My guest on this episode is Carly Valancy, actor and founder of the connection company Valence and Co.
As she says on her website, in July of 2019, with one Audible credit, Carly listened to [the book] Reach Out by Molly Beck. After finishing it in two days, she challenged herself to do exactly what Molly did and Reach Out every weekday for one whole year.
She has taken an unconventional approach to building her network and furthering her career, which has created new opportunities for her as an actor, and has blossomed into a business that supports her while she is building a better world for her fellow creatives.
As of the time of recording, the next session of Carly Valancy’s Reach Out Party begins May 17, 2020. For details about this and future sessions you can go to valenceandco.com/upcoming. To represent the global nature of the Reach Out community, there will be two sessions daily to cater to whatever timezone you’re in.
Links and show notes from this episode:
- Reach Out by Molly Beck
- This is Marketing by Seth Godin
- Carly has been a guest on The Dreaded Question Podcast with Lili Torre twice!
- Register for Carly Valancy's Reach Out Party
Hi Carly, and welcome to Studio time.
Hi Matt, thank you so much.
I thought I'd start this conversation by taking you back a step. We're going to talk about your process of reaching out and how you've been sharing that. But let's go back to before you read Molly Beck's "Reach Out." Can you tell me who was Carly before she read the book?
Yes, absolutely. So I'm going to take you way back to July of 2019. I had just come back from an incredible contract where I was doing a musical. I was doing the Pajama Game at the amazing New London Barn Playhouse. I had come back, I just gotten my equity card, and I felt a little bit stuck. I didn't quite know where I wanted to go with my career, and I was in a place where I was settling in New York City. I finally felt like New York City was my home, but I didn't really have a community. I didn't really have friends that I could rely on and I did not have mentors. Essentially, I was really searching for my tribe of people. When I think about New York, and when I watch TV shows, New York is such an amazing place because of its people. And I didn't really have my people.
So I picked up Molly's book. I listened to the audio book first. So I got a sense for her voice. I finished the audio book in two days and I decided that as an actor, there's not a ton of things that I could take control over and there is never an end goal. In a performance career, I always felt like the process is continuous. But I always felt like go in for an audition. And I would never really know what became of it. There's just so much that's up in the air and so much that's being decided for you and I thought, this is something that I could do for myself.
Essentially, Molly's big idea is that she was at a party, and somebody said to her, "Well, it's all about who you know." She really took that seriously. Again, she was also new to New York City, so I felt like I really related to her and that moment. She was new in New York City and she said, "Okay, if it's all about who you know, and I don't know anyone, how can I get to the place where I can say that confidently?"
She decided she was going to reach out every single weekday for one whole year. And the numbers just absolutely blew my mind. That is something that I was like...I want to take her up on this challenge, I'm going to do it too. I figured out that if I started on July 28, and I made it to the next July 28, then I would reach out to 261 people. So I set off on this journey and rapidly in the first three to four months - in my first 100 reach outs - I was able to look back and say, "Oh my God, every single thing in my life has really changed for the better." And that is when I knew that this was something truly, truly special.
That's great. Let's pick up on this idea of doing it every day because I'm really interested in the idea of setting up a practise about something. I know that you send a reach out every day, Monday to Friday each week. Was there anything else that you practised that regularly before you started reaching out?
That's a great question. The only thing that I practised as regularly as I do reaching out is meditation. I do Transcendental Meditation. So I do it twice a day, every day for 20 minutes. Before that, I had not really been paying attention to my habits. It wasn't until I started meditating that I could look back after a long period of time and notice a measurable difference in myself that I thought, "Okay, maybe there are things in my life that I can take control of that I can measure this way." Practicing TM, really set me up well for the Reach Out practise.
What sort of cumulative benefits did you discover from meditating?
Oh my god. So I've been meditating now for six years. When I first started meditating, or before I started, I really considered myself to be a very anxious person. I told myself and others that I was constantly riddled with anxiety. I would have minor panic attack sometimes in college, and I reacted a certain way with people. I would sort of just blame everything on my anxiety. It was very limiting. Then I decided to do something about it.
I took the Transcendental Meditation course and after a couple months of it, I was able to look back and notice a difference in myself. What I noticed the most were the labels that I chose to give myself. These identities that we give ourselves based on our limiting beliefs can be really hindering. Before I meditated, I told myself and everyone else that I was a person that had anxiety. And that's why I acted and reacted the way I did. Once I actively started working on that, I took that label away from myself. Now I don't consider myself to be a person with anxiety, and so it's really peeling back the limiting beliefs to find some freedom within our labels, within our constraints.
