Blogcast #35: Amy Daughters – Author, Keynote Speaker and Spreader of Hope

Amy Daughters – Humorist, Author, Keynote Speaker and Spreader of Hope

Rebecca: Welcome to the Entrepreneurial Journey podcast. Today I have the amazing Amy Daughters. Amy. I love that name, by the way. Amy Daughters. Is that a maiden name or a married name? I’m just curious.

Amy: No, I married into the Daughters family, so just I signed up in my twenties.

Rebecca: I love that – Daughters. Anyway, you are an author and a keynote speaker, and I’m fascinated to talk to you because you’re a proper storyteller. How did that come about?

Amy: Well, it’s a great story, Rebecca, because I did not set out to be a storyteller. I went to university and I got a degree in business and I set my sail in purchasing, and I spent about 15 years. And then the plot twist in my life actually involves a move to the United Kingdom. So we were happily working in Houston and my husband’s company merged with a company in Birmingham, England, and they said, do you want to come over for three years? And we were in our thirties and we had one of our two kids and we were like, okay, that’s a great idea. What an adventure. And so I stopped working and I didn’t have a work visa in the UK, which is difficult to get. And so he went off to work and I was like, wait, I had never had that much time on my hands.

My son went to the village school, he started, and I was the only American in town too, which was a great fascinating place to be in. So I went to the University of Birmingham and took history classes. That was my first, and that was fascinating, to study history from the other side in another country, especially topics like between the wars World War I and II,  fascinating. But then I’d always liked to write, I’d always dabbled in it. So almost out of desperation, I began to write, and that was the beginning of the high-speed internet. So I realised I could create a space for myself and do some freelance writing. We moved back to the States. I was pregnant with our second child, so again, wasn’t a work visa situation. It was who’s going to employ the seven month pregnant woman? And so I just continued the writing through that pregnancy through the early part of being home with my second son. And so during all that, I created a full-time job for myself writing.

Rebecca: Wow.

Amy: I really didn’t, we hear a lot about imposter syndrome, especially as women. And since I wasn’t formally trained to be a writer, I had a hard time getting out of my own way and just not being a professionally trained writer, but just using the voice that I had. But the sports writing primarily allowed me to take myself a little more seriously. And that led to me doing my first book and then the second book happened after that, which is really the story, both those stories I like to tell, but my story is a great story in taking yourself seriously, getting out of your own way, even when we haven’t been professionally trained to do something that maybe we should have done all along.

Rebecca: I think that’s great. We are hung up. We on the fact that we need an official piece of paper from somebody almost to give us permission to do what we know we’re really good at, deep down.

Amy: Right.

Rebecca: And if you’re going to be a doctor, yes, you need an official piece of paper. Absolutely,

Amy: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Rebecca: A writer. No, not so much. That comes from deep inside your psyche, your heart. Where do you draw the inspiration from you writing?

Amy: I think it was always within me. I think I have a passion to use words to describe things with words, and then when I saw how the writing impacts me as a person, it’s something I have to get out. But when I got to see that other people were impacted by my words, my writing, whether it’s humour or something that’s serious or my angle on sports or statistics, those are the things that I love. When I realised that sharing that was a benefit to other people, I mean, that really was a profound transaction to realise that what I wanted to do, somebody else could have an impact on someone else.

Rebecca: What was the moment then you realised that what you write has that impact? Was there a specific time, moment or person where you realised that?

Amy: Well, I think that it all led up to that first book. And I had someone, and even through the whole process of the first book, I was like, is it really a book? And I know that sounds ridiculous, but I worked with this editor after I did a manuscript and my husband was like, let’s just do it properly. Let’s get an editor and if nothing else, we’ll leave our kids with this book that mom wrote. And I remember I had a meeting with her, she was this woman from upstate New York, and she was very serious. And the book is humorous. I mean, it has a lot of feelings in it, but it’s humorous and nostalgic. And I remember in our first meeting, she had read the manuscript and I said, so, and she was talking about specific technical things. And so I stopped her and I was like, so Lori, do you feel like it’s really a book?

