Q. Who are you? What is your background?
A. Hi! I’m Jen Oleniczak Brown and I’m a chronic connector. Whether you’re talking about people with people, ideas with people, or ideas with ideas, I get my energy uplifting and inspiring. That comes out into action with The Engaging Educator, a NYC, LA and NC based consulting agency that helps people use their best voice through improv based education, and Fearless Winston Salem, a collaborative collective and social space for and by women. I went to undergrad for Theatre and Dance and was an actor for A LONG time – then pivoted to an Art History and Museum Education career at the Guggenheim – then side hustled my way into owning two businesses. I used to apologize for my career as an actor – I’m proud of where I was and it’s making me who I am and will be here on out!
Q. What is your work?
A. The Engaging Educator lets me be a creator and, a role I’m a little afraid of, a founder. I started EE 6 years ago and since I have a team in both locations, I tend to take a different role. I’m writing curriculum, making deals and executing contracts. Sometimes, I get to do my favorite thing ever – TEACH! I absolutely LOVE helping people use their voice and better their communication style. On the flip side of the machine that EE is, I’m still learning what my place is with Fearless. My favorite part of it right now is finding new teachers and getting them paid for their work – in order to REALLY build community, you have to figure out how to uplift that community. That’s what I’m working on – helping our community of women learn together.
Q. What is one project you are excited to be working on right now?
A. Finally painting the back room at Fearless? HAH! We got a shelf the other day, and I’m so excited to watch this company grow and come together, so every bit is exciting. I felt a little crippled with decisions with certain spaces – and truth be told, this recent lunar moment ended up creating a whole new world for me. It feels like I woke up and realized that I can do this and I have a great support structure of women to help me – ones that believe in the crazy adventure that is this space!
Q. What is one thing you've done recently that's scared you and took courage, but you're glad you did?
A. Opened another business? HAH! I’m not a stagnant type, and realized that with EE, I was getting a little quiet and not playing as big or as crazy as I’m used to playing. I ended up getting a big contract through EE and instead of being responsible and storing the money – or being selfish and going on vacation – I decided to take a leap and do something I had been mulling over for WAY too long. EE had already gone women-centric in late 2017, the election made me FURIOUS and I was tired of hearing my female friends complain about other women who pretended to be their friends and ended up being angry and awful and selfish – it’s not something I’ve ever been ok with, the whole girl on girl crime thing. I knew I wanted a place that was like The Wing in NYC – but not a coworking space. I knew I missed teaching at a place like The Brooklyn Brainery – and taking amazing and weird and fun classes. So I was talking to my friend Angelina one night and we were spitballing names for a space like this – and she suggested Fearless Femme – and I realized that was it – FEARLESS. (Sorry Angelina for only taking half)
Too often, we get mean or rude or something because we are scared – we also hold ourselves back because we’re scared. I wanted a place that a woman wasn’t afraid to be the kind of woman she is - girly, political, tomboy, loud, soft – it doesn’t matter, no one is better than anyone else.
This TERRIFIED me – I’ve never had a brick and mortar, I’ve never taken care of a space, and I’ve never planned FULL MONTHS of events – or worried about so much overhead! What if I failed? What if no one liked it? I had two collaborators in the beginning – what if they left and I couldn’t do this myself? I invested my money in it – no one else helped me financially – WHAT HAPPENS?
Well, weopened May 30. We’ve been slowly climbing to my goal – breaking even with the space. I’m not trying to make money at the space – or even get my investment back. I simply want the space to sustain itself – what comes in, goes out. We are moving into our second month and we have a full calendar. My original collaborators have both left, and it’s for the best – our visions for the space didn’t line up. I’m not looking for it to be an investible space or something someone can ‘buy’ into – I’m also not looking for it to be a free space – I LOVE that I get to pay women for teaching what they love, have nice and comfy things in a beautiful space with plants and snacks – a clubhouse should feel nicer than home and something you want to take care of. And while I’m still terrified, and will until we break even on our first month – and probably will be consistently scared until we have a bit of flush money – what keeps me going are the other collaborators I’ve gained. The teachers, the students, the people that come to hang out in the space and all the wonderful women that use the Facebook group more than I use Google. The women of Winston and the Triad needed and still need a space to meet and connect – and while the way this space runs isn’t for everyone, I’m happy I took the leap into the chilling fear to make this happen!
