Create & Cultivate 100: Content Creator: Jeannie Mai

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Jeannie Mai learned early on that a rewarding career comes from serving others, not just yourself. Growing up in a three-bedroom home packed with fifteen people, she found her passion for making individuals feel seen, heard, and included at a young age. Today, she channels that energy into her work as an Emmy award-winning television host.

Although she’s best known for interviewing interesting guests and sharing #realtalk advice on the daytime talk show “The Real” alongside co-hosts Garcelle Beauvais, Loni Love, and Adrienne Houghton, it’s her podcast, “Listen Hunnay,” and her YouTube series, “Hello Hunnay,” that have us keeping an eye on this refreshingly honest content creator in 2021.

Ahead, Mai takes us through her career journey from transcribing song lyrics for her mom (who was a wedding singer) back in the day to dishing out real talk as a host on the daytime talk show “The Real,” including the mistakes she’s learned valuable lessons from along the way.

How did you make your first dollar and what did that job teach you that still applies today?

Transcribing song lyrics for my mom when she was a wedding singer back in the day. I was paid $5 for every song I wrote until I turned 14 and started earning $10 per song. I learned very young that success at work comes from focusing on better serving others. If you think about serving your customers, fans, followers, or supporters, you will go way farther than if you only think of how to serve yourself. I realized I helped my mom look better on stage and that’s what made her successful. I learned that jobs aren’t meant to be self-serving; they are meant to be rewarding, and the reward comes from serving others, not just yourself. To this day, I still ask myself how I can be a more well-rounded and authentic Jeannie Mai for my fans. This is what helps me succeed.

Take us back to the beginning—what was the lightbulb moment for your business/career and what inspired you to pursue this path?

My lightbulb moment was when I realized I had the ability to make people feel good. I grew up living in a three-bedroom home with fifteen people, so I sort of became the ringleader to start

conversations, set up game nights, and to make everyone feel acknowledged. This helped me practice understanding what makes people feel good about themselves, and how to better include them. My people skills followed me through high school and then into my jobs, and I quickly realized I could make a living off of making people feel good. I just had to find the right vehicle to do so, and for me, it became hosting.

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2020 presented everybody around the globe with new, unprecedented challenges. How did you #FindNewRoads + switch gears towards your new version of success?

I believe in energy and giving other people my thoughts and personal time. 2020 reminded me how rewarding it feels to spend quality time, energy, and connect through conversation. This year highlighted the importance of first storing up my energy through alone time and being mindful in my silence. Only once I’ve fueled myself, can I then have quality energy to share with the world.

How are you making a difference and pushing your industry forward?

I make a difference by encouraging women to embrace all the moments of uncertainty in life. Learning how to accept those awkward moments and unknown outcomes can be truly therapeutic. Not always lifting up your phone when you find yourself idle is a habit I try to practice. Not comparing yourself to other people when you question yourself is the goal. My journey in creating this “new normal,” after years of struggling with confidence, is to tell my story on my podcast, “Listen Hunnay,” and my YouTube series, “Hello Hunnay.”

Going after what you deserve in life takes confidence and guts. Does confidence come naturally to you or did you have to learn it? What advice can you share for women on cultivating confidence and going after their dreams? 

Confidence doesn’t ever come naturally. It can either be a daily discovery or a self-practice. The more time you spend discovering the things that make you unique, (including owning your setbacks and flaws), the richer your personality will become. For example, I didn’t always like my quirkiness. Then, I realized I’m only funny to those who get it, which is a select handful, and that made my humor feel exclusive. I also like that I’m always a work in progress. Every time you meet me, I’m a newer version of myself. You can bet that tomorrow I’ll be better than I am today. 

How have you remained true and authentic to who you are and what advice can you share for women who are struggling with that? 

