After reading and rereading my interview with Jewel multiple, multiple times — I kept returning to one word: community. What does it mean to build and foster the longevity of a community with purpose? A purpose that is greater than your goals, and really, legitimately helps and aids those who are part of it.
I found the answer in Jewel. I must admit, I was intimidated to interview this rock star at first — but the minute she joined me on the phone, as I mention below, I was weirdly put at ease. Jewel has overcome so much in life (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the interview) but instead of seeing her journey as a curse, she sees it as a blessing. Her experience as an at-risk youth helped water and grow the seed that became her Inspiring Children Foundation, which for more than 18 years has been helping equip at-risk youth and families with the mindfulness tools they need to cope with anxiety, fear, isolation, and depression; many of the same silent symptoms we are now seeing with the coronavirus pandemic. It has also provided her with some serious wisdom – wisdom which may or may not result in me making and selling posters of her quotes from this interview for inspiration (with her permission, of course).
To support her nonprofit work with mental health and mindfulness, Jewel created the Instagram concert and talk event series “Live From San Quarantine.” She will continue this series with experts, thought leaders and musicians to inspire and equip our country with mental health tools during these challenging times.
A strong takeaway from my chat with Jewel was when she mentioned, “If you’re very worried right now, try to focus your creativity somewhere where it can be productive.” This message could not be more relevant to our BlogHer community. As entrepreneurs, influencers, and content creators, we can choose to see this period of time as a hindrance toward our goals. Or, we can accept it for what it is, take the time to reflect, and “birth” (Jewel’s word, stolen by me) something beautiful, profitable, and useful for ourselves and our community.
Read on for my interview with Jewel. She’s a real diamond in the rough.
I want to start by saying thank you for the work you are doing through the Inspiring Children Foundation to raise awareness about mental health. Can you tell me a little bit about how the Inspiring Children Foundation came to be and what it’s offering now for at-risk youth?
When I was homeless I began to develop a series of exercises to see if I could retrain my brain. I was very aware happiness was not taught in the house I was raised in. We inherit emotional languages as much as we inherit our genetics. And so you see these systems of abuse get passed down because we don’t really understand how to learn new skill sets. So I set out when I moved out at 15 to try and not become a statistic. To try and learn a new emotional language. But of course, it’s really difficult. And when I was homeless I really realized I was going to end up in jail or dead if I didn’t figure something out. And for some reason this Buddha quote came to mind one day when I was shoplifting a dress and it was that “happiness doesn’t depend on who we are or what we have and it depends on what we think.” And I had this very strange, I guess you could call it a privilege, of being stripped of everything but my thoughts.
So I decided to really focus all my energy on seeing if I could turn my life around one thought at a time. It ended up being an incredibly productive and fertile period in my life, even though it was the worst time of my life, it was the best-worst time in my life. I started developing all kinds of exercises that I later decided to implement into a youth foundation where I give other at-risk youth that don’t have access to traditional mental health care the same tools that I developed for myself. My goal has always been to create tools that do help rewire our brain just using neuroplasticity, basically starving old habits and reforming new habits that anybody can do. That you can do from home whether you have access to therapy or you don’t have access to therapy and it’s been incredibly rewarding to see the effects of it, the results.
Inspiring Children has been around for 18 years. We work with kids that have extreme trauma or come from extreme abuse or neglect — usually, extreme poverty and we use this mindfulness tool kit that I developed and my partner also understands very well just from his own use in his own life, and last year 99% of our kids earned their own scholarships and 90% of them were Ivy League, which is incredible. I don’t think there’s another foundation that has those statistics. I’m very, very proud of them and of the kids.
I love that your focus is on mostly at-risk youth. You mentioned these mental health tools — what are some that we can tell to our BlogHer audience to practice at home?
We developed a free website to make these tools accessible to everybody. I believed that if we could solve the most complex cases that everything that was complex could be more easily solved. So we developed this website called JewelNeverBroken.com. You don’t have to make a donation or anything — I just literally did it as a public service. The kids and I built it together and it shares a lot of these exercises that were proven to work by a neuroscientist named Dr. Judson Brewer — in fact he writes quite a few articles on our site. They’re very simple, three-minute exercises that anybody can practice and basically help you make a habit out of happiness because happiness is the side effect of good habits, basically.
What are you personally doing right now to practice happiness in this weird time?
I’m definitely grateful that I have a long-standing practice. To me, mindfulness has two components: one is learning meditation — that’s like doing a bicep curl in the gym, but if you don’t put those muscles to work outside of the gym that kind of goes to waste. If we really want deep, lasting change we have to do what I call “Mindfulness in Motion”. We have to employ exercises that help rewire our brains. I’m very grateful for the amount of work I did because I feel like it definitely makes me much more comfortable in adverse times and uncertain times like this, but there are things I do specifically right now that I would highly recommend.
