If we’re grateful for setbacks and “detours” in our lives, we can find meaning from adversity…
Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking. As the creator of “Gutless & Grateful,” her BroadwayWorld-nominated one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer’s Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual. To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. “Detourism” is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017. As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s spoken to hundreds of healthcare professionals at national WOCN conferences, and her presentations on diversity, leadership and trauma have been featured at National Mental Health America Conference, New England Educational Opportunity Association’s 40 Anniversary Conference, and have been keynotes at the Pacific Rim Conference of Diversity and Disability in Hawaii, the Eating Recovery Foundation First Annual Benefit in Colorado. She’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. Learn more: amyoes.com and support her work at patreon.com/amyo. Amy is currently participating as a playwright and performance artist in the National Musical Theatre Institute at the world-renowned Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
Where did the idea for creating Gutless & Grateful come from?
I never intended to start a business – it was a beautiful byproduct of wanted to get my story out there. I had always loved musical theatre and was always fascinated by how the art of song and story could be so seamlessly woven together to share a universal message and to inspire others. All my life I studied music, drama, writing, and lived for the world of the stage.
It was only when I underwent my own beautiful detour that I discovered just how powerful the world of theatre and musical storytelling can be. Coming out of a coma just as I was supposed to be entering my freshman year of college was confusing to say the least. Suddenly, the career path that had seemed to apparent to me my entire life was pushed to the wayside while I took on the more pressing task of fighting for my life. It was easy to feel like a has-been and wonder “why me”, or how my life would ever maintain a steady course again.
With no clear road map on how to get my life back on “track”, I just stayed true to what had always felt like home – expressing myself through the arts. Although I had lost my ability to speak for a while, I committed myself to arts that I could express – I lost myself in the world of painting and mixed media and ended up putting on three professional art shows. The Today show with Kathie Lee and Hoda ended up hearing about my story and my art, and had me on for a segment they do called “Everyone Has A Story.” It was there where I met David Friedman – a kind soul and a talented composer. I went right over to him and told him I admired his work and would love to put together a cabaret act with him. Two years later, using excerpts from my thousands of journal entries, and songs that effectively expressed my journal – some songs being original – Gutless & Grateful had its New York premiere. It was intended as only theatre, until I started developing it for colleges. When I premiered Gutless and Grateful, I had no idea it would be any more than musical theatre. But people started lining up after every show, ust to tell me their stories. That was my lightbulb moment: Wow, we heal through telling our stories.
Based on my own personal experience surviving ten years of medical interventions, 27 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse gastrectomy and PTSD, I’m giving others empowered approach to mental health in Gutless & Grateful with storytelling, music, and mental health advocacy and education.
From my own decade of medical isolation, I learned that nobody can heal in a vacuum. Being able to reach out for help and find support is what helps us realize we’re not alone.
Now, my show Gutless & Grateful aims to share how we can all build resilience. I’m sharing the story of my life, and then helping everyone create their own resiliency toolbox – a must-have in order to deal with stress and navigate life’s detours
Now, years later, it’s become a mental health and sexual assault prevention program, which I’ve toured internationally. From there, I developed presentations on trauma, creativity, leadership and entrepreneurship, as well as private coaching. I’ve been traveling and leading workshops all year, which I’ve even started devising for corporate companies. Becoming a business owner was like a rite of passage to me – it made me feel like I had finally taken ownership of what had happen to me, and done something beautiful with it.
1)I literally was a girl waking up from a coma trying to find her place in a big world. I didn’t know where to start. So I just started somewhere – anywhere. And just kept going from there – blindly at first, but eventually finding a focus, and then just following it intently.
