“My journey is a series of moments where I chose to not be moved by the fear that I felt.” The ever-inspirational Luvvie Ajayi Jones redefines what it means to be fearless. She talks with Zibby about confronting impostor syndrome, choosing courage every day, and the radical notion of “firing yourself.”


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Luvvie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Luvvie Ajayi Jones: Thanks so much for having me, Zibby.

Zibby: I am really excited about Professional Troublemaker. I got so much good advice. This is The Fear-Fighter Manual. It’s clearly what I needed right now.

Luvvie: It’s the book I needed, that I still always need.

Zibby: Tell me a little bit about that. What made you write this as sort of a follow-up to your last book? I watched your TED Talk. Luvvie, what inspired you to write this book?

Luvvie: I was inspired to write this book because as I was thinking how my follow-up to book one would be, one of the big things that I started realizing that I reflect in my TED Talk is about how my journey is a series of moments where I chose to not be moved by the fear that I felt. I have found what happens and I’ve seen what happens in my life when I choose courage, when I choose to acknowledge the moments where I’m afraid and I say, you know what, I’m going to move forward anyway. That thing sat on my shoulders. I felt so convicted and compelled to write about this because it is a real problem that we all deal with, fear. Fear has been given a lot of credit because we tend to think if we are afraid, we’re somehow weak. We hear people talk about fearlessness. I think fearlessness really means committing to not doing less because of your fear. Instead of letting fear have the power by us thinking just because we feel it we’re weak, I’m like, no, no, no, we’re supposed to be afraid. What happens and what matters is what we do when we are afraid. I realized that I was being called to write a book about why I’m a professional troublemaker and why I fight fear. The professional troublemaker of it all is that to make trouble in this world is to disrupt the status quo, to disrupt rooms for the greater good. It’s not about you being a contrarian or a troll. It’s about really understanding that in this world that is asking us all to bow, when we don’t, we’re making trouble. Why not actually reclaim that phrase and say, yes, I am a troublemaker? I am a professional troublemaker because I insist on doing what is hard, especially when it’s hard, as long as it is for my good or the good of everybody around me. That’s why this book is so important and why I wanted to write it right now.

Zibby: One of the things that you talked about in the TED Talk and then you went into more in the book with naming the company — I don’t know if you wanted to name it in the book but not in the TED Talk. You went to a conference. You realized that the white men who were speaking at the conference got paid for travel and for their speech. The white women got paid for their speech but not the travel. The black women had to pay to be there. Did I get that right?

Luvvie: Yes.

Zibby: Which is crazy. Then you decided, instead of keeping this inside, that you were going to talk about it. You had fear, per your whole thing about speaking up when you’re afraid. You decided to come out and talk about it. Tell me about that moment and then the aftermath.

Luvvie: I actually didn’t end up going to the conference. They came to me to speak. When I found out from fellow members of this cohort that I’m a part of called The List that there was this weird pay gap that was happening, I turned it down. I decided to talk about it publicly on Twitter and talked about how being a black woman who is credentialed, who has the experience, even I still have to prove my worth over and over again. I didn’t even mention the conference publicly at first. Then people figured it out. The conference organizer himself actually reached out because my tweets and my information and what I really was talking about in terms of the inequality and pay gaps, especially in tech, ended up being written about at Forbes. The CEO of the conference sent the Forbes writer and me this email that was full of dog whistle, that was basically like, maybe I can a more urban demographic. I was like, wait a minute, you guys came to me. It was a real moment where I had to be who I said I was out loud. Being afraid is real because we’re usually afraid of the consequences. We’re afraid of how we’re going to get punished if we decide to do or say something that’s tough or that challenges something that is bigger than us. I had to think to myself, I understand my fear. My fear is valid. I could actually face financial consequences if other conferences see me speak up about this and say, you know what, we don’t want to have Luvvie come.

Then I had to say, wait a minute, but if not you who has ten years of speaking experience, who has been on some amazing stages, who commands a five-figure fee, who else are you expecting to now challenge this thing? Are you expecting the person who just started last week? I had to remember that my job in this world is not just to be comfortable and coast through it. If I am a professional troublemaker, I especially have to be one even when there are stakes on the line. In fact, here’s the thing about courage. You cannot have courage without fear. You cannot be brave if the thing is easy. That’s not brave. That’s just what you do. In that moment, we have to also choose, what is the best-case scenario? It’s the idea, if I do this thing, what is the win? What could come out of this? For me, the best-case scenario was that conferences like this who have power, who make a lot of money change their policies to make sure that they’re not paying people for the same thing different amounts if they have the same experience. My win was that we could start a conversation about how prevalent this is. My win was that other people see that they were not going to be alone if they’ve also faced the same thing. I have my prominent platform. I have a certain name currency. Even I’m still facing this. I was hoping somebody else is like, wow, so it’s not just me.