And she’s like, I’m not understanding what you’re saying. I was like, so it’s a real book. You think it’s a real book? She goes, yes, that’s why we’re working together. And I was like, okay. But I did have, when the book published, I had several people write me and say, your writing was so descriptive. I felt like I was in the place that you were describing. I write myself back in time to my childhood, and I saved those three or four emails at the very beginning because I really sat back and thought, I didn’t know that I could do that. Because when you’re sitting kind of like what you do when you’re sitting in a room by yourself as a creator, as a sharer, and you don’t know all those people out there listening, and you can never, you get glimpses, but you’ll never have any idea of the impact you can have. But when they set that, and then people have talked about the dialogue I created, I was blown away. And it took me a long time to accept the fact that, okay, now I’m going to call myself a writer.

Rebecca: That’s what I’m going to do. Yeah, giving yourself that label. Yeah, yeah, I can understand that. And coming back to that point where it’s kind of, it’s in you and it has to come out. I completely relate to that. If there’s something in me, it could be an idea for a client session, it could be an idea for a book or whatever. I get to the point where I almost burst if I don’t get it out. It’s physical, isn’t it?

Amy: Yes. Oh, but I mean, I think that’s what a creator does though. There’s a reason for that, and that’s where the things start to change with what you do. And I love the kick-ass culture. I love it. I think we all need more of that and to view ourselves that way is that we think of kick-ass culture and it’s almost like it has to be physical, but it’s like what you talked about. It’s taking within you and physically manifesting it in a way. But to put it that way, we’re all kind of bad asses in our own arena. Whatever it is, we can be a badass at what we do. And that just seems like unless we’re physically going out and protecting people or stopping a school bus or doing something like that, but we are badasses.

Rebecca: It’s so true. And it’s so true. LinkedIn don’t like the word ass, so we have to use little asterisks.

Amy: That’s beautiful.

Rebecca: Otherwise we get banned

Amy: And

Rebecca: We’re not allowed to use it. It’s so funny. Yeah. Yeah. There’s a badass in everybody without a shadow of a doubt. Even the most mild-mannered, introverted, shy person, there’s a badass in, they’ll have a superpower in there somewhere, and it’s just unlocking that. And what I really like is that writing, you have a blank screen these days. It used to be a blank piece of paper, and you create whole worlds from scratch using letters arranged in a certain way. It’s such a magical process. It’s akin to painting a masterpiece. It’s writing a symphony. It’s the same process. And as it’s an entrepreneurial podcast, it’s the same process of building a business because a business does not exist until the owner, the founder, brings it, births it almost, and brings it into existence. So you’ve made a career out of this and you’ve managed to build a business, also a speaker. What kind of things do you talk about when you speak?

Amy: Well, the speaking is all based on the second book, which is this great story where I was minding my own business and I was writing the first book and this whole story took place. And I went on Facebook one day and I thought of a friend that I’d met at a summer camp 30 years ago. It was one of those people’s names that, you know how you have somebody from your past who always just pops up on your radar? Her name was Dana. We spent six weeks probably together being loud at a summer camp. That was all the time we had together. And then we did 35 years not having one bit of contact. So it was this moment where I typed her name into Facebook and boom, there she was. And since it didn’t mean anything, Rebecca, I friended her. She accepted my friendship request.

It means nothing. That’s not real. I looked at her profile page. I found out that right away she overachieved and had children. She had five kids, four girls and one boy. And the boy was the youngest, the son, his name was Parker. And he was at a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee called St. Jude, and that is a really famous here in the states cancer research hospital. And so he was fighting for his life against cancer. And so as a human being as a mom, I just right away got involved in the story and I could kind of tell I was over feeling it. I like to tell the story of the different levels of how I went nuts. So I’m watching on the sidelines. I feel like I’m supporting her from afar, and I’m watching the storyline play out. So he ends up going into remission. She’s a good sharer on Facebook, which is a good thing.

It can go either way, but she shares very honestly, it’s very inspiring. He goes back to Louisiana where they’re from, they go back to school and then another year passes. And again, his name was Parker. He relapses and they go back to Tennessee. And it had nothing to do with me. I was so clear on the fact that this was a relationship that was not active. It wasn’t a stalker thing, but I’d watched as a human being. But I read the post that said he had relapsed. It was like the day after that I was sitting at my desk and I am a writer, and I was like, you know what I’m going to do? It was like a bolt of lightning. I was like, I’m going to start writing Dana and Parker letters and sending them to the Ronald McDonald house where they were staying and being cared for in Memphis, Tennessee.

