a true and honest relationship with someone. Don’t meet someone just because they can do something for you; meet someone because you legitimately want to get to know them.
What are the benefits of networking within the gay community?
I covered this a bit in the “gay mafia” commentary but within the community, I think we’re eager to help each other out. I certainly do my best to go above and beyond when I meet someone who I know has had to overcome some stuff (and probably similar stuff as me) to get where they are. If I can give that extra boost, introduction, connection, advise to a member of the community then I’m going to do my damnedest.
What is a hummingbird career?
The term was coined by Elizabeth Gilbert in a talk she did for Oprah. (All praises be upon her.) Her concept was that there are people who have jackhammer careers and just know what they want to do right out of the gate. “I want to be a writer and I will write and I will fall on the sword of writing always” and this is the career-style most people “hope” for. When you’re not entirely sure what you wanna be when you grow up it feels like you’re messing something up by not being a jackhammer. “Just follow your passion” turns into an admonition if you can’t lock down exactly what that is. Others of us (myself included) have more of a hummingbird career. We bounce from thing to thing as it interests us and while it seems chaotic we have the benefit of cross-pollinating each role with skills we picked up in other fields. My theatre background greatly influences my corporate facilitation world. My sales background is a huge part of my coaching practice. My time at the Spy Museum shows up in my immersive theatre work. Working as a teacher for 4-14-year-olds helps me more in the boardroom than you could ever imagine. When we flutter from flower to flower we bring bits and pieces with us which makes us a super unique offering in each field.
Can you explain multi-potentialities?
100% stolen from Emily Wapnick of the Putty Tribe. (Her TEDx talk is here if you’d rather watch her explain!) I met Emily at the WDS Summit in Portland this year and her concept of multipotentialite resonated immediately with me. It’s basically the polite way to explain “giant cluster cuss” in a positive light (which I’ve always thought it was a good thing). It’s a modern-day Renaissance person who is interested in, and pursues, many (many) different things in their lives. They have multiple interests and creative pursuits and can sometimes over-commit themselves. It’s basically the next step (and I would say somewhat more eloquent phrasing) for a hummingbird. Your friend who just wrote her first musical, while learning how to knit, while balancing her CTO role, who also just took up home brewing is a multipotentialite.
Speaking of multi-potentialities, can you tell us about “In Cabaret We Trust”?
Well, this is why it took me so long to write back to you. “In Cabaret, We Trust” is an immersive theatrical piece that is being produced right now by my newly minted theatre company TBD Immersive. My creative team and I were awarded the Space4 grant by the CulturalDC team to produce a piece at an amazing venue called Blind Whino (a 15,000 sq ft desanctified church covered in the art). The caveat was we had to open in September and they awarded us the grant on July 28th. So in the span of 42 days we wrote, cast, devised, produced, costumed, rehearsed, teched, lit, marketed, and mounted a full immersive piece with a cast of about 40 total performers, acrobats, improvisers, singers, rappers, burlesquers, pole performers, aerialists, fire breathers, contortionists, and even visual artists to create something we’re all hugely proud of. Now that we’re on the other side of the opening weekend, the production team has a bit more breathing room and so we’re all playing catch-up in our “other” worlds. Immersive work is super exciting and new to the DC area but can be hard to understand. You can basically follow any of the performers and interact with them anywhere in the space. The show doesn’t just take place on the stage, it takes place in the stairwells, the catering kitchen, the choir loft, the dressing room, outside, the art gallery, even the bathrooms. Anywhere you go, you can engage with the characters in the world at whatever level you’re comfortable with. There are puzzles to solve, plot lines to uncover, and a lot of stuff going on all at once….all while the main stage cabaret takes place upstairs. For a full plot summary you can check out our website and if you’re a visual person, be sure to check out our teaser video here. If you’re in the DC area be sure to come check us out before we wrap up at Blind Whino but if you do miss it, we’re remounting the show (with a new storyline) in the Dupont Underground in February of 2018.