I always say, “Own the stuff that hides you, before the stuff you hide owns you.” I own my stuff, I really do. The things I’m growing through, the things I’m not sure about, the things I’m not good at, the things I don’t like about myself—I own those things. Because when you don’t own something (meaning you don’t acknowledge certain truths about yourself), you aren’t accepting of your flaws, and you are in denial. Somebody else will inevitably call you out, and that’s when they take away your power. The second somebody else makes fun of something you know is true, or they call you out for something you’re working on before you call yourself out, it suddenly feels shameful and embarrassing—and that’s what makes confidence crumble. If you already own that you are a terrible joke-teller, or you admit you’re never on time, or anything that you are insecure about, the strength of that insecurity is weakened. And that, in itself, is a power move.

It’s easy to celebrate the wins, but how do you handle failure or when something hasn’t worked out for you?

I get to choose what’s good for my soul, not what’s good for my ego. Meaning, if a failure has taught me where I could become better in a certain way—where I may have let some people down, where I didn’t try my hardest—this is space for my soul to grow, where I can attempt to improve future outcomes and do better. If you’re always focused on your ego (like, “I’m so embarrassed because everyone saw me fail”), then you’re always going to lose because your ego isn’t meant to win. All the lessons where you trip and fall are meant to better you as a person within your soul. So, for me, every mistake, setback, or failure I’ve made ultimately taught me things that have bettered me as Jeannie Mai, the person—not as a television host or an Emmy award-winner, or entrepreneur, all titles aside. I walk away winning every time.

What is the biggest work challenge or mistake you’ve faced? What did you learn from it?

Not to ignore your sore throat when you’re overworked, especially when it starts to close up and you still feel the need to push through, just to advance in a competition. That is one of my biggest regrets because I knew I was going down for the count, but I still wasn’t going to stop. I learned that health is wealth, and you just can’t sacrifice it. It’s so much better and wiser to actually check in with your body. When you feel like you’re doing too much, you probably are. So, step back and ease off the acceleration a bit because your health should always come first.

With success comes opportunity, but that also means you have your hands full. What keeps you inspired and motivated to keep going even on your most challenging days?

I’m big on accountability. When you look at the people in your life today, you treasure the ones that are going to be there for you. But how many times are we actually there for ourselves? I know that a couple of my best friends, my mom, and my fiancé are all people that if I call on, they will show up, no matter what. They will get on a plane, no matter how far the distance, and be there for me. But, I also do that for myself. I show up for myself and I go to bed feeling thankful that I have the best person in the world by my side: me. I refuse to ever leave myself hanging and that rings true on even the most difficult, darkest days. I love myself enough to always be motivated to show up. 

If you could go back to the beginning of your career journey with the knowledge you have now, what advice would you give yourself? 

Unconditional love can happen from a distance. You can unconditionally love somebody from a distance. I used to feel guilty for not liking people. I used to be like, “Oh, maybe I should give them another chance,” if somebody was a little two-faced toward me. I felt it was right to love people, not to dismiss them. It took me a long time to realize that even if you care about an a**hole, you need to do so from a distance. You don’t have to invite them over for dinner or show up to their party to maintain acceptance. Sometimes when starting a career in this industry, people feel obligated to be nice to everyone along the way, or like you have to accept certain treatment, just because you want to get the job.

When I started out, I was so focused on making it that when people were nasty to me, I thought I was being the bigger person by giving them kindness in return. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do; that to reach success sometimes you just have to take the sh*t end of the stick. I have no idea where I got that idea from but, sure enough, with time I learned. Eventually, I realized: No, you can care about or respect people from a distance, but don’t put yourself into the lion’s den. If your instinct tells you that a person isn’t good for you, you don’t have to work with them. You don’t ever have to say “yes” to the job, you don’t need to attend the party, you don’t need to reply to any text. Because I know now that settling for mistreatment has nothing to do with making it in this business.

Fill in the blanks:

When I feel fear, I… 

Grab it by the horns.

The three qualities that got me to where I am today are… 

My ability to listen, perseverance, and having a dynamite personality.

The change I’d like to see in my industry is… 

Equality and acceptance for everyone.

My perfect day begins with… 

Being able to sleep in.

The craziest thing I’ve done for work is… 

Help one of my drag queen friends tuck before a performance when I was a makeup artist as a teen.

 

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