Wow, that's incredibly valuable. I'm curious...you went to the course where you learned about TM, and obviously this suggesting that you should do it every day, perhaps twice every day. Did you have any resistance to starting that practice at the beginning? How did it look like as you were getting into the routine of it?
Yes. Well, for anyone that knows Gretchen Rubin's four tendencies quiz...I am a questioner, which means that I don't really respond well when other people tell me that I should do things. I will only do something if I believe that I should. So what got me about Transcendental Meditation was the science.
In my first meeting, I went to this woman's house in Fort Collins, Colorado. There were probably four of us. They showed us a slideshow about what meditation does to the brain. TM is a mantra based practice, so we repeat the same mantra over and over again and when our mind wanders, we just gently lightly bring ourselves back to the mantra. We do it for 20 minutes and then we're done.
Essentially, they talk about the cumulative effect, and they talk about the compound interest that meditation can have on your brain, on your body and your entire life. That was something that I was really, really interested in because I believed in the science,
Great. This idea of a cumulative effect and compound interest is something that is really important when we consider beginning something as a practice - whether it's meditating, whether it's our creativity as a practice, or whether it's reaching out.
Following on from your idea of the labels that you gave yourself before and after transcendental meditation, what were the labels you gave yourself before and after reaching out?
Yes, oh my goodness. First and foremost, I just told myself that I was stuck. I used that word so often, and I had many many days - as most human beings do. I still have those days, but I had more days than not where I felt like there's so much to do, but I don't really know what to do so I'm not going to do anything. The labels that I gave myself for very limiting. I told myself that I didn't have the power. I told myself that I wasn't enough. I was afraid to speak to people that intimidated me. I was afraid to speak to my heroes, to people that I believed in. Even my colleagues and friends, some of my 'worthy rivals' if you know, Simon Sinek's work. I was afraid of sounding a certain way, of embarrassing myself, just like we all are. We're all fearful of what other people think. It is the human being's biggest fear, right? FOPO fear of people's opinions. And I was sort of riddled with that. I just told myself that I was stuck in that place and that it was going to take me a very, very long time to find my community and 'keep my head down and work' and all the things that people tell you in a creative career. Like hustling and, you know, it sounds terrible. I was just sort of starting out and I had the mindset that it was going to take a long, long time.
And so what would be five of the top labels that you would use to describe yourself now, after you've been reaching out for this long?
First of all, I would say I'm happier. I'm a happier person. I feel so aligned with my values. I am confident, I feel seen by the people I communicate with and I live in a space full of possibility, connection and empathy every day.
Great. I think he used a few more than five labels, but I'm okay with that. I think that I discovered you and your 'Reach Out Party' through Lili Torre. She shared something about it on social media and I thought “This sounds like a cool idea.” I grabbed the book, I listened to the audio version of it.
The thing that struck me about this book, the same way it strikes me about a lot of great books that have really resonated with me is that the idea isn't entirely new. Molly took something that we all knew to be true, but actually got serious about how to explain it and communicate it and went to the trouble of writing it down so she could share it. I think there's something for us to learn from that. You don't have to have an entirely original idea. You don't have to have an earth shatteringly new concept to share with the world. You can have one that just needs to be shared in your voice. I think that's important to remember when we're reaching out.
What was one of the first reach outs that you sent, that really said to you, "Oh, this is going mean something. This is going do something for me. This is going to change me."
Wow. First of all such a fabulous point. I wholeheartedly believe that as well. I think the best ideas are combinations of other ideas. The best ideas are the ones that we know already, but that someone again reiterates in their own voice and allows us to see in a different light. We can take somebody else's work, somebody else's idea, and mold into our own shape so that somebody else can look at it with a brand new lens of possibility. Then they can take it and share it with someone else in another lens and the cycle continues. That is one of my favorite things about Reaching Out and about the Reach Out Parties and about working with Molly. It's incredible.