2) How did you get your first client or customer or job? Sending out thousands of query letters to colleges, organizations, and not hearing back for months – but with hard work, it came. I did it the hard way. I researched who I wanted to speak for, and I didn’t stop reaching out until I booked something. And then, people started coming to me.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up, and I try to get to my art studio, or piano or journal to do something creative, just to get my head in a good place. I also have to do something physical to start my day off – I’m big on weightlifting, actually, or a nature walk, or dance. Then, its right to work. I pick up where I left off in developing my own projects, launching new ones, , intersperse that with social media (I don’t automate anything – I like to keep it all authentic, even though it may be more time consuming), following up on emails, and of course, when I’m touring with my speaking engagements or shows, everything rests on that – a lot of time on the road! But in transit I try to work on my upcoming book, if I’m on an Amtrak or plane, and I do creative coaching and speaking coaching throughout, via skype with my customers.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Creativity.- art and creativity cures a problem that we all share at times – boredom. I’m not just talking about commercial breaks, a meeting at work that never ends, or traffic-light-kind-of-boredom. Creativity is a mind-set, a way of seeing the world. Creativity puts the magic back in life, so not only are we never bored, we are constantly inspired, present, empowered, and – dare I say it – happy. And when you’re in a happy, open, creative place…anything is possible!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The art of the personal story. I love how big companies are going back to their roots – the people an the stories behind the brands.
When I started sharing my own story, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Other people were struggling with what I had faced in isolation for years – shame, fear, PTSD, anxiety, depression, loneliness- I wanted to encourage people to start speaking up, and bring marginalized voices into the spotlight. Only when I was finally able to share my story could I truly heal, and now I want to encourage everyone to start sharing their stories.
Through sharing our stories, we become empowered, inspired and more comfortable with our life circumstances, as well as with who we are. That is why I turned Gutless & Grateful into a mental health advocacy program. Sharing our stories starts the conversation for others, and brings out the stories that unite us all, to show that creativity is an essential mindset, a survival skill, and a way to see the world.
With every obstacle, stories help us find a new opportunity. Stories saved my life. Sure, I have wounds, scars, and some medical issues that still haven’t been resolved. But if I took away all of the setbacks, hurdles, frustrations and detours, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Telling my story made me realize that. That’s what inspired me to share my story with the world, and call this my “beautiful detour.”
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I work like a dog! I don’t stop. Maybe that’s not always a good thing, but I do have a crazy disciplined work ethic!
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Ohhhh…I’d say being a hospital patient! And yes that is a job. And boy, did I learn the art of patience and coping with uncertainty.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Don’t be afraid of obstacles.
With every obstacle, hope helped me find a new opportunity. Sure, I have wounds, scars, and some medical issues that still haven’t been resolved. But if I took away all of the setbacks, hurdles, frustrations and detours, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Telling my story made me realize that. That’s what inspired me to share my story with the world, and call this my “beautiful detour.”
After 27 surgeries and six of the past ten years unable to eat or drink, I was miraculously reconstructed with the intestines I had left. Ten years later, I’m 28-year-old college kid, an artist, actress, playwright, speaker and “thriver”. Now I want to inspire people to flourish because of, rather than in spite of challenges. If we’re grateful for setbacks and “detours” in our lives, we can find meaning from adversity – meaning that ultimately reconstructs who we are. That’s why the one-woman musical I eventually wrote about my life is called, “Gutless & Grateful.”
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Tell your story!!!
Together we can make a difference by showing others that we can make things happen for a reason in our lives. With creativity, passion, and that little spark, anything is possible. You can find happiness in the little moments – you don’t always have to be thinking about the big picture.
It starts with one story, and once we relate, then the power of stories are unstoppable, then a plan unfolds that can be something even greater than what we anticipate.
And THAT is something we can all be grateful for, right? That even though we’re dealing with difficult times, we are not alone. We never have been.
To travel down my beautifully messy detour, I yearned for way to share my story and have it help others. For a while, my story was a tale I couldn’t understand, like the sick plot of a psychological thriller. Then, one day I opened up a journal and I began to write. Through the power of words, I was able to understand my own story and share it. My story became part of me, rather than something I continued to run from. Now, I use my story to bring out the stories that unite us all.
I We all have ebbs and flows in our lives — our peaks and valleys. My story, your story, our stories — they’re all the same. The specifics are not the importance in the end. What’s important is that we keep telling them. Just hearing someone else’s story makes us feel the same pain or joy that they have experience. It’s sharing them that makes us stronger. That’s how we know we’re not alone.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Also of social media. TEDx was a huge deal for my business. Also, if I can start up a business as I have, then anyone can. After years of being isolating and only conversing with my parents and doctors for seven years, it was difficult figuring out how to get back into the professional world of networking again. I wasn’t sure how to get out there. I was intimidated by the world of theatre and felt as though I didn’t know how to form connections. So I did it the old-fashioned way. Posting flyers everywhere humanly possible, researching the contact information of every news source I could get my hands on, and spreading my name shamelessly wherever I could. There were no shortcuts and it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it. It taught be valuable lessons about publicity and business, and I created connections that were truly invaluable.