One is, I call it staying off of “fear porn.” Don’t have the news on in the house. Don’t leave the news on 24/7. If you have children, don’t play the news in the house, play it privately in your bedroom if you’re really wanting to catch up. Children’s brains aren’t wired to understand the complexity of huge global events and so they’ve learned it can actually create trauma in children’s minds because they can’t understand how to process it. And they can’t process the level of fear. It’s just such a huge scope, you know — adults have a hard time, imagining children. We often are very well-meaning and we want to help our kids be little citizens of the world but without having a bit more education around we don’t quite understand how damaging it can be and the type of anxiety disorders it can create for our kids — and quite frankly for ourselves. So for me, I don’t watch the news at all. I get on government websites and medical websites right now. I get everything through those types of sources that have zero emotional histrionics going on and I then I can just get the information I need minus the blasts of emotional manipulation going to your adrenal gland and your cortisol levels. It just makes my experience better. I am up-to-date and informed on what I need to be informed on. I know best practices and best standards for staying healthy and staying safe and I avoid all of the emotional turmoil. I highly recommend that, I think it’s a good thing to employ.
I think asking ourselves questions right now is really valuable. What do we want to get out of this experience? I highly recommend everybody asking themselves that question and creating an action plan around it. This experience is beyond our control — that’s part of what’s making people feel so anxious. A lot of the mechanisms we employ to give ourselves the illusion of control are stripped away right now and nature’s in charge. We don’t get to define how long this lasts. Even when we look at flattening the curve, nature is still largely in charge and so where do we focus our energy? Something important to know is worry is a misuse of our creativity.
If you’re very worried right now, try to focus your creativity somewhere where it can be productive — which is asking yourselves interesting questions like what do I want to get out of this experience? What have I always wished I had the courage, or the time, to leave behind? What have I always wished I had the courage and the time to begin? We should all be using this time in our lives as an opportunity to let things die — and I mean that metaphorically. Let old habits, old patterns that no longer serve us die. Maybe jobs we didn’t like anyway, maybe relationships we didn’t like anyway. Thought-systems, beliefs, whatever it is — it’s an opportunity to let those things die.
Then, we have to get very curious — what do I want to have be born? What do I want to have reborn from that death and then how can I act on those things to bring about wisdom? When we act on what we now know to be true we become wise. And if every person will just ask themselves those three questions: What do I want to let die? What do I want to have reborn? What can I act on so that I can have wisdom? How can I implement these truths? You’re gonna have a good experience — it’ll be like a chrysalis phase. We’re in a chrysalis phase whether we like it or not; we’re in this weird in-between time so let’s use it wisely instead of just, you know, making ourselves sick with anxiety and worry — let’s direct that energy into something purposeful so that when the shelter in places are lifted we can hit the ground running and we can be improved.
That’s so interesting that you brought all of that up because one of my questions for you which I thought was going to be switching gears a little bit but seems to not be switching gears at all is for, you know, these creative thinkers such as yourself — our community is filled with musicians and artists and content creators. How can these individuals in this potential rebirth for them or letting things die stay inspired and continue to create new and awesome things during this time?
I think this is a very fertile time. We’re being asked to evolve in real-time. World-systems have been brought to a grinding halt — it’s unprecedented. And we get to be part of how things are rebuilt and we’re either going to rebuild in the exact same shape we knew before, which is a tendency and our brains are these little binary computers, and we will rebuild out of habit and out of familiarity — unless we intervene and help people intervene to rebuild in a new way. Every relationship asks us to evolve. We are in a relationship with nature and we are being asked to evolve in real-time to stay in a relationship with nature, with our families, with our jobs, with ourselves. So, the more content creators can help people ask these questions and help frame these questions so that people can answer them for themselves, the more we can answer these questions for ourselves.
The more we have a very clear understanding of “Now that I see what LA looks like without pollution I’m gonna dedicate myself to changing X.” Maybe it’s going ahead and committing towards more zoom meetings instead of doing in-person ones. Maybe the new form of activism is a willingness to stay home. That’s radical! People are complaining right now about all of our zoom meetings, but look at what it’s doing! It really isn’t that inconvenient. Hey, I even kind of prefer the zoom meetings to getting on a plane and sparing the carbon fuel, you know, the carbon footprint of getting to New York and paying for a hotel room.
While I want to learn new ways of supporting businesses and industries, we can also do it in a smarter way that’s more efficient and more green. So, let’s task ourselves to get very creative and say my new form of activism is making a stand and saying “I won’t go to meetings unless X” and I’m gonna let people I work with know this is a standard I have and make sure they’re okay with that. It could be a really exciting and innovative time. Again, I just hope we all really get excited about this opportunity instead of just worrying about it.
I think that something that you kind of touched on in there was that you can foster community anywhere, right? It doesn’t need to be in-person — it could be on a zoom call. If you have something that you feel passionately about, whether we’re stuck inside or not, we can figure out how to do this together. We’re all about fostering community at BlogHer. How have you found your community over time and how are you continuing to foster it during this time?