The first one that comes to mind... I decided late in the summer last year that I really wanted to audition for grad school programs. Because I went to see 'Merrily We Roll Along' at the Roundabout on Broadway. I thought "Well, this is everything that I want to do in one show." The reasons why I loved it is because it was someone else's idea - it was Stephen Sondheim's idea - but they had done different music arrangements and different choreography and they had just transformed it and put a different stripped down lens on it. It was ensemble based, everyone was working together. It was small, it was intimate and I saw this woman on the stage. Her name is Brittany Bradford and she absolutely blew me away. I looked at her bio in the Playbill and it said that she had just recently graduated from Juilliard in 2018. So I was like, "Oh, wow. That's not that long ago. I wonder if she would sit down with me and let me ask her some questions about the process and about her experience." So that was my first reach out where there was something at stake for me where I actually had something to ask somebody. Brittany responded with so much excitement and grace. We ended up meeting and immediately clicked. I mean, this is a person that will forever be my mentor. Someone that I look up to that I cherish and love very, very much. But from the first meeting, we just absolutely clicked. Then we continued to see each other once a week for about four months, and she completely guided me through the entire process and became an incredible, incredible mentor to me. That never would have happened if I didn't reach out.
That's a great story. We haven't defined a Reach Out at this point in that conversation.
One of the ways that Molly talks about the purpose of a Reach Out, is to expand your network. She makes a differentiation between networking as a verb, which can feel manipulative or like you're seeking a connection with somebody for what you can gain from it, versus building a network, which I like to think more of connecting the dots. "Who is around me that we could benefit from understanding each other better, or two other people that I could connect because that would make the network, the fabric of my community stronger?" When you think about a Reach Out, what is the purpose of a Reach Out for you?
Oh, my gosh, this is my favourite thing to riff on. Yes. Because Reaching Out is not the same for every person, I imagine it almost like building blocks. So just like we were talking about with ideas and the way that they can transform, I imagine it almost like building blocks. The foundation that Molly so generously laid out has fuelled me to create my own blocks, through my own lens, and especially my own artistic creative lens. That is a completely different world from the one Molly lives in.
My mission is to supply others with our sort of mixed foundations so that they can continue building their own and keep sharing it. That's really my definition of a reach out. It's the act of extending beyond yourself so that you can create something new. Molly writes in her book, "change comes from new attitudes and new people." Through my own process of Reaching Out, I found that change also comes from paying attention, from constantly being open to shifting your perspective, from empathy, and a commitment to process to a practice. And from a dedication to learning something new. Just as you were saying about connecting the dots - which is something I'm so passionate about - it's about solving a problem that hasn't been solved before. It's dot connecting in action. It's an action that you do in the way only you can. Right now, that is something that we can really hold on to because right now, everything is new. We are in the process of pivoting and transitioning, shifting. evaluating what our future, what our new normal is going to look like, which can be a very scary place to live in. But on the flip side, I think there is a whole world of possibility that - if you choose to lean into that - then you can re identify this time as a time to rearrange and re envision the dots. This is a time when we have the ability to connect with more people, faster. And that is so exciting to me.
This is something that I was thinking about today. Connecting with more people faster, is definitely something that we can do. But I feel like we often connect in a less meaningful way than what we could have. You teach that reach outs can happen through various mediums. I guess traditionally, they might have happened through an email. But I think about us, with our phones and our computers, and how we have multiple inboxes these days. We have email inboxes, we have voicemail inboxes, we have text message inboxes, we have DM inboxes. I think about how many messages get sent and unopened and not responded to. That can be a bit overwhelming for the person that has a whole screen full of unreplied to messages and how it can be a little bit disheartening for the person that sent a message that meant something to them, and it didn't get responded to or it got 'left on read'.
What makes for a meaningful reach out that feels positive and generous from the person sending it and can change the way it's received by the person that you're sending it to?
And this is such a good question. Molly writes in the framework in her book about gifts. A gift is a compliment or recognition of work, something that says "Hey, I see you." The idea of the response is something that I often want to get people away from, because of course, when you send a reach out to someone who's really important to you and they don't respond, it's very easy to take it personally. But just like you said, this is a strange time and we all have so many inboxes and so many things going on that when you are sending a reach out every single day, it is difficult to get attached to one, because in two weeks, you've sent 10 reach outs. If you're constantly focused on who can I show up for next, and what can I give next, it becomes a little easier to let go of the results.