And I had not spoken. I’d never met the kid. I hadn’t spoken to the woman in 35 years, or I hadn’t even clicked on any of her posts. That’s how removed I was. I hadn’t written anyone a letter in 25 years. I mean, I wasn’t on some campaign to write people letters, and I was so invested in this idea, it made no sense. But I got up the next morning, I had writing assignments. At the time I was writing about American football. And so I just put her, she was my Sunday for Monday. I’d write her and Parker on Sunday, and I mailed a letter on Monday, and I did that for about 10 to 12 weeks. And then total devastation, Parker passes away at age 15. Oh, that’s heartbreaking. And then again, it had nothing to do with me. This woman is living out everyone else’s worst nightmare.

She’s going to go home without her precious son. And I sit back a week later, I’m like, what do I do? And I knew it had nothing to do with me, but I was like, you know what? I got another clear gut instinct. I’m going to keep writing her letters. And I realised, again, crazy, you’re acting no, this is not what normal people do. So I just kept writing her. I didn’t have her home address. I wasn’t going to ask for it. I found her husband’s work address, and I crazily sent this woman letters there, and I realised she had lost her son. There wasn’t anything I could do for her, but I was so compelled something was driving me. And so I wrote her for four months and just blindly. And I was like, it would start with, I’m thinking about you we’re all thinking about you we’re so sorry.

And then I just started writing about my life. I’m a writer. I’m writing a book. I think it’s going to be published. I have two kids. This is my job. My parents live here. And it just was like, dear diary almost. And then about five months in, I go to my mailbox on my birthday, I open it up and there’s a 10 page letter from this woman from Damon. Wow. She had written me back. And so this kicks off two years. We didn’t text, we didn’t email, we didn’t Facebook message. We spent two years writing each other exclusively in the mail she shared about her grief. She told me after the fact that here she’s doing life with these four daughters and the husband and this community of people who lost this precious kid. And if everyone seemed like they were okay, she wasn’t going to go in and bring down the room.

So she wrote to me who she didn’t even know and told me how she felt. I told her everything. And we developed this trust that was ridiculous because we didn’t really know each other, but these letters were passing in the mail. So if you could imagine, I didn’t feel like I had to respond to everything she said. She felt the same way. We had no idea when or if anyone was even reading the words. It was super therapeutic for both of us. And then the best part, Rebecca, was I didn’t know how she voted. I didn’t know what she specifically believed. I didn’t know what her stance on gender issues were. I didn’t know any of that and all these lines, and I know this is the way in your country too. I have great friends, well in England, but these dividing lines that divide us all of a sudden start to disappear. So who cares? Who cares? And we would tell each other like, oh, I know I can trust you. Oh my God, I don’t even know who this person is. And it was so profound. It changed the way I looked at everything that I sat back after about eight months of me and her writing back and forth, not just the one-sided part. I was like, if this can happen from this one girl who I don’t even know what else is out there. So then I went really crazy.

This was the next level. This was top level, top level nuts. So I did an Excel spreadsheet. I put all my Facebook friends, it was like 500 or something at the time. I put ’em all in there and I printed out and I cut the little names in the slips and I shoved them all into a box. I bought stationary and I went on this incredible 18 month journey, and I wrote every single one of those people a handwritten letter. Oh,

Rebecca: Wow.

Amy: Wow. So what I speak about is what I learned and how I learned that number one, if you reach out to me and I reply to you that none of those things that separate us, it still matters what we believe, but it all starts to dissipate and there’s so much hope in that. And then the power of a handwritten letter, I had no idea. And I was so non-intentional about this whole project. I didn’t set out to change anything, but over and over again, people were just blown away by the intentionality of a handwritten letter. So what I speak about is that story and how I’m kind of on a mission to get people to write letters. That’s what I talk about.

