Mingjie Zhai is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. She is the founder and CEO of The Love Story Media Inc., a non-profit organization that combines media with the mission of improving mental wellbeing through expressive journaling. She is also the founder of a new writing genre called “Journal-Artism,” which fuses journaling, journalism, and the personal journey to arc one’s character while writing their narrative. This genre is the central practice of her organization. Zhai is a published author of three books; The Producer’s Playbook, Diary of a Crazy Entrepreneur, and The Love Story Playbook. She has spoken at UCLA, UC Berkeley, several Tech conferences, and at The Love Story’s own showcases, which she has produced. Before becoming an entrepreneur, she was an award-winning English teacher, an English department chair, and a Speech & Debate Coach for over a decade. Today, she enjoys traveling with her dog Foxy, hiking, writing, and creating a new journaling genre called the Vlogumentary Diary.
Where did the idea for The Love Story Media come from?
It started from a profound experience in heartbreak. I didn’t know how to grieve without making myself feel wrong for constantly being sad. The doctors prescribed pills but it only gave me bad side effects and the therapy felt one-sided. I wanted a deeper connection and to break the stigma of my personal mental health label. Thus, this organization was birthed out of an urgent personal need to heal myself in a different way. I created The Love Story Media, Inc. to heal the brokenhearted through creative expression, to choose self-expression over self-destruction, and to transform our love loss into a love story. We do this through expressive writing that is artist-inspired and community-desired. As journal-artists, we share our journal entries in fiction, based on a true story. Through multimedia production, publishing, and publication, we are able to reveal, deal, feel, and deeply heal.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day for me is using a variety of virtual programs to help run my business. I use Zoom to hold conference meetings with my team and for daily journaling sessions with The Love Story’s journal artists. I also use #Slack to communicate with my team that extends nationwide. We use Miro to plan and log the organization’s growth, and Trello to share milestones and resources among the team. Using technology effectively is what helps me and my team stay connected and productive while working remotely.
How do you bring ideas to life?
We bring ideas to life by just doing it. We have a relaxed work culture that cultivates creativity and encourages a trial and error approach to executing and innovating.
What’s one trend that excites you?
During this Covid Pandemic, people are becoming more accepting of working remotely as a long-term viable and sustainable way of doing business. I think sometimes people work better in different environments such as next to the beach or during a hike instead of being cooped up in one space. For me personally, my best creative work came when I was visiting museums in Berlin, praying at Duomos in Rome, and looking at architecture and paintings in Florence (this was when I had written The Producer’s Playbook). Work and travel takes us out of theory and into the real-word applications of life experiences. I hope this will become the status quo for the people who intern, volunteer, and work inside The Love Story organization.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I like to work smart not hard, so one habit of mine that makes me more productive is to identify talent and present my organization in a way that resonates with what my employees, interns, and volunteers are looking for to build, experience, and accomplish by participating. I have a secret rule within my own philosophy—give more than receive. Make sure that every volunteer and contributor inside this organization will walk away feeling more fulfilled and adding more real-word experience and business skills than when they first came on board. Also, having an attitude of gratitude, focusing on what I love doing the most—which is curriculum design and creative writing—so that the work I do at the end of the day is not only meaningful and fulfilling but also feels like therapy and not work.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Pursue your dreams…..and how do you hone in on your dreams? Go within to find and heal the problem you have personally experienced. And through that healing, you can help guide others as well. Trust God. You sow and God grows. Lean into the unknown.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Do it for yourself first, and the rest will follow…just like Forrest Gump’s need to start running.
Some people believe that it’s important to “test the market” before you build something. For me, it was purely a selfish thing at first. I needed a different way to address my own mental health challenges—pills made me powerless and dependent on the chemical substance, suicide prevention hotlines had me hearing only myself, and mental health institutions in America made me more crazy. I found interviewing artists and journaling to be the most effective means of addressing my personal issues, which are quite nuanced and specific. I’m hoping that more people will follow me and find The Love Story to be a viable alternative to emotional healing.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Journal truth into fiction as a Journal-Artist. This is our bread & butter inside our mission-based organization to address mental health recovery and transformation. There is a lot of scientific evidence out there that supports journaling as a way of therapy and healing.
I’d also like to remind everyone that journaling is not just for people struggling with mental health challenges and traumas, it is for anyone who wishes to learn more about themselves, find clarity – peace of mind – passion, and to grow as a person through their own thoughts and creative expression.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Learning when it’s time to take a step back, letting myself breathe for a little bit (like writing a novel), and focusing on something that’s non-work related. Whatever non-work related activity you choose to do will inevitably lead to the eureka moment that will bridge your next breakthrough. It’s important to take a step back. Learning non-attachment is critical to long term sustainability.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Focusing on the result instead of the relationship. I’ve learned to focus on the relationship rather than the result because there will always be disagreements on ideas, ways about doing things, and other decision making problems. In those moments, it’s best to take a step back before rushing into a power struggle with someone.
Over the years, I’ve learned to let go of ways in doing things and going about things. Also, when people come and leave, it’s most of the time not personal, and if it is personal and they don’t let you know, it’s their right to do so. It’s important to respect personal space and the right to privacy. I stopped insisting on my way and learned how to trust in other people’s processes as well as my own—which both sides are imperfect and with that ultimate acceptance of people, circumstances, and things, I am able to play the marathon game of business growth.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Resonate-editing journal entries with other Journal-Artists when sharing one’s entries.
The purpose of resonate-editing is for the writer to feel less alone in sharing one’s entry and to allow space for other Journal-Artists to relate to their piece.
Resonate-editing is done by having the Journal-Artists highlight or take notes on the parts of the entry that resonates with them the most. The sessions take place in small groups online or in-person.
The more the members inside don’t know each other on a personal level, the better, because there is a level of anonymity that is necessary to “breaking your heart open.”
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Match.com to meet my mate. We’ve been hiking, daycationing, and exploring outdoor activities ever since.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
#Slack. I use it on the daily to communicate with our virtual team inside our organization. We can tag people in conversations, adjust it to our individual time tables, share files, send private and group messages – It’s email on steroids.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. It’s about living our divinely designed purpose. It’s the belief that life has meaning and it is up to us to discover it.
What is your favorite quote?
“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.”
At The Love Story we transform from being broken, into becoming broken open; hence our slogan “Break your heart open.” After having your heart broken so many times until it feels like it’s on its last leg, we must take time to explore and understand our innermost feelings through catharsis to reach a point where we realize that love is not a game of defenses or pleasure. It is a space of truth and vulnerability. Only can we truly be ourselves when we grant ourselves permission to open up our hearts and break them open. We will then change into who we really are instead of our fears and insecurities to truthfully and fully experience love.
- As a Journal-Artist, you are committed to journaling your pain into purpose, your tragedy into a divine comedy, and your love loss into a love story.
- Focus on the relationship rather than the result and then desired result will naturally grow on divine timing rather than your own timing.
- Do it for yourself—Solve the problem worth solving and solve it for the younger you who needed it. And when you are committed to solving it, the universe will conspire for you in the solving journey.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.