The worst-case scenario was if I did it and I stopped getting booked to speak. That’s a big piece of my business model. What would happen if that happened? My business would take a revenue hit. I might not be able to afford payroll as much as I think I would. I might have to lay off a couple of people. If I stop getting speaking engagements, I guess I could go back to my digital strategy life. My background is in marketing and communications. Before I became a public speaker, I was a person helping people figure out how to use social media to further their missions. My worst-case scenario was that I would take a hit on the speaker side, but I still had my other skills. I weighed those two options. I said, you know what, the worst-case scenario is still not big enough for what could happen if the best-case scenario happens, so I spoke up about it. One thing that I learned after that is that oftentimes the fear, the thing that we’re afraid of happening doesn’t happen. That year actually ended up being, to date at that point, my biggest speaking year. That year is the year that I did my TED Talk. I was invited to do this TED Talk that now has over five million views.

Zibby: 5.6.

Luvvie: It really, really taught me. It was a real lesson in, do not build up dragons in your head of scenarios. Don’t build up monsters of things that can happen. Then you make it stop you from doing what you’re supposed to do, saying what you’re supposed to say. We are often opting out of the best-case scenario because we’re afraid of the worst-case scenario that never comes. That whole situation was a perfect lesson in that. Had I opted out, first of all, I wouldn’t have a piece written in Forbes about the fact that pay inequality happens in tech. I wouldn’t have people publicly be like, I too have actually had to deal with this. The conference had to answer for this gap that they had. I wouldn’t have the attention that it got me that allowed me to now pass this message on on a larger stage. The best-case scenario was so much better.

Zibby: Wow. You wouldn’t have written that book, perhaps. You wouldn’t be talking to me. What would I be doing right now? I don’t know. Changing people’s lives.

Luvvie: Exactly. Imagine the domino effect when we decide to say something that matters. The domino effect, the butterfly effect, whatever people want to call it, it’s huge.

Zibby: It’s true. Do you think fear is only — when you’re talking about being brave, is it only for big societal change things, or is it just something like, I’m scared of spiders?

Luvvie: I think fear is in the tiny moments. It’s in the small moments of — I am petrified of spiders, by the way. I hate them. I don’t do bugs. I don’t do rodents. I instantly lose all form of courage. I lose it when I see a bug. When we talk about fear, yeah, we think about the big moments of, oh, my god, jumping out of a plane. No, I think our everyday lives present us with opportunities and things to be afraid of, things to be anxious about. Sometimes it’s even as simple as a conversation that you’re afraid to have with a friend, a friend who hurt your feelings. You’re just like, ugh, I’m afraid I’m going to hurt her feelings if I bring this up. That is fear. Fear is in the small moments. I find that when we don’t know how to deal with it in the small moments, the big moments become a massive challenge. If we don’t have the practice in the day-to-day personal life stuff of actually conquering our fear and speaking the truth and doing what feels tough, when we are called to do it in a larger space, in a bigger stage, we don’t even know how to do it because we had never built up the muscle for it.

My thing is, honestly, every day presents its moments and choices and chances to pick courage. It means if you’re in a meeting and you’re just like, I don’t like that idea that somebody just gave, it’s not thoughtful, pushing through the fear of rocking the boat and saying, hey, I think we should rethink this idea because here’s why. It’s in the times when you’re like, hmm, I think I deserve a raise. You’re afraid to ask your boss because you’re afraid of the no that may come. If the no is the worst-case scenario but the best-case scenario is that you might get this raise that could fix your financial life, the no will not kill you. Go for it. For those of us who are very practical and pragmatic people, I’m always like, try to find the logic in it. Find the logic in it. What is really the thing that you’re afraid of? Is it really so bad? Even if that thing was to happen, is it really so bad? Is it disastrous to your life? Is it life-altering-ly damaging? Most things are not. Most thing are just, we’re afraid of no. Do it because what if you got the yes?