Rebecca: Oh God, there’s so much in that, Amy. There’s so much in terms of the bolt of lightning, the thought that came through that creative spirit, and again, there are many people listening to this with different beliefs that might have been from God, the universe, spirit world. It doesn’t really matter where it came from inside yourself, it came. And that for the lady that you were writing to, that sort of way of writing of getting all her feelings out must’ve been incredibly helpful to her. Have you met up with her since?

Amy: Oh, well now, Rebecca, this is the beautiful story. We reunited after three or four years in person, and now this woman is my best friend. I mean, we actually right before she calls me on her way, she’s a teacher to school every day. So one minute before I got on this call was our 12 minute call every day. And she knew I was getting on. I think you’re in Edinburgh, is that correct? Yeah, that’s

Rebecca: Right.

Amy: I was like, we’re going to talk about Dear Dana in Scotland today, so now somehow, like you said, and nobody can frame our story in any way they want to, but somehow the universe or God, or however anybody wants to frame it, gave me a best friend. So I mean, you just can’t make the whole story up. No,

Rebecca: No, you can’t. The serendipity of it is just beautiful and exquisite. The letters that you then wrote out to your Facebook friends, which what a huge job that was, that must have taken hours and hours to do that,

Amy: Right? Right. It was

Rebecca: A labour of love. What kind of response did you get back?

Amy: Well, it was unbelievable because I sat down at the beginning, I got a journal out and I decided I would journal it. And I really don’t think I ever thought I was going to write 580 letters. And I still look back and think that’s crazy. And crazy isn’t name of the good word. That’s kind of a lazy word. It was magical. I was so driven, I think because of Dana and Parker, because of my experience with her. But once I started doing it and I got the responses I got, I realised that I had tapped into something that was so big, and I didn’t intend to write a book about it too. But I got about halfway through and I was like, this is so full of hope. I’ve been entrusted with this story that I’m going to go tell to as many people as I can tell.

But here’s what I think the thing about why the letters were so meaningful because people were just blown away. I got so many people responded in so many different ways, and it was so meaningful to them. The number one response I got was, I’m going to save your letter in a special place for the rest of my life. And part of that, I think there’s two reasons it was so meaningful. First of all, we live in this digital age, which is great. I mean, you and I wouldn’t be talking right now if we weren’t in the digital age, and I wouldn’t have reconnected with Dana if there was not social media. So I think it’s very, it’s not a black or white issue, but it does leave us feeling isolated. And everyone’s talked about this, but when, let’s say you mailed me a letter, Rebecca, out of nowhere, let’s say we went to junior high school together or we went to high school.

If I go out to the mailbox and I see a letter in your handwriting, then I right away, even before I’ve read what you have to say right away, I know what that took. And this is the experience people had over and over again that I got to witness that I was gifted with this incredible experience. I know that you had to find paper and a pen. You had to sit down and write something. Then you had to find my address. You had to get the envelope, you had to seal it, you had to get a stamp, and then you had to go down to, in your case, you had to go to a red box or a post office. And my side, I’d had to go to a blue box and a US Post office, and then you would’ve had to take the effort to do that.

When I get that out of my mailbox, all I’m going to know for sure is that’s how much I matter to another human being, that I matter enough to Rebecca. And so right away, someone’s living the same life we’re living, and you’re going to give them the experience of knowing they matter to someone else. That blew people away. Now, when they opened the letter, what did I even say in the letters? Well, not because I’m a great person, Rebecca, but because if I was really going to fill two pages, and that was my goal, say, so what am I even going to say? I know I started every letter by telling ’em about Dana and Parker and then saying, I’m writing every single one of you people a Facebook letter. And then I would’ve had to go, let’s say I’m writing you and we went to university together.

I would look at your profile or look you up online, look at your website. And I would have to be intentional and go and see what is Rebecca doing now? And in your case, I would’ve been like, oh my gosh, look at this kick ass culture. She’s come up with, look at what you’ve done with your brother. Look at the books. Look at the inspiration. And so the first thing I would’ve said was like, oh my God, I’m so proud to be your friend. Congratulations. Look what you’ve done since I saw you last. And then the second part of that, and let’s say you were struggling with something. Let’s say you had lost someone. Well, I would express sympathy. I would express support for your struggle. I would congratulate you. These are all human things. I just did it because I mean, it became almost obvious. This is what I would do. And then the second part is if I was going to write you a letter, I would sit back and think, okay, Rebecca, and then I would remember my time with Rebecca, and I would think, you remember that time we were standing by that payphone at university, and that guy broke up with me. And you were like, listen, you are not going to let this define you. That guy isn’t has, but you can’t say it on LinkedIn.

