Sister meets...Luvvie Ajayi Jones
Meet your guide to 2021… and forever. Luvvie Ajayi Jones’s ‘Professional Trouble Maker: The Fear-Fighter Manual’ is the essential handbook to navigating modern life and abolishing the fears and doubts tormenting us all.
Expect inspiring truths sprinkled with hilarious anecdotes and opinions (bye dad sneakers), Luvvie takes you on a journey to become a professional trouble maker, by setting the example of herself with tried and tested advice.
Describing her second book as words “from me to me, that I’m letting other people read,” Luvvie offers a sincere insight into her own highs and lows and most importantly, what she learnt along the way. Her candid honesty demonstrates the possibility of success when our own fears no longer prevent us from uplifting and protecting others.
For Luvvie’s followers, this will be no surprise. All the eloquence, honesty and humour of her social media is deeply embedded into this book, though translated into a longer form which allows for a deeper insight into how her experiences moulded her.
Alongside this is a timely commentary on social injustice, as well as a frank spotlighting of the adversities faced by black women in particular. While fear and uncertainty are rife (online and offline) Luvvie provides coping mechanisms and solid advice to abolish the daily tribulations that can form long-term impact. Each page exists as a supportive and uplifting voice during this time of isolation, encouraging an undoing of common fears.
Throughout, life lessons are intertwined with tales of her grandmother, an influential force in her life, whose wisdom she aims to emulate. Luvvie shares the values instilled in her from older generations, her culture and her own experiences to accumulate a book's worth of wisdom.
Facing fear is inevitable when creating the meaningful change that exists in each stage of life. But in a year when the majority of human interaction exists online, Luvvie tells Sister how to navigate fear-fighting in the internet age.
You started writing before the pandemic, but the timing of publication seems perfect in this period of uncertainty. What do you personally think is the significance of this book being released right now?
I think never before has it been more important to celebrate and honor the professional troublemakers amongst us, like the people who saved the world, because they're the ones who were saving companies and relationships in the world at large. This book is timely because we are in a time where the world is scarier than it ever has been, where the enemy is a microscopic virus. So right now, being able to tackle our fears, the real and the small, the big, the ones that feel valid and the ones that might make you feel ridiculous, now is that time because we are being faced with unprecedented times. Nobody really knows how we're going to operate, how we are going to show up at the other side of it. But yeah, you’ve got to fight your fears and Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual is the guide to help you get started.
So much of the book is a really beautiful love letter to your grandmother, who clearly influenced you deeply. Specifically when you speak about how she was often perceived as too much, when she was standing up against injustice. How important is it to you to leave behind the same legacy and impact?
Yes, the legacy of my grandmother as a professional troublemaker. She’s the one who I watched growing up, is one that stood for fierce justice, real truth, and uncovering courage. I think her impact and that type of a legacy is what I want to leave. When I'm no longer here, I want to have people look at me and say, "You know what? Because she was here, she's inspiring me to be bigger and to think bigger than I ever would. She's inspiring me to say what feels hard, and she's inspiring me to do something to make this world better than I found it." So for me, that's my grandmother's legacy. That's the legacy that I hope to continue.
"You know what? Because she was here, she's inspiring me to be bigger and to think bigger than I ever would. She's inspiring me to say what feels hard, and she's inspiring me to do something to make this world better than I found it."
A crucial value for you is truth-telling, but do you ever feel frustrated in others who don't prioritise this in the same way?
It's not really frustration, in that I am clear why some people are not truth-tellers. I know why some people do not use their voices because there is a lot to lose, which is why my hope is that with my book and with who I am, I'm convincing those who have tried to silence professional troublemakers. I'm hoping I'm compelling them to stop silencing the people in their lives who are the trailblazers, the people who will hold them accountable, because those people, you need them. You need them. So my hope, my frustration is with those who have tried to silence dissent, who do not receive challenges well. So the person who isn't speaking the truth can know that they have space, that they have permission to do it, that their voice absolutely matters.
In the book, you mentioned that you initially loved blogging because the freedom of having no audience allowed you to be honest and have no fear of failure or judgment. How do you combat this fear now that you have an established audience?
Yeah, I had the gift of writing out loud without the idea of who was looking and listening, and that gave me the practice to speak the truth out loud without fear. And that practice stayed with me even after I had hundreds of thousands of people watching and listening and reading my work. I think it was a gift to not, in the beginning of my blogging career, to not have an audience or a strategy, because it really allowed me to be as authentic as possible. So getting the practice to be real out loud for all these years has stayed with me, no matter how big my platform has gotten.
You've built a huge following over the years and consistently communicate on current events via your podcast, website, or social media. How does writing a book compare as a way of communicating your message in a less instant way?
Yes. Writing the book is delayed gratification. On social media, you are constantly getting feedback on all the things that you're putting out there, but writing a book, you're not going to get the feedback for another year after you put these words on paper. But I think it also makes sure that your words have heavier meaning. It's basically a way to ensure that you are using a platform, which is a book, in the way that's most true to you because you have a chance to edit, you re-edit to make sure it's really good. So that delayed gratification is still worth it because a book serves as almost like a historic document that hopefully lives beyond you in a way your social platforms might not.
"A book serves as almost like a historic document that hopefully lives beyond you in a way your social platforms might not."
Now as someone who has built a career on the internet from the relatively early days, do you notice a difference in how hard it is to create boundaries on the internet now?
Yeah. I think people on the internet now are expecting so much access to everybody all the time. And I'm always speaking up my boundaries to make sure that even if people don't honor it, at least they know I said it. And at that point, their lack of honoring my boundaries is a decision, not a mistake. So I govern myself accordingly. Yeah, social media can absolutely erase boundaries, but I think we need to know that we can always verbalise and be clear what our lines are.
This book contains a really important message when it comes to speaking up and failing loudly. How do you think the same act of truth-telling can translate into social media, where there is so much comparison and envy? Do you think there is a responsibility to be more truthful online in the way we portray our lives?
I think there is a responsibility for us to do it because the thing about social media is it's easy for it to just be the highlights for you. But I think we also need to be truthful about the grit behind the glory and the grind behind the glow, and also be honest about what it looks like to be a person who has a massive platform or a personal visibility. But it's an intentional decision to make, to actually be that vulnerable. But I do think it's worth it, that more people should do it.
"All right, I do have a right to speak this truth out loud."
You also mentioned the importance of speaking to our inner circles of family members and friends when it comes to activism and making change, rather than solely preaching to like-minded social media followers. What is your advice to those trying to start those conversations?
Yeah, I think it's important. I use three checkpoints. I use three checkpoints to really determine whether I should speak up, first of all, because I think the first issue is people not understanding, people not knowing when they should say something or whether it's worth it. And my checkpoint is do I mean it? Can I defend it? Can I say thoughtfully? And if the answer is yes to all three, I say it. So that allows me to say, "All right, I do have a right to speak this truth out loud." And then how you say it, you just have to understand that if you're saying it thoughtfully, how it will land is no longer your business because you cannot control how people will receive it, no matter how thoughtful you think you're being. But if you do your checkpoints, and you assure yourself that you're supposed to do this, it'll keep you moving forward more confidently and more clear about what your purpose was in that moment.
Photo of Luvvie: Kesha Lambert