Seth Godin in his book, 'This is Marketing' writes this quote that I just absolutely love that reminds me of this. He says, "The empathy to imagine what someone else would want, what they might believe what story would resonate with them. We do this work, this draining emotional labor because we're professionals. And because we want to make change happen. Emotional labor is the work we do to provide service. When a human being extends emotional labor to take responsibility. "Here, I made this." Then the doors open for connection and growth." This is the way that I love to think about reaching out. To just extend beyond yourself and say, "Hey, I see you. The work you do matters to me and here is why." That way, if a person doesn't respond to that, then you know it's really okay.
I've never ever sent a generous reach out and have some someone come back to me and say, "How dare you?" I've sent many reach outs that people haven't responded to, but I don't remember those. What I remember are the stories of unexpected connection, of possibility and of life changing moments of meeting heroes and mentors and new steps in my career in my personal life and friendships. I mean, it is so abundant with beautiful experiences and aha moments and connections, that the people that didn't respond? It's okay, I don't really mind.
The idea of gifts is something that I would love to get into. Also, whether you approach your reach out as somebody who's looking to give or somebody who's looking to get. I think that the idea of sending an email because there's something I want to get, is sort of email that I used to send once upon a time, but it never felt very good. The thing about receiving an email from somebody that's got something they want to get is that it feels like work for the person that's receiving it. When the sender is giving something, whether it's as simple as a compliment, or a bit of recognition and acknowledgement for the work you've done, that's never hard to receive. Sometimes a compliment is hard to receive, but it's never bad to receive.
From my perspective for a moment, sometimes I'm doing my work, and because I'm human, there are times during the day when I ask myself, "Is this worthwhile? Am I doing something that somebody else is going to find valuable?" And I think if I feel that way, all the people that I look up to must feel that way as well. They're not any less human than I am, even if they're more successful or smarter or whatever. So when somebody sends me a message or says to me, "Hey, I saw that work you did, or I listened to that podcast." It really means something to me. Every time somebody reaches out and says, "I enjoyed that episode," or "I loved hearing you play that." It makes a difference to me and it's a little bit of fuel for the next time, I set out to create something new and I have to battle with my inner critic saying "Is this worthwhile?"
Can you talk about ways that you can be generous and offer gifts through reach outs?
Yes, absolutely. And you make a fabulous point. Our fears and our imposter syndrome is universal. So it really helps me when I am worried about what another person might think of my email. I think, "This person has the same fear that I do." Molly and I, in our work together, we really do focus on - just as you were saying - the giver's mindset instead of the taker's mindset. Showing up in service of someone else, and sharing a generous gift can be anything - so long as it is truthful and specific. Truth resonates. And this is why I'm never nervous that someone else might send a message just like mine. Because if I am honest, and I am super specific, then it is something truly only I could say. When I receive a truthful, specific gift from someone else, it is the most delightful, surprising thing because you can recognise when someone is being truthful and specific.
Do you have any examples of this? What are some gifts that you have come up with to give or gifts that you've received through reach outs that have really stood out to you as having some sort of impact?
Yes, I find the best gifts when I'm able to pay attention. I personally love content. I love articles. I love books. I love podcasts. I'm podcast obsessed. So I listen to probably a podcast a day. So I'm listening to seven podcasts a week and I'm in taking all this information. I love to share content that I think people might enjoy. Something that I love to do is be specific.
I got this in a reach out a couple weeks ago from someone in the party. Shout out to the Reach Out Party, but I got a reach out. This person was listening and I quoted Anne Bogart who is an incredible genius theatre maker/director. I quoted one of my most favourite quotes by her, which is "What you pay attention to opens up. Paying attention is an act of dedication to the moment." I shared that in the Party. And so I got a reach out that had this video of Anne Bogart doing a keynote speech and he said, "The whole thing is great. But if you only have two minutes, fast forward to timestamp 35:34. This part reminded me of you because..." It was so so, so specific, that I immediately took the video, fast forwarded to the timestamp and what he did for me in that moment, was not only share a generous compliment and something that I was like, "Oh my God, he's comparing me to one of my heroes? That's incredible!" But something that I loved about it was that he was able to unlock a thought and aha moment in my brain that I was able to then share with others. The best gifts are things that people can repurpose. Things that people can share again and again. So it's just like the art of Reaching Out where it's just kind of this tumbleweed effect, where it starts small, and then it keeps rolling and gets bigger and bigger. So I love sharing content. Molly writes about all the different ways to share gifts. Gifts can be things that you are an expert in, if you're an expert in something, then you might want to offer that to someone in exchange for an hour of their time on Zoom or, you know, it can really be anything so long as it's specific to you.
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