And then I would say, you know what, Rebecca? Thank you because you helped me then, and I would have this chance to say that to you. And I went, Rebecca, from saying, what am I even going to say to this random list of people who I knew to different degrees to? Oh my God, I have so much to say. And then this random list of people became this treasure trove of human relationships.

Rebecca: It is a treasure trove. And that’s the perfect way to describe it. There’s the tactile nature of receiving something tangible through the post. And there’s the process because when you get a letter, you have to sit down and read it. Don’t, you can’t read it on the go while you’re doing 5 million other things. You have to sit down, open the envelope, unfold the paper and read it. Did you write them by hand? By the way?

Amy: Every single one of ’em was by hand.

Rebecca: My God, what a woman. What a woman. I’m really impressed. And even that process of writing by hand, you put so much thought into it because you think about every word, and sometimes you might get it wrong and cross it out. So you see the real thought process in real time, and then the other person has those feelings. And it’s like you’ve packaged up those intentions and feelings, sealed them into an envelope and posted them so that they explode at the other end for the person to experience for themselves. And that’s so beautiful. And that’s what writers do, isn’t it, with their work. I’m not a fan of a Kindle Amy.

Amy: Neither have I.

Rebecca: I’m just, you see all the books behind me. I’m actually having a library. I’m converting one of my eldest children’s ex bedrooms. They’ve left home into a library after all these years. So I’m obsessed with books. But that’s what a writer does that you then experience their intention and you get extra stuff because once you’ve released those words, you’ve got no control over how they’ve been received. You hope they’re received with the good intentions that you’ve sent them. But that’s beautiful. So there’s a lot about human connection here, and there’s a lot about building those relationships. And you’re right, it’s about building relationships across all. So-called divides, opinions, backgrounds, none of that is important. We’re all human beings having a human experience, and that’s it really, isn’t it? And all our human experience is different because of our backgrounds and all the rest of it. But I think that connection is beautiful. Where are you taking this? What’s happening next with it? It’s just amazing.

Amy: Yeah. Well, now it’s the talk and doing podcast appearances and just trying to encourage people not to write 600 letters, that’s ridiculous. But to harness the power we have as human beings and to utilise this to write one card a month to write, there’s business applications for it, relational applications, but to encourage people to sit down and write a handwritten note to someone else. And I feel like I’m the spreader of hope now through these letters. So I’m on a quest to discuss this, tell the story, and part of the speech. I can either give it as a keynote or I’ve done it as a workshop, or we actually sit down and write a letter in the workshop and then just drop it in that mailbox and see what happens next. So that’s my intention with it, is to spread the story and to, I’m on a mission to get people to write letters or cards or notes, but within the own context, the thing, it’s easy to listen to the story and make it too much of mine.

But I think all of us, when you hear if anyone’s inspired to write a letter, they do it their way because I’ve had so many people tell me stories of what they’ve done with it or that they were already on a letter writing campaign or mission without me and Dana’s story. And that’s the most important part, is to encourage people to do it their way as opposed to, this is the way I did it. And it’s extreme and it gives me a story to tell, but whatever’s inside of people, that’s the way to do it.

Rebecca: And interestingly, I did English literature at university, and the first novels were letters. There were a collection of letters that were put together to create the novels. So this history of this back and forth of letter writing is kind of deep within us and goes back a very, very long way. But yeah, it’s that physicality of it, which is lovely. Here’s the thing, when you run the workshops, do you have a range of ages on those workshops?

Amy: Right. I’ve had a lot of adult women, but also I’ve spoken to younger people, and that’s a great audience. When I wrote the Facebook letters, my older son was in high school and in his first year at university. And so I was Facebook friends with some of his friends. And so they got letters, and really, that’s one of the best parts of the story. They’d never received a letter in their life. And then I have two young men who still write me every time I send them something, they’ll write me, which is great. But I do, the age range is mostly thirties to sixties, more women than men. But I’ve had a really diverse set of audiences. And I hope to grow that because I think this absolutely is applicable to every age group. It’s applicable to human resources, people within the walls of a company, outside of the walls of a company.