Zibby: I love that. I loved your chapter about firing yourself as your boss. I do this podcast and do all these things. I try to do a lot of it myself. I offload some, but I have a really hard time with that. I read your chapter and I was like, oh, my gosh, this is me. She’s talking to me. Yet you talk about, it’s so important to do that. Otherwise, you burn out. Give me your rundown of this just to remind me. You said at the end that you need to reread your chapter on this yourself, so I’ll give you an opportunity here so we can both be reminded.

Luvvie: I think it’s really important to fire ourselves. We are so pressured to do and be everything for everybody. It is not possible. Then we drop balls. Then we get guilty about dropping a ball. Then we end up in this cycle of, I should’ve done it better. We only have twenty-four hours in our day. Eight of those hours we’re supposed to be sleeping. That leaves us sixteen hours to do everything else. We’re sisters, wives, mothers, friends, aunts. Then we’re also trying to be CEOs, VPs. All of these titles are competing for our time, all of these things. I’m always like, why do we constantly feel like we have to be good at everything? Nobody said we have to be good at everything. There’s somebody else who is better at something than we are. Hand it over to them. As I’ve been running my own company for the last eleven years, I’ve had to learn this in phases. I’ve had to increasingly let go of control. I’ve had to increasingly fire myself. I used to work for myself with myself. I was my own assistant. I was my own accountant, my own — it was just too much. You get overwhelmed. You drown in all this stuff. When I learned to fire myself — it’s a constant work-in-progress. I just fired myself today from my inbox. I had my assistant go in there. I said, “Can you just sweep through my inbox? I don’t have to see anything. You answer on my behalf.”

That’s huge. She just saved me how many hours in my day that I’d be like, oh, my god, I have to reply to this thing? Firing ourselves is a trust exercise. It is a trust exercise because you are counting on somebody else to do this thing without your watch. You’re counting on somebody else to hold the ball up in the air so it doesn’t drop. We can’t afford not to do that. When we say, no, no, I’ll just do it myself, how long is your to-do list? Then you realize you never get to the bottom of it. If somebody else can show up and mark off three things on this to-do list, that’s three things that you did not have to do yourself. Fire yourself is a life habit. I will outsource something very quickly. I started having a housekeeper come to my house. They spend three hours cleaning my house. If I had to spend three hours cleaning my own house, first of all, what other things could I be doing? Maybe I can get extra sleep. Maybe I can listen to music. Maybe I can spend time with those I love. It’s just a way for us to buy back our time. Time is finite. Buy some of it back by handing over responsibilities to other people and letting them do it for you.

Zibby: Wow, I love that. What a great approach to time management and even how you evaluate what to do and what not to do. You have a whole section on, maybe you’re giving it to the wrong person, and that’s okay too. I think that’s easy to say. Okay, I’m offloading everything, but what if people disappoint you?

Luvvie: People will disappoint you. It’s not even, what if? They will. It is a requirement because everybody will not approach it in the same way you will. Everybody does not think like you do. Honestly, everybody does not have the same sense of urgency as you. They will disappoint you. What you do is figure out whether the disappointment is a lack of competence or whether it was just a pure mistake that they will fix next time. We’ll use the excuse of, that one person disappointed me, so I took it back off their plate. Now it’s mine to own. That is how you set yourself up for further failure because that’s exhausting. To constantly be like, no, no, I take it back, I’ll do it myself, you will end back in the loop, the guilt, the unproductivity loop, and the shame loop sometimes. Let people disappoint you. You’ll be okay. Most mistakes are not disastrous, also. Again, we really will take something and blow it up. Most mistakes can be fixed with, sorry, we’ll make sure we get that done better next time. Most mistakes will not end up with you losing your business, ultimately. When we’re like, if I have to have somebody else do this for me, what if they mess it up, what if they do? Do you lose everything? Can this be rectified? Probably. Okay, let it go.

Zibby: Thank you. I needed to hear that today, particularly. Thank you. Imposter syndrome, can we talk about that too? You said nine years it took you to admit you were a writer. Do you finally wear that mantle proudly and shout it from the rooftops? Yes?