Q. What is the work you most want to be doing and are you doing it? If not why not what's stopping you?
A. I’m doing it! For every email I get of ‘thanks for making this space’ and the clients that say ‘thanks for helping me be me’ I’m reminded that I am making the right choices. Sometimes, I get in my own way – this past fall my depression hit a note that was more than I could handle. I was diagnosed with PMDD – prior to that, I thought I was going crazy. It wasn’t PMS – for 7-10 days before every period, I wasn’t myself. I had flashes of immense anger where I would scream and cry at my husband, then leave in the car angry and wanting to kill myself. I hit myself so hard with a board last summer I still have a permanent bruise on my leg. I have scars on my wrists, one on my hip from a screwdriver and I’ve swallowed a handful of ZQuil and Benedryl on two separate occasions. I’ve used my phone cord to try to strangle myself. Uncontrollable crying, feeling I was worthless, I wasn’t showering, putting makeup on, getting dressed – I would sit on the couch with my dog, sleepy, and half-heartedly work. And then I would start bleeding – and I would go back to being myself again for 20 days.
Rinse, wash, repeat.
And all the while, I couldn’t talk to anyone. Even writing these words right now, I haven’t told enough people that this was my life for years – fine, then sure I was going to kill myself – then fine again. Rinse, wash, repeat.
In one of my ‘wash’ moments – when I felt ok again, and embarrassed and worried my husband would leave me for being crazy, I looked up ‘crazy before my period’ – and an article from SELF Magazine came up, with 17 accounts of PMDD.
I could have written Every. Single. One.
Made a doctors appointment after crying – got diagnosed with severe depression – and PMDD. Got on Zoloft.
Wow was it not done yet.
Nausea from the meds. Forgetting to take it – and having a huge BOUNCE back into depression. Stomach problems from the meds. Feeling broken.
Slowly and surely though, I started feeling more like myself. And now, 9 months later, I’m consistently myself. I feel SO MUCH more like ME again – and I had no idea how far from me I had gotten. So I’m doing the work I know I should be doing. And after going through what I did – I see toxicity QUICKLY, and purge it. I love helping people – you can’t save anyone who doesn’t want to save themselves.
Q. What would you tell your high school or college self?
A. It gets better.
Q. What's one piece of advice or motto you love and use in your daily life that you would like to share with my sweet readers?
A. Do it now or forever wish you had. Why wait? Failure is NEVER as bad as regret.
Q. What keeps you creating when you don't feel like it?
A. Knowing that nothing is going to be as hard as beating the crippling depression I had. I didn’t give in to that – I didn’t run from my family, my friends, my husband – I fought to be here to create again. And that keeps me creating.
Q. What's your favorite yoga pose?
A. Oh god, I need to do more YOGA. SOS.
Q. How do you live a life of abundance?
A. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN GIRL ON GIRL CRIME CAUSED BY SCARCITY! I think this is a good time to define girl – on – girl crime – a lot of people think when I talk about it, it means you NEVER say a single negative thing about another woman. That’s not it – no one is perfect and sometimes, people do terrible things. If a person has been terrible to you, and you are honest about your experiences with them – that’s not girl – on – girl crime – that’s being honest. On the flip side, if you are angry at someone because they did something bigger, faster, stronger – or you think success is finite – that’s the crime. I won’t pretend I’m all love and light to people that have been awful – and I won’t pretend I haven’t felt jealousy before. I do know that incredible women make other incredible women simply by supporting one another. If someone treats you like a doormat, you don’t have to be kind to them – toxic people are toxic.
I live a life of abundance by knowing I’m doing what I should be doing – I’ve been like that in business for awhile now. People think when I disagree with them it’s because I want to hold on to something – or not share it – I’ve simply learned to hold my ground and not lose sight of what I want something to become.