And you see, if you go and Google handwritten letter, there’s places that have machines that hand write letters for businesses to have leads or to follow up. But it’s a lot of real estate companies, a lot of Fortune 500 companies, like if you buy something, they’ll create a handwritten letter from the owner of the company to send you that looks handwritten, that’s done with a ballpoint pin, either with a robot or a machine doing it. And it’s because it means so much to people that people are willing to invest in it. But to do that in a company downward, to encourage people who work for you across to people who work with you to clients, and not only is there a financial aspect to that, it generates goodwill within organisations, which is what I’m more interested in, the bigger plane here. And then the outside of all that, just the personal connection.

And I didn’t realise that I’ve done so many podcasts and spoke to so many groups that I’ve sat and thought, wait, this doesn’t fit into my story, doesn’t fit into this podcast, to this topic, to this group. What I found though, it’s applicable everywhere, human nature, it’s human connection. Like you said, there’s something so tactile about it that we’re missing out on. Because if you were to write me a letter tomorrow and I went out to my mailbox in Houston, Texas and got it, think about the experience of holding something that was in Scotland last week, it’d probably take about 10 days. It is just such a, I could talk about it all day, Rebecca.

Rebecca: I think it’s fabulous. I think it’s absolutely fabulous. And I know you’ve listened to some of my previous podcasts, so you may be aware of some of the questions that are coming next. What is your purpose? What’s your dharma? What’s your destiny, do you think, Amy?

Amy: I think my purpose is to, I could probably just frame it as encouraging people to write letters, but I think my purpose is to remind people that there’s nothing big enough to separate two human beings who have connected either in real life or online in some kind of meaningful way.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. Beautiful. And if your business, let’s call it a business because it is the business’s letter writing and communication and hope. Actually, I think it’s more of a business of hope and kindness, actually. If that had a character or a personality, either, who would it be or how would you describe it?

Amy: I think I would describe it as this being refuses to take a side, someone who you approach who does not care what you believe or don’t believe, who doesn’t care how you voted or didn’t vote. And I’m not saying this is me. I’m saying that we can be this to each other, that open space where, because truly that’s where we’re going to learn from each other. And we’ve stopped doing that. We are participating in conditional connection when the truth is, and I’m not talking about love or religion, but we’re refusing to connect with each other unless we fit in the box we wanted to. So I see this, we find the heroes in each other instead of looking for the villains.

Rebecca: Love it, love it. And your sense of curiosity leads you to that place and that wonderment of other human beings. And again, I think when you realise we’re just human beings doing our own thing. And once you get curious about other human beings, you’re right. That treasure trove really opens up to you and it is very fulfilling. It’s really enriching. It’s beautiful. I really want you to continue on this path now. What are you two books called? Let’s give those a plug so people can get them.

Amy: Alright. My first book, the Humorous Back in Time book is called, you Cannot Mess This Up. A True Story That Never Happened. And that’s a funny book that was meant to be nostalgic, 1978, hilarious. But it turned out to be a catharsis. I wrote myself back into my own childhood. And then book two is called Dear Dana. That time I went crazy and wrote all 580 of my Facebook friends a handwritten letter.

Rebecca: Brilliant, brilliant. And I’m assuming they’re available across online in shops and people can just track them down.

Amy: And my website is www.amydaughters.com, and not only are the links to the books there and the speaking, but also I’ve got links to my social media. There’s a link to email me. I’ve got an address you can write me a letter to. But I would love to engage with anyone who wants to engage in the spreading of hope. And I love hearing ideas, not just about letter writing, but anything. And that’s what I’m on a quest to do. So feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s interested.

Rebecca: Brilliant. What a great call to action. And if anybody who’s listening to this is inspired to write a letter to somebody that they’ve not been in touch with for a long time, please go ahead and do it now.

Amy: Absolutely. Thank you for saying that.

Rebecca: Thanks so much, Amy. Thank you.

Amy: Thank you, Rebecca. Thanks for having me on.