Luvvie: I am a writer. For years, I did not think that title pertained to me because I felt like it was too big. I felt like it had a lot of expectations that I wasn’t sure I could live up to. Then I also didn’t see a writer that was making a great living doing what I did, which was just writing about the world as she saw it. I wasn’t writing for The New York Times. I was writing on my own website. I fought that title for a long time just because I attached so much to it, so many projections, so many expectations. I didn’t think I was ready for it. I finally ran out of excuses when I started finding myself in rooms with other people who used their words to move the world or journalists from BBC and Entertainment Weekly. Here I am as Awesomely Luvvie in the same room. I finally was like, your words got you here. You are a writer. Again, back to the fear of it all, the thing that I was afraid of, I was like, how do I make a real living as a writer? How do I chart a path that’s solid as a writer? All those things got moved out of the way. It was like all my questions got answered once I finally said I’m a writer. It was like the universe was like, I’ve been waiting for you to claim this because I have things for you. I got columns in magazines. I got my book deal three years later, my first book deal. I basically spent so much time not honoring my gifts because I was afraid of how big it could be. It was another moment where I was like, my goodness, what happens when I actually don’t let fear be the first factor in my decisions? What happens when I say, yes, I am afraid of that title, it does feel too big, but I’m still going to wear it? It’s like an oversize coat that somebody gives you when you’re five. You’ll grow into it. Here’s the thing, though, you think it’s oversize, but it actually fits you perfectly. Yeah, I’m a writer.

Zibby: That’s amazing. I love that. Luvvie, when you’re not off inspiring everybody — you have such a way of talking and inspiring and motivating and encouraging and all of this with the way you speak. Do you have just normal conversations with friends? Is this like you’re on, but then when you’re off, you don’t — tell me about the difference between when you’re on-stage Luvvie and you’re in-your-pajamas Luvvie.

Luvvie: There is no difference. I talk to my friends like this. Me and my friends have conversations just like this. One of my really good friends, Eunique Jones Gibson, every time we talk to each other, we get off the phone like, man, you just got me together. These are the conversations that we have with each other about vulnerability and fear. We’ll call each other in the moments when we are feeling afraid of something. I just got this crazy offer. We’ll be like, okay, so why not you? Why would you not be the one that they’re asking? Come on. You’ve been here before. We talk to each other like this. It’s not like we’re like, I’m going to inspire people. No, it’s like, I am going to show up in a way that is as true to me as possible. These types of conversations aren’t foreign to me because I have friends who actively push themselves and me to be bigger and better. My friends gas me up in ways where if I am feeling somehow weak that day or I’m like, I don’t have the power that I usually have, I know I can go to them to loan me courage. They will be like, absolutely, you got this. Stop playing. You got this.

That’s what I actually hope I serve to other people. There are a lot of people who will ask me and my friends, how did you guys build this squad that does this? I was like, this is who we are, so we attracted other people like that. That’s what I’m hoping I am. That’s what I’m hoping Professional Troublemaker is. I want that to be the book that you pick up in the moments when you’re like, I’m not so sure about this. I want this book to tell you, you got this. You got this. No, no, no, don’t doubt it. I know you’re afraid of it. That’s fine, but I want you to push forward anyway. I want this book to be the squad for other people who don’t have it and even for those of us who do have it, to serve as an affirmation that you can pick up at any point. Open any chapter, any page, and you will find something that compels you to move and act different or act in a way that will lead you to higher ground.

Zibby: Wow, you’re amazing. I wish I was on your friend list to get some of that regular dose of encouragement. That’s amazing. What do you have coming next? You have this book coming out. You’re going to take over the world. What’s your big dream? Do you have a big dream?

Luvvie: Let me tell you. I have an audacious dream because of this book.

Zibby: Tell me.

Luvvie: I said in this book, I need everybody to dream audaciously, so I’m also dreaming audaciously here. I’m on a mission to empower a million people to conquer their fear, a million. What happens when a million people decide, I’m going to do the things that feel hard that I’m compelled to do because I know I’m supposed to do it even though they might be difficult? What happens? Imagine what would change if a million people asked for a raise when they weren’t going to before, if a million people decided to have a tough conversation with a friend that could shift their relationship for the better, if a million people decided, you know what, I’m going to commit to constantly doing what scares me that I feel compelled to do. That is my dream. I want, by the end of this year, for me to have gotten a million emails from people who are like, I read this book. It changed my life. Here’s how. Zibby, I’ll tell you, I already got one.

Zibby: From me?