With marketing, there is no easy shortcut. A lot of people ask how I “land” my gigs. Again, the word “land” makes me squeamish. I’ve never “landed” anything. Everything I’ve done, I’ve had to work for – very hard – and sometimes, that’s not always the best thing in the long run– I am long overdue for relaxing, I admit, but when I looked through old journal entries, when I was going through everything and as really struggling, I see that all I wanted was to get my story out there, in the hope that it could help others. So I think that is the “manic” and very fervent drive that pushes me to not stop. What I’ve learned from all of this is if you have a dream, you can do it – I’ve heard that obviously, but I think my work ethic and my passion really proved that to myself. Also, I am on social media all the time – Facebook, Pinterest, anything I learn about, constant website updates – and lots of research. Finding out who I can network with and sending our literally hundreds of emails. Time consuming, but many times, very worth it – you never know…
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The fact that I had just been discharged from the hospital and had no idea what I was doing. Furthermore, everyone was telling me I should just stay in bed and “get healthy.” It’s natural when someone tells you you can’t do something to think about it a bit. And many times I believed them. I went to auditions with bags attached to me. I attended hot yoga daily while connected to an IV pump. I have gotten many funny looks over the years and some awkward situation made me feel very embarrassed and upset. It’s never easy to ignore what other people think of a career move, or a comment that might touch on an insecurity. So it made me think about what they said, occasionally pity myself for a bit. In the process of putting together Gutless & Grateful, it was easy to compare myself to former colleagues that were doing theatre, but “bigger” and “better” than I was – on Broadway, on tours, seemingly “breezing through” their career. But I think the most important (and difficult) thing for me was patience. Telling myself that I will get there – this is my own unique path, and as long as I am still doing what I love, in whatever shape or form, I am staying authentic to my own path.
I nicknamed one of my favorite doctors Dr. Doom because he never had one positive thing to say until I was discharged. I was read my last rites, I was told I would never eat or drink again. I will never forget an innocent occupational therapist that told me to never give up, because one day I might even be able to walk on my own without a wheelchair – there was no way I would settle for walking as my greatest strength! And even as I became healthier, it was hard for others to not see me as “sick” even though my determination and passion could conquer an entire army. If I did listen to one person that told me “not yet”, “too soon”, or “when you get healthier” – I would have never put up my art shows, taught yoga, and I definitely would not have performed Gutless & Grateful internationally. Beating the odds and defying expectations is one thing, but I believe for the psyche it is detrimental to ever let yourself believe you can’t do something, even when the odds are against you. It’s that spark of “well maybe there’s a tiny chance” that lights a little fire in your soul, it’s that something that keeps you going, that wakes you up in the morning, that put the little smirk on your face that warms whatever you do with heart and an unbeatable spirit.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Create another innovative platform where people can share their stories. People love that!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’m being serious: to charity. I gave it to a sexual assault organization I support Giving back is key. Sharing our story build empathy – my biggest goal is not to inspire people, but to empower people – these are the causes I support – amyoes.com/causes
Giving back is about showing gratitude.
We live in a traumatized society. People are looking for ways to make sense of hardships in their lives. What do you do when life pulls the rug out from under you and you are forced to grapple with uncertainty and figure out who you are, after the world you thought you knew disappears completely? If we know where to find ourselves, we’re empowered with the confidence to move forward and make decisions. And where do you find yourself? In knowing what you’re about. Gratitude tells us what’s important to us. Gratitude showed me who I was after my life was forever changed.
I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of my detours until I was able to share them. As a performer, all I’ve wanted to do was give back to the world. But now I have an even greater gift to give: a story to tell.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Canva! For someone who has no tech savvy, I can actually use it to make great graphics!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Reading the Lean Startup was a big revelation for me. I really was not business savvy and this taught me to think like my target audience when trying to market to a specific niche. Tat was once a foreign language to me! Also, for the more artistic side of business: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which gave me a whole new take on creativity.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Seth Godin is a genius at marketing, and I’m addicted to watching TED Talks – I find inspiration everywhere.
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