The things that help us find our community, and help our community find us, are our values — that’s sort of the flag we plant on the mountain to help people see us. My fan base has always been an incredible community that lives by a really deeply shared set of values and it actually goes beneath and much deeper than political orientation and sexual orientation. My fan base is probably nearly fifty-fifty conservative and liberal, nearly fifty-fifty Trump supporters and Democrat supporters — and nobody gets in fights in my groups or in my chats. They never have.
I’ve been doing this for probably 25 years because I encourage living our values more than I encourage hiding our opinions or using opinions as weapons or as a source of power. If you believe in the value of liberty for all, for instance, you really don’t get to dictate other people’s liberty and have to respect that if that’s one of your values in our community. So some of my fans pursue their liberty on ranches in Texas and some of my fans pursue their liberties by however they want to live with their partners with their sexual orientation. We just let that rest and we’ve learned to work together as a community and that’s something I hope more and more people can create within their communities.
Our opinions are not our power. Our opinions actually keep us from connecting to one another. Our opinions keep us from having compassion. What would it be like if we built communities that don’t have opinions… but have preferences? Then it’s a much more flexible thing — it’s not dogmatic. You can have your preferences, that’s fine, but it doesn’t become a rigid dogma. An opinion without compassion is a weapon — and what do we see right now everywhere online? We just see people bludgeoning each other with these opinions that lack compassion. When we can’t participate in compassion we can’t participate in connection. If we can’t participate in connection, we feel isolated and afraid and alone. When we feel isolated and afraid and alone we double down on our opinions being weapons to defend our very weak little boundaries. So the more we can foster compassion, the more we can foster connection, the more we can foster empathy, the better — but that takes us as leaders of our community and participants in our community being really willing to set opinions aside and look for deeper common ground.
I feel like there are so many things that you’re saying in this interview that I want to put on posters and hang in my apartment. So many incredible, powerful quotes that are making me weirdly feel very calm and at ease. I would love to hear about “Live from San Quarantine.” How did you come up with the idea and what can fans expect to see?
Well “Live from San Quarantine” was birthed out of sheer necessity. We lost the ability to fundraise because of the quarantine and so we pivoted very quickly to doing an online concert. It was amazing. We were able to raise $550,000 in a couple of hours, which was shocking. That’s about 1/4 of our budget — our annual operating budget is about $1.4 million. So, we have a ways to go. We’re asking 5,000 people to donate one dollar a day and if we can get to that we’ll be in really good shape. So, if anybody can find it in their hearts to be able to give that.
And then we decided to continue the series as a speaker series because I spent my entire life learning. Learning everything I’m talking to you about, learning meditation, learning about neural wiring, learning about child psychology, learning about nutrition. And I’ve been able to collect an amazing group of experts that have an incredibly holistic approach. I want to be able to share the people I’ve learned from and be able to have a dialogue and discussion and allow people the opportunity to be involved in that discussion — to ask questions of these experts. What does screen time do to our kids? My child watching more screen time in quarantine — what are the effects of that? Or my child might be exhibiting more anxiety — what are the effects of that? Or I’m having suicidal ideation — how do I handle that when I don’t have access to going in my therapist? Two weeks ago, the guest was a doctor named Dr. Blaise Aguirre who’s a specialist in suicide prevention and how to handle and treat suicidal ideation, which is something we deal with a lot in our children and in our youth foundation. Last week’s guests were a parenting expert, Kim John Payne, who has way more to offer beyond just parenting advice, and Brad Paisley. He’s incredible.
About the Inspiring Children Foundation
For 18 years the Inspiring Children Foundation and Jewel’s Never Broken program has been empowering children struggling with financial hardship, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation by giving them the ultimate environment to survive then thrive at the highest levels. With teenage suicide up 70%, anxiety and depression doubling, we have been at the forefront of solving this epidemic. The program arms at-risk youth with everything they need to be physically, emotionally and mentally healthy in a fun and inspirational way, online and in person. This ecosystem of excellence includes; emotional intelligence, SEL, mindfulness/meditation, group counseling and mentoring, leadership development, entrepreneur skills, nutrition, yoga, tennis, sleep science, and academics. 80% of operations is run by the children. Children gain know-how, an understanding of themselves, and confidence by earning their way in our real life “project driven learning” program. Our young leaders have been so academically, athletically and personally developed that 95% have been offered scholarships and admissions into the best colleges in the world including: Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Georgetown, Penn-Wharton, Brown, Dartmouth, Williams, Columbia, Naval Academy, USC, Vanderbilt and 100 more. Most importantly these children are being armed with a “psychology for life” that helps them to generate their own peace of mind and contentment as self-actualized leaders. To learn more about Jewel’s program visit www.inspiringchildren.net.