Luvvie: I’m looking forward to your email, Zibby. My editor was promoted to editorial director of Penguin and Viking Books after reading my book and asking her boss for a raise. Her assistant was also promoted to editor because she was promoted. She was like, “That’s because of your book.” I am looking forward to a million of those stories from people who read this book. That’s my mission. That’s my big mission.

Zibby: Are you going to put it up somewhere? You need to keep a list on your website.

Luvvie: We are. We’re going to start tracking it. I’m talking to my team now. How do we track these stories? How do we make sure people can write us and tell us their fear-fighter story? We’re going to be tracking it on the website. We will announce it on my newsletter and on my blog when it’s ready. It’s going to be ready before March 2nd. If anybody’s listening to this after March 2nd, just go to It’ll have the information there, wherever we’re going to send people to do this. That is my audacious mission for myself and for everybody.

Zibby: Wow. You should take it even further. All those people who are going to get over their fears and do something, they all need to write about it. You could create a million essays or a million books that come out of these a million changes. It could be a whole thing.

Luvvie: Yes. You’re not wrong.

Zibby: You need a Luvvie-inspired little badge or something. I think there’s more direct things that can come out.

Luvvie: Yes. We could do this. I’m going to think about this some more. I am so committed to this. When I said the million number, it scared me. I was instantly like, oh, god, that’s a huge number. I was like, you know what? Why not? The best-case scenario is a million people actually ended up conquering their fears and doing amazing things in the world. The worst-case scenario is — there is no worst-case scenario.

Zibby: The worst-case scenario is zero or one person.

Luvvie: And I already have one.

Zibby: And you already have one.

Luvvie: Already have one, so done and done.

Zibby: I read your book recently, but I am going to do something I’m scared of because of it. I’m going to add my story at some point. I’m just gearing up.

Luvvie: Zibby, I believe it. I’m going to be looking for your story. I’m going to be looking to find out what you did.

Zibby: All right. I have a lot to choose from. Hard to narrow it down.

Luvvie: We’re actually doing the Fear-Fighter Challenge to get us started. If you go to, you can sign up. You get a prompt every single day that will give you a call to action that’s going to push you forward. I think the first day’s prompt was, write it down. Write down this thing that you fear. You can join the challenge now. It’ll get you started. It’ll get you understanding the different things you can do to get you closer and give you some help on conquering this fear. Join the Fear-Fighter Challenge.

Zibby: Love it. All right, Luvvie, I’m in. You’ve sold me. I’m on board.

Luvvie: Let’s do it. I want a generation of professional troublemakers. We are all existing knowing that our jobs is to make this world better than we found it. If we actually all commit to that, it will be better because so many of us will be trying our best to make sure we’re elevating rooms that we’re in, that we’re speaking thoughtful truths, and that we are modeling what it looks like to be courageous.

Zibby: Do you have any advice? I could probably guess what some of it would be. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Luvvie: Write. Start writing now. Authors are writers first. Before you can say you’re an author, you have to say you’re a writer. Start writing. Put your story on paper. If you don’t think your story is extraordinary, I need you to understand that most people who write stories aren’t extraordinary people. They happen to just put their ordinary experiences on paper. Somebody will connect to it. Write it down. Your story, your life is worth hearing about.

Zibby: Fantastic. Thank you so much. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you for helping a million people, TBD, whoever they are out there. They don’t know their life’s about to change, but you know. That’s a pretty amazing thing.

Luvvie: Yes. They’ll pick up Professional Troublemaker. The cool thing is you get to know that you are actually joining hundreds of thousands of people at any given time in fighting your fear. You’re not by yourself. I invite people to join my social platform, LuvvNation. In there, every day people are cheering each other on and saying, here’s what my fear is. Here’s what I did to conquer it. Just know you’re not by yourself. I got you. I build the spaces and I write the books that I need. In this journey of fear-fighting, the million people don’t have to do it by themselves either. Come into LuvvNation. Join the Fear-Fighter Challenge. Let’s cheer you up. We are the gas-up squad. We’re the hype team.

Zibby: Wow, I am so impressed. I’m totally impressed. I’m so glad I got to talk to you. Thank you so much.

Luvvie: Thank you very much.

Zibby: Have a great day.

Luvvie: You too.

Zibby: Bye, Luvvie.

Luvvie Bye.


Professional Troublemaker by Luvvie Ajayi Jones

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